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

Segment: News Items Psychic Predictions 2011 How did the psychics do in their predictions for 2011? Hacker Satellite System Testing Violins Quickie with Bob Lost World discovered around Antarctic vents.

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.