Douglas Adams,
Deep Impact,
 Survivor Fake and
Measuring Evil!
Hitchhiker Douglas Adams Dead at 49

By FLAtRich (eXoNews)

Douglas Adams was one of the funniest writers I have ever read. I was introduced to his work by a British friend in the late 70s and was fortunate enough to hear the entire twelve chapter BBC radio version of Hitchhiker's Guide when it was played here in the States on National Public Radio around the same time.

For those of us who were looking desperately for something to do with our Commodores and 286 PCs in the early 80s, Mr. Adams released a text adventure version of Hitchhiker's Guide that became an instant classic. British television also hosted a TV version, but it was a bit Dr. Who-ish budget-wise to satisfy most fans.

It is a shame that attempts to finally make a movie version of the Guide were not successful in his lifetime, and we can only hope that his untimely death will eventually resurrect this project.

Tributes to Mr. Adams can be recorded at his official website:

The Associated Press obituary follows:

LOS ANGELES -- Douglas Adams, whose cult science fiction comedy "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'' drew millions of fans and spawned a mini-industry, has died at age 49.

The British-born Adams died Friday of an apparent heart attack in Santa Barbara, Calif., a family friend, Elizabeth Gibson, said Saturday. She said Adams collapsed while working out at a gym.

"He was not ill,'' Gibson said. "This was completely unexpected.''

The "Hitchhiker's Guide,'' which began as a British Broadcasting Corp. radio series in 1978, is a satirical adventure about a group of interplanetary travelers; it opens with the Earth being destroyed to make way for an intergalactic highway.

It was turned into a book, which sold 14 million copies around the world, and later into a television series.

The book was followed by several sequels, including "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,'' "Life, the Universe and Everything'' and "So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish.''

The books blended satire, memorably named characters such as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android, and witty philosophy, at one point supplying the answer to "the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.'' The answer was 42.

Adams later recalled how he first thought of the book during a teen-age trip around Europe.

"I was hitchhiking around Europe in 1971, when I was 18, with this copy of 'A Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe,''' he said.

"At one point I found myself lying in the middle of a field, a little bit drunk, when it occurred to me that somebody should write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It didn't occur to me that it might actually be me years later.''

Geoffrey Perkins, the BBC's head of comedy, called Adams "absolutely one of the most creative geniuses to ever work in radio comedy.''

"He probably wrote one of the greatest radio comedy series ever, certainly the most imaginative,'' he added.

Born in Cambridge, England, in 1952 and educated at Cambridge University, Adams began his career as a writer and script editor at the BBC.

He followed the "Hitchhiker's Guide'' with several books about "holistic detective'' Dirk Gently; "Last Chance to See,'' a book about endangered species; and, with John Lloyd, the hilarious alternative dictionary "The Meaning of Liff.''

He also founded a multimedia company, Digital Village, which produced the "Starship Titanic'' computer game and an online travel guide inspired by the "Hitchhiker's Guide.''

A frequent radio broadcaster on science and technology, Adams had been working for several years on a screenplay for an oft-delayed "Hitchhiker's Guide'' movie.

In August 1996, he told a technology conference in New Orleans that the main problem in adapting the series for film was not special effects.

"It's the nature of the story, which is picaresque, which translates to one damn thing after another, and another, and another.

"It's very hard to translate that to a 100-minute feature film,'' he said. "Every script has a beginning and a middle and an end.''

Adams married Jane Belson, a lawyer, in 1991. The couple, who had lived in Santa Barbara since 1999, had a 6-year-old daughter, Polly. Adams is also survived by his mother, Jan Thrift of England.


Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless, in London, contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Hitchhiker's Guide:

New Extinction Clues Point to Deep Impact

AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON May 10, 2001 (AP) — New evidence shows that an extinction event in which more than half of all Earth species died 200 million years ago happened quickly, possibly as a result of an impact from outer space.

The extinction, at the boundary of the Triassic and Jurassic periods of geologic history, is similar in its suddenness to two extinction events that have been linked to space rocks' impacts on the Earth.

Researchers analyzing deposits from a rock formation on a remote beach front in Canada found evidence of a sharp shift in organic carbon levels at precisely the point in time that the Triassic-Jurassic extinction occurred.

This is the first time scientists have found a clear carbon signature for what is called the TJ event, said Peter D. Ward, a researcher at the University of Washington.

"We just lucked out in finding a place on Earth where that signal is preserved,'' said Ward, lead author of a study appearing in the journal Science on Friday. "Our study shows that this extinction was very, very, rapid.''

Prior studies had suggested that the extinction occurred slowly over about five million years. But Ward said that work was not based on a clear rock signature. He said the new work shows that the extinction actually happened in about 10,000 years, a brief moment in geologic time.

This suggests that a sudden change in the Earth's conditions, such as the kind resulting from a space impact, could have caused the extinction.

Similar evidence has been found for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event 65 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs, and for the much earlier Permian extinction 250 million years ago that killed 90 percent of all species.

The new study, however, lacks the distinctive chemistry that marked the dinosaur-killing event. Studies have found that the space rock that killed the dinosaurs left worldwide deposits of iridium, a chemical common in asteroids but rare on Earth.

Ward said his team is awaiting results of an iridium study of samples from the Canadian site.

"This looks exactly like the (dinosaur extinction) boundary, but we have not found any iridium yet,'' he said.

The teams plan to return to the site, on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, this summer and used drills to take core samples of rock formations. These, plus earlier samples, will be checked for iridium.

If the researchers find evidence that a space rock impact caused the TJ extinction, it will mean that three of the five major extinctions in the 4.5-billion-year history of the Earth are linked to the impact of asteroids or comets.

Earlier studies have shown that the Permian extinction, the most severe of all, was linked to a type of helium isotope within a carbon molecule that is thought to come from asteroids.

Both the earlier extinctions are marked in geologic formations by the sudden disappearance of species that had been common on the Earth.

Ward said the TJ extinction wiped out large plant-eating animals, called mammal-like reptiles, that roamed the land, and whole groups of shell fish and one-celled animals that were common in the sea.

Many types of dinosaur and some small mammals, ratlike animals that are thought to be the ancestors of all mammals, including humans, survived the TJ event. After that, dinosaurs evolved further and dominated the Earth for more than 100 million years — until another asteroid hit the planet.

Ward said that no impact crater on Earth has been shown to have a proven link to the TJ extinction event, although the Manicougan Crater in Quebec is considered a candidate. That crater was caused by a space impact, but it has been dated at 214 million years, well before the TJ event.

He said it is likely that the crater's dated age is wrong, and efforts are under way to see if more accurate age can be determined.


On the Net:

Science journal:

Scientists Worry Over Asteroids
AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES May 6, 2001 (AP) — A group of scientists is seeking a standardized protocol for dealing with the possibility of an asteroid or comet striking the Earth, saying humans can do more than the dinosaurs ever could before a colossal impact precipitated their extinction 65 millions years ago.

The call comes as interest grows in the swarm of asteroids and comets that orbit the sun in the Earth's immediate neighborhood. The concerns were sparked in part by several recent false alarms about impending impacts.

"In some sense, it's something we know we need to worry about, but we need to decide at what level we need to worry about it — and that's a question for everybody,'' said Daniel D. Durda, a research scientist in the department of space studies of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

In recent weeks, a paper written by Durda and fellow scientists Clark R. Chapman and Robert E. Gold has been making the rounds among experts who study impact hazards. The goal, they write in the 19-page paper, is to encourage discussion of how to replace the "haphazard and unbalanced'' way the world now addresses any potential impact.

"They are spot-on that this is a problem. They are also right on time in terms of this just now being recognized as serious enough a topic so as to go to the next step in terms of 'what if,''' said Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who developed a scale to rank the potential danger of an impact. "We have now overcome the giggle factor.''

How serious the potential threat could be is underscored by an effort sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to catalog 90 percent of all near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that are 0.6 miles or larger in diameter.

The objects are a mix of comets, frozen balls of ice and dust that formed in the far reaches of the solar system, and asteroids, which were formed in the inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Occasionally, those objects are pushed closer to the sun, either through collisions or by the tug of gravity, and cross the orbit of the Earth.

So far, the search effort has turned up about half of an estimated population of 1,100 NEOs.

"It is really in the last few years the search effort has begun to bear fruit and bear it massively,'' said Thomas Morgan, discipline scientist for NASA's NEO observation program.

If an Earth-bound asteroid or comet were spotted, scientists have proposed either attaching a rocket engine to it to nudge it out of the way, or smashing it to pieces with an atomic bomb.

But even if a warning about a potential impact comes years or decades in advance, the feasibility and expense of such a deterrent is unknown.

If an attempt to destroy or deflect an NEO should fail, and an object just a half-mile in diameter struck the Earth, it would unleash an amount of energy equivalent to 10 million times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The event could do for many humans what a larger object is widely believed to have done for the dinosaurs.

"The public has all heard of the extinction of the dinosaurs, and they expect something to be done about (any potential impact), so therefore something should be done,'' said Bill Cooke, a NASA contractor and space environment expert who has penned his own paper on the subject.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for one, would respond in a way similar to how it does now with hurricanes — or the recent return to Earth of the Russian Mir space station.

"If we were dealing with a larger object, like an asteroid that could have a much more severe impact on the United States, as we have more advance knowledge of where it might hit, we would immediately start alerting states that something was coming,'' said Marc Wolfson, a FEMA spokesman.

For now, word of a potential threat comes by way of a casual bulletin posted on the Internet that is invariably redistributed by the media.

"There's nothing set in stone yet as far as procedures go. That's what we want to get people talking about: Who should be notified? Who shouldn't? There's no desire to be secretive, but you don't want to cry wolf too often,'' Durda said.

Such a cry has come once in each of the past three years, most recently in November when astronomers announced an object known as 2000 SG344 had a 1-in-500 chance of hitting the Earth in 2030.

According to a then-new International Astronomical Union policy, astronomers made that announcement within 72 hours of reaching a consensus that a risk to the planet existed.

With SG344, however, the alarm was retracted almost immediately as other astronomers better calculated the object's orbit.

"It was a very normal scientific process, but in the public's eye it looked like a mistake,'' Binzel said. "It's a trade-off between being very open and honest about what we have and waiting and waiting until we have every last piece of data in hand.''

One expert said the flaps, while embarrassing, were an issue of public relations, and not science.

"These are problems in communication. They are not problems in the basics of what we're doing,'' said David Morrison, chairman of the International Astronomical Union's working group on NEOs. "The issue is really one of how do we communicate with the media and the public.''
Alamosaurus Bones Airlifted From Texas Tomb

SAN ANTONIO May 8, 2001 (AP) — Bones from the spinal column of an Alamosaurus dinosaur, one of the largest creatures to ever roam the Earth, have been uncovered and airlifted from their 70 million-year-old tomb in western Texas.

Together, the bones form a 27-foot-long neck. The largest of the animal's 10 recovered neck bones weighs almost 1,000 pounds, reinforcing the notion that it was the ancient plant-eating giant of Texas.

"I think there's no doubt about it,'' Steve Runnells, chief executive officer of the Dallas Museum of Natural History, told the San Antonio Express-News in Tuesday's editions. "It looks like it's probably going to be around 70 feet long, based on the size of the vertebrae.''

Discovery of the fossilized vertebrae in Big Bend National Park suggests that the Alamosaurus species of sauropod dinosaur roamed the Earth long after scientists thought they had died.

The remains, discovered by a University of Texas at Dallas researcher, were flown from the park to the Dallas Museum of Natural History where they will be studied and displayed. Museum visitors will be able to watch paleontologists working to preserve the bones behind a glass wall, Runnells said.

The vertebrae were found embedded in rock thought to have been deposited in a river flood plain between 74 million and 66 million years ago. Dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago.

Some residents wanted the vertebrae left in their natural setting. But scientists argued that the only way to study the bones properly and learn more about dinosaurs was to examine them in a lab setting and to protect them against erosion and vandalism.

The park will retain ownership of the bones.

"They are in good hands,'' said Lisa Lackey, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the park. "We wouldn't have let them go otherwise.''

In the future, Runnells said he would like the museum to build and display a life-sized model of the colossal creature — named for the New Mexico trading post where a specimen was first unearthed.

"He may have to duck his head a little bit, but we could figure it out,'' he said.

Ancestor of T-Rex Found in Britain

Associated Press Writer

LONDON May 9, 2001 (AP) — A previously unknown relative of Tyrannosaurus rex has been unearthed in Britain, adding a limb to the family tree of the fearsome predator, scientists said Wednesday.

Eotyrannus lengi, named after collector Gavin Leng who found the first bone on the Isle of Wight, was a 15-foot-long carnivore that lived 120 to 125 million years ago.

Paleontologists described the discovery as one of the most important archaeological finds made in Britain.

Martin Munt, acting curator of the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology which is coordinating the dig, said the Eotyrannus —"early tyrant'' — was an important piece in the evolutionary jigsaw of T-rex.

"The remains start to fill in the family tree of life. They are a missing link. The T-rex was around 60 to 70 million years ago. At that time this skeleton was already 55 million years old,'' Munt said in a telephone interview.

"We are really pushing back to the origins of the group of dinosaurs that gave us T-rex.''

The first bones were found in 1997 on a cliff top near the village of Brighstone, near Newport, and the name "lengi'' honors Leng, who found the first bone. It has taken four years to excavate the site more fully and to analyze the findings.

Darren Naish of the University of Portsmouth, who is part of a five-member team examining the remains, said 40 percent of the skeleton had been discovered. He said that was enough to determine it was an entirely new species.

"Eotyrannus lengi is one of the most complete and most globally important predatory dinosaurs of this age that has been found. It gives us a lot of information about the early evolution of the tyrannosaur that we did not know before,'' Naish said.

"It also gives us a lot of information about the diversity of dinosaurs at this time in Europe.''

The later tyrannosaurs, including T-rex, stalked North America and Asia in the late Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. They were 38-feet-long, had huge heads with powerful jaws and tiny forearms and relied on teeth alone to kill their prey.

Although much smaller, the Eotyrannus had a similar skull, shoulder and limb structure. It would have been a fast, agile predator, preying mainly on species such as Valdosaurus and Hypsilophodon, also found on the Isle of Wight.

Naish said the new species may also be closely related to the Velociraptor, a 6-foot-long predator of the mid-Cretaceous period, around 90 million years ago, which was made famous by the movie "Jurassic Park.''

He said its small head, long powerful arms and sharp claws were very similar to those of Eotyrannus.

"People who work on theropod dinosaurs are pretty encouraged — it is the early proto-tyrannosaur that we were looking for,'' Naish added.

"Our dinosaur has a bigger head than Velociraptor, though it is nothing like the size of T-rex.... They may all be descended from a small predatory dinosaur very similar to the Velociraptor from the Jurassic period.''

Gregory Erickson, a paleontologist at Florida State University who has done extensive work on tyrannosaurs, said the find was "very exciting.''

"T-rex is the most famous and most popular of dinosaurs and any finds that reveal its ancestry are of considerable interest to paleontologists,'' Erickson said.


On the Net:

Museum of Isle of Wight Geology,

Actor Maximilian Schell Behind Defacing of Swastikas
NEW YORK May 8, 2001 (AP) - Someone spray-painted Stars of David over the swastikas on the theater marquee for "Judgment at Nuremberg." And who was the culprit? None other than the show's star, Maximilian Schell, says a publicist.

"Max was the one who did it," confirmed Joe Trentacosta, the show's publicist. "Basically, he was tired of looking at the swastika every day."

Schell owned up a few days after the six-pointed stars appeared last week on the marquee of the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street and Broadway. Before Schell's admission, Trentacosta climbed up to get a photo of the graffiti and found that "it wasn't easy" to get up there.

"You have to go up to the second-floor mezzanine, unlock the window, climb up on a chair, hop on the ledge, drop down three feet and get on another ladder to paint anything up there," he said.

It's unknown whether the 70-year-old Schell did the graffiti himself or delegated the job.

The show, an adaptation of the 1961 film, closes Sunday after 56 performances. Schell won a best-actor Academy Award for his performance in the film as a young German defense lawyer. In the play, he portrays an aging minister of justice on trial in 1948 for sentences he handed down under Hitler.
Senator Assails Prairie Dog Plan
WASHINGTON May 8, 2001 (AP) -- Sen. Byron Dorgan is known as a prairie populist, but his sympathies do not extend to prairie dogs.

Dorgan, D-N.D., is assailing a plan to move a picnic area that has been taken over by prairie dogs. But a conservationist who specializes in prairie dogs says the senator is missing the bigger picture: the animals are crucial to a prairie ecosystem.

The National Park Service is considering a plan to move the Peaceful Valley picnic area in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, at a cost of $223,000, because prairie dogs have expanded into the area. The service says people could be bitten by the prairie dog bites or trip over their holes.

On Tuesday, Dorgan sent the Park Service a letter calling the plan a waste of taxpayer money. "Move the prairie dogs!'' wrote Dorgan, who usually rails more against big business than small mammals.

Park chief ranger Gary Kiramidjian said that wouldn't be a very easy task.

"It's not like rounding up bison or elk,'' he said. "I suppose you could use live traps ... They're under the tables, they've completely invaded the picnic area.''

Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the animals warranted protection as a threatened species, but said it had too many other species in more danger to take on protecting the prairie dog.

Jasper Carlton, executive director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, a Colorado-based group that has sued to try to get prairie dogs protected, called the animal a "keystone species'' that affects over 100 other species in the ecosystem.

Animals such as the swift fox, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, mountain plover and black-footed ferret depend on the dogs for food or their holes for burrowing, he said.

Colonies of prairie dogs, so named because of the barking sound they make, once were found on as many as 100 million acres in North America, but disease, eradication programs and urban sprawl have reduced their habitat to about a million acres.

Dorgan said they were doing fine in his state.

"We have more prairie dogs than we know what to do with,'' he said. "They encroach on an area, and all of a sudden we're prepared to spend a quarter of a million dollars.''


On the Net: National Park Service:

'Survivor' Faked Scenes With Stand-Ins
NEW YORK May 9, 2001 (AP) - The producer of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" has admitted to staging scenes with stand-ins for the show's contestants - but he insists the technique is not deceptive, merely cosmetic.

Executive producer Mark Burnett readily admitted to employing the cinematic technique of the "pickup shot" to capture wide-angle views after the fact, when the scene is uncluttered by close-up camera crews shooting the actual contests.

As an example, Burnett explained that a river-swimming race was later re-staged with "body doubles" so that a helicopter crew could shoot uncluttered aerial shots.

Burnett made his comments Monday at a panel on "reality television" at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York.

The "Survivor" competition took place over 42 days in northeast Australia last fall.

While use of staged scenes, even as brief inserts, may give ammunition to critics who argue that "Survivor" is less than reality TV, Burnett denied it had any impact on the outcome of the games themselves.

"I couldn't care less - I'm making great television," he told The New York Times.

CBS, which scored huge ratings for the 14-week series that concluded last week, apparently agrees. Network spokesman Chris Ender called Burnett's technique "nothing more than window dressing."

Oregon Volcanoes Produce Bulge In Earth's Crust

PORTLAND OR May 9, 2001 — A significant bulge in the earth’s crust has developed over the past four years near volcanoes in central Oregon, but it’s not clear whether it could mean a volcanic eruption any time soon, geologists say.

The bulge — 9 to 12 miles across and about 4 inches high — was detected by satellite radar, said Willie Scott, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s volcano lab in Vancouver, Wash.

“Because it’s a volcanic area and there’s been a long history of volcanic activity in that part of the Cascades, it’s possible it might be magma, or molten rock, moving deep underground,” Scott said.

The bulge is located near the Three Sisters, a trio of volcanoes at the center of the Cascade Range in Oregon. The last major eruption in the Pacific Northwest occurred in May 1980, when Mount St. Helens blasted off about 1,300 feet of its top. The uplift in Central Oregon is too broad and low to be noticed from the ground.

The USGS scientists discovered the bulge through use of a relatively new technique called satellite radar interferometry, which uses satellite data to create images of the Earth’s surface. Images taken at different times can be used to detect changes of even a few inches in the elevation of the ground. Scientists have looked across the West for signs of bulges, but this is the first prominent change on record using this technique.

“There’s nothing as striking as this one,” Scott said. “This is quite a prominent uplift.”

“But there’s nothing right now that makes us think there’s an imminent danger” of an eruption, he said.

In addition to accelerating uplift, other indicators of an eruption would include earthquakes — typically swarms of small quakes generated by rock fracturing as magma moves upward — and large emissions of volcanic gases, such as carbon dioxide.

The Cascades, which run from the California border into British Columbia, contain a number of volcanic peaks.

Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest mountain, is believed to have erupted just before the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805.

About 7,000 years ago, Mount Mazama exploded south of Bend in an enormous explosion that left behind a caldera which now holds Crater Lake, the deepest lake in North America.

Fashion Rat Death Probed in Australia

SYDNEY, Australia May 10, 2001 (AP) — A rat has become a fashion victim in Sydney.

An animal rights group is investigating the death of a rat during a fashion parade after a catwalk stunt went wrong on Thursday.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the rat, one of almost 200 released during a fashion show at Australia's annual Fashion Week in Sydney, died when a curtain rod collapsed on it.

An animal officer at the scene, holding the dead rat in a plastic cup, said the protection of animals in fashion shows should be upgraded or they should be banned from catwalks.

Clear screens were erected around the perimeter of the catwalk to prevent the rats from falling into the crowd. Some models also carried rats along the catwalk.

Model Anthony Cellar, 25, said he was concerned for the rats.

"I was a bit worried about stepping on one or even kicking it because I am an animal lover,'' he said.

California Legislature Mourns Mrs. Landingham
SACRAMENTO CA May 10, 2001 (AP) - "The West Wing" isn't exactly reality television, but it's real enough for Assemblyman Kevin Shelley.

The San Francisco Democrat adjourned the California Assembly session Thursday in memory of Mrs. Landingham, the fictional president's secretary on the Emmy-winning political drama.

The secretary, played by Kathryn Joosten, died in Wednesday night's episode when a drunken driver hit her car. Joosten, however, is alive and in good health, an NBC spokeswoman said.

Before adjourning the session, a straight-faced Shelley called Mrs. Landingham a "great American" whose "contributions to the nation were too numerous to count."

The announcement caught many legislators by surprise.

"Nobody could tell if she really died or fake died," said Terri Carbaugh, a Shelley aide.

The lawmaker, who lives in Sacramento during the week, calls his wife during commercial breaks to discuss plot twists, he said.

"It was tragic. She was crying, I was upset. It was terrible," Shelley said.

"At first everyone was stunned but then they were rolling in the aisles. Several said that they really appreciated that," he said.

Shelley has even told his aides that he wants his office to be more like the White House featured in the show, in which Martin Sheen plays the president.
Asian Humans Came From Africa
WASHINGTON May 10, 2001 (AP) — A new genetic study suggests that Asia was populated by modern humans who migrated from Africa.

The study, appearing Friday in the journal Science, supports the Out of Africa Theory that homo sapiens, which are modern humans, moved into Asia and replaced homo erectus, an earlier human species that also migrated from Africa to Asia.

Researchers tested more than 12,000 males in 163 Asian populations to search for three mutations on the Y chromosome. Every one who was tested carried at least one of the mutations.

If the mutation was not found, it would have suggested a more ancient origin, such as from homo erectus, the researchers said. But since all tests showed the mutation, it was evidence that the populations now in Asia came from a migration from Africa of modern humans and not from a mingling of modern humans with homo erectus.

The research supports earlier studies that also suggested that modern humans in Europe and Asia originated from people who originated in Africa and then migrated to the rest of the world.
Doctors Seek Way to Measure Evil

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS May 11, 2001 (AP) — "Evil'' is not a word most psychiatrists like. But some are trying to find a way to measure it.

During a symposium Thursday at the American Psychiatric Association convention, Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist, asked more than 120 psychiatrists to help create a depravity scale which could be used by the courts to judge criminals.

Every day, judges ask juries to decide whether crimes are heinous, atrocious, cruel, outrageous, wanton, vile or inhuman — aggravating factors which can increase sentences and even lead to the death penalty in some states.

But there are no universal standards to define such terms, Welner told the overflow audience. The interpretations often depend on judges' and jurors' emotions and biases, and politics or media attention can influence whether a prosecutor asks for execution, he said.

In his effort to create a scale to measure depravity in defendants, Welner, who has testified as both a prosecution and defense witness, created a list of 26 indications of intent, actions and attitudes which could be used to rate crimes.

Among the intents are whether the person meant to cause emotional trauma, cause permanent disfigurement, or terrorize or target the helpless. Actions include whether an attack was unrelenting or the attacker prolonged the victim's suffering. Attitudes include blaming the victim, having disrespect for the victim or taking satisfaction in the crime.

Welner is asking judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, psychiatrists and theologians to go to his Web site and rate each indicator for whether they believe it is especially, somewhat or not at all representative of depravity.

The object is to find indicators which all or most experts agree on, a "consensus morality'' which could be used in court.

Thursday's symposium, titled "How Psychiatry Defines Evil,'' was held on the final evening of the convention.

Dr. Michael Stone of Columbia University also showed slides of nearly three dozen killers and others whom he considers evil.

A woman who burned one of her three daughters alive and starved another to death was "at the extreme edge of evil ... one of the most clearly evil persons'' of more than 400 whose biographies he has read, Stone said.

However, he added that "the bulk of evil on a world scale is committed by ideologues and their followers.'' Wars and persecutions, from the Spanish Inquisition to the fighting in Bosnia, show people are capable of "bottomless cruelty to those outside the tribe, especially in times of hardship and hunger,'' he said.

Welner also discussed other research that has highlighted problems with trying to measure depravity in criminals, primarily that some traits associated with people who cannibalize, mutilate or torture their victims also can be found in people who don't commit such crimes.

Dr. Cleo Van Velsen, a forensic psychiatrist from London who was in the audience, said another challenge is determining why people commit acts that can be described as evil.

"We know they exist, but not why they are produced,'' she said.

Dr. John L. Young of New Haven, Conn., said he found "depravity'' a more acceptable term than "evil.''

Trying to create a fairer, more reliable measurement for a word used in court is one thing, he said, but "I'm not holy enough, not saintly or godly enough to tamper with evil.''


On the Net:

Welner's site:

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