SGU Episode 415

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SGU Episode 415
29th Jun 2013
Biosphere 2.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 414                      SGU 416

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth.

Robert Royar

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality. Hello and welcome to The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is June 29th 2013 and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Rebecca Watson

R: Hello everyone

S: Jay Novella

J: Hey guys

S: and Evan Bernstein

E: Good evening everyone

R: Where the hell is Bob?

S: Bob, once again, is too busy to join us. Bob has a major thing happening at work

E: uh huh

S: that does keep him away.

This Day in Skepticism (0:35)[edit]

June 29: Happy birthday to Dr. Roy Wolford, calorie restriction pioneer and Biosphere 2 inhabitant R: Hey, happy birthday to Roy Wolford, Dr. Wolford.

E: Awesome! Is he a listener?

R: Well, uh no, he died in 2004. He was born June, 29 1924 and Dr. Roy Wolford is probably best known for being one of the inhabitants of Biosphere 2.

E: I love that movie

R: He was also though a pioneer of calory restriction as used for longevity. He wrote a book about living to 120. It was not, uh...

E: A life of perpetual hunger, that's what the title of the book was called.

J: Imagine what Perry would have said about that.

R: I think Perry would have said that he would gladly die at 20 than live on a restricted calorie diet.

J: Choking on a hamburger right?

R: Right

E: hahaha

R: Yeah, uh, Wolford lived on something like 1600 calories a day

E: Alright

S: It's not that bad.

R: Which is realy not that bad

J: That's not bad

R: That's slightly more than what I take in when I'm trying to cut back on my fats.

S: That's a weight loss diet, 1600 calories a day is a pretty reasonable weight loss plan

R: He died at the age of 79 uh, from comoplications from ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease.

E: That's not, that's got nothing to do with his lifestyle

R: It's not, yeah it's not a fair, it's not really a fair judgement wether or not his calorie restriction were the... Although he claimed at the end of his life his calorie restriction helped extend his life further by a couple of years after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's.

J: Unprovable

R: Yeah

E: That's a nice antecdote.

S: Honestly, ya know, again this is all antecdotal I have no idea about the individual case but, that's unlikely to be true.

R: Yeah

S: Calorie restriction actually hastens death in ALS. It often, the ability to get enough calories in and keep your calories up is a huge pragnostic factor in ALS. So if anything, ya know, ya can't, it's very hard to argue that calorie restriction prolonged his life once he developed ALS.

R. But yeah, he also thought that his ALS was possibly caused by his time in the Biosphere due to lack of oxygen and increased nitrous oxide. Exactly what causes ALS is not entirely settled and so he suspected that that might have had something to do with it.

S: That's wild speculation.

E: Nitrous Oxides builds up in these Biodomes? I didn't know that.

J: Well they were having trouble in there right?

R: They had a lot of trouble. Although, they did stay in there for two years. But, one of the problems they had was a severe lack of food and so it was helpful that their resident doctor happened to be this guy who believed in calorie restriction. So he convinced them all to go on this diet. Ya know, to join him in his diet.

S: Yeah since we have no food anyway.

R: Right. And so they did, but even so at some point many months in they finally broke down and opened up a container of food that was grown outside of the Biosphere in order to supplement their diets.

J: That would have made an awesome YouTube video

E: Watching the moment of breaking that chest open

S: So they just didn't...Did something go wrong with their food production or they didn't plan properly?

J: If you couldn't grow enough food in the Biodome, and ya know, it was never done before. They didn't have the data going in to it, it was all just engineered and it failed. Biodome experiments didn't last as long as they hoped

S: It wasn't self sustaining.

J: No

R: Yeah by all their models I guess it seemed like it could be done but one thing after another went wrong.

S: Now imagined if that happened on Mars.

R: Well that's why they do this stuff. Although I'm sad that they're not, they haven't continued trying that sort of thing. I would love to see that project continue.

S: Yeah

R: I don't know the details of why nobody has tried Biosphere 3

J: Ya know what I noticed?

E: Pauly Shore

J: I noticed, looking at pictures of Biodome, first its interesting if you look at it today, a weed infested back yard. I also noticed it looks a lot like Logan's Run, that's 1970s movie of the people that get put into a Biodome like thing because that was like a last ditch effort to sav humanity and people were in there so long that they forgot what happened. That was Biodome man. Ya ever see, like it looks like it.

S: Well, it was a lot bigger

R: There was apparently a Biosphere 3, maybe still is in Syberia and there's a Biosphere J in Japan. But one other thing, despite the potential pseudoscience with origins of disease and wether or not calorie restriction can actually work in humans to extend life, Walford seemed like a really awesome guy. At one point he would like take off for a time as part of his studies and measure the rectal temperatures of holy men in India.

E: uh huh

R: He traveresed the African continent on foot, according to his obituary in the New York Times. So he specifically wanted to go out and just have adventures. He said, " If you spend all your time in the laboratories, as most scientists do, you might spend 35 years in the lab and be very successful and win a Nobel Prize. But those 35 years will be just a blur. So I find it useful to punctuate time with dangerous and eccentric activities." He once broke his leg on a motorcycle.

E: That qualifies as dangerous. R: Yeah he just seems like he was a fun guy.

News Items[edit]

Podcasting Patent (06:42)[edit]

S: Alright well Jay, tell us why we're gonna be shut down. We can't do podcasting anymore.

R: Nooooo

E: We're done? This is it?

J: I'm not convinced that we're gonna get shut down as a podcast, but this story has to do with patent trolling. Patent trolling is the business du jour. And if you haven't heard about it, those of you who haven't, it's a pretty simple and amazingly lucrative idea. Here's how it works: Patent trolls, also known as non-practicing entities, or NPEs, are typically companies that buy defunct businesses or ya know any kind of organization or even individual patents. And they buy these companies for their patents specifically, and then they used those acquired patents to sue other companies for patent infringement. It's pretty basic and it goes a long way and they've made a ton of money. These organizations make all or most of their income through the lawsuits. Most of them, like I said, they don't have anything else going on. They become a patent troll and they don't actually have a product or sell anything or do any other type of commerce. It's not 100% fast and true but a large majority of them are just companies that revolve around these lawsuits. And this scam, or whatever you wanna call it, has worked on some of the worlds' most biggest and lucrative companies. The US patent office is widely known to issue patents for ideas that are already in use and common place. And these are ideas like, say online shopping or shopping cart system or a file sharing system or an in app purchase, as an example. And many of these lawsuits are about things that should never have been patented in the first place. Like I think that a shopping cart system should have never been patented. You really can't say, hey you owe me money because you're using this workflow process to sell products online to online customers; to me that's insane. In 2011, patent trolls cost the United States, or companies inside the Unites States, a total of twenty-nine billion dollars; and, they have increased their activity 400% since 2005. And they are 62% of all patent lawsuits in the United States. It's a phenomenal portion of patent lawsuits and they're really growing leaps and bounds year for year. I guess, instead of these companies finding new uses for their patents and expanding on the technology they already own, they're focusing on these lawsuits. You know these companies are, in my opinion, they're pretty transparent because they use similar procedures to get to the point where they can start hitting up the big companies and one of the things that they do is that they'll find a week company or a financially poor company, with no regard of winning anything other than just the lawsuit from this company to set a legal precedent. And then they take that legal precedent, and they take it to a bigger company, and they'll tell the next court, "Hey, we already won a lawsuit about this." And now ya know instead of them ya know just trying to win a lawsuit and maybe stopping that company, they're gonna ask for fifty million dollars. And they guise it as a licensing fee. Oh we're just sueing for licensing fees here. We want them to pay us for the use of the patent, and we want them to go back to this year, or whatever, and now and we're not gonna sue them in the future because they're actually going to be paying us for this licensing fee. Companies like Rackspace, Microsoft and Ebay, just to name a few, are starting to turn and face these patent trolls and go for it. Really really get down and dirty in court, and let the years go by and spend the millions and millions of dollars to fight them. But they're putting they're um they're putting a flag in the ground and saying, "No, we're not going to pay any of these blackmail fees. We're actually gonna fight you and try to get you to go out of business." Very recently, June 4th of 2013, the White House enacted five executive actions and seven legislative recommendations to restrict the activities of patent trolls. And this is a huge step forward in helping companies protect themselves and make it much much more difficult for patent trolls to actually win against US based companies. A patent troll named Prsonal Audio LLC has sued three podcasters and sent demand letters to a number of others. Now this is the case that Steve was talking about. Recently this company filed suit against CBS and NBC, and has also sent additional demand letters to small podcasting operations. So an organization called EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation, is fighting against Personal Audio LLC, which is the company that's sueing these podcasters. And what EFF is trying to do is help to save podcasting. Now the first thing that they did was they asked for donations so they can raise the thirty thousand dollars to begin the lawsuit process. And what they're trying to do, is they're trying to prove that the patent that Personal Audio LLC owns is actually not a legitimate patent at all. And what the, the reason that they're trying to do this is it's the quickest and most direct route to stop the lawsuit. And they way that they're doing it is that they're asking for people to help them find proof that the idea of podcasting, either in part or similar ideas or even the entire idea, if it was ever stated, written down or communicated online. Any way that they can prove before October 2nd of 1996, then they can take that proof to the patent office, go to court and say, "Look it, ya know this idea predates their patent. It was ya know on a public forum and this whole thing is illegitimate." The worst case scenario here is if this company gets a foothold and starts sueing the bigger organizations, ya know some of these organizations that can afford will probably pay; but I'd imagine some of them won't because as most people know podcasting is not really a lucrative venture. For those people that are running a lucrative podcasting venture, like Adam Corrola as an example, he's one of the people being, his company is being sued. Ya know Adam Corrola does a pretty damn good job on his podcast

E: Yeah

J: He's making some decent money over there, I mean this could put him right off the air. Of course, being a podcaster and being just a huge fan of the podcasting world, I stand very firmly against what this company is trying to do. Now, I did read some things that troubled me. That made me think that there might be some legitimacy to this lawsuit because it is possible that the person, the engineer the software engineer, is claiming that he did make these engines and that he does deserve some compensation.

S: So what though? What did he invent? RSS, ya know the really simple syndication, they didn't do that, that's open source. What, MP3 files?

J: No, I I I'm not 100% sure, Steve. I tried to find it, I was all over the web searching for facts and I think it's vague and it's deliberately vague. I think it boils down to the idea that you're distributing serialized episodes of something over the web. That's what I read. That's it. I didn't get to more detail than that.

E: So he's um

S: Yeah, that's still simply b.s.

E: patenting the concept, right? Just the concept of podcasts.

J: Yeah. But let me let me give you a

E: Sounds Week

J: It does sound weak. And let me give you an example of something that I saw on Shark Tank as an example. I really like that show for a lot of reasons, it is entertaining. There is a pretty good amount of stuff to learn if you want to watch it and one of the sharks on the show, it... Real quick, what the show is people come in and pitch their business to rich people, business men and women, and they uh they're asking for money like they wanna they want to be funded. So uh Mark Cuban, who is my favorite person on the show is really, first off we've mentioned him on The Skeptics' Guide before, he's he's the only person I think is really a critical thinker on the show. And he he's fought against pseudoscience when it comes on that show. But one guy came on with a, it was like a vest, and he had a patent where if you had like your iPhone in an internal pocket it runs a wire up to like your neck and you have your ear buds there. And the guy patented basically running a wire through clothing; and Mark Cuban went ape shit on him. Just saying this is b.s. Like, you know it's guys like you that are you know destroying innovation and and growth and and you know companies developing new technologies because ya know you're holding this ridiculous patent. It stops other people from using a similar technology. You can't patent a wire going through clothing. It's absurd. And I think when I watched it, at first I didn't understand why he was getting so upset. I did get his idea, but I didn't understand everything that we just discussed. I have learned a lot since I watched that episode; and now I fully understand it. I completely agree with Mark Cuban. This is the type of thing that squelches innovation, puts companies out of business and ya know all that money is just being syphoned out of these companies that are developing technology. These patent trolling companies are not technology developers. All they're doing is, they're in the business just to make money, that's it. They don't. There's no good side to it. Somebody is just getting rich.

S: They're like just, they're parasites.

J: So if you if you are interested ya know take a look online. Uh look up the company, the name of that company again is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They're fighting a lot of other technology and digital based threats to the future of our technology. And I do believe in what they're trying to do and if you're interested, take a look and maybe even make a donation.

S: Obviously, patents are important. People need to be able to protect their intellectual property and benefit from their innovation. But yeah, but patenting like a really basic idea is is counterproductive, it's absurd. The kind of idea that like anybody can come up with "I'm the first person to submit a patent for it". In fact, you can patent ideas that can't even be implemented yet. In other words, if you see a technology coming on the horizon, you can patent a use of that not yet existing technology. And then when the technology does come online, you can then start sueing anybody that tries to use it in the way that you patented. And all you're doing is patenting an idea, a basic obvious idea. It just becomes a race to see who can patent it first. It is totally broken. That kind of system is completely counterproductive.

J: Yeah, it's, well the government is taking steps to heat and it's moving forward. There doesn't seem to be that much holding these decisions that they're making so. I think things are moving in the right direction.

S: Hopefully

Class System in Mice (17:21)[edit]

17:21 S: Alright well, Rebecca tell us about how mice have their own class system.

R: I will. Uh, yeah, there's a really fun experiment that's been happening on mice; looking at their social strati. And what's interesting isn't the fact that mice set up class systems and different social statuses; but the way in which scientists are starting to study them, and study their social behavior... It's not studying the way animals are interacting with each other isn't necessarily as easy as studying, let's say studying what a particular drug is doing to a particular mouse system, uh it's much more complex. You've got mice interacting with each other, displaying different behaviors doing different things that you have to constantly watch and log in, you know, an objective a way as possible. This study, by Dr. Tali Kimchi, which I did not know was a last name, but I really like it, Kimchi

J: Kimchi

E: Kimchi

R: Yeah Kimchi is a delicious condiment uh, and also a last name. So Dr. Kimchi at the Wiseman's Institute's Neural Biology department is studying mice and their social interactions using a big brother house. So if you recall the tv show, which hasn't been around in the US for quite a long time. Big Brother is a show where they have cameras that are constantly watching the residences of the house. And the residents aren't allowed to leave the house, and the cameras are watching 24 hours. And in the UK, they were broadcast 24 hours in the most boring feed you can possibly imagine. Same sort of deal here, only slightly more complex, uh because the human big brother inhabitants were not microchipped. In this case, yes, the mice had microchips implanted in them.


R: RFIDs, yes. Yeah, exactly. The same sort of microchip you put in cats and dogs to keep track of them if they run away.

E: and credit cards.

R: yeah credit cards or tube cards, things like that. So in this case uh the microchips were used to track the mice movements. Mice?

S: Meece

E: Meeces. Meeces to pieces

R: Ok. To track the meeces movements. And they go around their little house so their ccd cameras all over this relatively large house, for a bunch of mice, I think. And a computer examining what those behaviors are.And it was extraordinarily effective at parcing the different movements, at figuring out what the mice were doing, when they were doing it how they were interacting. To the point where uh they could predict with over 90 percent accuracy who the mice were going to be mating with. For instance... uh and they were also able to differentiate between the different genetic strains of the mice, so different strains uh showed different behaviors that they were able to see in the computer analysis. So it was an interesting way of collecting a vast amount of information and parcing it in a way that could have important uses in the future when figuring out uh behavviors. Some of the other things they figured out, they found that within 24 hours uh one group of normal strain mice had already established a leader and like a caste system. So it took about 24 hours for them to figure that out. Uh they also did an experiment where they put, they filled the house with another strain that they labeled as autistic. These mice exhibited very little social engagement. And what they found with the autistic mice, is that

E: they were fascinated

R: Yeah, right. Uh what they found with the autistic mice was that no leader emerged at all, uh no social strati happened. Except like occasionally it would appear that a leader would emerge and then they would promptly be dethroned. So social mice like immediately organized themselves into like a caste system. While autistic mice did not. Part of the, the intersting thing about this system that they've developed of analyzing behavior, can in the future be used for things like identifying the different aspects of disorders like autism or schizophrenia.

S: Yeah, it sounds like a really great research paradigm.

R: Yeah, exactly. It's fun, you can go online and see uh, I'm sure if you google Dr. Kimshee you can find a video of the mice running around in their little house. And it's kind of cool, they're all color coded uh when you watch the videos and you can follow them around as they do different things. It made me want to get my own mouse set-up.

S: They should make it into a reality tv show.

E: They should.

R: People would watch it. I bet within like two weeks, whichever mouse established itself as king would be on the front page of Us magazine.

Anti-GMO Pseudoscience (22:50)[edit]

S: Alright, well let's move on. There's a study making the rounds. Another one of those studies reporting to show severe negative outcomes from uh feeding animals GM food, or genetically modified food. Uh so from the abstract of this study, let me read to you a part of the abstract and you can uh tell me what you think about it: Feed intake weight gain mortality and blood biochemistry were measured; organ weights and pathology were determined postmortem. There were no differences pigs fed the GM and non GM diets for feed intake, weight gain, mortality and routine blood biochemistry measurements. The GM diet was associated with gastric and uterine differences in pigs. GM fed pigs had uteri that were 25% heavier than non GM fed pigs. And GM fed pigs had a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation. With a rate of 32% of GM fed pigs compared to 12% of non GM fed pigs with a P value of .004. This severe stomach inflammation was worse in GM fed males compared to non GM fed males by a factor of 4. And the GM fed females compared to non GM fed females by a factor of 2.2. So that sounds like pretty impressive.

E: Bad news

S: Pretty impressive outcome, but does anything jump out at you guys that there might be some problems with this study?

R: Nope, seems legit.

E: Everything's great.

S: This is like our lessons on how to evaluate studies right? One thing you have to always ask is whenever they're comparing two different groups, is how many comparisons do they actually look at? Because if you look at enough different comparisons, then you can cherry pick, by random chance you know there's gonna be some correlation somewhere. And if you're cherry picking that out of many comparisons, that's one of the...Remember the researcher degrees of freedom? You know, researchers can manufacture positive results by manipulating the data. And one way of doing that, even if they're doing it honestly or inadvertantly, one way to do that is to make multiple comparisons. Now there's a statistical fix that you're supposed to do for each additional comparison that you do or you make. You have to adjust the statistics to see if it's truly statistically significant. So for example, if you set the P value at .05, then roughly speaking that means that one in twenty comparisons are going to be statistically significant and by chance alone. If you make twenty comparisons and one is .05, that's probably just random chance. But even if you just look at that one thing, if that were the only comparison you made, then the P value of .05 would be meaningful. So they tell you right here in the abstract that feed intake, weight gain or mortality, a whole panel of blood biochemistry were measured. Organ weight, apparently all the organs were weighed and pathologically examined; and now they're just telling us about the stomachs and the uterus. So, that's what we call a fishing expedition, right? David Gorski wrote about this on science-based medicine, so if you want you can... He goes into it in great detail. And I think he absolutely correctly characterizes this as a fishing expedition. You go looking for a whole bunch of things, you're gonna find correlations by random chance alone, right? Astrologers are famous for this. This is astrology with pigs and GM corn. But it's actually even far worse than what you might um, than what you might... Even from the abstract you can say this is B.S. They went fishing and they came up with these two randoms. Why would GM corn cause severe stomach inflammation? But it's actually much worse than that. Because what they did was, this is a good way to increase your probability of generating false positive results. They took inflammation of the stomach, and they broke it down into different, somewhat arbitrary categories. No inflammation, mild, moderate, severe, erosions pinput ulcers, frank ulcers and bleeding ulcers. Out of all of those categories, only severe inflammation was worse in the GM fed versus the regular pigs.

E: Ohh... That's not what they said in the abstract

S: You wouldn't know that from just reading the abstract. All they say is severe inflammation was worse in the pigs fed the GM feed. Yeah but, not all the other kinds of inflammation. And, in fact, if you look at all inflammation, regardless of how severe it is, there was a slight decrease in the GM fed group compared to the non GM fed group.

E: Wow

S: It was just if you cherry pick out the one category in the middle, there wasn't even a dose response curve. That's another question you ask yourself. How many comparisons are being made, is there a dose response to any effect that they're claiming exists? You also of course have to ask is it plausible, but we could put that aside. So this data... So this is an exercise in cherry picking data. They cherry picked the severe inflammation out of this arbitrary categorization of different levels of inflammation. Over all inflammation... ya know this is just a random scatter of data, this is random noise. But actually, the thing that they're claiming, it increases the risk of sever stomach inflammation, overall inflammation was actually decreased in that group. Contradicting what they're pointing out. So this is complete B.S., this is just utter B. S. And this is coming from researchers, Judy Carman for example, who have a history of doing anti GM research.

E: mmmhmmm

S: just seems to be someone with an agenda, basically.

E: Yeah, how does she account for her personal biases.

S: So yeah, there's a bias, misdirection, crappy data ya know just horrific methodology.Also, David pointed out that, which is a very legitimate point, you always wanna know also in studies was anything unusual happening? When you're studying a disease, did the disease behaved like it always does. When you're studying animals, were they animals otherwise normal and healthy other than the thing that you were manipulating. These pigs, did overall, did pretty poorly. They had a very high rate of infection and complications. It's almost as if they weren't well cared for. So that's like an outlyer and really calls into question just what was happening in this study. The final analysis, again you want to avoid nitpicking little details of a study and then claiming that the results are invalid; you have to put it into context. But these are fatal flaws that we're talking about. And taken together, they make the results of this study worthless and uninterpretable. But yet, this is being spread around the internet as a stunning ya know study showing that GM corn and GM feed causes this horrible stomach inflammation in pigs. As if there's something dangerous ya know about this particular type of GM feed. And it's all based upon the naturalistic phallacy. It's all just genetic modification ain't natural. It's really just nonsense.

J: Are people eating the same exact food as they feed the pigs.

S: Well this is , animal feed. So no. They're trying to make genetically modified food seem scary.

J: Yeah.

S: It's just fearmongering, at the end of the day, is what it is.

J: Now, are they gonna do a follow up, Steve? Because typically, when a study like this happens, some other group will do another one similar or exactly like they did just to see if their results match.

S: Yeah, I'd like to see this replicated. You know, I strongly predict this is not the kind of study that's gonna replicate. And replication, of course is in the final analysis, that's how you tell. When you do this kind of multiple analysis where you're just looking at... you're just throwing a whole bunch of crap up against the wall and seeing what sticks, that study is never conclusive. That is always an exploratory study. Then you say, okay, we have this correlation and we looked at twenty, thirty fourty comparisons. We found this correlation. Then you get a fresh set of data, you replicate the study and see if that correlation holds up. If it was all random statistical noise, it will go away. And you'll probably see some other random association. But if it's a real effect, it should replicate. And that's how you know. So this is an exploratory study at best, because of all the multiple comparisons. It's not the kind of thing that should be reported in the press as fear mongering about GM foods. The kind that, at best, inspire a folllow up study. Let me give you an analogy to help put this into perspective: Prayer, intercessory prayer research, you guys familiar with research? Where the number of studies that were done looking at people who were sick and they were getting prayed for by a third party, intercessory prayer and they often didn't even know that they were being prayed for. They knew that they were in the study, but they didn't know if they were in the prayed for group or the not prayed for group. Tons of problems with this research, but the bottom line is, that they did multiple comparisons. For example, they looked at patients in the cardiac ICU and they followed a number of complications, number of days in the ICU, number of days in the hospital, survival... They looked at multiple multiple different end points. And then in one study, again there weren't differences across the board. There was like this one outcome was a little bit better in the prayer group. Then they replicated the study, and a different outcome was a little bit better, but not overall. Like overall it's random noise. But again the same outcome wasn't better, it's like a different outcome every time. That's, that's not a replication, that's a failure to replicate. That is consistent with random noise, which is of course what you would expect when you're hypothesis is magic makes people better, ya know.

E: Hahaha that's true

S: This is when you're considering the multiple comparisons that are being disclosed in the study. You may not be aware that they may have made, the researchers may have made multiple comparisons and only published the ones that were positive, or just a small subset. So they might have done all kinds of comparisons bu that doesn't work that doesn't... just discarded it and never reported it. Which is why why you know no single study is ever that believable, especially if it's like one research group. Uh, or, still one off study. It's hard... We get confronted with this all the time. Oh here's a study on ESP, why don't you guys believe this? Cuz it's one study. Because you have no idea what these researchers really did behind the scenes.

R: It would be great if grade school science tearchers would, during a science fair, point out to their students that all of the things the students did to make their science fair project look better and get an A. It's exactly what scienctists still do once they're actual working scientists and, hey that's wrong. Make sure that you don't actually do that

J: Like fudge the numbers?

R: Yeah, like I did that when I was doing science fair projects I would have outlyers and be like, "Oh that one just didn't count like if I just this then I get, I got like a nice clean line here and uh I get an A. Because it looks like I knew my stuff. Yeah So

S: You're absolutely right. Teachers should emphasize that its the messiness that they wanna see.

R: Yes

S: If they get something that looks too clean, that should count down your grade should go down, not up. Yeah my daughter recently, my older daughter recently like last year had a science fair. And I made sure that there were no shenanigans with her data. But going, walking through the posters of all the other students studies ya know there were a lot of them. Of course ya know we were uber skeptic evaluating a twelve year old science fair project.

J: Could you imagine? Steve walking around like checking out all these like hey kid, you're all wrong over here.

S: I just did it, it was a good teaching opportunity for my daughter. I didn't like criticize the students and make them cry.

J: Sure you didn't

S: It was like to Julia, it was a good lesson. Hey let's look at this study. What do you think about this? What were the methods and what are they doing wrong here? Like are they not using control groups and not carefully defining terms. I mean every error that was possible to make was made. But it is, it was a good and awesome learning opportunity. To ruthlessly pick through those, you can do it in a constructive nurturing way. But that would be a great learning opportunity to show how hard it is to do good science. All the ways in which, even a simple science project can go awry.

R: And on that note, I just wanted to mention that, I think I might have mentioned this before, but you can, if you're interested you can volunteer to be a judge at the local science fair. They'll probably be happy to have you. I did it a couple of years ago at a local high school and I really enjoyed it. Just talking to the kids and finding out what they were interested in, it was pretty cool.

S: Awesome

E: That is cool. Very cool

Skunk Ape (36:31)[edit]

S: Alright, well Evan, you're gonna finish up the news segment of our show with a the latest stunning evidence of the Florida Skunk Ape.

J: Skunk Ape?

E: The Skunk Ape, of course. In Sarasota County Florida, a man claims he has spotted Florida's elusive Skunk Ape.

S: Very elusive

E: the headlines read from CBS Miami. Alright, so what is a Skunk Ape? Well who better to ask than the folks at Yes, there is such a website.

S: Anybody?

E: They claim, it's what Floridians call their big foot, as best known as sasquatch in most other places in North America, oh yeah. Evidence supporting the existence of the creature has been gathered over the years, and consists of hundreds of documented sitings, a few pictures, several foot casts and a few hair samples. Mmhmm. So they have actual evidence, apparently. It gets its name from the very fact that it lives in Florida it in itself emits an awful stench. Now that's their writing, I didn't write that, that's from their website. Lives in the state of Florida and emits an awful stench. People who've had the pleasure to experience the smell, it's described as that of an elephant's cage or a trash dump. And one person even said it was like the scent of a skunk that did battle with a dumpster.

J: *laughs*

E: I went to the gallery on that website to have a look at the photos and stuff and it said, "your search yielded no results." So much for that. But, forget that for now because we have new video evidence. This is smoking gun evidence, smoking gun so hot it must be shot evidence. Mike Falconer is the person who posted the video and still pictures on YouTube.

S: I wonder what his ancestors did for a living.

E: They probably made barrels or something. Uh he says that he captured this footage on March 2nd of this year 2013. That he and his son spotted a large hairy creature off in the, off, it was a field at the Myakka River State Park which is a place in which the Skunk Ape has been sited before, apparently. And there were other people in who um, in this footage you can hear them and they've also stopped their cars on the road to try to get a glimpse as well. Now I think that's um, well not important, but I think noteworthy in the case of this. Instead of having this, we're so used to having this you know there's someone out in the wilderness with a camera shooting ya know whatever they think is a big foot off in the distance. But this one is different it has a gathering, sort of a group of people who are all... They've all seen something; they've seen something off in the distance.

S: Yeah, but they were strolling around like nothing special was going on. Honestly, it didn't seem that impressive to me.

E: They were saying some things in the background like ya know "oh what is that over there" and "I'm trying to get a glimpse of it". At no point did anyone say they smelled something funny or were like ooo that's a skunk or like... I know that if a skunk gets hit by a car like a mile up my road from here I can smell it. That's a very powerful smell and if it's half what they're describing, according to the websites and stuff, I think you would ya know perhaps smell something. But, in any case. So what they did is uh a guy and his son started to pursue whatever it is that they saw out in the fields. So they've got their iPhones right? And they're recording video. And at one point you can kind of see something off in the far grassland. It looks like it has to be hundreds and hundreds of feet away. Something is kinda moving around back there, just some little brown dot or something and they're saying "Oh yeah can you see it? There it is! There it is! Let's go get a closer look".

S: It's pixelsquatch

J: *laughs*

E: Exactly. And that's when they decided, of course, what you do when that happens. Well you turn off your video camera and you start shooting photos instead. So when they started to take photos is when they supposedly captured the quote unquote evidence. And Steve, correct me if I'm wrong, they're brown blotches.

S: Yeah it's

E: Brown blotches off in the trees

S: It turns from pixelsquatch to blobsquatch, to the more classical blobsquatch. Absolutely. It's a completely unrecognizable amorphous brown blob.

R: Enhance!

S: Enhance! Enhance!

R: Zoom in, enhance

E: zoom zoom zoom

S: Evan, do you know what the difference is between the Myakka Skunk Ape and the Hamden Bald Eagle?

E: Oooo um, one really exists and the other doesn't.

S: Yes. I have close up, in focus, unambiguous photographs of the Hamden Bald Eagle

E: Exactly. And yet, once again, someone does not have such shots of the supposed Skunk Ape.

J: The freakin bald headed eagle, that thing could just fly away. You know talk's not just stuck on the ground.

E: Apparently in the year 2000, there was some video footage shot of something that they deemed the Skunk Ape. And then around 2006 someone else came up with something that was more clearer, but to me it was clearly just a hoax, a guy in a suit walking around of some sort. And that's, and then there's this. And that's pretty much it; and a few other blurry photos out there which could have been anything shot by anyone at any time. That's it. That's the sum of evidence you have when it comes to this thing. For the folks who, the guys who, Falconer when he shot this video, when he posted it to YouTube he put up a description on the YouTube channel, YouTube page he has and here's what he wrote in regards to this, and I think this is a bit revealing. He says that: This is real footage my son and I took in Myakka March 2nd 2013. We had iPhones with us. You'll see actual still shots of the thing. Some have called it big foot or sasquatch. The only editing we did to these pictures was to lighten it up. Alright? So here we go. At one point, you hear us talk of two of them. It was a deer out there hiding in the tall grass; maybe that's what it was after. You can see it in the middle at the thin tan line of grass under the tree. You will also see the deer a little to the left and closer in. Hello, deer!

S: Okay

E: Ok, so what's more likely? You've got Skunk Ape legend, ya know, in which there is absolutely no physical evidence whatsoever. It's all a bunch of blurry photos and weak videos of. Or, the people actually shooting this stuff saying that was clearly deer there, running around. And um, hmmm gee. Skunk Ape or deer? I don't -know. What does Occam's Razor tell us to think in this situation?

S: Hey it's more likely to be a Florida panther than the Skunk Ape.

J: Yeah

R: It'd be more likely to be a zebra

S: Yeah

R: than a Skunk Ape. I mean, cuz the skunk ape doesn't exist.

E: Unimpressive, sorry. It is getting a lot of headlines

J: Alright, Ev, c'mon. This whole thing has been a little vague, ya know. What's your gut tellin ya?

E: My gut's telling me that there is a network of Skunk Apes living in those fields, all over Florida.

J: And once again, I want there to be a Skunk Ape. You know, somebody please find some real evidence and I'd be all over it. But these fuzzy pictures, I'm getting tired of it guys.

S: By the way, I am patenting the word pixelsquatch. Everytime you say it, you've got to give me a quarter.

J: Pixel squatch!

E: Alright, well you'll hear from my lawyers.

S: So have any of you guys heard about the GyroStim?

J: No

S: Probably not.

R: It's pronounced "Yeerow"

S: "yeerow?"

E: Is that a new sandwich they're serving at Subway or something?

R: Yeah it's a combination. It's like a regular gyro, but with Slim Jims

E: Haha cool

S: So this is a machine that was developed by an engineer whose daughter has cerebral palsy. And it's essentially a chair. You sit in the chair and you have a little joystick remote control and you can swing around in all three dimensions, you know.


S: Exactly. In every axis. He developed this because she was getting physical therapy in which she had to do exercises to essentially do the same thing. Rotate around in order to um improve her balance in her walking. And, it was a bit tedious. So he, being an engineer, was like I'm gonna help her out, automate this. So he built a chair, the GyroStim, you know he built this chair and it does what he wanted it to do. It rotates around in all three axes. Now unfortunately, some not science-based practioners got their hands on this machine and have ran with it. The engineer is Kevin Maher, and you guys remember Ted Carrick? He is a quote un quote chiropractic neurologist.

J: Yeah I remember that

S: So he is using the GyroStim, and claiming it can cure all kinds of things. So I wrote a review on Science-Based Medicine of the GyroStim. Which, you know, is just one of an endless sequence of devices with overblown claims without adequate evidence. The thing hasn't been studied. It's actually not an illegitimate concept, there is such a thing called vestibular therapy where you essentially do just that. You stimulate the vestibular system by you know putting by rotating and changing your head position over and over again. And it can's actually a very effective treatment for some kinds of vertigo.

J: What's the vestibular system, Steve?

S: The vestibular system, that's a very good question Jay, is the system in your brain that senses two things - your orientation with respect to gravity and acceleration. So, this is the three semi circular canals that are in your inner ear. They have fluid in them so when you rotate around you're oriented towards gravity the fluid flows through those semi circular canals, which there's three of them, one in each axis, and then that moves hair cells that sense the movement of that fluid. And that's the sensing organ, but then that vestibular information gets taken in by the brain and is process compared to your visual information and tactile information and that's how you get a sense of motion and stability and balance ya know.

J: So this is your internal accelerometer

S: Yeah, well exactly. When there's a disconnect between your visual input and your vestibular input, that results in dizziness and motion sickness. That's why you get motion sick. When your vestibular system is telling you that your rocking up and down and your visual system is not because it is locked to something in the foreground. It's also a very delicate system, and a lot of people have dizziness of vertigo and we can't really identify anything specific that's not working. There's no lesion anywhere and it looks normal. But that integration of misinformation is just a little bit off. Those are the people who do well with vestibular therapy or essentially just retraining the brain to integrate this information. Conceptually it's perfectly fine. But where we get into trouble is in two areas. One is, the machine costs tens of thousands of dollars, so it's very expensive. There is no evidence to show that getting vestibular therapy with this 20 30 40 thousand dollar machine is superior to getting vestibular therapy manually with no machine; or just getting a twenty dollar swing and swinging back and forth on it as a way of stimulating your vestibular system. Which is something that physical therapists actually do. Investing in an expensive piece of equipment and paying a lot of money for expensive sessions is not justified until there's research showing this is not only as good as the far cheaper options, but is significantly superior to it. But there's no research, we don't even know if it works at all or that it's safe. All you have is the idea of using the machine. But of course that doesn't stop chiropractors, like Ted Carrick, from starting to use it. But in addition, the claims that are being propogated for this machine, especially by Ted Carrick and also by others now, is that it not only is a way of delivering vestibular therapy- which is the plausible component of the claim - but that it actually helps the brain recover from a traumatic injury.

J: Oh, yeah

S: In genaral, yeah. So I was reviewing a specific article written by a sports writer who wrote and article about the GyroStim, because it's being used to treat a lot of like hockey players who have had head injuries. And he did the typical journalist thing of antecdote miracles happening every day, then quicky, generic canned disclaimer. Well this scientist said it hasn't been tested yet and hasn't been approved by the FDA, now let me go back to these glowing antecdotes. Meanwhile he's talking, he's mentioning Autism and Asperger's. I mean it's ridiculous. So I wrote a typical blog post about it on Science-Based Medicine, and the author of the original article, Adrian Dater who is again a sports writer writing for the Denver Post, leaves a comment, like a really pissy comment - it didn't immediately get, because he was a first time poster it went to moderation and it didn't immediately get approved because we work for a living - in the middle of the day. Then he writes a blog post saying "I'm being censored over on Science-Based Medicine".

E: *laughs* He gave you all of 45 minutes. That's not...

S: He gave a full hour. So, but anyway, that's just a little aside. The thing is he like doubled down and completely defended his journalism. So then I of course, I had to write a follow up post on Neurologica, just about science journalism using him as an example of horrible science journalism.

J: Uh Oh!

E: Gee why would a sports writer be bad at science journalism?

S: Yeah I mean the thing is the guy's a sports writer, I don't expect him to be a good science journalist. But his problem was he wrote an article about science, and he got it all completely wrong. He fell for all the typical pit falls that non-experience trained science journalists fall for when they think that they can cover these complex topics. And he actually was defending his token skepticism. So in my follow up article I characterized different levels at which articles deal with science, especially when there's something contreversial. There's the false balance aproach in which you say oh experts over here say this, and this fringe lunatic over here says that; and you treat them like they're equal. Then there's the token skepticism where you actually give the bulk of the time to the fringe claim and you only have a quick skeptical blurb, which is what he fell into. And then there's the just complete abject gullibility without a hint of skepticism. So he was in the middle category of token skepticism, in which you don't get much credit for that. There's of course the fourth category which is the way it should be, which is appropriate skepticism. Right? But we didn't get that from him. So he was defending his token skepticism and also defending the GyroStim, completely ignoring all of my legitimate actual different criticisms. And in the end he was like criticizing David Goreski and the others on Science-Based Medicine about the positions that we were taking. We were like look, dude, you cover hockey. Go back to covering hockey. Seriously, you're arguing with a group of physicians who have spent a decade writng about these topics. You're telling us we don't know what we're talking about?

J: Did you say that to him?

S: Yes! How arrogant does this guy have to be?

E: Are you serious?

S: Like he had a fit that we disagreed with his journalism. He had a fit and it was horrible. It was horrible token skepticism and bad science writing. He didn't understand the issues at stake. And again, I wouldn't expect him to understand; but he had no sense of his own limitations. And of course he has no editor who would know, you know, that this is an innappropriate way to cover a medical science news story.

E: Yep

J: Steve, it also sounds like he's never engaged in any kind of legitimate discourse about things like that. You know?

S: No, he didn't engage, he got childish right out of the gate. Which, you know, always makes it worse of course.

J: Yeah, I mean I can understand from one perspective a guy like him never really entering that arena before. Not knowing what to expect, you know. And of course let's like, let's also achknowledge the idea here that you went up against Science-Based Medicine, you guys.

S: Yeah that's the thing. He had no idea what he was up against. So he started to back pedal a little bit. Like I wasn't endorsing it, I was just relaying the stories. Peple have a right to know about this; that whole coy bs. And one of our commentors dug up a twitter

E: *laughs*

S: A tweet that he did where he was like read about the device that cured you know this hockey player of his traumatic brain injury. Oh yeah, you're not endorsing it.

J: Uh oh! That sounds like an endorsement! He's just stating facts?

E: Yeah, he's just reporting what he heard

S: Yeah he was totally busted. He was totally busted.

J: How did it end, Steve? Did he just end up having to quit?

S: Yeah, he went away. It was a fun little exchange though.

J: Yeah it's something to learn... it's something for people like us to learn from and it sadly... Did that go back to his man cave and lick his wounds or did he actually say hey you know I screwed up here like what did I do wrong?

S: He did not give any evidence of any self awareness in this exchange.

E: mmmm

R: They rarely do though. You might have planted a seed

S: I might have planted a seed, you never know. But yeah, I don't expect most people to have the scales fall from their eyes and to say I was wrong, mea culpa. Very few people have I think the security and maturity to do that. Especially when you're in the middle of an internet fight. You know everyone has, as you like to call Jay, internet balls. You know?

J: Yeah

E: mmhmm

S: But, yeah you're right, you never know. Maybe he'll be a little bit more gun shy the next time he dips his toe into science journalism. Who knows?

E: Or he'll do some real research into what the hell he's talking about.

S: And we were, we got very polite and very proffesional. We were like listen, we want to help journalists write better. You know next time you want to cover a story like this, we're happy to provide you with some perspective and background information.

J: What?! That'll take hours!

S: *laughs*

J: I don't have time for that!

S: This is, this is what... I just told someone the other day you know in a similar context I'd much rather provide advice ahead of time rather than criticism after the fact. You know, run these things by somebody who knows what they're talking about ahead of time. We're here, we're a resource, ask us. We're, you know... What's the worst thing that could happen? We make your journalism better?

J: Yeah

S: You know? What's the worst thing that could come out of it?

J: It's basically you're like you're saying to them, I'll write your freakin essay paper for you pal just all you gotta do is pick up the phone.

S: Good journalists know how to do that. They know how to use resources well.

Who's That Noisy? (55:54)[edit]

55:54 S: Alright well, Evan, we're still falling behind on Who's That Noisy, but you're gonna give us a new one for this week.

E: Yeah I'll give you a new one for this week. We are going to catch up on all the correct answers and winners and everything in a couple more episodes. Bare with us while we get through this little stretch of podcasting. And uh I'm gonna play for you this week's brand new, fresh off the presses Who's That Noisy. It is an actual noisy, a classic as I like to say, and here we go...

R: mmm

S: hmmm

E: Okay

S: What do you want to know? Who that was speaking?

E: That's it. Send us your guess or sgu And that's about it; good luck everyone.

S: Thanks Evan

E: Thank you

Questions and Emails (56:40)[edit]

Staticman (56:40)[edit]

Hey guys! Thanks for the show. I've been listening for years now and it's by far and away my favorite podcast. I was wondering if you heard about Static Man reported in Australia. Sounds like balderdash to me, but who knows maybe it's a new Scientology superpower. Keep up the excellent work,

Damian Tinkey

Marlboro, NY

S: We're going to do one e-mail this week. This e-mail comes from Damian Tinkey from Marlboro, NY. He Writes: Hey guys! Thanks for the show. I've been listening for years now and it's by far and away my favorite podcast. I was wondering if you heard about Static Man reported in Australia. Sounds like balderdash to me, but who knows maybe it's a new Scientology superpower. Keep up the excellent work, Damian. So he links to an article

R: It does sound like a super power

S: Yeah, Static Man! They're actually are, there are cartoon super heroes who are basically static, that is their super power, static.

J: That's powerful stuff man

E: Lightning guy, electron boy

S: So, the article he links to is from Septemberf 2005, a little bit

E: Okay

S: But I don't think we ever talked about it. So we might as well deal with this. So what do you guys think? Static man. Let me read the article here, it's very short. I'll just read pieces of it. It's about a man, Frank Clewer, of the Western Victorian city of Warrnambool. It said he was wearing a synthetic nylon jacket and a woolen shirt when he went for a job interview. He walked into the building, the carpet ignited from the fourty thousand volt of static electricity that had built up. It sounded almost like a fire cracker, or something like that he said. Within about five minutes, the carpet started to erupt. The article goes on to say that his clothes were measured by a fireman as carrying an electrical charge of fourty thousand volts. The Reuters news agency quoted Mr. Barton as saying.

J: Yeah I don't think that fireman could determine that.

E: Fourty thousand volts? You could kill people with that!

S: It's saying... It depends on the current right?

J: Yeah what I'm saying, would firemen be able to make that assessment. I mean I know that they know a lot about things that cause fires and they might say hey in order for this type of thing to happen this is the kind of voltage you need. But it just seems...

S: No that's a physicist, Jay, not a fireman. But I think fourty thousand volts of static electricity is not enough to ignite carpet, first of all. I mean for the firemen to measure the voltage - remember there's no current here, it's static - then they would of had to discharge it. Right? They would have to build it up and discharge it and maybe they could measure the discharge. It's also, it's just too much static electricity. It's almost like, it sounds apocryphal. Oh he had a nylon jacket over a wool sweater and he built up so much static electricity that he ignited the carpet.

J: Yeah, what did the guy run a marathon right before he went in there?

S: Someone speculated that with that much static electricity, wouldn't his hair be standing on end as if he had his hand on one of those grass static electricity generators.

E: Yeah. A voltage meter could figure that out.

S: Yeah I don't know what the voltage you have to get to to have your hair stand on end. Yeah and also, like he got out of his car, why didn't he discharge upon exiting the car when he touched the metal of the door? Or when he walked in the building, how did he get in the building without a discharge?

J: How did he not die?

S: Yeah I don't know if it's possible to develop enough static charge that the discharge would be fatal. I mean there are reports of static discharges causing fires. But that's only when there's some kind of accelerant. This is actually a real risk at the gas station. Either there's gasoline dripping or vapors and you build up the static electricity on the seat of the car. And when you touch the frame of the car it discharges and could spark a fire. There are reported cases of that. I don't think that the static charge that a person can build up on themselves could set a carpet on fire without some kind of gasoline or accelerant. This (?) does give some interesting statistics. They say that the lethal dose of a static charge measured in millijoules is 1,350. Usually like shuffling across a carpet can generate from ten to twenty-five millijoules. So not very much compared to what a lethal dose would be. And they report, really the maximum you could get to would be something on the order of 300 millijoules, just from building up static on yourself. Measured in volts, they reference a study showing that getting in and out of a car can generagte - if you're dressed in nylon - could reach up to twenty-one thousand volts. That was sort of the maximum that was reported; so not quite the fourty thousand volts reported in this story. And for reference, a typical lightning bolt - which is static electric discharge - can contain five hundred megajoules, which is three hundred seventy million times the lethal dose.

E: How does someone end up earning the title of static man if this happened like one time in sort of this fluke thing. It doesn't... the sensationalism that it's worth I suppose.

S: Yeah, cuz it's the media. Some headline writer... I mean how did Super Man get his title? Some headline writer dubbed him Super Man. By the way, have you guys seen the new Super Man movie?

J: No, but I heard it wasn't so good.

S: So, I'm not going to review the movie but I have to say one thing: Krypton, it's moon, busted apart.

R: Oh yeah, someone tweeted me about that.

S: And even worse than all the other movies, it was like half and half almost. Just hanging right next to each other. Why? It's now officially a science fiction movie cliche. Every alien planet has to have a busted apart moon.

E: It's an homage to Thunder the Barbarian. Everyone was clearly very impressed with that horrible cartoon from 1981.

S: But how quickly did that become a cliche? I mean, it's ridiculous.

R: Yeah

S: Show some imagination and don't have scientifically implausible busted apart moon. I mean okay, it's pretty. But you're just doing it like every single other movie did it. Sorry, it loses its' appeal; do something different. A ringed moon, do something else!

J: Yeah I agree Steve. I think, I think what's happening is it's kind of seeping into collective unconscious.

S: Yeah. It's just alien worlds have busted moons, of course they do!

J: What's with these busted up moons?

Science or Fiction (1:03:05)[edit]

Item #1: Researchers at MIT have developed a transistor that is switched by a single photon. Item #2: Geologists have found evidence for a new subduction zone forming near Portugal which may indicate the beginning of the next phase of continental movements in which Europe will move towards North America. Item #3: A new study of whole body vibration therapy finds that it produced significant weight loss in obese subjects, who lost on average 10% of their body mass in 12 weeks. S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts; two genuine and one fictitious. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Are you guys all ready for this week?

J: Very ready

R: Oh yeah

E: Uh, sure

S: Item #1: Researchers at MIT have developed a transistor that is switched by a single photon. Item #2: Geologists have found evidence for a new subduction zone forming near Portugal which may indicate the beginning of the next phase of continental movements in which Europe will move more towards North America. Item #3: A new study of whole body vibration therapy finds that it produced significant weight loss in obese subjects, who lost on average 10% of their body mass in twelve weeks. Rebecca, go first.

R: Alright, so a transistor that’s switched on by a single photon; that’s cool and that’s believable to me. Subduction zone… I can believe that there’s a new subduction zone forming. Although, I don’t know if that would mean that Europe is moving towards North America. Um I’m trying to think of, like subduction is I think where one plate is sliding under the other. I know that it’s the powerful, like it causes the most powerful earthquakes. But I don’t know how much it moves continents. Um, I can believe that though; because if it’s one plate sliding over the other one I guess that would bring Europe and North America closer. So then whole body vibration that produces significant weight loss, that’s tough to believe. Because I know that you know there’s those crazy things they sell on TV that you wrap the band around you and it just *mimics vibration sound* like giggles you.

J: *laughs*

E: *laughs*

R: *laughing* Yeah that’s what it sounds like. And I’m fairly certain that those don’t work, but they might be based on something that does work. So I can believe that, I don’t know… I think I’m gonna go with the transistor one just because I don’t really know much about it and the other two make sense, they seem reasonable. So, I’m gonna go with that one.

S: Alrighty, Jay

J: Okay, the one about the transistor that’s switched by the single photon, that is so cool. Yeah, I could see working. Geologists have found the one about the evidence of the subduction zone, I wanna know a lot more about this. That sounds really interesting. How big is this subduction zone, how long will it take to work. And this last one about the whole body vibration, wait, WHOLE BODY VIBRATION THERAPY! Um, that has got to be BS. So there you go.

S: Okay

E: *laughs* has got to be

S: Alright, Evan

E: Transistor switched by a single photon, I don’t see anything scientifically implausible about it certainly. Um, have we gotten to that level of precision yet? Possibly, yeah that one’s possible to me. Um the second one about a new subduction zone forming near Portugal, I have a feeling that is the one that’s going to trip me up. I’m not feeling good about this one. But the last one, the whole body vibration therapy, oh boy. But lost an average of ten of their body mass in twelve weeks, that’s not insignificant. Ten percent is pretty significant. And I think like when you use these things with moderate caloric intake restriction you wind up getting results and it’s hard to determine which one did it. The vibration or your limited on calories, your restricted calories?

J: Yeah, like

E: They should kind of go hand in hand

J: Yeah like use this thing for an hour a day and also you know cut your caloric intake in half and you’ll lose weight.

E: I think people who are using these things are being a little bit more conscious about what it is they’re putting into their bodies. So I think that’s gonna wind up being what’s really going on here. I’m going to say body vibration therapy, that one is the fiction.

S: Okay, so you all agree that geologists have found evidence for a new subduction zone forming near Portugal which may indicate the beginning of the next phase of continental movements in which Europe will move towards North America. You all think this one is science, and this one is SCIENCE.

J: Awesome

R: Yay!

E: That’s what I like about this game, you always get one right.

S: *laughs* Yeah that’s true, way to look on the bright side.

E: Yep

S: They’re calling it an embryonic subduction zone or a new subduction zone. They knew that these two plates came together here. Uh they call this the Gibraltar Arc. But this, they have new evidence now that show that it is actually forming into a subduction zone. The technical implications for this are more about how these subduction zones form; and the fact that…just to read the conclusion in the abstract of the article – our work suggests that the formation of new subduction zones in Atlantic type oceans may not require the spontaneous foundering of its passive margins. Instead, subduction can be seen as an invasive process that propagates from ocean to ocean. So what they’re saying is that you know the way that the spread of subduction zones around the world may actually interact with each other, you know. And cuz it all has to average out, of course. Right? The Earth isn’t growing or shrinking despite what Neil Adams has to say. So any spreading of new ocean floor has to be exactly matched by subduction zones. So I guess what they’re saying that this, cuz it all has to balance out, that they behave as if they’re connected. And a subduction zone can literally propagate from ocean to ocean.

R: I read this

S: Yep

R: …a little while ago. But I didn’t read the thing about the continents moving closer together. But I did read, this thing that I had to read several times to make sure that I wasn’t misreading it – I still might be misreading it -, but it was something like this could eventually result in the Atlantic Ocean filtering down into the, like further into the Earth’s core. Like it could drain the Atlantic Ocean because of this subduction zone.

S: Yeah I haven’t read that in the context of this story but that certainly is, there is you know speculation among geologists about what happens to the ocean because of subduction zones. And is the water in the oceans getting dragged down you know toward deeper into the Earth and will this eventually drain away our oceans or if not than what is the… like what other factors are keeping it in equilibrium.

R: Scary.

S: In the articles about this story though, not in the technical paper but in the reporting about this story, it said that Pangaea type super continents that come together and they break apart and the continents will spread apart and then eventually the continents will come back together and reform a super continent. This has happened a few times over the life of the Earth. So what they’re saying is that if this new subduction zone could spell the transition from the continents drifting apart to coming back together again with the Atlantic Ocean closing up Europe and the United States coming back together. But what I don’t get though is how that happens when we have the Mid-Atlantic ridge with three spreading zones in the middle of the Atlantic. The conventional wisdom is that the Atlantic Ocean is getting bigger and the pacific ocean which is shrinking will this actually change the direction in which the continents alter the mid-Atlantic Spread? I could not find answers to those questions.

J: Does this happen incredibly slowly, Steve, or is this

S: Well yeah of course! It’s over hundreds of millions of years.

J: It’s not like the ocean is gonna sink like breach and sink into the core or something crazy like that right?

S: No no no, these are things that happen over millions of years, yeah.

R: But it could mean that we could be seeing powerful earthquakes coming out of that zone.

S: Yes, that’s true. Alright, well let’s go to number one. Researchers at MIT have developed a transistor that is switched by a single photon. Rebecca, you think this one is fiction. Jay and Evan, you think this one is science. And this one is SCIENCE.


E: Oohh

R: Ugh! Damn my crap knowledge of this stuff.

S: Yep this is a huge advance that, Bob would have got this. This is one of those huge advances that we were waiting for. “About time!” ya know that’s how Bob would have said it.

E: Yeah, “We’ve been waiting eight years for this”

S: We have been trying to develop light-based computers right? Rather than sending information around a computer and interacting with transistors with electricity with electrons with like a an optical computer would use light because light obviously goes as fast as anything can go. So researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, have reported building a transistor that is switched by a single photon. That’s huge, that’s a major building block of optical computers. They take advantage of a property called electromagnetically induced transparency, by sending a single ‘gate’ photon that could turn the switch on or off due to this electromagnetically induced transparency. So the injected photon excites the caesium atoms, rendering them reflective to light trying to cross the cloud. So it turns off the signal.

E: What kind of atoms were those, Steve?

S: Caesium

E: Caesium?

J: That is awesome

S: Yeah

J: I wonder how long it will take to get that into a usable shape.

S: Yeah you’re right though, that’s the thing. Will this actually translate into a usable computer that’s gonna sit on your desktop? Who knows? But it is, it’s huge. They are able to make a photon gated transistor, so.

E: That will be cool.

S: Let’s go on to number three. A new study of whole body vibration therapy finds that it produced significant weight loss in obese patients, obese subjects, who lost on average ten percent of their body mass in twelve weeks; and of course this one is the fiction.

J: You made the whole thing up?

S: No, no no. Whole body vibration therapy is a thing, and there was an article based upon that. I did, Rebecca, calculate the percentage over time to make it plausible. You did exactly what I was hoping somebody would do and say oh that sounds plausible.

J: *laughs*

E: *laughs*

R: Thanks, thanks for that. You used my logics against me.

J: As soon as Rebecca went like *mimics vibration sound* I went no way! That went out in the twenties!

S: But what this is, this treatment, the study was looking at bone strength and muscle strength in cerebral palsy patients. And they found that it increased the bone density and muscle strength in the lower legs and the bone density also in the spine, but not elsewhere in the body. I don’t know why. This was a small study, thirteen adolescents with cerebral palsy received the treatment nine minutes per day for twenty weeks. So there doesn’t appear to be a control group, again it appears to be a bit of a fishing expedition with only some things being positive and some things not being positive. I couldn’t use this as a science, because they study isn’t robust enough for this to be a science item. So I made it into the fiction. But yeah so it’s using whole body vibrational therapy to increase bone density. The weight loss bit is the bit I made up. Speculative, I don’t know. I mean this is an exploratory study. You can’t draw conclusions from this, you can’t say that this therapy actually works but

E: Ted Carrick can

S: Right? He’ll start selling it for twenty thousand dollars.

E: That’s right, yeah.

S: Absolutely

R: Nice job you guys.

E: I hadn’t won one of those in a while so it feels good.

S: A rare solo loss for Rebecca, very rare.

R: Yeah

S: But you did well this year, you are kickin butt this year; I do have to say.

R: I think I have been

S: Yep

R: I’ll take it on the chin, like a champ

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:15:25)[edit]

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth.

S: Alright Jay, do you have an impressive quote for us this week?

J: Yeah, so, a lot of people e-mailed me and I’m going to be continuing to yell the name.

S: You had a lot of positive feedback for the yelling. I had, I don’t recall seeing one negative one. No one said stop the yelling.

R: No

J: Stop with all that yellin

R: Now, of course we’re going to get the people

S: Too late. You had your chance, do not e-mail us telling Jay to stop yelling. You had your chance, the window is closed.

J: On top of that, people said oh and by the way what’s with the… you didn’t uh continue or finalize the dice rolling hubbub.

S: Yeah, Jay you have to do the calculations and we’ll give the results.

J: Yeah, so this is what I’m doing, because I’m so busy with Occ the Skeptical Caveman business, um could anybody that has the time be willing to go back and make the calculation for me? E-mail me info at I will mention your name on the show, I will thank you, and I will see who’s better – me or randomness.

S: Got it.

R: I’m gonna put my nickel down on randomness.

S: *laughs

E: *laughs

J: We shall see. Uh, ok this is a quote sent in from a listener called Magnus Husweit (?) from Oslo, Norway. And the quote is: Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth. And that is a quote from Robert Royar, paraphrasing Frank Zappa’s anadiplosis. It means, it’s the repetition of the last word of a preceding clause.

S: Ah

J: So the word is used at the end of a sentence and then used again at the beginning of the next sentence.

S: It’s like that recent pop song by The Wanted, I’m glad you came. I don’t know anything

R: *laughing* what?

J: I don’t even know who they are. What is that?

R: What

E: Is that like a boy band or something?

R: They’re like the Backstreet Boys


S: I do like that quote, I like that quote a lot.

J: Thank you

S: It’s very profound

R: Yeah

S: Of course truth, is not profundity

R: Don’t start

Announcements (1:17:30)[edit]

J: So in a couple of weeks we’re gonna be at TAM. Uh everyone’s going to be traveling out there except me and my wife early and then we’ll be there I think on Thursday afternoon. And you’re flying out when, Steve?

S: Well Evan and I are going to the Grand Canyon

E: Yep, we’ll have a Grand Canyon report.

S: earlier in the week. And if anyone has any ideas on stuff that we should do while there, then please let us know right away. Because we’ll be going out on Tuesday. We’re taking a bus trip with the family to the Grand Canyon. Going to what, the South Rim?

E: Yes we’re going to the south end of the canyon. It takes longer to get there but I’m, we’re told it’s worth it.

S: It’s well worth it.

J: And if any of our listeners are going, definitely come up and say hi to us. And also consider joining us at the SGU dinner, it’s always a good time.

S: Alright well thank you all for joining me this week.

J: Thank you Steve

R: Thank you Steve

E: Good job sir, as always.

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

S: 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, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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