SGU Episode 112

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SGU Episode 112
September 12th 2007
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 111                      SGU 113

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


DC: David Colquhoun

Quote of the Week

I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.

Carl Sagan

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

News Items[edit]

New Study Challenges WTC Conspiracy Theory (5:16)[edit]


Follow up On Burning Water (8:08)[edit]


Extant Dodo's Threatened (10:43)[edit]


Questions and E-mails[edit]

Affiliations (16:22)[edit]

Are you guys or the hosts of the pod casts affiliated with the 'Science Coalition.' What are (if any) the corporate sponsors that you currently have?

Thanks -
Allen Prattis
Austria, Europe

Peanuts are Legumes (17:58)[edit]

I'm sure you'd be pleased that I often question what I hear, even on SGU but I'm half way through Episode 111 and I had to respond to your (Steve's) aside about 'peanut and other nut allergies'. Peanuts are not nuts! (Are peanuts nuts?

Although many people consider peanuts a nut, they are really a legume of the plant Arachis hypogaea. Other legumes include foods such as beans, peas and soybeans. Source=
Peanut allergic people can eat real nuts with impunity. As a haematologist I'm about as qualified as a neurologist to talk about this except that one of my haematological colleagues tried to die of an anaphylactic reaction during a meeting we were at as one of the sandwiches from which he took a bight had a trace of satay sauce. After resuscitation, he was OK and has demonstrated that he can eat cashews and walnuts without a problem. He now has an epipen for unexpected encounters with peanuts (not nuts).

Jeff Szer

King Tut Controversy (19:01)[edit]

Hello Steve,

Just listened to the September 5, 2007 pod cast. Who is the 'African American Community' concerning the King Tut 'controversy? Again is this Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton? By African American Community was this from a poll with a reasonable sample and error margin of Blacks? You mentioned that 'there are those who think....' Again - Who are these people? You seem to state that some loony white people believe some idiotic belief and limit it to this. You should also point the source out concerning what is the African American Community and what this represents.

Much to often I have seen racist posting items as if they were from the African American Community which in my opinion (as a black man, I have been to Africa and I am not African anything) to cause confusion and doubt. In addition the media seems to have anointed people like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as Black leaders and again I do not recall the election when I voted these people as my leaders.

So - Please state the source your stories. African American Community is a little vague - right?

Sorry for the rant but I am not from the inner city and I am Black. Period. And I think science is the way.

Thanks - Allen

Billy Meyer (22:14)[edit]

To Dr. Novella and organization,

I suggest that I appear on your radio show to both answer the false charges below and have you defend them. I have a rather vast readership ( and I will be glad to announce the details of the interview to them.

Failure to provide me with such an opportunity, or to respond to this request, will be construed as a withdrawal by you of - and an apology for - these widely circulated false claims and will be publicized as such.

The following disinformation, defamatory and libelous claims are attributed to you:

'From The Encyclopedia of Skepticism and the Paranormal

Billy Meier's story has prompted a great deal of research into his claims, both by skeptics and those within the UFO community who expected to confirm his reports. What was discovered is that the Billy Meier story actually represents the biggest UFO hoax in history. Upon close examination it was discovered that not one of his alleged photographs were original prints, but all had been airbrushed or otherwise altered.

Models of some of the spacecraft seen in his photo's were found in his house. In one video of an alleged flying saucer, the spacecraft can clearly be seen to be swinging pendulum style as if it were suspended by a wire. The photograph of an alleged Pleiadian alien was discovered to be a photocopy of a model taken from a Sears Catalog. Under close scrutiny, all of Billy Meier's alleged evidence has been shown to be false.

Yet, Billy Meier's claims survived for many years within the UFO community, being touted as the best evidence for the reality of alien visitation. There are still those who will not admit the entire case is a complete fraud. Meanwhile, Meier has made a great deal of money from the sale of his book and other material in which he discusses his hoaxed contact with aliens.'


Michael Horn
Authorized American Media Representative
The Billy Meier Contacts

Interview with David Colquhoun (32:45)[edit]


    Professor of Pharmacology at University College London
    Writes the Improbable Science blog

Randi Speaks (58:01)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic

    James Randi returns to give his skeptical commentary in his own unique style.

    This week's topic: Mentalism

S: Randi, I have noticed that some mentalists, magicians whose act includes mind reading and other similar tricks, either pretend or let their audience believe that they have real psychic abilities, while others are more up-front about the fact that they're doing standard illusionist tricks. Can you share with us your thoughts on this matter?

JR: Back in the '30s, there was a gentleman named Ted Annemann who was very, very famous in mentalism circles and in magic circles, for that matter, who wrote a distributed magazine... distributed by mail that was specifically for the magicians and for the mentalists; it was called "The Jinx". Annemann did bullet catches, very, very dramatically, shedding blood and all kinds of good things in order to make it convincing. And he did a lot of mentalism stunts, some of which Geller is using today in his stage show with... moderate success, I guess. Annemann found himself in this peculiar position where he couldn't deny that he had mental powers, but he was still allowing people to believe he had mental powers. Joseph Dunninger later on had the same phenomenon occur to him; he would always wink at the magicians and smile and say, "I never bribed anybody," which wasn't one of the methods that mentalists would use in any case. But he sort of left it at that. And he used all the standard methods that mentalists have always used, though some of them were very wisely and perfectly adapted to his particular format. I think that he gave generally the idea that he was in possession of psychic powers, though he never actually stated it; he never said it that way. It was just sort of a wink and a nod with him. He allowed people to believe what they wanted to believe, I guess. Now, that has limited value in this field, I think, but nonetheless, that's what Joe Dunninger chose and he was a good buddy of mine and certainly a magnificent performer. I don't think anyone has equaled him, with the possible exception of a gentleman now named Derren Brown. Now, Derren Brown has found himself, I think, in a bit of a quandary because, by saying that he uses psychological means and reading people's faces and reactions and such to accomplish some of his stunts, and they are all excellent. Unqualified excellent; I can't describe them any other way, because he builds a great scenario around each and every one of his demonstrations. And he's widely known in the U.K. and he's going to be showing over here as well, so we can look forward to that. But Derren Brown is sort of on the horns of this dilemma, as many of them have found themselves, where he can't really support this business that he uses psychological observations and body motions and expressions and such. But he absolutely does not; he uses standard techniques of the mentalists.

Now mentalists don't take chances. You can't very well go out on a limb on a major television program, especially if it's live, and absolutely flounder and fail just because you were depending upon reading some subtle cues. Now a lot of subtle cues are read by the mentalist; they have to be aware of what people will do under given circumstances; they have to know what to expect. They have to know how to analyze reactions and movements and various bodily gimmicks that people use. So, that is—it's true to a certain extent, but at the bottom of it, it's got to be something where they will definitely know the results one way or the other, and be absolutely certain of them, or they can't take a chance. Now when you're doing personal readings, doing cold readings or something like that, yes, you can do that. You can certainly flounder around because the victims are going to accept, no matter how badly you fail. Sylvia Browne is a master at this, even on live television she'll fail utterly and then of course Montel Williams or somebody else will make some sort of excuse for her and try to solve the problem that way and usually it's effective because the people are believers anyway and they just dote on Sylvia's declarations. So it's a different matter with the professionals; it's a different matter with magicians who do a little bit of mentalism; they never want to take themselves too seriously, but the people who do mentalism as such; Banacek, for example, a leading exponent of this art—internationally, I must say—Banacek never makes any bones about it at all. He says that he's doing tricks, that this is something that anybody could do if they would just spend the time to learn to do it. He doesn't say that it's paranormal; he doesn't even hint that it might be paranormal and he denies any such accusation. So he's certainly one of the good guys, and partially as a result, I think, of my influence on him, and I don't think that I had to prod him at all. He's basically an honest guy.

So we have a wide range of problems here and a wide range of performers, some of whom allow people to think that they might have psychic powers; others that definitely try to get people to believe that they are psychic, and others who, like Banacek, as they disavow any ability in that direction. Though his performance is stunning; if you've seen it, I needn't tell you any more. If you haven't seen it, go and take a look.

S: So would you say to summarize, that in the age of TV psychics, mentalists have more of an ethical or moral responsibility to be up front about their abilities?

JR: I think they do, but I don't know that they actually do. The Society of American Magicians used to have an occult investigations committee under Harry Houdini. The Society of American Magicians have discontinued that occult committee some time ago and I've never been able to find out from them why. Because they could be a good voice for reason in this sort of thing, but there are members there who come down on me heavily because they think I'm fighting the mentalism business. I am not! I'm fighting deception, lying, and cheating, and I don't think that any of us should be involved in that sort of thing. No, we don't cut the girl in two pieces with a buzzsaw. No, we don't predict the outcome of a World Series accurately in a sealed envelope in a safe on top of the Empire State Building or whatever. No, we don't do those things. We appear to, and that's what the art of illusion is all about.

S: Randi, thank you.

JR: My pleasure.

Science or Fiction (1:05:00)[edit]

Question #1: Chimpanzees in the wild have been observed hording and trading scarce succulent leaves as currency, exchanging them for food, preferred sleeping locations, and even sex. Question #2: Cancer researchers find in animal studies that Vitamin C does have cancer fighting activity. Question #3: Consumer researchers found that sales can be increased by first confusing consumers about their prospective purchase.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:18:00)[edit]

This Week's Puzzle:

This is a logic puzzle.

Each of these sets of numbers represents an object:

4, 4, 6
8, 6, 12
6, 8, 12
20, 12, 30
12, 20, 30

Identify each object by name.

Last Week's puzzle:

Once upon a time, there was a king, and he enjoyed reading books. His sole urge was to better express his personality through his readings. The impersonal life he led would cause him to travel far and wide. It was once said that he would always travel with his 3 favorite books. The first book was a bible, and the second book was a guide book.

Can you tell me the title of the 3rd book?

Winner: Peacock

Quote of the Week (1:20:09)[edit]

'I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.'- Carl Sagan

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website, or you can send us an email to'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


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