Difference between revisions of "SGU Episode 338"

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== Who's That Noisy? ==
== Who's That Noisy? ==
Segment:   Who's That Noisy   
S: Alright, Evan
Who's That Noisy     Answer to last week: Neil Armstrong
E: Yup.
S: We need to do a Who's That Noisy...
== Interview ==
== Interview ==

Revision as of 01:12, 18 April 2012


Skeptical Rogues

  • S: Steven Novella
  • B: Bob Novella
  • R: Rebecca Watson
  • J: Jay Novella
  • E: Evan Bernstein



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 Wednesday January 4th 2012 and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella.

B: Hey everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson

R: Hello everyone.

S: Jay Novella.

J: Hey guys.

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Welcome to two thousand twelve.

S: Welcome to the...

R: You mean twenty twelve.

S: Twenty twelve everybody.

J: Twenty twelve everybody.

B: (laughs)

R: You guys have to make the switch.

E: No. Two naught one two...


S: The last year of existence.

E: That's it!

R: Yeah.

S: The world ends this year.

R: It's going to be a short one.

S: Yeah.

B: Make it a good one!

E: Yep.

J: Well, not, Rebecca it's supposed to happen in December, it's not going to be that short.

R: It's going to be nine days short, ten days short.

E: Twelve, twelve, twelve.

R: Is it the 21th I think?

S: Well, some people do 12-12-12 some do 12-12-21. You know, whatever. So this is a new year and we do like to tweak the format of the show a little bit with each new year, experiment with a few new segments.

J: I want a quickie with Bob!

S: yeah, so that's...


B: yeaaaah.

S: ...one of the segments.

E: You can have mine too.

S: Is uh...

R: Calm yourself, Jay.

J: I can't help it, I'm so excited.

S: ...is called a quickie with Bob where, at any point during the show, any one can shout out that they want a quickie with Bob and Bob will give us a very brief and not a brief for Bob, but a really brief description of a news item, a science news item with a provocative headline.

R: What's the cap? It's going to be like 30 seconds, right?

S: Or a minute, I was thinking one minute.

R: A minute, OK. Yeah, that's fine. I'll allow it.

E: You can call it out at any time during the course of the show? Or it happens only once?

S: But only once.

E: Once, right. Yeah.

S: Right, so don't abuse the privilege. Jay was just demonstrating for us, that one won't count.

J: Steve, can people do this at live SGU shows?

S: Well, we'll see, we'll talk about it, we have to see how it goes, give it a try. And another change is that Rebecca, you're taking over This Day in Skepticism segment. So... start us off.

R: I am, I am honoured that Evan has given me this great responsibility, he did a fantastic job over the last year with This Day in Skeptic History.

E: Thanks Rebecca. So thankyou...

S: Which Evan made up the segment himself, he just kind of did it and it evolved into a full segment.

R: It's a lot of pressure for me to carry on that torch.

E: Take care of my baby, Rebecca.

R: I'll do my best, Evan.

E: I know you will.

R: So... uh, for today...

J: I want a quickie with Bob!


S: Jay!

R: Jay, calm yourself!

E: You can't help it. You see, this is going to happen every week.

R: Oh, this is a terrible mistake.

E: That's the problem with this.

J: You know what, in like three weeks we're totally going to forget to do it, Bob will be like, nobody wants a quickie with me?

B: (laughs)

E: Can we say that if one person does it they can't do it the next week? Can we have that sort of as a rule?

B: I like that rule.

S: You can't do it two weeks in a row?

R: That's probably a good rule, yeah.

E: You can't call it two weeks in a row.

S: OK.

This Day in Skepticism


R: All right! So this day in history.

E: Yep.

R: This is a very interesting day, was a very interesting day for one Galileo. Maybe you've heard of him. Through much of December of 1609, Galileo observed the Moon through the telescope that he had created and perfected that year. On January 7th of 1610, he wrote a letter describing what he had seen, which is that the Moon, and I quote, "is most evidently not at all of an even, smooth and regular surface, as a great many people believe of it and of the other heavenly bodies, but on the contrary it is rough and unequal. In short it is shown to be such that sane reasoning cannot conclude otherwise than that it is full of prominences and cavities similar, but much larger, to the mountains and valleys spread over Earth's surface." However, that was not the only Moon news that Galileo broke on January 7th of 1610. That same day he used his telescope to observe Jupiter and he found what he called "three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness". He observed those stars for three nights eventually realising that there were four of them, and he watched them move and disappear behind Jupiter. This led him to believe that they were actually not stars, but moons orbiting Jupiter, which we now call the Galilean moon, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Now this was huge news because these were the first moons discovered after our own Moon, and obviously that caused a huge uproar because every body was like, well if those are moons, then what are we supposed to call our moon? And Galileo was like, I don't care, look the point is that these are celestial bodies orbiting another celestial body which is pretty definitive evidence that everything doesn't orbit Earth, and everyone was like, but what are we supposed to call our Moon? So Galileo was like, I don't know, the Moon? But nobody was happy with that because it's frankly confusing to use a definite article to distinguish a moon from the Moon so the inquisition had him placed under house arrest.

S: Yes.

R: That's this day in history.

S: Those were two very heretical observations that Galileo made. As you said, it was the belief at the time that the Earth, that the very laws of nature set into motion by God, everything had to revolve about the Earth. So the notion that something revolved about something other than the Earth was heresy. Second, there was supposed to be a very clear difference between the corrupt physical things on the earth and the perfect heavenly things in the sky. The fact that there were blemishes, mountains and imperfections on the surface of the moon was also equally heretical. So those were the two things that got him in hot water with the church.

R: Also when he metaphorically referred to the pope as a simpleton in his book. But, you know.

S: Yeah, Simplicio.

J: Simplicio?

S: He had a fake conversation, one representing the scientific point of view, one representing sort of the superstitious, primitive point of view, named Simplicio. I can't remember the names of the other characters. I actually read the book 20 years ago. It was very interesting. It was an interesting way for him to explain the science, as a conversation between essentially a scientist, an average person and a pseudo-scientist, you know a superstitious person.

R: Yeah.

E: It sounds like sort of a Greek classic way of posing an argument.

S: Yeah.

R: Yeah, it's almost like a Socratic dialogue.

S: Yeah, very nice.

E: Very cool.

S: All right, thanks Rebecca.

E: Great job, Rebecca.

News Items

Psychic Predictions 2011


S: So this is our first episode of two thousand and twelve and as is tradition on the SGU, we review the predictions, psychic predictions specifically that were made for two thousand and eleven, to see how the psychics did.

J: This is from Psychic Nikkie. The Playboy mansion will burn down.

S: Yeah. (laughs)

J: That did not happen.

R: She meant figuratively, with gonorrhoea.

J: Yeah, OK. This is absolutely the most ridiculous prediction. A gold rush will occur in Hawaii.

S: Mmhmm.

R: What?

J: Yeah.

B: Oh, what.

E: Uum, well.

R: Is it 1890?

J: But if you think about it, a gold rush will occur in Hawaii. A gold rush. Now aren't those islands made from volcanoes?

S: Yes.

E: They sure are.

R: They are, yeah.

J: So there isn't a lot of old enough material there where gold would be infused in it, am I correct in thinking this?

S: All right, so volcanoes can actually spew forth gold and other valuable minerals, although I don't think that Hawaii is a volcanic system that is spewing forth any valuable minerals. And also, gold mines can result from old volcanoes where the gold has had time to concentrate into a lode through various processes such as erosion. In a new volcanic system like the Hawaiian islands, if it were spewing gold, which I don't think it is, it would be diffuse in the volcanic ash or the soil. So not really a good location for a gold rush.

R: She meant it figuratively!


E: Right, it's a metaphor for... uh.

R: For pawn shops getting a lot of gold.

J: Oh wait, I'm sorry, psychic Nikki even came up with another one that's even dumber than the gold rush in Hawaii. It's the first brain transplant will take place!

S: (laughs)! Brain transplant!


B: Oh my god.

E: Brain and brain, what is brain?

B: Come on, Spock won't be born for centuries.

E: Spock's brain.

R: Brain transplant...

J: I mean, really!

S: And anyway, it shouldn't be called a brain transplant, it should be called a body transplant.

R: A body transplant, yeah.

E: Well maybe some scientist took some ganglia out of a worm or something and put it in another worm. Maybe it did happen at some level.

S: No.

R: Yeah, that's what she meant.

J: You know, Evan I actually did think of that angle, like maybe some super-basic yeah, but like of course she's talking about humans, right? I mean come on she's not talking about a tape worm here.

R: Let's just give psychic Nikki the benefit of the doubt, that's what Evan's saying.

J: OK, Monty the psychic.

E: Monty.

J: Monty probably is a guy. Monty said a device to allow people to levitate will be built where you can walk on a platform and levitate.

R: That's kind of close, there was that crazy levitation thing that was made a few months ago. It wasn't, I don't think they got around to levitating a person on it but they could levitate objects in an impressive manner.

J: Yeah but this, not a platform like...

R: No but I'm going to give them a half a point.

J: I don't give them shit.

R: I'm just playing psychics' advocate here.

B: (chuckles)

J: Yeah, the U.S. military will sabotage President Obama's administration by leaking damaging information on him to the public.

R: That happened when we discovered that Barak Obama was teleported to Mars.

E: Yep.

S: Mmhmm.

R: (laughs)

E: Part of a CIA secret project.

E: Oh, and back.

J: There you go, and they were using a levitation platform when they did it.

R: Yeah.

E: maybe. That's a secret.

R: But that happened, you can google that.

J: So then, I remember Steve mentioning the psychic twins so I looked them up and I don't know, it was almost like I had an accident on my computer over here it was so insane what I found, so check this out. All right, so the psychic twins Terry and Linda Jamieson, and I watched an interview with them on the View that was recorded July 8th 2011 to huck their new psychic intelligence book, OK. Did you know that they claim they connect telepathically and they share a soul.

S: Mmhmm.

J: And that they were psychic in the womb.

S: Yup, there you go.

J: They call that twintuition.

R: Mmhmm.

J: They say that they have a bifurcated soul.

R: That makes sense.

J: Yup.

R: It just works.

J: And they say that they have clairvoyance, claircognisance, clairsentience and clairaudience.

E: Claire Danes.


J: Wow, that was good. So from their book, they claim that you may think that because we are identical twins and share the same DNA we're naturally more telepathic than most. And in fact we do have twin telepathic experiences on a daily basis. We don't need blackberries or iPhones to communicate with each other. We use twinberry mental telepathy.

R: Yeah I mean surely if they can communicate every day in the same manner that one would use a phone for, that's something that is quite easily testable.

S: Mmhmm.

J: So a few more interesting facts about the twins is that they claim that they worked for the Pentagon for project foresight. They claim to have predicted all of the attacks since their supposed initial predictions of 9-11 back in early 1999 while they were on Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM Premier Radio. They said that they never use their powers for personal gain because, why? Any guesses?

R: Because that would corrupt it?

E: Bad karma?

J: Right, they'll lose their gift. So that's their excuse, and actually that's the best excuse I've ever heard. Is nope, we can't do it because the way that it works, we'll lose our gift.

R: But I think the JREF has heard that a lot and that's why they offer to donate the money to charity.

S: Yes.

R: Your hands will never be sullied by the filthy skeptical money.

J: So while watching the segment of the View, Whoopie totally buys their BS and was making ridiculous statements like twins can sense each other and know things like when one breaks a limb. Thank you Whoopie Goldberg, you're awesome. They go on to give the show a prediction for the fall of 2011, because keep in mind this was a recording that was earlier in the summer. A hurricane hits the East Coast.

S: Kinda happened, it turned into a tropical storm before it hit us.

J: Yeah but Steve, what a stretch, a hurricane hits the East Coast.

E: Yeah, right?

R: Mmhmm.

J: And then they go on to read Whoopie's past lives and they told her she was a nun.

S: No, that was the movie.


E: Yeah, that was the movie! Duh!

R: She was also a cop fighting crime with the dinosaur.

E: And a bartender on a space ship.


J: And then I collected a list of things that were not predicted at all.

S: Yes, that's always fun, do the flip side.

J: And OK, so let's see. Japan earthquake and tsunami and the associated nuclear crisis. Bin Laden's death. Tucson, Arizona shooting rampage. The death of Amy Winehouse, Occupy Wall Street, Kim Jong Il's death... he was very ill. Pen State abuse scandal, that was a good one. Steve Jobs' death, that's another huge one. None of these were predicted.

S: Mmhmm. That about covers it. Do you guys remember your own predictions that you made at the beginning of 2011?

E: One prediction only, which was very plausible, I thought at least at the time. In that, the United States Government, the Obama Administration would have a change of heart and decide to continue the Space Shuttle program through the end of the year.

R: Ouch.

S: Wah wah waaah.

E: Well, you know there was a little glimmer of hope though, in which they well, when one of the last shuttle launches got delayed, I'm like all right, well that kind of helps push my prediction along a little bit. Maybe that's the nudge it needs, the stone that, you know at the top of the hill and it rolls and...

S: Yeah, the snow.

E: ...collects the snow on the way down and becomes a big snowball effect, but no.

S: I made three predictions. One prediction was an exoplanet roughly the size of earth with the possibility of water on the surface will be discovered.

E: Ding!

S: That's not true, but exoplanets roughly the size of Earth have been discovered, and an exoplanet with the possibility of liquid water on the surface have been discovered, but they're not the same planet. But we haven't found one planet with both of those things and the same time. So we got close, it was sort of really all around it, but I'm going to repeat that prediction for next year.

R: You're already one up on psychic Nikki.

E: I have four new predictions for this year.

S: I also predicted that the SETI institute has received the best candidate to date, one that will remain viable and will need to be examined with more sensitive equipment. That did not happen. And my celebrity death prediction was Luke Montaigne and he's still kicking.

E: As far as we know.

S: So I was one-half for three if you give me half a credit for the exoplanet one.

R: It's not bad it's better than Nikki.


B: I predicted that the world as we know will end.

S: (laughs)

B: And I have hear, Earth simulation so I think I got that right, I think it did end but we are in a simulation. We just don't know it.

S: It's indistinguishable from the real Earth. Yeah.

E: Or it's stopped and started again, yeah.

B: Close call with an asteroid that would have killed thousands if it had hit Earth. I don't know, we did have a close call although they happen fairly frequently.

E: A vague, I classify that with Hurricane on the East coast, it's that kind of prediction.

S: Yeah, earth quake...

B: So I'm going to take that regardless, I'll still take that as a hit.

E: Oh great, yeah.

B: And I've got here also, about 2011 being the year that astronomers announce the discovery of a whole bunch of Earth-sized exoplanets. And that kind-of happened too. So damn, I'm three for three, wow.

S: Good job.

R: Well done Bob, well done. OK, first up, celebrity death, which as you guys know is my speciality after I totally nailed it on Michael Jackson. I'm going to go with Michael Douglas this year. I don't know why, it just came to me in a dream.

E: He survived a big bout with cancer last year.

R: Uh yeah.

E: He was very sick.

R: And I think we should mention that we do the celebrity death thing and all of these psychic predictions to show how easy it can be to make predictions, to make a bunch of predictions and have one or two come true that you can then trump up.

S: Right.

R: So yeah, that's one, number two of three. Number two is that there will be an Arrested Development movie.

S: Arrested Development movie?

R: Very exciting, I saw it in my head, I saw it happening, it's going to happen. I'm pretty sure. And number three is that scientists will discover that chimpanzees do something that everyone only humans do.

S: (laughs)

B: (laughs)

R: Those are my predictions.

J: I have my predictions from last year. I said that, I predicted Nelson Mandela was going to die, and he did not. And I also predicted that there was going to be an amazingly vague cure, which that apparently did not take place either.

R: Oh, too bad.

J: But I do predict that both of those things will happen some day.

R: Some day.

E: Oh, some day.

J: OK, here are my predictions for 2012. I predict that none of our predictions that we say on this show this year will come true.

B: (laughs)

E: Oh I like that Jay, that's a good one.

R: Oh, ouch, ouch. Playing against the house.

E: Betting against, yeah.

R: That's not cool.

S: One prediction that I'm going to make for 2012 and that was that big foot will sweep into the White House.


J: Big foot!

S: And his running mate will be a grey alien.

R: Oooh. So Nessie gets left out in the cold, huh?

S: Yeah, Nessie doesn't make it past the primaries.


E: Steve but I believe, I'm right with you with that, Steve.

R: But you think a lizard is already in the White House.

S: (laughs) Right.

R: That's the difference.

E: Yeah, it's an alien lizard.

J: So Obama is a black lizard in the white house?

E: A blizzard.

R: Yeah, he's a blizzard.


J: He's a blizzard?


J: I want a quickie with Bob!

R: Oh my god.

S: All right, all right, let's give Jay his quickie. Bob, do it.

R: But can I just say, you wouldn't say a white lizard, lizards aren't black or white, they're green, Jay.

E: It's called a wizard!


R: A wizard or a blizzard, OK.


J: A wizard of a blizzard.

E: You want a blizzard or the wizard?

J: What's up about wizard?

R: A wizard would make it all so like a racist white lizard.

E: Oh.

Quickie with Bob

Lost World discovered around Antarctic vents.


S: Bob, the quickie has been called for.

B: Thank you Jay, I'll be gentle and quick.

R: (laughs)

B: Wait, that didn't come out right?

E: That's what you said, yeah.

B: The Science Daily that came out today had an article, the title was Lost World Discovered Around Antarctic Vents. This was really cool. The sea floor near Antarctica was recently found to be teeming with whole communities of new species. They found things like sea stars, barnacles, sea anemones and yeti crab, also known as the big foot crab (I jest). My favourite find though was an octopus but unfortunately the best that they can say about it is that it's probably new to science, but they're not quite sure yet, so I hope it is brand new. Now these creatures live deep in the ocean near hydrothermal vents and essentially hot water and chemicals into the water which can be near 382 degrees Celsius at times, wow that is incredibly hot.

E: That's hot.

B: So as you might expect, they do not rely on photosynthesis in any way since light doesn't reach them at all, I also suppose that the corpses of dead fish and small organisms don't rain down on them in any significant numbers because if they did eat them then they would indirectly be photosynthetic based creatures. So they're therefore chemosynthetic creatures, relying on the chemicals around them, probably mostly produced by the vents, to nourish themselves. And I just thought that was a really cool article that people would be interested in. Go to sciencedaily.com and I'm sure many other science news outlets if you want more details.

S: Thanks, Bob.

R: Good job, Bob.

E: Wow!

B: Thank you.

R: That was good but we need to have a buzzer to cut Bob of in a minute.

B: (laughs)

R: Like the one in my bedroom.

Psychic Predictions 2011 (continued)


S: All right, well let's wrap up the predictions segment as well. We will post the rest of our predictions for 2012 on the Rogues Gallery blog. So take a look for them there. That will also serve to document the predictions so that we can check how we did at the end of the year.

Hacker Satellite System

(21:40) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16367042

S: Jay, you are going to talk about a satellite system that hackers are planning to put into orbit.

J: Imagine if hackers were resourceful enough to put their own communication satellite into space as part of a ground stations and low orbit satellite network. That's what is, that's like the plan that's being discussed and was recently talked about at the KS communication congress in Berlin. On 12/27 of 2011, so a couple of weeks ago at this conference they were talking about this interesting idea. The idea is to create a network where people can communicate unregulated and unrestricted by the government, which of course if you're paying attention you'd know that the increasing threat of internet censorship, efforts like SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act which was introduced in October 2011, things like that have inspired and motivated the people behind the project. Real quick, SOPA is basically a pending bill that's going to be passed, and proposes that sites who infringe on copyrights can be taken offline. Which would give the government an amazing amount of power to just knock websites off the internet which I personally amazingly disagree with. I think that would be a horrible mistake and could have massively negative consequences online and apparently I'm not the only one that thinks this way because a lot of hackers are actually getting together and starting to talk about the idea of creating their own network, their own communication network that falls out of bounds of government. So the idea, and the project that they came up with is called hacker space global grid, because it would require a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites. The project is being described as like a global grass-roots space program partly because they want to create a new network for people to communicate, which like I said would require satellites, it would require a lot of ground base stations and everything and obviously the technology, it wouldn't be as robust as things we have today but it would be a way to communicate unrestricted by the government. They also have plans that are lofty, which some of the ideas I heard that they come up with, wanting to put a man on the moon, and send people into outer space and things like that, but I think the initial idea here is just to create this network that can be uncensored. And I think it's a really interesting idea, I would love to see them get some traction just at the very least to see what the government would do about it to see if there was any big negative reaction, would people take it as a threat, like what would be the government of the global government's reaction to such a thing? But I'm not too sure that this thing is that possible from a financial standpoint. What do you think Bob?

B: Yeah, I mean that's my knee-jerk reaction is that it's just so prohibitively expensive to actually get anything into space. One way that they're actually been able to do that though is to actually piggy-back these small devices onto other rockets that were going up and launching conventional satellites and I think some astronauts in the space station, I think they were Russian astronauts who were actually able to, I think they actually went out and launched a couple of things from the space station. So if they have, I mean if you could do that, that's great. But of course, that's extremely limiting as well. Because you're not, low earth orbit, by definition, it's not geosynchronous. You're not going to have a satellite that appears to be overhead 24/7, it's going to be orbiting every 90 minutes. So, sure you could have some satellites doing that, but you're not going to have created, you're not going to create a network, an internet that you can use like the conventional internet, I mean you'll be able to send data in bursts because that satellite is going to be out of view very quickly so from that point of view it would be very difficult to actually replace the internet. Now I found a really interesting quote from professor Alan Woodward from the computing department of the University of Surrey, he said that "That's not to say they can't be used for communications but obviously only for the relatively brief periods... It's difficult to see how such satellites could be used as a viable communications grid other than in bursts, even if there were a significant number in your constellation." So it would be difficult, now of course this technology is changing very quickly and improving very fast. I think eventually we'll reach a time where people that are relatively unsophisticated and not with a lot of money will be able launch satellites like that, although the regulations I think would be pretty incredible.

S: Yeah, I like this idea, again we use the term hackers but it kind of can have a negative connotation if you're not familiar with it, but it really is just people who are interested in free communication and open-sourcing computer software and also in security and they're often so-called like white hackers that are actually involved in helping companies protect their computers and their infrastructure and these hackers are mainly interested in not allowing the government to censor or restrict or limit internet communication and that is definitely a goal that I completely agree with, I think it would, the internet has been such a boon to human communication and to the flow of data, it would be a shame if any government decided to interfere with that in my opinion.

Testing Violins

(27:11) http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/testing-violins/

S: Another interesting news item this past week, a study was published looking at expert violinists, this is like violin players who were professionals and very good at their craft who in fact owned, may of them, extremely expensive violins, some of them Stradivarius, like the most famous maker of violins and also Guarneri which is perhaps the second-most prestigious or famous historical Italian violin. And also some modern violins, although like high-end thirty thousand dollar violins. And they did an interesting study, they had these violinists play these violins blindfolded and then decide, try to decide which one did they like the best, and which violin did they think was the Stradivarius and how do you think they did?

E: Chance.

R: I think they failed just like in every other study that attempts to quality from a blinded group of people.

B: I'm going to say that, I think that they were fairly accurate.

S: Uh, good thing this isn't the science or fiction Bob, because they failed. This was with 17 professional violinists.

B: I knew it.

E: (laughs)

S: They played blindfolded two Stradivarius, one Guarneri and three modern violins. They were literally blinded, meaning they were blindfolded, and they could not tell the difference. Three were able to correctly state which one was the Stradivarius, seven guessed incorrectly and seven said they couldn't tell.

E: Had they ever held these violins before? I was curious about this you know, maybe a professional player could feel a difference between the violins and therefore help their guess as opposed to just relying on sound.

S: Well each of them, the way I read the article was that they were their violins, at least some of them because there's not that many Stradivarius violins around, can we borrow your violin for a study and then they also became one of the violinists in the study. The deeper question here is people believe they can tell the difference between different violins, now of course these were all very high-quality violins, the modern violins were still 30,000 dollar violins, they weren't cheapo violins, I don't think anybody would say you can't tell the difference, or professional violinists couldn't tell the difference between a 300 dollar violin and a 30,000 violin. There is definite, real differences in material and quality of construction etc. that would make a huge difference. But the question is, is there a difference between a 30,000 dollar modern violin and a million-dollar Stradivarius. Was there some secret that, to the construction of violins, the materials used or whatever, that Stradivarius had or was it just, is there something to the fact that the violins have aged for so long. Does the wood become richer or something when it ages? But in fact, there may not be a difference. A well constructed modern violin may be just as good as a Stradivarius. So it makes you wonder about, as Rebecca said, whenever these kinds of studies are done, it always seems like blinded perception really is very, very poor and a lot of things that people believe to be true like telling very expensive wine from cheap wine or bottled water from tap water or, in this case, famous Stradivarius violins from modern equivalents, it turns out that you can't tell the difference when blinded, that the perceived difference is therefore, I mean you know, when not blinded you say yes, I hear a difference or I taste a difference or whatever and then when blinded you can't tell the difference then it was simply expectation and bias that was creating the perception in the first place.

R: There was also a really interesting study that goes along the same theme that came out of Princeton a couple of years ago wherein musicians auditioned for spots in the orchestras and the people doing the auditions, the people judging them were actually blinded, the musicians played behind a screen, and then they played in front of the judges, and they found that women tended to get hired at a much higher rate when the judges were blinded. The judges were just expecting the women to do worse than, according to the researchers, that sort of led them to actually hear them doing worse. So, yeah expectations can definitely influence the way that our senses, the way that we think that our senses are reacting.

E: The example that I had thought about was the monster audio cables tests. And, for those who have been following forums at the JREF for many years and so forth, you know there's been a lot of back and forth about these cables, these five thousand dollar audio cables.

R: Oh, monster cable, yeah.

E: Right, versus thirty dollar really just average cables. And you cannot, can't tell the difference when properly blinded. You cannot tell the difference between the two.

J: I think it's a little surprising though, that we're basically saying that the human ear can't hear subtleties in things like that, in this regard. And I'm a little surprised to hear that, I mean I can understand if you have a room filled with a hundred thousand dollar, incredibly awesome violins that there's probably not, the reason why they're thought to be so good is that they share a lot of qualities and there are details involved with that that probably make those instruments sound really good and there's maybe a lot of similarities in a lot of that stuff. I bet that they could tell the difference between a mediocre violin and a high-end violin.

S: Well again, remember that here we're talking about, we're comparing high end violins to other high end violins. It's not as if they couldn't hear the difference between a cheapo violin and a 30,000 dollar violin. That is not what this is showing. I did find another study that showed, this one was looking at wine tasting and they did a very interesting thing, they gave people wine to taste, blinded to what the wine actually was, and then, in one group they made some negative comments about the quality of the wine prior to them tasting it, in the second group, they made the same comments after they tasted it. So the question was, is the negative commentary biasing the reporting of what the wine taster taste, or was it biasing their experience of what they tasted, that's what they were trying to control for there. And it found that for those tasters who were exposed to the negative information prior to tasting, that they reported a much, a lower, poorer quality taste to the wine, and that those who were exposed after they tasted it, didn't, there was no effect from the negative commentary. So that suggests, again it's one study etc. but if it's true it suggests that the negative commentary was not just biasing the reporting about what they experienced, it was actually biasing their experience itself. It altered their experience. And this relates to a comment that you made on a previous episode Rebecca when this came up that while you can actually justify the price of more expensive wine because it makes people enjoy it more even though it's purely psychological, and that study actually supported that interpretation, that it affects the experience.

R: Yeah and I think that study was the same one, I might be wrong here but I'm pretty sure it's the same one where they found that taking white wine and colouring it red made people drinking it describe the wine using typically red terms.

S: Nope, that was a different study.

R: Things like berry-flavoured. Was it a different one? OK.

S: Yeah, that study actually was looking at something specific, and that was the association of what we see with the words that we use, that's really what they were studying there, so they were trying to control for the wine by using white wine so they said OK, well the tasters will not be describing what they're actually tasting because we're giving them white wine but they will use red words to describe the red wine even though it's just be dyed red. That's what they were demonstrating. So it still had the effect of showing how easily we can be fooled. Our perceptions can be fooled by what we think we're experiencing. And also it showed how we alter what we experience with one sense based upon what our other senses are experiencing. That our brain actually compares that, our brains will actually take into consideration what our other senses are experiencing and then adjust what one sense is experiencing to make it all make sense and fit together. I am drinking red wine therefore I am going to experience the flavour of red wine. And it actually alters what you taste, not just biasing your reporting.

R: Particularly with our language choices, I think a lot of people don't realise how much our, whatever language you speak, that can seriously affect the way you experience the world. If you, I mean the old incorrect standbys that the Inuit have a million words for snow, but it is true that different cultures, different languages use different words and that can seriously impact the way you experience things.

S: Absolutely, interesting study.

J: Actually, it's scary to think about how much our perception is untrustworthy.

S: Mmhmm. But it is, and then just like with, you pay more for wine, you have a better experience. Some people argue that holding a Stradivarius has an effect on a violinist and they may actually play better when they're playing a Stradivarius.

E: Like a placebo effect.

S: Yeah, there's like a placebo effect to it, and maybe there's something to be said for that in terms of you're squeezing a better performance out of a certain performer. I don't know if that's true, that's sort of a hand-waving explanation, but there are those who claim that.

Who's That Noisy?


S: Alright, Evan

E: Yup.

S: We need to do a Who's That Noisy...


Segment: Interview Interview with Martin Rundkvist Chairman Swedish Skeptics Society Author of Aardvarchaelogy blog http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/ Topic: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/electromagnetic-sensitivity-in-sweden/

Science or Fiction

Segment: Science or Fiction [ Click Here to Show the Answers ] Item #1 Study of butterfly mimics finds that Heliconius species are often tricked into mating with mimic species. http://www.jstor.org/pss/10.1086/663192 Item #2 A new thorough examination of poisonous frogs finds that their color accurately signals their poisonousness to birds. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/663197 Item #3 A scientist has described a case of a fish mimicking an octopus that in turn was mimicking another fish. http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-12-paradox-gift.html

Skeptical Quote

Segment: Skeptical Quote of the Week Skeptical Quote of the Week “Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.” David Suzuki

S: And until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

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