SGU Episode 575

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SGU Episode 575
July 16th 2016
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 574                      SGU 576

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


D: David Banachuk

Quote of the Week

It is not the antiquity of a tale that is an evidence of its truth; on the contrary, it is a symptom of its being fabulous-->

Thomas Paine

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello, and welcome to The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, July 13th, 2016; and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella,

(Special Guest: David Banachuk)

Interview with David Banachuk(2:26)[edit]

(Steve describes his encounter with a snake in his yard)

What's the Word (9:19)[edit]

  • Apoptosis

S: All right, Cara, What's the Word this week?

C: Ooh! The word this week, I think, is a really good one. It's a word that I used very often in my research. And it's a word that was sent in by Horhay in San Diego, who just recently came across it.

S: So, Cara, before you tell us the word, you're somebody who says off-ten (often).

C: Oh yeah?

E: Oh no! You're gonna call her out for that?

S: I've never noticed

C: What's wrong with off-ten?

S: Nothing, it's just wrong. It's actually not wrong.

(Evan laughs)

C: Wait

S: It is a

C: You say off-in?

S: Off-in, yeah.

C: It's off-ten. (Laughs)

S: It's both, both are acceptable.

C: Wait, anything you guys don't say forward, do you?

B: Yeah

S: Forward? Yeah.

B: Forward

E: Forward – foe-ward

C: Foe-ward, I know east-coasters, and they all say foe-ward.

J: Yeah, yeah.

E: Drop that R ...

C: Yeah

J: Well, we also say but-in instead of butt-in (button).

C: Butt-in, yeah. And I say butt-in, and I say skeleton.

J: Skeletin

C: But that's 'cause I was a singer. I have a weird mix, because I was both a Texan and a singer, and so I really enunciate everything.

J: David, wait, David, say the word button.

D: But-ton

J: All right, he used the T.

C: Yeah

J: Say the word off-in.

D: Off-in

J: Yeah, all right.

D: Wait, wait! I'll say it properly. Ofin

(Cara laughs)

J: Okay, so

C: I

J: Cara, I

C: say off-tin

J: you're out-voted. You can't say it that way any more.

C: Nope, gonna say if forever. Also, this next word

E: Yeah! Cara! Rage against the system!

C: Interestingly, as per most of the words that I choose for What's the Word, there is some

B: Multiple pronunciations.

C: debate around how to pronounce this word.

E: Naw!

J: Go ahead.

C: How do you pronounce it, Steve?

S: Apoptosis

B: Yeah

C: You say ay-pop-tosis.

S: Yes

B: Absolutely

C: I say ay-pop-tosis! Steve and I agree on something! We say apoptosis! Most people say aa-pop-tosis.

S: No, it's ay-pop-tosis.

C: Trust me, I think it's “ay” also, but I looked it up, and almost every pronunciation online is aa-pop-tosis.

J: Ay!

B: What the hell?

C: It hurt my brain when I realized that. That said, I'm not changing the way I say it. Also, there's a

S: Me neither

C: whole other pronunciation that we will get to in a minute. Okay, so I'm gonna keep saying ay-pop-tosis, cause that's how I say it. Apoptosis is also known as programmed cell death. It's a normal, and healthy genetically determined process where damaged or excessive cells, or unwanted cells by the body are systematically kind of killed off, specifically, what happens, is the DNA in the nucleus of the cell actually fragments in response to a specific trigger. And either that's usually a chemical stimulus, or it's when a suppressing stimulus is removed, or damaged.

So, when apoptosis doesn't work correctly, it can actually lead to tumor growth, and therefore cancer. We often talk about apoptosis in direct opposition to necrosis, which is unprogrammed cell death. So, necrosis is cell death that happens because of disease, or because of damage. Apoptosis is cell death that happens on purpose, the body programs the cells to die in order to maintain certain types of processes moving smoothly.

The first authors to use the term, and actually developed the term, were Kurr, Wielie, and Curie, in their 1972 British Journal of Cancer publication. Apoptosis: A Basic Biological Phenomenon With Wide-Ranging Implications in Tissue Kinetics. And they described it as a hitherto little recognized mechanism of controlled cell deletion, which appears to play a complementary, but opposite role to mitosis in the regulation of animal cell populations.

But here's something really interesting: They described the actual pronunciation in their paper, because they coined the term, and none of us are pronouncing it right. Are you guys ready?

S: Yeah

E: Yep!


”We are most grateful to professor James Cormack of the Department of Greek University of Aberdeen for suggesting this term. The word apoptosis is used in Greek to describe the dropping off or falling off of petals from flowers, or leaves from trees. To show this derivation clearly, we propose that the stress should be on the pnultimate syllable

So far, so good.

The second half of the word being pronounced like tosis, with the P silent, which comes from the same root 'to fall,' and is already used to describe drooping of the upper eyelid.”

So actually,

E: Ay-po-tosis?

C: Aa-po-tosis, not

S: Ay-po-tosis

C: Aa-po-tosis, yep! And apparently, there are some pedantic professors out there who really push this. I've seen so many online forums about it. But most people still pronounce is aa-pop-tosis and / or ay-pop-tosis. So, I guess, pick you poison.

S: Yeah, I mean, definitely, P-T-O-S-I-S is tosis.

C: Yeah!

S: No question about that.

C: That's funny.

S: That's tosis. That's like, droopy eyelids, right? If you have one – if your eyelid's droopy, that's ptosis.

C: Yeah, so ay-po-tosis is the P-O-E kind of thinking of it that way, is technically the pronunciation

S: Yeah

C: that was intended by the authors. But we have all seen what happens with the JIF / GIF debates,

S: Yeah

C: so, sometimes that not necessarily pan out.

(Evan chuckles)

S: Yeah, I've always one hundred percent of the time heard ay-pop-tosis,

C: Me too!

S: but that could also be regional. It's also institution and regional dependent. So that's just what I've been exposed to in the northeast.

E: Yeah, more off-ten than not.

C: Guys, I'm always interested in this. You should Tweet and let us know how you've pronounced the word in your intro bio, or your cell bio classes.

S: And as you said, apoptosis is critical to developing, and to maintaining subpopulations. But also, it's been identified as the cause of some diseases, inappropriately triggering apoptosis can be a cause of certain degenerative diseases.

C: Yeah, we'd all have cancer,

E: Cancer

C: we'd all be riddled with cancer if we didn't have it,

E: More so.

C: apoptosis. Yeah.

S: And also, just developmentally, like, the reason why your fingers separate. You know, initially, there's webbing between the fingers, then there's programmed cell death to separate them.

J: Are you telling me that if that didn't happen, I could swim like Aqua Man?

S: Yes, that's what I'm saying. That's the take-home, Jay, yeah.

J: Apoptosis can go screw itself, man!

C: (Laughs) Yeah!

News Items[edit]

Solar Panel Impact(15:24)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, tell us about the environmental impact of ground-based solar panels.

J: I swear, I remember thinking about this when I first saw one of those giant solar arrays, like, “Guys, it's producing a lot of shade! Doesn't that have some type of impact?” Solar panels are cool! That's the title I gave this news item. And Cara, you will find out soon why I say that.

As the world moves away from what? Fossil fuels, and all that crap that we're putting into the atmosphere, and we head towards renewable energy. And no one is more excited than me. I love seeing countries like Germany completely kick ass with their renewable energy.

We have scientists that are now looking at the impact of things like wind mills and solar panels on the environment, right? So you build a huge wind mill farm, and people were saying at one point, “It's killing birds,” or “It's making vibrations or noise,” this, that and the other thing. And it turns out those are safe, and they're highly effective.

And solar panels, well you put them down, they're covering a lot of ground, and it makes shade, and there's a lot of impact on ecosystems. But it's pretty cool, because this is actually very good news. In a recent study, environmental scientists at Lancaster University, and the Center for Ecology and Hydrology (Bob, that means it's about water), spent a year (Jay and Cara chuckle) spent a year monitoring a solar park near Swindon that's in Southwest England.

The solar parks in studies were found to have an impact on the local climate because solar panels create shade, and they also absorb and convert solar energy; and they found that there was a five degree Centigrade cooling effect under the study panels during the summer months.

So of course, the results were, on a spectrum depending on the time of year, time of day, and all that stuff. But I guess during the hottest months, they can really say there was a five degree Centigrade cooling effect.

These temperature changes definitely have an impact on the biological processes, like how fast or slow plants grow, or what plants were growing, and the scientists, they want to figure out not only the impact of the solar parks, but how to use the information, how to optimize all the future projects that are coming, right? Researchers know that the world is about to build millions, or spend billions or tens of billions of dollars building solar parks, and we need to know what impact are they gonna have on all different kinds of environments.

The researchers published a paper called, “Solar Park Microclimate and Vegetation Management Effects on Grass and Carbon Cycling.” Now I wrote them and said, “Could you please shorten that title?” And they wrote back and said, “Go screw yourself.” But I still think my title is, “Solar Panels are Cool,” is better than ...

(Cara laughs)

J: The results were published in the journal, Environmental Research Letters. So one other cool thing to think about here: Studies like this are gonna not only give us and land owners, farmers, and people managing solar parks, people that are growing crops; it's gonna give us information to learn things about, for example, “Would the presence of solar panels allow us to grow crops that can't thrive, say, in full sunlight in a specific region?” Which they say, “Yes, they would. The shade that they provide would allow different types of crops to be grown in areas that they can't be grown in today.”

And also, solar panels can actually collect water in arid areas. So they could use them to collect water, and then use them to water crops! So they're actually collecting sunlight and water, which makes them wonderful.

S: You mean, like, dew? The precipitation?

J: Yeah! Yeah! So I put it to you, Bob, and David, and Evan ...

E: What?

J: How cool are solar panels?

S: Five degrees, cool?

J: Come on!

(Cara laughs)

D: I can see why they did this study in England, because they need all the sunlight they can get at.

E: That's for sure.

D: Anything that blocks that out, they really notice it. 'Cause they only get one month of it a year.

S: We could power the whole world with a patch of solar panels in the middle of Australia.

J: Maybe.

E: Why don't we do that!

B: Yeah, right!

J: Maybe.

C: We have a really big patch out here in the Mohave. I drove by them on the way to camping. They're beautiful!

J: But I think it's better, instead of doing that, Steve, 'cause you gotta think about distribution and all that, like, electricity is not easy to transport over long distances.

S: Yeah

J: We need solar panels everywhere! They gotta be everywhere! We have to have a total distributed network.

B: We need them in space!

E: That's right, we need ...

B: In space!

E: a Dyson sphere of solar ...

J: But Bob, how are you gonna beam the energy down?

B: Microwaves!

S: But not on roads.

J: No.

E: No, no. No. (Cara laughs) Interesting idea, but not gonna happen.

C: I think they're trying it again, by the way.

S: Oh, sure, they're goin' ahead.

(Cara chuckles)

E: Yeah

Ancient Supernovae(20:17)[edit]

(Two supernovae had several effects on the Earth millions of years ago)

Kubrick Moon Landing Hoax (30:07)[edit]

S: Have you guys, you guys have heard about the Moon-landing hoax conspiracy ...

B: God ...

S: nonsense, right?

B: Ridiculous!

C: Of course!

S: We've talked about it many times ...

B: The lamest grand conspiracy out there I think.

S: Yeah ...

E: But it just won't go away, will it?

S: One of them. Have you heard about the connection with Stanley Kubrick?

B: Oh yeah.

J: Of course! Yeah!

E: Oh, yes!

B: I read your blog!

J: What is it? Say it real quick so I can know, Steve.

S: Yeah, so, just because big stories tend to attach themselves to famous people, right? So there's a conspiracy theory going around there that Stanley Kubrick (the film director who I am a particular fan of), was the director who created the fake Moon landing video. So of course, right? If you're gonna fake a Moon landing, you're gonna get a famous director ...

E: 2001

S: whose absence would be completely noticed by the entire industry, (Cara laughs) and you couldn't just get rid of afterwards, you know? As opposed to using some unknown director who you could then off ...

E: (Chuckling) Bump off in the back!

S: Bump off, yeah, once everything is done. Or just pay him enough to shut him up, or whatever. So this takes a silly conspiracy theory and adds an even sillier angle to it that just makes it even more ridiculous. I'm talking about it because Kubrick's daughter, Vivian Kubrick, lashed out at the Moon hoaxers recently. I guess she gets harassed a lot by them.

So she wrote an open letter to Moon hoax conspiracy theorists. Let me quote you from that. She says, “My father's artistic works are his unimpeachable offence.” Essentially, she's arguing that his life work is that of a man who was very much against a totalitarian government hiding secrets from their populus. He would never have cooperated in this sort of cover up.

She goes on, “Finally, my love for my father notwithstanding, I actually knew him. I lived and worked with him. So forgive my harshness when I state categorically: The so-called 'truth' these malicious cranks persist in forwarding, that my father conspired with the US government to fake the Moon landings, is manifestly a grotesque lie.”

I find that interesting. So she obviously, she knew her father, she worked with her father. She knows he didn't do this, right? From personal knowledge. He didn't disappear for months conspiring with NASA to fake the Moon landing. Interestingly, when I wrote about this, somebody noted in the comments that Vivian Kubrick was a Scientologist, and she's a bit of a crank herself.

B: Oof.

E: She's got some interesting notions ...

S: Right, right. Okay, I get that. That's irrelevant to the point though. I'm not citing her as any kind of authority on anything. Her personal knowledge her own father, all other things notwithstanding. But in any case, you guys also remember the Newton shooting, right? And there was a conspiracy ...

E: Of course.

S: that it was a false flag operation, that no kids were actually killed; and we have a personal connection to that. Evan, you and I and Jay, I think, to a lesser extent; we know of a family; the mother was there while the shooter was in the school. They had several kids in the school ...

E: Two kids.

S: Yeah, I think three total. One was there at the time, and two were not in the school at the time.

E: Right. Yeah.

S: And the husband was a first responder!

E: Yes, he was.

S: And saw the bodies. And this is somebody that we've known personally for years!

J: Since high school ...

S: They're not crisis actors, right? We know these people!

J: Absolutely!

E: I was just with the family again two weeks ago.

S: Yeah.

J: But also, Steve, it's not just we know those people. We know a lot of people in the community. I mean, I was living in the town when it happened. I was living in Newton, Connecticut when it happened.

S: And Sandy Hook, in Sandy Hook, not just Newton. Yeah. There's definitely a problem with the way these kind of grand conspiracy theorists think. They have a thought disorder. They have a difficult relationship with reality. They're trapped in a number of mental pitfalls. One is the JAQing off, where they're “Just asking questions?”

E: Excuse me? Oh.

(Cara laughs)

S: You heard that term?

J: That's not okay now?

B: I love it!

C: (Laughs) Is there another word for that?

S: J-A-Q-i-n-g? No, I think it's perfect. (Rogues laugh) So we're just asking questions! You know, I'm curious? Why are there no stars in the background of the pictures? 'Cause you don't know anything about photography. That's why.

E: Or don't know how to look up the answer.

S: How come before the Apollo missions, the scientists involved were hunting for Moon rocks in Antarctica? 'Cause they wanted to know what Moon rocks are made of? I mean, they just cast sinister cast on these innocent either coincidences, or things that are not immediately explained, because as if you would know every tiny little detail of how a complex organization operates, or how a complex event unfolded, you know? Like the police caught some guy walking in the woods outside the school at Sandy Hook. What was he doing there? Who the hell knows!

The fact that there's some guy wandering around in the woods is not in and of itself unusual or curious. It's the kind of thing that you would expect to happen when you canvas an area and look for anything unusual going on. You're gonna find unusual things going on.

But the confidence that they have that this is all evidence of a conspiracy is really interesting. And I do think that it does take on another layer when you are personally involved, when you have personal knowledge that they're wrong. You know absolutely that they're wrong, but you can see how ... they really are very much like children looking at the world.

They are kind of mystified by reality, if you know what I mean. And they say they “investigate” things, they don't really do any investigation. They don't talk to the people involved. They're not doing any journalism. They're never doing any kind of investigation that would actually uncover the truth.

Like the people who believe in the Sandy Hook conspiracy, they didn't talk to any of the people in the town, or the family, 'cause if they had, if they had done actual investigation, it would become immediately apparent that this was a real event that actually happened ...

E: They hunt for ...

S: touched the lives of many, many people, in a web that you cannot unmesh from reality.

E: They hunt for clues that support their ...

S: Yeah

E: their position that they're ... the results they're looking to get.

B: Not just clues, anomalies.

S: Yeah, they're anomaly-hunting on the internet. Yeah. I love the Mitchin web video, where they have the people in the back room planning the Moon hoax, and it turns out, they say, “Well, we have to build a huge rocket, because otherwise people won't believe we got to the Moon! (Bob laughs) We need to show them a huge rocket.” So if we still have all the cost of building a rocket capable of going to the Moon, what money are we saving?

It's like, “Well, we won't have to cater it.” (Rogues laugh) “Actually, it will cost us more to cater the film crew, than just to feed three astronauts for a couple weeks.” So that actually will cost them more ...

B: Right.

S: But, yeah. It's perfect satire which shows you, when you think about it, how ridiculous the whole thing is. Or, the best one is, if they faked it in order to have one over on the Soviets, why didn't the Soviets just expose it? Or, if the Soviets were in on it, why didn't they fake them going to the Moon too?

J: Yeah.

S: Or, whatever! It doesn't hold together. It doesn't make any sense.

B: Oh, it's ridiculous. And Steve, I just thought of another reason why the selection of Kubrick as a director is ridiculous. Not only is this guy would be missed, world famous, and you would probably get a low level director that you could conveniently kill if you have to.

S: Yeah.

B: But another good reason is, who cares about the director? Think about what you're doing! What's so important? The plot flow? The casting? The motivating? The actors?

J: No, Bob ...

B: Wait! Let me finish this thought! You don't need a good director, you need just a merely competent director! What you need is a cinematographer, a special effects guy, a set designer, and science consultants. Those are the important people you need ...

S: Yeah

B: not a director!

J: That's not true Bob.

B: What!?

J: The director made it really happen. The idea is that some one like Kubrick would be the only person that would even know how to pull in the talent to pull it off and everything, because he was at the top of his game, and was more connected than anybody in his hayday.

B: So you're saying they used him more for connections than his directing skill?

J: No! I'm not saying that at all!

C: No, it's just the director often would actually hire the DP, they would hire the A-Cam, they would hire all of those people, because it was their vision. So they had to use a cinematographer that could pull off their vision ...

S: And they were involved in the special effects. They were involved with the cinematography.

J: Yeah

C: Yeah

S: So there is a point there. I think Jay's closer to true than what you're saying, Bob, but your point is well taken that still, you don't need somebody like Kubrick, who is an artistic film director, for a piece like faking the video. You really just need the technical people.

B: Yes.

S: The only thing you could really say is that you needed Kubrick for some kind of technical skill, but even then you could just get the people who worked with Kubrick, you know?

B: I know!

S: You wouldn't need Kubrick himself.

(Commercial break - 39:51)

Neurasthenia ()[edit]

(Fake disease: Allergic to all unnatural and modern things)

Tiny-armed dinosaur(52:07)[edit]

Quickie with Bob: New Dwarf Planet(57:44)[edit]

S: Bob, we haven't done a Quickie in a long time.

B: That's right! Too long!

S: Speaking of tiny things ...

(Rogues chuckle quietly)

B: Good one, Steve.

(Cara laughs)

S: Well, actually, I'm referring to the news item.

B: Oh okay. All right.

S: But that's interesting you interpreted it that way.

(Bob and Cara laugh)

B: Come on, that's exactly what you wanted me to think. (Suddenly very happy) Thank you Steve! This is your Quickie With Bob. So, using the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Moana Kaea in Hawaii, researchers have found a new dwarf planet beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt. It's called, “2015 RR245” (nice name), and has joined the ranks of Pluto, Eris, Haumea, Makemake, as well as Ceres as a bona fide dwarf planets. So here's some stats: It's twice as far from the Sun as Neptune ...

E: Whoa!

B: when it's at its most distant point in its journey.

E: That's out there.

B: It's, yeah, far away. It's one of the largest known orbits of a dwarf planet, circling the Sun once every seven hundred years.

C: Wow.

B: And it hasn't been totally confirmed yet, but they think its diameter is about seven hundred kilometers. It's the smallest dwarf, if that holds out. But it's still a dwarf planet because it meets the criteria, which are: It's in an orbit around the Sun (duh); it has sufficient mass to overcome the rigit body forces so that it's spherical; it hasn't cleared out the neighborhood around its orbit like regular, real planets; and it isn't a satellite. So it is a dwarf planet.

There has been no name decided yet, and it will an upgrade in the name. It may take a few years as they pin down its true orbit. But I would like to recommend, “Dwarfie McDwarf Planet.”

(Rogues laugh)

B: This has been your – yes – this has been your Quickie With Bob. I hope it was good for you too.

C: Hey, Bob, I have a question.

B: Yeah?

C: How do they know it's not a satellite if they haven't fully mapped out its orbit? How do they know it's not actually orbiting something else?

B: Well, if it was orbiting something else, you would think that would have been detected as well.

C: You would think.

B: It would probably be bigger as well, which would make it even more obvious, unless it was much dimmer. But I don't know how much of its orbit it has mapped out. But I think they're fairly confident that it's not a satellite. But even if it is a satellite, then it's in orbit maybe around a real planet or another dwarf planet. So that would be cool too!

C: So then it might be a Moon, right? Then it ...

B: Yeah

C: would be considered a Moon.

E: Right.

C: Cool.

S: So, as Bob said, there are five confirmed dwarf planets. From closest to the Sun to farthest, it's Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, Eris. But there are six already, six possible other trans-Neptunian objects: Orchis, 2002-MS4, Salatia, Quayore, 2007-OR10, and Sedna. So there's potentially, there's definitely five, potentially another six more, and this would be a seventh one. So that's potentially ...

E: Ooh! Seven dwarves!

(Cara laughs)

S: Potentially twelve dwarf planets if all of the seven possible ones are confirmed, as there's gotta be a ton more. I think we're just scratching the surface.

B: Oh my god!

E: They think there are hundreds, potentially.

B: Many, many, potentially.

E: Potentially hundreds.

S: Yeah, cool! Very cool.

E: They just gotta find them.

B: Gotta catch'em all!

C: Oh no!

Who's That Noisy (1:01:06)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Carbon fiber bicycle wheels

Science or Fiction (1:03:45)[edit]

(Science or Fiction music)
It's time for Science or Fiction

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:18:45)[edit]

S: And until next week, this is your Skeptic's 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.

Today I Learned:[edit]


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