SGU Episode 939

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SGU Episode 939
July 8th 2023
939 Cannabal Hominid.jpg

"A recent study offered the “oldest decisive evidence” that our ancient hominid ancestors ate one another. But the field has a long history of overstating such claims, other scientists note." [1]

SGU 938                      SGU 940

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

It is a bad plan that admits of no modification.

Publilius Syrus, Latin writer from Antioch

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Hottest day, Meaning of life[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, July 5th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: So, guys, we just had the hottest day in history ever recorded.

C: Where?

B: Congratulations, Earth.

E: Oh, oh, right. When you say we, you didn't mean like the five of us.

C: Where? Where was it?

S: The average temperature on the Earth was over 17° Celsius for the first time.

E: Whoa. Death Valley?

S: And I think today was the second hottest day on record.

B: Right.

J: And what's amazing, Steve, is that all the world's nations are reacting to this news and they feel like, wow, now's the time to really do something. And they're actually changing their laws to fix the problem, right? That's the next thing.

S: So we're going to be breaking all kinds of records this year and next year because of El Niño.

C: Oh, right.

B: That's true.

S: So there is the El Niño cycle the weather pattern, which has to do with bringing up heat from the deep ocean, you know? And so in the La Nina pattern, you run a little bit cooler than average. And in El Niño years, you run a little bit hotter than average. So we're just the last few years, we've been in a cooler than average phase. So you have the increasing temperature due to global warming. But on top of that is the up and down El Niño/La Niña cycle. So now we're going into the hot-hot phase, right? So now we're going to be, the next couple of years, this year and next year are going to, I mean, almost certainly be the hottest on record. So it's not a surprise that we had the hottest day.

C: Great.

B: Yeah, but don't forget, there's been lots of El Niños in the past and none of them were this hot. So it's not just like, oh, it's El Niño.

C: Yeah, it's hot-hot.

B: Like you said, it's hot on top of hot.

C: Yeah, it's hot-hot. Not hot, but hot-hot.

S: So it actually had more warming than we realized in the last few years, but it was partially masked by La Nina. But yeah it's the same story where you were doing some stuff, but there just isn't the immediacy. It's like if people, I really think, I think even people who accept global warming and accept the science, even to a degree us, right, there's a little bit of partial denial.

C: There has to be. It's the only way we're not like constantly in the existential dread.

S: Yeah, but we really wrapped our head around how terrible it's going to be in the next, half a century.

C: I don't know if it's possible to.

S: Yeah, because if you really, really did, we would be like, oh my goodness, we really have to [inaudible].

C: Get through the day.

E: What's the opposite of survivor's bias? It's dead persons bias? I mean, is that why?

S: Dead men tell no tales.

E: Well I mean, 50 to 60, we're not going to be here 50, 70 years from now.

C: Yeah, but it's going to be unbearable 10 years from now.

S: Yeah, it's going to be, we'll feel it. I mean, yeah, it's going to be unbearable, but you know─

C: It will be in some parts of the world.

S: Totally, look at Texas, we were just visiting with our friends from Texas. You can't go outside. You can't go outside.

B: He's like, yeah, I'd still go outside in the summer.

S: It's like so hot and humid that you literally cannot modulate your own body temperature.

C: It's sort of like that here. I mean, I walk to work every day, which is getting to be really hard to do. But like, it's really difficult because I'm working with my clients, a lot of them are struggling. And what do you talk about doing? It's like, okay, well, we got to do things that are active and what can we do that don't cost money? And it's like, okay, we got to go on our walks. And he's like, I can't go on a walk. I'll die. It's like, what are you? I can't just go walk. So it's like, and we can't go back to a mall walking because there aren't any malls anymore.

E: Oh, wait a minute.

C: You guys remember mall walking?

E: Wall walking was great.

C: Yeah, it was awesome. But now there's no malls.

S: We're just getting old enough to become mall walkers and there's no more malls.

B: Well, I mean.

E: Well, maybe this will help bring them back.

B: When you say no more malls, I mean, what are we talking about? I know one local mall.

S: They're not all gone.

C: They're not all gone, but I don't know any local malls.

B: But has it been a lot?

S: But have you been to a mall recently? I went to our local mall recently and it's kind of a ghost town.

C: Well, maybe that's better for mall walking.

B: Yeah, the one near us, Steve, is crazy. I remember going there last Christmas and like, wait, every other store is empty. What's going on? And the movie theatre closed, which was the worst of all.

E: Yeah, and the ones that are there are Starbucks and vape shops.

C: Yeah.

E: Everything's a vape shop now.

C: There's a lot of sneaker stores, too. You notice that?

E: Discount sneakers.

C: Yeah, it's weird.

J: But to get back to the world government's thing, I know this is not an easily answered question, but what the hell is it going to take?

S: It's going to take it being too late, I think.

C: Exactly.

B: Exactly. There's nothing that will get them off their asses.

E: We are a reactionary species.

S: Yeah. I mean, it's like, you know─

B: I wish we were reactionary.

S: If it weren't the case, nobody would smoke. Right? I mean, think about it. If you smoke, you are completely in denial about the realities of one day you could get that diagnosis of lung cancer. You are denying it. If you really wrapped your head around that, there's no way you would do it. There's no way. And, of course, everybody that I've ever interfaced with directly or indirectly who has lung cancer and who smokes, like, what was I doing to myself? What was I thinking? I want to go back in time and tell my younger self, stop.

E: But isn't that part, isn't that addiction part of the, that's the problem, though?

S: Yeah, but why would you ever start?

E: I mean, that's the sickness.

S: You're thinking it's not going to be me. Yes, I know, statistically, blah, blah, blah, but I'm not, it's not going to be me. It's the same thing. It's like, yeah, global warming is going to happen to other people. It's not going to happen to me. It's not going to really affect me or whatever. But if you really, really wrap your head around it and the science is there, it's not like we don't know.

C: Well, something that might interest you, Steve, because I think this goes back to the conversation we had from the listener who wrote in last week about existential dread, is that a theorist that I read a lot of his work, Irvin D. Yalom, he argues that fear of death is so existentially terrifying to so many people that we develop these psychological coping mechanisms. And one of them is exactly what you just mentioned. It's this, well, it's not really going to happen to me. I know I'm going to die, but not really. Another one is, so it's the belief in exceptionalism. And then the other one he calls the belief in a personal saviour. And so for some people, it's religion. For some people, it's their therapist. For some people, it's like some newfangled medical thing that's going to pop up. But believing that, like, no, but something is going to save me from this fate. And it's a very common denial mechanism that people have that, like, helps them get through the day.

E: Well, I guess so. Because what? Some of these people would just turn into a puddle of─

C: Anxiety.

E: ─of a person who couldn't even function and the basic stuff.

S: Yeah, but I, yes, I think that to some extent, you can't, I don't think, expect people to live every moment of their life with the full realization of their own mortality. Nobody expects that. But but accepting it enough that you could say, I want to live my life to my fullest, you know? Today is precious because I am going to f and die one day.

B: Memento mori.

C: Yeah, we call that mortality salience and people with high mortality salience usually have better psychological outcomes. But you're right. A lot of existential theorists we're going back to philosophy now, they actually make a distinction between what they call the normal mode of being, which is like, I'm shopping and I'm watching TV and I'm hanging with my friends and the ontological mode of being, which is like, holy shit, I'm going to die. And then there's this thing we call the boundary experience. And the boundary experience is a diagnosis. It's a car accident. It's losing a loved one. It's something in your life that forces you into the ontological mode. And it's like, you can learn a lot from it.

S: The older you get, the more time you spend in ontological.

C: Yeah, yeah.

S: For a lot of reasons.

C: But you can't do it all the time. It's arresting. It's impossible.

S: I've never been arrested in my life, Cara. All right.

E: Star Trek.

S: The boys get that. Yeah. Anyway.

C: Dang it. It worked even without knowing that it was a ref once. It was funny anyway.

S: It's my speciality.

B: Cara, what do you recommend to people who have a problem with this? What's the right thing for them to do?

C: Well, I think that, OK, so we talked a little bit about it last week that you can do. If it's severe enough to be an OCD kind of issue or severe anxiety issue, there is exposure and response prevention treatment, which is this very safe way that you sit with a therapist and evoke these images and these thoughts, and then you work on preventing the compulsion that's linked to it. But if it's not an OCD thing, this is actually what I do. I recommend existential therapy. It's a type of therapy.

J: How do you get that?

C: You work with somebody who's trained in existentialism, like me. There are people who subscribe to that training model, and they tend to be the ones who are more interested in talking about things like, we say the big four, death, isolation, meaning, and freedom and responsibility. So those tend to be the themes that we go into a lot in therapy.

S: And that's pretty clear, I think, in the evidence is that confronting your fears and not hiding from them is important.

C: 100%. Yeah. Increase your mortality salience. Yeah. But do it with somebody who studies this stuff.

B: Well, that's true of any phobia, right?

C: Totally. Yeah. And in a way, you can kind of think of it that way, that it's a death phobia. It's just that existentialists think that actually a lot of things are death phobia. We sort of believe that the fear of death underlies a lot of other anxieties.

S: Yeah.

E: I would think so. Yeah. That's kind of numero uno.

C: Exactly. Yeah. When you start digging deeper, it gets down to that.

S: Yeah. Just to bring it back around, for me, though, the ultimate goal is just turning it into something practical. Live your life, enjoy your life, be comfortable.

C: Find meaning and purpose from the fact that your life will end.

S: The atheist conundrum of people who are believers who have religion often ask, how do you get through your day? How do you live your life knowing that there's no meaning? First of all, it's very freeing knowing that there's no meaning.

C: And we make our meaning, exactly.

S: When you know that you make your own meaning, you make your own freaking meaning.

C: Exactly.

S: That empowers you to find the meaning in life. It's all subjective anyway. There's no objective meaning.

C: But they believe there is. They believe God is there. That's the other funny thing.

E: I don't want to be shackled to a dogma.

C: Have you guys ever had somebody who's a really firm believer ask you, you don't believe in god, why don't you just kill yourself? And you're like?

B: Why don't you?

C: I don't understand that reasoning at all.

S: Yeah, it doesn't even make sense.

C: I don't believe in god.

E: Well, they tell me I'm going to hell and I'll just say, I'll see you there.

C: Right, right. But really, the weird thing of like, if you don't have anything, if there's nothing after this life, why do you even keep going? And it's like, because this is all I have, my friend.

S: Yeah, right.

C: That's why I keep going.

S: The other question I get a lot is, why don't you just go around raping, killing, and stealing all the time?

C: Exactly. I'm like, would you do that if you didn't have god?

S: Because I'm not a psychopath. Yeah. But yeah, that's the thing. The implication is that you would do those things if you didn't believe in divine punishment. So you're a horrible person.

C: Yeah, it tells you so much more about the question asker.

B: Exactly.

E: It's brutal. Wow.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Quickie with Bob: The Impossible Planet (11:55)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to give us a quickie.

B: Yes. Thank you, Steve. This is your quickie with Bob. The planet that should be dead but isn't. Kind of fits our discussion so far today. The Hawaii Institute for Astronomy made a fascinating discovery recently, a planet called 8UMib, U-M-I-B, or HALIA. Planet HALIA is orbiting a red giant star, Baekdu, at half the Earth-Sun distance. But, and there's a big but here. The star was already burning helium. So that means that it had already swelled into a red giant star once before and now it's shrunk down to its current size. But the thing is, that means the star would have already ballooned its super hot outer atmosphere to one and a half times the distance to HALIA.

E: It would have absorbed that planet.

B: So at one time, yeah, it should have been like engulfed. So what was HALIA doing there existing, basically? How was it still there? This is what our sun is going to do in about six billion years. It's going to swell into a giant and probably, probably, not definitely, but probably burn the Earth to a crisp. So how did HALIA escape that fate? We're not sure exactly what happened. But one thing we are sure about, HALIA did not just sweat it out and endure the heat. That's just not in the cards, not going to happen, not one of the available options. So what are the more reasonable options? Well, my first thought, and I'm sure many of your first thoughts as well, was this is maybe a hot Jupiter scenario where you've got a high mass, short period planet around Jupiter mass, approximately. That is very, very close to the planet to the star, the parent star. And it is thought one of the theories is that such a hot Jupiter was created at the outskirts of the solar system and then kind of migrated in really close. Maybe that's what HALIA did, but apparently not. The researchers believe that this is not a viable option considering, they say, how fast the changes would have been happening to the parent star. That's not really an option. Okay, what are the other options? And these are interesting. Another theory is that Baekdu was in fact a binary star in its past. And the merger of those two stars prevented one of them, one or the other from expanding enough to sear poor HALIA to a crisp. So maybe the fact that it was binary and they merged prevented this swelling of the outer atmosphere enough to destroy the planet. Okay. Another option is that the planet is maybe actually like a baby planet, a planet that was born from the gas of a former binary system that created a second generation planet that never had to face being engulfed because it had already happened the swelling already happened before it was created. So that's interesting as well. So those are interesting options. Hopefully we'll find in the future what exactly is going on. Binary stars, as you probably know, are incredibly common. You look at, most stars you look at up in the night sky are binary or trinary, more so than singletons. Binary stars are incredibly common in the universe. And we just don't know a lot yet about all the different ways that planets and binary stars evolve together. And hopefully systems like HALIA and Bekdu will one day show us new ways planets are born and die and perhaps how they even escape fiery deaths. And this was your Quickie with Bob. Back to you, Steve.

S: Thanks, Bob.

News Items[edit]

Activity Good for Quality of Life (15:19)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, speaking of quality of life, I hear exercise is good for you.

J: To no big surprise by anybody exercise has a real effect on the human body. It's been studied for decades. And research consistently shows that exercise can have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health. For example, exercise can help lower anxiety and depression. But what kind of effect does exercise have on people who are 60 years old and older, Bob's age?

B: Oh, boy.

C: A lot, really a very intense impact.

J: So there was a recent study at the University of Cambridge tracking over 1400 adults, 60 years or older. And this study was tracking their regular, whether they were exercising or not, and what kind of quality of life improvements happened to those people who were exercising and what kind of negative things happened to those who were not exercising.

B: Jay, were they distinguishing any of the exercises, cardio, resistance, anaerobic, aerobic? Did that matter much or?

J: It was more about not the specific exercise, but the level of intensity of exercise. And they weren't going into details like do leg lifts. They're basically saying, are you exercising enough to get your heart rate up? And how long were you doing it? And how intense were you working out? Those are basically the factors that they were dealing with. So the exercise─

B: [inaudible] towards cardio, but OK.

J: The exercise most effective was at a moderate intensity. It needed to include an increase in heart rate. So, again, the study is saying here, you don't have to work out incredibly hard. Moderate intensity is fine. If the test subjects were exercising regularly, they showed a reduction in the risk of several diseases, including cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

B: Cancer.

J: These are the big four. You know, this is a big deal. Regular, moderate exercise could have a significant reduction in these four diseases. That's a big deal. The National Health Service, the NHS, which is a conglomerate name for the publicly funded health care system out of the UK. They recommend adults exercise at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity per week.

S: Yeah, so it's like 22 minutes a day or something times seven days if you do it every single day.

J: Yeah. So if you think about it, that's not a lot of time. It really isn't. Doing 20 minutes.

s: And it's moderate. So it's like walking vigorously.

J: Yeah. Seriously. And we're not talking about a heavy weight lifting regimen, even though that would be very good if you did that because there's a lot more benefits to doing resistance training. But in the end.

S: There's separate benefits. I wouldn't say there's necessarily more benefits. I know what you mean. Just to be clear.

J: That's fine. You're the doctor. You got to do it. So for older adults, they should make sure that they don't have long periods of nonactivity. This was another thing that they noticed in the data. The idea here is don't go for hours and hours on end without activity. Try to mix in activity throughout the day moving, standing, walking and moderate exercise. All of those things are better than sitting down all day and watching TV. Right. So get up and move.

B: Yeah.

J: Frequently.

B: And especially if you're like if you've got like a desktop where you're basically expected to be seated for eight hours. From what I've read, I haven't you know, I didn't research this specifically for this episode, but I have read in the past studies that show that if you're sitting down for eight hours a day, there is basically almost no way you're going to undo that even with rigorous exercise. That is like just that fact alone is such a huge strike against you that you really need to be getting up during the day. Even if you do cardio and weights at night every other day or every day, don't sit for eight hours straight in a day because that is very bad.

S: Yeah, brake it up.

E: I don't know who can do it.

C: I don't even know how anybody can like not go to the bathroom.

E: How are you not sore after about an hour of sitting? I'm a 45 minute, 15 minute is what I tend to do. I'll sit for 45 and I'll make sure I'm out of my chair for 15 because I do have a desk job. But I'm very, very cognizant of the fact that sitting at these long durations of time are bad for me.

J: I think that's great Ev. I mean, look, the bottom line is you got to mix it in. It doesn't matter if you're 60, even if you're younger, this exercise is still very important to your overall health. Again, with the self care, like you got to take care of yourself and you have to have a self care idea in your head. You can't just say I'll exercise a lot on the weekend or whatever. Like to really take care of yourself, you do need to get up and walk around and move throughout the day. And so many people, my God, the world is filled with people sitting at desks all day.

E: I know. I feel bad. Look, I work in an environment where I have the ability to do that. I don't have a boss looking over my shoulder who's otherwise putting pressure on me to not get out of my desk for whatever reason. If that's what business cubicle culture is like these days, I'd be, that's a big problem.

S: A lot of companies are pretty good, though, at building in the opportunity for their employees to exercise because they're paying them for their health care.

E: They do. Yes.

S: A lot of neurologists, patients often ask me, what can I do for my brain health? You know what the number one factor is?

J: Exercise.

B: Body.

E: Sleep.

S: Physical exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain health. So one thing about the study, when I read through it, they concluded that the data that they have showed that exercise improves quality of life. But I think that they're over calling that a little bit. I don't know what you thought when you read through it. I think this is a correlation but they're saying because we measured activity before, like over different periods of time, that suggests that it's causing the improved quality of life. I also think they couldn't factor out the fact that people who have better quality of life because they're in physical shape that they can exercise more and they can move more.

J: I thought about that. I thought like what if you do have bad knees or whatever and you don't really have the physicality to do it. But I think overall if you're maintaining a healthy body weight and you are factoring in exercise you might not be developing some of these debilitating things. I personally know that I have hip replacement in my future because of my in my hips are is wearing out. I think I've thought about it quite a bit and I'm like I really got to increase my exercise and get get back to shape after a surgery like that when that happens. I don't know when it's going to happen, but could be five years, could be 20 years from now.

S: Yeah, you want to go into that surgery as strong as possible.

J: Yeah.

C: Yeah, you do.

J: So there's another part of this study here I wanted to let you guys know about. So the researchers also studied something that they called health related quality of life. What this includes is being able to take care of yourself, how much pain you're experiencing and your anxiety and mood. So when I when I say health related quality of life, I'm talking about those three things. So the researchers discovered that as the health related quality of life level was lower, meaning that people were saying that they're experiencing pain or they weren't able to take care of themselves as well or they were experiencing anxiety. The test subjects reported there was an overall increased risk of hospitalization, negative outcomes of hospitalization and early death increase. This is from the data that they collected from these patients. So those of them who were complaining about pain, taking care of themselves and anxiety ended up having a lot more serious things happen to them. And again cause and effect here they're definitely drawing lines that connect these things that I don't know exactly. Like Steve was saying we don't know how significant it really is. But again, we know that exercise does a lot for the human body. And it's quite obvious that people should be exercising for as long into their life as they can. Now, they followed these test subjects for six years. And at the end of the six years, both men and women reported a decrease of 24 minutes of exercise per day and an increase in sedentary time of over 30 minutes per day on average. So there is a natural tendency to move less and be more sedentary as we get older.

C: Things hurt more.

J: For sure.

C: We have less energy and our bodies literally hurt more when we get older.

J: And health related quality of life was found to be directly. This is what they say in the study. That health related quality of life was found to be directly connected to the amount of activity the test subjects were getting. Even a decrease of 15 minutes of exercise per day had a significant measurable decrease in overall quality of life. Again, the able to take care of yourself, pain and anxiety thresholds. So I think even if we don't know a hundred percent that there's a direct connection between these things, I think it's very likely that there is, taking a brisk daily walk, even a couple of times a day for 10 or 15 minutes, gardening, bicycling, like playing tennis. ou don't have to go in full bore. You can you could you could do a light version of tennis. Swimming. There's lots of activities that you can do that are low impact that will raise your heart rate and will give you a physical benefit. So why not do it?

S: Yeah, to whatever degree you are medically safe and able to do so. And if you have any questions about that, definitely consult your physician. I know a lot of people, especially as you get older, there's lots of things that can cause physical limitations, you know?

C: Yeah, but there's even like, I mean, there's great chair exercise routines.

S: Yeah, I know we have our mother doing those. She has like a little pedals at the foot of her chair. So when she's sitting in her chair, she could move her feet and it really helps her leg strength.

C: Yeah.

Hominid Cannibals (25:19)[edit]

S: All right, Cara. So where are early hominid ancestors cannibals?

C: Yeah, so I don't know if you guys saw the article last week that was making the rounds and there was a lot of click bait around it. It was published in Scientific Reports and it was called Early Pleistocene Cut Marked Hominin Fossil from Kubifora, Kenya. Okay, that's not a very feather ruffling headline, but it was generating coverage with headlines like, let me find this one that I really thought was ridiculous. Yabba dabba chew.

E: Oh my gosh, they did not.

C: Yes, they did. Cavemen were butchering and eating each other 1.45 million years ago, scientists say. Actually, one of the claims that was made in the press release was that this is the oldest decisive evidence of cannibalist behavior. But I think the important thing to note here is that the decisiveness of the paleoanthropology community is not there. So a little bit of background on this specific story. This specific story was a finding in northern Kenya 53 years ago was the finding, but it's been sitting in a vault. You know how that works sometimes with human remains or any kind of paleoanthropology they're studied over time. But this is a shin bone fragment that's 1.45 million years old. The claim that this was a decisive finding of cannibalism is based on this. So there were cut marks, thin slashes, 11 in total, that were all angled in the same direction and as one of the lead authors said, clustered around a spot where a calf muscle would have attached to the bone, the meatiest chunk of the lower leg. These were 3D scanned and compared to a database of 898 butchery and tooth marks. Based on the analysis, 9 of the 11 markings were consistent with the kind of damage that a stone tool would make. That's the evidence. A piece of a shin bone with specific markings that seem consistent with stone tools. From that, the argument, the hypothesis was put forth that these individuals were doing cannibalism.

E: Because that's the most likely reason?

C: Right, that's what they argued, yeah. So basically they said it looks like this hominin leg bone was treated like the bones of other animals and we presume when we see marks like this on other animals that they're butchery marks.

E: Well, did they offer any other potential explanations as to what it could possibly be?

C: Other people did. Other people say how do we not know that this was a murder? How do we not know that this was self-harm? How do we not know that there's some other device that we can't account for because we're talking about something that was 1.45 million years ago? Really, the main question of this article that was written in the New York Times about this is when do marks on a bone indicate cannibalism? Or they said, to put it another way, how much pre-modern evidence is needed to provide or to prove a modern theory? So it's been an interesting debate within paleoanthropology for years and years and years and years. And with this most recent article, it pushes back the oldest evidence by about a million years. So it's a pretty bold claim. We can go all the way back to, for example, do you guys know Taung Child?

S: Yeah.

C: Have you?

E: Yeah.

C: Pretty famous fossil.

E: Wow, it's been a while since we mentioned that.

C: And so Taung Child was discovered in 1925 by Raymond Dart.

S: Who, by the way, is like the sweet old guy who had the most horrific view of our early human history.

C: Yeah, there's a pretty crazy, can I read you like a crazy quote that he wrote? Okay. So he discovered Taung Child, Australopithecus africanus, the southern ape of Africa, and concluded that based on the way the skull looked, the child had died from a heavy blow. And because of that heavy blow, he said these were, "Confirmed killers, carnivorous creatures that seize living quarries by violence, battered them to death, tore apart their broken bodies, dismembered them limb from limb, slaking their ravenous thirst with the hot blood of victims and greedily devouring livid, writhing flesh".

S: Yeah, that was dark.

E: Whoa, monstrous.

C: That's his quote, that's dark, right?

E: That's pretty monstrous, yeah.

C: So now scientists think that Taung Child, who was 2.8 million year old fossil, was killed by a large predatory bird because there were puncture marks under the eye sockets that look like talon marks. There's just been this debate as to whether human cannibalism habitually happened at all, or if cannibalism has only been isolated in like dire situations. There was actually a book written by an anthropologist in the late 70s about the myth of what he called the man-eating myth, saying that there was almost no evidence where we had the paleoanthropology next to ethnography or even history next to ethnography. So basically the sociology and the science together telling us contextually these people were habitually engaging in cannibalism. So we've got these sporadic little bits. But what he argued in his book actually was that pretty much all accounts of cannibalism were hearsay and that they were a propaganda tool by scholars of the British Empire to help "tame the ignoble savage", right? Like if we paint them as the savage cannibalists, we can keep them in the separate class. Now, since then, we actually have seen, I think, a handful of what most paleoanthropologists would agree is pretty confirmed evidence. But none of it is as old as the new study that was just published. So earliest confirmation is 800,000 years ago in a cave in Spain where 11 individuals had distinctive signs, cuts on the bones, fractures where they had been cut open to expose marrow, and human tooth marks on the bones. They also have found evidence in Neanderthal that are 40,000 BCE in Belgium where the butchery marks were pretty indicative, the butchery and tool marks were indicative of cannibalism. And Homo antecessor, considered the last common ancestor of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens.

B: Love that name.

C: Yeah, right? Have bone breakage patterns that most paleoanthropologists agree are consistent with cannibalism. So it's not like the hypothesis of the anthropologist who was writing in 1979 that there's no evidence stands, like some things in his book have been debunked as well. But you basically see people within the paleoanthropology community, some of them saying, hey, this seems like a good hypothesis. We buy it. It looks great. Yeah, these early Pleistocene cut marks probably are cannibalism. And you've got other people who are like, what even are you talking about? You have a piece of one leg bone. We can't say anything based on that. We need more evidence. And so somebody who was quoted in the article, Dr. White, basically the journalist said, when do marks on a bone indicate prehistoric cannibalism? And his quote was, on a single bone, never. Demonstrating that the scratches were made by a hominid using a stone tool is a methodological challenge. The larger challenge is to demonstrate that such evidence has anything whatsoever to do with cannibalism. Hard enough to say it was a stone tool, but we were maybe pretty confident in that. But it's a leap to go to cannibalism from there. It seems reasonable, right? These species are trying to survive in a doggy dog world. There are situations when there's not a lot of resources. Maybe that's what we resort to. But it ignores a lot of things about human psychology and human behaviour, just kind of assuming aspects of hominid or sort of human or pre-human psychology and behaviour. Because we have to fill in the blanks somewhere. And we don't have that data. We're literally just making it up. I think it's important that we think critically about the way we do science, which we do, but that we continue to do that and exercise healthy skepticism. And when certain claims are made, we can say, hey, that's an interesting hypothesis. And that may be the case. And what is our kind of assurance? We do that a lot in the military. We do it a lot in other aspects of science. We do it in medicine all the time, right? What's the probability? How comfortable are we with this prognosis? What does it look like? But we need to be careful as consumers of scientific evidence that it's not yes or no, black or white. There's a lot of doubt.

S: Yeah, but it's like the cannibalism is the sexy interpretation.

C: It's super sexy.

S: It's like aliens with anything astronomical, right? That's the go-to headline. It doesn't mean it's not true.

C: Yeah, it doesn't mean it's not true but I know a lot of science writers who talk about that. If I could write an article about an immortal dinosaur who only ate chocolate and had a lot of interesting sex, there's just certain things that if they make it into a science paper, it's going to go viral.

S: And worn invisibility clothes, yeah.

C: Yeah, you've got something interesting going on with these bones. And of course, luckily, the early places in cutmarked hominin fossil from the Kubifora, Kenya. It's not like they were being all that salacious in their actual scientific writing, but then it kind of gets out there once we start doing the write-arounds.

Aspartame and Cancer (35:53)[edit]

S: OK, so have you guys heard the World Health Organization, it was leaked that they're going to reclassify aspartame.

B: Yeah, you told me just two hours ago.

S: Yeah, the low-calorie sweetener into a possible carcinogen.

E: Oh, boy.

C: Along with everything else.

S: Yeah, this is all over the news.

E: You mean in mice, right?

S: Well, wrong kind of evidence.

C: Epidemiologic.

S: So we've talked about this before, but I mean, we have to mention this again. Aspartame has been around for, what, 70 years now, and it's been studied in thousands of papers. The evidence has been reviewed by over 60 government and regulatory agencies and found to be perfectly safe as a food additive. But it's been, for whatever reason, it's been surrounded in controversy publicly ever since it came out. It was actually one of the targets of a pre-web, pre-worldwide web, kind of chain-letter fear mongering campaign. In writing.

C: Like in the mail.

E: Send this to 12 people you know.

S: That's how far back it goes, right? It's pre-web. But anyway, so this is obviously going to be gasoline on the fire of the aspartame controversy. But what is the World Health Organization actually allegedly saying? Because again, this is a leaked piece of information that they're going to come out later this month with this change in classification. So let's talk a little bit about the classification system that the World Health Organization uses. They rate, they're not talking about risk, right? They're not talking about what's the chance of getting cancer from exposure to whatever, to some substance. They're saying what is, they're categorizing how confident the evidence is, how strong the evidence is. So in other words, you could have a high ranking. If we're really sure there's a teeny tiny risk, but if we're not sure there's a huge risk, that would have a lower ranking. Does that make sense? So the classification system starts as category one, which is this is a carcinogen to humans. 2A is probable carcinogen. 2B is possible carcinogen. 3 is we don't know, and 4 is it's not a carcinogen. So they're upgrading I think from 3 to 2B. 2B being possible carcinogen. But that tells us nothing about the risk, right? That's just that this is theoretically possible, that it could have carcinogenic effects. But it doesn't say anything about the dose or about how people are using it or if this represents an actual risk, like it increases your risk for cancer. And again, as Cara said, with that standard, a lot of things get into that 2B category, including one of my favourites, hot liquids. You just drink hot liquids, that's a 2B carcinogenic to human risk.

C: That's why we end up with like, I mean, I know it's slightly different because California has its own classification system. We have this proposition 65 statute. Yeah, with these different listings. But because of that, because the law says they have to print it, it's why you always see that printed on, my refrigerator says this is known to the state of California to cause cancer or birth defects or reproductive harm. It's like, okay, my refrigerator where I put all my food. Cool.

S: It's alarm fatigue because it's everything.

E: They put labels on bananas with radiation warnings.

C: Right, exactly.

S: It becomes like, well, how can you act on that information when it's basically everything? Yeah, it's a lot of things. I wrote about it on Science Based Medicine, there's a Wikipedia page which has the full list of all the things that are in the 2B category. It's huge. And it's stuff that's approved that we use and that we're exposed to every day. You know, a lot of it.

C: Right. Once it's in the one category, do you notice that there are like black box warnings and that it's less likely that these are consumer products?

S: So again, it doesn't tell you anything about risk. So not necessarily.

C: Yeah, true.

S: That just means the quality of the evidence is higher. But again, so typically when we're studying substances to see, is this safe for the food supply or to be a drug or whatever, the first thing you try to determine is, is there any potential hazard? Is there any potential for this to cause any kind of negative health consequences? And if there is, then you just need to decide, okay, well, what's the actual risk that it will cause harm? And then that's studied specifically and that's mainly about dose, right? In fact, one of the tests that we do is the LD50 test. It's like you myth buster the problem, right, Cara? Essentially, let's just give animal, this is where the rat studies come in, or the mice studies. Let's just give them higher and higher dose to figure out what dose kills half of the animals we expose to the substance. That's the LD50, lethal dose 50%, LD50. And then say, okay, now let's make the upper limit for human exposure, two orders of magnitude lower than that. And that's our safety buffer. That's about managing risk. So even if something, we're absolutely sure it's a carcinogen, but if you are, if you drink only one hundredth of what it would take to cause a problem, there's no, essentially no risk from it. That's okay. So the question is, for say with aspartame, reviewing the same evidence that said it's a possible carcinogen, at what dose? And those doses are massive. For an average weight individual, or even at the low end of weight, you would have to drink somewhere between 12 and 36 cans of drink sweetened with aspartame every day.

C: Some people do drink a 12-pack of Coke a day.

E: Yeah, right. So for how long?

B: But even those outliers are, at the low end of what could maybe be harmful.

C: True. But I think the reason that there is something important about this, and it's something we don't often state, and it's almost every time that you see some sort of a big kind of epidemiologic disaster with regards to this, is like let's say we're talking about like industrial dyes, for example, or some sort of toxin that at low, low doses, like in your clothing, is never going to affect you. It's the workers that are in the factories producing these things, and also sometimes the downstream environmental effects that we, again, because we don't like to externalize things. So we never think about, well, what happens when all of that gets flushed down a drain? What happens when all of that ends up in a river? What happens when all of that gets stored? And those kinds of questions I do think are important. I'm not being alarmist here. I do think they're important. But it's two separate questions. What does my as a normal consumer exposure look like, and am I at risk? And then maybe if I work in a factory where we produce this stuff.

S: Totally. That's worker safety is completely different and environmental safety is totally different.

C: But we don't often treat them differently, sadly. So, but yes, agree.

E: So something breaks down aspartame in the body, though. Is that also true in the environment? It breaks it down?

S: It would break down differently.

C: The body breaks it down?

S: Yeah, the body metabolizes it, which is different than it chemically breaking down.

C: When you pee, for example, are there any components of aspartame in your pee?

S: I'm sure there are. Yeah, but it's actually some of the breakdown products of aspartame that are more of a problem than aspartame itself.

E: Interesting.

S: Which is often the case. It's like you have to test every metabolite. Yeah, because one of them is, and this is probably where, if there is any carcinogenic effect, this is where it comes in. It's formaldehyde. Which is not an uncommon breakdown product of things that we eat. And you have formaldehyde in your body right now. It's just part of the natural biochemical process. It's going to be there. So does it increase it significantly? Does it change enough to change your actual risk again?

E: Don't ask the food babe.

S: So keep in mind also that even their very mild possible carcinogen at massive doses is controversial because other reviews of the same evidence have concluded that no, it's not a cancer risk. So for example, the most recent review I found was published in 2022, so just last year. They said, taken together, available evidence supports that aspartame consumption is not carcinogenic in humans and that the inconsistent findings of the risk assessment studies may be explained by flaws in study design and conduct as acknowledged by authoritative bodies. So even their conclusion, which is actually very mild, is controversial.

C: Interesting.

S: Not universal. But I think what's not controversial is that at the doses that it's being consumed, the risk is negligible to nothing.

E: We're going to one day have a situation in which somebody is going to come down with a form of cancer. They're going to blame it on their high consumption. Then they're going to sue the manufacturer or the product.

S: Yeah, I mean, that can happen. But I think even in the absence of good scientific evidence, that kind of stuff happens.

E: Right, because the courts don't do a good job of really explaining the science and really handling this. like Roundup.

S: So when things like this come up, I think it always seems like at the end of the day, it comes down to the same thing. The best approach is just everything in moderation. If you just take that basic first level approach to life, just to anything you consume or expose yourself to or even do, just everything in moderation, you're probably most of the way there to having a pretty optimal lifestyle in terms of your health. You know what I mean? Just don't consume any one thing in ridiculous amounts, and you're probably okay.

B: Except peanut butter.

E: And zero nicotine.

S: There are some things you shouldn't get exposed to at all, but just in terms of food.

C: Don't eat asbestos in moderation.

S: Yeah, I'm not talking about that.

E: Don't eat lead paint chips.

S: Yeah, because a little bit of anything is fine in terms of food.

C: In terms of things that are already, yeah, exactly, edible.

S: People run into trouble when they try to get really restrictive in what they will consume.

C: Well, yeah, it's actually really funny because they end up exactly in the place they're trying to prevent themselves from being in. It's kind of a sad cognitive shift.

S: Yeah, they're trying to get rid of all the unhealthy stuff from their diet, so they end up eating a very, very restricted diet, which is way less healthy than just eating everything in moderation.

FAA Approves Flying Car (46:52)[edit]

S: Okay, Evan, I hear the FAA has approved, wait for it, a flying car. Come on, what's going on?

E: The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States. Yes, they've given certification to a company, first time ever, to a company. The company is called Alef, A-L-E-F, Alef Automotive. Yep, flying cars. Oh my gosh. How long have we been talking about flying cars on the SGU? Forever. And even before that? I mean, how could you not have a future technology discussion and flying cars not be a part in some way of that discussion? Hell, when we were watching the Jetsons, even that cartoonish version of people taking to the skies their personal vehicle with the commonality of a car, really, it's been part of our lives since we were little kids. And people, hey, they drive around, so why can't people one day fly around? And it's not all that simple. I mean technology's given us the four-wheeled carts powered by internal combustion engines. That's an entirely different world than the technological requirements for people actually flying around in sort of the same capacity. But even blending those two technologies into one. I mean, that's like this chimera with so many inherent issues that we can understand why simply dreaming about personal commuting vehicles, I mean, it would be almost impossible to suss out. But there are several companies that are doing it. This doesn't stop the companies from trying. They've been trying for a long time. But for the first time, a certification has been given to an automotive company by the FAA. But it's for testing purposes only. So it's for exhibition research and development. It's not like they're saying, here you go, you have your authority. Go ahead, build your car and sell them. They're not quite there yet. Alef Automotive's primary backer is SpaceX. So it's coming from sort of that family of engineers and designers and everything. It's being touted as the first fully electric vehicle that can both fly and travel on roads. To every and certainly to have received this government approval. Let me tell you what the CEO of Alef, his name is Jim Duchovny says, "We're excited to receive this certification from the FAA. It allows us to move closer to bringing people and environmentally friendly and faster commute, saving individuals and companies hours each week. This is one small step for planes, one giant step for cars." OK, so they have a vehicle and they actually premiered it at a tech show last October. It's called the Model A. It's their vehicle aircraft, the first flying vehicle that is drivable on public roads and able to park like a normal car. It is 100% battery powered. It has a vertical takeoff and landing capability. That's important. This is not a fixed wing. Well, I suppose it is when it turns into the actual flying apparatus itself. When you envision sort of this car, you've seen other companies put out their prototypes of flying cars. Like this car like structure, but with two long wings sort of extending off the body of the car. But this one's quite different than that. This one, oh boy, how to best describe it. OK, so take your car, OK, and you got the center area where a driver and a passenger, it's a two seat vehicle, would drive around. OK, then you want to bring it into, you want to get this thing flying. So what happens is that eight propellers in the car start to lift you off from your parking position straight up into the air, straight up. You can go up several. Well, I think they said like 30, basically 30 or 40 feet or however really high you need to get to get yourself going in the forward momentum. As you start to go forward, what happens is as you sit in your sort of bubble, your seated area, the rest of the car turns around you like almost in this 90 degree turn in which the hood and the trunk, say, at parts of the car, will flip onto their sides 90 degrees.

S: So it's horizontal. It's not vertical.

E: Yeah, and then now you're flying around in this vehicle that looks something, I don't know, like not quite a tie fighter from Star Wars, but it has sort of a similar sort of vibe to it.

S: Yeah, so you think the top of the car is now facing forward.

E: There are videos to watch of this online. I'm sure you can find them in plenty of places. Obviously, it's all over the news and they have their own videos of the proto of basically a well, a what a simulation, a showing you what, an animation of what it what it will be. Right now, they don't have their Model A ready yet. They have what's called Model Zero, which is just simply their test vehicle that they're I've seen footage, actual footage of it taking off and landing. So the vertical aspect of the car going up and down have not seen any video of it yet sort of flying around in the capacity that they're telling you it can do. So they still have a little ways to go here with it. But apparently, I guess for whatever the FAA requires to give it the approval it did, they satisfied those requirements. Let me tell you a little bit more about the car, though. It can fly in any direction, including forward, backward, right, left, up and down. And at an angle. It boasts a cinematic 180 degree plus view. It would be amazing. Safety features include no exposed propellers, sensor redundancy, whole system redundancy, propulsion with eight times redundancy. That's the eight propellers. Zero single point failures. OK, that sounds good. Pre takeoff, one thousand point diagnostic. Parachutes. Yep, I guess just in case. And real time thousand point telemetry. All right, here's some of the things that bring it sort of back down to earth in a way. This Model A, when it becomes available and they say they're going to start manufacturing these in 2025, we will see cost three hundred thousand dollars per vehicle. OK, so this is not something that really the average consumer can do. This will be a toy for the ultra rich right now.

C: The first Teslas were like almost 200, weren't they?

E: Yeah, that's right.

C: And only a few years later, you could get a Tesla for like 50.

E: And they're saying the model 10 years from now, which will actually have capacity for four, will have all kinds of improvements. They want to price that at thirty five thousand dollars. So there you go. That's where it becomes accessible to to a lot of people. So this Model A is not going to do it, but they're calling it the Model Z, the one ten years from or 2035, I should say, when we did our podcast in the future.

J: And they talk about what will happen about takeoff places, landing places, interested to know like what their solution is for that.

E: So the FAA has a series apparently, I tried looking it up and couldn't exactly find it, but they have designated locations which apparently are colour coded because they talking about right now that right now the Model A is approved for taking off at landing at what are called white listed points. So I suppose these are places in which there's absolutely no possible the least possibilities of interference, physical interference or whatever else might possibly go wrong, sort of the safest of the safest parts of wherever you would take off or land with these things. They approved it for white listed places, whereas the model that they're going to release in 2035, they say it's approved for all of those except for what the FAA calls black listed places. And I imagine those are secured areas and other places with high tension wires and other physical problems that would arise. So, yeah, there is sort of this code. I couldn't find a comprehensive list of all the different levels of this, but right now you can take off and land at white listed places, according to the FAA with this with this particular model.

S: Yeah, it's interesting. You mentioned the high the high tension wires, but as flying vehicles become more popular the next twenty years or so, it's really going to create an extra incentive to bury electricity lines. [inaudible] should do now.

E: I know.

C: Absolutely should.

E: I don't know why they would ever─

S: That's money.

E: The day of the telephone pole has to go away.

C: Yeah, but everything else is buried already.

S: Yeah, I know. I know they really should. Especially since we run telephone wires along roads it's in the exact worst place if you're if you want to have this kind of scenario when you're taking off and landing on a road.

E: You may ask if you need a pilot's license to drive this car. Apparently, you do not.

S: Well, the CEO said we don't know.

E: They don't know yet. Right, but they think it will fall more under the rules of having a drone license in which there's some high level drone licenses. We have to talk to Ian maybe a little bit more about that because he might know some more about that in which if you achieve the if you get that level of training, you should be able to operate this car. At least that's what they're hoping. That's what they're going for. That's what their literature in their brochures effectively are saying that they're hopefully going for drone license operators. Oh, and speed. When this thing's a car, if you're a lead foot, this isn't going to be your vehicle because they're saying about 25, maybe maximum 35 miles an hour.

B: Well, that's on the road, right?

E: On the road.

S: Yeah, but it's not really meant to be like your car on the road. It's I think driving on the road is just getting to where you're going to take off from. Yeah. And then parking after you land.

E: So, I mean, OK, I don't you know, I have no idea if they'll really get this done by 2025. Seems a bit ambitious to me, especially since they haven't really flown one of these yet. We haven't seen that that that footage in 2025 is just around the corner, really. So I don't know about that. But the fact that the FAA sort of gave its blessing, that is a hurdle, an important one. There's a lot more hurdles to to overcome. Plus, as the National Safety Transportation Board has not made any kind of rulings or given their approval to any any of this yet. So who knows how long that will take in this whole process? There's no mention about that and sort of hindering this. So I wouldn't get too excited for this happening really in the next couple of years. Let's have some skepticism here about that. However, like other technology, it's slowly plotting along. And maybe in our lifetime, we will see a day in which you or I could afford a car.

S: We are getting close to that point where like battery technology and drone technology is at the point where flying cars of one type or another are getting just barely into that feasible range. And we know, like we talked about the after a battery that's like we just doubled the energy density twice as much range for the same weight. That's critical for applications. And we need we need to double it again. And maybe again, to like really get to where we need to be. Here's one thing. Because I look looking at just like what's out there. Just to update myself on the flying car thing. And there's a lot of companies developing models that are not trying to be a car that drives on the road at all.

B: And they're more efficient, right?

S: Yeah, they just take off from the ground vertically fly to your destination and land and then you're done. And those designs look much more efficient, much better, much safer, in my opinion. The idea of having one vehicle that does both drive on the road and fly.

B: Yeah, it kind of seems silly now, doesn't it?

S: Yeah, I don't think we're there yet. I personally would rather just have a drone that I can fly from one point A to point B.

E: Yeah, personal little helicopter effectively is really what it becomes more than a car. That way, just a drone level of operation of your own personal helicopter.

S: And if you can get the range up to like 300 miles, then we're talking.

E: Oh yeah, did I not mention the range right now? Yeah, they're talking about just, I'm saying in miles, 110 miles maximum flying range. So yeah, that's not, but the next model, the 2035 model, they believe that will go up to north of 200 miles. So there you talk, okay, now we're talking on something. And certainly at that price level, if it's 10 times less, that's better.

B: But that said, it would be still would be very cool to have a car, a decent car a solid car that could drive but also fly. That would still be like, yeah, that's kind of cool. Just like, is that just nostalgia at this point? I would love it. And even better than that, one that goes into space, but I'm just like getting away from myself now.

E: I'll wrap up with this, Jay, you and I, we don't like heights, right? We're not thrilled with heights.

J: That's correct.

E: So I'm not really all gung-ho and jumping into one of these and trying it out. However, I could see a situation in which they would have basically a simulation. Test yourself to see put yourself in virtual reality.

B: How much would you panic during an accident?

E: Right, yeah, no, you would. Wouldn't you want to know that? I mean, to how much you can mentally sort of handle this ahead of time?

B: I want some statement of, all right, this is how safe it is. I want to see ballistic parachutes and I want to see like, there's a million man hours of safety is through the roof. Then I'll have no problem.

E: I agree.

S: The other thing is like this one that is like 80% drone, 20% car. It's mainly you're going to use it as the flying component of it. And it's a pretty crappy car. But what if you flipped that and had something that was, as Bob said, it's a good car. It's a decent electric vehicle that you could be used as your primary vehicle. You could drive 70 miles an hour or whatever. You can drive it like normal. And it had limited ability to fly. Like maybe it has a range of 50 miles. It doesn't flip into this crazy sideways wing configuration. You can just use it to get to like when you get to the city, that last mile you're going to go. You're going to bypass all the traffic and get to your destination.

B: Or hop over this lake. Yeah, hop over and drive over.

S: Exactly. Just using it for just for brief stints of flying to get around obstacles.

B: Get away from zombies, you know?

C: Yeah, but think about how abused that would be on like a busy freeway and how annoying it would be when people think about how unsafe and horrible drivers are now to like get away from, get around that little backup. Oh, I'm just going to go around this person. I'm just going to and now they're doing it vertically too?

S: Well, there'd have to be regulations about how to safely do that. Like we have the HOV lane. Yeah, maybe that there needs to be a lane for these vehicles.

C: Right.

B: Like HOV would stand for H-I-G-H.

E: The high lane.

S: But imagine Cara the same thing. You get stuck in traffic and then a third of the vehicles just fly away. You know, that's not a bad thing.

C: No, it's not a bad thing. So long as they don't just all fly into each other.

S: We're assuming the basic technology is safe, right? That the computers are going to be keeping these things from crashing into each other.

B: They would put in a request and they would get into the queue to take off.

E: It would identify other flying vehicles around it and say you can't physically, it will stop you from colliding as best as it possibly can.

C: It just seems like a whole other skill that pilots have, but drivers don't have. Well, we know how to like colour within the lines, but we don't know what happens when the lines disappear.

S: Well, I could see getting a special driver's license for it. You get a special license for other vehicles.

E: Some sort of hybrid between a drone and pilot.

B: Well, think about it, Steve. I mean, part of the problem with automatic cars is that that last 5% of development, which is the classic technology curve. So on the road, you're going to have a mix of computer driven cars and human driven cars. But if you make it a law that when you take off, it's all computers. So then it would be all computers that are communicating with each other. Wouldn't that could that leapfrog that last 5% or so and make it much safer for automated cars since we seem to be not getting there on the ground?

S: It could be. I also think it'd be probably a lot easier to autopilot in the air than on a road.

C: Yeah, you've got much more room for error.

S: Fewer obstacles.

E: No squirrels dashing out in front of you.

C: And you just do that IR thing that you can already do with robotics, where it's like you always know where each other is.

S: I really think around the cusp though, just looking at what's happened.

B: I know for the first time I've been thinking about this, dreaming about it literally for decades. And I remember looking at the Mahler flying car from the late 90s thinking, holy crap, this is imminent. The research looked good and their claims, of course, were ecstatic.

S: The range was crap, that's the problem.

B: But it was like there was like these issues that just became that just killed it. And I was like it's never going to come. And then now it's kind of looking better than it ever has. But we'll see. We'll see.

E: We'll see.

Neutrino Image of Milky Way (1:04:12)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, take us home with this neutrino image of the Milky Way. What's that all about?

B: This is cool. For the first time, scientists have created an image of the Milky Way using something other than electromagnetic radiation. We've now created one using only the ghostly particles called neutrinos. This was published in the journal Science. If you're an avid astronomy geek like me, you eventually come across dramatically different images of the Milky Way that we have pieced together, of course, from our perch within the Milky Way, which is especially difficult. But these optical images are one that use visible light. I've seen also radio images and even gamma ray images of our beautiful Milky Way. These images appear radically different because they're different frequencies of light. But they all have in common the fact that they are based on the electromagnetic spectrum. But now we've got a new imaging tool that uses not photons, but neutrino particles. Neutrinos have been mentioned many times, essentially chargeless superlight subatomic particles that can fly through a light year of lead without interacting. And millions have flown through your fingernails since I started this sentence. It's just all over the place.

E: Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.

B: Now the IceCube, the IceCube, Evan, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica detects these neutrinos. This neutrino telescope is a collaboration of hundreds of scientists from 50 institutions within 14 countries all over the place. But there's no conventional telescope and lens. It literally uses the ice that's ubiquitous in Antarctica, of course. And also deeply embedded within that ice are rays of basketball sized optical sensors. Now the neutrinos, as I said, are famous for not interacting with anything, but they occasionally do, of course, which is how we detect them. And within the confines of the IceCube, a neutrino will run into one of the, I don't know, sextillions of atomic nuclei in the ice. And that collision produces charged particles that actually exceed the speed of light.

S: No, they don't.

B: Yes.

S: Charged particles?

B: The charged particles exceed the speed of light.

S: How do they do that?

B: That piqued your curiosity, I think I've piqued Steve's curiosity. This is called Cherenkov radiation. And the charged particles that collide and create its distinctive UV and blue light do it because they are exceeding the speed of light in ice, which, of course, is slower than the speed of light in a vacuum. Nothing is going to exceed that. Did I get you on that one? I think I got Steve a little. More technically, it exceeds the phase velocity of light in that medium. Now Cherenkov radiation, it's fascinating. Its cause is similar to a sonic boom. The colour is kind of like a sonic boom, which, of course, we know is caused by movement faster than the speed of sound. Anywho, it's this Cherenkov radiation that the sensors are made to detect, right? The neutrinos come in, they hit one in a quintillion particles, it creates charged particles that create Cherenkov radiation, and these detectors detect that. That's how we detect the neutrinos. So the neutrinos that are detected, but they're not all the same, right? These aren't just vanilla neutrinos coming from the same thing. Many neutrinos rain down on us from various sources, like the sun is one big example. These scientists aren't looking for them. They want the really high-energy neutrinos. These are the so-called galactic neutrinos created not locally, but light years away within the Milky Way. But even those high-energy galactic neutrinos, they're not the ultimate goal. The goal is even more mysterious. They're high-energy cosmic rays that create the neutrinos. And what creates the cosmic rays? Those are the real big boys on the block. What's going on there? So this is what they're really after, the highly energetic phenomena that create the cosmic rays that create the neutrinos. Cosmic rays, of course, are not rays. If you've listened to me blabber on about them in the past, they're not rays. They're basically mostly protons that have been ejected from these amazingly powerful events in the universe, giving a little lightweight single proton the kinetic energy potentially of a 94 km per hour baseball. One proton as fast, as powerful, as impactful as a baseball thrown at like 58 miles an hour. Think about that. That's some speed right there. So what we want to know in detail is the processes that can create such powerful cosmic rays. Protons that are accelerated far beyond what the Large Hadron Collider could ever dream of doing in its wildest dreams. It could never create protons traveling this fast. What's creating them? That's the big mystery. That's the ultimate mystery here. So IceCube has detected many neutrinos over the years, but many of the detections were ambiguous, right? They weren't necessarily pointing to the specific location that they came from because they were kind of like a fuzzball of light. Oh man, we know there's a neutrino there, but we can't really localize where it came from. So it took the power of AI and machine learning to make these recent advances that I'm discussing that this field is seeing. So machine language was able to look at years of observational neutrino data and determine with unprecedented confidence levels that many of the neutrinos were in fact galactic neutrinos. Not all of them, but here's a bunch that look like they are galactic neutrinos. The authors say in their paper, "The observed excess of neutrinos from the galactic plane provides strong evidence that the Milky Way is a source of high-energy neutrinos." Fantastic discovery. They've been hoping to confirm that for many, many years. So it's these high-energy galactic neutrinos that were used to make the image that I led this off with that's now making the rounds of many astronomy sites. These are the pixels of that image. It's these high-energy neutrinos that have been confirmed by this machine language new method. So now the real intriguing here though is not the image. The image is like, oh cool, look what also we have over here, this picture of the Milky Way. But the real intriguing thing is what happens when you lay that neutrino map over the gamma ray map of the Milky Way. And as hoped, it matches as predicted because we suspected that whatever's happening, it's creating gamma rays and it's creating neutrinos. So they already had the gamma ray map, they didn't have the neutrino map, now we do. And they match up, which means that their theories are all coming together nicely. The ultimate question in this field is what creates a super high-energy cosmic rays that creates the gamma rays and neutrinos? So what do you think that is?

S: Supernovas?

B: What amazingly energetic stuff is happening out there that could be creating these neutrinos and gamma rays. Yes, you're close. It's AGN, active galactic nucleus, which means supermassive black holes, right? Millions or billions of times the mass of the sun. Of course, it's supermassive black holes. They do most of the crazy, really crazy stuff that's happening everywhere. They're just incredible objects that are so complex, we're just barely scratching the surface of how gnarly these guys are. So the details of how these monsters create these cosmic rays and what other processes may create them, that's one of the holy grails of astrophysics. And we're just getting a little bit closer with this latest discovery. In the future, upgrades in the detector technology and machine learning algorithms are going to improve this image of the Milky Way, get more detailed, and reveal features that are even invisible, just totally hidden to us now. So we'll be seeing new structure, hopefully, in the future as this technique improves. And I'll end with a quote from Kurahashi Nielsen, professor of physics at Drexel University. He said, "Hopefully, in another 10 years, I can come back with a NASA quality picture of the entire universe, not in light, but in neutrinos. This is the goal of my career", which is a laudable goal, of course. But of course, the other big goal that many researchers are looking for is to finally figure out, all right, how are these super high-energy cosmic rays and neutrinos created? What's really going on with the black holes that are creating them, or maybe something else, too, that's involved? So that's where we are. So cool stuff. Check it out online if you want to know more.

S: Cool. All right. Thanks, Bob.

Who's That Noisy? (1:13:01)[edit]

S: Jay. It's who's that noisy time?

J: All right, guys. Last week, I played this noisy.


What is that noise?

B: Wow, man, that's great.

C: You said animal.

E: Whatever it is, Bob wants it for his haunt this year.

J: Interesting reading the 100 emails that I get, all the different things that people think it is. And there is never a week, whether I'm playing an animal noise or I'm playing a mechanical noise or whatever, people always guess animals and they always guess mechanical things or electronic things.

C: But that definitely sounds like an animal. That's not an animal?

J: We'll see. Let's go through it. All right. So a listener named Mr. Tracy McFadden wrote in and said: "Hi Jay, I'm going to guess this week's noisy is a version of a toy called a whirly gig. It's a spinning wheel button spun on a loop of string. Love the show."

B: Oh, wow.

E: Ah, whirly gig.

J: I looked it up. I couldn't find one.

E: No? That's part of the whirly gig economy.

J: In the time that I had, I couldn't find a noise. So I don't know how close it is. So I'll have to look that up and see what the deal is. But that was not a whirly gig. Another listener named Keely Hill wrote in and said: "Hi Jay, It sounds like two elephants squeaking and tooting at each other. One sounds smaller and younger." These are not elephants. But that is not a bad guess. I've heard noises that elephants make. And there is a little bit of a similarity there. Another listener named Joe Savage wrote in and said: "Hi Jay, This week's noisy sounds like a sped up version of a race car. You hear the motor revving and the sounds of braking, or perhaps just smaller remote controlled cars racing on a small track. Thanks, Joe." So there's the mechanical sound. And I have a few winners here. I wanted to quickly read their names. Scott Marta actually was the first person to write in the correct answer. Said: "This week's noisy is indeed a happy penguin being played with or stroked."

C: Oh, really?

J: And then another listener named Jakub guessed correctly. And he said it's a baby penguin enjoying cuddles. And then Melanie Ward also guessed correctly. So yeah, a lot of people actually did know this one. This was a popular video. And this is actually Cookie the Penguin getting tickled from the Cincinnati Zoo. And I did a little bit of research because I couldn't find anybody actually talking about what kind of penguin it was. So I opened up a picture of like all the penguins of the world graphic. And I compared the penguin to the picture. And I found out that it's very likely an Australian, something called an Australian little penguin.

C: Oh, I've seen those. They're so cute. They're blue.

New Noisy (1:15:51)[edit]

J: All right. So I have a new noisy for you guys this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Charles Culp. And here it is.


E: Happy skeletons dancing around.

J: Totally skeletal.

C: Oh, yeah.

J: Totally has that skeleton.

E: Right. It's that Mickey Mouse kind of 1930s skeleton dancing noise.

J: Absolutely. Oh, yeah. It goes back for me, even to the little rascals.

E: Oh, boy.

J: Yeah, we're going back to like the 70s when I was a kid watching that show. So if you heard something cool this week, or if you think you know what that noisy is, you got to email me at

Announcements (1:16:32)[edit]

J: So the big thing that we have coming up, guys, the thing that I've been pouring a ton of my time into is a conference called NOTACON. This conference has a few things about it that you need to know. First of all, the conference is we're calling it NOTACON because it's not like your traditional conference. There's not going to be 20 or 30 speakers over the course of two and a half days that you're going to listen to. The entertainment that will be provided at this conference will come from the entire SGU cast, George Hrabb, Brian Wecht, and Andrea Jones-Roy. We have a ton of events and bits and shows that we have planned, that we've been writing. We're still working on it today. We're still improving on the show and coming up with new and better ideas that we're going to do. But we have a core group of things that I'll probably reveal within the next couple of weeks. I'll put the list of all the different events that will be happening. But the good news is that this conference is going to have plenty of time built in for you to have meals with your friends, to have nighttime activity with your friends. Because what we'll be doing, for example, on Friday night, we're going to be doing a live Boomer versus Zoomer, which is our game show. We'll be picking people out of the audience. But then there'll be plenty of time afterwards to go to the bar in the hotel and hang out and to have hours of time to do all the socializing that we all love to do at these conferences. So I highly recommend that you give this conference a chance. It's going to be a great place to meet people. If you're new to the skeptical community, or if you've been listening to the SGU for years and you already have friends and you used to go to NECSS or whatever, this is a great conference to go to because a lot of your friends will be there. So go to to get more information. There's a button on there that will take you to the registration page. And if you have any information that you'd like to know, you can also email us at

S: Thank you, Jay.


Email #1: Politicization of skeptical topics (1:18:41)[edit]

S: We're getting a little behind on answering our emails on the show discussing them on the show, because there's just a lot of topics that we've hit upon recently that we've been getting feedback on. And I want to see if we can get through a couple of them on this show to get caught up on a little bit. So last week, we made mention we were talking about homelessness a little bit, like we didn't do a deep dive on it just sort of came up as sort of a brief topic. Cara, I think you brought it up we were talking also in the context of the─

C: The migrantship. Yeah, like where we put our resources.

S: Yeah. And yeah, you made the comment of like, it's not a good idea to criminalize living, basically.

C: Right.

S: Which we got a little bit of feedback on that essentially saying that that's a political opinion. But I know, Cara, I talked about this a little bit. We oftentimes we may say things like that. And it's not it's just like an ancillary part of the discussion, even though it may be interpreted as political, and I'm not saying there isn't an ideological or moral dimension to it. But usually there is a scientific basis to what we're saying, right? Otherwise, I wouldn't have left it in the show, basically.

C: Right. Yeah, there's evidence that supports it, whether we verbalized that.

S: Right, right, right. We should get better on pointing out like, by the way, this is what the scientific evidence says. But it's hard with unscripted discussions. You know, this is like─

C: Right, things that we didn't specifically prefer that.

S: So I'm happy to come back and do it later. But that's why we sort of got a little back backlogged on that sort of stuff. So the bottom line is there is good evidence. And the consensus of opinion is that criminalizing homelessness doesn't work. It doesn't reduce homelessness, right? It doesn't get people off the streets. It actually all it does is break the tie between people who are homeless and the support structure that they need. It actually makes the underlying problems worse. So it's actually counterproductive. That's the scientific evidence. And so that is actually a scientific statement. This was kind of tied, by the way, with the... And this is an interesting discussion, something we are very interested on the show, is the degree to which on the SGU we get into political comments or statements or discussion. Obviously the editorial policy of the SGU is that we are about science, critical thinking, and we don't deal directly with purely cultural or purely political or even purely religious issues, right? That's just not our editorial policy. But those things all intrude on science and critical thinking all the time. And so we do address them if there's a scientific angle or a critical thinking angle. And oftentimes we even say, should we talk about this? And my question is always, what's the scientific angle? What's the critical thinking angle? As long as there is something to talk about that has to do with logic or evidence, then we can talk about it. So the question is, has there been a shift on the SGU itself? I don't know what you guys feel about that.

C: An ideological shift?

S: Yeah. Like, do we talk more about politics now than we did five years ago or 10 years ago or 15 years ago?

C: And or is the girl doing it?

S: Well, I mean, before you, it was Rebecca. It was always been the girl on the show who gets blamed for bringing up politics. But although here's the thing, we get criticized from the right and the left. There are more progressive listeners who complain to our libertarian bias, which I don't think we have. And then there are the more, I think, conservative listeners who complain every time we say anything, even remotely progressive or liberal. But again, in each case, we're trying to stick with science and evidence. But sometimes the science cuts one way or another. And I do think it's good that we have a range of political perspective, ideological perspective on the show, because sometimes we don't realize when we're being political, we're not trying to be. It's just that it's so baked in to our point of view that we don't even realize it. And we sort of keep each other honest on here. And Cara, definitely you are in that position more than the rest of us. You know, sort of keeping us honest for not accidentally interjecting our political ideology into the discussion.

C: 100%. I mean, I think we just have to remember, too, that we're people. And I think that, we work very hard to, as you mentioned, always talk from a science, evidence-based, critical thinking perspective. Once in a while, moral issues do arise.

S: Ethical, yeah.

C: Yeah, ethical, moral, I think there is sometimes a place for moral philosophy. Just because something is a moral question does not mean that it's inherently political. And I actually sometimes struggle even with the term political, because I think politicized might be a better word to use. I don't think anything is inherently political. I think things become politicized based on the agendas of those who are running for office very often. But my answer to that question, and maybe you disagree, maybe you don't, has to do with the Overton window, right? This idea that at any given time, there is a range of policies that are politically acceptable to the mainstream population, the window of discourse. I think that the window of discourse has moved to the right. And because of that, sometimes the conversations might feel like they've moved to the left.

S: Exactly. So yeah, have we moved or has culture moved?

C: Exactly.

C: And the Overton window has moved to the right. We're talking about Roe v. Wade again. There are things that we that we didn't have to talk about 10 years ago.

S: And I definitely think that and I did respond to one of the emailers that point as well that 20 years ago, we were talking about astrology and homeopathy and things like that.

B: Bigfoot.

S: And Bigfoot. And today we're talking about global warming and gun control and issues like that, because they have been politicized, just like the ability to do research into gun safety has become politicized. So yeah, we're talking about the same topics. They've become more political. I don't necessarily think that we've become more political. Our discussion has been because the topics that are relevant to scientific skepticism have been politicized so much more in over the last 20 years.

C: There's a salient point, because at one point, there was something in the email, kind of along the lines of an argument of saying, of course, it's fine. If on the show, you're going to lambast or ridicule or I don't remember how he worded it, but but bring to task people who are politically right for denying climate change. But when you start talking about criminalizing existence, that's clearly an overtly political. And it's like, wait, you're committing a logical fallacy in choosing what things, according to your own personal ideology, fall within the acceptable scientific view versus the only political view. Like he's making the same mistake.

S: Because we're having this conversation with so many more people than just like each individual emailer. We could see patterns that like the individual listener can't see. And so one clear pattern, you guys tell me if you agree with this, is that when when your politics agrees with what we're saying, we're being scientific. And when it doesn't, we're being political.

C: And you see this all the time in big, big data, in kind of big social investigations that show that when the person whose political party they agree with is in office, that things are going better, or that we're making more progress or the morals of the country are in a better place all those different things, or there was like less fraud in the election. Like there's always a bias and it works on both sides of the aisle.

S: And for our discussions, like, yeah, if if you agree with the science of global warming, when we talk about global warming, we're talking about science. And if you don't agree with it, when we're talking about global warming, we're talking politics. But it's really perception based upon where you're coming from. Anyway, we are very aware of this issue. It's we have a very thoughtful editorial policy about it. We strive to remain objective, scientific, critical thinking. But there's just so much politicization of these issues. It's hard to avoid it. But again, we'll pay very close attention to this.

Followup #1: Titan submersible failure (1:26:54)[edit]

S: Okay, next email. Those are I had a long back and forth with an email named Paul Murray, who is an expert on material science. And he was explaining to me how the Titan fails. So really about the carbon composite material that the submersible was made out of. Because I just said if you get a crack in there, it collapses. And he said, yeah, that so at the and of the day, this is what I came to understand from what he was saying. Yeah, you do get cracks. That's ultimately what happens. But the the problem before that is that you get what's called the delamination. The problem. This is why the composite, the carbon composite carbon fiber materials were the worst material for a submersible. Because under pressurization and depressurization, materials compress and expand. If you have any composite material, the rate of compression and expansion is going to be different. And that's going to cause the different layers, the different types of material to pull apart from each other, causing delamination. You do that over and over again. You get microcracks, then cracks, and you get instant failure. So that's an interesting idea that this composites are not good for this, because they're going to delaminate under pressurization and depressurization was an interesting idea. So yeah, I just wanted to add that detail to that prior discussion.

Followup #2: Canada's forest management (1:28:19)[edit]

S: And then finally, a number of emailers emailed us about my somewhat offhand comment about Canada managing their forests. Because from what I've been reading, and I've done much more reading on this since, this is the discussion of why is Canada experiencing so many forest fires? Clearly drier, warmer climate is playing a role. But a lot of outlets were saying, and also Canada has not been managing their forests well, especially on the eastern half of the country, where a lot of these fires are. And I was getting basically pushback from some emailers, one who actually works in the Canadian forest management industry. That's what he does. So the answer is, it's a lot more complicated than that, as it always is. First of all, I wasn't saying it as a criticism. I was just saying, this is what I'm reading. It's not all global warming. It's also forest management.

E: United States has forest management issues as well. It's not a unique problem.

S: Now part of it, and I was looking to make sure this wasn't just a anti-global warming talking point that was being put out there. And I think it was picked up as one, but that wasn't the origin of it though. And even more like politically left sources were saying the same thing. But what he was saying, the emailer was saying, who actually works in the industry is like, well, these are all, this is basically managed at the provincial level. Yes, you could say that they could benefit from more federal integration of these services, but there has been a decrease in maybe the research going into forest management over the last recent decades. But it's been the actual funding for forest management and what they're doing hasn't really changed significantly over time. They're still doing what they need to do. The real problem is that it's harder to do prescribed burns and cultural burning because there's way more forest in contact with developed areas. So the way to manage, so there's a very, very quickly, again, just sort of synthesizing everything that we were, that the discussion and what I've subsequently read. So the way that you manage forests is one, you can just let them do what they're going to do. There'll be fires every now and then that will burn up the fuel and there's a natural sort of fire cycle to any forest. However, if we are resourcing the forest, we're using it for wood or whatever, we don't want that to happen. So we suppress fires and that allows for fuel to build up until you have a huge fire. So that's when we have to artificially manage the forest because we're disrupting the normal fire cycle. And how do you do that? Mainly through prescribed burns. But that becomes harder to do when there's a lot more developed towns and houses and whatever near the forest in the midst of the forest because you accidentally burn down one house and you're kind of screwed.

C: And then you can never do another prescribed burn.

S: Right, exactly. So that's been suffering. So we haven't been doing perhaps as much prescribed burns as we should be doing in order to prevent the fuel from building up. So that doesn't mean they're not trying or they don't have the resources, whatever. It just means it's just harder to do because the changing use of the forest and the changing proximity to living space, to develop land. So it's a dilemma. It's a real dilemma. How do we optimally manage these forests?

C: Was his perspective that Canadian forests generally, and again, I know it happens at the provincial level, so it's not going to be an all-in-one answer, but that Canadian forests generally are well funded.

S: Yeah, he said they could always be better funded, but that's not really the big issue. They're as well funded as they have been in the past. A lot of the actual on-the-ground management gets put on the companies who are mining the resources. Like if you're the company who's logging in the forest, it's your job to make sure that it's properly managed.

C: Look at that, externalizing or internalizing those external costs. What a concept. I love it.

S: So in any case, it's a complicated picture, but the end result is, yeah, there was a buildup of more fuel in the forest because we haven't been able to keep it under control. And this is now combined with the hottest year ever basically that we're experiencing in the middle of right now. So this is going to be an increasing problem. All right, everyone, let's move on to science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:32:58)[edit]

Item #1: A recent review of data finds that maternal mortality rate more than doubled in the US between 1999 and 2019 in every racial and ethnic group.[7]
Item #2: Astronomers observing distant quasars find that time in the early universe flowed 5 times slower than it does today.[8]
Item #3: A study involving bacterial cells with a minimized genome, in which every gene is deemed essential, revealed a dramatically reduced rate of evolutionary adaptation to stressed environments.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Cells w/ minimized genome
Science US maternal mortality rate
Universe flowed 5x slower
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
US maternal mortality rate
Cells w/ minimized genome
US maternal mortality rate
Cells w/ minimized genome

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics on which one is the fake. Just three regular news items this week, no theme. Is everyone ready? All right, here we go. Item number one, a recent review of data finds that maternal mortality rate more than doubled in the US between 1999 and 2019 in every racial and ethnic group. Item number two, astronomers observing distant quasars find that time in the early universe flowed five times slower than it does today. And item number three, a study involving bacterial cells with a minimized genome, in which every gene is deemed essential, revealed a dramatically reduced rate of evolutionary adaptation to stressed environments. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right, the first one here, this recent review of data finds that maternal mortality rate more than doubled in the US between 1999 and 2019. That's incredible. I mean, you'd think you'd hear about that in the news, but okay, if that's true, I'm really curious to know why. So he says it's in the US I mean, has healthcare diminished that much since 1999 that that effect could happen? I'll move on to two here. Astronomers observing distant quasars find that time in the early universe flowed five times slower than it does today. My god. I mean, that goes against everything that I understand about space time. I guess when you say, I mean, so they're observing distant quasars, which means that the quasars exist in the early universe. I would think you're talking about like the first few seconds of the universe, not like well into when the universe was established. Man, I don't know. I don't know. That is an interesting thing you got there. And the last one, a study involving bacterial cells with a minimized genome in which every gene is deemed essential revealed a dramatically reduced rate of evolutionary adaptation to stressed environments. This is a tough freaking week, Steve. My god. My gut is telling me that the maternal mortality rate did not double since 1999. I don't think so. I think that it would be a much bigger deal and and I would have heard about it. So that one is the fiction.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Yeah, well, I don't know. I'll start with that. And then we'll say, okay, why would the first one, why would the maternal mortality rate more than double, more than double in between these 20 years, 1999 to 2019, right across every parent demographic you can think of? It seems like Jay said, it's like counter-intuitive. It doesn't mean it's wrong, but you would think people would have a better or females would have a better mortality rate over that span of time. But all right, moving on to the second one. So the distant quasars, five times slower than it does today. All right. So let me get my mind around this. If the universe is expanding and accelerating due to, is it dark matter? Not dark energy, dark matter. So if you wind that backwards, basically, and you go back 13.8 something billion years, roughly, or early universe, whatever they're calling it, there's 13.7, whatever, do you get to the point where you're moving five times slower than it does today? If there is this accelerating universe, and is it linear? Is it constant in the sense that the acceleration continues over that duration of time? Could it have been five times slower? Perhaps it could have been because we would be pretty far along 13 billion years later and as things do accelerate faster. So maybe that one's right. And then, I don't know, this last one, bacterial cells with a minimized genome. Oh my gosh. Sounds like this was pulled from a title of a paper somewhere, basically.

S: Do you have any questions about it? I mean, it's a little jargony, but─

E: It is jargony. Putting it together in my head is a little challenging here. I don't even know what the right question to ask here might be. All right. I'll say the minimized genome one is the fiction that I, because I really don't understand what the heck is even going on here.

S: OK. Cara?

E: Most enigmatic.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Yeah, I'm torn between the maternal mortality rate and the genome one. I buy the quasar one, even though it's like, what? I also think that maternal mortality has significantly increased recently. The question is, is it increasing among white people? I don't know. I know that it's increasing amongst Latinx and black women. And I know that it has always been significantly higher amongst black women. So is it increasing amongst white women? And that is what's contributing to this even larger gap lately. Maybe. I do think that women are having, the average age that we give birth is going way up. And so that could be part of an issue. Our healthcare system is pretty broken. It's really hard for me to net out on that one. And I feel the same way. I'm like six and one half a dozen on the bacterial cells. So you've got this cell. The genome has been shrunken down to just essential genes. And I feel like one of two things could happen. Either they would evolve super rapidly or their fitness would drop into the toilet because they don't have a lot of options for redundant availability. There's no extra genes there that we think about as being unessential, but would probably be super essential if one of them wasn't helping with their fitness. So a dramatically reduced rate of evolutionary adaptation to stressed environments, I think that's probably going to be science. So I think that the maternal mortality one's going to be fiction because I don't think it's probably doubled amongst white women.

S: And Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: All right. So for the minimal genome, you say that bacterial cells with a minimal genome, but are you referring to the minimal genome that they tested that had evolved for 300 days or the one that hadn't evolved for 300 days? Because they tested two of them. And I read this goddamn article and I remember, I was reading it and I'm thinking, Steve's going to use this and I'm going to be pissed off because the article I've read it three times and it's like, dude, they are not clear. They are not clear what exactly they did. And then now your question seems to be missing a critical component for me to even answer this. So take a look. Are you talking, which minimal genome are you talking about? Because there was two different ones.

S: They're comparing the minimal genome over 300 generations to the not minimal genome over 300 generations, which one evolved faster?

B: So the genome, I'll say the genome number three is fiction.

S: Okay.

C: Well, there you go.

B: I still could get this wrong because this was not a well-written article.

C: I guess.

S: All right. But you all agree on number two, so we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Astronomers observing distant quasars find that time in the early universe flowed 5 times slower than it does today. You all think this one is science and this one is science.

B: What's the deal? I saw the title, didn't read it though. I was like, oh, I should have read that, but time, like the flow of time?

C: I'm surprised you didn't read that, Bob. That feels like just Bob porn right there.

B: I think I was in the middle of something.

S: This has to do with cosmological time dilation. So this is predicted by relativity, right?

E: Oh, Einstein.

S: This is not unexpected. This is not something new, really. What's new is finding it in quasars. The problem has been that when we look at cosmological time dilation, right? Because you have the effect of the size of the universe, I guess, the density of the gravity or whatever, that should have a time dilation effect. When you look at cosmological supernova, it unambiguously shows the expected redshift predicted by time dilation, but previous observations of quasars did not show it. And the question is why? Why aren't they showing the redshift that we expect them to? But this is now a new study where they looked at 190 quasars over two decades in multiple wave bands, and they found they are showing the time dilation effect that we see in supernova and that we predict by relativity.

E: So it's human error.

S: Yeah, so this is just confirming what we already knew. But it's weird. You read the title, it's like really time was flowing. They're talking about time dilation, right? It's like saying time flows more slowly near a black hole, right? Same thing. Does that make sense?

B: Right.

C: Oh, okay.

B: Interesting. I definitely got to check that out.

S: Yeah, it's cool. But it's one of those double takes. What are they talking about? Oh, they're talking about time dilation. Okay, I get it. All right, let's go back to number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: A recent review of data finds that maternal mortality rate more than doubled in the US between 1999 and 2019 in every racial and ethnic group. Cara and Jay, you think this one is the fiction. Bob and Evan, you think this one is science. And this one is science. It is science, Bob is correct.

C: Okay, so it did. It did amongst white people too.

S: Yeah, I thought that would get you, Cara. I actually thought that Cara might get tripped up on this because the study basically showed two things. One was, yeah, there is huge racial disparities and black Americans have the highest maternal mortality rate.

C: Something like three or four times high.

S: Well, here's the numbers. Here are the numbers. So these numbers are the number of women who die per 100,000 live births. It's a low number, but it's still more than it should be. So the number per 100,000 live births, and these are deaths that occur within one year of giving birth because they still think it could be related to their pregnancy. So for American Indian and Alaskan Native population went from 14 to 49. So that's like triple.

E: Triple.

B: That's nuts.

S: For black population, 26 to 55.

E: That's a straight up double.

S: And for Asian Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander population, 9.6 to 20. So it's still more than double, but they're relatively low. Hispanic, 9.6 to 19.1. And for the white population, 9.4 to 26.3. So again, just about tripled.

B: Why? What's going on?

S: Well, that's a good question.

C: Well, also like, by the way, when you say these are low, they're not really.

S: Well, I'm just saying, you might think like nine per 100,000.

C: But we rank 55th in the world.

S: It's not low from that perspective.

C: And to be fair, like we are one of the richest countries by far in the world, and we rank 55th.

S: It's not good relative to other similar developed nations. Western.

C: And some less developed nations.

S: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And so what's the reason for this? So we, again, we can only speculate this study didn't look at that. But before we talk about that, there is one weakness to this study, I have to point out. And that is that at some point over these 20 years, the way we count maternal mortality rate has not been consistent.

B: That's not good.

C: We're just like counting more now?

S: Well, yeah, we are counting more now. But but they said there was one inflection point where they basically added a pregnancy checkbox to death certificates. But they said that the change did not change before and after that. In other words, they did the recorded maternal mortality rate continue to increase even after that point. So it wasn't all due to that.

C: Because the rate of change was still going up.

S: The rate of change was still still increasing throughout the whole period. But yeah, because it wasn't the identical procedure over 20 years, that introduces another variable in there. So just whenever you look at this kind of data, you always have to think about was there any change in how they were counting? It's always a good question to ask. But so they're speculating saying, well there's this definitely relates to poverty. It relates to addiction rates, which have been going up. It relates to access to health care, obviously. And it relates to rates of anxiety and depression. So there's a lot of sociological factors involved here. But they don't really know what the specific explanation is for this increase. But it was in every single group. That was, I think, the surprise─

B: Yeah, that's the takeaway.

S: ─in this study.

C: They didn't say anything about health care, really? They put it all on the people. And not on the system?

S: No, I said.

C: No, not access to health care. I mean, the health care system itself.

S: What, that we're not giving as good health care? I think if you can pay for it you good health care.

C: True, true. But I'm also curious, and I know that this is a hotly debated topic. So I'm going to leave it as an open ended one. Did they look at all at c-section rates?

S: So no, that wasn't wasn't part of the study.

C: Okay, it would be very interesting to see those comparisons is a question.

S: I wouldn't assume that those are being increased over the last 20 years. My memory─

C: I would. I would definitely assume they would increase over the last 20 years. So yeah, that's an interesting question.

S: Yeah. So yeah, so it peaked. It increased from 1996 to 2009, from 20% to 32% from 2009 to 2019, which corresponds─

C: It flattened.

S: It actually declined a little bit. Well, yeah, it went─

C: Fairly though. It's pretty flat.

S: ─down to 31%. Yeah, they're pretty flat.

C: But this is 99 to 2019. So that's interesting.

S: So that's not the primary thing. I don't think it was kind of plateaued.

C: But I wouldn't, it'd be interested if that was, yeah, not primary. But if that was part of it, I think also the c-section rates are different, the racial categories are very different.

S: There's a lot of sub questions you can start asking when you try to figure out what's contributing to that. Absolutely. Okay, let's go to number three.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: A study involving bacterial cells with a minimized genome, in which every gene is deemed essential, revealed a dramatically reduced rate of evolutionary adaptation to stressed environments is the fiction.

E: Clearly.

S: And the reason it's the fiction is that because the rate of evolution increased actually that the cells with the minimized genome evolved at a more rapid rate than the bacteria from which they were derived.

E: And that was surprising, right?

S: The amycoides. Guys, we talked about this before on the show. They took the bacteria, the creation of the minimized gene, and they took amycoides. They basically whacked out about half the genes. They left behind like 400 and something.

B: Yeah, it's crazy, man.

S: Just what was the absolutely essential. So the question was, with no redundancy and every gene is critical, you would think any mutation in an essential gene would be deleterious. So how could it evolve? This is kind of like almost a creationist argument, irreducible complexity. That's not where they were coming from, but that just kind of reminds me of this idea that every gene is critical, so how could you possibly mutate without making it even worse? But it turns out these bacteria evolved very rapidly. So first of all, when you go from the baseline bacteria to the minimized genome bacteria, as Cara said, they lose a lot of their robustness. They are not very well, they're not able to live in very well and stressful environments.

B: Yeah, they were out-competed and out-evolved by the non-minimal, the original.

E: Delicate flowers.

S: Not out-evolved, they were out-competed, but the thing is when you then...

B: Well, yeah, the out-competed, yeah.

S: Out-competed, but not out-evolved, because then when you let them reproduce for 300 generations, they regained all of their lost robustness, and they basically evolved to recapture all of that everything that was lost with the minimized genome. But if you read deep into the article, they did estimate how quickly they were evolving, and they were evolving faster when they were starting with the minimized genome. That's the key bit. And again, this as written is wrong, which makes it the fiction. Okay, I know that was a little confusing. It was a little bit wanky, that one. Okay, Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:50:35)[edit]

It is a bad plan that admits of no modification.

 – Publilius Syrus (85–43 BC), Latin writer from Antioch

E: "It's a bad plan that admits of no modification." Publilius Syrus.

S: Publilius, that's a weird name.

E: Publilius, I know, it's a weird name, right?

C: Where are they from?

E: Well, Publilius Cyrus, they believe he was born in Assyria, 85 BC, and he was a stand-up philosopher. Do you know that joke from...

S: Was he born in the capital of Assyria? What was the name of that city again?

E: Assyria?

S: Capital of Assyria?

E: Capital of Assyria?

C: No, what is happening over here?

S: What is the capital of Assyria? Come on, Monty Python, Evan, you lose.

C: Sorry.

E: Here I am concentrating on stand-up philosophers.

C: Yeah, I was like, what is happening?

E: So yeah, he gained enormous fame as an author of comedians, a theatrical type of comedy that employed witticism, farce, and parody as its literary tool. So yeah, they had developed senses of humour way back when.

C: Wait, I'm sure that this is the dude who first said a Rolling Stone gathers no moss.

E: Serious? Is that where it came from?

C: That's what it says. Yeah, that's called a maxim of Publilius.

E: I tried to poke around to see if, okay, really was this fellow who actually said this, and it seemed to hold up on the internet well enough that I have some confidence that this is his quote. So in any case, the point is, for the quote, it is a bad plan that admits of no modification, is you have to change with the evidence. Come on, you know?

S: With conditions on the ground.

E: Right, yeah, conditions have to change. You learn new information, yet you have to modify. That's just like 101 stuff here, folks. Don't entrench yourself.

S: Be mentally flexible.

E: Yes, please.

S: Adapt and evolve.

C: Yeah, who was it? I saw a quote from Bertrand Russell or somebody the other day. Oh gosh, I'm rebuttering this. That was like, I would never die for my beliefs because what if I'm wrong? (laughter)

S: Those are wise words, too. Okay.

C: I agree.

S: Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

J: Sure.

B: Sure man.

E: Thank you.


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

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

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