Friday, December 29, 2006

The World's Museums Contain Innumerable Fakes

The next time you're marveling at a painting by Picasso, a statue by Michelangelo, or a carving
from ancient Egypt, don't be absolutely sure that you're looking at the genuine article. Art fakery
has been around since ancient times and is still in full swing — museums, galleries, and private
collections around the world are stocked with phonies. This fact comes to us from an insider's
insider — Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
City. In his book False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes, he writes:
The fact is that there are so many phonies and doctored pieces around these days that at
times, I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones. In the decade
and a half that I was with the Metropolitan Museum of Art I must have examined fifty
thousand works in all fields. Fully 40 percent were either phonies or so hypocritically
restored or so misattributed that they were just the same as forgeries. Since then I'm sure
that that percentage has risen. What few art professionals seem to want to admit is that the
art world we are living in today is a new, highly active, unprincipled one of art fakery.
Ancient Egyptian objects are particularly likely to be bogus. Furthermore, Hoving estimates that
the fraud rate for religious artifacts from pagan and early Christian times is literally 99 percent.
As many as 5,000 fake Dürers were created after the master's death, and half of Vienna master
Egon Schiele's pencil drawings are fakes.

But it isn't just current con artists making this junk; the ancients did it, too. For around a
millennia, Romans couldn't get enough of Greek statues, gems, glasses, and other objects, so
forgers stepped in to fill the demand. Hoving writes:
The volume was so great that Seneca the Elder (ca. 55
BC - AD 39) is recorded by a contemporaneous historian
as remarking that there were no fewer than half a dozen
workshops in the first century AD working full time in
Rome on just colored gems and intaglios. Today it's
almost impossible to tell what's genuinely ancient Greek
and what's Roman fakery, because those gems and
intaglios are made of material that dates to ancient times
and the style is near perfect.
Art forgery isn't the realm of nobodies, either. During
certain periods of their lives, Renaissance masters
Donatello and Verochio put bread on the table by creating
faux antiquities. Rubens painted copies of earlier artists. El
Greco's assistants created five or six copies of their boss'
work, each of which was then passed off as the original (and
they're still wrongly considered the originals).
Hoving reveals that pretty much every museum has at one time or another been suckered into
buying and displaying fakes, and many are still showing them. Of course, most of the examples
he uses are from the Met, but he also says that phony works still sit in the Louvre, the Getty, the
British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Vatican, among others. (Hoving
estimates that 90 percent of the ancient Roman statues in the Holy See's collection are actually
eighteenth-century European knock-offs.)
Revealing further examples, the Independent of London catalogs three Goyas in the Met that are
now attributed to other artists; Rodin sketches actually done by his mistress; Fragonard's popular
Le baiser à la dérobée (The Stolen Kiss), which seems to have been painted by his sister-in-law;
and many Rubens works actually created by the artist's students. According to the newspaper:
"The Rembrandt Research Committee claims that most works attributed to Rembrandt were in
fact collaborative studio pieces."
It's enough to make you question the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Advertisers' Influence on the News Media Is Widespread

In 1995, the San Jose Mercury News almost went under because of a boycott by all of its car
company advertisers. Why were they so irate? The Merc had published an article telling
consumers how to negotiate a better price with car dealers.
When the executive editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, Larry Green, was challenged for
displaying editorial favoritism toward advertisers, he openly declared: "We have to take care of
our customers."
Tales like this bubble up every once in a while, so it shouldn't come as a shock that advertisers
sometimes try to influence the news outlets that run their ads. The real shock is how often this
In its 2002 survey, the Project for Excellence in Journalism asked 103 local TV newsrooms
across the US about pressure from sponsors:
In all, 17 percent of news directors say that sponsors have discouraged them from pursuing
stories (compared to 18 percent last year), and 54 percent have been pressured to cover
stories about sponsors, up slightly from 47 percent last year.
Of the stations that investigated auto companies that were sponsors, half suffered economically
for it, usually by the withdrawal of advertising. One car company cancelled $1 million of ads it
had planned with a station.

In a classic 1992 survey (that desperately needs to be repeated), Marquette University's
Department of Journalism tallied questionnaire results from 147 editors of daily newspapers.
Among the findings:
■ 93.2 percent said sponsors had "threatened to withdraw advertising from [the] paper because
of the content of the stories." (89 percent replied that the advertisers followed through on this
■ 89.9 percent responded that advertisers had "tried to influence the content of a news story or
■ 36.7 percent said that advertisers had "succeeded in influencing news or features in [the]
■ 71.4 percent said that "an advertiser tried to kill a story at [the] newspaper."
■ 55.1 percent revealed that they had gotten "pressure from within [the] paper to write or tailor
news stories to please advertisers."
In the decade since this poll, the media have become even more corporate and more
consolidated, so it's hard to imagine that the situation has improved.

You Can Mail Letters for Little or No Cost

I may never receive another piece of mail, but I have to let you in on a secret: It's possible to
send letters for free or for well below current postage rates. Information on beating the postal
system has been floating around for decades, but it wasn't gathered in one place until outlaw
publisher Loompanics put forth How To Screw the Post Office by "Mr. Unzip" in 2000.
Not content to theorize from an ivory tower, Unzip put these methods
through the ultimate real-world test: He mailed letters. He also
examined the envelopes in which hundreds upon hundreds of
customers had paid their utility bills. Based on this, he offers proof
that letters with insufficient postage often make it to their destinations.
The key is that the machines which scan for stamps work incredibly
fast, processing ten letters per second. They're also fairly
unsophisticated in their detection methods, relying mainly on stamps'
glossy coating as a signal. Because of this, it's possible to successfully
use lower-rate stamps, including outdated stamps, postcard stamps,
and even 1-cent stamps. Beyond that, Unzip successfully sent letters
affixed with only the perforated edges from a block of stamps. Even

those pseudostamps sent by charities like Easter Seals or environ-mental groups can fool the
Another approach is to cut stamps in half, using each portion as full postage. Not only does this
give you two stamps for the price of one, but you can often salvage the uncancelled portion of
stamps on letters you receive. In fact, the author shows that sometimes the Post Office processes
stamps that have already been fully cancelled. This happens more often when the ink is light, but
even dark cancellation marks aren't necessarily a deal-breaker.
Then there's the biggie, the Post Office's atomic secret that lets you mail letters for free. Say
you're sending a letter to dear old mom. Simply put mom's address as the return address. Then
write your address in the center of the envelope, where you'd normally put hers. Forget about the
stamp. The letter will be "returned" to her for insufficient postage.
Unzip covers further techniques involving stamp positioning, metered mail, 2-cent stamps, and
other tricks. Except perhaps for the reversed address scam, none of these tricks will guarantee
your missive gets to its destination, so you wouldn't want to try them with important letters. But
if you want to save a few cents once in a while — or more likely, you want to have fun hacking
the postal system — it can be done.

The Word "Squaw" Is Not a Derisive Term for the Vagina

It's widely believed that "squaw" is a crude word for the vagina. Whether people under this
misapprehension believe that the word is Native American (specifically from the Mohawk
language) or was made up by Europeans, they think that calling a woman "squaw" is the same as
calling her "cunt." Activists are on a crusade to stamp out the word, which is part of over 1,000
placenames in the United States, and they've met with some success. A 1995 Minnesota law, for
example, ordered the changing of all geographical names containing the misunderstood word.
William Bright— UCLA professor emeritus of linguistics and anthropology, and editor of the
book Native American Placenames of the United States — writes:
All linguists who have commented on the word "squaw," including specialists on Indian
languages and on the history of American vocabulary, agree that it is not from Mohawk, or
any other Iroquoian language. Rather, the word was borrowed as early as 1624 from
Massachusett, the language of Aigonquians in the area we now call Massachusetts; in that
language it meant simply "young woman."
Several languages of the Algonquian family — including Cree, Objibwa, and Fox — still use
similar words for "woman."
The confusion might have come from the fact that the Mohawk word for a woman's naughty bits
is "otsiskwa." But since Mohawk belongs to a different language family (Iroquois), the
etym-ologies of the words are completely separate. Bright notes that current speakers of Mohawk
don't consider "squaw" in any way related to their word for vagina.

Still, there is no doubt that "squaw" has been used as an epithet by white people, starting at least
in the 1800s. It even appears this way in the work of James Fenimore Cooper. However, given its
meaning of "woman," when used in a mean-spirited way, it's probably more equivalent to
"broad" or "bitch" than to "cunt." Even this is a corruption of the word's true definition.
The many places across the US with names incorporating "squaw" were labeled that way to
honor female chiefs or other outstanding Native women, or because women performed
traditional activities at these locations. In an essay that earned her death threats, Abenaki
storyteller and historical consultant Marge Bruchac wrote:
Any word can hurt when used as a weapon. Banning the word will not erase the past, and
will only give the oppressors power to define our language. What words will be next?
Pappoose? Sachem? Pow Wow? If we accept the slander, and internalize the insult, we
discredit our female ancestors who felt no shame at hearing the word spoken. To ban
indigenous words discriminates against Native people and their languages. Are we to be
condemned to speaking only the "King's English?" What about all the words from other
Native American languages?....
When I hear it ["squaw"] spoken by Native peoples, in its proper context, I hear the voices
of the ancestors. I am reminded of powerful grandmothers who nurtured our people and
fed the strangers, of proud women chiefs who stood up against them, and of mothers and
daughters and sisters who still stand here today.

The Auto Industry Says That SUV Drivers Are Selfish and Insecure

People who tool around in hulking, big-ass sport utility vehicles have been getting dissed a lot
lately, but no one has raked them over the coals like the people who sold them the SUVs in the
first place. The multibillion-dollar auto industry does extensive research into its customers, and
lately that research has focused quite a bit on the people who buy SUVs.
Investigative reporter Keith Bradsher of the New York Times has looked into the SUV
phenomenon for years. He's read marketing reports meant only to be seen within the industry;
he's interviewed marketing executives from the car companies and from outside research firms.
The industry has come to some unflattering conclusions about the people who buy its SUVs. As
summarized by Bradsher:
They tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their
marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their
driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little
interest in their neighbors and communities....
They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend
to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have
limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.
David Bostwick, the director of market research at Chrysler, told Bradsher: "We have a basic
resistance in our society to admitting that we are parents, and no longer able to go out and find
another mate. If you have a sport utility, you can have the smoked windows, put the children in
the back and pretend you're still single."
Bostwick says that compared to those who buy similarly large minivans, SUV drivers are selfish:
Sport utility people say, "I already have two kids, I don't need 20." Then we talk to the people
who have minivans and they say, "I don't have two kids, I have 20 — all the kids in the
One of General Motors' top engineers also spoke of the difference between minivanners and
SUVers: "SUV owners want to be more like, 'I'm in control of the people around me.'" He went

With the sport utility buyers, it's more of an image thing. Sport utility buyers tend to be
more like, "I wonder how people view me," and are more willing to trade off flexibility or
functionality to get that.
The executive VP for North American auto operations at Honda revealed: "The people who buy
SUVs are in many cases buying the outside first and then the inside. They are buying the image
of the SUV first, and then the functionality."
Jim Bulin, a former Ford strategist who started his
own marketing firm, told Bradsher: "It's about not
letting anything get in your way and, in the extreme,
about intimidating others to get out of your way."
Daniel A. Gorell, who also used to market for Ford
and now has his own firm, says simply that SUV
drivers are "less giving, less oriented toward others."
Defenders of SUVs have attacked Bradsher for
reporting these things, but they always forget the crucial point: Bradsher isn't the one slamming
SUV owners — it's the auto industry itself.

One of the Heroes of Black Hawk Down Is a Convicted Child Molester

The movie Black Hawk Down was one of the biggest box office draws of 2001, and it earned its
director, Ridley Scott, an Oscar nomination. (He didn't win, but the movie got two Academy
Awards for editing and sound.) Based on Mark Bowden's nonfiction book of the same title, it
concerns the disastrous raid of Mogadishu, Somalia, by US elite soldiers in 1993.
One of these Special Forces soldiers underwent a name-change as he moved from the printed
page to the big screen. Ranger John "Stebby" Stebbins became Ranger Danny Grimes when
played by Scottish heartthrob Ewan McGregor. Why? Because in 2000, Stebbins was court-
martialed and sent to the stockade for rape and sodomy of a child under twelve.
This decidedly unheroic turn of events was confirmed by the Army, the Fort Leavenworth
military prison (Stebby's home for the next 30 years), and Black Hawk Down's author. Bowden
told the New York Post that the Army asked him to change Stebbins' name in the screenplay in
order to avoid embarrassing the military.
In an email to the newspaper, Stebby's ex-wife, Nora Stebbins, wrote: "They are going to make
millions off this film in which my ex-husband is portrayed as an All-American hero when the
truth is he is not."

Carl Sagan Was an Avid Pot-Smoker

When you're talking about scientists who achieved rock-star status in
the second half of the twentieth century, the late astronomer and
biologist Carl Sagan is right up there with Stephen Hawking. His
Cosmos (1980) is one of the most popular science books ever written,
planting itself on the New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks and
staying perpetually in print ever since. It was a companion for the PBS
television series of the same name, which — along with numerous
Tonight Show appearances — introduced Sagan and his emphatically
stated phrase "billions and billions" into pop culture. His sole novel,
Contact, was turned into a love-it-or-hate-it movie starring Jodie
Foster as an erstwhile scientist searching for extraterrestrial life, with
Matthew McConaughey as a New Age flake who, inevitably, makes his own form of contact
with her.
Besides his pop-culture credentials, Sagan was pals with numerous legendary Nobel
Prize-winners while still in college, picked up a Pulitzer Prize for his book Dragons of Eden, and
consulted for NASA, MIT, Cornell, and RAND. He designed the human race's postcards to any
aliens that might be out there — the plaque onboard the Pioneer space probes and the record on
the Voyager probes.
So it might come as a bit of a surprise that Sagan was an avid smoker of marijuana. Some might
even call him a pothead.
In his definitive biography of the celebrity scientist, Keay Davidson reveals that Sagan started
toking regularly in the early 1960s and that Dragons of Eden — which won the Pulitzer — "was
obviously written under the inspiration of marijuana." Davidson says of Sagan:
He believed the drug enhanced his creativity and insights. His closest friend of three
decades, Harvard psychiatry professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a leading advocate of the
decriminalization of marijuana, recalls an incident in the 1980s when one of his California
admirers mailed him, unsolicited, some unusually high-quality pot. Grinspoon shared the
joints with Sagan and his wife, Anne Druyan. Afterward, Sagan said, "Lester, I know
you've only got one left, but could I have it? I've got serious work to do tomorrow and I
could really use it."
Perhaps letting Sagan bogart the pot was Grinspoon's way of returning a favor, since Sagan had
contributed an essay to Marihuana Reconsidered, Grinspoon's classic 1971 book on the benefits
and low risks of reefer. For almost three decades, the author of this ode to Mary Jane was
anonymous, but in 1999 Grinspoon revealed that "Mr. X" was Sagan.

In the essay, Sagan wrote that weed increased his appreciation of art, music, food, sex, and
childhood memories, and gave him insights into scientific and social matters:
I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an
idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of Gaussian distribution curves. It
was a point obvious [sic] in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew curves in soap on the
shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of
about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide
range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics.... I have used them in
university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.
The staunchly atheistic/humanistic Sagan comes perilously close to mysticism in some passages:
I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect
to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with
my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception
of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of
myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a
playful and whimsical awareness....
I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with
cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and
our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not
only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a
vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which
sometimes yields a rapport so close it's as if two people are reading each other's minds.

LSD Has Been Used Successfully in Psychiatric Therapy

Given the demonization of the psychedelic drug LSD, it may seem inconceivable that
mainstream , psychiatrists were giving it to patients during sessions. Yet for at least 20 years,
that's exactly what happened.
Created in 1938, LSD was first suggested as a tool in psychotherapy in 1949. The following year
saw the first studies in medical/psychiatric journals. By 1970, hundreds of articles on the uses of
LSD in therapy had appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of
Psychology, the Archives of General Psychiatry, the Quarterly Journal of Studies of Alcoholism,
many non-English-language journals, and elsewhere.
Psychiatric and psychotherapeutic conferences had segments devoted to LSD, and two
professional organizations were formed for this specialty, one in Europe and the other in North
America. International symposia were held in Princeton, London, Amsterdam, and other
locations. From 1950 to 1965, LSD was given in conjunction with therapy to an estimated
40,000 people worldwide.
In his definitive book on the subject, LSD Psychotherapy, transpersonal psychotherapist
Stanislav Grof, MD, explains what makes LSD such a good aid to headshrinking:
...LSD and other psychedelics function more or less as nonspecific catalysts and amplifiers
of the psyche.... In the dosages used in human experimentation, the classical psychedelics,
such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, do not have any specific pharmacological effects.
They increase the energetic niveau in the psyche and the body which leads to manifestation
of otherwise latent psychological processes.
The content and nature of the experiences that these substances induce are thus not
artificial products of their pharmacological interaction with the brain ("toxic psychoses"),
but authentic expressions of the psyche revealing its functioning on levels not ordinarily
available for observation and study. A person who has taken LSD does not have an "LSD
experience," but takes a journey into deep recesses of his or her own psyche.
When used as a tool during full-scale therapy, Grof says, "the potential of LSD seems to be
extraordinary and unique. The ability of LSD to deepen, intensify and accelerate the
psychotherapeutic process is incomparably greater than that of any other drug used as an adjunct
to psychotherapy, with the exception perhaps of some other members of the psychedelic group."
Due to bad trips experienced by casual users, not to mention anti-drug hysteria in general, LSD
was outlawed in the US in 1970. The Drug Enforcement Agency declares: "Scientific study of
LSD ceased circa 1980 as research funding declined."
What the DEA fails to mention is that medical and psychiatric research is currently happening,
albeit quietly. Few researchers have the resources and patience to jump through the umpteen
hoops required to test psychedelics on people, but a few experiments using LSD, ecstasy, DMT,
ketamine, peyote, and other such substances are happening in North America and Europe.
Universities engaged in this research include Harvard, Duke, Johns Hopkins, University College
London, and the University of Zurich.

We're presently in the dark ages of such research, but at least the light hasn't gone out entirely.

The Bayer Company Made Heroin

Aspirin isn't the only "wonder drug that works wonders" that Bayer made. The German
pharmaceutical giant also introduced heroin to the world.
The company was looking for a cough suppressant that didn't
have problematic side effects, mainly addiction, like morphine
and codeine. And if it could relieve pain better than morphine,
that was a welcome bonus.
When one of Bayer's chemists approached the head of the
pharmacological lab with ASA — to be sold under the name
"aspirin" — he was waved away. The boss was more interested
in something else the chemists had cooked up — diacetyl-
morphine. (This narcotic had been created in 1874 by a British
chemist, who had never done anything with it.)
Using the tradename "Heroin" — because early testers said it
made them feel heroisch (heroic) — Bayer sold this popular
drug by the truckload starting in 1898. Free samples were sent
to thousands of doctors; studies appeared in medical journals.
The Sunday Times of London noted: "By 1899, Bayer was
producing about a ton of heroin a year, and exporting the drug
to 23 countries," including the US. Medicines containing
smack were available over-the-counter at drug stores, just as aspirin is today. The American
Medical Association gave heroin its stamp of approval in 1907.
But reports of addiction, which had already started appearing in 1899, turned into a torrent after
several years. Bayer had wisely released aspirin the year after heroin, and this new non-addictive
painkiller and anti-inflammatory was well on its way to becoming the most popular drug ever. In
1913, Bayer got out of the heroin business.
Not that the company has kept its nose clean since then:
A division of the pharmaceutical company Bayer sold millions of dollars of blood-clotting
medicine for hemophiliacs — medicine that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS — to
Asia and Latin America in the mid-1980s while selling a new, safer product in the West,
according to documents obtained by The New York Times.... [I]n Hong Kong and Taiwan
alone, more than 100 hemophiliacs got HIV after using Cutter's old medicine, according to
records and interviews. Many have since died.

An FBI Expert Testified That Lie Detectors Are Worthless for Security Screening

Now let's turn our attention to the last member of our trifecta of defective tests — the polygraph,
more commonly referred to as the lie detector. Invented by the same person who created Wonder
Woman and her golden lasso that makes you tell the truth (I'm not kidding), the polygraph is said
to detect deception based on subtle bodily signals, such as pulse rate and sweatiness. Its
proponents like to claim that it has a success rate of 90 percent or more. This is pure hogwash.
While the evidence against lie detectors is way too voluminous to get into here, it will be very
instructive to look at a statement from Dr. Drew Richardson. Richardson is a scientist who was
an FBI agent for 25 years; in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he dealt with polygraphs.
In fall 1997, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held hearings regarding the FBI Crime Lab.
Richardson gave scorching testimony about polygraphs. Referring specifically to the practice of
using lie detectors to question people in sensitive positions, he said under oath:
It is completely without any theoretical foundation and has absolutely no validity. Although
there is disagreement amongst scientists about the use of polygraph testing in criminal
matters, there is almost universal agreement that polygraph screening is completely invalid
and should be stopped. As one of my colleagues frequently says, the diagnostic value of this
type of testing is no more than that of astrology or tea-leaf reading.
If this test had any validity (which it does not), both my own experience, and published
scientific research has proven, that anyone can be taught to beat this type of polygraph
exam in a few minutes.
Because of the nature of this type of examination, it would normally be expected to produce
large numbers of false positive results (falsely accusing an examinee of lying about some
issue). As a result of the great consequences of doing this with large numbers of law
enforcement and intelligence community officers, the test has now been manipulated to
reduce false positive results, but consequently has no power to detect deception in
espionage and other national security matters. Thus, I believe that there is virtually no
probability of catching a spy with the use of polygraph screening techniques. I think a
careful exam-ination of the Aldrich Ames case will reveal that any shortcomings in the use
of the polygraph were not simply errors on the part of the polygraph examiners involved,
and would not have been eliminated if FBI instead of CIA polygraphers had conducted
these examinations. Instead I believe this is largely a reflection of the complete lack of
validity of this methodology. To the extent that we place any confidence in the results of
polygraph screening, and as a consequence shortchange traditional security vetting
techniques, I think our national security is severely jeopardized.
After he ripped polygraphs a new one, the FBI silenced Richardson, refusing to let him speak
publicly about the subject again.

DNA Matching Is Not Infallible

Speaking of tests that aren't all they're cracked up to be, let's look at DNA testing. This is
supposed to be the absolute silver bullet of criminal justice, an incontrovertible way to pin guilt
on someone. After all, the chances of a mismatch are one in a billion, a quadrillion, a jillion!
Some experts have testified under oath that a false match is literally impossible.

Not quite. As he did with HIV testing, risk scholar Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute
punches a hole in the matching of genetic material:
In the first blind test reported in the literature, three major commercial laboratories were
each sent 50 DNA samples. Two of the three declared one false match; in a second test one
year later, one of the same three laboratories declared a false match. From external tests
conducted by the California Association of I Crime Laboratory Directors, the
Collaborative Testing Services, and other agencies, the psychologist Jonathan Koehler and
his colleagues estimated the false positive rate of DNA fingerprinting to be on the order of 1
in 100. Cellmark Diagnostics, one of the laboratories that found matches between O.J.
Simpson's DNA and DNA extracted from a recovered blood stain at the murder scene,
reported its own false positive rate to the Simpson defense as roughly 1 in 200.
It gets even worse. In 1999, the College of American Pathologists performed its own secret tests
of 135 labs. Each lab was sent a DNA sample from the "victim," some semen from the "suspect,"
and a fake vaginal swab containing DNA from both parties. They were also sent a strand of the
"victim's" hair. The object was to see how many of the labs would make the matches (ie, match
the two sperm samples of the man, and match the hair and DNA sample of the woman). But
something unexpected happened: Three of the labs reported that the DNA from the suspect
matched the victim's DNA! Obviously, they had mixed up the samples. Only fourteen labs tested
the hair, but out of those, one screwed it up by declaring a match to the "suspect."
These kind of switches don't happen only during artificial situations designed to gauge a lab's
accuracy (which are usually performed under ideal conditions). During a 1995 rape trial, a lab
reversed the labels on the DNA samples from the victim and the defendant. Their testing then
revealed a match between the defendant's alleged DNA (which was actually the victim's) and the
DNA on the vaginal swab, which didn't contain any semen from the rapist. Luckily, this
boneheaded move was caught during the trial, but not everyone is so lucky.
The Journal of Forensic Science has reported an error that was discovered only after an innocent
man had been convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to prison, where lie was
undoubtedly brutalized in ways that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life, were
you to hear them described in detail. After four years, he was released because the lab hadn't
completely separated the real rapist's DNA (extracted from his semen) from the victim's DNA.
When the two were swirled together, they somehow matched that of the poor bastard whose
eleven alibi witnesses failed to sway the jury. But when the semen DNA was checked properly, it
was beyond doubt that a match didn't exist.
While most false matches are the result of human error, other factors do come into play. Some
testing techniques are more definitive than others. In the case of one innocent man — Josiah
Sutton, found guilty of rape based primarily on DNA evidence — criminology professor William
C. Thompson said: "If police picked any two black men off the street, the chances that one of
them would have a DNA profile that 'matched' the semen sample as well as Sutton's profile is
better than one in eight." Also, we mustn't forget about corruption. In some known cases, DNA
analysts have misrepresented (ie, lied about) their findings in order to obtain convictions.

For Low-Risk People, a Positive Result from an HIV Test Is Wrong Half the Time

Although a lot of progress has been made in improving the length and quality of life for people
with AIDS, getting a positive result from an HIV test must still rank as one of the worst pieces of
news a person can get. It's not uncommon for people to kill themselves right after hearing the
results, and those who don't commit suicide surely go through all kinds of mental anguish. But
the accuracy of these tests is lower than generally believed. In fact, if you test positive but you're
not a member of a high-risk group (such as non-monogamous gay men and intravenous drug
users), the odds are 50-50 that you actually have the virus.
To be declared HIV-positive, your blood goes through three tests — two ELISA tests and one
more sensitive and costly Western Blot test. Makers of the tests trumpet a 99.99 percent accuracy
rate when all three are used. Many AIDS counselors even tell people that the tests never give a
false positive (that is, the tests don't indicate that someone is HIV-positive when he or she really
isn't). The test manufacturers' claim is misleading, and the counselors' claim is flat-out BS.
Cognitive scientist Gerd Gigerenzer — who specializes in risk and uncertainty — explains the
reality in plain English:
Imagine 10,000 men who are not in any known risk category. One is infected (base rate)
and will test positive with practical certainty (sensitivity). Of the 9,999 men who are not
infected, another one will also test positive (false positive rate). So we can expect that two
men will test positive.
Out of these two men, only one actually carries the virus. So, if you're a low-risk man who tests
positive, the chances are even — the same as a coin flip — that the result is right. It's highly
advisable that you take the tests again (and again). The results are even less reliable for women
in low-risk groups, since they have a still lower rate of HIV.
Of course, this doesn't apply to an HIV-negative result. If you test negative, the odds are
overwhelmingly good (9,998 out of 9,999) that this is correct. It also doesn't hold for people in
high-risk categories. For example, if we accept the estimate that 1.5 percent of gay men are HIV-
positive, this means that out of every 10,000, an average of 150 are infected. An HIV test will
almost surely pick up on all 150, and out of the remaining 9,850 uninfected men, one will
incorrectly be labeled positive. This means that only one out of 151 gay men will be falsely
diagnosed as having HIV A false positive is thus still possible but much more unlikely.

The Suicide Rate Is Highest Among the Elderly

If you judge by the media and the public education programs, you might be inclined to think that
teenagers and young adults (aged 15 to 24) are the age group most likely to kill themselves.
Actually, they have the second-lowest rate of suicide. (The absolute lowest rate is among kids
aged 5 to 14; children younger than that are apparently deemed incapable of consciously
choosing to end their lives.) It is the elderly, by far, who have the highest rate of suicide.
In the US, of every 100,000 people aged 75 to 79, 16.5 kill themselves. For those 80 and over,
the rate is 19.43. This compares to a rate of 8.15 per 100,000 for people between the ages 15 and
19, and 12.84 for people aged 20 to 24.
As with every age group, men are far more likely to kill themselves, but among the elderly this
trend reaches extreme proportions. Of people 65 and older, men comprise a staggering 84
percent of suicides.
Because men commit the vast majority of hara-kiri among old people, looking at these male
suicide rates makes for extremely depressing reading. For guys aged 75 to 79, the suicide rate is
34.26 per 100,000. In the 80 to 84 group, men's suicide rate is 44.12. When you look at men 85
and older, the suicide rate is a heart-breaking 54.52. Compare this to the suicide rate for dudes in
their mid to late teens: 13.22 per 100,000.
It is true that suicide ranks as the second or third most common cause of death in young people
(depending on age group), while it is number 15 and under for various groups of the elderly.
Still, the suicide rate among the young is equal to their proportion of the population, while the
elderly are way overrepresented as a group. And old people are cut down by a great many
diseases and disorders virtually unknown to the young, which naturally pushes suicide down in
the rankings.
The reasons why this suicide epidemic is ignored are highly speculative and would be too
lengthy to get into here. However, we can rule out one seemingly likely explanation — suicide
among the aged is invisible because they usually O.D. on prescription drugs or kill themselves in
other ways that could easily be mistaken for natural death in someone of advanced years. This
doesn't wash, primarily because guns are the most common method of dispatch. Of suicides over
65, men used a gun 79.5 percent of the time, while women shot themselves 37 percent of the
time. It's hard to mistake that for natural causes.
The sky-high suicide rate among the elderly applies to the entire world, not just the US. Plotted
in a graph, suicide rates by age group around the globe gently curve upward as age increases.
When the graph reaches the final age group, the line suddenly spikes, especially for men.
Worldwide, men 75 and over have a suicide rate of 55.7 per 100,000, while women in the same
age group have a rate of 18.8. This rate for old men is almost three times the global rate for guys
aged 15 to 24, while the rate for old women is well over three times the rate for young gals in
that age group.

Work Kills More People Than War

The United Nations' International Labor Organization has revealed some horrifying stats:
The ILO estimates that approximately two million workers lose their lives annually due to
occupational injuries and illnesses, with accidents causing at least 350,000 deaths a year.
For every fatal accident, there are an estimated 1,000 non-fatal injuries, many of which
result in lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty. The death toll at work, much of
which is attributable to unsafe working practices, is the equivalent of 5,000 workers dying
each day, three persons every minute.
This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 death* per year).
According to the ILO's SafeWork programme, work kills more people than alcohol and
drugs together and the resulting loss in Gross Domestic Product is 20 times greater than all
official development assistance to the developing countries.
Each year, 6,570 US workers die because of injuries at work, while 60,225 meet their maker due
to occupational diseases. (Meanwhile, 13.2 million get hurt, and 1.1 million develop illnesses
that don't kill them.) On an average day, two or three workers are fatally shot, two fall to their
deaths, one is killed after being smashed by a vehicle, and one is electrocuted. Each year, around
30 workers die of heat stroke, and another 30 expire from carbon monoxide.
Although blue collar workers face a lot of the most obvious dangers, those slaving in offices or
stores must contend with toxic air, workplace violence, driving accidents, and (especially for the
health-care workers) transmissible diseases. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
warns that poisonous indoor air in nonindustrial workplaces causes "[t]housands of heart disease
deaths [and] hundreds of lung cancer deaths" each year.
But hey, everybody has to go sometime, right? And since we spend so much of our lives in the
workplace, it's only logical that a lot of deaths happen — or at least are set into motion — on the
job. This explanation certainly is true to an extent, but it doesn't excuse all such deaths. The
International Labor Organization says that half of workplace fatalities are avoidable. In A Job to
Die For, Lisa Cullen writes:
In the workplace, few real accidents occur because the surroundings and operations are
known; therefore, hazards can be identified. When harm from those hazards can be
foreseen, accidents can be prevented....
Most jobs have expected, known hazards. Working in and near excavations, for example,
poses the obvious risks of death or injury from cave-in.... When trenches or excavations
collapse because soil was piled right up to the edge, there is little room to claim it was an

Prescription Drugs Kill Over 100,000 Annually

Even higher than the number of people who die from medication errors is the number of people
who die from medication, period. Even when a prescription drug is dispensed properly, there's no
guarantee it won't end up killing you.
A remarkable study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that
prescription drugs kill around 106,000 people in the US every year, which ranks prescription
drugs as the fourth leading cause of death. Furthermore, each years sees 2,216,000 serious
adverse drug reactions (defined as "those that required hospitalization, were permanently
disabling, or resulted in death").
The authors of this 1998 study performed a meta-analysis on
39 previous studies covering 32 years. They factored out such
things as medication errors, abuse of prescription drugs, and
adverse reactions not considered serious. Plus, the study
involved only people who had either been hospitalized due to
drug reactions or who experienced reactions while in the
hospital. People who died immediately (and, thus, never went
to the hospital) and those whose deaths weren't realized to be
due to prescription drugs were not included, so the true figure
is probably higher.
Four years later, another study in the JAMA warned:

Patient exposure to new drugs with unknown toxic effects may be extensive. Nearly 20
million patients in the United States took at least 1 of the 5 drugs withdrawn from the
market between September 1997 and September 1998. Three of these 5 drugs were new,
having been on the market for less than 2 years. Seven drugs approved since 1993 and
subsequently withdrawn from the market have been reported as possibly contributing to
1002 deaths.
Examining warnings added to drug labels through the years, the study's authors found that of the
new chemical entities approved from 1975 to 1999, 10 percent "acquired a new black box
warning or were withdrawn from the market" by 2000. Using some kind of high-falutin'
statistical process, they estimate that the "probability of a new drug acquiring black box warnings
or being withdrawn from the market over 25 years was 20%."
A statement released by one of the study's coauthors — Sidney Wolfe, MD, Director of Public
Citizen's Health Studies Group — warned:
In 1997, 39 new drugs were approved by the FDA. As of now [May 2002], five of them
(Rezulin, Posicor, Duract, Raxar and Baycol) have been taken off the market and an
additional two (Trovan, an antibiotic and Orgaran, an anticoagulant) have had new box
warnings. Thus, seven drugs approved that year (18% of the 39 drugs approved) have
already been withdrawn or had a black box warning in just four years after approval.
Based on our study, 20% of drugs will be withdrawn or have a black box warning within
25 years of coming on the market. The drugs approved in 1997 have already almost
"achieved" this in only four years — with 21 years to go.
How does this happen? Before the FDA approves a new drug, it must undergo clinical trials.
These trials aren't performed by the FDA, though — they're done by the drug companies
themselves. These trials often use relatively few patients, and they usually select patients most
likely to react well to the drug. On top of that, the trials are often for a short period of time
(weeks), even though real-world users may be on a drug for months or years at a time. Dr. Wolfe
points out that even when adverse effects show up during clinical trials, the drugs are sometimes
released anyway, and they end up being taken off the market because of those same adverse
Postmarketing reporting of adverse effects isn't much better. The FDA runs a program to collect
reports of problems with drugs, but compliance is voluntary. The generally accepted estimate in
the medical community is that a scant 10 percent of individual instances of adverse effects are
reported to the FDA, which would mean that the problem is ten times worse than we currently
Drugs aren't released when they've been proven safe; they're released when enough FDA
bureaucrats — many of whom have worked for the pharmaceutical companies or will work for
them in the future — can be convinced that it's kinda safe. Basically, the use of prescription
drugs by the general public can be seen as widespread, long-term clinical trials to determine their
true safety.
We are all guinea pigs.

Medication Errors Kill Thousands Each Year

Next time you get a prescription filled, look at the label very carefully. Getting the wrong drug or
the wrong dosage kills hundreds or thousands of people each year, with many times that number
getting injured.
Renegade health reporter Nicholas Regush — a self-imposed exile from ABC News — provides
ii long list of specific problems:
Poor handwriting. Verbal orders. Ambiguous orders. Prescribing errors. Failure to write
orders. Unapproved uses. When the order is not modified or cancelled. Look-alike and
sound-alike drug names. Dangerous abbreviations. Faulty drug distribution systems in
hospital. Failure to read the label or poor labeling. Lack of knowledge about drugs. Lack of
knowledge concerning proper dose. Lack of knowledge concerning route of administration.
Ad nauseam.
After pouring over death certificates, sociology professor David Philips — an expert in mortality
statistics — determined that drug errors kill 7,000 people each year in the US. His study was

published in The Lancet, probably the most prestigious medical journal in the world. The
Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies of Science, also estimated 7,000.
Interestingly, the Food and Drug Administration published the lowball figure of 365 annually
(one per day). But even the FDA admits that such bungling injures 1.3 million people each year.
New York Newsday cited several specific cases, such as: "In 1995, a Texas doctor wrote an
illegible prescription causing the patient to receive not only the wrong medication, but at eight
times the drug's usually recommended strength. The patient, Ramon Vasquez, died. In 1999, a
court ordered the doctor and pharmacy to pay the patient's family a total of $450,000, the largest
amount ever awarded in an illegible prescription case."
Besides doctors' indecipherable chicken scratch, similar-sounding drug names are another big
culprit. Pharmaceutical companies have even started warning medical professionals to be careful
with the cookie-cutter names of their products. In a typical example, Celebrex, Cerebyx, Celexa,
and Zyprexa sometimes get confused. (Respectively, they're used to treat arthritis, seizures,
depression, and psychosis.) According to WebMD: "Bruce Lambert, an assistant professor of
pharmacy administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says there are 100,000 potential
pairings of drug names that could be confused."

Most Doctors Don't Know the Radiation Level of CAT Scans

Using extended doses of encircling X-rays, CAT scans give a detailed look inside your body,
revealing not only bones but soft tissue and blood vessels, as well. According to the health site, over 70,000 places around the world offer CAT scans to detect and diagnose
tumors, heart disease, osteoporosis, blood clots, spinal fractures, nerve damage, and lots of other
problems. Because it can uncover so much, its use has become widespread and continues to rise.
In fact, healthy people are getting scans just to see if anything might be wrong, kind of like a
routine check-up.
The downside, and it's a doozy, is that a CAT scan jolts you with 100 to 250 times the dose of
radiation that you get from a chest X-ray. What's even more alarming is that most doctors
apparently don't know this.
An emergency physician from the Yale School of Medicine surveyed 45 of his colleagues about
the pros and cons of CAT scans. A mere nine of them said that they tell patients about the
radiation. This might be just as well, in a weird way, since most of them had absolutely no clue
about how much radiation CAT scans give off. When asked to compare the blast from a chest X-
ray to the blast from a CAT scan, only 22 percent of the docs got it right. As for the other three-
quarters, The Medical Post relates:
Three of the doctors said the dose was either less than or equal to a chest X-ray.
Twenty (44%) of the doctors said the dose was greater than a chest X-ray, but less than 10
times the dose. Just over one-fifth of the doctors (22%) said the radiation dose from a CT
was more than 10 times that of an X-ray but less than 100 times the dose.
Only ten of them knew that a single CAT scan equals 100 to 250 chest X-rays, while two thought
that the scans were even worse than that.
Feel free to give your doc a pop quiz during your next office visit.

Herds of Milk-Producing Cows Are Rife With Bovine Leukemia Virus

Bovine leukemia virus is a cancer-causing microbe in cattle.
Just how many cows have it? The US Department of
Agriculture reports that nationwide, 89 percent of herds
contain cows with BLV. The most infected region is the
Southeast, where 99 percent of herds have the tumor-causing
bug. In some herds across the country, almost every single
animal is infected. A 1980 study across Canada uncovered a
lower but none-too-reassuring rate of 40 percent.
BLV is transmitted through milk. Since the milk from all
cows in a herd is mixed before processing, if even a single
cow is infected, all milk from that herd will have BLV
swimming in it. Citing an article in Science, oncologist
Robert Kradjian, MD, warns that 90 to 95 percent of milk
starts out tainted. Of course, pasteurization — when done the right way — kills BLV, but the
process isn't perfect. And if you drink raw milk, odds are you're gulping down bovine leukemia
Between dairy cows and their cousins that are used for meat (who tend to be infected at lower
rates), it appears that a whole lot of BLV is getting inside us. A 2001 study in Breast Cancer
Research detected antibodies to the bovine leukemia virus in blood samples from 77 out of 100
volunteers. Furthermore, BLV showed up more often in breast tissue from women with breast
cancer than in the tissue from healthy women. Several medical studies have found positive
correlations between higher intake of milk/beef and increased incidence of leukemia or
lymphoma in humans, although other studies haven't found a correlation.
No hard evidence has yet linked BLV to diseases in humans, but do you feel comfortable
knowing that cow cancer cells are in your body?

Smoking Causes Problems Other Than Lung Cancer and Heart Disease

The fact that smoking causes lung disease and oral cancer isn't exactly news, and only tobacco
industry executives would express (feigned) shock at being told. But cigarettes can lead to a
whole slew of problems involving every system of your tar-filled body, and most people aren'l
aware of this.
The American Council on Science and Health's book Cigarettes: What the Warning Label
Doesn't Tell You is the first comprehensive look at the medical evidence of all types of harm
triggered by smoking. Referencing over 450 articles from medical journals and reviewed by 45
experts — mainly medical doctors and PhDs — if this book doesn't convince you to quit, nothing
Among some of the things that cancer sticks do:
Besides cancers of the head, neck, and lungs, ciggies are especially connected to cancers of the
bladder, kidney, pancreas, and cervix. Newer evidence is adding leukemia and colorectal cancer
to the list. Recent studies have also found at least a doubling of risk among smokers for cancers
of the vulva and penis, as well as an eight-fold risk of anal cancer for men and a nine-fold risk
for women.
Smoking trashes the ability of blood to flow, which results in a sixteen-fold greater risk of
peripheral vascular disease. This triggers pain in the legs and arms, which often leads to an
inability to walk and, in some instances, gangrene and/or amputation. Seventy-six percent of all
cases are caused by smoking, more than for any other factor, including diabetes, obesity, and
high blood pressure.
Smokers are at least two to three times more likely to develop the heartbreak of psoriasis. Even
if that doesn't happen, they'll look old before their time. The American Council tells us,
"Smokers in their 40s have facial wrinkles similar to those of nonsmokers in their 60s."
Smokers require more anesthesia for surgery, and they recover much more slowly. In fact,
wounds of all kinds take longer to heal for smokers.
Puffing helps to weaken bones, soft tissue, and spinal discs, causing all kinds of musculo-
skeletal pain, more broken bones and ruptured discs, and longer healing time. "A non-smoker's
leg heals an average of 80 percent faster than a smoker's broken leg."
Smoking is heavily related to osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass, which results in brittle bones
and more breaks.
Cigarettes interfere with your ability to have kids. "The fertility rates of women who smoke are
about 30 percent lower than those of nonsmokers." If you're an idiot who continues to smoke
while you're expecting — even in this day and age, some people, including stars Catherine Zeta-

Jones and Courtney Love, do this — you increase the risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature
birth, low birth weight, underdevelopment, and cleft pallet. If your child is able to survive
outside the womb, it will have a heavily elevated risk of crib death (SIDS), allergies, and
intellectual impairment.
Smoking also does a serious number on sperm, resulting in more deformed cells, less ability of
them to swim, smaller loads, and a drastic decrease in overall number of the little fellas. The
larger population of misshapen sperm probably increases the risk of miscarriages and birth
defects, so even if mommy doesn't smoke, daddy could still cause problems. What's more,
because smoking hurts blood flow, male smokers are at least twice as likely to be unable to get it
Besides shutting down blood flow to the little head, smoking interferes with the blood going to
the big head in both sexes. This causes one quarter of all strokes. It also makes these strokes
more likely to occur earlier in life and more likely to be fatal.
"Depression — whether viewed as a trait, a symptom or a diagnosable disorder — is over-
represented among smokers." Unfortunately, it's unclear how the two are related. Does smoking
cause depression, or does depression lead to smoking? Or, most likely, do the two feed on each
other in a vicious cycle?
"Smokers experience sudden hearing loss an average of 16 years earlier than do never
Smokers and former smokers have an increased risk of developing cataracts, abnormal eye
movements, inflammation of the optic nerve, permanent blindness from lack of blood flow, and
the most severe form of macular degeneration.
Lighting up increases plaque, gum disease, and tooth loss.
It also makes it likelier that you'll develop diabetes, stomach ulcers, colon polyps, and Crohn's
Smoking trashes the immune system in myriad ways, with the overall result being that you're
more susceptible to disease and allergies.
And let's not forget that second-hand smoke has horrible effects on the estimated 42 percent of
toddlers and infants who are forced to inhale it in their homes:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), children's "passive smoking,"
as it is called, results in hundreds of thousands of cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear
infections, and worsened asthma. Worse yet, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention estimates that 702 children younger than one year die each year as a result of
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), worsened asthma and serious respiratory infections.

It's very surprising to note that smoking can have a few health benefits. Because they zap
women's estrogen levels, cigarettes can lead to less endometriosis and other conditions related to
the hormone. Smoking also decreases the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees, perhaps
because the pliability of thin bones takes some pressure off of the cartilage. And because it jacks
up dopamine levels, it helps ward off Parkinson's disease. Of course, these benefits seem to be
side effects of the hazards of smoking, so the trade-off hardly seems worth it.

The Insurance Industry Wants to Genetically Test All Policy Holders

The insurance industry's party line is that it doesn't want to genetically test people who sign up
for policies, a practice that would detect a predisposition to develop cancer, multiple sclerosis,
and other diseases and disorders. The industry's internal documents tell a completely different
story, though.
While researching War Against the Weak — his sweeping history of eugenics (and its successor,
genetics) in the United States and Germany — Edwin Black found two reports written by
insurers for insurers. "Genetic Information and Medical Expense" — published in June 2000 by
the American Academy of Actuaries — intones that an inability to ask for genetic tests "would
have a direct impact on premium rates, ultimately raising the cost of insurance for everyone."
A paper issued by the same group in spring 2002 goes further, envisioning a nightmare scenario
in which the entire insurance industry collapses. The genetically impure can't be weeded out,
thus meaning that more of them get covered. Because of this, the insurers have lo pay out more
benefits, which drives up premiums for everybody. This causes some people with perfect
chromosomes to be unable to afford insurance, which means a higher percentage of the insured
are chromosomally challenged. A downward spiral has started, with more benefits paid out,
higher premiums charged, fewer healthy people covered, more benefits, higher premiums, fewer
healthy people, etc. This, the report warns, "could eventually cause the insurers to become
In the UK, insurance companies were widely screening applicants for genetic red flags until
Parliament slapped a moratorium on the practice in 2001, allowing only one type of test to be
used. British companies argue that they will go belly-up if the ban isn't lifted soon. Based on this
alone, it's ridiculous for the US insurance industry to claim it isn't hoping to use these tests.
With the fate of the insurance racket supposedly hanging in the balance, how long can it be
before genetic screening is mandatory when applying for health or life coverage?

Genetically-Engineered Humans Have Already Been Born

The earthshaking news appeared in the medical journal Human Reproduction under the
impenetrable headline: "Mitochondria in Human Offspring Derived From Ooplasmic
Transplantation." The media put the story in heavy rotation for one day, then forgot about it. We
all forgot about it.
But the fact remains that the world is now populated by dozens of children who were genetically
engineered. It still sounds like science fiction, yet it's true.
In the first known application of germline gene therapy — in which an individual's genes are
changed in a way that can be passed to offspring — doctors at a reproductive facility in New
Jersey announced in March 2001 that nearly 30 healthy babies had been born with DNA from
three people: dad, mom, and a second woman. Fifteen were the product of the fertility clinic,
with the other fifteen or so coming from elsewhere.
The doctors believe that one cause for failure of women to conceive is that their ova contain old
mitochondria (if you don't remember your high school biology class, mitochondria are the part of
cells that provides energy). These sluggish eggs fail to attach to the uterine wall when fertilized.
In order to soup them up, scientists injected them with mitochondria from a younger woman.
Since mitochondria contain DNA, the kids have the genetic material of all three parties. The
DNA from the "other woman" can even be passed down along the female line.
The big problem is that no one knows what effects this will have on the children or their
progeny. In fact, this substitution of mitochondria hasn't been studied extensively on animals,
never mind homo sapiens. The doctors reported that the kids are healthy, but they neglected to
mention something crucial. Although the fertility clinic's technique resulted in fifteen babies, a
total of seventeen fetuses had been created. One of them had been aborted, and the other
miscarried. Why? Both of them had a rare genetic disorder, Turner syndrome, which only strikes
females. Ordinarily, just one in 2,500 females is born with this condition, in which one of the X
chromo-somes is incomplete or totally missing. Yet two out of these seventeen fetuses had
developed it.
If we assume that nine of the fetuses were female (around 50 percent), then two of the nine
female fetuses had this rare condition. Internal documents from the fertility clinic admit that this
amazingly high rate might be due to the ooplasmic transfer.
Even before the revelation about Turner syndrome became known, many experts were appalled
that the technique had been used. A responding article in Human Reproduction said, in a dry
understatement: "Neither the safety nor efficacy of this method has been adequately
investigated." Ruth Deech, chair of Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority,
told the BBC: "There is a risk, not just to the baby, but to future generations which we really
can't assess at the moment."

The number of children who have been born as a result of this technique is unknown. The
original article gave the number as "nearly thirty," but this was in early 2001. At that time, at
least two of the mutant children were already one year old.
Dr. Joseph Cummin, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Western Ontario, says
that no further information about these 30 children has appeared in the medical literature or the
media. As far as additional children born with two mommies and a daddy, Cummin says that a
report out of Norway in 2003 indicated that ooplasmic transfer has been used to correct
mitochondrial disease. He opines: "It seems likely that the transplants are going on, but very,
very quietly in a regulatory vacuum, perhaps."

The Creator of the GAIA Hypothesis Supports Nuclear Power

James Lovelock is one of the icons of the environmental movement. His idea that the Earth is a
self-regulating, living organism (the GAIA hypothesis, first expounded in his 1979 book GAIA:
A New Look at Life on Earth) provides the philosophical underpinning of environmentalism.
So it may be surprising that Lovelock is an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear energy, which he
says has "great benefits and small risks." In the preface to the seemingly paradoxical book
Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, he writes: "I want to put it to you that the dangers of
continuing to burn fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) as our main energy source are far greater and they
threaten not just individuals but civilization itself." The answer, he maintains, is the clean energy
from nuke plants, which produce almost nothing that clogs up the atmosphere. As for what to do
with all that radioactive waste, Lovelock has a shocking answer:
Natural ecosystems can stand levels of continuous radiation that would be Intolerable in a
city. The land around the failed Chernobyl power station was evacuated because its high
radiation intensity made it unsafe for people, but this radioactive land is now rich in
wildlife, much more so than neighboring populated areas. We call the ash from nuclear
power nuclear waste and worry about its safe disposal. I wonder if instead we should use it
as an incorruptible guardian of the beautiful places of the Earth. Who would dare cut
down a forest in which was the storage place of nuclear ash?
Lovelock does admit that nuclear power is "potentially harmful to people," something that his
brethren in the group Environmentalists for Nuclear Power often try to downplay. Truthfully,
some of their points are good ones. More people have been killed by coal-mining than by nuclear
power, even when you factor in the shorter time that nuclear power has existed. Most of the
radiation we get zapped with comes from outer space (around two-thirds) and medical
procedures (around a third), with only a smidgen from nuke plants.
Still, when you know about all the unpublicized accidents and near-meltdowns that have
occurred, it's hard to be quite so blasé about the dangers. After all, the group's own literature
says, "Nuclear energy is a very clean energy if it is well designed, well-built, well operated, and
well managed." Trouble is, it's often none of those things. Design flaws, human error, corruption,
incompetence, greed, and toothless oversight mean that in the real world, nuke plants often don't
work as advertised.

Louis Pasteur Suppressed Experiments That Didn't Support His Theories

One of the greatest scientific duels in history occurred between those who believed that
microorganisms spontaneously generate in decaying organic matter and those who believed that
the tiny creatures migrated there from the open air. From the late 1850s to the late 1870s, the
eminent French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur was locked in a death-match with
opponents of spontaneous generation, especially Felix Pouchet.
The two camps performed experiments one after f the other, both to prove their pet theory and to
prove the opponent's. As we know, Pasteur won the debate: The fact that microbes travel through
the air is now accepted as a given, with s spontaneous generation relegated to the slagheap of
quaint, discarded scientific ideas. But Pasteur didn't win fair and square.
It turns out that some of Pasteur's experiments gave strong support to the notion that rotting
organic matter produces life. Of course, years later those experiments were realized have been
flawed, but at the time they buttressed the position of Pasteur's enemies. So he kept them secret.
In his myth-busting book Einstein's Luck, medical and scientific historian John Waller writes:
"In fact, throughout his feud with Pouchet, Pasteur described in his notebooks as 'successful' any
experiment that seemed to disprove spontaneous generation and 'unsuccessful' any that violated
his own private beliefs and experimental expectations."
When Pasteur's rivals performed experiments that supported their theory, Pasteur would not
publicly replicate those studies. In one case, he simply refused to perform the experiment or even
discuss it. In another, he hemmed and hawed so long that his rival gave up in exas-peration.
Waller notes: "Revealingly, although Pasteur publicly ascribed Bastian's results to sloppy
methodology, in private he and his team took them rather more seriously. As Gerald Geison's
study of Pasteur's notebooks has recently revealed, Pasteur's team spent several weeks secretly
testing Bastian's findings and refining their own ideas on the distribution of germs in the

Pasteur would rail at his rivals and even his mentor when he thought they weren't scrupulously
following the scientific method, yet he had no qualms about trashing it when doing so suited his
aims. Luckily for him, he was on the right side of the debate. And just why was he so cocksure
that spontaneous generation was wrong? It had nothing to do with science. "In his notes he
repeatedly insisted that only the Creator-God had ever exercised the power to convert the
inanimate into the living," writes Waller. "The possibility that life could be created anew without
man first discovering the secrets of the Creator was rejected without any attempt at scientific

Most Scientists Don't Read All of the Articles They Cite

Every scientific discovery builds on what came before. Because of this, research papers are
chock-full of references to previous papers, leading you to believe that those older studies
actually have been read and digested and are now being expanded upon.
After noticing that a lot of citations with identical mistakes were showing up in various papers,
two researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to study the problem. They
looked at the way well-known, heavily-cited papers had been referenced in subsequent papers.
Regarding an influential paper on crystals published in 1973, New Scientist explains:
They found it had been cited in other papers 4300 times, with 196 citations containing
misprints in the volume, page or year. But despite the fact that a billion different versions

of erroneous reference are possible, they counted only 45. The most popular mistake
appeared 78 times.
Obviously, these pursuers of scientific truths hadn't actually read the original paper, but had just
clipped the reference from another paper, a trick they probably learned in college and never
stopped using. Of course, some of the scientists who got the citation right hadn't read the paper,
either. In the final analysis:
The model shows that the distribution of misprinted citations of the 1973 paper could only
have arisen if 78 percent of all the citations, including the correct ones, were "cut and
pasted" from a secondary source. Many of those who got it right were simply lucky.

The Age of Consent in Most of the US Is Not Eighteen

The accepted wisdom tells us that the age at which a person can legally consent to sex in the US
is eighteen. Before this line of demarcation, a person is "jailbait" or "chicken." On their
eighteenth birthday, they become "legal." But in the majority of states, this isn't the case.
It's up to each state to determine its own age of consent. Only fifteen states have put theirs at
eighteen, with the rest going lower. Eight have set the magic point at the seventeenth birthday.
The most popular age is sixteen, with 27 states and Washington DC setting the ability to sexually
consent there. (Hawaii's age of consent had been fourteen until mid-2001, when it was bumped
to sixteen.)
Of course, as with anything regarding the law, there are considerable shades of gray. For one
thing, these laws don't apply if the lovers are married. The age of consent for marriage,
especially with parental permission, is usually lower than the age of sexual consent.
The Constitution of the State of South Carolina says that females aged fourteen and up can
consent to sex, but state law appears to set the age at sixteen.
In a lot of states, the age of the older partner is a consideration. For example, Tennessee doesn't
consider sex with someone aged thirteen to seventeen to be statutory rape if the elder partner in
less than four years older. So a nineteen-year-old could get it on with a sixteen-year-old without
breaking the law. The most extreme example of this rule is in Delaware. If you're 30 or older,
boffing a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old is a felony. But if you're 29 or younger, it's perfectly
And let's not even get into Georgia's Public Law 16-6-18, which outlaws sex between anyone
who isn't married, no matter what their ages or genders.
Then, of course, we have the laws regarding same-sex relations, which are completely illegal in
fifteen or so states. In almost all of the others states, the age of consent for gay sex is the same as
that for het-sex. Two exceptions are Nevada and New Hampshire, which both allow sixteen-
year-olds to consent to a member of the opposite sex, but set the limit at eighteen for those who
go the other way. Somewhat startlingly, even though New Mexico's age of consent for straights
is seventeen, it's thirteen for gays and lesbians.
The situation around the world varies even more than within the US. The age of consent in the
UK is sixteen, except in Northern Ireland, where it's a year older. Various territories in Australia
set the age at sixteen or seventeen, and in Canada it's universally fourteen. The lowest age — in a
few countries, such as Chile and Mexico — is twelve. Only one country is known to have set the
age above eighteen — Tunisia, which feels that twenty is the acceptable age.

The Supreme Court Has Ruled That You're Allowed to Ingest Any Drug, Especially If You're an Addict

In the early 1920s, Dr. Linder was convicted of selling one morphine tablet and three cocaine
tablets to a patient who was addicted to narcotics. The Supreme Court overturned the
con-viction, declaring that providing an addicted patient with a fairly small amount of drugs is an
acceptable medical practice "when designed temporarily to alleviate an addict's pains." (Linder v.
United States.)
In 1962, the Court heard the case of a man who had been sent to the clink under a California
state law that made being an addict a criminal offense. Once again, the verdict was tossed out,
with the Supremes saying that punishing an addict for being an addict is cruel and unusual and,
thus, unconstitutional. (Robinson v. California.)

Six years later, the Supreme Court reaffirmed these principles in Powell v. Texas. A man who
was arrested for being drunk in public said that, because he was an alcoholic, he couldn't help it.
He invoked the Robinson decision as precedent. The Court upheld his conviction because It had
been based on an action (being wasted in public), not on the general condition of his addiction to
booze. Justice White supported this decision, yet for different reasons than the others. In his
concurring opinion, he expanded Robinson:
If it cannot be a crime to have an irresistible compulsion to use narcotics,... I do not see how
it can constitutionally be a crime to yield to such a compulsion. Punishing an addict for
using drugs convicts for addiction under a different name. Distinguishing between the two
crimes is like forbidding criminal conviction for being sick with flu or epilepsy, but
permitting punishment for running a fever or having a convulsion. Unless Robinson is to be
abandoned, the use of narcotics by an addict must be beyond the reach of the criminal law.
Similarly, the chronic alcoholic with an irresistible urge to consume alcohol should not be
punishable for drinking or for being drunk.
Commenting on these cases, Superior Court Judge James R Gray, an outspoken critic of drug
prohibition, has recently written:
What difference is there between alcohol and any other dangerous and sometimes addictive
drug? The primary difference is that one is legal while the others are not. And the US
Supreme Court has said as much on at least two occasions, finding both in 1925 and 1962
that to punish a person for the disease of drug addiction violated the Constitution's
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. If that is true, why do we continue to
prosecute addicted people for taking these drugs, when it would be unconstitutional to
prosecute them for their addiction?
Judge Gray gets right to the heart of the matter: "In effect, this 'forgotten precedent' says that >ni!
can only be constitutionally punishable for one's conduct, such as assaults, burglary, and driving
under the influence, and not simply for what one puts into one's own body."
If only the Supreme Court and the rest of the justice/law-enforcement complex would apply
these decisions, we'd be living in a saner society.

The Government Can Take Your House and Land, Then Sell Them to Private Corporations

It’s not an issue that gets much attention, but the government has the right to seize your house,
business, and/or land, forcing you into the street. This mighty power, called "eminent domain," is
enshrined in the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment: "...nor shall private property be taken for
public use without just compensation." Every single state constitution also stipulates that a
person whose property is taken must be justly compensated and that the property must be put to
public use. This should mean that if your house is smack-dab in the middle of a proposed
highway, the government can take it, pay you market value, and build the highway.
Whether or not this is a power the government should have is very
much open to question, but what makes it worse is the abuse of this
supposedly limited power. Across the country, local governments
are stealing their citizens' property, then turning around and selling
it to corporations for the construction of malls, condominiums,
parking lots, racetracks, office complexes, factories, etc.
The Institute for Justice — the country's only nonprofit, public-interest law firm with a
libertarian philosophy — spends a good deal of time protecting individuals and small businesses
from greedy corporations and their partners in crime: bureaucrats armed with eminent domain. In
2003, it released a report on the use of "governmental condemnation" (another name for eminent
domain) for private gain. No central data collection for this trend exists, and only one state
(Connecticut) keeps statistics on it. Using court records, media accounts, and information from
involved parties, the Institute I found over 10,000 such abuses in 41 states from 1998 through
2002. Of these, the legal I process had been initiated against 3,722 properties, and condemnation
had been threatened against 6,560 properties. (Remember, this is condemnation solely for the
benefit of private parties, not for so-called legitimate reasons of "public use.")
In one instance, the city of Hurst, Texas, condemned 127 homes so that a mall could expand.
Most of the families moved under the pressure, but ten chose to stay and fight. The Institute
A Texas trial judge refused to stay the condemnations while the suit was on-going, so the
residents lost their homes. Leonard Prohs had to move while his wife was in the hospital
with brain cancer. She died only five days after their house was demolished. Phyllis Duval's
husband also was in the hospital with cancer at the time they were required to move. He
died one month after the demolition. Of the ten couples, three spouses died and four others
suffered heart attacks during the dispute and litigation. In court, the owners presented

evidence that the land surveyor who designed the roads for the mall had been told to
change the path of one road to run through eight of the houses of the owners challenging
the condemnations.
In another case, wanting to "redevelop" Main Street, the city of East Hartford, Connecticut, used
eminent domain to threaten a bakery/deli that had been in that spot for 93 years, owned and
operated by the same family during that whole time. Thus coerced, the family sold the business
for $1.75 million, and the local landmark was destroyed. But the redevelopment fell through, so
the lot now stands empty and the city is in debt.
The city of Cypress, California, wanted Costco to build a retail store on an 18-acre plot of land.
Trouble was, the Cottonwood Christian Center already owned the land fair and square, and was
planning to build a church on it. The city council used eminent domain to seize the land, saying
that the new church would be a "public nuisance" and would "blight" the area (which is right
beside a horse-racing track). The Christian Center got a federal injunction to stop the
condem-nation, and the city appealed this decision. To avoid further protracted legal nightmares,
the church group consented to trade its land for another tract in the vicinity.
But all of this is small potatoes compared to what's going on in Riviera Beach, Florida:
City Council members voted unanimously to approve a $1.25 billion redevelopment plan
with the authority to use eminent domain to condemn at least 1,700 houses and apartments
and dislocate 5,100 people. The city will then take the property and sell the land to
commercial yachting, shipping, and tourism companies.
If approved by the state, it will be one of the biggest eminent domain seizures in US history.
In 1795, the Supreme Court referred to eminent domain as "the despotic power." Over two
centuries later, they continue to be proven right.

The Police Aren't Legally Obligated to Protect You

Without even thinking about it, we take it as a given that the police must protect each of us.
That's their whole reason for existence, right?
While this might be true in a few jurisdictions in the US and Canada, it is actually the exception,
not the rule. In general, court decisions and state laws have held that cops don't have to do a
thing to help you when you're in danger.
In the only book devoted exclusively to the subject, Dial 911 and Die, attorney Richard W.
Stevens writes:
It was the most shocking thing I learned in law school. I was studying Torts in my first year
at the University of San Diego School of Law, when I came upon the case of Hartzler v. City
of San Jose. In that case I discovered the secret truth: the government owes no duty to
protect individual citizens from criminal attack. Not only did the California courts hold to
that rule, the California legislature had enacted a statute to make sure the courts couldn't
change the rule.
But this doesn't apply to just the wild, upside down world of Kalifornia. Stevens cites laws an
cases for every state — plus Washington DC, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Canada -
which reveal the same thing. If the police fail to protect you, even through sheer incompetence
and negligence, don't expect that you or your next of kin will be able to sue.
Even in the nation's heartland, in bucolic Iowa, you can't depend on 911. In 1987, two men broke
into a family's home, tied up the parents, slit the mother's throat, raped the 16-year-old daughter,

and drove off with the 12-year old daughter (whom they later murdered). The emergency
dispatcher couldn't be bothered with immediately sending police to chase the
kidnappers/murders/rapists while the abducted little girl was still alive. First he had to take calls
about a parking violation downtown and a complaint about harassing phone calls. When he got
around to the kidnapping, he didn't issue an all-points bulletin but instead told just one officer to
come back to the police station, not even mentioning that it was an emergency. Even more
blazing negligence ensued, but suffice it to say that when the remnants of the family sued the city
and the police, their case was summarily dismissed before going to trial. The state appeals court
upheld the decision, claiming that the authorities have no duty to protect individuals.
Similarly, people in various states have been unable to successfully sue over the following
when 911 systems have been shut down for maintenance
when a known stalker kills someone
when the police pull over but don't arrest a drunk driver who runs over someone later that
when a cop known to be violently unstable shoots a driver he pulled over for an inadequate
when authorities know in advance of a plan to commit murder but do nothing to stop it
when parole boards free violent psychotics, including child rapist-murderers
when felons escape from prison and kill someone
when houses burn down because the fire department didn't respond promptly
when children are beaten to death in foster homes
A minority of states do offer a tiny bit of hope. In eighteen states, citizens have successfully
sued over failure to protect, but even here the grounds have been very narrow. Usually, the
police and the victim must have had a prior "special relationship" (for example, the authorities
must have promised protection to this specific individual in the past). And, not surprisingly,
many of these states have issued contradictory court rulings, or a conflict exists between state
law and the rulings of the courts.
Don't look to Constitution for help. "In its landmark decision of DeShaney v. Winnebago County
Department of Social Services," Stevens writes, "the US Supreme Court declared that the
Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens
from criminal harm."

All in all, as Stevens says, you'd be much better off owning a gun and learning how to use it.
Even in those cases where you could successfully sue, this victory comes only after years
(sometimes more than a decade) of wrestling with the justice system and only after you've been
gravely injured or your loved one has been snuffed.

Juries Are Allowed to Judge the Law, Not Just the Facts

In order to guard citizens against the whims of the King, the right to
a trial by jury was established by the Magna Carta in 1215, and it
has become one of the most sacrosanct legal aspects of British and
American societies. We tend to believe that the duty of a jury is
solely to determine whether someone broke the law. In fact, it's not
unusual for judges to instruct juries that they are to judge only the
facts in a case, while the judge will sit in judgment of the law itself.
Juries are the last line of defense against the power abuses of the authorities. They have the right
to judge the law. Even if a defendant committed a crime, a jury can refuse to render a guilty
verdict. Among the main reasons why this might happen, according to attorney Clay S. Conrad:
When the defendant has already suffered enough, when it would be unfair or against the
public interest for the defendant to be convicted, when the jury disagrees with the law
itself, when the prosecution or the arresting authorities have gone "too far" in the single-
minded quest to arrest and convict a particular defendant, when the punishments to be
imposed are excessive or when the jury suspects that the charges have been brought for
political reasons or to make an unfair example of the hapless defendant...
Some of the earliest examples of jury nullification from Britain and the American Colonies were
refusals to convict people who had spoken ill of the government (they were prosecuted under
"seditious libel" laws) or who were practicing forbidden religions, such as Quakerism. Up to the
time of the Civil War, American juries often refused to convict the brave souls who helped
runaway slaves. In the 1800s, jury nullifications saved the hides of union organizers who were
being prosecuted with conspiracy to restrain trade. Juries used their power to free people charged
under the anti-alcohol laws of Prohibition, as well as antiwar protesters during the Vietnam era.
Today, juries sometimes refuse to convict drug users (especially medical marijuana users), tax
protesters, abortion protesters, gun owners, battered spouses, and people who commit "mercy
Judges and prosecutors will often outright lie about the existence of this power, but centuries of
court decisions and other evidence prove that jurors can vote their consciences.

When the US Constitution was created, with its Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury trial, the
most popular law dictionary of the time said that juries "may not only find things of their own
knowledge, but they go according to their consciences." The first edition of Noah Webster's
celebrated dictionary (1828) said that juries "decide both the law and the fact in criminal
Jury nullification is specifically enshrined in the constitutions of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and
Maryland. The state codes of Connecticut and Illinois contain similar provisions.
The second US President, John Adams, wrote: "It is not only [the juror's] right, but his
find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in
direct opposition to the direction of the court." Similarly, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton
declared: "It is essential to the security of personal rights and public liberty, that the jury should
have and exercise the power to judge both of the law and of the criminal intent."
Legendary Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay once instructed a jury:
It may not be amiss, here, Gentlemen, to remind you of the good old rule, that on questions
of fact, it is the providence of the jury, on questions of law, it is the providence of the court
to decide. But it must be observed that by the same law, which recognizes this reasonable
distribution of jurisdiction, you have nevertheless the right to take upon yourselves to
judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy.
The following year, 1795, Justice James Irdell declared: "[T]hough the jury will generally
respect the sentiment of the court on points of law, they are not bound to deliver a verdict
conformably to them." In 1817, Chief Justice John Marshall said that "the jury in a capital case
were judges, as well of the law as the fact, and were bound to acquit where either was doubtful."
In more recent times, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously held in 1969:
If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent
circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their
logic and passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision.
Three years later, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals noted: "The pages of history shine on
instances of the jury's exercise of its prerogative to disregard uncontradicted evidence and
instructions of the judge."
In a 1993 law journal article, federal Judge Jack B. Weinstein wrote: "When juries refuse to
convict on the basis of what they think are unjust laws, they are performing their duties as
Those who try to wish away the power of jury nullification often point to cases in which racist
juries have refused to convict white people charged with racial violence. As attorney Conrad
shows in his book, Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine, this has occurred only in very
rare instances. Besides, it's ridiculous to try to stamp out or deny a certain power just because it

can be used for bad ends as well as good. What form of power hasn't been misused at least once
in a while?
The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) is the best-known organization seeking to tell all
citizens about their powers as jurors. People have been arrested for simply handing out FIJA
literature in front of courthouses. During jury selections, FIJA members have been excluded
solely on the grounds that they belong to the group.
FIJA also seeks laws that would require judges to tell jurors that they can and should judge the
law, but this has been an uphill battle, to say the least. In a still-standing decision (Sparf and
Hansen v. US, 1895), the Supreme Court ruled that judges don't have to let jurors know their full
powers. In cases where the defense has brought up jury nullification during the proceedings,
judges have sometimes held the defense attorney in contempt. Still, 21 state legislatures have
introduced informed-jury legislation, with three of them passing it through one chamber (ie,
House or Senate).
Quite obviously, the justice system is terrified of this power, which is all the more reason for us
to mow about it.

Electric Cars Have Been Around Since the 1880s

The car of the future runs completely on electricity. No more dependence on gas. No more
choking the atmosphere with fumes. Whenever the possibility of electric cars is raised, the media
and other commentators ooh and ahh over the potential. But this technology isn't futuristic — it's
positively retro. Cars powered by electricity have been on the scene since the 1800s and actually
predate gas-powered cars.
A blacksmith in Vermont — Thomas Davenport — built the first rotary electric motor in 1833
and it to power a model train the next year. In the late 1830s, Scottish inventor Robert Davidson
rigged a carriage with an electric motor powered by batteries. In his Pulitzer-nominated book
Taking Charge, archaeology professor and technology historian Michael Brian Schiffer writes
that this "was perhaps the first electric car."
After this remarkable achievement, the idea of an
electric car languished for decades. In 1881, a
French experi-menter debuted a personal vehicle
that ran on electricity, a tricycle (ie, three wheels
and a seat) for adults. In 1888, many inventors in
the US, Britain, and Europe started creating three-
and four-wheel vehicles — which could carry two
to six people — that ran on electricity. These

vehicles remained principally curios-ities until May 1897, when the Pope Manufacturing
Company — the country's most successful bicycle manufacturer — started selling the first
commercial electric car: the Columbia Electric Phaeton, Mark III. It topped out at fifteen miles
per hour, and had to be recharged every 30 miles. Within two years, people could choose from an
array of electrical carriages, buggies, wagons, trucks, bicycles, tricycles, even buses and
ambulances made by numerous manufacturers.
New York City was home to a fleet of electric taxi cabs starting in 1897. The Electric Vehicle
Company eventually had over 100 of them ferrying people around the Big Apple. Soon it was
unleashing electric taxis in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC. By 1900,
though, the company was in trouble, and seven years later it sputtered out.
As for cars powered by dead dinosaurs, Austrian engineer Siegfried Marcus attached a one-
cylinder motor to a cart in 1864, driving it 500 feet and thus creating the first vehicle powered by
gas (this was around 25 years after Davidson had created the first electro-car). It wasn't until
1895 that gas autos — converted carriages with a two-cylinder engine — were commercially
sold (and then only in microscopic numbers).
Around the turn of the century, the average car buyer had a big choice to make: gas, electric, or
steam? When the auto industry took form around 1895, nobody knew which type of vehicle was
going to become the standard. During the last few years of the nineteenth century and the first
few of the twentieth, over 100 companies placed their bets on electricity. According to Schiffer,
"Twenty-eight percent of the 4,192 American automobiles produced in 1900 were electric. In the
New York automobile show of that year more electrics were on display than gasoline or steam
In the middle of the first decade of the 1900s, electric cars were on the decline, and their gas-
eating cousins were surging ahead. With improvements in the cars and their batteries, though,
electrics started a comeback in 1907, which continued through 1913. The downhill slide started
the next year, and by the 1920s the market for electrics was "minuscule," to use Schiffer's word.
Things never got better.
Many companies tried to combine the best of both approaches, with cars that ran on a mix of
electricity and gas. The Pope Manufacturing Company, once again in the vanguard, built a
working prototype in 1898. A Belgian company and a French company each brought out
commercial models the next year, beating the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight to the market
by over a century. Even Ferdinand Porsche and the Mercedes Company got in on the act.
Unfortunately, these hybrids never really caught on.
Didik Design — which manufactures several vehicles which run on various combinations off
electricity, solar power, and human power — maintains an extensive archive on the history of
electric and electro-fuel cars. According to their research, around 200 companies and individuals
have manufactured electric cars. Only a few familiar names are on the list (although some of
them aren't familiar as car manufacturers): Studebaker (1952-1966), General Electric (1901-
1904), Braun (1977), Sears, Roebuck, and Company (1978), and Oldsmobile (1896 to the
present). The vast majority have long been forgotten: Elecctra, Pfluger, Buffalo Automobile

Company, Hercules, Red Bug, and Nu-Klea Starlite, to name a few. Henry Ford and Thomas
Edison teamed up on an electric car, but, although some prototypes were built, it never was
commercially produced. Though they have faded from mass cultural memory, electric cars have
never been completely out of production.
The reasons why electrics faded into obscurity while gas cars and trucks became 99.999 percent
dominant are complex and are still being debated. If only they hadn't been sidelined and had
continued to develop apace, the world would be a very different place.