Mass Media Funk is a commentary on mass media stories about the scientific, the paranormal, the supernatural, and anything else that yanks at my eyebrows.

Robert Todd Carroll

©copyright 2007






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October 20, 1999. A poll by NYTimes/CBS reports that teens are less frightened of violence happening to them than they were a few years ago. Furthermore, the teens are said to be realistic, since violent crime against teens has dropped over the years, just as violent crime has dropped for everybody in the U.S. for each of the past seven years. Maybe the militant fundamentalists will stop calling for more prayer in the schools to solve our violence problems. The violence is going down steadily with no noticeable increase in religiosity.

The real laugher of the Times story is the comment by Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University. He thinks the violence is down "because we're finally supervising our youngsters." Apparently, he bases his conclusion on the fact that most of the teens polled said they had to tell their parents where they were going when they left the house.

October 19, 1999. A group of astrologers has established a college of astrology in Seattle, Washington. They call their school Kepler College and claim that although they are not yet authorized to grant degrees in the State of Washington, they are "currently seeking authorization by the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer degree programs." The only thing holding them back, they say, is money. "Financial solvency is all that is needed for the Higher Education Control Board to begin the final approval process. With that piece in place, Kepler College will be authorized to grant Bachelor of Arts degrees within one year."

Kepler College is the first institution of its kind. Kepler College serves those who are pursuing careers in astrology, as well as those who seek to develop or upgrade their skills and incorporate them into other professional practices. To enhance these experiences, and to further astrology as an academic discipline, we consider research and academic interaction with other colleges and universities to be major priorities....

As a Kepler College student you will acquire academic credits in a number of areas while you study one major theme --- astrology. You will earn credits in astronomy as you study the mathematics of the sky. You will earn credits in history as you explore astrology’s ancient past. You will earn credits in psychology as you probe the psyche of a chart and see it reflected in life. Throughout this process, you will learn about life.

I'm sure if they ask, Joe Firmage will lend them a few million.

Kepler College is planning a distance learning symposia program for August 18, 2000, to be held at Bastyr University, another bastion of higher learning in Washington state. Bastyr is a naturopathic college in Bothell, Washington, and the home of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Congress recently approved $50,000,000 for the center, which will look for ways to integrate Chinese medicine, homeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine into mainstream health care.

The faculty at Kepler will consist of people like astrotherapist Glen Perry and Dr. Stephanie Clement, a Ph.D. in psychology from Sierra University. Tuition will be $1,250 per symposium. A student will take 3 symposia per year for four years to get the degree. The curriculum, we are told, "is nothing short of spectacular." Judge for yourself.

One thing seemingly lacking from the curriculum is any requirement that the students learn statistics or scientific methodologies, things that might come in handy should one desire to do any scientific testing of astrological hypotheses. However, in the third year students will take a sequence of seminars entitled "Astrology, Astronomy and the Computer Sciences." The following are listed at items of study:

Examine the mathematics of astronomy/astrology. Explore the astronomical basis of astrology. Learn the fundamentals of computer operations. Experience the evolution and technical progress in astronomy/astrology. Consider theories of artificial intelligence and the basis of computer science. Research and design statistical models for analyzing and testing astrological techniques and theories. Interpret the results of research testing.

Design and present an advanced research project applied to astrology.

How the students are going to design statistical models without taking a course in statistics is not made clear. Presumably, their astrologer mentors will give them on the job training in testing techniques and research design.

There is no word yet on whether Kepler will have a football team, but suggestions for a mascot are pouring in. The Kepler Astros and the Kepler Kooks have both been rejected, but serious consideration is still being given to the Kepler Elliptoids.

What is next for the state of Washington? (Besides having replaced California as the state of choice for New Age visionaries? Washington is also the home of Ramtha.) An institute for intergalactic dowsers? A graduate school for creationist graphologists? Bigfoot University?

update: Kepler College has been granted the power to issue both bachelor's and master's degrees in astrological studies. The College now has a .edu URL to replace its original .org. It has arrived.

October 15, 1999. The Kanawha County, West Virginia, school board will consider lifting a ban on teaching Genesis in the public schools at the request of board member Betty Jarvis. There are 87 schools in Kanawha County, the state's largest county.

"We have to present all theories," Jarvis told The Charleston Gazette. "Creationism is a theory. A lot of science books deal only with evolution. Teachers are afraid to stray from the track."

God forbid that science teachers should teach science and leave religion to the parents or that this school district should abide by McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982), which declared it unconstitutional to require teaching creationism as a balance to evolution, and Webster v. New Lenox School District (1990) which permits school districts to prohibit teaching creationism.

Gov. Cecil Underwood, a former teacher, said he does not oppose teaching creationism in public schools. "I think education is search for the truth," said Underwood. "We need to look at all theories to decide what is the truth." 

Yes, we should search for the truth, but it doesn't follow that public school is the place to teach Genesis, especially since it is just one sect of Christians that think Genesis implies that evolution is false.
[submitted by Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

update: December 17, 1999 Kanawha County board members voted 4-1 against the proposal, according to
[thanks to John Collin]


October 14, 1999. In Faribaut, Minnesota, another militant creationist is attacking evolution as being "as absurd as thinking the Earth is the center of the universe." The reasonable view, he believes, is that God created the universe in six days. "The process of evolution itself is not only impossible from a biochemical, anatomical, and physiological standpoint," he claims, "but the theory of evolution has no evidence to show it actually occurred." As is typical of militant creationists, he is not bothered by the fact that evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology nor by the fact that 95% of the people on earth do not agree with his "reasonable view" of a six day creation that rules out evolution.

What is unique about this case is that the attacker, Rodney LeVake, was hired by Faribault Senior High School to teach biology to 10th-graders. But, he was assigned to teach another course when it became apparent that one of his motives for teaching biology was to ignore or debunk evolution in the classroom. (He claims the teacher he replaced told him that the required text has three chapters on evolution but that he just skipped them. The retired teacher, Virgil Luehrs, says he taught evolution, but admits he didn't spend much time on it.)*

Now, LeVake is suing the school district, the superintendent of the district, the principal of the high school, and the curriculum director of the high school because they won't let him teach biology. He wants $50,000, legal expenses, and his class back. His dream, he says, is to teach biology. That may be true, but most people understand biology to be a science, not a religion or a philosophy, as LeVake apparently does. When he was asked by school officials to explain how he would teach evolution, LeVake wrote that he would teach the theory of evolution, if required, but that he would "accompany that treatment of evolution with an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one." This disclaimer did not satisfy the school officials, since they had a good idea of what LeVake considered "an honest look" at what he had publicly declared to be an absurd theory and "impossible from a biochemical, anatomical, and physiological standpoint."

LeVake is not a scientist, but he does have a masters degree in Biology Education from Mankato State University [a.k.a. Minnesota State University, Makato] (1984). According to his calculations, evolution is "a godless philosophy." Yet, he says he wants to teach this godless philosophy so he can debunk it. His lawsuit presents evidence against evolution and claims that by not allowing him to teach biology, the school district is not only denying his academic freedom, but is infringing on his Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, conscience and religion. The lawsuit claims that the school district has reassigned him because of his religious beliefs. It also claims that the district has a policy "of excluding from biology teaching positions persons whose religious beliefs conflict with acceptance of evolution as an unquestionable fact." The district maintains that he was reassigned because it was determined that he was not going to teach the curriculum as he was supposed to.

Ann Goering, a lawyer representing the school district, says that if students get a curriculum like LeVake wants to teach "and think it represents scholarly consensus, they're in for a major shock when they learn that evolution is the organizing principle of biology and at the college level is completely noncontroversial." The president of the Minnesota Science Teachers Association agrees with Goering. Bob Shaw asks: "If most biologists feel evolution is a solid fundamental concept throughout biology, why would you want to refute it if you teach science?" 

Given recent court rulings, it is doubtful LeVake and his legal backers, the American Center for Law and Justice, will succeed. Nevertheless, he and his legal team, are breaking new ground in the assault on evolution by militant fundamentalists. They have framed the issue as one of academic freedom. They know the law won't let them teach their version of Genesis, for that would violate separation of church and state. They know the law won't let them ban the teaching of evolution. So, now they are taking their attack on evolution into the classroom. They want to bring into the classroom "scientific evidence" that mainstream science does not recognize as having legitimate scientific value. In short, they want to use the science classroom as a bully pulpit to debunk evolution. Apparently, they are assuming that if they can convince their students that evolution is false, then students will see that the militant fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis is correct. In short, they are banking on their students being as illogical as they are. For, even if evolution is false, it does not follow that God created the universe in six days.

update: January 15, 2002. The U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to review Rodney LeVake's case.

[MSNBC story submitted by Devon; Nando Times story submitted by Florin Clapa: both reprint an AP story by Julia Lieblich]

postscript: The American Center for Law and Justice was founded by Pat Robertson as a kind of anti-American Civil Liberties Union, which Robertson considers too "liberal." It is mostly concerned with limiting abortion rights, supporting militant fundamentalist religious beliefs in the schools, and what they consider to be "family values."

Devon, who submitted the MSNBC article, also has the following comment to make:

It puzzles me why a omnipotent deity would create blind, white fish and put them deep in underground isolated cave-lakes. My favorite is the notion that the universe is far too complex to exist without a creator, but a creator complex enough to create the universe CAN exist without a creator. It's a common fallacy of religious/superstitious/spiritual people to explain away a complex issue with a simple, improvable answer. Souls, Angels, Chakras, etc. all have no evidence for their existence, but people believe in them because other people believe in them and they provide a simple easy answer.

October 8, 1999. The State Board of Education in New Mexico is considering eliminating 'creationism' from its curriculum standards, according to ABC news. Board member Marshall Berman says the state needs to be very clear that it supports science and that the state is not taking a position supportive of creationism and intelligent design.

October 6, 1999. According to the Nando Times, "The word "evolution" has been deleted from guidelines of what Kentucky public school students should know....State Education Department officials substituted "change over time" for evolution...."

Gene Wilhoit, Kentucky Education Deputy Commissioner, said department officials saw no need to keep the word evolution in the guidelines for high school and middle school students. "The word is a lightning rod," he said, "that creates a diversion from what we're teaching, and we did not want to advocate a particular doctrine or a specific view." I wonder if the state takes the same position on gravity, electricity or Boyle's laws of gasses.

October 4, 1999. An Associated Press article by Hannah Wolfson reviews the status of the teaching of evolution is Utah, the state with the highest percentage (76%) of people belonging to one religion (Mormons). Like Kansas, until that state's recent revision of curriculum standards, Utah's core curriculum requires high school students in public schools to understand the theory of biological evolution and be able to explain how species evolved from common ancestors. But, says Wolfson, in Utah "science sometimes doesn't jibe with faith." Yet, there doesn't seem to be any good reason why not. The teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) require only a belief "man is the child of God, formed in the divine image." The Church does not require a disbelief in evolution. In 1931, the Church issued the following statement:

Leave biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.

According to Duane Jeffery, who teaches zoology at Brigham Young University, some 40% of the students who take the required biology class, which includes the science of evolution, reject evolution on religious grounds. Biology teachers at Brigham Young explain the Church's position to their students before teaching evolution to them. Jeffery tells his students that "God works through natural law." He says that it's "much better that students learn [evolution] within the context of faith, rather than seeing it used as a hammer against religion."

Brigham Young is a private university. In public high schools, teachers cannot teach creationism because of our Constitution's requirement of separation of church and state. Apparently, this also means that public school teachers cannot frame their discussion of evolution, if they even teach evolution, within the context of the Mormon Church's position. Wolfson quotes Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative group pushing for more religion in public schools, as saying that 

In Utah, [public school] teachers are cautious, mostly because they don't feel comfortable teaching something they don't believe in themselves.

Despite the Church's teaching to separate the science from religious matters, most Mormons see the science of evolution "just one of many theories that attempt to understand God's working in the world." I wonder if they see the science of electricity in the same way.

(Not all Mormons see evolution as "just another theory." See Mormons for Evolution.)

September 26, 1999. The Sunday Times (London) reports that several people have died after trying to live on air. They were followers of Ellen Greve, whose books and internet sites preach "breatharianism," that humans can attain a higher spiritual state by starving themselves.

The 43-year-old Greve calls herself Jasmuheen. She runs the Cosmic Internet Academy (C.I.A.) and claims to have 5,000 followers worldwide. She claims she hasn't eaten since 1993. She claims that light is the ultimate nutriment. People pay over $2,000 to attend her seminars.

Greve's house is full  of food, but she claims the food is for her husband, a man previously sentenced to seven years for fraud involving a pension fund. Greve says that he's paid his dues, but apparently he hasn't seen the light and is unable to live on air yet.

further reading

September 24, 1999. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have denied permission to the state of Kansas to use wording from their science education documents. The action is a response to the Kansas State Board of Education that eliminated evolution and the Big Bang theory from the state science standards, which determine what students will be tested on. The immediate response from the Board's lawyer, Dan Biles, was that the standards would not be changed back but that they would have to rewritten in light of the scientific groups' denial of copyright permission.

further reading:

September 19, 1999. Tim Beardsley writes in Scientific American that Congress and President Clinton on are on a witch hunt.

Demands in Congress that someone pay the price for supposedly allowing China to steal nuclear secrets from Los Alamos National Laboratory have prompted the Department of Energy to institute polygraph screening to detect spies at three national laboratories that work on nuclear weapons....The effort has prompted resentment among laboratory employees because of the dubious science behind most polygraph examinations....A real traitor can learn how to fool a screening test....Other agencies, notably the FBI and the CIA, already use the polygraph routinely to screen applicants for employment, and some who failed their examination have protested loud and long that they are victims of an injustice. It seems likely that some scientists will now be joining them--victims of a science that the late Senator Sam J. Ervin of North Carolina likened to "20th-century witchcraft."

What next? Call in Ingo Swann and Joe McMoneagle to do remote viewing of suspected spies?

September 13,1999 . Richard N. Ostling of The Associated Press reports that an international team of statisticians is debunking the controversial “Bible code,” which claims the Old Testament has hidden references to 20th century events that can be revealed by a computer.

Richard N. Ostling of The Associated Press  that an international team of statisticians is debunking the controversial which claims the Old Testament
has hidden references to 20th century events
that can be revealed by a computer.

September 13, 1999. BBC online reports that  about 55% of the people in the UK believe in some kind of psychic ability. A simple test, using the Mind Machine, invented by psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman from Hertfordshire University, is supposed to find out whether these believers are right. Wiseman hopes to test 250,000 people on his Mind Machine.

The Mind Machine works by asking people to try to influence the toss of a coin as seen on a computer screen. Each subject is given four attempts to psychically influence a computerized coin toss. Wiseman correctly reasons that if mind power can influence the computer into giving the result a person wants, then they would be right more than 50% of the time. However, he is wrong if he thinks that any given person who would correctly guess 3 or four of the four tosses would thereby be demonstrating psychic powers. One hopes Dr. Wiseman realizes that of 250,000 people, many would be expected by chance to guess correctly 3 or 4 out 4. What he hopes to accomplish by this test, besides some publicity for himself, is beyond my comprehension.
[submitted by Florin Clapa]

September 4, 1999. Last August we noted that Dr. Bennett Braun, the founder of the International Society for the Study of Disassociation, was accused of convincing a patient that she had 300 personalities, among them a child molester, a high priestess of a satanic cult, and a cannibal. The patient won over $10 million in a lawsuit against the good doctor for nearly destroying her life under the guise of therapy. Another MPD psychiatrist, Dr. Juan Fernandez III of Wasau, Wisconsin, has been found negligent for leading a woman to believe she was molested by her father, that her parents were in a baby-killing cult and that she had 75 personalities. She was awarded $850,000, according to a CNN report. The patient, wife of the former mayor of Wasau, claimed that none of the horrors her therapy revealed actually occurred, and that she was permanently harmed by the ordeal. The defense attorney said that "Dr. Fernandez did what good psychiatrists do." 

August 26, 1999. Nature [26 August 1999 (Vol. 400 No 6747)] published a meta-study on the Mozart effect, as well as a study of the effect itself. Read all about it in the Nando Times. Despite the overwhelming evidence that there is no evidence for the effect, Gordon Shaw, a physicist at the University of California at Irvine who "co-discovered" it, held fast and said "It's very premature to think that they have made a big dent in our results."

In the study done by Kenneth M. Steele et. al., the conclusion was "there is little evidence for a direct effect of music exposure on reasoning ability."

Christopher Chabris concluded in his meta-study of the Mozart effect "that any cognitive enhancement is small and does not reflect any change in IQ or reasoning ability in general, but instead derives entirely from performance on one specific type of cognitive task and has a simple neuropsychological explanation."

Frances Rauscher replies in Nature that the studies and the studies of the studies are concerned with the claim that "Mozart enhances intelligence. We made no such claim. The effect is limited to spatial-temporal tasks involving mental imagery and temporal ordering."

And the beat goes on.





©copyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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