SGU Episode 113

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SGU Episode 113
19th September 2012
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 112                      SGU 114

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


JR: James Randi

Quote of the Week

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isaac Newton

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

News Items[edit]

Can't We All Just Get Along (1:48)[edit]

  • Bird-Monkey Love

DailyMail: The abandoned monkey who has found love with a pigeon

Trouble for Trudeau (4:23)[edit]

Broadcasting&Cable: Infomercial Guru Trudeau Sued Again By FTC

More Free Energy Claims (7:34)[edit]

DailyMail: BT to dial up £1bn bill at its services wing

Are most medical studies wrong? (15:25)[edit]

WSJ: Most Science Studies Appear to Be Tainted By Sloppy Analysis

Neurologica: Are Most Medical Studies Wrong?

Philipino Judge Believes in Elves (22:57)[edit]

WSJ: In the Philippines, Ex-Judge Consults Three Wee Friends

Questions and Emails[edit]

HPV Vaccine (28:12)[edit]

Hello there,

I have been listening to the SGU for some time now but this is the first time I have written to you. I am sure that you have lots of people writing in with many different stories but I felt that regardless you guys should know about this.

Though I may sound like a naive Canadian I didn't expect a catholic school board in Ontario to consider banning the new HPV vaccine.

CBC: Catholic school board in Halton may ban HPV vaccination

I was a student in this board between 1996-2001 and was shocked to find this news story.

There has been much contention here in Ontario about funding faith based schools (other than catholic schools which is actually a stipulation of the British North America Act of 1867) Brief outline at:

CBC: Faith-based schools

Having been a product of this specific school board (and an atheist) I understood that faith wasn't really pushed all that much in these schools, they still taught evolution and classes on other religions. But even suggesting banning this vaccine did it for me. I will be writing to my politicians and encouraging my friends to do the same to try and fix this and create one public education system.

Not sure if this interests you or not. I didn't really think that this stuff was happening here in Canada, though there was a Creation Museum opened in the province of Alberta recently...

Regardless, I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you guys do. It is organizations like yours that inspire people to better themselves and to help those around them. Thank you and as usual I look forward to this week's podcast.

Matt Beatty

Autism Nonsense on Oprah (32:36)[edit]

Dear Dr. Novella,

I am a long time fan of the show. The reason I am writing is this: I recently caught an episode of Oprah on which Jenny McCarthy was a guest. It turns out that she has a new book. Louder Than Words: A Mothers ourney in Healing Autism is the storey of her little boy Evan and the struggles she faced following his autism diagnosis. A large portion of the book (at least this is what I gathered from the interview) explains the "alternative approaches" she utilized in order to treat her sons condition. It was supremely entertaining to try to explain the logical fallacies she employed while discussing the efficacy of these "alternative approaches". The highlight for me, aside from her constantly quoting her mommy instinct as her major source of evidence for anything and everything, was when she explained that the only reason that paediatricians aren't utilizing these "alternative approaches" is they are simply unaware of them.

Up until a certain point it was all fun and games. Innocent entertainment while Jenny and Oprah discussed alternative medicine while making references to The Secret. But then a line was crossed. Oprah asked Jenny what she felt was responsible for her sons condition and ...dum diddy dummm... of course she felt it was the MMR vaccination her son had received around his fist birthday. Her mommy sense told her that there was something wrong when he got vaccination. She tried to question the doctor before the shot but he just berated her and gave her kid the needle anyway. Oprah and her then combined to provide some statistics on the matter: 1 in 150 have autism now while it used to only be one in hundreds of thousands. To her credit Oprah did read a quote from the Centre for Disease control but it was wishy washy and misleading. It implied that scientist don't know whether or not vaccines cause autism and did not mention that numerous studies have shown that vaccines do not cause autism.

I blew a fuse man. Flipped my coffee table upside down, threw the remote across the room and started yelling at the TV. Me and Oprah have never really seen eye to eye on anything but this one takes the cake. This lady has a responsibility. Too many stay at home moms and dads sit at home all day watching her program, blindly utilizing its content for lessons in spirituality, ethics, current events, fashion, household economics and unfortunately science.

The sad fact of the matter is that Oprah is more predominant and influential than scientific consensus. That hour of programming trumped years of clinical trials as far as the Autism-Vaccine debate is concerned. Oprah fuelled the fire in the hearts of moms around the world. And that is why I am calling my fellow Skeptics to action. Something needs to be done. I would say that ten thousand or so angry (yet accurate and enlightening) emails demanding a retraction ought to do the trick. So far she has at least one sitting her inbox. I turn to you noble gentlemen (and women) of the Skeptics' Guide to the Galaxy for assistance. It is our duty. Oprah will fall.

Vive la Revolution!

Nobly Yours, Matthew Robertson

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Name That Logical Fallacy - Logical Fallacies (46:59)[edit]

In his book, "The Universe in a Nutshell" Stephen Hawking makes a fallacious argument against those who believe that UFO's are really time travelers from the future that the government is aware of but is covering up. He says this isn't very likely since the Government isn't very good at covering up conspiracies. The trouble is, we have no idea how good the government is at covering up conspiracies since we only know about the failures (i.e. there could be many thousands, although unlikely, that were successful in which case the ones we do know about would be relatively small). What fallacy has one of the brightest scientific minds committed here? You guys are awesome. All of your time, energy and hard work is greatly appreciated by this loyal listener.

Wishing you all the best during this sad time.

Scott G.

Richmond, VA

Randi Speaks (51:13)[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: Barbara Walters

S: Randi, I remember you telling a story one time about an encounter you had with Barbara Walters regarding your friend and mine, Uri Geller (YOU-ree). Can you tell us about that?

JR: First of all, let's pronounce his name properly, Steve; it's "OO-ree" Geller. You can't blame the Russians for this; it's not Yuri. It's Uri. You've got to be very careful about that because I think the Russians may resent that. (chuckles) Well, you know, I've had many adventures with Barbara Walters over the years, many of them on The Today Show, some on a couple of the women's shows that she's done and most recently on The View. And we've always gotten along so well together; Barbara always throws her arms out and rushes down the hall to embrace me. She's very effusive and... lovely; very affectionate lady and I'm very fond of her. But a couple of things we just don't discuss in detail. I don't know that she ever really fell for the Uri Geller stunts. She was amazed by them; listen, the guy's a magician and if she'd understand how it's done I guess you could be amazed by it. As with most celebrities, she finds it difficult to believe that she can't understand something and that if she doesn't understand it, it's probably supernatural or probably genuine. But she's very willing to be shown and that's always the good sign with a media figure, I think, or a celebrity of any kind. But she—when I replicated the sealed drawing thing, the thing in the envelope that he does; it's one of the three tricks that Geller does. He is a three-trick pony, you know. And that's what it is: major tricks. When I replicated that for her on the—Not For Women Only, I think was the name of the show... used to be called For Women Only and then they got politically correct and called it Not For Women Only. Duh! She was—really, she was flabbergasted because she'd literally threw her pencil up in the air and just sunk in the chair, as if to say, "oh boy, I've been taken again". Now, I did that by an ad-lib method which was quite different from what Geller has always done. But nonetheless it works, (indistinct) you can imagine. And she, after the show, when I showed her how it was done, she was astonished that she had fallen for it, and I sort of was, too. But the audience apparently fell for it, too, because it fooled the audience, at home and in the studio. So I guess it wasn't all that bad.

But I must say, Barbara is very practical and pragmatic. She recognized that she can be fooled, and that is such a healthy sign and so very rare among celebrities. And Barbara's been around long enough that she has enormous standing, of course; just enormous standing with her public and with her fans. And, I think, rightly so, because she's a very intelligent woman and she does very, very well for herself and she certainly represents the emergence of women as very—and this has only happened in the past 20 years—as very potent people in the news business and as leaders in TV and communication culture. So I like her a lot, and look forward to seeing her again, but I wouldn't say she fell for Geller; she was just cooed by the regular Geller tricks, but she was easily shown... what... she doesn't necessarily understand how tricks are done, and she shouldn't expect that she should understand how tricks are done. People are fooled by tricks when they're well done. I mean, you only do three tricks as Geller does, you get pretty good at doing them.

S: Randi, after your demonstration to Barbara Walters, did she accept explicitly that Geller's performance could have been attributed to tricks or did she still hold out that he might have some real paranormal ability?

JR: No, I think... I don't know that we... that I tried to extract an answer from her. As a matter of fact, a gentleman wouldn't do that in that case. Just let her think about it. But I think if you were to ask Barbara now, she'd say that she recognized that certainly she could've been fooled and that was probably the way that Geller did what he did.

S: Randi, thank you very much.

Science or Fiction (56:01)[edit]

Question #1 Study shows that carbon nanotubes can be used to heal bone fractures 7-8 times faster than natural healing and results in a 60% increase in bone strength. Question #2 New research finds that neutrons, while they contain a net neutral electrical charge, actually are comprised of layers of positive and negative charge. Question #3 New study shows that heterosexual men and women who are in a committed relationship, equally will pay more attention to attractive people of the same sex than of the opposite sex.

S: Alright, let's take them in order Jay since she wants to take them in order.

J: Let's do that. Let's do it.

S: Alright. Number 1, study shows that carbon nanotubes can be used...


B: What? Do it!


S: Give me a second.


B: How come he's laughing so much, what does it mean?

S: Your response Bob is just funny.

B: Ok.

S: Study shows that carbon nanotubes can...


E: Can't get by "carbon nanotubes"!


R: Can I just say there's no other podcast on the planet where carbon nanotubes can cause so much giggling. So much school girl giggling.

J: Oh, shit.

E: We love you, Bob.


J: Rebecca knows he's actually getting angry.


S: Alright. Can be used to heal bone fractures...


S: several days faster than natural healing and results in 60% increase in bone strength. You guys all think that one is science and that one is in fact, fiction.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:08:08)[edit]

Puzzle This Week's Puzzle:

A scientist worth $10.64 believed he discovered it. And he claimed it was faster than Hermes. But despite Poseidon's discovery, it could not be found the same way In the end, a scientist worth $1.23 proved the first scientist was wrong

What was it?

Last 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.

Winner: OPCN Answer: tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:10:52)[edit]

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isaac Newton

Announcements (1:12:08)[edit]

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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