SGU Episode 257

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SGU Episode 257
14th June 2010
SGU 256 SGU 258
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
Sir Winston Churchill
Download Podcast
Forum Topic


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Monday, June 14th, 2010 and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella–

B: Hey everybody.

S: Jay Novella–

J: Hey guys.

S: and Evan Bernstein.

E: Hey everyone. How are you doing tonight?

B: Okay.

J: Quite well.

E: Good.

S: No Rebecca tonight because we are on the lead up to TAM recording schedule. We going to have a little bit of a weird recording schedule the next few weeks and Rebecca was not available tonight and she has no internet access.

J: That's because her and Sid bought a house.

S: That's right.

J: She hasn't been able to get internet and cable, I guess, to the house yet.

E: Yeah. But it's a big secret. Don't tell anyone, folks.

S: They're moving into a new flat. Is it still a flat if it's a house?

B: No. Wait wait, no, a flat's an apartment, isn't it?

S: Are they moving into a house house, or is it like a condo or what is it?

J: I think it's a house house.

S: But no cable yet.

J: Bob, if she has a house, that means she has a basement which means she could run a haunt in her house.

B: Not necessarily. Florida houses don't have basements but that's because of the water table.

J: Well, no. If she's in England she has a root cellar.

B: Yeah, right.

J: Which is even creepier.

This Day in Skepticism (1:19)

E: Well, on this day in 1648 Margaret Jones was hanged in Boston for witchcraft. The first such execution for the Massachusetts colony.

S: How many people were killed?

E: Yeah, they didn't stop with Margaret. It was 20 people.

S: Were executed.

E: We executed for witchcraft.

J: Wow. And we got off lucky. Didn't–in Europe wasn't it a much bigger phenomenon in Europe?

S: A conservative number is around 60,000 deaths directly attributable to the witch hunts.

J: Wow.

S: Depending on how you count it. There were 20 people executed in Salem. 19 hung and that one guy, Giles Corey was crushed to death cause he refused to enter a plea.

News Items

Hayabusa Returns (2:02)

S: Well Bob, tell us about Hayabusa returning to Earth.

B: Yeah, this is pretty cool. I totally forgot about this guy but this is an interesting story. The Japanese space agency known as JAXA, Jay-Ay-Ex-Ay, completed a mission recently to bring a sample of an asteroid back to Earth. This is something that's never been accomplished before and regardless of what happens there has never been a spacecraft that touched down on an asteroid and then came back to Earth. So regardless if they even brought anything back with them this was a first. Like I said, the only real question that remains as of the taping of this podcast anyway is whether the canister they retrieved in Australia has any asteroid. If you remember back in 2003, JAXA's Hayabusa craft began a 2 year journey to an asteroid named Itokawa and I wish I could say the mission went swimmingly but I can't. The craft really experienced some nasty technical difficulties. It seems likes throughout the whole way, or at least through a lot of it. They just kept hitting problem after problem. They even had some–some solar flair even messed up with it's power source so the energy that it had was less than they had anticipated and some of the biggest failures, though, was they had this metal ball that they would shoot–or they planned on shooting at the asteroid to collect rock samples and that failed. And then there was another mechanism, which they were planning on using to stir up the dust around the lander on the asteroid and that failed as well to collect any samples. So you might think that it was a total bust but the real hope at this point is that they hope that the dust that stirred up during the landing kind of just was swirling around and entered the canister–the collection canister so that's really all their hope is on that.

S: So they really don't know if there's going to be anything in that canister.

B: Oh, yeah, they have no idea at this point. It doesn't look good to me.

J: Is it on it's way back to Earth or it can analyze it.

B: It came back to Earth. The craft burned up in the atmosphere but it ejected this heat protected canister which landed at the Woomera Protected Area which is a restricted military zone in south Australian desert. Now some conspiracy hypothesists may say that in reality this whole 7 year mission was a subtle attempt to get access to this restricted military zone. But, ya know, I'm just saying.

J: Look at that. It landed in Area 51. Could we go get it?

B: Yeah. Yeah.


B: But, being silly, but I want to congratulate JAXA, though. Even if there's no sample which would really be nasty, but even if there's no sample, it was a great effort that tested lots of new technologies, like, for example, sampling and retrieval, electrical propulsion, autonomous navigation. So lots of interesting new technologies and this really was a test bed. Problems like this are to be expected.

J: At this point any kind of space exploration is awesome.

B: Yeah, right.

J: In the time when we're worried that it's all gonna go away and dry up–

B: Yeah.

J: I'm really happy to hear about stuff like this.

B: That's true. But you really got to hand it to JAXA, though, because they relentlessly attacked every difficulty that arose creatively solving problems, and according to some people it was Apollo 13 in scale in terms of how difficult these problems were.

J: Wow.

B: But granted, lives were not on the line, but still they had to go through a lot. On the way home they lost half of their engines kicked out and they had to figure out how to get home with only half the engines running so they did an amazing job.

J: I don't like you comparing it to Apollo 13 because it being unmanned is one thing and the other thing was they got those people back to Earth safely with an enormous amount of effort. Nothing can match that.

B: Yeah, I'm not comparing it and I did kind of say that not in terms of the lives but in terms of creative problem solving it was similar. Some people are comparing it.

J: Well, if they make a movie about it I might believe it then.

S: Cause it's not real unless Hollywood does a movie about it.

B: As you can imagine this is a huge, huge news story in Japan. They're really playing it up. It's all over the place, cause this is–it's quite a feat. Regardless of what happens this is a first, so that's great. If they have a sample, even better, cause you learn lots of things about the solar system–because we don't have–think about it–the material we have from asteroids really is just meteorites, right, that have landed on the earth and they've gone through the atmosphere. They're not the same.

S: Yeah.

B: When you come through the atmosphere–they're not the same.

E: Burn, yeah. Stuff burns away and, yeah.

B: This will be pristine. This will be pristine rock and that will be invaluable.

J: Do you guys think that one day we will park satellites in orbit and just mine them?

S: Oh yeah. Mine asteroids?

E: You mean bring them into a close orbit and then we send up vehicles and stuff to start plowing them for their platinum and all they're goodies?

J: Yeah. And how about–

B: Absolutely.

J: One thing that I remember thinking about when I was younger, why not put it in the same orbit that the earth is in, but just behind the earth. Would that mean that it would have to be the same size as the earth, though, in order to be in the same orbit?

B: The velocity would be very different then. It couldn't have the same velocity because the mass would be so different, so, at some point, it would intersect with the earth. So I don't think that would work, Jay.

E: You would need something to constantly regulate it's distance from the earth, right?

S: You put it at a Lagrange point and it will sit there.

B: Yeah. There ya go. Problem solved.

S: A Lagrange point is a–if you have a map, a three dimensional map of the gravitational fields of the earth and the sun, for example, or any large body orbiting another large body, then those fields hit a pit, or they dip to a minimum. So anything that is at those points it's like being at the bottom of a hill, it's stuck there and it won't move away so it's actually fixed in position relative to the earth. So it would be perfect for something that we want to put someplace and have it stay there in terms of it's relationship to the earth.

J: It's kind of like drafting, right?

S: No.


J: Come on, a little bit.

S: But to complete that discussion there are a total of 5 Lagrangian points. One in the orbit of, lets say the earth, in front of it. One behind the earth in it's orbit. One on the opposite side of Earth's orbit. One between the earth and the sun and one outside the orbit on a line between the earth and the sun but farther than the earth. So five points total. A few of which would be pretty close. But also, there are asteroids that are said to quote unquote "stalk" the earth. For example, recently discovered the 2009 BD. It's not stationary with respect to the earth but it does–cause it interacts with the earth's gravity and it's not at a Lagrangian point, but it does get close to the earth and will sort of corkscrew around the earth's orbit and stay very close to use for a while and then maybe drift away and come back in it's orbit. It's got a very weird orbit but it does stay close to the earth.

Einstein's Brain (9:22)

NPR: Einstein's Brain Unlocks Some Mysteries Of The Mind

Largest Radio Telescope Array (27:49)

Amityville Horror House for Sale (34:11)

Rogue's Gallery: Amityville Horror House for Sale

Who's That Noisy? (38:46)

Questions and Emails

Soy (41:02)

Steve - You made the offhand comment that there are "serious concerns" that soy milk is producing an estrogen type hormonal effect. I am a vegan bodybuilder who drinks a quart of soy milk everyday. I am concerned your offhand comment will scare people away from switching to a healthier milk alternative with no saturated fat. I've looked in the past when people have made these claims, and all I can find is that there may be some very mild effect, but nothing that rises to the level of your "serious concern" comment. If there was, there would be serious estrogen related issues throughout Asian countries. Since you felt it necessary to scare people away from soy by telling them about the "serious concerns" science has with soy milk, I hope you will provide the research on you next show that proves soy milk causes serious estrogen like effects. I do love the show, and I thank everyone for the time and effort you guys put into it every week. Michael Wilson Prescott, AZ

Cursed Cell Phone Number (45:50)

The cursed cell phone number Thought you guys might like this story of truly stupid superstitious thinking that misses the glaringly obvious.

Telegraph: Mobile phone number suspended after three users die in 10 years

Danforth France Glendale, CA

Magic Bee Juice (50:27)

One of the branches of the company I work for in Japan has started selling Propolis as a means to make more money in a bad economy. This branch has repeatedly tried to get me to buy some of this magic bee juice. Many of my Japanese co-workers have taken the bait. They are putting bee juice in their drinks and swallowing magic bee juice pills. When I ask them if they feel any better, they all say they aren’t sure. Hmm… I think the company I work for has a snake oill division. Do you know of any scientific evidence that shows any benefit to taking Propolis? All the information I found say that Propolis may contain lead and other garbage bees pick up while flying around the city. Thank you for your time. David Gardner Osaka, Japan

Name That Logical Fallacy: Personality Tests (54:41)

Steve, I'm trying to figure out the difference between the Incorrect Cause fallacy and the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy? Skepticwiki is telling me that Post Hoc is a type of Incorrect Cause Fallacy, but I'm just not getting the difference. They seem to be one and the same. Any help would be appreciated. I'm trying to complete a 5x5 recording we did a few months ago and I'm recording a missing part which was about the "Incorrect Cause" fallacy. The topic of the 5x5 was Chemtrails and it seems to me that the Post Hoc fallacy would work better here. Mike Lacelle Canada

Science or Fiction (1:00:07)

  • Item number one: NIST scientists have developed a "dark laser" that is endothermic - it takes heat away from an object on which it is focused.
  • Item number two: A new analysis suggests that many comets, including well-known comets like Halley's and Hale Bopp, originated from other solar systems.
  • Item number three: Scientists report a 5-fold increase in the growth of rice plants from manipulating the genetics of a fungus that grows on its roots.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:14:40)

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

Sir Winston Churchill


NECSS Con (1:18:11)

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation and For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at For questions, suggestions, and other feedback, please use the "Contact Us" form on the website, or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us spread the word by voting for us on Digg, or leaving us a review on iTunes. You can find links to these sites and others through our homepage. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto, and is used with permission.


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