SGU Episode 945

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SGU Episode 945
August 19th 2023
945 DeepSpaceNetwork.png

One of the five large antennas, called Deep Space Stations (DSS), at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, part of the NASA Deep Space Network. The DSS-43 antenna is the only antenna on Earth that can send commands to Voyager 2.

SGU 944                      SGU 946

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

The tantalizing discomfort of perplexity is what inspires otherwise ordinary men and women to extraordinary feats of ingenuity and creativity; nothing quite focuses the mind like dissonant details awaiting harmonious resolution.

Brian Greene,
American theoretical physicist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Cara's dissertation, Maui wildfires[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, August 16th, 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 Cara, how did it go? You defended your thesis two days ago.

E: Oh, boy.

C: I did. I did. Dissertation is in the can. It went well, I think.

S: Did you have any immediate feedback?

C: I did a little bit, but not like, it's kind of silly because, like, we had been going back and forth. So my chair didn't have any feedback. He said that it was great and he's ready to obviously move me forward and I can graduate and all that good stuff. My methods expert said that I shouldn't be hard on myself about my limitations. I'm not, but I do have to have limitations. How do you tell a story of like three years of your life and 180 page paper and really, really get to the meat of everything in 45 minutes? That's like less time than you usually have to give a public talk.

S: Yeah. I mean, that's the art of it, right? Is knowing how to distill it down to the essence and knowing what to cut out. Like the Sophie's Choice, like, oh, I can't talk about this because it's not enough to talk about everything.

C: Right. And like, how much do I talk about the background and how much do I talk about my findings and how much it's just, it was a lot. So but yeah, we got through it. It was great. Everybody's very gracious and kind. The dissertation is now off to the proofreader, which is the important intermediary step where they copy, edit and make sure everything is where it needs to be. And it's formatted appropriately for the university. And then once it comes back from the proofreader, it goes to ProQuest, which is the publisher.

S: Cool.

C: So yeah, then it'll be published.

S: Congratulations.

C: Thank you.

B: Huge milestone.

S: So have you guys been following this fire in Hawaii?

J: Yeah

B: A little bit.

C: Yeah, my aunt lives in Maui. It's been very difficult. Like, yeah, she's updating me. It's horrible.

S: Yeah, it sounds like it was a real CF like multiple things went wrong, you know.

J: And it happened really fast people were literally like, when you think a building is burning or a neighbor's house is burning and like you'd have time. But it seems like they didn't have a lot of time.

C: No, a lot of people died. Over 100 people have died.

J: Yeah. Well, it's probably going to be a lot more than that because there's a lot of people missing.

C: There's a lot of people missing. Yeah. Over 100 people accounted for have died.

J: But I haven't read an account that kind of takes me through like the blow by blow what happened.

C: Well, I mean, it's not like all of Maui, right? It's like mostly in this one town.

J: Yeah. Yeah. In that town.

C: And it was just it was devastating.

S: From what I understand, it like they they didn't evacuate. They didn't really have a warning. It spread. They just caught him by surprise. It spread very, very quickly.

C: It's not common. That's the thing. Like, you don't think of that landscape, you don't think of that area as being so vulnerable. But things are changing rapidly. And that's the scariest part about all of this, the places that we didn't think as critical places for wildfire have become them.

B: Yes. It boils down to climate change yet again.

C: But also, I think there's been a lot of conversations around city planning and around sort of moving away from sort of the natural landscape and into some of these more human built structures that were not very fireproof. I've been reading quite a lot about the way that the landscape has changed over time to make it not intentionally, of course, but that makes it less kind of resilient to fire. And that's obviously very problematic.

S: No, Bob is correct in saying that the probability of this happening without climate change is very, very low. It's always hard to attribute any individual event. It's all about probability. But with all the heat waves and all the fires that we're having in Canada and in Maui, we're way past the probability of this just being like a normal fluctuation.

C: Oh, yeah, 100%.

S: Yeah. It's so infuriating. We're in the middle. I'm sure there's still like pulling bodies out of the ash, right? And people are talking about space lasers. Like, come on.

C: What about space lasers?

S: They're saying that this is that the fires were caused by lasers it's not natural.

C: Oh, like a conspiracy theory.

S: Yeah, it's a conspiracy.

B: Oh, my god.

S: Already the nut jobs are─

J: So the idea is─

S: Turning this into a conspiracy event.

J: They took a picture that was taken from the Falcon 9 rocket launch. I think that happened a couple of years ago. There was like a time lapse type of picture where it shows like the initial dust that's kicked up when the rocket fires. And then you see this trail, which is essentially, I think, exhaust that's coming from the ship, right? As it goes up. But when you look at this picture, it's showing all this at once because it was a time lapse. So it looks like it could very easily be interpreted as something coming from the sky and doing something to the ground. Because the smoke that's kicked up and everything, the dust that's kicked up on the ground. And they're literally like, yeah, space lasers started this fire in Maui. That's where they jumped to.

C: Why?

S: Because conspiracy.

C: Usually there's like an ideological reason behind a lot of these things.

B: Well, there is. There is. Climate change is a fiction being promulgated by the liberal elite. And we want people to believe it for some reason. So we're going to burn some brush and kill people to make them think that it's climate change when it isn't. That's the reasoning. Right?

C: Absolute bananas. That people can like do the mental gymnastics to get to that place.

B: People are elite gymnasts when it comes to mental gymnastics.

C: That's so true.

B: Perfect 10s straight across. Oh my god. We are superhuman gymnasts in that context.

S: And some people are just saying that it doesn't look natural. Really? What does that look like? What does a natural fire look like versus a laser-caused fire? You're an expert at determining that based upon the resulting fire.

C: I'm sure fire is fire once it catches fire.

E: I recall that because in one of the shots you can see sort of this oval ring of fire as almost a, that doesn't happen in nature. It had to have been deliberately set.

S: I'd love to take that quote out of context, Cara. Fire is fire once it starts fire.

C: Exactly. Come on people.

S: [inaudible] catches fire, clearly.

C: You don't even need the context. We can use this in all sorts of contexts.

S: All right. Let's go on with some news items.

News Items[edit]

Deep Space Network (6:49)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to tell us about the Deep Space Network. What is that?

B: DSN, NASA's Deep Space Network of Ground Observatories, is such an unsung hero of all the exabytes of data that we get from space that's turned not only into beautiful space pictures on our monitors, but also observational data, et cetera, that's then turned into breakthrough discoveries that revolutionize our conceptions of the solar system and the universe itself. Sandy Kwan, the mission interface manager for James Webb Space Telescope within the DSN, notes that each mesmerizing web image that has graced our screens would not have been possible without the support of the DSN antennas and personnel, the backbone of interplanetary communication. So the DSN in this context, it's not a well-known initialism. It does not, for example, stand for Deep Space Nine. It does not stand for Delivery Status Notification. And Steve, did you know that it does not stand for Dejurene Sotos Neuropathy?

S: Yes, I'm aware of that.

B: It does not stand for that in this context. The DSN, or Deep Space Network, I'm referring to, it's primarily a worldwide network of ground-based spacecraft communication facilities to support NASA's spacecraft missions. And I've heard about it over the years and kind of had an idea what it was all about. But I took a deep dive this week and I wanted to just, I thought it was just something that more people should know about. If you like astronomy and space news and all that, the DSN is critical. For us to enjoy the science, the astronomy news, we wouldn't be if it weren't for the DSN to a large extent. I mean, it literally has no peer at its job. It's the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunication system in the world. Now, NASA's DSN uses radio antennas for two-way communication, primarily with its uncrewed spacecraft in the solar system. And it also has a major role also in transferring science data from the plethora of landers and rovers on the robot planet in our solar system, also called Mars. Now, the smallest discrete unit of the DSN network, it's called a DSN complex. And that's just basically one of the three facilities on the planet that are part of the network that comprise the network. They're separated from each other by 120 degrees. Why? That's so as the earth rotates, at least one of the DSN complexes will be able to see any far-flung spacecraft in any direction. So you're never out of communication potentially at all with anything that's out there. Now, these three DSN complexes are, there's the Goldstone Deep Space Communication Complex outside Barstow, California. There's the Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex near Madrid, Spain. And then there's Cambra Deep Space Communication Complex in, of course, Australia. When we were down there, how long ago was that? I would have loved to have seen that. All right, so each facility, each of these facilities has at least four large radio antennas to detect the ridiculously faint radio signals that are sent back to earth from all of our robots out there. And as you suspect, there's different sizes of the antenna. There's a 70 meter, 34 meter, and 26 meter. Now these different sizes are because some of the work requires low bandwidth and some of it is inherently high bandwidth. So the S-band frequencies you may read about are for their lower bandwidth uploads and downloads from, say, James Webb. So there's a 16 kilobyte per second uplink and a 40 kilobyte per second downlink. Not a lot, right? That's not a lot. For a comparison, I was looking at some old dial-up modems. The best one in 1993, right near the birth of the World Wide Web, was 14-4. Remember the 14-4 modems? 14-4 kilobytes per second, which is far slower than these guys. Well, a little bit in terms of it's slower compared to the downlink. The uplink is right around the same at 16 kilobytes per second. That's 52 meg per hour. Can you imagine downloading something and you could download 52 meg per hour? That's ridiculous. I can't believe we did it. So what do you do? What do you do with low bandwidth? How is low bandwidth upload and download even helpful? Well, it is for stuff that requires low bandwidth. If you send a command to the spacecraft, turn left by 0.5 arc seconds, whatever, that command can be sent low bandwidth. You don't need high bandwidth for that. You also use low bandwidth to receive engineering telemetry to see how healthy the platform is. So there's not a lot of data involved in that. If you have a small software update that you need to upload, you could use the low bandwidth S-band. The Ka-band, that's the high bandwidth downlink and just the downlink, and that's 28 megabits per second. So a lot faster. According to today's standards, that's pretty lame, but it doesn't mean, hey, this is in deep space, people, and you can still get a lot done with a 28 megabit per second download for these devices. And that's mainly large amounts of scientific data. There's lots of data. These platforms are collecting a lot of data over a long period of time, and they've got lots of data to download. If you're only looking at it once a week or whatever, depending on how quickly it accumulates the data, you might have a lot of stuff you need to download. That's the Ka-band. That's the highest bandwidth available from using these satellite dishes and these radio dishes. So if you use this, you could have a two-hour download instead of maybe three or four days of a download if you wanted to use the lower bandwidth, S-band frequency. So those are the two different kinds, high bandwidth, low bandwidth. So I was curious, how do you get time on this deep space network? How do you even do this? So first off, you have to be a mission planner for NASA, right? So you need to have that job. You're a mission planner for NASA. And so for something like the James Webb, even Voyager 1 or Voyager 2, you're the mission planner. So what you need to do is you need to determine at what each DSN, when can any of those three, when can they see my spacecraft? You need to know what's viable for you. When can it see your spacecraft? Then you look at the master schedule at what the DSN is already planning to look at. Because there's other people, there's other mission planners out there. They have their own satellite, I mean, their own probe or spacecraft out there. And they're already booking time with the DSN, so you've got to look and see what time is already booked. And then you've got to find the open spaces, the available network time that you need. And then you kind of like pencil your name in digitally for what you need. So sometimes, though, there's a conflict. Say Voyager 1, Voyager 1 wants the deep space network Wednesday at noon, and so does James Webb. And so all the spots are taken up, but that's when the mission schedulers at JPL, they work out a compromise. They kind of talk to the teams back and forth trying to come up with something that both parties can be happy with. And that must be very, very difficult because DSN hosts almost 40 different missions. So scheduling these, I'm sure it gets mighty complicated when you've got 40 different missions trying to grab DSN network time and trying to communicate with their spacecraft out there. But while those negotiations are done, the mission planners, they get their schedule. And when it's eight weeks out, it's written in stone. That's it. Nothing's going to change your schedule eight weeks out or earlier or later, no, earlier. (Evan chuckles) And it's written in stone. It's written in stone. But only an emergency can break it. So it's funny because I was thinking, you remember when Voyager was at Voyager 1 recently? Somebody made a huge boo-boo and they changed the antenna on Voyager 1 to be like a couple of degrees off of the earth. So they lost contact with it. So I am very sure that that constituted an emergency and the Deep Space Network was flooded by proposals by the mission planner and said, hey, we need emergency time on your network because we got to get Voyager 1 back on the horn. So I'm sure that was a fun time at the DSN and the JPL when that happened. But I didn't know this. I really never came across this before. But there's other DSNs run by other countries, right? Because it seems like, oh, in space, NASA is the big boy in town, right? But of course, there's plenty of other space organizations out there with their own DSN. So there's the Chinese Deep Space Network, there's the Indian Deep Space Network, Japanese, ES-TRAC is for the European Space Agency, and even the Soviet Deep Space Network, which surprised me that they were even in this game much at all. And of course, as we know from the latest news, don't they have an orbiter around the moon right now that's going to land and do science? I mean, I didn't think they were really interested in any of that stuff, but it's good to know. It's always good to have another player out there trying to do real space science. The good thing is, though, that all of these different deep space networks can all interoperate. They can help each other out. They can communicate together, help each other as needed. And that's because they follow common standards called the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems. This was set up, I think, in the early 90s. Basically, all these data standards were set up so that all these different deep space networks can communicate and share data and help each other out when needed. I just love seeing all these different countries cooperating. I just love seeing that when scientists are communicating with each other. And even when the Russians were still on the space station, they didn't care about any of the politics. It was like, let's get some science done. And they got a lot of science done. So I love seeing scientists going beyond the constraints of politics and just working with pure science. I just love seeing that. So if you are interested in seeing a little bit more detail, I recommend going to the Deep Space Network Now website. It's really cool. Even for just a few minutes, take a look. It shows these really cool images of different radio telescopes uploading and downloading data from the various far-flung spacecraft out in space. I looked just a few hours ago when I saw the Madrid DSN, and it was at the same time it was downloading Voyager 1 data, and it was also downloading James Webb Space Telescope data. What do you think the Voyager 1 download rate was?

E: Rate?

B: Yes.

S: Like in what, in baud or something?

B: In bits per second, or kilobits or megabits.

J: I couldn't even guess. I have no idea.

B: Or terabits.

E: It's got to be kilobits.

S: 64.

B: It was downloading at 160 bits per second. 160, nope, not k-bits, not m-bits, not g-bits, not terabits. 160 bits per second, which is like, whoa, that's, of course, it makes sense, right? We're talking technology from, this is space-worthy technology from the late 70s. So the tech itself was probably from what? The early 70s? To get stuff rated for space travel, it's not cutting-edge stuff. This is basically old-

E: They weren't even playing Pong back then.

B: Right? 160 bits per second, plus it's, how many, was it 11, how many billions of miles away is it? But 160 bits per second, James Webb was downloading at 25 megabits per second. Megabits per second. So much, much faster. I mean, it's only a million miles away. It's brand spanking new. So it was fun. It's a really interesting, visually, it's just a fun and interesting little webpage. Check it out. Deep Space Network now. It's Or just look for Deep Space Network now. It's just a fun little thing. So the DSN, don't forget it.

S: Cool. Thanks, Bob.

Identifying Misinformation (19:00)[edit]

S: Jay, how are these kids today at identifying misinformation online?

E: Oh, these kids.

C: Kids today.

E: Kids. They got to get off my lawn first.

J: It's tough out there for real, like social media and the internet in general this is a miasma of misinformation.

B: Ooh, nice alliteration, Jay.

J: Thank you. There's never been more misinformation, I'd argue available to everybody. The Canada Foundation for Innovation, also known as CFI, they recently conducted a study to find out what young Canadians' attitude towards science is. I thought this is fascinating, like we really don't know what do kids really think about science worry about it, but I don't really know. So here is some data that we can look at. They found that young Canadians trust science, but they are not sure they can identify false information when they see it. You know, we have a big issue here. The issue is one of the core reasons why we created this podcast, right? We wanted to educate people on critical thinking, being a smart consumer, the baloney detector kit, which we talk about all the time.

B: I did it for the money.

J: You're still waiting for it, Bob.

B: Still waiting.

E: Yeah, right? Keep waiting.

J: In short here, it's essential today, probably more than ever, I would say yes, more than ever, that people learn how to differentiate fact from fiction. And for some people, it's not an easy thing to do. Here in the U.S., misinformation has been at an all time high. It costs thousands of people their lives during COVID. We're also in a political crisis due to misinformation. It's really bad. And I'm sure wherever you're from, you're probably seeing similar signs that the Internet is having a negative impact on society. So due to this proliferation of cell phones basically everybody's got one at this point and the growth and the reach of the Internet, we all have access to orders of magnitude more information today than people did 20 years ago. But young people are heavily influenced by social media. And it is basically a top source of misinformation out there. Not only that, though, many young people their opinions and beliefs are shaped by Internet influencers, right? God, do I hate that word influencer.

E: Wait to get to my hey, foreshadowing, wait to get to my news item. We'll be telling you more about influencers.

J: But there is a boatload of influencers out them. And many of these influencers happen to be anti-science in one way or another to some degree or another. But there it's a common thread that there's anti-science sentiment going on. So the Canada Foundation for Innovation, they surveyed 1,500 people ages 18 to 24 from all parts of Canada. And their goal was to find out where they get information on science and in general discern how they feel about science. They also asked about their opinions on topics like COVID vaccines and climate change and sustainability. So I was a little intimidated to read the results as I was pouring through this, I'm like, oh like, what's going to happen? How bad is this going to be? But I'm happy to let you know that most of the people in the study said they trust science. Keep in mind, 18 to 24 year olds.

S: In principle, like in the abstract, science does still tend to rank high as people respecting science, which is good. It's good. But there's some complexities, I think.

J: Of course, there's complexity there. Now, the basic way to summarize their position is this is due to science being based on facts, not opinions. That's essentially what they had to say about that. Now, surprisingly, the majority also believed that a career in science is a good thing to achieve. Another encouraging thing. Wow, I didn't know that. I'm really happy to hear that people in that age range are thinking about careers in science because man, do we need them. So the study also showed that 84% of those surveyed admitted that they're not sure they can spot false information when they see it on social media. Now, this is troubling because 40% of those surveyed said that they're using social media for four or more hours a day. And I think when we say four or more, the or more part of there could be a lot. But four or more hours a day, four hours, that's a lot of time to be cruising social media. Outside of work, I'm on social media for a few minutes each day. I pop in, I check messages real quick I don't even like scroll that much anymore. Barely I'm interacting.

B: Even reddit?

J: Yeah. I mean, reddit.

B: You're crazy.

J: That's a good point. I'll give you a full disclosure. Okay. I watch YouTube videos that teach me things like breadmaking and finance management and stuff like that. So I'm definitely learning online. I don't really consider that social media in a sense because I'm not listening to somebody else. I'm learning about breadmaking. You know what I mean? Like there's no, nobody's telling me that vaccines don't work in a bread video. You know what I mean? So yeah I am on there but you know, the real social media where like I'm perusing people's posts and I'm reading news items that people put up and stuff that has been squelched down to so such a short amount of time in my life. And I'm really happy to say that I just don't engage that much in that kind of social media anymore. Even more troubling than the fact that they're spending so much time on social media, 73% reported that they follow at least one online influencer who has anti-science views. Now this is a huge majority of those surveyed 73% is a lot of those people and I wonder how much of an impact the influencers actually have on young people. Without a doubt it's putting false information into their heads you know how it works, right? You're listening to a video, Joe Rogan show is entertaining it's a fun show to listen to. But you get to the part where you're hearing some person's on there and is like, you might not really buy into it or whatever, but your brain is still hearing the words. You're still digesting the information and without skeptical training and a good understanding of science in general, I'm not talking about, you don't have to be an expert, but just understanding the basics of science and how it works, you can easily be fooled and not know where the lines are and what's being discussed on that particular channel that you're listening to online.

C: Jay, I have a question because this is like, it's curious to me because it sounds like the way that the data were presented was that these were self-report inventories, like these young people were asked how much time do you spend online? Who do you follow? And then it sounds like they self-identified, I follow one person who's anti-science or did they say I follow this person and then the researchers determined that that person or whatever, those people were anti-science?

J: That's a really good difference, Cara, like it's a good distinction. They didn't talk about that at all.

C: Which is so funny because if the kids, kids, the kids today, if they know they're following anti-science influencers, I don't think that makes it better. But the fact that they have insight into that is an interesting component.

J: I agree. I agree. And I think that's a huge distinction. I mean, we'd have to, we'd have to email the people who ran the study to find out that shade of gray. But I do agree. Like if they were able to actually say, yeah, I'm listening to this influencer and I'm identifying them of having some anti-science views, that's very different than them checking a box that says that that feeding them the answer, essentially.

C: Right. Like I like Joe Rogan and then the researchers saying.

J: Joe Rogan has anti-science views. Yeah, I agree. I don't know. It's a really good question. I didn't even think about that. All right. So to continue here. So other studies from around the world are all showing similar conclusions about the powerful impact of misinformation on people's trust in science in general.

Distrust in Institutionse (27:29)[edit]

S: So yeah, that's what I find. I mean, this is all anecdotal, obviously, but like we've been doing TikTok videos now for a few months or we're seeking out content that deserves skeptical attention and also just putting our own content out there. And what I find is, well, obviously there's a lot of skeptics who followed us onto TikTok. When we like, when I comment on a video, it's a conspiracy theory or whatever, the general attitude that I find amongst the believers, those who are pushing back against science, is they just don't trust institutions. Their basic response is, okay, Boomer, like that's their response to you saying like, well, the evidence doesn't support this or this isn't really the scientific approach. They're just like, yeah talk to the hand. They don't trust the experts. They don't trust expertise. They don't trust institutions.

C: Which is common amongst conspiracy theorists in general. It's interesting that this is like a new kind of iteration, a young version of it.

S: But I think this goes beyond conspiracy theorists. This is a general sort of it's it's not even like anti-science so much as it is cottage industry science. It's like we can do our own science on TikTok and that's what it is like. We don't need to expertise and don't tell us we can't do this. We know what we're doing. Don't tell us that we don't have the right to have our own opinion. We're doing science.

C: In some ways don't you think that is kind of like more mainstreaming of old school conspiratorial thinking?

S: To some extent, yeah.

C: Because when you look at the data, of like what conspiracy theorists tend to be like, one of the ties that kind of binds them is that they don't trust authority. They're very, it's like you are an expert or you have some sort of title or you work for some sort of government institution. By definition, I don't trust you. I'm going to "do my own research".

Teaching Kids Critical Thinking (29:23)[edit]

J: But there's a lot of different things that can influence this, one thing that's legitimate is that let's face it, these institutions that we're talking about and governments aren't doing squat about global warming and it's eroding. I'm 55 years old now. It's eroding my trust in governments to not do the right thing. I'm watching them slowly let the world unravel in front of us. So I get it. I get it. There there is a trend out there. But I think that the this Canadian Institute did a good thing and they they tried to find some solutions. What they did was they published their study and then they asked people to join a public discussion and just try to get some feedback and see what what people think, what scientists think, what communicators think. And they came to a couple of things and you guys are going to be entertained by this, what I'm about to say. And I'll ruin the surprise. We have been talking about their solutions and doing their solutions from the beginning. So here's the first one they came up with. First they want to reach a young audience. So what do they do? They started going on TikTok and they want to cover current topics that that there's a lot of misinformation about vaccines, global warming, whatever. This happens to be the same exact thing that Steve has been doing on TikTok. There are people that are already doing this, that are trying to to push back and have let science and critical thinking have a presence on these platforms. You know, I get it. Yes, they came up with this, but this is not a novel idea. The second idea that they had, my god, we have been talking about this for 18 years. The second idea was that science and critical thinking education needs to start in elementary school. I'm happy that they talked about it and that this discussion is on the table, but no shit, no shit that learning critical thinking skills would help young students to learn how to think about information before they just believe it. We've been saying it, like I said, for freaking 18 years taking it a step further. Kids need to study STEM skills at a young age so they don't get intimidated and feel like they don't understand science as they get older. STEM standing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, like these core things that would help them have a grasp and understand science better and not be intimidated by it or so dismissive of it because they don't understand it. We want to raise children that have a solid understanding of science and critical thinking with a baloney detector kit. And I truly believe that the only way to fight the war on misinformation is to do this over the long term through education. Because like Steve, the chances of us convincing these people on TikTok that are arguing against you is very, very, very small.

S: Well, there's the range, right? There's the true believers who, yeah, but it's the same thing, Jay. It's like we're not really there to convince the real true believers. We're there to to at least introduce the idea of skepticism into the conversation. And it may, it probably our target audience are people who aren't even commenting. They're just popping in reading us, oh yeah, what this guy says makes sense. I guess I never even thought to question the source of this information or whatever.

J: But the holy grail, though, is to get in front of young kids and start teaching them reasoning skills. Like get them to understand─

S: How about nunchuck skills?

J: Well, of course, and bow hunting as well. But these are all classes they can take at the same time. But the point is they came up with like these two things, like, of course, we've got to go to where the young people are, TikTok and wherever all the different social media outlets that they're perusing and try to get in front of them that way. Okay, well, good luck. That's hard. That's a hard thing to do. But good luck. And I hope that science communicators continue to do it. And we have more of a presence, especially on TikTok, because that seems to be like a good place to find new and young audience. But again, it's a hard thing to do. It's not easy. And it's not, you don't just collect a million people in a week. It could take years of hammering away to get a big enough audience where you have a footprint that's big enough where people are going to really start to take notice. But the second idea here of teaching children critical thinking and education, I mean, it's damn near impossible because we're not saying like the U.S. government, as an example, is going to like, every school district now has to do this, like the school districts have control over their canon, over what they teach. This is it's almost an insurmountable problem. We can't just easily wave a stick at this and say, yes, everyone's going to get this cool, great education on critical thinking. Man, that's a big deal. That is not easy. And people don't want it like it's not a priority.

C: But I'm so interested, Jay, and I'm curious your perspective on this, too. Like, why is it that when we hear or we have these kinds of conversations, we always hear the same rhetoric, which is like, get them when they're young, make sure we teach them critical thinking skills, make sure that we're, like, exposing them to good sci com, all that good stuff. But it's like in the same breath that researchers and policy policymakers are often saying that missteps, governmental missteps are eroding trust in the public, in science. They're never saying, how do we build trust back up using governmental structures? If the government can so readily erode trust, it can also make a concerted effort and initiative to bring it back up.

J: I don't disagree, Cara.

E: They should be constantly doing that.

C: Exactly.

J: Yes, there should be constant pushback against what is clearly happening is that we're raising children now who are faced with something that no generation has ever been faced with before. And they they straight up don't have the skills to deal with it. The U.S. government, for example, as one of the biggest countries in the world, is not doing it. They're not doing it.

C: And I believe it's not even about like sometimes we take this approach of like science needs to be depoliticized. And I don't even think it's that. I think it needs to be nonpartisan.

S: Yeah, that's what we always mean by that.

C: Yeah, exactly. Like it's science is inherently political, like science has so much to do with how we live our lives, how we vote, how we protect our people. But it is it has become so incredibly partisan. We need to see a concerted effort in reducing those sort of partisan struggles. And it's so scary because I worry sometimes whether or not some political parties are not even interested in doing that.

J: No.

E: And when you only have a binary choice, it's very limiting inherently.

C: The U.S. system has been binary for a very long time. And even though there have been some things that were deeply, deeply bipartisan or deeply, I guess, unipartisan, we do see that historically science wasn't on the chopping block like this. Yeah, like we could all kind of agree on basic things. And now we can't even agree on basic things when there's evidence to support them.

J: I know that's and that's what's scary. I mean, we're seeing we are seeing a massive proliferation of anti-science sentiment coming from all different places in a way that's never happened before.

S: Now, let me let me push back a little bit on just the knee jerk reaction to completely blame the government. But I'm not saying that they're off the hook.

C: Nobody did that.

S: I'm just saying.

C: So that's a bit of a straw man.

S: Jay sometimes speaks in absolutes.

J: I do. And I'm sorry about that.

S: And I'm just pushing back on that.

J: Steve, I'm absolutely sorry about it.

B: Jay always speaks in absolutes.

S: Always. Every single time.

J: I'm absolutely sorry about that. I will never do it again. (Cara laughs)

S: What I'm saying is─

J: Absolutely.

S: ─the point I'm trying to make is that while, yes, the government definitely has done thing to erode the public's confidence in it. But sometimes they do do good.

J: You said do do.

S: They do do good science outreach like the CDC, the NIH, these organizations, the National Science Foundation. The problem is, they're engaged in asymmetrical warfare, in my opinion. It's really easy to troll the government and to troll institutions. Then you have people who are I do think they probably, to some extent, fit the like a little bit out of touch stodgy stereotype, the sort of academic ivory tower kind of thing. Whereas, yeah, their messages are fine. But and sometimes like the CDC has had a couple of campaigns that I thought were really inspired. Like, how do you prepare for a zombie apocalypse? Well, you can do these steps. By the way, these are the same things you should do when you're preparing for a hurricane. That was a really effective campaign. But but the thing is, like the social media influencers are really good at trolling institutions. And it's it's really it's a no win scenario. Trolling is a no win scenario because either you ignore it and they have free rain or you respond to it and now you're in the mud with the trolls and you can't really beat them at their own game.

C: Wouldn't you argue that some institutions are just more trollable.

J: Yeah, of course.

S: Yes, I will agree with that. Totally.

C: You know, it's like they can at least do some work to make them less trollable.

S: They make it easy sometimes. Yeah, absolutely.

E: Yeah, they're late to the game of defending themselves properly.

S: Yeah, I agree with all that.

C: Hire a PR firm for godsake.

J: Look, your average message is your average scientist out there isn't necessarily a good science communicator. I'd argue that most of them just straight up and that is fine. It is fine. But what they're doing needs to be communicated because there's so much good science out there that's happening, that's interesting that I think people would be able to appreciate and find fascinating.

B: But yeah, the key there is to make science communicators desired and you pay them, find them. You don't look down your nose at scientists that also try to be good science communicators, something that that the United States has been very good at doing, unlike other countries where they are they do their science, their good science communicators are lionized and they are not in the United States.

C: Yeah, and we have, I know that there was a lot of division around Fauci towards the end, which was very sad and I think unwarranted. Obviously, I personally, it's my personal opinion, I'm like so grateful for Anthony Fauci and thought that he was incredible. But there shouldn't have only been one Fauci. That's the thing. We shouldn't have a structure where there's one person like that. That should be the norm.

S: Right. It should have been many, many voices.

C: Many Fauci's that are constantly─

S: Reinforcing each other.

C: Exactly.

J: The scary thing, too, is like when you talk about a science communicator as skeptics, we know that the science communicator has to be media savvy. They have to have critical, real straight up critical thinking skills. They have to be able to communicate in a romantic style. It has to be there are there are science communicators out there that when I listen to them, I'm super intrigued and they got me. And they're really they're wonderful. And there's other ones where I'm like, whoa, like, don't talk about science, dude. You just step away from the microphone. So there's a huge skill set that needs you can't just have 20 people become science communicators. It's a hard thing to do.

S: It's a skill set unto itself.

J: Yes, it is.

C: [inaudible] training.

S: There are superstars out there, but it's really not fostered within academia and science.

C: It's actually actively sometimes rejected. And that's the scary part. People are actually sometimes punished for doing public communication of their work. And they're seen as being self promoting and they're seen as threatening within the department. And it's yeah, it's problematic. It's way better than it used to be. But it's still not where it needs to be. But I want to finish with this point. Kids absolutely love magic and science. And the two of them go so well together because you could teach. Both of them can help teach the other in a lot of ways. And kids inherently it's I don't know why. It's such a wonderful thing. But kids inherently are attracted to interesting scientific things. And at some point along the pathway, if we don't stoke those embers and get them interested more, then a lot of these kids drop off, lose interest and completely tap out. And then they get on social media and they're screwed.

C: Yeah. And I think, Jay, it's so interesting you bring this up. And I'm sorry to kind of reply in this way to take a second here. But I just recently interviewed this woman named Eugenia Chang, sorry, Dr. Eugenia Chang on Talk Nerdy. The episode hasn't come out yet. She's a mathematician. And she talks about how the way that we teach math actually makes people not like math. And it makes them think they're bad at it when they're actually good at it, because curiosity about why mathematical functions are what they are, why is two plus two? The example that I brought up was I never learned my multiplication tables. I'm just not good at, like, memorizing, like formulas and just knowing that they are true. And she was like, no abstract mathematician did. They all figured out the patterns. And then they were like, why do I have to memorize this? I can just figure it out. And the problem is we often don't teach these STEM subjects in a way that fosters curiosity. We teach them in a way that says, well, you just need to know this stuff. And for the kids that go, I can't just know it without understanding it. It makes them feel the opposite of what they should feel. They should be feeling, oh, my gosh, this means I'm good at this. But it tells them, no, you're bad at this. And then they give up. And it's like so sad that that is how we teach. We actually intentionally or unintentionally stifle creativity by telling kids they're not good at something because it's not coming easy or because they can't memorize stuff.

E: Well, certainly in a broad sense, I think that's probably right. I mean, there's there are obviously some people who do get it. Some kids do get it. Some people are growing up, some people are growing up to be good scientists, good mathematicians.

C: Of course. But they're the exception. We see them as special. But it doesn't have to be some unique, special thing. So many more people could go into these fields if we weren't gatekeeping them in this way. You don't have to have some sort of unique, god given talent to become a scientist.

S: There are there are superstars, science teachers out there. Absolutely.

C: Of course there are.

S: But they are, I think, the exception of the role, just like there are superstar students out there that that succeed despite the lackluster system. I do think that having encountered the medical, the education system from every perspective as a professor, as a parent as a student, the it it is. I would just say it's lackluster. And part of the problem is that like the really good science communicators are not connecting to the education infrastructure. And you have, I mean, like my kids going through there, I paid very close attention to their science lessons all the way through even college. Some of their lessons were just nonsensical. I don't I had a hard time knowing what they were being taught. What is the point of all of this?

C: Well, it's probably worse in college.

S: It was a massive disconnect, between like the subject matter and the way it was being presented to them. It was really frustrating when like, or even with math, we're going to try to give a real world example. Then they give an example that is not from the real world, that has nothing to do with reality. Nobody uses the math that way in the real world. Why don't you try to actually do something that like somebody in a career would actually be using that math for? But there is a disconnect between the people who are using and are true experts in the knowledge and the educators. And that needs to be fixed.

C: I don't even I think it's way deeper than that. And I hate to blame the educators because I think it's that we don't value or prioritize primary educators the way we should. Primary educators are very skilled. They learn how people learn. That is how they're trained. Primary educators learn pedagogy. They understand at a basic level how we learn. And then we pay them nothing and we treat them like they're minimal, like they're they're glorified babysitters. And then we put all of our effort into upper level education, which very often those individuals are subject matter experts, but they're not taught how to teach.

S: Right. They don't.

C: They don't know anything about teaching.

S: I've had that too.

C: It's the opposite of how it should be. The people who know how to teach, we treat like they don't matter. And they're the ones we should be paying the most to and spending the most time supporting. But we don't.

B: We should just double their salary right out of the gate.

C: We should.

B: Double it.

C: Primary educators should be paid double what they make. I 100 percent agree.

J: I agree. And yeah, there we should have a whole culture thing about honoring teachers and turning that profession into something much more than it is. But unfortunately, it's the exact opposite. You guys know this, but I have to say there are teachers out there who have to spend their own money to give the kids what they need in the classroom.

C: I'd say all teachers have to do that. I wouldn't say there are some teachers. My mother was a teacher her whole life and she always had to pay for things. And she's worked in very poor school districts and she'd worked in pretty well off school districts. And she's always had to provide things for her students out of her own pocket.

S: Yeah, that's a shame.

C: Yeah, it's horrible.

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Regret and Gender Affirming Care (49:07)[edit]

S: Cara, you're going to talk about a very this is a highly politicized topic. But there are scientific questions in there. And as we often say, you were just getting as you were just saying, it's politicized, but the science is the science. So tell us about this very specific question. Regret after gender affirming care.

C: Yeah, I think this is an important scientific question to investigate, because I think just like you said, this specific question has become a political talking point. So very often we will hear rhetoric that says individuals who have undergone gender affirming care have regret. That they regret having undergone that care. Therefore, we should not be offering this kind of care. It's a very common talking point. So I want to deconstruct this a little bit. There is a new study. And I think it's important that we talk about the findings of the new study. But that comes on the back of some of some older studies as well. So there's a new study in JAMA surgery called Long Term Regret and Satisfaction with Decision Following Gender Affirming Mystectomy. So this specifically looked at top surgery. And the way that they looked at top surgery is within one institution. They went back and found a bunch of patients between January 1st, 1990 and February 29th, 2020. OK, so that's what a 30 year span. And they sent them surveys. And those surveys had very, very specific evidence based validated scales. So one of them was called the Holmes-Rovner Satisfaction with Decision Scale. The other one was called the Decision Regret Scale. And then they also, like we always do in scientific research, collected a bunch of demographic information. So 235 patients were found that were eligible for this study. And 139 of them responded to the to the surveys. So it's a small sample size, but it is a really rigorous way that they went about this. And a lot of previous literature in this area, which it's a very sparse area of literature as it is, is not nearly as as as kind of rigorous. And so they went through and this this is an interesting range, right? So we're talking people who maybe had it two years ago to people who maybe had the surgery 30 years ago. And they asked them on these different scales, how much do you regret your decision? And they asked them, how happy are you with your decision? Let me give you a little bit on the demographics of these individuals first. They ranged from 23 to 33 at the time that they had the procedure. And the median age was right around 26, 27. Not a single patient of the 235 that they originally reached out to requested or underwent a reversal treatment. And about 25 percent of them went on to have additional gender affirming procedures that they know about within this institution. And so, OK, first, they looked at satisfaction. Satisfaction was the Holmes-Rovner satisfaction with decision scale. The median score from the respondents on this scale was a five out of five. Then they looked at regret. The median and this was from the decision regret scale. The median score out of 100, zero to 100, was a zero. The mean being four point two. So overall, they found that the kind of percentage, if you were to kind of describe this as a percentage, the percentage of regret was lower than one percent of the individuals in this study. Lower than one percent. Now, previous systematic reviews had showed that it was about a one percent regret rate among gender affirming surgeries. But there had been some concerns about those not having like the strongest structure, the strongest design. They weren't the best studies that you've seen. When we look at systematic reviews, we're trying to kind of pull all the studies that we can find out there and describe them as a whole. So previous systematic reviews had already showed that this was about a one percent regret rate. These researchers said, well, we want to actually get deep into the data and do something that's much more kind of rigorous. They found something similar. Now, one percent still kind of sounds like a lot. Maybe, maybe not. We often again hear that this is the argument for why gender affirming surgery should not be offered, because one percent of people are going to say, I regret this after the fact. But we have to look at that in context, because do you guys know what the average regret rate is among all surgeries? It's super high.

S: I know, like for knee surgery, it's like 20 percent or so.

C: Right. For back surgery. Like for for for mastectomy due to breast cancer, it's higher than mastectomy for gender affirming reasons.

E: Wow. That's life saving surgery.

S: If you're going to say we shouldn't do gender affirming care because of the one percent regret, that basically gets rid of all cosmetic surgery.

C: And all life saving surgery, because people still have regret even after spinal surgery, even after, like I said, mastectomy for breast cancer. And that's why you see that there's actually in the same JAMA surgery issue a commentary by some researchers. And the title literally is low rate of regret after gender affirming mastectomy highlights a double standard. And that's what they talk about, that there really is a double standard here, not just among the so I think, yeah, regret across all surgical subspecialties on average is fourteen point four. And it varies. Obviously, it fluctuates high and it fluctuates low. I think there was only one other type of surgery that has a lower regret rate than gender affirming top surgery in this study and also in the systematic review. And that was some sort of like your urogenital, like a urinary surgery, probably because of quality of life there. So, oh, it was a treatment for urinary incontinence. That was the only surgery across─

E: That people were more satisfied with.

C: Right. Slightly more satisfied with it with the working towards not having urinary incontinence.

S: Also, I don't know if you're going there, but I read the systematic review that showed basically one percent.

C: Yeah, one percent already. That was bad. That was like a few years ago.

S: But if you go one level deeper and you ask, why do you regret it? A lot of the time, it was because their family didn't accept them. It wasn't that they changed their decision.

C: It was because of stigma.

S: It was because of social and family pushback. And if you get rid of that, the regret rates even far lower.

C: It's basically nil. Like to the extent that they wanted to do, they had originally planned with this study to look at mediating and moderating variables. And what that means is that they they wanted to first identify the sort of satisfaction and the regret rates. And then they wanted to dig into why. But they couldn't because there weren't enough. And it wouldn't have been statistically sound like the rate of regret was so low that they're like, we can't do anything with this data. It's just they don't regret it. But you're right, when you look back at the older systematic reviews, you can dig into the why. And the why very often is because of stigma. And so it's a really frustrating experience for individuals who are transgender or gender nonconforming or nonbinary, who are looking into having affirming surgeries and the medical professionals who offer these types of treatments. It's really, really frustrating when they're living in places where this has been deemed illegal, where this has been really, really deeply restricted. And the rhetoric that's often around that is, well, you're going to regret it later. So we want to make sure that you don't make a decision that's bad for yourself. It's really infantilizing. It's really frustrating.

S: And they often frame it as like I literally had like one person who emailed us like, so you're in favor of mutilating children. First of all, surgery is not done on children.

C: No, all of these studies are on adults, of course, because you only do surgery on adults.

S: Well, there's some complexity there, and this is where.

C: Well, this study is on adults.

S: Yeah, this is on adults. But the but some centers say we only do it on adults. Right. That's it. Period. Others will for for top surgery, they say, well, we'll go to 16. And so that's technically a child.

C: Probably state by state. It depends. It's hard for us to say that.

S: It's institution by institution and state by state. But no one's doing it like on prepubescent kids or young.

C: No no no no no. They're only talking about hormone blocker. Usually when they're talking about gender affirming care, they're talking about therapy. Therapy is a part of gender affiriming care.

S: Social transitioning.

C: A hundred percent. Hormone blockers or other types of hormonal therapies. And surgery is done in the smallest percentage of individuals who are seeking gender affirming care. But the sad thing is when we use really inclusive language, like no gender treatment at all like we're seeing happening in Florida, it makes it so that I'm on the hook as a psychotherapist. If I want to treat a transgender client and validate their experience in the world. Now, all of a sudden, I might be breaking the law. And that's a really, really difficult slippery slope that's happening because of how incredibly wide, how broad the language is. So I think we have to be really careful when we talk about what gender affirming care looks like, because it's very easy to talk about this stuff from outside of the systems. But when you get inside of the systems, you notice that pretty much every major medical organization, AMA, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the Endocrine Society, they all advocate for protecting access to this care.

S: Yeah. And again, let's let's have the political discussion but at least let's base it on facts. But what's happening, at least in the U.S. and our media environment, that the political discussion.

C: Not just in the U.S. sadly.

S: Yeah, I'm just most familiar with it, is that it's it's based upon misinformation. It's like anecdotes. It's like, let's find the D-transitioner who's really unhappy and then showcase them as an anecdote and ignore these systematic reviews in these these studies. Or again, just the propaganda misinformation. So basically, so many people who like give me feedback on this think really completely wrong things about what's happening. Like they think that surgery is being done on young children. It's like, no, that's not happening. That's not what this is about.

C: So much of it is rhetoric and so little of it is based on evidence.

S: Yeah, at this point, I really think that the politicians should just stay out of the way of the medical establishment and parents.

C: 100%.

E: Hear, hear.

S: Just let doctors and patients work it out. They're actually doing a fine job. There are very well thought out, ethical standards of very thoughtful standards of a balancing they're protecting children, maturity making these kinds of very difficult decisions. And the political rhetoric is so disconnected from reality and so destructive that just stay out of the way that you really, really stop using them as a political toy and just let let the professionals do their job. It really is a situation where that's the best answer.

C: And when we look at the science, when we straight up look at the science, we're showing now as as more and more of these studies are being completed and they're done in a more systematic way, we're showing low regret and high satisfaction after gender affirming care. We're also showing that when younger children are able to get any form of intervention, even psychotherapy, we're seeing that depression and suicide rates go down.

S: Outcomes are better.

C: When a when a child identifies as the gender that they choose to identify and they get support in that depression and suicide rates go down, not up. And the data show this over and over and over again. And I think it's important that we look at that data.

S: OK, thank you, Cara.

S: Yep.

Localizing Hidden Consciousness (1:01:32)[edit]

S: All right, guys, what do you know about hidden consciousness? Hidden consciousness?

C: I don't know what that means.

S: Technical term─

B: Never can find it.

S: Technical term for this is cognitive motor dissociation. So this has been we've talked about this before actually[link needed], this is an interesting concept that has arisen out of modern techniques at imaging brain function, specifically in people who are clinically in a coma. Right?

C: OK.

S: So if you have somebody who who clinically is in a coma, so they're basically permanently unresponsive, unconscious or indefinitely. But you look at their brain with like a either a an EEG that that is capable of doing mapping of brain function, not just a normal EEG or a functional MRI scan it looks like their brain is responding to stimuli, even though they're clinically not responding. So that's the cognitive motor dissociation. They're not doing anything, but their brain activity is reacting to it. So in other words, if you say open and close your hand, open and close your hand, the brain activates as if they're trying to open and close their hand. But nothing physically is happening.

C: I see.

S: Right?

E: OK.

S: In fact, the first study that really was one of the ones that the seminal studies that triggered a lot of this research was fMRI study where they were they asked this. I think it was one or a few patients to imagine yourself playing tennis and then imagine yourself walking through your house. And then they were able to tell the difference between those two states just looking at the fMRI activity, right?

C: Right.

S: So their brains are doing so clearly something was getting in there and affecting their brain function, whether they were consciously─

C: So tell me again, these clients were unconscious?

S: There were comatose. They were thought to be in a persistent vegetative state.

C: OK. But they were still responding to external stimuli. Got it.

S: So a persistent vegetative state, by definition, is one in which someone is in a long term coma and they do not respond to environmental stimuli at all.

C: So they're not in a persistent vegetative state.

S: Right. So these people were not in a persistent vegetative state. They were in a minimally conscious state. But now the new diagnosis for people who are clinically look persistent vegetative, but through brain imaging, look minimally conscious, are cognitive motor dissociation.

E: I see.

C: That makes sense, because, of course, they're not. They don't have any motor function, but there's still some going on up there.

S: But here's the thing. It's not as simple as them being paralyzed. They're not locked in, which is a yet a different state. Locked in is when you could be literally conscious, but you're paralyzed from the eyeballs down let's say. So that's not the situation. So the question is, what's going on inside the brains of these people? Now, one interesting aside, which I think is important in understanding this, is that this state, the cognitive motor dissociation is far more likely, in fact, almost unique to patients who get into their coma through trauma. So they basically have a like multifocal brain trauma, which could be through bleeding or literal physical trauma. But but not so much diffuse anoxic injury where the whole brain is affected. Does that make sense?

C: So not infection or...?

S: Yeah. So parts of the brain are working and parts of the brain are not working in patients who have cognitive motor dissociation. If your whole brain took a hit, you don't have CMD, which makes sense. So the so the very specific question researchers were recently asking, this is not a new question, but they did a study to address this question is, can we see a diagnostic pattern of brain function and dysfunction that would be diagnostic of CMD of this cognitive motor dissociation and distinguishable from patients who do not have cognitive motor dissociation? Does that make sense? They're basically saying for CMD patients, where's the lesion? What is it that's keeping them from acting out their otherwise cognitive function?

C: Meaning like, why can't they move?

S: Why can't they move.

C: If they can think.

S: Yeah, they can think. But it's exactly as good to put. They can think, but they can't move. Where's where's the disconnect? And again, they're not just paralyzed. It's not that simple, right? Because that's a different clinical situation.

B: And how do we know they can think?

S: Because you can see it on the fMRI, and the EEG.

C: We can ask them to imagine walking around the kitchen.

B: And something happens that's unique to that thing that you told them to do. But there's just no physical manifestation.

C: And we know that there's no like like physical damage to their motor neurons or to anything like that. We know it's physically not paralysis.

S: That's the idea. Now, that's traditionally traditionally that's always a concern, especially with trauma or with multifocal, meaning there's multiple different points of damage in the nervous system in the brain and otherwise, we're always concerned, when I say, oh, the patient is not responding to verbal commands. Is that because they're not conscious or because they're deaf, right? Or the patient is not speaking. Is that because they're not conscious or because their language area is affected or because their motor, they're not able to move their their mouth and their tongue in order to speak or they're not responding to visual stimuli, is that because they're not conscious or that because they're blind? So this is an old problem that we have in the neurological evaluation of somebody who is comatose, appears comatose, appears unresponsive, I should say. But it's possible that they're not able to do stuff because they're physically not able to do it, not because they're not cognitively able to do it.

C: This is so fascinating, I love this.

S: So presumably we've already sort of sorted that out as best we can. So, again, they're not paralysed. It's not that they're blind. It's not that they're deaf. It's just that they're having some cognitive function, but it's not being translated into motor activity for some reason.

C: So I know you're about to like, give us the big reveal, but I'm interested. I have this like this analogy or this metaphor that I'm working on in my head. And I'm curious. Obviously, if it was perfect, it wouldn't be a metaphor. But I would love to hear what you think about how I'm kind of trying to envision this. It's almost like with memory, you want to ask, is the reason that person can't remember that because they can't recall it or because they never laid it down in the first place?

S: Yeah, that's a that's a good analogy. Yeah, you're right. What what step in the process is failing. And we can't make assumptions about it. OK, so in this study, they looked at one hundred and seven patients who were unresponsive, right? And they it was determined that 21 of them had CMD. They had this cognitive motor dissociation. And that 86 of them did not. There was no evidence of any cognitive activity.

C: So what they were persistent, vegetative.

S: They were. They were actually persistent, vegetative. Yeah. So what they found was that in the patients who did not have CMD, so there's no evidence of cognition without motor function that frequently the thalamocortical and cortical cortical pathways were impaired. They were damaged.

C: It makes sense.

S: Yeah. So it makes sense to you. Let me explain to everybody else. So thalamocortical means that the thalamus is communicating to the cortex. And what basically what that does is that's kind of like the alerting network. So that's basically turning the brain on. So it makes sense that if that network, which basically makes you awake, is not working, that's a reason why you would not be awake, right? You would be in a coma or cortical cortical means there's a different parts of the brain talking to each other, talking like the brain talking to itself again, which makes sense in patients who have trauma with with different parts of the brain are injured and other parts are working. If the damage is such that these networks of different parts of the brain talking to each other are disrupted, then again, the brain cannot generate consciousness, cannot generate cognitive function. But in patients who did have CMD, all of them, these two networks were still functioning. There was still thalamocortical activity and there was still cortico cortical activity, which, again, makes sense. You kind of need these to be awake, to be conscious, to have cognitive function. So they all had these all were functioning. Now, so what wasn't functioning in the CMD patients, it was the the command network. Now, basically, what this means is it's the part of the brain that translates intention into movement.

C: No way.

S: Yeah. And so like involving parts of the globus pallidus, the butane, which is the basal ganglia, which we know is involved with this, that this function, this translating desire to move into movement. So that was where their lesion was. So which, again, makes sense. Again, they're not paralyzed. They just cannot enact their desire to move. That part of the brain that connects it, basically, it integrates sensory input, which includes cognitive input into motor output. So that part of the brain that sort of brings everything together and then go then says, OK, motor cortex taken away, do your thing. That part was not what was damaged in the patients with CMD.

B: That sounds worse than being locked in in a way.

S: Well, that's I thought about that, Bob. That's a very interesting question. And I would say probably it's not worse locked in, I think, is now because you're fully, fully conscious and you can't move. But in this, the thing is, we just don't know how conscious these people are. Cognitive functions are happening, right? The sort of preliminary gathering the information and like they obviously are hearing the commands they like to open and close their hand, for example. That information is getting into the brain. The brain's getting ready to do it. And then it has nowhere to go. It can't connect to the motor output because that integrative part of the brain is what's damaged.

C: How commonly do people recover? Does it ever happen?

S: Yes. So this is why all of this─

C: I want to interview them.

S: This is so important. Well, recover is a relative term.

C: Recover ability to talk, for example, so that you can ask them how they felt. Did it feel like a dream? Because you see that sometimes in induced coma. Like I felt like I was there, but it was like I was dreaming the whole time. And then I finally woke up from my dream versus do they have no conception of what time or anything was versus were they conscious during that? And they're like, oh, yeah, I remember a lot of this stuff.

S: My understanding is they don't really remember.

C: Right. So, yeah. So it's like they're but but was it like they were dreaming? Because I would think in like a sort of minimally conscious state, they would have some kind of dreamlike experience.

S: Yes. Yeah, like that kind of hallucinating dreaming.

B: Well, Steve, if they don't remember, does that mean it's like the memories aren't being consolidated or they really were subconscious?

S: Yeah, we do. Yeah, we don't know. We don't know that.

C: I love this.

S: Yeah, it's really fascinating. So so here's the thing. This is why this research is people are paying close attention to it, because if you have CMD, you are more likely to recover than if you don't. But of course, that's because if you have persistent vegetative state, your recovery is basically zero. So the "good thing" about this, about CMD, about our newfound ability over the last whatever 10, 20 years to to to distinguish, to disambiguate this cognitive motor dissociation from persistent vegetative state. One of the things is when we could say affirmatively that people are in a persistent vegetative state and that they do not have CMD, we know that their chance of recovery is zero.

C: And so it's easier for families to make decisions.

B: Pull the plug.

S: That's very useful. It's very useful in terms of counseling families as to how to go forward.

B: Conversely, if they have CMD and they're not in persistent vegetative state, should you just assume they are they are conscious on some level and treat them the way a conscious person who can't move[inaudible]?

S: Yes, you absolutely.

C: You should do it anyway as a clinitian.

S: You should do that anyway. But all the more reason why you need to be respectful and gentle and kind and treat them as if they're aware.

C: And talk them through the neuro exam.

S: That they maybe might be, even if they're not fully conscious, they might be experiencing positive and negative sensations and emotions.

B: But they could be in a living hell.

S: Yeah.

C: Can I ask a really weird question now? And this may or may not kind of whatever. So that command sort of network.

S: Yeah, the command net. Yeah.

C: In an individual who loses the ability to utilize their limbs because of some sort of damage, does the command network sort of degenerate over time?

S: I think the answer to that is yes. But not it actually doesn't degenerate. It just kind of latches on to other things.

C: That's what I was curious about, because in those individuals, we're seeing all of this really interesting sort of like prosthetic brain interface work where people can think about motor activity and then induce a change in a prosthesis.

S: It's plastic, right.

C: If these individuals who are in this weird conscious state can think about doing something, but they can't physically do it because they don't have that command net. Now, I'm just wondering if there's an interesting area for research there in comparing sort of what's going on there. Obviously, these people are conscious, the people who lose the control of their limbs and are able to play a video game to make their new prosthesis move. But it is interesting to think that there might be some sort of external way to hook in to a person with CMD.

S: Totally, totally.

C: You know?

S: So this is this is where I'm getting to now. Like, what are the implications of this research? So, one, again, this will help us better diagnose CMD versus persistent vegetative. So that's good, because now we have like a signature. They say it's not quite ready for prime time. It's not ready for clinical use. It's still in the research phase, but we're getting closer with this. This definitely becomes this one giant step closer to like this being clinically useful and routinely used in clinical practice. Second, it predicts that use at least a chance of recovery. It's still not a good chance, but it's better than zero. And the recovery could be that now they can sort of sit up in bed and look around and participate in their care, maybe have some communication with with family members. They're not going to go back to fully like full neurological recovery. That's that never happens. So you have to be realistic if you have that much brain damage, that we're trying to we have to use fancy equipment to tell that you're not persistent vegetative. You're not going to make a full neurological recovery, but you can make a significant neurological recovery to the point where you have some interaction with loved ones and some quality of life. And there are absolutely cases of that. But the other angle care is what you're getting to is these people are also the good candidates for research. And we're trying to find out, like, is there a place where we can put a computer chip to bridge one network to another network that might be able to get them over that hump, so that they can have some significant regain and function.

C: It's like you see you see those examples of people who have a traumatic brain injury and they are like non-responsive or they're minimally responsive or they seem agitated. And then you find out later it's because like their hearing aids weren't in. And so they couldn't and the minute you put the hearing aids in, it's like, oh, my god, now we can finally communicate. And they start to recover so much more rapidly.

S: Yeah. That gets back to the previous thing I was saying, but you have to make sure there's no physical.

C: Yeah. But in a way, this is almost an extension of that.

S: It is, it is.

C: It is that new physical limitation.

S: Yeah, it's command module limitation. So this is a good good incremental advance in this research. And it's going to help us with further research. It's getting close to being clinically applicable. And the hope is that not only will be able to better diagnose patients with CMD, that will at some point will have some treatment, that could get help them wake up as it were, or to reconnect those networks that are not communicating with each other. Because like the pieces are there. They're just not communicating with each other, you know. Very it's fascinating research. I've been following this now for a long time, really.

Ice Baths (1:18:37)[edit]

S: All right. Evan.

B: Good short talk Steve.

S: Yeah.

C: I made it longer. I'm sorry.

S: You guys made a lot. Tell us about ice baths.

E: Oh, ice baths.

C: Oh, god. All the rage.

E: Can I talk a little bit? Well, I can't talk about ice baths without talking about influencers. As Jay you were talking about that earlier, Steve, you touched on it. Definitely. Because that's the news item this week, thanks to CNN. That's where I saw this. But hey, look, I think influenza is perhaps the most appropriately named disease in all of medicine. Influenza. It's an infectious disease of the respiratory system. And the word originated in Italy in the 15th century, meaning influence from the stars, right? Influence, influenza. So here we are in the 21st century and we have influencers, another appropriately named phenomenon where people use modern technology as a means of influencing others. And, yep, when I saw this on CNN, they ran this story the other day titled What's the Science Behind the Ice Bath Trend? Question mark. And I said to myself, there's an ice bath trend? I mean, gee whiz. Shame on me, because apparently I'm not watching TikTok enough. This is my own ignorance, and I will admit that. But yeah, TikTok ice baths. Apparently it's all the rage. Not only has CNN reported on that, but just in my research, the Canadian news network or CCN, Canadian, I don't know what CCN is, but it's the Canadian version, I think, of CNN. They reported on it the prior week as well, as did CBS, the Today Show, CNET. Men's Health had all reported on this in the over the course of the last two months or so. So hey, I'll admit I'm late in realizing that this is really a thing. The ice bath.

C: Is it just ice baths? I mean, it's called, "cold plunges".

E: Exactly.

C: I see that everywhere.

E: Oh, yeah. Yep. Yep. It's a simple concept. You just get a tub of ice cold water and you put yourself into it for, well, two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Who knows? Right. It depends on which influencer you're going to be watching and basically telling you all the benefits of doing this. But one of the best known influencers of ice baths is named Wim Hof. Wim Hof. He is a Dutch extreme athlete who is famous, one might say infamous, for his ability to withstand extreme cold. And he has set world records for swimming under ice, for prolonged full body contact with ice and for running a half marathon barefoot on ice and snow. And he promotes his Wim Hof method, the WHM, which consists of several things, among them, cold therapy. Yep. And he was featured in Gwyneth Paltrow's Netflix series Goop Lab. That should tell you a lot. He claims a multitude of benefits from plunging yourself into an ice bath, including increased energy, better sleep, heightened focus and determination, improved sports performance, increased willpower, reduced stress levels, greater cold tolerance, faster recovery, enhanced creativityand a stronger immune system. And he also suggests that it might be useful to treat cancer along with other specific diseases.

C: What.

E: Yep. There is a title for people such as Wim Hof, Guru. And of course, once a guru permeates into the celebrity culture before long, you're going to see your favorite athlete or actor or model or any other sort of ignorant famous person replicating what their particular guru is doing, in this case ice baths. And when you see and when other people see famous people doing this who are impressed by famous people doing things, they're going to find themselves doing the same thing or buying their product or investing in their lifestyle. Influencers, influenza. I give CNN credit on their reporting of this because I thought their approach was good. They consulted an expert and his name is Professor Mike Tipton, who's with the Extreme Environments Lab from the University of Portsmouth in England. He is an expert on extreme heat and cold on humans. Here's what he has to say. He says stepping into cold water is stressful. Humans are more suited to tropical environments. There are hypotheses as to how cold can help. But until proper studies are done, it is all speculation. Cold water immersion invokes a fight or flight response. Part of that response is to release the stress hormones. So absolutely going into cold water is going to wake you up. But on the flip side, there are a whole host of potentially hazardous responses. And here that here are some of them. And there are several websites you can go to to learn about the dangers of throwing yourself into the ice water. Cold water sucks heat away five times faster than air. Although I've seen in some places they say 25 times faster than air. So I guess it's a range somewhere between five times faster than air and 25, which means your skin skin temperature is going to fall rapidly, causing an uncontrollable gasp. Hyperventilation stops blood flowing to the skin and increases blood pressure. This is called the cold shock response. Cold shock response is accountable for about 60 percent of people who die as a result of people dunking their bodies into cold water. It is particularly dangerous for people who are hypersensitive or who have cardiovascular disease. And for people who do this on a regular basis, repeated sort of a regimen, as it were, non-freezing cold injuries can occur, including blood vessel damage, small nerve fiber damage, and long term disabilities can result from these injuries. Also, to get all of the supposed benefits, we're not going to even talk about curing cancer and those kinds of ridiculous claims, but to get most of the benefits that are claimed for doing the ice bath therapy, if you want to call it that regular exercise. You get you get the same results. So this is not like you have to do this in order to get this. Just do some regular exercise. Nothing too, too strenuous, but on a regular basis. And you'll see a lot of those same benefits. In fact, the American Heart Association, if you go to their website about this, I think they said it best. Their headline reads, "You are not a polar bear!". Think twice before you plunge yourself into ice water.

C: Well, what are what are the benefits that you're talking about? Like just waking up?

E: Yeah. Well, so here we go. Increased energy, better sleep, heightened focus, increased willpower, however you measure that, reduced stress levels, greater cold tolerance, faster. Well, maybe that. Enhanced creativity and a stronger immune system. Now, some of those things obviously quite questionable. But for some of these things I think maybe the better sleep or heightened focus and these kinds of things you can other.

C: But there's not even any evidence to support that getting in a cold ice bath would give you better sleep.

E: Right. That's correct. That's correct, Cara.

C: Like it's it's a bullshit claim. Like, yes, it's going to wake you up. I think we can all kind of agree you don't really need a study to show that if you like plunge in ice cold water, you'll wake up.

E: Yeah, and there's been a lot. There have been a lot of studies on this and the results are at best mixed. There seem to be maybe one or two points that have that some studies have come up have revealed that may actually there may actually be a benefit. And I found these two: improved perceived recovery for those who are involved in high intensity exercise only.

S: I looked pretty deep into that. And that that data is preliminary and conflicting. And that claim does not hold out. We can't say it's not true, but we're not at the point where we can say it is true either.

E: And then there's another one or a set or a few studies that say it will help boost your mood. In other words, cold water immersion is a well tolerated therapy that's capable of significantly improving mood in young, fit and healthy individuals. So there you go. They're basically slicing it down to a certain segment of people who may.

C: Yeah, I mean, basically, that's the difference between doing a nice, cool plunge at the spa and like actually putting yourself in danger of hypothermia.

E: Right. Exactly. Right. Risk risk versus benefit. What are the risks and what are the benefits? So especially when you have other things available to you that will potentially end up been proven to do the same things. So why why do this?

S: Because because people want the hack. They want the right the special magic trick. They'd rather just, it's like Bones McCoy said 200 years in the future diet and exercise. Right? Because I could do more for you if you just eat right next to us regularly. That's always going to be the case. And there's like there is no special hack like this that's going to give you any kind of magical benefit.

C: Well, and that's what's so annoying about these things. It's like, OK, maybe you're the type of person where a cold shower in the morning feels good or getting in a cool tub at the spa feels good. I like to take a hot bath at night. It feels good. It puts me in a good mood. There's nothing wrong with that. But I'm not making some sort of bizarre claim about it. It's a thing I like to do.

J: You're not like putting yourself in incredibly hot, hot or cold water. You know, this is much more extreme than that.

C: Right. Yeah, it's like there's I'm not putting myself at risk.

E: I think it boils down to these studies have not come up with anything conclusive as far as a benefit. Yet there are risks all over all over the place as far as far as this goes. So this is this would not be certainly my choice, my go to for trying to get any of those supposed benefits, because, hey, it's not supported. And the day and the dangers are real. The dangers are real also. And you know what these influencers also don't don't tell you, at least I watched a few of these on TikTok and kind of what they were saying and what they were promoting basic common sense. Don't get in a bath of ice water and by yourself. You know, if you have if you have a bad reaction or something, there's going to be no one to pull you out of that water. You could drown, certainly, or go into shock and find yourself in a really terrible situation in which in which your life is at stake. I mean, they don't even they don't even come up. They don't even have the basic sense to talk about those sorts of things. Kind of the basic warnings that would go that would go hand in hand with these.

S: All right. Thanks, Evan.

E: Yep.

Who's That Noisy? (1:29:15)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Bread crackling out of the oven

S: Jay, it's who's that noisy time.

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

[Background hissing, foreground crackling]

So. It sounds like a lot of different things, and that's one one of the reasons why I really like this noisy, because it's an example of like, if you don't know what it is, like your brain can just land on so many different things that are out there. I mean, it legitimately sounds like fire.

E: Yeah, it has a cadence of a crackling fire sort of.

C: Like a tree branch underneath like snow─

E: Or ice, perhaps an ice crackling. Yeah.

J: So this week I got like tons and tons of responses and a lot of duplicates people making the same exact guesses because of that. So let's get through this. So Nell Henry wrote in and said, "Hi, gang. OK, I think I finally know one. Well, maybe it sounds like pop rocks when they are dissolving on your tongue."

E: Oh, yeah. Pop rocks. Remember that?

J: Yes, it's not pop rocks. But in your mouth, pop rocks kind of do sound like that. So that is a that's a good guess. Definitely.

S: Do you remember that we had access to them like 10 years before they became on the open market, because whoever worked for the company that developed them, like my father, build a house for them. We had like a bag of that. Like it was like, I mean, like it was clearly taken from the company. It wasn't like in a in a commercial box or anything.

J: Guy just basically pimped it for us.

C: How old were you guys?

s: And then it took a long time to─

B: Was it long? I don't remember.

S: Well, to my to my to my young self, it seemed like it was years. I think it was at least several years before it was─

B: My slightly older self. It was less than a decade. (laughter)

S: But because I think it was because it was going through, you know, approval and all that stuff.

J: It's still out there.

E: Here's this unproven candy. Eat this, kids. (Cara laughs)

J: Here's a cool piece of Novella trivia. When we were kids, they shot a commercial at our house.

C: For what?

B: Do it, Debbie.

S: Is it like a car thing?

J: No, no, no. I'll tell you exactly what it was.

E: I'm going to look this up on YouTube.

J: It was the girl version of the Evil Knievel wind up motorcycle.

E: Wow.

C: So it was like a toy?

J: Yeah. And it was like, do it, Debbie, or something like that. But it was exactly the same. You put it on a stand and you move the lever. You wind it, wind it, wind it. It spins up like the little motor that's in the motorcycle. Then you release it and it shoots off. And you can jump and do all sorts of stuff.

C: And they shot it at your house why?

B: Because they had a dirt driveway.

J: They needed a dirt driveway.

B: They spent hours and hours and hours grooming that driveway into perfection. And they hid an air tube under the under the dirt to supply the toy with air. So the winding was kind of like sidestep. So you didn't really need to wind it. So I guess they could just launch it whenever they wanted for the for the commercial.

J: It worked better than the real toy.

B: And I remember seeing it on TV, but I remember just seeing it once on TV. That was fun.

J: I remember seeing our house on TV, though. Anyway, just Justin McIntosh wrote in and said "It reminds me of the crackling sound when roasting coffee." This is another really good guess. I've heard this sound and it does have it a similar sound. When you roast coffee, I remember if I'm remembering correctly, you have to do it twice. You roasted the first roast and you roasted the second roast. And then I think a person that was submitting a noisy said that there's a different sound that it makes with the first roast versus the second roast. Very interesting. This is not correct. But that's a that's a good guess. Visto Tutti wrote in and I picked him because he is representative of many, many who's that noisy submissions this week. He said, "I think I got this one. It's the underwater sound of a reef, specifically the dominant sound of snapping shrimp." It is not a reef. But I got about 50 emails of people guessing that it's the sound of a reef and the fish eating the stuff off the reef and all that. It is not a reef. I haven't heard that sound, but I just imagine. Sure, it probably does sound like that. Jimmy Johansson, Johansson. I would say Johansson, Jimmy Johansson. He's from Sweden. He's a very special person. "I just got the feel for the old Windows XP fireplace screensaver when I heard this, is that it? Also, go Jay, you're awesome." I Jimmy, I don't remember that at all. But sure, a fireplace sound. Yes, there is a crackling fire like noise here. So this is also a good guess. And you are also representative of lots of people who wrote in guessing things about fire.

S: There is heat involved.

J: There is heat involved that will give you that. And then one of my favorite guesses for this week, although not correct, came in from a listener named Shane Hillier. And he said, "Jay, this week, I think this recording, this is a recording of an underwater thermal event" that is incorrect, but it's a very good guess. I've heard the sound of thermal vents. And yeah, I've heard noises like that as well. If you don't know what that is, take a look at what an underwater thermal vent is. It's there's a lot of cool videos, a lot of cool creatures that live around those thermal vents. So that's a cool science thing that you should take a look at. No, no winner for this week. And I'm disappointed. Oh, my god. Me and Chris Irvine, the person who sent this in, are very disappointed. Guys. This is bread.

C: Doing what?

J: This is bread. When you take it out of the oven. Now, this doesn't happen all the time. And I would imagine that this happens more likely with more crustier bread, like the kind of bread that I make, which is very crusty. You take it out of the oven. The bread is making this crackling sound. And there's a lot of things that are probably going on. I would imagine what's happening here is that the bread, because it's at temperature when you pull it out of the oven, the crust of the bread is cracking apart as there's some expansion probably still happening. I would at this point, there is really not much moisture left in the loaf, like not a ton of moisture that would be evaporating out of the loaf. So I don't think it's water evaporation. But anybody who knows exactly why this noise is made when bread is taken out, well, it's happening in the oven as well. You just happen to take it out and it's making this noise. I think it has something to do with the crust formation. But take a look, because if you hear a loaf of bread doing this, when it's taken out of the oven, it's exquisite. [plays Noisy] God, I love that. When my loaves do that, it's just a nice finisher to the whole experience.

New Noisy (1:36:23)[edit]

J: All right, guys, I have a new noisy this week for you. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Anthony Fienno. And this is a really cool one.


So I had to play the whole thing for you because it's something that happened. And that is the whole thing happening. That's my little hint that I'll give you. That makes any sense, right? So there's something that's happening that makes a noise. And that was the whole thing happening. That's all I'm going to say. If you think you know what this week's Noisy is or if you heard something cool and I know you did because there's a lot of you out there, email me at

Announcements (1:37:24)[edit]

J: All right. A few quick announcements, Steve. Of course, NOTACON is happening November 3rd and 4th. We are putting together such an incredibly good lineup of different things that we're doing. We have a lot of a lot of fun, different things going on. Everything is just there to entertain you and try to thrill you. I found out we can cook on stage. We can do it. I can make it happen. Some of us will be cooking and some of us will be judges and we'll probably have some audience members also be judges and we'll let people in the audience taste all the food and all that.

S: Jay, we have a private show at DragonCon.

J: I was going to say that, Steve, we have a private show at DragonCon. If you want to go to that, some people have been buying tickets already. You can go to page. And there's another link on there that'll take you to the place to buy tickets for that. That's going to be on Sunday.

S: Yep. Those episodes are always fun.

J: Sunday, the 3rd at 4:30 p.m. and all the hotel information is everything is there when you want to buy tickets. It's in the same hotel that we do in every year. So please do join us. If you're going, we're going to have a really good time. We're going to have a guest. It's going to be a really good show. So please do join us for that.

S: Jay, one more quick thing. So we've been working on this for a few months with Ian, as you know, that once the show is over three months old, if we do have an ad in it, the ad goes away, right, because it's basically run its campaign. So we are doing dynamically inserted ads into the back catalog. The older episodes. If you are listening to the show, within the three months of it coming out, this doesn't affect you. These ads only go into the older shows. But some people are listening to the back catalog and they don't like these inserted ads. So if that's the case, what we did was for our five dollar Patreon level after you can have access to the ad free versions of the show after three months, which is when the dynamic ads kick in. Does that make sense? So if you're listening to the older shows, you're a patron at the five dollar level. Of course, at the eight to eight dollar level, you have access to the ad free shows from the get go. At the five dollar level, they kick in after three months, which is when the inserted ads kick in. So you could bypass them if you become a patron at the five dollar level. So that's your extra added perk that we add to compensate for the fact that we're putting the ads into the older shows.

J: Yeah. And if you're already a five dollar patron, this will just happen.

S: It counts. Yeah, it's automatic. All right. Thanks, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:39:58)[edit]

Email #1: Metazoans[edit]

I am a big fan of the SGU and pod! I noticed that on the Aug 12 science or fiction, the item about ctenophores was fiction as stated because it was missing a word. For the item to be science, it needed to be ‘ctenophores are the oldest extant *metazoan* branch of life’ , and by metazoan I basically mean multicellular animal. There are some much older extant branches of non-metazoan life. For example, cyanobacteria and archaea that form stromatolites have been around for a few billion years and can still be found alive in the Bahamas. The source of the ctenophore statement is a recent paper in the journal Nature (Schultz et al. 2023) showing evidence that ctenophores were the first animals, challenging a decades long consensus that sponges were the first animals. Thank you all for this great podcast, community, and outlet for my pedantry! I started listening years ago as a broke grad student, and just became a patron. Lastly, huge congrats to Dr. Santa Maria!



S: One quick email. This is a correction to the science or fiction from last week. Doesn't affect anybody's scores. So relax. All right. We got a couple of emails about this. This one is from Lauren, who writes, "I'm a big fan of the issue and pod. I noticed that on the August 12th science of fiction, the item about ctenophores was fiction as stated because it was missing a word. For the item to be signed to needed to be ctenophores are the oldest extant metazoan branch of life. And by metazoan, I basically mean multicellular animal. There are some older extant branches of non metazoan life, for example, cyanobacteria and archaea that are from stromatolites have been around for a few billion years and can still be found alive in the Bahamas." OK, so a couple of people pointed this out. And you're absolutely correct. I meant to put that in and I just forgot when I was reading the other thing I was saying to them, I was saying to myself, I have to remember that this only applies to animals, basically, or to multicellular life. And I just forgot at the end to do that. So you're correct. But nobody on the none of the rogues got that one.

E: And none of us said it was fiction, right?

S: Yeah, you all bought it. So it doesn't affect anybody's scores. That was the one you guys all agreed on. So technically, there were two fictions last week, we're keeping the score at home and you caught the lack of multicellular or metazoan in that item you were correct. OK, guys, well, let's go on with this week's science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:41:23)[edit]

Theme: Medieval jesters

Item #1: In medieval Europe women were forbidden from being jesters, as it was unacceptable for a woman to make fun of a man.[6]
Item #2: Jesters typically only worked part time as a jester, while most of the year they would engage in other mundane jobs around the castle.[7]
Item #3: So-called "jester's privilege" meant that jesters could mock or insult any noble, even the king or queen, without fear of punishment.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction No women jesters
Science Jesters worked part-time
"Jester's Privilege"
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
No women jesters
"Jester's Privilege"
Jesters worked part-time
No women jesters

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. nd I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake,. We have a bit of an unusual theme this week, and that is just this arbitrary, narrow thing that I came across and wanted to talk about. You ready? The theme is medieval jesters. Medieval jesters.

J: What the hell?

S: I know, right? It's like a weird thing.

B: I knew you would do that.

E: It's not just some thing that Hollywood made up at some point?

S: Medieval jesters. Here we go. A lot more backstory than you might think. But let's see. See what you guys think about this. OK. Item number one, in medieval Europe, women were forbidden from being jesters as it was unacceptable for a woman to make fun of a man. Item number two, jesters typically only worked part time as a jester, while most of the year they would engage in other mundane jobs around the castle. And item number three, so-called jesters privilege meant that jesters could mock or insult any noble, even the king or queen, without fear of punishment. Cara, I don't think you've gone first in a while.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: OK. In medieval Europe, women were forbidden from being jesters. Unacceptable for a woman to make fun of a man. Unacceptable, forbidden. These are strong words. I guess that implies that jesters make fun of men. Jesters only work part time as a jester, while most of the year they would. I love it. Like I'm imagining like a punch card machine. While most of the year they would engage in other mundane jobs around the castle. And jesters privilege meant that they could mock or insult any noble, even the king or queen of that. Oh, right, because they would need to sort of have. Otherwise, they would just like kill them constantly, like nobody would be willing to do their job. That one seems like science to me, that there's some sort of jesters privilege, because if the whole point of the jester was the form of humour that we identify them with, right, the sort of roasting humour, then they wouldn't be able to do it if they were like afraid of retaliation by the aristocracy. That doesn't mean it probably didn't sometimes still happen. But I could see that there was some sort of implied rule that they were going to have. We're going to have good humour about it. I also think that jesters were like not bougie, right, like they were lower class in the court. They were workers. They might have had some sort of special privileges because, like, they got to be in court, but they were working the whole time, the same as like servants or people who cooked. So I could see that, too. Like, they're not just going to always be jesters. They're only going to be around during, like, special events. So I think the one I have to say would be fiction would be the woman one. There were probably male and female jesters because I think women were often in positions of servitude. So why wouldn't they also have have that role? I don't know. That's my guess. But I'm literally just making it up as I go.

S: OK, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Yeah. Well, Cara said makes sense. But I'm I'm going to pick, I'm going to say─

C: I don't think that any of them make sense.

B: No, it seemed all reasonable. But the jesters privilege, I think, would have limits. Sure. Insult any noble. Yeah, no problem. But the king and queen? No. I think they I think the king and queen said, no, not us. Anyone else? Plenty of other people, plenty of nobles. So I'll say that one's fiction.

S: OK, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: The first one about a woman not being able to make fun of a man. I mean, a part of me thinks that's true. I can I could just my gut is telling me, of course, that's what they thought back then. What time period are we talking about?

S: Medieval time period.

E: Medieval times.

J: Yeah, this. Yeah. You mean, this is like the thing we can go to, right?

E: Yes. We see the jousting and the eat the turkey leg.

J: The other one, the second one here about the jesters only working part time and most of the year they would engage in other jobs around the castle. I don't know why that doesn't seem true to me. Like you figure the jester, that's what they do. You know, they're on call. That's it. Like, what else would they have them do? And then the last one, the so-called jester privilege that they can mock or make fun of any noble that they wanted, even the king and queen without fear of punishment. I mean, I don't believe that. That one seems like fiction to me, too. I mean, I would imagine that there was a. There's those things that they were forbidden to talk about, and they probably did get in trouble if they if they pushed the wrong button. But I don't know. I don't know. This is a really tough one, Steve. Where the freak did you come up with this?

C: What were you watching on TV?

J: Totally. You totally were watching like Forged in Steel. And there was a jester edition. Ah, ah, all right. I'm going to say that jesters did not work part time.

E: Oh, gee.

S: OK. And Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: So everyone chose one of the three, right? No sweep this week. Well, being a student of the Netflix series Disenchantment. Sorry, Steve, I know you're disappointed with that series. I happen to like it very much.

S: That's all right.

E: I learned everything I need to know about jesters from that series. And it is now paying dividends.

B: That's why you're going last.

E: I'll take him in reverse order. Jester's privilege, I think, I think. On this one, yes, there would be. Yes, if you did not have jesters privilege, you would not be able to make fun of, say, the king or queen. However, perhaps not every jester was given the jester's privilege. There may have been different levels of jesterdom. If that's a new word I just made up, right? So, yeah, you could be a jester, but you had to have privilege, specific privilege and or permission to make fun of the king or queen. So I have a feeling that one's going to be science. The second one, I also actually think, is going to be science. It would make sense that jesters are not on 24 seven, not on the clock. And that's all that they would do. It would not makes it just didn't seem to be a good use of an otherwise able bodied resource. And I'm sure there were lots of people who did have multiple tasks around the castle, not people just not limited to doing one thing. And yeah, part time jester, sure. Which means that, yeah. So therefore unacceptable for a woman to make fun of a man. You know, I don't think so. Jesters may have come also in troops. You think about the lone jester. But what if there was like a little comedy troupe of jesters? It would make sense that you'd have females working among those people. So I have a feeling that one's the fiction.

S: OK, so you guys are all spread out. I'll take these in reverse order.

B: Of course you are.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: The so-called jesters privilege meant that jesters could mock or insult any noble, even the king or queen, without fear of punishment. Bob, you think this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. Sorry, Bob. Is it science. So, yeah, the the jesters were very complicated and rich profession. There's actually later in the medieval times, also the evolved as you might imagine, like our image of a jester, of like what a jester is, is one particular time. You know what I mean? And one aspect of it, and it's also combining multiple different traditions into this sort of amalgamation. But in reality, there's a lot of complexity to the jester profession. So there is, especially later in medieval times, there were three types of jesters. There was the appointed jester. Now, this was somebody who actually had a fairly high station. They would not dress in a jester's costume. They would dress in finery like any other noble. And their job was to basically they were they had the jester's privilege. They were they were there basically to to red team everything. Like their their job was to tell the king he was the only person who could tell the king that he was making a mistake. And they would often everything would be coloured with humour. So, for example, if the king says something like has a plan of something that is dumb, the jester might say something like, that's a splendid idea, King. And then then we could eviscerate that he would just take it to a ridiculous extreme and sort of showcase how dumb the idea was. But all couched in like satire about how wonderful the idea is. You know what I mean? That was kind of the way that they gave their feedback. But also listen to this. Jesters were employed as messengers. So they would also they would give the king bad news because they were the only ones who had the skill to do that. They were sometimes put at the head of the army to mock the enemy and throw them off their game.

B: Oh my god.

C: That's amazing.

E: Like the French knight at the top of the castle.

S: They had, yeah, like a really important role. And so the justice privilege was critical. They had to be able to give anybody like honest, feedback. But in the in in the context of making horrific fun of them.

C: Well, and isn't the reason that they dress like I know that it's not every jester doesn't look like the way we have in our minds, like the ones from the deck of cards and part of the reason that they dress that way, a mocking of royalty?

S: Yes. So the jester costume is a mock, a mockery of they have like the sceptre and the hat and everything.

C: So like that's the king. But it's like a ludicrous, like clown like version.

S: Now, yeah. So there were two other versions of jesters that did wear those costumes. One was a natural fool or a natural jester. And these were this is a sad aspect of this. These are typically people who had deformities or mental illness or cognitive impairment. And they were basically treated as dirt until they were not funny anymore, then they were thrown out on their ass. So that was just abusing people who were challenged and making fun of them. And then there was the third type, which is the entertainer. This is somebody who would have a host of skills like juggling and dancing and singing and playing musical instruments and everything. And this basically evolved into the modern entertainer, you know. So those are basically the three aspects of being a jester. But the first one is where the jester's privilege comes from, where they needed the ability to give spiting satirical commentary to any noble, especially not just and the king, but especially the king. That was their job. They were the only ones who can do that typically. OK, let's go back to number two.

B: That makes sense is there are three groups and only one group had that ability.

S: But again, that's later. That's that's after he sort of evolved in that direction early on.

B: They didn't coexist? These three didn't coexist.

S: No, they did coexist. I'm just saying they evolved into these three different subtypes. But earlier on, you might not have seen those three distinct types. They kind of all were one.

E: But they descended from a common ancestor.

S: Yeah, basically.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Jester's typically only worked part time as a jester, while most of the year they would engage in other mundane jobs around the castle. That is science. Other science.

C: Go, Evan.

E: Well done Cara, you figured that out.

S: Yeah, because how long you imagine having the same entertainer hanging out all the time, telling the same joke.

E: You change the channel.

S: Yeah, seriously, like, go feed the horses or something.

E: Well and that is a theme in Disenchantment. You can see the king just sitting there looking bored at the same jester every episode, just dancing and being foolish.

S: Yeah, so they would do it on occasion. But would in between time, they would do whatever. Not necessarily crap work. You know, they would be respectable work around, like taking care of the hounds or whatever, like they would do things that were fairly respectable. But they were mundane jobs around the castle.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All of this means that in medieval Europe, women were forbidden from being jesters, and it was unacceptable for women to make fun of a man. That is fiction. There were female jesters. Do you know what they were called?

C: Jestessers?

S: Close. A joculatrix. (laughter)

E: Oh, my gosh.

J: I barely believe you.

C: So that should have been a fourth.

S: But jesters had multiple names they were joculators were one for like a male jester called the joculator, the female joculatrix, but also like fools and and and those I'm trying to find that at night.

B: So if you were a joculator online, what would they call you?

E: Well, at night, it would be nocturnal joculations. What, too far?

S: Anymore?

E: We're getting in the spirit of the science fiction.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I just went down this rabbit hole. Like there was there's so many fascinating little nuances of it. Of course, like the the real like the Hollywood version of a jester that has survived in our public consciousness is such as really oversimplified, almost caricature of what they were. But just the idea that they like had a critical diplomatic function and intellectual function in the court.

B: Oh, I'd love to see that portrayed. Come on.

S: It's really interesting.

B: Take that and run. What a great idea.

S: There's definitely a lot of intrigue here.That would be like, I mean, that's I mean having a movie for example, focusing on that kind of jester who's like that, like the critical, fulcrum of politics and intrigue. Who because that because he's a jester, he kind of gets privy to a lot of information and is able to, he's like the scalpel that the king wields to to do what he needs to do. It's just really, really a lot of a lot of potential for storytelling there.

C: I feel like that would have worked in. I know, Evan, that you watched that show. Oh, gosh. Great. I feel like there should have been a role like that.

B: Great is fantastic.

C: Oh, Bob, you're the one who watches it.

B: Oh, my god.

S: Oh my god.

C: It is. It's so freaking good. I feel like it could have been a role like that.

B: The writing and the acting is superb. It's off the great stuff. And they seem like they kind of have that.

C: Or like an amalgamation of multiple people.

J: But you love everything, Bob. You don't talk bad about anything.

B: No shit.

C: But Great is really good, I'm telling you. Great is great.

B: Jay, I only watch really good stuff. That's it.

C: There you go.

B: That's why.

J: Bob, you used to listen to Milly Vanilli. OK, that's all I'm going to say.

E: Really?

C: We were all young once.

B: Oh, my god, we're going down that road again? The two frauds that hoodwinked an entire society and one best new group of the year. Oh, yeah, I happen to like one of their songs. Oh, what a horrible thing.

E: You got you got played. Now, who's the fool?

J: When you found out that they were fake, I loved it because I was like, I told you, Bob! I told you!

B: You told me.

S: Jay is now gesturing Bob.

B: Imagine how hard it would be to write a good, privileged jester, though. That takes some solid writing to pull off. Otherwise, it would be ridiculous.

E: We could do it.

C: Yeah, I think it'd be brilliant. It could be the whole show. It could be called The Jester. Someone's going to make this now.

B: And have all three jesters, all three in the cast.

E: Of course. Oh, absolutely. Whole jester society would be on display.

S: All right, Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:58:03)[edit]

The tantalizing discomfort of perplexity is what inspires otherwise ordinary men and women to extraordinary feats of ingenuity and creativity; nothing quite focuses the mind like dissonant details awaiting harmonious resolution.

 – Brian Greene (1962-present), American theoretical physicist and mathematician

E: "The tantalizing discomfort of perplexity is what inspires otherwise ordinary men and women to extraordinary feats of ingenuity and creativity. Nothing quite focuses the mind like dissonant details awaiting harmonious resolution." Brian Greene. It's like I can't get enough of Brian Greene.

C: That's fascinating because I have like, I take real umbrage with that quote. I do not like that quote.

E: 'm sorry, Cara. Didn't mean to insult or...

C: No, it doesn't insult. It's just something that I'm like, I think because my perspective is that of a psychologist. And like for me, so much of what we do in therapy is learning how to sit in that discomfort. It's learning how to be OK with ambivalence. It's working on knowing that sometimes things aren't, you're not going to come to a resolution. And that's how life is. And I feel like promoting constantly trying to settle everything is dangerous to the human psyche. I don't know.

S: I think context is important here, Cara. Like you and I as clinicians have to be comfortable with uncertainty, with the gray zone, with making decisions in the absence of complete knowledge, et cetera, et cetera.

B: Yeah, but not like dark matter researchers.

S: Yeah, but if you're a scientist, not an applied science, but a theoretical scientist, when two details don't line up, that's pointing a bright light on new areas of research, right? So I think that's what you're referring to.

C: It is. But I think it's also shining a bright light on creative ways to sit with that discordance. Like we've seen in theoretical physics for so long is like, how do we have these different models that don't sit well together, but they work in tandem? What are the things we can take from this one? What are the things we can take from that one? And I know there is this goal, of having some big grand unified theory.

B: Quantum gravity, man.

C: But I do think that there are probably cosmologists out there who are like, that is never going to happen.

B: No, nobody is saying it's never going to happen. It's just like it's fiendishly difficult and there's no reason why it can't happen.

C: I think that is a very absolute statement that you're making right now. I think that there are probably cosmologists who say we will never find a perfect unified theory. And the things that we will know will always be slightly in conflict and we have to be okay with that.

B: I've never really come across that attitude towards quantum gravity. I mean, even if it takes centuries or artificial intelligence, I mean, I think there's no reason to think that it's insoluble.

S: And Cara, I don't think these two states are mutually exclusive. I think, and again, thinking as a clinician, this is something I try to teach my students and residents too. It's like you're always going to have this balance between operating within the gray zone, but not being complacent, right?

C: I agree. You have to be okay with uncertainty.

S: But you also have to be looking for that, like, what do we not know that we need to know, kind of thing. So I think both can coexist.

C: I think they can coexist, but I think it becomes dangerous and problematic when there's a view that the way is certainty and we can't be settled until we get it.

S: This is the way.

C: That worries me. I don't think it's good for the human species.

B: No one's advocating certainty, just better models of the universe.

C: But no, that's not how you... But when you listen to the quote, he's really saying when there's discordance, we try to find, we try to settle ourselves out by making decisions. We try to settle ourselves out by choosing. And I think that's the part that worries me.

S: Well, I think he's talking about harmonious resolution. I think that's meaning we discover how to bring these two things together by learning deeper science. Again, this could be interpreted in numerous ways.

C: This is why it's such a great quote. I know, this is about all the conversations we've had.

S: Yeah, being charitable, looking at it from a scientific perspective, that's what I would guess he's trying to say.

C: Also, Brian Greene and I are like friends. Like, I'm not throwing him under the bus here. I just think it would be an interesting conversation to have with him.

S: Well, ask him what he meant when he said that.

C: Okay. Yeah, okay.

E: Share this with him.

B: Quantum gravity, baby.

E: Come on on, Brian.

B: Love it.

Signoff (2:02:24)[edit]

S: All right, well, thank you all for joining me this week.

B: Sure mna.

J: You got it.

E: Cue the jester.

C: Thanks Steve.

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]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description


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