SGU Episode 338

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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: 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: 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 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


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

Who's That Noisy?

Segment: Who's That Noisy Who's That Noisy Answer to last week: Neil Armstrong


Segment: Interview Interview with Martin Rundkvist Chairman Swedish Skeptics Society Author of Aardvarchaelogy blog Topic:

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. Item #2 A new thorough examination of poisonous frogs finds that their color accurately signals their poisonousness to birds. Item #3 A scientist has described a case of a fish mimicking an octopus that in turn was mimicking another fish.

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.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at You can also check out our other podcast the SGU 5x5 as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. 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 leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune or your portal of choice.