Science Guardian

Truth, beauty and paradigm power in science and society

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

News, views and reviews measured against professional literature in peer reviewed journals (adjusted for design flaws and bias), well researched books, authoritative encyclopedias (not the bowdlerized Wiki entries on controversial topics) and the investigative reporting and skeptical studies of courageous original thinkers among academics, philosophers, researchers, scholars, authors, filmmakers and journalists.

Supporting the right of exceptional minds to free speech, publication, media coverage and funding against the crowd prejudice, leadership resistance, monetary influences and internal professional politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, HIV(not)AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, information technology, religions and cults, health, medicine, diet and nutrition.



Halton C. Arp wki/obit/txt/vds/txt/txt/bk/bk, Henry Bauer txt/blg/ blg/bks/bk/txt/bk/vd, John Beard bk, Harvey Bialy bk/bk/txt/txt/rdo/vd, John Bockris bio/txt/ltr/bk, Donald W. Braben, Peter Breggin ste/fb/col/bks, Darin Brown txt/txt/txt/txt/txt/vd, Giordano Bruno bk/bio/bio, Frank R. Buianouckas, Stanislav Burzynski mov, Erwin Chargaff bio/bk/bio/prs, James Chin bk/vd, Nicolaus Copernicus bk, Mark Craddock, Francis Crick vd, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw txt/bk, Roger Cunningham, Charles Darwin txts/bk, Erasmus Darwin txt//bk/txt/hse/bks, Peter Duesberg ste/ste/bk/txt/vd/vd, Freeman Dyson, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman bio, John Fewster, Rosalind Franklin, Bernard Forscher tx, Galileo Galilei, Walter Gilbert vd, Goethe bio/bk/bio, Nicolas Gonzalez tlk/rec/stetxt/txt, Patricia Goodson txt/bk/bk, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Etienne de Harven bk/txt/vd, Alfred Hassig intw/txt, Robert G. Houston txt, Steven Jonas vd, Edward Jenner txt, Benjamin Jesty, Adrian Kent vd, Thomas Kuhn, Fred Kummerow, Stefan Lanka txt/txt/vd, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen vd, Paul Lauterbur vd, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, James Lovelock, Andrew Maniotis, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, Christi Meyer vd, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Luc Montagnier txt/txt/vd, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling prs/vd/vd, Eric Penrose, Roger Penrose vd, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick bio/vd/bk, Robert Root-Bernstein vd, Sherwood Rowland, Otto Rossler, Harry Rubin, Marco Ruggiero txt/txt/intw/vd, Bertrand Russell Carl Sagan vd, Erwin Schrodinger, Fred Singer, Barbara Starfield txt, Gordon Stewart txt/txt, Richard Strohman, Thomas Szasz, Nicola Tesla bio/bio, Charles Thomas intw/vd, Frank Tipler, James Watson vd/vd, Alfred Wegener vd, Edward O. Wilson vd.


Jad Adams bk, Marci Angell bk/txt/txt/txt, Clark Baker ste/txt/rdo/vd, James Blodgett, Tony Brown vd, Hiram Caton txt/txt/txt/bk/ste, Jonathan Collin ste , Marcus Cohen, David Crowe vd, Margaret Cuomo, Stephen Davis BK/BK,/rdo, Michael Ellner vd, Elizabeth Ely txt/txt/ste, Epicurus, Dean Esmay, Celia Farber bio/txt/txt/txt/vd, Jonathan Fishbein txt/txt/wk, T.C.Fry, Michael Fumento, Max Gerson txt, Charles Geshekter vd, Michael Geiger, Roberto Giraldo, David Healy txt, Bob Herbert, Mike Hersee ste/rdo, Neville Hodgkinson txt /vd, James P. Hogan, Richard Horton bio/vd/vd, Christopher Hitchens, Eric Johnson, Claus Jensen vd, Phillip Johnson, Coleman Jones vds, William Donald Kelley, Ernst T. Krebs Sr txt, Ernst T. Krebs Jr. txt,/bio/txt/txt/ltr, Paul Krugman, Brett Leung MOV/ste/txt/txt/tx+vd/txt, Katie Leishman, Anthony Liversidge blg/intv/intv/txt/txts/txt/intv/txt/vd/vd, Bruce Livesey txt, James W. Loewen, Frank Lusardi, Nathaniel Lehrman vd, Christine Maggiore bk/ste/rec/rdo/vd, Rouben Mamoulian txt/txt/txt/txt/txt/doc/flm/flm, Noreen Martin vd, Robert Maver txt/itw, Eric Merola MOV, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Michael Moore bio/MOV/MOV/MOV, Gordon Moran, Ralph Nader bk, Ralph Moss txt/blg/ste/bks, Gary Null /txt/rdo/vd, Dan Olmsted wki, Toby Ord vd, Charles Ortleb bk/txt/bk/intw/flm, Neenyah Ostrom bk, Dennis Overbye, Mehmet Dr Oz vd, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos ste/vd, Maria Papagiannidou bk, Thomas Piketty bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk, Robert Pollin txt/vd/bk, Jon Rappoport bio/bk/bk/ste/bk/bk/vd, Janine Roberts bk/bk, Luis Sancho vd, Liam Scheff ste/txt/bk/bk/rdio/vd, John Scythes, Casper Schmidt txt/txt, Joan Shenton vd/vd, Joseph Sonnabend vd, John Stauber, David Steele, Joseph Stiglitz bk/txt, Will Storr rdo Wolfgang Streeck, James P. Tankersley ste, Gary Taubes vd, Mwizenge S. Tembo, John Tierney vd, Michael Tracey, Valendar Turner rec, Jesse Ventura bk, Michael Verney-Elliott bio/vds/vd, Voltaire, Walter Wagner, Andrew Weil vd, David Weinberger bio/bk/blg/blg/BK/bk/pds, Robert Willner bk/txt/txt/vd, Howard Zinn.

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories which once seemed to possess eternal life. - Arthur Koestler

One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison. – Bertrand Russell

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. - Samuel Johnson

A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform. – Mark Twain

Although science has led to the generally high living standards that most of the industrialized world enjoys today, the astounding discoveries underpinning them were made by a tiny number of courageous, out-of-step, visionary, determined, and passionate scientists working to their own agenda and radically challenging the status quo. – Donald W. Braben

An old error is always more popular than a new truth. — German Proverb

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. – Mark Twain

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his income depends on his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, but an opportunity. - Alfred North Whitehead

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. – Samuel Johnson

Man’s mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: “This is the cause!” – Leo Tolstoy

The evolution of the world tends to show the absolute importance of the category of the individual apart from the crowd. - Soren Kierkegaard

Who does not know the truth is simply a fool, yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal. – Bertold Brecht

How easily the learned give up the evidence of their senses to preserve the coherence of ideas in their imagination. – Adam Smith

Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned. – Mark Twain

The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. If we watch ourselves honestly, we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated. – Arthur Koestler

Whenever the human race assembles to a number exceeding four, it cannot stand free speech. – Mark Twain

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. - Adam Smith

There isn’t anything so grotesque or so incredible that the average human being can’t believe it. – Mark Twain

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. – Voltaire

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.- Blaise Pascal.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures. – Voltaire

The applause of a single human being is of great consequence. – Samuel Johnson

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Human Nature)

Important: This site is best viewed in LARGE FONT, and in Firefox for image title visibility (place cursor on pics to reveal comments) and layout display. Click the title of any post to get only that post and its Comments for printing. All posts guaranteed fact checked according to reference level cited, typically the original journal studies. Full guide to site purpose, layout and how to print posts out is in the lower blue section at the bottom of the home page.
---Admin AL/E/ILMK---

Pew Survey measures the vast public ignorance that scientists can exploit

August 31st, 2005

Today (Wed Aug 31) the Times (page A9) has a predictable story by Laurie Goldstein retailing the results of a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Center for the People and the Press, where the familiar and depressing result was to expose the grand level of public ignorance about one of the simplest and most easily appreciated scientific theories, the idea that life forms evolve naturally and without any help from supernatural intervention.

Fully 42 per cent held strict creationist views, believing that “living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” Of the 48 per cent who have somehow cottoned on to the probability that humans evolved over time, one out of five (18 per cent) thought that this was helped along by some all-powerful entity pulling strings from behind the scenes – “guided by a supreme being.”

In line with this about two thirds – 64 per cent – thought along with the No Child Left Behind president that it would be fine to teach creationism alongside evolution in schools, while nearly two out of five Americans favored replacing the teaching of evolution with creationism.

(Here is Laurie Goodstein’s story in the Times:)

Teaching of Creationism Is Endorsed in New Survey


In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that “living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was “guided by a supreme being,” and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said he was surprised to see that teaching both evolution and creationism was favored not only by conservative Christians, but also by majorities of secular respondents, liberal Democrats and those who accept the theory of natural selection. Mr. Green called it a reflection of “American pragmatism.”

“It’s like they’re saying, ‘Some people see it this way, some see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out.’ It seems like a nice compromise, but it infuriates both the creationists and the scientists,” said Mr. Green, who is also a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Eugenie C. Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education and a prominent defender of evolution, said the findings were not surprising because “Americans react very positively to the fairness or equal time kind of argument.”

“In fact, it’s the strongest thing that creationists have got going for them because their science is dismal,” Ms. Scott said. “But they do have American culture on their side.”

This year, the National Center for Science Education has tracked 70 new controversies over evolution in 26 states, some in school districts, others in the state legislatures.

President Bush joined the debate on Aug. 2, telling reporters that both evolution and the theory of intelligent design should be taught in schools “so people can understand what the debate is about.”

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, took the same position a few weeks later.

Intelligent design, a descendant of creationism, is the belief that life is so intricate that only a supreme being could have designed it.

The poll showed 41 percent of respondents wanted parents to have the primary say over how evolution is taught, compared with 28 percent who said teachers and scientists should decide and 21 percent who said school boards should. Asked whether they believed creationism should be taught instead of evolution, 38 percent were in favor, and 49 percent were opposed.

More of those who believe in creationism said they were “very certain” of their views (63 percent), compared with those who believe in evolution (32 percent).

The poll also asked about religion and politics, government financing of religious charities, and gay men and lesbians in the military. Most of these questions were asked of a smaller pool of 1,000 respondents, and the margin of error was 2.5 percentage points, Pew researchers said.

The public’s impression of the Democratic Party has changed in the last year, the survey found. Only 29 percent of respondents said they viewed Democrats as being “friendly toward religion,” down from 40 percent in August of 2004. Meanwhile, 55 percent said the Republican Party was friendly toward religion.

Luis E. Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said: “I think this is a continuation of the Republican Party’s very successful use of the values issue in the 2004 election, and the Democrats not being able up until now to answer that successfully. Some of the more visible leaders, such as Howard Dean and others, have reinforced that image of a secular party. Of course, if you look at the Democratic Party, there’s a large religious constituency there.”

Survey respondents agreed in nearly equal numbers that nonreligious liberals had “too much control” over the Democratic Party (44 percent), and that religious conservatives had too much control over the Republican Party (45 percent).

On religion-based charities, two-thirds of respondents favored allowing churches and houses of worship to apply for government financing to provide social services. But support for such financing declined from 75 percent in early 2001, when Mr. Bush rolled out his religion-based initiative.

On gay men and lesbians in the military, 58 percent of those polled said they should be allowed to serve openly, a modest increase from 1994, when 52 percent agreed. Strong opposition has fallen in that time, to 15 percent from 26 percent in 1994.

That latter figure – 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism – is the mind boggling one.

Except, perhaps, if one watches the “Jay walking” sergment of Jay Leno’s nightly talk show on NBC, where the amiably reassuring host confronts passers by on the streets of Los Angeles with questions of childish simplicity, of the order of “Which country is to the North of the US?” or “Where is France?” As Leno shows time after time, the average youngish inhabitant of Los Angeles that he picks is completely stumped.

In principle this might be a classless democracy but it is sadly clear that those who expect the average American to know what scientists are talking about are unaware of how extraordinarily disadvantaged educationally two thirds of the population are.

Fooling all the people all the time

The chances of a public outcry when scientists in for example AIDS or cancer are exposed as pulling the wool over the public’s eyes for twenty years or more seem low to zero, for this basic level of ignorance is only the lower half of the pyramid of ignorance about science which stretches up to the top levels of power in Washington.

Small wonder that the scientists who perpetrate these unproductive paradigms on the basis of literature the most tested of which long ago showed that they were money wasting dead ends seem entirely unworried that they will ever be held to account for their actions.

It is not just the general public who are defenceless in the face of any scientists who want to engage them in the scientific equivalent of three card monte, it is the media editors and reporters, the senators and congressmen, and government officials who are in theory those who are meant to guard the public purse from any such scams.

They must depend on skilled advisors they trust, who must be able to comprehend such fields to the level where they can distinguish between viable and ill founded ideas in science, and have no political prejudice in making such assessments, even if their bosses do.

This is a tall order, as the present state of scientific policy under the hand of the Bush administration shows. There’s both left and right bias in the scientific claims that are made in the political realm, and the supply of impeccably objective and uncompromised advisors is very slim.

Yet this is a problem which must be surmounted if society is to be protected from being fooled into funding paradigms which are already exploded in the peer reviewed literature. In AIDS and cancer, in particular, it seems unlikely that the scientists who lead those fields and thus the public and governments round the world into funding the themes they sound will ever be held to account for their suppressing discussion of the difficulties that result, which according to the critiques that have survived the most hostile peer review to be published in the leading journals are inevitable because their theories do not make scientific sense.

For the only investigation which will make any difference at this stage would be either a sudden improvement in the alertness and objectivity of the coverage of these fields in the New York Times, and a long and comprehensive investigative report in that paper or just possibly a similar awakening in the pages of Harpers or the Atlantic; or a Congressional investigation with testimony from leading scientists of both stripes, that is to say, the human pillars of these two paradigms and their critical reviewers.

Perhaps this might be achieved by a pubic spirited patron willing to deliver copies to the major media, Senate and Congress of the book by Harvey Bialy, “Aneuploidy, Oncogenes and AIDS: The Life and Scientific Times of Peter H. Duesberg” (North Atlantic Books, 2004).

This invaluable survey, already a classic in the minds of many informed readers, is as we have noted earlier currently the definitive evisceration of the theory and practice of the purported sciences of AIDS and cancer as now perpetrated by the scientists who lead the field, and an account of how they managed to bamboozle even the editors of Nature and Science into helping them sideline the critiques of both paradigms by Berkeley’s Peter Duesberg, even though his rejecting reviews had been published in the very best journals after the most severe and hostile (and thus validating) peer reviewing in the recent history of either field.

The big problem here, however, is that Bialy’s book may be of great interest and satisfaction, even entertainment only to those intelligent readers with some acquaintance of the science involved in his classically precise and intellectually lively and often amusing work.

To the average reader, however, even the intelligent reader with some idea of what he is talking about, the book is a hard read, and not one which any editor, reporter, Senator, Congressman, or staff member will be able to fathom without devoting an unusual amount of time to studying its explanations of why Duesberg’s critique is irresistible even if the accumulated mass of theory and practice it takes apart has so far proved immovable.

On the other hand, the politics and behavior of the stars of science who play leading roles, and their essential corruption and evasion is dealing with Duesberg’s review of their stock-in-trade, is clear enough in Bialy’s book. It is the abundant, precise and rather technical science that he elegantly purveys throughout the book that stops most readers, unfortunately, even those who are already sympathtic to his theme.

Even for these sympathizers its difficult science – accurate and invaluable though it is to anybody seriously researching the issues it deals with, and utterly persuasive because of this precision – as a promoter of change in public policy and public opinion the book is likely to fail because it is simply not an easy enough read. With the science included at every relevant point without additional explanation for the layman it becomes at those points, as even one lay journalist actively supporting free speech and debate in these fields put it to us, “unreadable.”

For this reason we say that what the world is waiting for is a vivid journalistic expose of the politics and behavior of the scientists rather than yet another analysis of where they have gone wrong in science, a topic which has already seen fourteen very good books in AIDS which have gone nowhere, even though more than half of them do also expose very well the politics and behavior of the scientists involved.

A tipping point may be approaching

It is the focus on the politics and behavior without too much science which seems to be the crucial approach which might lead to the long awaited (by the AIDS heretics and the much smaller group of cancer theory skeptics) tipping point in these fields, such that a reexamination of the paradigms by a Congressional committee and/or the Times will be provoked.

Interestingly enough there is just such a piece in the works from a journalist of great talent who has achieved, according to the draft we read, the magical goal of reporting the politics and behavior of the scientists, drug companies, officials and activists in AIDS and their manipulation of the media, other scientists, and the data and the studies on which all depend in such clearly honest, accurate and readable terms that we expect almost all readers to smell a global-sized rat in the science of AIDS even though the discussion of the science of AIDS in the piece is minimal.

It will be interesting to see what the effect of this piece when published will be. We confidently expect its moral outrage to be shared by almost every impartial reader who encounters it, and thus that it will be influential in provoking the media and Wahsington at long last to look at the picture it draws with new eyes.

If that is so, it might be, after more than two decades of effectively complete suppression of free speech and alternative views in AIDS, a tipping point.

Cholera indexes how bad conditions can be in Africa

August 28th, 2005

Presumably cholera acts too quickly to be misdiagnosed as AIDS, but its outbreaks surely indicate how rough conditions are on the ground in many places. A little item in the Times from Reuters at the bottom of the second page on Sunday salutes this perennial threat.

The New York Times

August 28, 2005

Cholera Kills Hundreds in West Africa


DAKAR, Senegal, Aug. 27 (Reuters) – Cholera outbreaks caused partly by heavy rains battering West Africa have killed hundreds of people in the last few months, prompting appeals for medicine to help thousands of sufferers, United Nations officials said this week.


The New York Times

August 28, 2005

Cholera Kills Hundreds in West Africa


DAKAR, Senegal, Aug. 27 (Reuters) – Cholera outbreaks caused partly by heavy rains battering West Africa have killed hundreds of people in the last few months, prompting appeals for medicine to help thousands of sufferers, United Nations officials said this week.

The number of recorded cholera cases in West Africa this year is 24,621, with at least 401 deaths in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, according to United Nations data.

In Guinea-Bissau, the hardest hit, cholera deaths have more than doubled since Aug. 9, rising to 188 from 84. An official in the Health Ministry in Bissau, the capital, which has borne the brunt of the epidemic, said more than 9,000 cases had been recorded and that the disease was spreading rapidly in the provinces.

In Congo, a cholera outbreak in a convoy of about 3,000 soldiers traveling with their families in the east killed at least 16 people and infected hundreds, aid officials said Friday. Relief workers said the convoy, had dropped off hundreds of infected people in villages along the way, spreading exposure to local residents.

Cholera can kill victims within 24 hours by inducing vomiting and diarrhea that cause severe dehydration, but it is treatable using a simple mixture of water and rehydration salts.

Often associated with heavy rains that flood latrines or contaminate wells, cholera usually kills people who are so poor they cannot afford basic health care.

Several countries have sent aid, including France, China and Portugal, but United Nations officials said more was needed.

Career advice to AIDS heretics from Kit

August 27th, 2005

“Try to keep an open mind and understand the viewpoints of others. Consider the minority opinion. But try to get along with the majority of opinion once it is accepted.”

(Martin Sheen as the trigger happy killer Kit in Terrence Malick’s Badlands, trying out the dictaphone in the rich man’s mansion).

Career advice for scientists from Kit

August 25th, 2005

“Try to keep an open mind and understand the viewpoints of others. Consider the minority opinion. But try to get along with the majority of opinion once it is accepted.”

(Martin Sheen as the trigger happy killer Kit in Terrence Malick’s Badlands, trying out the dictaphone in the rich man’s mansion).

The Times surveys the ID vs Darwin scene with equanimity

August 22nd, 2005

Perhaps inspired by George W’s suggestion for schools, the New York Times yesterday had on the front page for Hampton’s beach reading a nicely balanced, typically non-combative survey of the science, politics and funding of Intelligent Design and its bid to elbow aside evolution to share the center of the stage in the schools and in the media.

It is interesting to note the Harvard student roots of this phenomenon, and the fact that some of the original boosters have fallen by the way side, put off by the streaks of archconservatism and religious fundamentalism they found under the surface layer of open minded reason and speculation.

From our scientific perspective we can only ask both sides again why the gaps in evolutionary explanation need to be denied, and why God is needed to fill them.

See Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive, by Jodi Wilgoren

The New York Times

August 21, 2005

Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive


SEATTLE – When President Bush plunged into the debate over the teaching of evolution this month, saying, “both sides ought to be properly taught,” he seemed to be reading from the playbook of the Discovery Institute, the conservative think tank here that is at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation’s culture wars.

After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute’s Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a “teach the controversy” approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.

Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute’s talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums “so people can understand what the debate is about.”

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization’s intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life’s origins known as intelligent design.

Together, they have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin’s defenders firmly on the defensive.

Like a well-tooled electoral campaign, the Discovery Institute has a carefully crafted, poll-tested message, lively Web logs – and millions of dollars from foundations run by prominent conservatives like Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Philip F. Anschutz and Richard Mellon Scaife. The institute opened an office in Washington last fall and in January hired the same Beltway public relations firm that promoted the Contract With America in 1994.

“We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution,” said the center’s director, Stephen C. Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of science recruited by Discovery after he protested a professor’s being punished for criticizing Darwin in class. “We want to have an effect on the dominant view of our culture.”

For the institute’s president, Bruce K. Chapman, a Rockefeller Republican turned Reagan conservative, intelligent design appealed to his contrarian, futuristic sensibilities – and attracted wealthy, religious philanthropists like the Ahmansons at a time when his organization was surviving on a shoestring. More student of politics than science geek, Mr. Chapman embraced the evolution controversy as the institute’s signature issue precisely because of its unpopularity in the establishment.

“When someone says there’s one thing you can’t talk about, that’s what I want to talk about,” said Mr. Chapman, 64.

As much philosophical worldview as scientific hypothesis, intelligent design challenges Darwin’s theory of natural selection by arguing that some organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to the possibility of supernatural influences. While mutual acceptance of evolution and the existence of God appeals instinctively to a faithful public, intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities and science societies as untestable in laboratories.

Entering the Public Policy Sphere

From its nondescript office suites here, the institute has provided an institutional home for the dissident thinkers, pumping $3.6 million in fellowships of $5,000 to $60,000 per year to 50 researchers since the science center’s founding in 1996. Among the fruits are 50 books on intelligent design, many published by religious presses like InterVarsity or Crossway, and two documentaries that were broadcast briefly on public television. But even as the institute spearheads the intellectual development of intelligent design, it has staked out safer turf in the public policy sphere, urging states and school boards simply to include criticism in evolution lessons rather than actually teach intelligent design.

Since the presidential election last fall, the movement has made inroads and evolution has emerged as one of the country’s fiercest cultural battlefronts, with the National Center for Science Education tracking 78 clashes in 31 states, more than twice the typical number of incidents. Discovery leaders have been at the heart of the highest-profile developments: helping a Roman Catholic cardinal place an opinion article in The New York Times in which he sought to distance the church from evolution; showing its film promoting design and purpose in the universe at the Smithsonian; and lobbying the Kansas Board of Education in May to require criticism of evolution.

These successes follow a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” in favor of a “broadly theistic understanding of nature.”

President Bush’s signature education law, known as No Child Left Behind, also helped, as mandatory testing prompted states to rewrite curriculum standards. Ohio, New Mexico and Minnesota have embraced the institute’s “teach the controversy” approach; Kansas is expected to follow suit in the fall.

Detractors dismiss Discovery as a fundamentalist front and intelligent design as a clever rhetorical detour around the 1987 Supreme Court ruling banning creationism from curriculums. But the institute’s approach is more nuanced, scholarly and politically adept than its Bible-based predecessors in the century-long battle over biology.

A closer look shows a multidimensional organization, financed by missionary and mainstream groups – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides $1 million a year, including $50,000 of Mr. Chapman’s $141,000 annual salary – and asserting itself on questions on issues as varied as local transportation and foreign affairs.

Many of the research fellows, employees and board members are, indeed, devout and determinedly conservative; pictures of William J. Bennett, the moral crusader and former drug czar, are fixtures on office walls, and some leaders have ties to movement mainstays like Focus on the Family. All but a few in the organization are Republicans, though these include moderates drawn by the institute’s pragmatic, iconoclastic approach on nonideological topics like technology.

But even as intelligent design has helped raise Discovery’s profile, the institute is starting to suffer from its success. Lately, it has tried to distance itself from lawsuits and legislation that seek to force schools to add intelligent design to curriculums, placing it in the awkward spot of trying to promote intelligent design as a robust frontier for scientists but not yet ripe for students.

The group is also fending off attacks from the left, as critics liken it to Holocaust deniers or the Taliban. Concerned about the criticism, Discovery’s Cascadia project, which focuses on regional transportation and is the recipient of the large grant from the Gates Foundation, created its own Web site to ensure an individual identity.

“All ideas go through three stages – first they’re ignored, then they’re attacked, then they’re accepted,” said Jay W. Richards, a philosopher and the institute’s vice president. “We’re kind of beyond the ignored stage. We’re somewhere in the attack.”

Origins of an Institute

Founded in 1990 as a branch of the Hudson Institute, based in Indianapolis, the institute was named for the H.M.S. Discovery, which explored Puget Sound in 1792. Mr. Chapman, a co-author of a 1966 critique of Barry M. Goldwater’s anti-civil-rights campaign, “The Party That Lost Its Head,” had been a liberal Republican on the Seattle City Council and candidate for governor, but moved to the right in the Reagan administration, where he served as director of the Census Bureau and worked for Edwin Meese III.

In late 1993, Mr. Chapman clipped an essay in The Wall Street Journal by Dr. Meyer, who was teaching at a Christian college in Spokane, Wash., concerning a biologist yanked from a lecture hall for discussing intelligent design. About a year later, over dinner at the Sorrento Hotel here, Dr. Meyer and George Gilder, Mr. Chapman’s long-ago Harvard roommate and his writing partner, discovered parallel theories of mind over materialism in their separate studies of biology and economics.

“Bruce kind of perked up and said, ‘This is what makes a think tank,’ ” Dr. Meyer recalled. “There was kind of an ‘Aha!’ moment in the conversation, there was a common metaphysic in these two ideas.”

That summer of 1995, Mr. Chapman and Dr. Meyer had dinner with a representative of the Ahmansons, the banking billionaires from Orange County, Calif., who had previously given a small grant to the institute and underwritten an early conclave of intelligent design scholars. Dr. Meyer, who had grown friendly enough with the Ahmansons to tutor their young son in science, recalled being asked, “What could you do if you had some financial backing?”

So in 1996, with the promise of $750,000 over three years from the Ahmansons and a smaller grant from the MacLellan Foundation, which supports organizations “committed to furthering the Kingdom of Christ,” according to its Web site, the institute’s Center for Science and Culture was born.

“Bruce is a contrarian, and this was a contrarian idea,” said Edward J. Larson, the historian and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Scopes Monkey Trial, who was an early fellow at the institute, but left in part because of its drift to the right. “The institute was living hand-to-mouth. Here was an academic, credible activity that involved funders. It interested conservatives. It brought in money.”

Support From Religious Groups

The institute would not provide details about its backers “because they get harassed,” Mr. Chapman said. But a review of tax documents on, a Web site that collects data on foundations, showed its grants and gifts jumped to $4.1 million in 2003 from $1.4 million in 1997, the most recent and oldest years available. The records show financial support from 22 foundations, at least two-thirds of them with explicitly religious missions.

There is the Henry P. and Susan C. Crowell Trust of Colorado Springs, whose Web site describes its mission as “the teaching and active extension of the doctrines of evangelical Christianity.” There is also the AMDG Foundation in Virginia, run by Mark Ryland, a Microsoft executive turned Discovery vice president: the initials stand for Ad Majorem Dei Glorium, Latin for “To the greater glory of God,” which Pope John Paul II etched in the corner of all his papers.

And the Stewardship Foundation, based in Tacoma, Wash., whose Web site says it was created “to contribute to the propagation of the Christian Gospel by evangelical and missionary work,” gave the group more than $1 million between 1999 and 2003.

By far the biggest backers of the intelligent design efforts are the Ahmansons, who have provided 35 percent of the science center’s $9.3 million since its inception and now underwrite a quarter of its $1.3 million annual operations. Mr. Ahmanson also sits on Discovery’s board.

The Ahmansons’ founding gift was joined by $450,000 from the MacLellan Foundation, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“We give for religious purposes,” said Thomas H. McCallie III, its executive director. “This is not about science, and Darwin wasn’t about science. Darwin was about a metaphysical view of the world.”

The institute also has support from secular groups like the Verizon Foundation and the Gates Foundation, which gave $1 million in 2000 and pledged $9.35 million over 10 years in 2003. Greg Shaw, a grant maker at the Gates Foundation, said the money was “exclusive to the Cascadia project” on regional transportation.

But the evolution controversy has cost it the support of the Bullitt Foundation, based here, which gave $10,000 in 2001 for transportation, as well as the John Templeton Foundation in Pennsylvania, whose Web site defines it as devoted to pursuing “new insights between theology and science.”

Denis Hayes, director of the Bullitt Foundation, described Discovery in an e-mail message as “the institutional love child of Ayn Rand and Jerry Falwell,” saying, “I can think of no circumstances in which the Bullitt Foundation would fund anything at Discovery today.”

Charles L. Harper Jr., the senior vice president of the Templeton Foundation, said he had rejected the institute’s entreaties since providing $75,000 in 1999 for a conference in which intelligent design proponents confronted critics. “They’re political – that for us is problematic,” Mr. Harper said. While Discovery has “always claimed to be focused on the science,” he added, “what I see is much more focused on public policy, on public persuasion, on educational advocacy and so forth.”

For three years after completing graduate school in 1996, William A. Dembski could not find a university job, but he nonetheless received what he called “a standard academic salary” of $40,000 a year.

“I was one of the early beneficiaries of Discovery largess,” said Dr. Dembski, whose degrees include a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago, one in philosophy from the University of Illinois and a master’s of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Money for Teachers and Students

Since its founding in 1996, the science center has spent 39 percent of its $9.3 million on research, Dr. Meyer said, underwriting books or papers, or often just paying universities to release professors from some teaching responsibilities so that they can ponder intelligent design. Over those nine years, $792,585 financed laboratory or field research in biology, paleontology or biophysics, while $93,828 helped graduate students in paleontology, linguistics, history and philosophy.

The 40 fellows affiliated with the science center are an eclectic group, including David Berlinski, an expatriate mathematician living in Paris who described his only religion to be “having a good time all the time,” and Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church, led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who once wrote in an essay, “My prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism.”

Their credentials – advanced degrees from Stanford, Columbia, Yale, the University of Texas, the University of California – are impressive, but their ideas are often ridiculed in the academic world.

“They’re interested in the same things I’m interested in – no one else is,” Guillermo Gonzalez, 41, an astronomer at the University of Iowa, said of his colleagues at Discovery. “What I’m doing, frankly, is frowned upon by most of my colleagues. It’s not something a ‘scientist’ is supposed to do.” Other than Dr. Berlinski, most fellows, like their financiers, are fundamentalist Christians, though they insist their work is serious science, not closet creationism.

“I believe that God created the universe,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “What I don’t know is whether that evidence can be tested objectively. I ask myself the tough questions.”

Discovery sees the focus on its fellows and financial backers as a diversionary tactic by its opponents. “We’re talking about evidence, and they want to talk about us,” Dr. Meyer said.

But Philip Gold, a former fellow who left in 2002, said the institute had grown increasingly religious. “It evolved from a policy institute that had a religious focus to an organization whose primary mission is Christian conservatism,” he said.

That was certainly how many people read the Wedge Document, a five-page outline of a five-year plan for the science center that originated as a fund-raising pitch but was soon posted on the Internet by critics.

“Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions,” the document says. Among its promises are seminars “to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence that support the faith, as well as to ‘popularize’ our ideas in the broader culture.”

One sign of any political movement’s advancement is when adherents begin to act on their own, often without the awareness of the leadership. That, according to institute officials, is what happened in 1999, when a new conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education shocked the nation – and their potential allies here at the institute – by dropping all references to evolution from the state’s science standards.

“When there are all these legitimate scientific controversies, this was silly, outlandish, counterproductive,” said John G. West, associate director of the science center, who said he and his colleagues learned of that 1999 move in Kansas from newspaper accounts. “We began to think, ‘Look, we’re going to be stigmatized with what everyone does if we don’t make our position clear.’ “

Out of this developed Discovery’s “teach the controversy” approach, which endorses evolution as a staple of any biology curriculum – so long as criticism of Darwin is also in the lesson plan. This satisfied Christian conservatives but also appealed to Republican moderates and, under the First Amendment banner, much of the public (71 percent in a Discovery-commissioned Zogby poll in 2001 whose results were mirrored in newspaper polls).

“They have packaged their message much more cleverly than the creation science people have,” said Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, the leading defender of evolution. “They present themselves as being more mainstream. I prefer to think of that as creationism light.”

A watershed moment came with the adoption in 2001 of the No Child Left Behind Act, whose legislative history includes a passage that comes straight from the institute’s talking points. “Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy,” was language that Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, tried to include.

Pointing to that principle, institute fellows in 2002 played important roles in pushing the Ohio Board of Education to adopt a “teach the controversy” approach and helped devise a curriculum to support it. The following year, they successfully urged changes to textbooks in Texas to weaken the argument for evolution, and they have been consulted in numerous other cases as school districts or states consider changing their approach to biology.

But this spring, at the hearings in Kansas, Mr. Chapman grew visibly frustrated as his supposed allies began talking more and more about intelligent design.

John Calvert, the managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, based in Kansas, said the institute had the intellectual and financial resources to “lead the movement” but was “more cautious” than he would like. “They want to avoid the discussion of religion because that detracts from the focus on the science,” he said.

Dr. West, who leads the science center’s public policy efforts, said it did not support mandating the teaching of intelligent design because the theory was not yet developed enough and there was no appropriate curriculum. So the institute has opposed legislation in Pennsylvania and Utah that pushes intelligent design, instead urging lawmakers to follow Ohio’s lead.

“A lot of people are trying to hijack the issue on both the left and the right,” Dr. West said.

Dr. Chapman, for his part, sees even these rough spots as signs of success.

“All ideas that achieve a sort of uniform acceptance ultimately fall apart whether it’s in the sciences or philosophy or politics after a few people keep knocking away at it,” he said. “It’s wise for society not to punish those people.”

Jack Begg, David Bernstein and Alain Delaquérière contributed reporting for this article.

Now this morning we have another informative Times piece by Kenneth Chang, a science reporter with a wide perspective and a mathematical objecticity, on exactly what evidence in evolution the ID promoters are saying has to be explained by divine intervention. In Explaining Life’s Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash, by Kenneth Chang

The New York Times

August 22, 2005

In Explaining Life’s Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash


At the heart of the debate over intelligent design is this question: Can a scientific explanation of the history of life include the actions of an unseen higher being?

The proponents of intelligent design, a school of thought that some have argued should be taught alongside evolution in the nation’s schools, say that the complexity and diversity of life go beyond what evolution can explain.

Biological marvels like the optical precision of an eye, the little spinning motors that propel bacteria and the cascade of proteins that cause blood to clot, they say, point to the hand of a higher being at work in the world.

In one often-cited argument, Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and a leading design theorist, compares complex biological phenomena like blood clotting to a mousetrap: Take away any one piece – the spring, the baseboard, the metal piece that snags the mouse – and the mousetrap stops being able to catch mice.

Similarly, Dr. Behe argues, if any one of the more than 20 proteins involved in blood clotting is missing or deficient, as happens in hemophilia, for instance, clots will not form properly.

Such all-or-none systems, Dr. Behe and other design proponents say, could not have arisen through the incremental changes that evolution says allowed life to progress to the big brains and the sophisticated abilities of humans from primitive bacteria.

These complex systems are “always associated with design,” Dr. Behe, the author of the 1996 book “Darwin’s Black Box,” said in an interview. “We find such systems in biology, and since we know of no other way that these things can be produced, Darwinian claims notwithstanding, then we are rational to conclude they were indeed designed.”

It is an argument that appeals to many Americans of faith.

But mainstream scientists say that the claims of intelligent design run counter to a century of research supporting the explanatory and predictive power of Darwinian evolution, and that the design approach suffers from fundamental problems that place it outside the realm of science. For one thing, these scientists say, invoking a higher being as an explanation is unscientific.

“One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed,” said Douglas H. Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. “That’s a fundamental presumption of what we do.”

That does not mean that scientists do not believe in God. Many do. But they see science as an effort to find out how the material world works, with nothing to say about why we are here or how we should live.

And in that quest, they say, there is no need to resort to otherworldly explanations. So much evidence has been provided by evolutionary studies that biologists are able to explain even the most complex natural phenomena and to fill in whatever blanks remain with solid theories.

This is possible, in large part, because evolution leaves tracks like the fossil remains of early animals or the chemical footprints in DNA that have been revealed by genetic research.

For example, while Dr. Behe and other leading design proponents see the blood clotting system as a product of design, mainstream scientists see it as a result of a coherent sequence of evolutionary events.

Early vertebrates like jawless fish had a simple clotting system, scientists believe, involving a few proteins that made blood stick together, said Russell F. Doolittle, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego.

Scientists hypothesize that at some point, a mistake during the copying of DNA resulted in the duplication of a gene, increasing the amount of protein produced by cells.

Most often, such a change would be useless. But in this case the extra protein helped blood clot, and animals with the extra protein were more likely to survive and reproduce. Over time, as higher-order species evolved, other proteins joined the clotting system. For instance, several proteins involved in the clotting of blood appear to have started as digestive enzymes.

By studying the evolutionary tree and the genetics and biochemistry of living organisms, Dr. Doolittle said, scientists have largely been able to determine the order in which different proteins became involved in helping blood clot, eventually producing the sophisticated clotting mechanisms of humans and other higher animals. The sequencing of animal genomes has provided evidence to support this view.

For example, scientists had predicted that more primitive animals such as fish would be missing certain blood-clotting proteins. In fact, the recent sequencing of the fish genome has shown just this.

“The evidence is rock solid,” Dr. Doolittle said.

Intelligent design proponents have advanced their views in books for popular audiences and in a few scientific articles. Some have developed mathematical formulas intended to tell whether something was designed or formed by natural processes.

Mainstream scientists say that intelligent design represents a more sophisticated – and thus more seductive – attack on evolution. Unlike creationists, design proponents accept many of the conclusions of modern science. They agree with cosmologists that the age of the universe is 13.6 billion years, not fewer than 10,000 years, as a literal reading of the Bible would suggest. They accept that mutation and natural selection, the central mechanisms of evolution, have acted on the natural world in small ways, for example, leading to the decay of eyes in certain salamanders that live underground.

Some intelligent design advocates even accept common descent, the notion that all species came from a common ancestor, a central tenet of evolution.

Although a vast majority of scientists accept evolution, the Discovery Institute, a research group in Seattle that has emerged as a clearinghouse for the intelligent design movement, says that 404 scientists, including 70 biologists, have signed a petition saying they are skeptical of Darwinism.

Nonetheless, many scientists regard intelligent design as little more than creationism dressed up in pseudoscientific clothing. Despite its use of scientific language and the fact that some design advocates are scientists, they say, the design approach has so far offered only philosophical objections to evolution, not any positive evidence for the intervention of a designer.

‘Truncated View of Reality’

If Dr. Behe’s mousetrap is one of the most familiar arguments for design, another is the idea that intelligence is obvious in what it creates. Read a novel by Hemingway, gaze at the pyramids, and a designer’s hand is manifest, design proponents say.

But mainstream scientists, design proponents say, are unwilling to look beyond the material world when it comes to explaining things like the construction of an eye or the spinning motors that propel bacteria. What is wrong, they ask, with entertaining the idea that what looks like it was designed was actually designed?

“If we’ve defined science such that it cannot get to the true answer, we’ve got a pretty lame definition of science,” said Douglas D. Axe, a molecular biologist and the director of research at the Biologic Institute, a new research center in Seattle that looks at the organization of biological systems, including intelligent design issues. Dr. Axe said he had received “significant” financing from the Discovery Institute, but he declined to give any other details about the institute or its financing.

Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, compares the design approach to the work of archaeologists investigating an ancient civilization.

“Imagine you’re an archaeologist and you’re looking at an inscription, and you say, ‘Well, sorry, that looks like it’s intelligent but we can’t invoke an intelligent cause because, as a matter of method, we have to limit ourselves to materialistic processes,’ ” Dr. Meyer said. “That would be nuts.”

He added, “Call it miracle, call it some other pejorative term, but the fact remains that the materialistic view is a truncated view of reality.”

William Paley, an Anglican priest, made a similar argument in the early 19th century. Someone who finds a rock can easily imagine how wind and rain shaped it, he reasoned. But someone who finds a pocket watch lying on the ground instantly knows that it was not formed by natural processes.

With living organisms so much more complicated than watches, he wrote, “The marks of design are too strong to be got over.”

Mainstream scientists say that the scientific method is indeed restricted to the material world, because it is trying to find out how it works. Simply saying, “it must have been designed,” they say, is simply a way of not tackling the hardest problems.

They say they have no disagreement with studying phenomena for which there are, as yet, no explanations.

It is the presumption of a designer that mainstream scientists dispute, because there are no artifacts or biological signs – no scientific evidence, in other words – to suggest a designer’s presence.

Darwin’s theory, in contrast, has over the last century yielded so many solid findings that no mainstream biologist today doubts its basic tenets, though they may argue about particulars.

The theory has unlocked many of the mysteries of the natural world. For example, by studying the skeletons of whales, evolutionary scientists have been able to trace the history of their descent from small-hoofed land mammals. They made predictions about what the earliest water-dwelling whales might look like. And, in 1994, paleontologists reported discovering two such species, with many of the anatomical features that scientists had predicted.

Darwin’s Finches

Nowhere has evolution been more powerful than in its prediction that there must be a means to pass on information from one generation to another. Darwin did not know the biological mechanism of inheritance, but the theory of evolution required one.

The discovery of DNA, the sequencing of the human genome, the pinpointing of genetic diseases and the discovery that a continuum of life from a single cell to a human brain can be detected in DNA are all a result of evolutionary theory.

Darwin may have been the classic scientific observer. He observed that individuals in a given species varied considerably, variations now known to be caused by mutations in their genetic code. He also realized that constraints of food and habitat sharply limited population growth; not every individual could survive and reproduce.

This competition, he hypothesized, meant that those individuals with helpful traits multiplied, passing on those traits to their numerous offspring. Negative or useless traits did not help individuals reproduce, and those traits faded away, a process that Darwin called natural selection.

The finches that Darwin observed in the Galápagos Islands provide the most famous example of this process. The species of finch that originally found its way to the Galápagos from South America had a beak shaped in a way that was ideal for eating seeds. But once arrived on the islands, that finch eventually diversified into 13 species. The various Galápagos finches have differently shaped beaks, each fine-tuned to take advantage of a particular food, like fruit, grubs, buds or seeds.

Such small adaptations can arise within a few generations. Darwin surmised that over millions of years, these small changes would accumulate, giving rise to the myriad of species seen today.

The number of organisms that, in those long periods, ended up being preserved as fossils is infinitesimal. As a result, the evolutionary record – the fossils of long-extinct organisms found preserved in rock – is necessarily incomplete, and some species appear to burst out of nowhere.

Some supporters of intelligent design have argued that such gaps undermine the evidence for evolution.

For instance, during the Cambrian explosion a half a billion years ago, life diversified to shapes with limbs and shells from jellyfish-like blobs, over a geologically brief span of 30 million years.

Dr. Meyer sees design at work in these large leaps, which signified the appearance of most modern forms of life. He argues that genetic mutations do not have the power to create new shapes of animals.

But molecular biologists have found genes that control the function of other genes, switching them on and off. Small mutations in these controller genes could produce new species. In addition, new fossils are being found and scientists now know that many changes occurred in the era before the Cambrian – a period that may have lasted 100 million years – providing more time for change.

The Cambrian explosion, said David J. Bottjer, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Southern California and president of the Paleontological Society, is “a wonderful mystery in that we don’t know everything yet.”

“I think it will be just a matter of time before smart people will be able to figure a lot more of this out,” Dr. Bottjer said. “Like any good scientific problem.”

Purposeful Patterns

Intelligent design proponents have been stung by claims that, in contrast to mainstream scientists, they do not form their own theories or conduct original research. They say they are doing the mathematical work and biological experiments needed to put their ideas on firm scientific ground.

For example, William A. Dembski, a mathematician who drew attention when he headed a short-lived intelligent design institute at Baylor University, has worked on mathematical algorithms that purport to tell the difference between objects that were designed and those that occurred naturally.

Dr. Dembski says designed objects, like Mount Rushmore, show complex, purposeful patterns that evince the existence of intelligence. Mathematical calculations like those he has developed, he argues, could detect those patterns, for example, distinguishing Mount Rushmore from Mount St. Helens.

But other mathematicians have said that Dr. Dembski’s calculations do not work and cannot be applied in the real world.

Other studies that intelligent design theorists cite in support of their views have been done by Dr. Axe of the Biologic Institute.

In one such study, Dr. Axe looked at a protein, called penicillinase, that gives bacteria the ability to survive treatment with the antibiotic penicillin. Dr. Meyer, of the Discovery Institute, has referred to Dr. Axe’s work in arguing that working proteins are so rare that evolution cannot by chance discover them.

What was the probability, Dr. Axe asked in his study, of a protein with this ability existing in the universe of all possible proteins?

Penicillinase is made up of a strand of chemicals called amino acids folded into a shape that binds to penicillin and thus disables it. Whether the protein folds up in the right way determines whether it works or not.

Dr. Axe calculated that of the plausible amino acid sequences, only one in 100,000 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion – a number written as 1 followed by 77 zeroes – would provide resistance to penicillin.

In other words, the probability was essentially zero.

Dr. Axe’s research appeared last year in The Journal of Molecular Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific publication.

Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and a frequent sparring partner of design proponents, said that in his study, Dr. Axe did not look at penicillinase “the way evolution looks at the protein.”

Natural selection, he said, is not random. A small number of mutations, sometimes just one, can change the function of a protein, allowing it to diverge along new evolutionary paths and eventually form a new shape or fold.

One Shot or a Continual Act

Intelligent design proponents are careful to say that they cannot identify the designer at work in the world, although most readily concede that God is the most likely possibility. And they offer varied opinions on when and how often a designer intervened.

Dr. Behe, for example, said he could imagine that, like an elaborate billiards shot, the design was set up when the Big Bang occurred 13.6 billion years ago. “It could have all been programmed into the universe as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

But it was also possible, Dr. Behe added, that a designer acted continually throughout the history of life.

Mainstream scientists say this fuzziness about when and how design supposedly occurred makes the claims impossible to disprove. It is unreasonable, they say, for design advocates to demand that every detail of evolution be filled in.

Dr. Behe, however, said he might find it compelling if scientists were to observe evolutionary leaps in the laboratory. He pointed to an experiment by Richard E. Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University, who has been observing the evolution of E. coli bacteria for more than 15 years. “If anything cool came out of that,” Dr. Behe said, “that would be one way to convince me.”

Dr. Behe said that if he was correct, then the E. coli in Dr. Lenski’s lab would evolve in small ways but never change in such a way that the bacteria would develop entirely new abilities.

In fact, such an ability seems to have developed. Dr. Lenski said his experiment was not intended to explore this aspect of evolution, but nonetheless, “We have recently discovered a pretty dramatic exception, one where a new and surprising function has evolved,” he said.

Dr. Lenski declined to give any details until the research is published. But, he said, “If anyone is resting his or her faith in God on the outcome that our experiment will not produce some major biological innovation, then I humbly suggest they should rethink the distinction between science and religion.”

Dr. Behe said, “I’ll wait and see.”

While there are certainly baffling mysteries in the all-or-none leaps that evolution seems to have achieved in a number of instances, why is it that “God” is a better explanation than “we don’t know”?

If anything it seems to us that there is a paradox here, in that such seekers of truth lack the humility that all religions teach, and in saying that human understanding having not yet found an explanation of the mechanics of such leaps, therefore the explanation is supernatural, are close to the kind of hubris which has always made humanity ridiculous, especially in the early days of Darwinism when many were outraged at the idea that man could share the same ancestors as apes.

Now we have the likes of William Dembski arguing that what is not explained is therefore a sign of an unseen guiding hand. Well, maybe it is, but we would bet it isn’t a supernatural one.

Oscar Wilde advises AIDS heretics

August 20th, 2005

“One should never take sides in anything—taking sides is the beginning of sincerity, and earnestness follows shortly after, and the human being becomes a bore.”

16 mainstream papers say that the AIDS ‘pandemic’ does not exist

August 16th, 2005

Here as promised are the mainstream papers which say HIV is effectively non infectious, heterosexually, and thus any idea of HIV/AIDS being an infectious global pandemic is null and void.

That is to say, the global pandemic to which the much prized Laurie Garrett just devoted two years of her hard working career recording, analyzing and writing up in a splendidly glossy report for the Council of Foreign Relations is, as we have noted, an entirely dead parrot of an idea–quite impossible according to the very mainstream AIDS literature that it claims supports it, and which it appears the inimitable Garrett failed adequately to consult.

In short, in writing the report she has in effect constructed a gilded cage for a bird which is already dead.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first paper is a kind of meta-study, looking at all the studies available by 2001.

Let’s look at it and see what it can tell us about the nature of the Great Global AIDS/HIV pandemic. First we notice….

Great Heavens! How can this be?! The authors have come up with the following stunning finding: all the studies it reviews together produce the conclusion that the chance of transmitting HIV-1 from man to woman during one bout of lovemaking is…

one in a thousand!!

Analysis of data from North American and European studies of heterosexual couples provide estimates of per-sex-act HIV-1 transmission of approximately 1 in 1000

This of course immediately raises the question, how on earth can a raging global AIDS/HIV pandemic arise from an agent that is transmitted at the rate of once every thousand copulations?! Even the group of clearly pious, mainstream-ideology authors of the paper are evidently taken aback. Seeing the problem, they are reduced to saying rather feebly, in the next sentence, “the magnitude of the HIV-1 epidemic would argue that these estimates might be unreasonably low.”

Low indeed. Impossibly low, in fact. In itself, it disproves the existence of any heterosexual AIDS pandemic in the world.

That is why it is worth parsing in detail. Contemplate what would have to take place for an epidemic to emerge from a rate of transference of one in a thousand bouts. A man with HIV would have to fornicate with his woman or women one thousand times, on average, to transmit the virus once. Even if he had sex once every night, three years wouldn’t be enough to ensure a single transmission.

For any kind of epidemic to transpire, enough sex for transmission has to take place in a relatively short time, far shorter than the average time heterosexual men take to provoke and consummate one thousand sexual engagements. Cohabiting couples are generally assumed to engage in sex twice a week. One thousand bouts would take them ten years.

No infection is going to spread if it takes ten years for the agent to jump ship to ship. This rate rules out any pandemic. Even love making once a day wouldn’t be enough to support a spreading infection, let alone an epidemic. A pandemic? Fugeddabahtit!!

In fact, if there really is the sexually driven glohal pandemic everyone led by the UNAID, WHO and Laurie Garrett and the Council of Foreign Relations credits as gospel the supermen of the AIDS pandemic must get a lot busier than that. Even ten copulations a day wouldn’t do it. That would “only” be 100 days of Olympic ten-times-a-day sex per transfer.

A virus that took 100 days to infect another body is too slow. That is just too long a delay to get any kind of epidemic under way. It would have to be five times that rate, or 50 copulations a day to do it in twenty days. This is the rough minimum, we would guess, to support any kind of epidemic spread.

To repeat, if the couples went at it at the rate of 50 bouts of sex a day it would take on average twenty days for the virus to hop from gent to lady. Maybe that would sustain an epidemic. But how many men do you know–or women for that matter–who are interested in let alone capable of fifty bouts of sex a day?

But that is what the finding of this mainstream paper–which collates the findings of 15 other orthodox research papers on the topic–implies.

Perhaps the African and Asian males who have engendered the AIDS pandemic, the one that the Council of Foreign Relations report has recently warned us may plunge the world into wars, famine and devastation, are a Godlike breed, who have Olympian sexual powers far beyond the norm or even the imagination of their counterparts in the USA.

More likely, however, is that quite simply, the global AIDS pandemic is a fantasy and a chimera, an impossible narrative construct of such a gargantuan level of absurdity that science and politics have not to date ever seen the like.

This, at least, is what the papers on the (non) infectiousness of HIV tell us, as summarized so helpfully by this paper. They may be found any time on your computer at Pub Med. Here they are for the record, the meta-paper and a list of the papers it summarizes:

The meta-paper

1. Viral burden in genital secretions determines male-to-female sexual transmission of HIV-1: a probabilistic empiric model

by Hrishikesh Chakraborty et al AIDS 2001 15:621-627 From the Department of Biostatistics, Rollin School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia etc. Reprint requests to Myron Cohen, Department of Medicine, 3003 Old Clinic Building CB7005, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7005.

On page 2, this paper says that

“The probability of per-partner sexual transmission has been examined in 11 different studies (6) whereas the per-sex-act probability of transmission has been reported in 13 studies (7-19). The probability of transmission of HIV-1 from male to female during an episode of intercourse has been examined in seven of these studies (7,14-19). Analysis of data from North American and European studies of heterosexual couples provide estimates of per-sex-act HIV-1 transmission of approximately 1 in 1000 (0.0001, ranging from 0.0008 to 0.0002) (6), although the magnitude of the HIV-1 epidemic would argue that these estimates might be unreasonably low.” .

The references in the footnotes for this statement are


6. Mastro TD, Kitayaporn (sic) D. HIV-1 Type 1 transmission probabilities, estimates from epidemiological studies. AIDS Research Human Retroviruses 1998 14:223-227

7. Peterman TA, Stonebumer RL, Allen JR, Jaffe HW, Curran JW. Risk of human immunodeficiency virus transmission from heterosexual adults with transfusion-associated infections. JAMA 1988 259.55-58.

8.Fuschl MA et al Evaluation of heterosexual partners, children, and household contacts of adults with AIDS. JAMA 1987, 257:640-644.

9. Longini IM Jr et al The stages of HIV-1 infection, waiting times and infection transmission probabilities. In Lecture Notes in Biomathematics, Vol. 83 Mathematical and Statistical Approaches to AIDS Epidemiology. Edited by Castillo-Chavez, C. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 1989: 111-136.

10. Cameron DW et al. Female to male transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1: risk factors for seroconversion in men. Lancet 1989, 2: 403-407.

11. DeGruttola V et al Infectiousness of HIV-1 between male homosexual partners J. Clin Epidemiology 1989 42:849-856

12. Mastro TD et al Probability of female-male transmission of HIV-1 in Thailand. Lancet 1994 343:204-207

13. Sateen GA et val Modelling the female-to-male per-act HIV-1 transmission probability in an emerging epidemic in Asia. Stat Med 1994 13:2097-2106

14. Padian N et al Male-to-female transmission of human immunodeficiency virus. JAMA 1987 258:788-790.

15. Wiley JA et al Heterogeneity in the probability of HIV-1 transmission per sexual contact: the case of male-to-female transmission in penile-vaginal intercourse Stat Med 1989 8:93-102

16. Duerr A et al Probability of male-female HIV-1 transmission among married couples in Chiang Mai, Thailand Tenth International Conference on AIDS, Yokohama, August 1994 (Abstract 105C). 17. Downs MA et al Probability of heterosexial transmission of HIV-1:relationship to the number of unprotected sexual contacts. J. Acquired Immune Defic Sindr Hyum Retrovirol 1996 11: 388-395.

18. Leynaert B. Et al Heterosexual transmission of Human immunodeficiency virus: variability of infectivity throughout the course of infection. Am J Epidemiol 1998 148:88-96

19. Shiboski SC et al Epidemiological evidence for time variation in HIV-1 infectivity J Acquir Immun Defic Syndr Hu Retrovirol 1998 19: 527-535.

These are not all, by the way. There have been quite a few other papers since, saying the same thing. Here’s one from 2002, a year later:

Stephane Hugonnet et al Incidence of HIV Infection in Stable Sexual Partnerships: A Retrospective Cohort Study of 1802 Couples in Mwanza Region, Tanzania. JAIDS Journal of nAcquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome 30: 73-80 2002

This paper concludes in its abstract:

“HIV negative individuals in discordant partnerships are at high risk of infection, and preventive interventions targeted at such individuals are urgently needed……Individuals living in discordant couples (that means one HIV positive one negative) were at greatly increased risk of infection compared with individuals in concordant-negative couples.”

In its introduction it states that

“the majority of infections worldwide are attributable to heterosexual transmission. In sub-Saharan Africa, the worst afflicted region, heterosexual transmission accounts for at least 90 per cent of adult infections.”

All in all, what sounds like a dangerous state of affairs illuminated by the sterling work of these researchers on data from 1802 couples in Mwanza. For after all, if “HIV negative individuals in discordant partnerships are at high risk of infection”, then indeed heterosexual transmission could account for 90 per cent of adult infections.

But when we look closer, we discover the same problem, this time also being neatly brushed under the carpet. There is in fact little or no danger, as indicated by the authors’ very own result. The “high risk” of a heterosexual coupling changing a discordant couple into a concordant couple—these musical sounding technical terms refer to whether couples share the same HIV status or not—turns out to be exactly the same as in the collection of papers before 2000: 1 in 1000.

Buried in the pile of comforting statistical jargon, which is mostly less than meets the eye (py means person-year, RR means rate ratio, etc), is this simple statement: Seroincidence rates in discordant couples were 10 per 100 person-years (py) and 5 per 100 py for women and men respectively (rate ratio RR = 2.0 CI (confidence interval = 0.28-22.1.)

What does this mean in plain English? That in any of these Mwanza couples with the man HIV+ and woman HIV-, the chances of the woman being converted to HIV+ are so low that on average it takes ten years to happen. For the man to be infected the other direction would take twice as long, twenty years.

The standard assumption in such work is that couples make love twice a week, so that is 100 times a year. So ten years is 1000 times. The chances of a woman converting in a single bout are therefore 1 in 1000, with the chances of the man converting from a HIV+ woman partner 1 in 2000.

Exactly the chances which are found in every other paper on this topic. The figure is marvelously consistent: 1 in a thousand.

The Mwanza study researchers thus find themselves in a great difficulty and as a result have to contradict themselves as they state what is certainly a paradigm buster of a finding.

At such a low rate of conversion, not only is it NOT true that “HIV negative individuals in discordant partnerships are at high risk of infection” (unless you call a 1 in 10 chance over a year of 100 bouts ‘high risk’), but it is also not true that “preventive interventions targeted at such individuals are urgently needed”.

Far from it. For their very own finding proves that any AIDS epidemic through mainstream sex is quite impossible. The rate of transfer of HIV is just too low, far too low. According to these mainstream, orthodox researchers HIV is realistically not an infectious virus at all, at least between heteroexuals in Africa. It simply could not support any epidemic.

In fact, the paper indicates a simple conclusion, which the authors for whatever reason are either blind to or do not wish to speak out loud. That finding is that there is no HIV/AIDS epidemic in Mwanza or anywhere else.

Clearly the infectivity of HIV is far too low to spread through heterosexual sex in the US and Europe, and that is why such an epidemic has never been seen here or there in the two decades the AIDS alarm has been noised so loudly in headlines and homilies from the press to the pulpit. By the same logic it is also too low to support any heterosexual AIDS epidemic anywhere in the rest of the world.

In other words, as we have said before, the AIDS pandemic is a non starter, a nag that expires even before it is even able to take its position at the starting gate. It is utterly non-viable, at least in the real, external world of health and science.

How far this kite may fly on the wings of obtuse venality, incompetence, officiousness, powerseeking, self-importance, conformity, credulity and billion dollar funding in the fantasy world of political, social and medical culture is of course another matter entirely.

Apparently, it can stay up without a drop of real fuel for twenty one years simply on the cross currents and updrafts of hot air generated by the major writers and players of the ongoing drama “World AIDS Pandemic” and is capable of flying high for many more years unless and until it is shot down by anti-paradigm guns more powerful than those of simple logic and common sense, not to mention its own research.

By the way, there are more papers to list, papers from the orthodox mainstream research factory, and we will append them here later today.

But the main point is already established. HIV is effectively not infectious between man and woman, and the AIDS heterosexual global pandemic cannot and therefore does not exist.

This is the conclusion of the orthodoxy itself, reached in its own papers. Verily the right hand knoweth not what the left hand doeth.

Harvard brings sanity to the evolution debate

August 14th, 2005

An AP report in the New York Times today (Sun Aug 14) tells us that Harvard is jumping into the evolution debate with a $1 million a year project of research into the origin of life.

What’s interesting is that, at least according to the AP, it begins with the admission that some mysteries of life’s origin remain to be illuminated.

Not that this will provide much comfort to the intelligent design faithful, who believe that such theoretical gaps should be filled with the Creator (while never telling us how the Creator appeared). For a Harvard scientist, David Liu, is quickly quoted as saying he believes it will all be explained without involving divine intervention.

Quite why the fact that as yet we cannot fathom how something complex arose from simpler origins in evolution should provoke scientists to jump ship for the Church is beyond us. Do those who are infatuated with the possibility of God taking a hand really think that science won’t explain all the gaps in evolution in the end, however long it takes?

The real problem in the evolution debate is that most scientists in the field will not admit there are gaps in the theory that have to be explained. This is why the intelligent design crowd is able to make headway by pointing them out.

Maybe Harvard will set a good example now and admit freely that there remain some leaps in evolution that have to be explained, and that science is a continual process of filling in such gaps in our understanding and knowledge.

Perhaps the basic premise of intelligent design, that any such gap if big enough must indicate the presence of God, can then be dispensed with.

See below, Harvard Jumps Into Evolution Debate:

The New York Times

August 14, 2005

Harvard Jumps Into Evolution Debate


Filed at 9:33 p.m. ET

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Harvard University is joining the long-running debate over the theory of evolution by launching a research project to study how life began.

The team of researchers will receive $1 million in funding annually from Harvard over the next few years. The project begins with an admission that some mysteries about life’s origins cannot be explained.

”My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention,” said David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard.

The ”Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative” is still in its early stages, scientists told the Boston Sunday Globe. Harvard has told the research team to make plans for adding faculty members and a collection of multimillion-dollar facilities.

Evolution is a fundamental scientific theory that species evolved over millions of years. It has been standard in most public school science texts for decades but recently re-emerged in the spotlight as communities and some states debated whether school children should also be taught about creationism or intelligent design.

The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation.

Harvard has not been seen as a leader in origins of life research, but the university’s vast resources could change that perception.

”It is quite gratifying to see Harvard is going for a solution to a problem that will be remembered 100 years from now,” said Steven Benner, a University of Florida scientist who is one of the world’s top chemists in origins-of-life research.

Errors in warming skeptics’ troposphere data—it did warm after all

August 12th, 2005

Today (Fri 12 Aug) Andrew Revkin fires a bombshell across the bows of the global warming skeptics by citing two Science articles which show that a key fact they depend on is an error—the lowest layer in the atmosphere, the troposphere, did not stay stable over the last two decades and cool in the tropics.

A laborious reassessment of the weather satellite data has shown that the troposphere did warm in line with other records and climate change model predictions, according to Science.

That settles that—or does it? Fred Singer’s weekly comment hasn’t come yet, but only recently he was saying in regard to another paper “this is not the first time Science has published an incorrect paper.” Can one have confidence in Singer? That is up to you to decide. But his tone and substance induce maximum confidence in us, however unpalatable his assessments might be to the environmentally concerned.

The depressing thing is that if he is right, environment anxiety has led to all kinds of negative results which all those who care about the invironment would actually deplore. One remarkable observation Singer makes is that the shuttle disasters were due to environment political correctness of a kind.

“Green orthodoxy may be responsible for both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters”.

He quotes from a business periodical:

But the root cause for both the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia due to thermal tiles damaged by chunks of insulating foam falling off the large external fuel tank, the earlier loss of Challenger, and the repetition of the foam problem with Discovery, may be the decision imposed on NASA to use parts and materials that were more environmentally friendly.

In 1997, during the 87th space shuttle mission, similar tile damage occurred during launch. NASA’s Greg Katnik stated in his December 1997 review of the problems of STS-87: “During the STS-87 mission, there was a change made on the external tank. Because of NASA’s goal to use environmentally friendly products, a new method of ‘foaming’ the external tank had been used for this mission and the STS-86 mission.”

That’s from a piece, “Green For Launch”, in Investor’s Business Daily Issues & Insights Friday, August 5, 2005.

Nothing wrong with what NASA did, of course, unless safety was sacrificed in the environmental cause. Then you might wish they had looked after their crew members as assiduously as they cared for the environment.

Here is today’s piece by Revkin, Errors Cited in Assessing Climate Data:

August 12, 2005

Errors Cited in Assessing Climate Data


Some scientists who question whether human-caused global warming poses a threat have long pointed to records that showed the atmosphere’s lowest layer, the troposphere, had not warmed over the last two decades and had cooled in the tropics.

Now two independent studies have found errors in the complicated calculations used to generate the old temperature records, which involved stitching together data from thousands of weather balloons lofted around the world and a series of short-lived weather satellites.

A third study shows that when the errors are taken into account, the troposphere actually got warmer. Moreover, that warming trend largely agrees with the warmer surface temperatures that have been recorded and conforms to predictions in recent computer models.

The three papers were published yesterday in the online edition of the journal Science.

The scientists who developed the original troposphere temperature records from satellite data, John R. Christy and Roy W. Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, conceded yesterday that they had made a mistake but said that their revised calculations still produced a warming rate too small to be a concern.

“Our view hasn’t changed,” Dr. Christy said. “We still have this modest warming.”

Other climate experts, however, said that the new studies were very significant, effectively resolving a puzzle that had been used by opponents of curbs on heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

“These papers should lay to rest once and for all the claims by John Christy and other global warming skeptics that a disagreement between tropospheric and surface temperature trends means that there are problems with surface temperature records or with climate models,” said Alan Robock, a meteorologist at Rutgers University.

The findings will be featured in a report on temperature trends in the lower atmosphere that is the first product to emerge from the Bush administration’s 10-year program intended to resolve uncertainties in climate science.

Several scientists involved in the new studies said that the government climate program, by forcing everyone involved to meet five times, had helped generate the new findings.

“It felt like a boxing ring on occasion,” said Peter W. Thorne, an expert on the weather balloon data at the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research in Britain and an author of one of the studies.

Temperatures at thousands of places across the surface of the earth have been measured for generations. But far fewer measurements have been made of temperatures in the air from the surface through the troposphere, which extends up about five miles.

Until recently Dr. Christy and Dr. Spencer were the only scientists who had plowed through vast volumes of data from weather satellites to see if they could indirectly deduce the temperature of several layers within the troposphere.

They and other scientists have also tried to analyze temperature readings gathered by some 700 weather balloons lofted twice a day around the world.

But each of those efforts has been fraught with complexities and uncertainties.

The satellites’ orbits shift and sink over time, their instruments are affected by sunlight and darkness, and data from a succession of satellites has to be calibrated to account for eccentricities of sensitive instruments.

Starting around 2001, the satellite data and methods of Dr. Christy and Dr. Spencer were re-examined by Carl A. Mears and Frank J. Wentz, scientists at Remote Sensing Systems, a company in Santa Rosa, Calif., that does satellite data analysis for NASA.

They and several other teams have since found more significant warming trends than the original estimate.

But the new paper, by Dr. Mears and Dr. Wentz, identifies a fresh error in the original calculations that, more firmly than ever, showed warming in the troposphere, particularly in the tropics.

The error, in a calculation used to adjust for the drift of the satellites, was disclosed to the University of Alabama scientists at one of the government-run meetings this year, Dr. Christy said.

The new analysis of data from weather balloons examined just one possible source of error, the direct heating of the instruments by the sun.

It found that when data were examined in a way that accounted for that effect, the temperature record produced a warming, particularly in the tropics, again putting the data in line with theory.

“Things being debated now are details about the models,” said Steven Sherwood, the lead author of the paper on the balloon data and an atmospheric physicist at Yale. “Nobody is debating any more that significant climate changes are coming.”

Autism epidemic may be an illusion

August 11th, 2005

One point that went unmentioned in the Meet the Press segment on autism and vaccines on Sunday (see previous post but one) was the possibility that this vaguely defined and measured syndrome may not be expanding in an epidemic after all.

This is according to the New Scientist, the lively and fairly responsible British weekly which leaves most US science coverage in the popular press in its dust. However, since the paper has run with the herd on AIDS and its anomalies ever since the HIV paradigm was reviewed and rejected in the top scientific literature, its analysis as always must be taken with a little pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, the piece is convincing to us, especially as the one and only relevant study so far backs up the conclusion that we have an epidemic of diagnosing autism rather than the ailment itself, though that in itself is real enough when it occurs.

And those familiar with AIDS as the all time pandemic of (mis)diagnosis will recognize the signs of a fantasy epidemic.

(NB: As an example perhaps of just how easy it is to expand the “epidemic”, if you read the definition of autism in the accompanying box, Epidemic or illusion? by Clare Wilson,

“In psychological terms, people with autism seem to lack “theory of mind” – the recognition that other individuals may hold a different perspective on things than themselves”

you may also recognize the symptom, as we do, in the one you live with :-))

This is the whole article, The autism epidemic that never was 13 August 2005 New Scientist Print Edition by Graham Lawton

Epidemic or illusion?

The autism epidemic that never was

* 13 August 2005

* From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.

* Graham Lawton

RICHARD Miles will never forget the winter of 1989. The 34-year-old company director and his family spent that Christmas on the island of Jersey in the English Channel, where he had grown up. It was also then that he first noticed something was badly wrong with his 14-month-old son Robert. The bright, sociable child, who had already started talking, became drowsy and unsteady on his feet. Then he started bumping into furniture. Within weeks his language had dried up and he would no longer make eye contact. “It was as if the lights went out,” says Miles. His son was eventually diagnosed with autism.

Miles, who now campaigns for more research into autism, is convinced that his son is part of an autism epidemic. Ten years ago, he points out, Jersey had just three autistic children in special-needs education. It now has 69. Robert was one of a cluster of nine children on the island diagnosed around the same time.

Similar rises have been reported across the world, from Australia to the US, and from Denmark to China. Back in the 1970s, specialists would typically see four or five cases of autism in a population of 10,000. Today they routinely find 40, 50 or even 60 cases. Perhaps the starkest illustration of autism’s relentless rise comes from California. In 2003, the state authorities stunned the world when they announced that over the previous 16 years, the number of people receiving health or education services for autism had risen more than sixfold. The world’s media went into overdrive.

What could be causing so many children to lose their footing on a normal developmental trajectory and crash-land into the nightmare world of autism? The change has occurred too suddenly to be genetic in origin, which points to some environmental factor. But what? There is no shortage of suspects. In the UK, blame is often laid at the door of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. In the US, mercury added to a range of childhood shots has been accused. Food allergies, viral infections, antibiotics and other prescription drugs have all been fingered, often by campaign groups run by mystified and angry parents. The problem is that none of these suggested causes has any solid scientific evidence to support it (see “The usual suspects”).

Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for this: there is no autism epidemic. On the face of it that sounds ridiculous – just look at the figures. But talk to almost any autism researcher and they will point to other explanations for the rise in numbers. Some say it’s still an open question, but others are adamant that the autism epidemic is a complete myth. And if the most recent research is anything to go by, they could be right. Studies designed to track the supposedly increasing prevalence of autism are coming to the conclusion that, in actual fact, there is no increase at all. “There is no epidemic,” says Brent Taylor, professor of community child health at University College London.

Autism is a developmental disorder sometimes noticeable from a few months of age but not usually diagnosed until a child is 3 or 4 years old. It is characterised by communication problems, difficulty in socialising and a lack of imagination (see “What is autism”). It is not a single disorder, but comes in many forms, which merge into other disorders and eventually into “normality”. There is no biochemical or genetic test, so diagnosis has to be made by observing behaviour. Autistic children also often have other medical conditions, such as hyperactivity, Tourette’s syndrome, anxiety and depression. The upshot is that “one person’s autism is not another person’s autism,” says epidemiologist Jim Gurney of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

In recognition of this ambiguity, autism is considered part of a continuum within a broader class of so-called “pervasive developmental disorders” (PDDs) – basically any serious abnormality in a child’s development. Autism itself is divided into three categories: autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome (sometimes called “high-functioning autism”), and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), sometimes called mild or atypical autism. Together these three make up the autistic spectrum disorders.

“Californian authorities stunned the world when they announced a sixfold rise in autism over the past 16 years”

Confused? You’re not the only one. The difficulty of placing children with developmental problems on this spectrum has led to several major shifts in the way autism is diagnosed in the past 30 years. In the late 1970s, the autism label was kept for those with severe problems such as “gross language deficits” and “pervasive lack of responsiveness”. But since 1980 the diagnostic criteria have been revised five times, including the addition of PDD-NOS in 1987 and Asperger’s in 1994.

This massive broadening of the definition of autism, particularly at the milder end of the spectrum, is one of the main factors responsible for the rise in cases, says Eric Fombonne of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a long-standing sceptic of the epidemic hypothesis. Tellingly, around three-quarters of all diagnoses of autism today are for Asperger’s and PDD-NOS, both of which are much less severe than the autism of old. “There is no litmus test for who is autistic and who is not,” says Tony Charman of the Institute of Child Health at University College London.

Changes in diagnostic criteria apart, there are other reasons to believe that autism is simply being diagnosed more often now than in the past. One is the “Rain Man effect” – the huge increase in the public awareness of autism following the 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman. Awareness has also increased massively among healthcare workers. “Twenty years ago there were maybe 10 autism specialists in the country. Now there are over 2000,” says Taylor.

Another factor is that one of the stigmas of autism has largely disappeared. Until about 10 years ago a prominent idea was that autism was caused by an unloving “refrigerator mother”. Now it is a no-blame disease. “Parents are more willing to accept the label,” says Taylor. One expert New Scientist spoke to went as far as to describe autism as “trendy”.

Finally, while some parents still have to fight for help for their autistic children, far more services are now available. This has encouraged doctors to label borderline or ambiguous cases as autism – they know this is often the best way to get the child some help. It also makes autism an attractive diagnosis for parents. “I hear stories of parents who are anxious to get a particular diagnosis if that is what is required to obtain the services their child needs,” says Sydney Pettygrove, a paediatrician at the Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson. In the UK, says Simon Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, “in every town there are trained clinicians who can make a diagnosis.”

It is hard to quantify these trends, but many epidemiologists now believe that they can account for the apparent rise in autism the general public and media take for granted. Proving it, however, is difficult – if not impossible. The main problem is that an epidemiological study carried out in the 1980s simply cannot be compared with one done last week. There will be so many differences in diagnostic procedures and in the willingness of doctors and parents to label a child autistic that comparisons are meaningless. “You can’t control for everything,” says Charman.

And so attention has shifted to what epidemiologists sniffily refer to as “service provider data”, such as the California figures. Ever since 1973, the authorities there have been keeping records of the number of people receiving some kind of state help in connection with autism. In 2003, California’s Department of Developmental Services (DDS) announced a chilling figure that captured the world’s attention. In the 16 years to 2002, cases rose from 2778 to 20,377 (see Graph). Among autism campaigners these figures are often cited as incontrovertible and final proof of the existence of the autism epidemic.

But there are serious problems with this interpretation. First, the figures are raw numbers from public services, not a proper epidemiological study. Critics point out they are not corrected for changes in diagnostic criteria or for the growing awareness of autism.

“Prisons and institutions could be full of autistic adults labouring under wrong diagnoses such as schizophrenia”

There is evidence, for example, that as the California autism numbers have risen, diagnoses of mental retardation have fallen. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts have found a similar pattern in the UK. This effect, dubbed “diagnostic substitution”, cannot explain all the increase but is one example of how diagnostic fashions can skew the data.

Another potential flaw is that the California figures don’t take into account the fact that the state’s population is growing rapidly. Between 1987 and 1999, the total population rose by nearly 20 per cent, and the age group 0 to 14 rose even more steeply, by 26 per cent.

As a result of these doubts and unknowns in the California figures, most epidemiologists refuse to draw firm conclusions from them. “The report doesn’t change anything,” says Charman. “It’s not a systematic study.” In fact, the preface of the most recent California report contains a health warning not to read too much into the numbers. “The information should not be used to draw scientifically valid conclusions,” it says.

Some researchers, notably Robert Byrd of the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, have attempted to correct for all the unknowns. In an analysis published on the state DDS website nearly three years ago, Byrd concluded that the rise is real. “Autism rates are increasing,” he told New Scientist. Some scientists accept that Byrd’s analysis lays to rest the idea that population growth could have significantly swelled the figures. But his methods for investigating the other potential sources of bias have been heavily criticised, and tellingly, Byrd has not yet succeeded in getting his study published in a peer-reviewed journal. Until he does, it is hard to know how much weight to give his conclusions.

Perhaps the strongest case against the “better diagnosis” theory is that, if true, there should be a “hidden hoard” of autistic adults who were never properly diagnosed in childhood. To parent Richard Miles, this is compelling. “My doctor cannot believe that he could have missed so many cases in the past,” he says. But Taylor disagrees. As a former general practitioner, he says there are many children today diagnosed with autism who would not have been labelled as such in the past.

This view is difficult to substantiate, but in 2001 a team led by Helen Heussler of Nottingham University, UK, had a crack. They re-examined the data from a 1970 survey of 13,135 British children. The original survey found just five autistic children, but using modern diagnostic criteria Heussler’s team found a hidden hoard of 56. That’s over a tenfold rise in numbers, which puts the California figures in perspective. Heussler and her colleagues concluded that “estimates from the early 1970s may have seriously underestimated the prevalence”.

Lorna Wing, a veteran autism researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, agrees. In the 1970s she spent a lot of time working with special-needs children in the London district of Camberwell. Wing reckons that at the time, fewer than 10 per cent of autistic children were correctly diagnosed. She also thinks that prisons and institutions are full of autistic adults labouring under wrong diagnoses such as treatment-resistant schizophrenia or ADHD.

Ultimately, however, it may be impossible to tell whether there has been a genuine rise in the incidence of autism over the past 30 years. “There is no clear evidence that there has been an increase, but there’s no proof that there hasn’t,” says Charman. Even the arch-sceptic Fombonne accepts this. “We must entertain the possibility,” he says. “But we don’t have the evidence.”

But researchers can answer another question: is the incidence of autism continuing to rise? There is a tried and tested method of tackling this sort of question. You carry out a large prevalence study among a particular age group, and then repeat it a few years later with a new set of individuals, in the same place and using exactly the same methods. Several such studies into autism are ongoing, notably one funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which will look at changes in incidence across 11 states.

One team, however, is ahead of the game. Back in July 1998, Fombonne and Suniti Chakrabarti of the Child Development Centre in Stafford, UK, started screening every child born in a four-year window (1992 to 1995) who lived in a defined area of Staffordshire, 15,500 children in total. As a result, they established baseline figures for autistic spectrum disorders – about 62 per 10,000. Then they did it again, in exactly the same place and exactly the same way, this time with all the children born between 1996 and 1998. In June this year, they reported that the prevalence of autism was unchanged (American Journal of Psychiatry, vol 162, page 1133). “This study suggests that epidemic concerns are unfounded,” concludes Fombonne.

Similar surveys need to be done in other parts of the world to rule out the possibility that there is something unusual about Staffordshire. And the Staffordshire result has failed to convince campaigners and parents, including Miles. But what is clear is that after the first direct test of whether autism is rising, it’s 1-0 to the sceptics.

That doesn’t mean we should stop searching for the causes of autism. The disorder itself is real, and if researchers knew what was behind it much suffering could be averted. But the Staffordshire surveys do suggest that there is no environmental problem that is triggering autism in ever-greater numbers and which must be identified as a matter of urgency. That will not be much comfort to families with autistic children. But it should make everyone else feel a bit more secure.

From issue 2512 of New Scientist magazine, 13 August 2005, page 37

What is autism?

The developmental disorder that is now called autism was first described by doctors in 1943. Psychiatrists say there are three key features: lack of imagination, communication difficulties, and problems interacting with others. In practice, those affected have a bewildering range of strange behaviours. These can include fear of physical contact, hearing and visual problems, bizarre obsessions and a touching inability to lie.

Apart from the fact that about three-quarters of those affected are male, it is hard to make generalisations because the condition varies widely between patients. Contrary to popular belief, freakish talents for maths or music, say, are uncommon. In fact, about three-quarters of people with autism have learning difficulties, but those who do not may manage to hold down a job.

Parents usually realise something is wrong because children fail to develop normally. But up to one third of cases are “regressive” – children seem to go backwards when they are about two, losing their language and social skills.

In psychological terms, people with autism seem to lack “theory of mind” – the recognition that other individuals may hold a different perspective on things than themselves. This leaves them in a bewildering world where people seem to act according to incomprehensible rules and behave in meaningless ways. They also have impaired “executive function”, the ability to plan future actions. And patients have weak “central coherence”, the ability to extract meaning from experiences without getting bogged down in details. In other words, they can’t see the wood for the trees.

Clare Wilson

The usual suspects

Both genes and environmental factors play a role in the development of autism. But if there has indeed been a sudden rise in cases, the only possible cause is an environmental change because our genes can’t be altering that fast. Numerous candidates have been proposed.


Thanks partly to anecdotal reports linking autism with bowel problems, some researchers believe that the condition could be caused by various dietary components leaking through the gut wall into the bloodstream, allowing them to reach the brain. One possible cause could be increased use of antibiotics disturbing the natural balance of gut bacteria.

There have been some reports of people with autism doing better on diets that exclude dairy foods and gluten, a protein found in wheat and barley. And a few small studies have found that some patients seem to improve after injections of the gut hormone secretin, which could possibly be related. But neither of these approaches have been borne out by larger placebo-controlled trials.


The combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was fingered by gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, formerly of the Royal Free Hospital in London. He suggested that giving children three vaccines simultaneously could damage their gut. Along with vociferous campaigning by parents, this led to a fall in uptake in the UK of this important childhood vaccine.

However, numerous large-scale studies showed no link between receiving the vaccine and developing autism. A recent study from Japan may prove the final nail in the coffin for the MMR theory. It found that diagnosed cases in that country continued to rise even after the triple jab was withdrawn (Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol 46, p 572).


In the US, mercury is public enemy number one. The mercury-containing preservative thimerosal – which has been used in a range of childhood vaccines although it is now being phased out – is claimed to cause autism by damaging the developing brain directly. But a review last year by the US Institutes of Medicine rejected a causal link between autism and either mercury or the MMR jab.

Clare Wilson

Malaria and TB are the twin scourges of the world, not AIDS

August 9th, 2005

If “AIDS” is a fantasy breeding misdiagnosis across the globe, as the skeptics conclude and the best scientific literature indicates, what is the reality? What are the millions who suffer from “AIDS” actually suffering from, which is being statistically rewritten as “AIDS”? If, as Rian Molan found out about South Africa, the overall totals of illness and death are not changing to any significant extent, where does the supposed three million or so global death total in “AIDS” come from?

Two major candidates are, of course, malaria and tuberculosis. These are world wide scourges of very ancient origin which continue to kill many more millions than are claimed as “AIDS” and labeled as “AIDS” deaths. They offer a reservoir from which to pull as many “AIDS” illnesses and deaths as are required by the diagnosticians of “AIDS” and their helpmates, the fundraisers, political opportunists, do-gooders, ex-presidents, current presidents, Columbia economists, UNAIDS statisticians, UN officials, socially smart scientist charity presidents, Hollywood celebrities, ACTUP founders, health agency bureaucrats, and the rest of the million strong cast of the $10 billion annual theatrical production that is justified by this simple script rewrite.

For some reason America forgot about malaria for a long time, perhaps because it was eradicated from many countries a while back by DDT. When DDT was banned, however, malaria came back with a vengeance, and this year as many as 500 million people will contract malaria, and more than one million will die, most of them children—but not all. In fact, pace Rachel Carson and her “Silent Spring”, there is some question whether banning DDT is worth it. Eagle eggshells have been saved, but in the less developed countries there have been an estimated fifty million lives lost from malaria.

Only this week, this was literally brought home to us when a beautiful young black Staten island journalist, Akilah Amapindi, 23, returned from Namibia for the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Atlanta, where she was scheduled to speak on a panel. Instead, she was taken ill and died in a matter of five days from what was diagnosed as a “particularly severe form of malaria.”

Here is the story from a fellow young journalist writing a shocked commentary in the Oregon Daily Emerald, and also a Newsday story which suggests that one cause of death might have been trusting whoever answers the phone at the “US Embassy in Manhattan”, whatever that might be:

“Before heading to Africa, Amapindi had telephoned the U.S. Embassy in Manhattan about inoculations required for the region and was told travelers to Windhoek didn’t require anti-malarial drugs, Harper said.”

This story was printed from Oregon Daily Emerald.

Site URL:

We must advocate for better health services

Guest Commentary

August 11, 2005

During the beginning of August, myself and other members of the National Association of Black Journalists (Oregon chapter) had the privilege of attending the NABJ national convention in Atlanta, Ga. A week of attending workshops, keynote speeches, career fairs and networking came to an unsettling close with the deaths of two outstanding journalists. Peter Jennings, former ABC news anchor died Sunday night from lung cancer that he was diagnosed with only this year.

Jennings played a key role in developing what broadcast news has become today, and will be dearly missed worldwide. But what was even more shocking was the death of 23-year old journalist, Akilah Amapindi. Amapindi was, like myself, a student member of NABJ. She arrived in Atlanta on Sunday to begin a student project at the convention, and was hospitalized early Tuesday and diagnosed with malaria. On the following Sunday at the gospel brunch, we received word of her passing.

However, it wasn’t until later that day, after two plane flights and a three-hour layover, that her death really hit me. Amapindi, was only the one-third the age of Peter Jennings. She represented a new era — a generation of journalists that represent the face of the world (she was born in Jamaica and lived in Staten Island, N.Y.), a generation of journalists using new and old media (Amapindi worked in print, broadcast and interactive Web), and a generation of journalists and people who are committed to social justice and human rights (Amapindi founded a service sorority at Kenyon College, Ohio).

Amapindi had most likely been infected with malaria during her internship at Namibian Broadcasting Corporation in southern Africa, which she had just completed in July. Her work and aspirations are an inspiration, and although I never met her, I feel close to Amapindi because we both represent that new generation.

It is the responsibility of our generation to concern ourselves with world-shaping news regarding politics, culture, economics, science and health. Because malaria is a parasite infection, it will be much more difficult to create a vaccine for it. And although the impact of malaria is not recognized in the Western world because of the lack of deaths here, the deaths accumulating in the developing world should be enough indication that there is a need for increased research and funding.

Malaria causes or contributes to 3 million deaths per year, the majority of them children. Children are dying at a rate of four per minute, 5,000 a day and 35,000 a week. The number of malaria-related deaths in Africa is close to that of HIV/AIDS, but the amount of funding for research and treatment is in no way comparable.

The deaths of Peter Jennings and Akilah Amapindi on August 7, 2005, send two important messages to the world, especially the developed world:

1. We need to take care of our own health; risk of lung cancer and HIV/AIDS can be eradicated or significantly reduced by the choices we make.

2. We need to voice the concerns of health and other issues to our government representatives, advocating for more funding for health services, sciences, and training. By making the changes in our lifestyle to reduce the risks, we can allow more funding to go towards health epidemics that are less preventable.

There is more information on malaria at Also, Amapindi did not have health insurance, and her family does not have finances to ship her body to Jamaica, or for memorial services. Donations can be sent to: Akilah Amapindi Memorial Fund: c/o NABJ, 8701-A Adelphi Road, Adelphi, MD 20783-1716.

Jordan Thierry is a student at the University.

Note: Most newer browsers don’t need a print-friendly version of this article. Just click File, then Print from your browser’s menu at the previous page.

© 2005 Oregon Daily Emerald

Staten Island journalist dies of malaria

Woman, 23, went to Africa to work and get to know her dad, but fell ill upon her return


STAFF CORRESPONDENT; Staff writer Zachary Dowdy contributed to this story.

August 8, 2005

ATLANTA – To feed her wanderlust and launch a reporting career, Akilah Amapindi signed on in July 2004 as a Namibian Broadcasting Corp. intern, a stint that would let her get acquainted with her father in his homeland.

The 2004 graduate of Ohio’s Kenyon College wound up anchoring the network’s 5 p.m. news bulletin several times, a rare achievement for a fledgling journalist. When the African internship ended seven months later, the Staten Islander, 23, enlisted as a photographer’s assistant for a film on Samuel Nujoma.

Retracing the exile of the first Namibian president through the Mozambican bush, an unvaccinated Amapindi, it is suspected, contracted mosquito-born malaria, according to her mother.

She died early yesterday at a hospital in Atlanta, where she was attending the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention.

“She told us that they slept under those big nets, but, in the morning, they would wake up and there would be four or five big fat mosquitoes inside. They knew they had been bitten,” said her mother, Unnah Harper, who settled in Staten Island more than 13 years ago from Jamaica with her only child.

“Knowing that she is gone forever, oh, the pain of it,” Harper said.

Yesterday, in an Atlanta hotel room, Harper tended to the details of burying Amapindi. Harper said the salary she makes as a nurse’s assistant isn’t enough to pay the costs of flying her daughter’s remains back north. She didn’t want her child cremated.

Amapindi also had no health insurance, losing her mother’s coverage after graduation.

The recent graduate was eager to travel to Namibia so she could get to know her father, John Amapindi, whom she first met four years ago.

Before heading to Africa, Amapindi had telephoned the U.S. Embassy in Manhattan about inoculations required for the region and was told travelers to Windhoek didn’t require anti-malarial drugs, Harper said.

Her daughter probably didn’t consider she would risk illness in the countryside, she added.

Amapindi suffered a severe bout of diarrhea before leaving Africa. Chills and aching muscles almost kept her from going to the Georgia convention, but over-the-counter medicine brought her temporary relief, her mother said.

Her health deteriorated in Atlanta. She was admitted to Emory Crawford Long Hospital for blood tests on July 31 and discharged at 3:30 a.m. the next day without a diagnosis.

Tuesday, she again sought medical care, at Grady Hospital, where doctors concluded she had malaria. Amapindi died after five days of treatment.

“She had tears in her eyes every time they wanted to do another medical procedure,” said Bob Butler, an Infinity Broadcasting Corp. executive and student convention project volunteer. “I could see a calculator going off in her head.”

Her mother had been at her bedside since Tuesday.”I kept telling her, ‘I love you. You’re going to get better,’ but she was not responsive,” Harper said.

“We were hoping for something miraculous,” said Harper’s sister, Sybrena “Jackie” Kennedy, who flew in from Kingston.

Staff writer Zachary Dowdy contributed to this story.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

Of course, death from malaria is infrequent and in just five days seems remarkably fast, so perhaps one can be permitted to wonder (with a correspondent, medical research consultant Robert Houston) to what extent this Fierce Malaria was actually ordinary malaria helped along by whatever crash application of drugs was applied by the local hospital.

Today, however, the New York Times has a nicely reassuring, science-as-progress-in-discovery piece in the Science Section on how some intrepid researchers in Kenya found out about the ability of the malaria parasite to bend mosquitoes to its will, and make them drink more human blood from more humans when the parasite is ready to transfer by making those with malaria temporarily more attractive to mosquitoes. It is only slightly marred by the photo editor having attached a picture of a wasp and wasp pupae on top of a caterpillar, and labeling it “mosquitoe pupae and a newly emerged adult using a caterpillar as a host.”

One interesting aspect of the article relates how the scientists found out about the parasite’s ability to direct mosquitoe behavior, by setting up tents in Kenya and with the permission of the parents, experimenting on Kenyan children in the early stages of malaria as they slept in the tents and mosquitoes feasted upon their blood.

The mosquito plasmodium carried by a mosquito travels from the mosquito into the liver, where it takes time to develop offspring in the blood in the the form of gametocytes which mosquitoes can then take up again. What the study discovered was that the children with gametocytes attracted twice as many mosquitoes as the children who were uninfected or infected but not to the stage of producing gametocytes.

In case you are worried about the children, we are assured that they were all treated with anti-malarial drugs, which took two weeks to clear them of the parasites. Of course, then they were subjected to more mosquitoes feasting off their blood, but their parents were OK with this presumably in a good cause and also to ensure they were medicated.

The infected children did not show symptoms like fever, a common situation in Africa. Nevertheless, the researchers treated them with anti-malaria drugs on the day of their study. Two weeks later, after the medicine had cleared the parasites, the scientists repeated the experiments with the same three children. They found that the cured children were no more attractive to the mosquitoes than the others.

The Times Science section article, Manipulative Malaria Parasite Makes You More Attractive (to Mosquitoes) is by Carl Zimmer:

The New York Times

August 9, 2005

Manipulative Malaria Parasite Makes You More Attractive (to Mosquitoes)


Malaria is a staggeringly devastating disease, striking an estimated 300 million to 500 million people a year and killing more than a million of them. Scientists have long wondered how the parasite that causes malaria – a single-cell creature, plasmodium, carried by mosquitoes – manages to be so successful.

New research has shown an unexpected source of its success. The parasite makes infected humans smell more attractive to mosquitoes.

The research, published on Monday in the journal Public Library of Science Biology, was carried out by a team of French and Kenyan scientists led by Jacob Koella, an evolutionary biologist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. Dr. Koella is a leading expert on the ways in which parasites manipulate their hosts.

Beginning in the 1970’s, scientists discovered that a number of parasites can alter the behavior and physiology of their hosts for their own advantage, sometimes drastically.

Some parasitic wasps, for example, force their caterpillar hosts to eat different foods. When one species of wasp crawls out of its host, the fatally wounded caterpillar will act as the parasite’s bodyguard, defending it from predators.

Many parasites that need to live inside two different hosts during their life cycles also manipulate their hosts. A single-celled parasite called toxoplasma lives inside cats and then inside their prey, like rats. Research shows that infection with toxoplasma makes rats lose their fear of the odor of cats. Tapeworms that live in fish can turn them white and make them jump around near the surface of the water, where the fish are more likely to be eaten by birds, which the tapeworms make their new host. “It’s amazing how much manipulation is going on in parasites,” Dr. Koella said. “It would be hard to find a case where there wasn’t some manipulation.”

Scientists consider most of these examples as products of natural selection. A parasite’s reproductive success depends on its ability to be transmitted toa new host. “And manipulation appears to be an obvious way to do it,” Dr. Koella said.

In the late 90’s, Dr. Koella documented how plasmodium, the cause of malaria, manipulated its mosquito host. When the mosquitoes first take up plasmodium in a drink of human blood, they become more cautious about finding another victim. Their reluctance makes them less likely to be killed.

Dr. Koella points out that at this stage in the life cycle the parasite needs time to develop in the mosquito before it can be transmitted. “Before the parasite is transmitted to a human, its only goal is to survive, and to help the mosquito to survive,” he said.

The mosquito’s behavior changes when the parasite is ready to move on to a human. Dr. Koella found that mosquitoes carrying infective plasmodium become twice as likely as other mosquitoes to bite more than one person in a night. On top of that, they spend more time on each host drinking blood.

Dr. Koella argues that this shift in behavior raises the parasite’s odds of entering a human host.

Given its ability to control mosquitoes, scientists have wondered whether the plasmodium may also be able to manipulate humans. After it enters the human body, it needs time to develop in the liver. Those parasites then produce offspring that can invade blood cells, and eventually a few of these give rise to offspring, known as gametocytes, that can be taken up by a mosquito and survive.

Scientists have investigated whether infected hosts are more attractive to mosquitoes than uninfected ones. The results have been ambiguous.

“I think the main problem with the previous studies is that they couldn’t really tease apart the effect of infection and the intrinsic differences in attractiveness among people,” Dr. Koella said.

Mosquitoes find their victims by sniffing carbon dioxide and body odors. Some people apparently smell “better” to mosquitoes than others.

To rule out such factors, Dr. Koella and his colleagues used a new experimental plan. He and a student, Renaud Lacroix, teamed with Wolfgang Mukabana of the University of Nairobi and Louis Goagna of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya.

They set up three tents, each large enough for a person to sleep in. A fan pumped air from the tents into a central chamber swarming with about 100 mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that were attracted to one of the tents would fly toward it, only to become stuck in a trap.

The researchers asked parents in western Kenya to allow them to test their children for malaria. For each round of the experiment, they chose one uninfected child in an early stage of infection and a child who was carrying gametocytes. The children slept for a few hours in the tents, and the scientists checked the traps to measure how many mosquitoes had been attracted to each child.

After studying 12 sets of children, the scientists discovered a striking pattern. “Gametocyte-infected children attracted about twice as many mosquitoes as either uninfected ones or ones infected with nontransmissible stages,” Dr. Koella said. “The results really jump out.”

The infected children did not show symptoms like fever, a common situation in Africa. Nevertheless, the researchers treated them with anti-malaria drugs on the day of their study. Two weeks later, after the medicine had cleared the parasites, the scientists repeated the experiments with the same three children. They found that the cured children were no more attractive to the mosquitoes than the others.

“It’s a beautiful piece of science, and it’s a tremendously exciting finding,” said Andrew F. Read of the University of Edinburgh, an expert on malaria who was not involved in the research. Dr. Read cautioned that the researchers drew their conclusions from a relatively small number of trials.

“Obviously,” he said, “you’d be really pleased if another group went out and found the same thing. But it’s a logistical nightmare to do that stuff. So I’m very impressed with what they have managed.”

At this point, Dr. Koella can only speculate about how the parasite is altering its human host. Because the children carrying gametocytes in his study did not have fevers, plasmodium probably could not attract mosquitoes by making people hotter.

He suspects that the gametocytes are releasing chemicals that somehow alter the odor of human hosts, “but which aspects of the odor are changed is difficult to say.”

If future research supports his findings, that could go a long way to explain why malaria is so widespread.

“Scientists used to see the mosquito as a syringe that moves the parasite from one human to the other,” Dr. Koella said. “The fact that the parasite manipulates the mosquito to this extent can help to explain the incredibly intense transmission of malaria.”

“If it really is increasing attractiveness, whatever is causing that is going to be hugely interesting,” Dr. Read said.

Plasmodium’s manipulation may point to new strategies to fight the disease. “The obvious spin-off if you found the mechanism is that you could interfere with it,” Dr. Read said. “It might suggest certain kind of repellents to deactivate things coming off of people. Or whatever these parasites are doing could be used to distract mosquitoes away from people and trap them. It would suggest a lot of possibilities.”

Correction: Aug. 10, 2005, Wednesday:

A picture caption in Science Times on Tuesday with an article about ways that parasites control their hosts misidentified insects that were using a caterpillar. They were wasp pupae and a newly emerged adult wasp – not mosquito pupae and an adult mosquito.

An excellent piece of research, and the scientists that managed to pull it off deserve praise. Now we know even more about why the malarial mosquito is something to be avoided at all costs. But isn’t it another example of how the New York Times fails to cover sufficiently the important topic, which is how lives might be saved from malaria by reintroducing DDT?

If future research supports his findings, that could go a long way to explain why malaria is so widespread.

We would venture to guess that what best explains why malaria is so widespread is the absence of DDT.

At the very least, those who have read the best scientific literature and know that it has established without effective contradiction in the same peer-reviewed journals that AIDS is a global charade must hope that at least some of the funds now to be devoted to shoveling useless and dangerous HAART drugs at thousands of ignorant Africans and Asians—just as they have been administered to thousands of ignorant Americans—might be diverted to distributing anti-malarial drugs throughout the world, if not reviving the use of DDT to help wipe out this scourge of humanity.

But to argue that DDT should be used to save lives it seems we have to turn to the right wing press. In the New York Sun today (August 12 Fri) there is a zinger of a column by Alicia Colon presenting the case for bringing back DDT in malaria ridden countries.

Millions have died without DDT

Among the facts Colon mentions are that Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” led to the 1972 ban on DDT in the US and also internationally by virtue of the US warning countries they would not get foreign aid if they used it. This was the result: malaria deaths, reduced by DDT to 50,000 deaths a year, climbed back into the millions. In Sri Lanka, cases of malaria plummeted from 3 million in 1946 to just 29 in 1964. Five years after the DDT ban, the death rate climbed back to more than half a million a year.

“Silent Spring” was a most unscientific book, says Colon, quoting one critic, J. Gordon Edwards, a professor of entomology at San Jose State University who testified in defense of DDT at hearings before the ban. He wrote an editorial for 21st Century Science and technology magazine which was called “The Lies of Rachel Carson”. He pointed out that Carson quoted Albert Schweizer in the dedication of the book as saying “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth.” But Schweiser was speaking of nuclear war, not insecticides, it turns out. In his autobiography, he wrote of “how much labor and waste of time these wicked insects do cause us… but a ray of hope, in the use of DDT, is now held out to us.”

Surely we can somehow save millions of lives as well as eagles’ eggs if, as Colon writes, DDT is not a carcinogen, and does not harm humans, even if you ingest it. Its inventor, Paul Miller, was given the Nobel for it in 1948. Meanwhile, Africa and Asia are being crippled by malaria and tuberculosis, particularly Africa, as Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” book and now TV series pointed out.

Colon ends by recommending “Intellectual Morons—How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas” by Daniel Flynn. It certainly sounds relevant.

Here is her column, Junk Science’s Cataclysmic Path:

August 12, 2005 Edition > Section: New York > Printer-Friendly Version

Junk Science’s Cataclysmic Path


August 12, 2005


Psuedo-science can be fatal. It’s estimated that since the ban of the insecticide DDT, more than 50 million people have died of malaria. A young aspiring journalist from the Bulls Head section of Staten Island is one of the latest victims. Akilah Amapindi, 23, contracted the disease while working as a radio intern in southern Africa.

A few years ago, I learned that the boyfriend of a neighbor of mine had died of malaria while abroad. I am ashamed to admit that when I heard the sad news, my first instinct was to doubt the cause of death, subconsciously suspecting that drugs were the real culprit.

At the Martin Luther King Jr. dinner the Congress of Racial Equality held earlier this year, I heard CORE’s chairman, Roy Innis, speak of the senseless devastation wreaked on Africa due to the lack of modern technology in agriculture. CORE then held a conference at the United Nations to discuss the efficacy and realistic necessity of using DDT to control and minimize the damage done by malarial mosquitoes in developing countries.

The more one reads about the havoc wrought by agenda-driven environmentalists, the more one is astounded by how easily Americans can be frightened by speciously researched enviro-babble. Is global warming real? Sure. It’s been warming and cooling off for millions of years, and guess what? We humans have very little to do with it and it’s sheer arrogance to think that we can cure it.

In the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” generated worldwide interest in the environment and raised an alarm about the damage caused by chemical pesticides. Her book and the subsequent demonizing of the insecticide led to the 1972 ban on DDT in the United States. DDT was not banned internationally, but countries were warned that they would not get foreign aid if they used it. According to statistics from the United Nations, malaria before the ban had become a relatively minor disease, with about 50,000 deaths a year worldwide. A few years later, that figure had climbed into the millions.

DDT was not a carcinogen. It did not harm humans. Indeed, it could be ingested. It was one of the most effective killers of disease-bearing mosquitoes.

Dr. Paul Muller, its inventor, was honored with the Nobel Prize in 1948. When it was introduced in Sri Lanka, cases of malaria dropped from 3 million in 1946 to just 29 in 1964. Five years after the DDT ban, the death rate had climbed back to more than a half-million a year.

I was still a teenager when “Silent Spring” was published, and all I knew at the time was that it was about bugs, so my interest level was nonexistent. But Rachel Carson has been lauded over the years as the matriarch of today’s militant environment movement. What is interesting to note is that many legitimate scientists have always condemned her book as a tissue of cleverly told lies designed to exclude any argument that challenged Carson’s conclusions.

J. Gordon Edwards was a professor of entomology at San Jose State University who testified in defense of DDT at hearings before the ban. He wrote an editorial in 1992 for 21st Century Science and Technology Magazine that was called “The Lies of Rachel Carson.” In it he pinpointed all of Carson’s deliberate obfuscations and faulty research, from the very beginning of “Silent Spring” to its end.

For example, Carson quotes the famed Albert Schweitzer in the dedication of the book this way: “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth.” But Schweitzer was speaking of nuclear warfare, not insecticides. In reality, he wrote in his autobiography, “How much labor and waste of time these wicked insects do cause us … but a ray of hope, in the use of DDT, is now held out to us.” Funny how Carson left that out.

Perhaps the best explanation for why junk scientists have so much success in promoting their hokum theories is that there are so many “intellectual morons” in the world of academia. An author, Daniel Flynn, in his latest nonfiction work, “Intellectual Morons – How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas,” coined that term.

The tragic death of a young woman in our city due to a disease that would have been eradicated had not hysterical, bone-headed lemmings fallen for flawed data should be our wake-up call. Before blindly accepting scientific hypotheses as fact, we should be cognizant of where that research is coming from and what group is financing it. Science and a personal political agenda are a very bad mix.

August 12, 2005 Edition > Section: New York > Printer-Friendly Version

The tragic death of a young woman in our city due to a disease that would have been eradicated had not hysterical, bone-headed lemmings fallen for flawed data should be our wake-up call. Before blindly accepting scientific hypotheses as fact, we should be cognizant of where that research is coming from and what group is financing it. Science and a personal political agenda are a very bad mix.

Very true, it would help if officials make sure that their science is accurate before formulating policy, especially if millions of lives are at stake. Why is it that the right wing seem to nail the liberal-progressive-left wing so often on this point?

Perhaps Daniel Flynn has the answer. Unfortunate his Intellectual Morons—How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas is not out till the end of September.

Autism, vaccines and public trust in live debate on Meet The Press

August 7th, 2005

Autism in children and whether it has been caused by the mercury laden preservative in vaccines since the 1930s, thimerosal, remains a hot enough media topic to appear this morning (Sunday Aug 7) on television’s Sunday front page, Tim Russert’s Meet The Press on NBC. The program did a splendid job covering all the points as Russert hosted a science establishment field general and a skeptical independent science writer.

Russert faced these two well chosen guests who are in fact currently the two key people in the vaccine-autism debate and asked all the tough questions. The exchange provided a case study in how authoritative science can come into conflict with anecdotal evidence from people who are sure the science is wrong.

If that proves to be the case, and science’s exculpation of vaccines in autism doesn’t hold up—and in a few years we will see the result of withdrawing thimerosal completely from vaccines— big epidemiological studies in human health will come under closer scrutiny than ever.

If not, it will show how misleading anecdotal and even lab evidence can be in finding the threads of cause and effect in the vast tapestry that is human health.

The skeptic featured was David Kirby, a friend of questioners in this field. He wrote the bible for the vaccine-skeptical among the parents of autistic children, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, a sober analysis of the issue which raised questions as yet unanswered. He feels that the correspondence between mercury in vaccines (in the form of the preservative thimerosal) and the remarkable rise in autism needs to be explained. Nobody has yet answered the questions raised, he said. The doses received by children were far in excess of the federal safety guidelines.

The president of the Institute of Medicine, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, replied that we are not even sure that there has been such a huge rise in autism, because its vague definition and recognition has been expanding too. Asked to define it he came up with “basically, an inability to relate to others.”

All the evidence together at first did produce some suggestive data, he acknowledged, but by May 2004 (when the IOM report was issued) there were additional epidemiological studies covering hundreds of thousands of children compared systematically and uniformly, and the best of those studies (US, British, Danish and Swedish) all show no association between receiving vaccines with thimerosal and autism. That settled the issue as far as he was concerned.

(Special note: A recent study in Japan also found the diagnosis of autism continued to rise after the MMR triple vaccine was withdrawn (Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol 46, p 572)).

Kirby responded by disparaging the epidemiology as inadequate. He said that the studies were flawed, some seriously, and that anyway epidemiology was not enough to inform us adequately. Indeed, he pointed out, it had been rejected as inadequate to prove a cause by the court system. The committee leaned entirely too much (2 to 1) on epidemiological studies, he said, rather than lab toxicology and anecdotal testimony. You need to look at the individual kids and the toxicology of cells in the lab and so forth. There were only seven toxicological reports and no toxicologists on the committee.

In line with this Russert noted that among the many emails the program had received since announcing the topic were some from the National Autism Associations saying that biological and clinical data had been ignored by the IOM and the studies the IOM relied upon were all tainted by association with the CDC or equivalent bodies in the other countries.

Weinberg responded that the committee had fairly evaluated all the evidence and all the studies for their strengths and weaknesses. They simply had found no association in the population. Yes, some studies more valid than others, and the committee had assessed them accordingly. You can read the entire report for yourself, he pointed out, by downloading it from their web site. In sum, they have a growing body of evidence which is imperfect but all taken together is convincing that there is no association between receipt of vaccines containing thimerosal and the development of autism.

So if it was harmless, Russert asked, why was it removed from vaccines? Well, there was no question that mercury is a neurotoxin and that it was prudent to remove it, and that had been done. But that was not because the studies were suspect, Fineberg insisted. That was simply an added measure of precaution that was sensible and correct. Any parent watching can now be confident that their child this year will receive vaccines without thimerosal, though some vaccines still had it prior to 2003 It is still in some flu vaccines, but there are flu vaccines for children available without it.

Russert then asks Fineberg the tough question, which is, So then should parents whose children were vaccinated before 2003 have some concerns? This is how he answers:

DR. FINEBERG: Prior to 2003, there were some that still had thimerosal, but the concern is not reaching the level of evidence related to the development of autism. The concern is a more general concern about mercury as a potential neurotoxin.

This little double think on the part of Dr. Fineberg was a little worrying. He seemed to be trying to have his cake and eat it ie reassure us that the danger had been removed, but at the same time deny the danger.

1) Vaccines have had thimerosal removed as a precautionary measure and parents can be reassured by that, and

2) the concern of parents whose children received thimerosal before that was done need not worry either, since the studies are showing no need to worry.

In other words, no one need worry. This was Dr. Fineberg’s reassuring message to the thousands of hysterical, paranoid and disenchanted parents out there watching this exchange.

Kirby for one was not going to stop worrying. He said that the report was issued 14 months ago and things have been moving rapidly since, with increasing evidence that some children have a genetic inability to process mercury very well. In the nineties, levels of exposure of two year olds reached 125 times the EPA limit. He talked of primate studies which show the ethyl mercury in vaccines converts to inorganic mercury in the brain very, very quickly and gets trapped, and in infant brains there is evidence you get hyper inflammation and the rapid nerve growth you see in autism.

All this biology is new since the IOM report so now he wondered if the IOM committee will meet again to consider the new evidence.

So will you meet again? Fineberg was asked by Tim Russert. Apparently not in the near future. Fineberg feels that the new evidence isn’t very important. David Kirby’s reading of the new evidence exceeded the facts, he said.

Russert said that many parents had written in and said that chelation treatment to remove the mercury had produced vast improvement in their autism-afflicted children. How about that?

Tim, said Dr Fineberg, autism is a complicated illness and many children show improvements over time. Keep in mind that the history of medicine is strewn with discarded treatments that people believed in at one time. The only way to decide if they work or not is to do systematic clinical trials.

Kirby was then asked by Russert if he credits parents’ complaints there is a government conspiracy between the CDC, the IOM and the FDA to withhold information from them and the public? He replied that he never uses such loaded words but he does think there has been a lack of transparency. Fineberg said he didn’t know what was meant by lack of transparency, exactly. Russert told him that parents want the information on children that HMOs have and won’t release for privacy reasons, and the CDC should get it for them and release it.

Fineberg didn’t agree that any problem of that kind if it exists had had any effect on the conclusions he and the others drew up. He said the IOM did urge the CDC to share the data with qualified researchers, and no one could complain that the IOM is not transparent since anyone can read the evidence it collected and the reasoning applied to it on the IOM site. .

Russert asked Kirby what he wanted to be done, since he has acknowledged that there is a possibility the cause could be something else entirely than thimerosal. We need clinical trials for treatments say Kirby, for example, chelation is being studied at University of Arizona, and the government should fund that kind of study. And we need to listen to the parents who are being dimissed by the scientists.

For example, parents said their children were born normal and then regressed, and they were scorned by scientists who said it was impossible. Yet now a video study at the University of Washington has proved them correct. We also need to release the data base the HMOs are hanging on to and make the system more transparent. The IOM’s own report acknowledges that there is a lack of trust and lack of transparency in the system.

“The lack of transparency of some of the processes also affects the trust relationship between the NIP, the National Immunization Program, and the general public.”

It is this lack of trust and transparency which is threatening the vaccine program, Kirby said, not the talk about mercury. Later in the exchange he mentioned leaked reports of pressure being put upon the IOM by the CDC, saying he had transcripts of internal private meetings which are not available through the Freedom of Information Act, but which the CDC should release.

But Fineberg emphatically denied there was any such pressure.

In fact, the whole reason why the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council exists is to be an independent voice outside of government to work on behalf of the needs of the American people. That’s what we do. Agencies do not always hear from us what they want to hear.

As he pointed out, the topics of stem cells, climate change and ways of fixing the Hubble Telescope have all yielded advice from these independent sources which government officials have found unwelcome.

Russert then asked Fineberg about the one page memo of instructions the CDC gave the IOM on how to conduct its thimerasol study, which is not being released, but didn’t get a straight answer as to why it could not be released. Instead, Fineberg simply emphasized that the experts convened by the IOM are not paid for their work and they assess the evidence on behalf of the American public whose taxes pay for the study.

Tim Russert then wound up the discussion by saying that surely we will know in a few years if there is a link between thimerosal and autism because thimerosal is now taken out of vaccines. Both his interviewees agreed with him, Kirby saying that even though the biology should be looked at more closely, any drop in case rates that shows up in the epidemiology will be “hugely significant.”

Fineberg having insisted that the work of the IOM is independent and not attuned to agency requirements, Russert asked him straight out if he is absolutely certain there is no link between thimerosal and autism? The best evidence indicates no association, Fineberg replied. These studies can never be absolutely certain in their findings but it is clear that other avenues are much more promising ways to spend our precious research dollars.

Kirby, on the other hand, said he believed “absolutely” that there is an association and that one day thimerosal will be shown to have caused cases of autism.

Conclusion: politics muddies science again

All in all, an excellent discussion which boiled down to this: plenty of charges and denials arising from the withholding of data from suspicious parents and others who believe often from their own experience there is a link, but in the final analysis, Dr Fineberg of the Institute of Medicine insisted his experts did an independent job and assessed the evidence thoroughly, and the impressively wide epidemiology just doesn’t yield up any visible link between thimerosal and autism.

Meanwhile, the well researched David Kirby continues to side with the parents in emphasizing that the biology of toxicity studied in the lab and in the children is recently even more suggestive than before that there is cause and effect, and that therefore it is possible that the field studies have not been done or reported properly.

Both agree that the epidemiology may soon be decisive. Since the possible culprit has been removed from vaccines given children since 2003, the link or lack of it should emerge fairly clearly in a few years.

If the link shows up, then it will be a powerful indictment of the design and quality of the very large epidemiological studies carried out so far in four countries on this question. If the link doesn’t show up, then it will confirm how misleading anecdotal and even lab evidence can be in determining cause and effect in human health.

Meanwhile parents are left uncertain whether to trust the estanlishment and its science because that science is partly curtained off by the arrogance and self-serving secrecy of the bureaucracy, and its spokesmen who insist on “reassuring the public” in such a blatantly one-sided way that the public is not reassured at all, especially a public consisting of parents frantic to protect their children in a state of mind confused and undermined by the withholding of information.

Here is the transcript from Meet The Press:


TIM RUSSERT: 500,000 American children have autism. The diagnosis rate has gone from one in 10,000 births in the ’80s to one in 166 births in 2003. Why the increase? What’s the cause? Why is there such controversy, with charges of a government conspiracy? With us: the president of the Institute of Medicine, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, and the author of “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic,” David Kirby.

Coming next, autism: what we know and what we don’t know. Dr. Harvey Fineberg of the Institute of Medicine and David Kirby, author of “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic,” a medical controversy, next, right here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT: The controversy over childhood vaccines and autism, after this brief station break.


MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

Dr. Fineberg, Mr. Kirby, welcome both.

In your book, Mr. Kirby, you raise early on two questions. “Why did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allow mercury exposures from childhood vaccines to more than double between 1988 and 1992 without bothering to calculate cumulative totals and their potential risks? Why … was there a corresponding spike in reported cases of autism spectrum disorders? Why did autism grow from a relatively rare incidence of 1 in every 10,000 births in the 1980s to 1 in 500 in the late 1990s? Why did it continue to increase 1 in 250 in 2000 and then 1 in 166 today?” Have you answered those questions?

MR. DAVID KIRBY: No, nobody’s answered those questions. And we have to answer those questions as soon as possible. We need to solve this mystery. We need to get this controversy behind us so we can go on to find ways to help these kids. Mercury is toxic. It’s a known neurotoxin. If it gets into the brain, it could stay there virtually forever. Children born in the ’90s received mercury far in excess of federal safety limits. That’s indisputable. And yet we’re looking at a neurotoxin. And yet most of the evidence developed by the public health sector has been looking at the epidemiology. And we really need to look at what this mercury is doing inside the bodies and brains of these children if we’re going to solve this mystery one way or the other.

MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Fineberg, in your 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine, you said this: “While some information suggests that autism rates may be rising, it is not clear whether the observed increase is real or due to factors such as heightened awareness of the disorder or the use of a broader diagnostic definition. …”

Do you think there’s an epidemic of autism or do you think it’s simply a change in defining it?

DR. HARVEY FINEBERG: There’s definitely a huge number of cases diagnosed with autism, Tim. What is clear is that number recognized has increased dramatically. It’s also clear that the definition was broadened markedly in the 1980s and 1990s, and there were increased incentives to recognize children from increased awareness and availability of services. No one knows with certainty what part of the increase is genuine, a genuine increase in numbers, and what part is from increased recognition of people who were already there but not previously recognized. Remember we’re talking about a spectrum of diagnoses here, autism spectrum diseases, which range in severity from relatively mild to relatively severe.

MR. RUSSERT: For a layman, in a few words, how would you explain autism?

DR. FINEBERG: Autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by social withdrawal, by repetitive behaviors and by some kind of focal attention in its classic form. Basically, it’s an inability to relate to others.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me go back and review two of the studies that the Institute of Medicine did because this has helped feed much of this controversy and discussion. Back in 2001, the headline on your press release was “Link Between Neurodevelopment Disorders And Thimerosal Remains Unclear. Current scientific evidence neither proves nor disproves a link between the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders in children, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine… While very few vaccines given to children in the United States today still contain thimerosal, prudence dictates that precautionary measures be taken to decrease thimerosal exposure even further. … It is medically plausible that some children’s risk of a neurodevelopmental disorder could rise in part through increased mercury exposure from thimerosal-containing vaccines.”

Thimerosal being a preservative that is put into the vaccine. Then about three years later in May of 2004, the Institute of Medicine issued this headline: “MMR Vaccine And Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Are Not Associated With Autism, IOM Report Says. Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies”–I always destroy that word–“neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine…”

What changed in those three years?

DR. FINEBERG: When you’re dealing with a problem as complex as autism, Tim, you have to look at it from many different points of view and assemble evidence from many different vantage points. Biological evidence in humans and in animals, toxicologic evidence, how does the body deal with toxins, and evidence looking at the actual experience in populations. When the 2001 report was written, there was a lot of suggestive information about the toxic properties of mercury and the problem of autism incompletely understood. By 2004, the main change was that there were completed additional studies that were actually looking in the population at the relationship of receipt of vaccines containing thimerosal and the development of autism.

These studies were carried out in the United States, in Great Britain, in Denmark and Sweden. These studies covered hundreds of thousands of individuals, children, in these populations. They compared systematically in different ways whether you received vaccine with no thimerosal, with some thimerosal, with more thimerosal, and they looked at the relationship of those experiences with the development of autism. Uniformly, the best of those studies all show no association between receiving vaccine of different amounts with thimerosal or without and the development of autism. It was the absence of that association which was the main reason for reaching the conclusion that the evidence points to no association between vaccines and autism.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Kirby?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I think those flawed epidemiological studies range from severely flawed to seriously questionable. And I also think that you cannot rely solely on epidemiology to prove or disproof causation. In fact, I have right here–this is from the federal court system, but they ruled that epidemiology is not acceptable to prove there is no causal link between an adverse event and a pharmaceutical.

MR. RUSSERT: Explain that in layman’s language.

MR. KIRBY: Well, it means that you really, like the doctor said, you can look at the kids as well as look at the large population studies. You need to look at the biology, the toxicology; you need to look at the cellular level. You need to look at immunology, and I would say that what the IOM did last year–I was at that meeting on February 9. Virtually half of the evidence that was presented against the theory was epidemiological–I have the same problem as you. The other half supporting the theory was largely biological. And yet the committee gave a preponderance of evidence or emphasis to the epidemiological evidence and rather, I would say, gave short shrift to the biological evidence.

Dr. Fineberg has mentioned that there are 215 references in the report. I counted them up. By my count, it’s roughly a 2:1 ratio, about 115 references for epidemiology, 60 references for biology, and of those, only seven were toxicological reports. Now, we’re talking about a known neurotoxin, and there were no toxicologists on the committee, either. So I think even Dr. McCormick, the chairwoman of the committee, told me that there was definitely an emphasis on the epidemiology over the biological evidence.

MR. RUSSERT: When we announced this program, as you might expect, we heard from both sides who are very emotional and passionate about this topic. The National Autism Associations, Dr. Fineberg, wrote a letter to us including this: “The five studies the Institute of Medicine based its conclusion upon are fatally flawed, have never been replicated and have ties to the CDC”–Center for Disease Control– “(or foreign equivalent mandating vaccines in other countries) and/or the pharmaceutical industry. However, the Institute of Medicine chose to completely ignore the biological and clinical data supporting the link between thimerosal exposure and injuries to children conducted by independent, appropriately- credentialed researchers.”

DR. FINEBERG: Tim, the Institute of Medicine panel that came together represented a spectrum of experts who were asked to look at all of the evidence, and they did. They assessed the evidence that bears on the question. Some of it is biological, as I mentioned; some of it has to depend on what you actually find when you go out and look in the population. Is there or is there not an association? Keep in mind that there are many neurotoxins in the world. Dozens of natural and industrial substances have neurotoxic properties. When you’re trying to assess a specific association, there are biological studies that are relevant, and there are epidemiological studies that are relevant. All of these studies are not equally valid. Some have more deficiencies and limitations than others.

The committee went through very carefully and assessed each of those studies representing its strengths and weaknesses. All of this is laid out in its report, which is available for download to anyone who wants it from the IOM Web site, And anyone can read for themselves how the committee evaluated critically and carefully all of this evidence.

When the letter you read states that these five studies were not replicated, I can’t help but think that each one of them has been replicated four times. We have now a growing body of evidence, while imperfect, altogether convincing and all reaching the same conclusion, even though they vary in their methods and in their approaches. And that conclusion was no association between the receipt of vaccines containing thimerosal and the development of autism.

MR. RUSSERT: Why was thimerosal then taken out of the vaccination?

DR. FINEBERG: There’s no question that mercury is a neurotoxin. And if there were ways, which there are, to protect vaccines without using mercury-containing substances, it was prudent to remove it, not because there was evidence that it caused autism or even definitive evidence that the amounts in those vaccines caused any neuro problems, but because it was an added measure of precaution that was sensible and correct. And I might add that the latest vaccines that contained any thimerosal as a preservative, with the exception of some flu vaccines, were completed in 2001 and outdated in 2003. So anyone watching this program, any parent can be confident that when they take their child to the pediatrician to be immunized this year, they will receive vaccines without thimerosal as a preservative.

MR. RUSSERT: But prior to this year, there may be some concern?

DR. FINEBERG: Prior to 2003, there were some that still had thimerosal, but the concern is not reaching the level of evidence related to the development of autism. The concern is a more general concern about mercury as a potential neurotoxin.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Kirby?

MR. KIRBY: Well, if I could get back to the IOM report, that meeting was held 14–or the report was actually issued 14 months ago. This story is moving very, very fast. In those last 14 months, there has been an equally growing body of evidence, again on the biological side, that would suggest that, in a small subset of children with a certain genetic predisposition, they are unable to properly process the mercury that they were exposed to. And, by the way, the rates of exposure were quite high in the 1990s. At two months of age, children got three shots for a total of 62.5 micrograms of mercury. For their body weight, that’s 125 times over the EPA level. For me to reach that level, that would be about 1,125 micrograms.

We know that certain children with autism, again, seem to have higher levels of mercury accumulating in their body. We know that when we give mercury to infant primates, the–there’s two types of organic mercury: ethyl mercury in vaccines, methyl mercury in fish. What they found was that the ethyl mercury, once it got into the brain, it converted to inorganic mercury very, very quickly. Inorganic mercury basically gets trapped in the brain, and there’s evidence to suggest that, in an infant brain, in the first six months to a year when the brain is still growing, when inorganic mercury gets trapped in that brain, you’re going to have this hyper neuro inflammation, or the rapid brain growth that we see in autistic children.

These are the types of things that I think need to be researched further. Yes, we need to look at the epidemiology. There’s a whole lot of new biology. This has all been published. None of the biology was published at the time of the IOM hearing. It has since been published, and I actually wonder if the IOM would consider reconvening a new committee or a new hearing to consider the evidence that’s come out in the year and a half since the last report.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you?

DR. FINEBERG: Tim, Mr. Kirby’s description about the certitude of this evidence, I think, exceeds the actual balance of evidence that is produced when you look at the totality. It’s true that mercury is handled differently in the body when it’s in the form of so-called ethyl mercury, which is in vaccines, and methyl mercury, which was actually the form which was–on which the standards of exposure were based. That’s the type found in fish, as has been mentioned. But when you look back at the studies of actual poisonings of children with large amounts of methyl mercury and ethyl mercury, most toxicologists believe that the ethyl form of the mercury is less toxic than the methyl form–less toxic to the nervous system. And that’s based on many experiences with poisoning by these different forms of mercury.

MR. RUSSERT: Many parents have written us over the last couple of days saying that they have put their child in the process of collation, which removes the mercury poisoning from the system, and they say they’ve seen vast improvement. Wouldn’t that suggest that there may be some relationship between the mercury from thimerosal and the removal from the child?

DR. FINEBERG: Tim, autism is a complicated illness, and children with a variety of treatments and non-treatments show improvement over time, which is all to the good. But when you have a single story and a repeated story of an experience that a parent has with a treatment like chelation, you have to keep in mind that the history of medicine is strewn with discarded treatments that people at one time believed in very, very strongly. When you have one case after another, it’s one anecdote after another, and the plural of anecdote in scientific terms is not evidence. The only way to know whether a treatment works or does not work compared to other things is to do the clinical trial, comparing those who are given the treatment in a systematic and balanced way with those who are not.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Kirby, in your book, you talk about a conference on June 7 to 8 in 2000 in Simpsonwood, Georgia. We’ve gotten many e-mails and letters about a government conspiracy, that the CDC and the FDA and the Institute of Medicine and everyone has gotten together and really tried to deny information to the parents of children with autism. Do you believe that?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I think the word “conspiracy” and “cover-up,” those are very loaded words and I never use them. I do think there has been a lack of transparency and I would think Dr. Fineberg would probably agree with that statement. In this entire process…

MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?

DR. FINEBERG: I don’t agree that the lack of transparency had had any bearing on conclusions, and I’m not sure what we mean by a lack of transparency.

MR. RUSSERT: Right now many parents are seeking information from studies from the CDC through the Freedom of Information Act, and they’re being told that the HMOs now have that information and they cannot share it because of privacy. And the parents are saying that’s outrageous. It could easily be obtained by the CDC and disburse that science, that data so people can look at it and make their own judgments. Should the CDC at least do that?

DR. FINEBERG: In fact, Tim, the Institute of Medicine looked separately in a different study at this system that was in place and did urge the CDC to make these records more available to qualified researchers. But that is not the same as a lack of transparency in the studies or in the reports. All anyone has to do in the case of the Institute of Medicine report is to read the report. All of the logic is laid out, all of the weighing of considerations. Not everyone may agree with each assessment, but they have all the relevant evidence right before them.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Kirby, you have said, “I am totally willing to accept there are other factors at play. It may turn out not to be thimerosal at all.” What do you think should be done?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I think, first of all, we need clinical trials for treatments. We need to try to help these children as best we can. There is a clinical trial of chelation therapy under way right now at University of Arizona. Dr. Fineberg said we need these trials. I wish the government was funding them. We need to listen to these parents as well. And I think that they’ve gotten a lot of dismissal from the scientific community. Parents were telling scientists that their children were born normally and then regressed. A lot of people dismissed that and said that couldn’t be the case. We now know from a brand- new study from the University of Washington using videotapes of one-year birthday and two-year birthday that is indeed the case. If the parents were right about regression, maybe they’re right about chelation.

Just getting back to transparency for one second if I could and this whole safety data base that we’re trying to get access to from the report that Dr. Fineberg cited, it says right here, “The lack of transparency of some of the processes also affects the trust relationship between the NIP, the National Immunization Program, and the general public.” The lack of trust and the lack of transparency is what’s threatening the vaccine program, not talk about mercury. So the doctor’s own committee said that there was a lack of transparency again inside this process of analyzing this data that was presented at that conference in Georgia.

MR. RUSSERT: Many of the National Autism Association and other groups, Doctor, point to Task Order 74.


MR. RUSSERT: This is the arrangement between the CDC and the Institute of Medicine, a one-page memo which helps define the study and why it won’t be released. Is there a reason?

DR. FINEBERG: I don’t know what exactly that’s referring to, Tim, but when the Centers for Disease Control contracts with the Institute of Medicine to undertake a study, they do pay the actual costs of the study. But keep in mind that the panel of experts that are assembled by the Institute of Medicine receive no compensation whatsoever for their volunteer service. And when a government agency conveys money to the Institute of Medicine, it’s not the agency’s money. It’s the American people’s money. And our obligation is to do the best we can to assess the evidence on behalf of the American public.

MR. RUSSERT: Since thimerosal is now out of the vaccine, latest as of 2003, we will know in a few years whether or not there is a connection…

MR. KIRBY: That’s correct.

MR. RUSSERT: …definitively by the number of cases?

MR. KIRBY: I think so, but again I think we need to look at the biology, but the epidemiology is very important. If the case rates start to drop in the next couple years, I think that will be hugely significant. If I could also just get back to this commission by the CDC of the report, I’d like to do that as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Real fast.

MR. KIRBY: Well, there’s evidence that there was pressure put on the committee by the CDC, and we have internal transcripts. I think that’s what you were referring to. There are transcripts of private meetings. Some of them were leaked. They’re not obtainable through the Freedom of Information Act. Many people are trying to get copies of the other transcripts, and I do hope that the IOM will make those available in the name of transparency in this.

MR. RUSSERT: Was there pressure?

DR. FINEBERG: Absolutely not, Tim. In fact, the whole reason why the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council exists is to be an independent voice outside of government to work on behalf of the needs of the American people. That’s what we do. Agencies do not always hear from us what they want to hear. Sometimes the evidence does not point in a direction that is welcome. Stem cell guidelines or information about climate change or, for example, the ways to fix the Hubble Telescope which came out of the national academies–all of these are studies undertaken on behalf of the American public and the same was true for our assessment of vaccine safety.

MR. RUSSERT: You’re absolutely convinced there’s no connection between thimerosal and autism?

DR. FINEBERG: I’m convinced that the best evidence all points to the lack of an association. These studies can never prove to the point of absolute certainty an absence of an association. But I would say this, other avenues of research looking at other possible causes today are much more promising ways to spend our precious resources.

MR. RUSSERT: And our viewers should know that there is no thimerosal now in vaccinations, other than flu vaccinations, and so it’s safe for your children to do–have that done.

DR. FINEBERG: And even some flu vaccines for children are now available without thimerosal, as well.

MR. RUSSERT: You believe there is a possibility of a connection?

MR. KIRBY: Absolutely. And I think one day we’ll find out that there might have been–this has contributed to some of the cases in autism in this country.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you for a very civil discussion. To be continued. We’ll be right back.

Bad Behavior has blocked 1296 access attempts in the last 7 days.