SGU Episode 566

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SGU Episode 566
14th May 2016
2nd moon arakis.png
SGU 565 SGU 567
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
C: Cara Santa Maria

Quote of the Week
A scientific idea may require a lot of reasoning to work out an appropriate test, may be difficult to test, may require the development of new technological tools to test, or may require one to make independently testable assumptions to test — but to be scientific, an idea must be testable, somehow, someway.
Berkeley University's Understanding Science webpage 'What is Science?'
Download Podcast
Show Notes


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

Bodie McBoatface Follow Up (0:48)[edit]

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (5:43)[edit]

  • Yvonne Brill

Yvonne Brill was a pioneer Rocket Scientist. She contributed to many new rocket and jet systems including her own patent for a breakthrough satellite propulsion system

S: Bob, we have a Forgotten Superhero of Science this week.

B: Yes, for this week's Forgotten Superheroes of Science, I'm covering Yvonne Brill, 1924 to 2013. She was a pioneer rocket scientist. She contributed to many new rocket and jet systems, including her own patent for a breakthrough satellite propulsion system.

Brill had some problems, as many women did at that time with education and employment. At the University of Manitoba, her gender prevented her from studying engineering, like she wanted to, and she had to take up mathematics and chemistry. Later in life, regarding one of her jobs, she said, “I always remembered there was a very old-line person, typical stodgy old-line person in charge of personnel; and his argument was, 'How could a woman with three children ever get to work on time?' Years later, he apologized to me, and said I really had worked out very well.” And that she did.

During Brill's career, she had hands-on development from her many critical propulsion systems like the first weather satellite, which was called, “Tearos,” the Mars Observer, and even the rocket motor for the space shuttle, and she worked for NASA in the early eighties. My favorite work of hers though was the hydrozine resisto jet. She even has a patent for this now industry standard device.

What it does, is it electrically heats a propellant – hydrozine – which expands to supersonic speeds just like a chemical rocket. So communication satellites use this system for station keeping. It's also been used for orbital insertion, or de-orbiting; and it was an incredibly important invention. For one reason (and one big reason) was that she used one simple fuel, so it wasn't a complicated mixture of multiple fuels. This just made it cheaper, saved millions of dollars, and it allowed for more payload or extended missions. So it was really big win for her.

I believe her eulogy – Mike Griffin, President of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics said of Brill, “She truly represented the best of what American aerospace engineering and system development should be: A pioneering spirit, coupled with clear vision of what the future of an entire area of systems should be, with the ingenuity and genius necessary to make that vision a reality.”

So, remember Yvonne Brill, mention her to your friends, perhaps when discussing electrothermal hydrozine thrusters with a four hundred second specific impulse.

C: I was just doing that last week, for sure.

(Bob chuckles)

E: It has to be four hundred.

C: Specifically.

J: Four hundred.

B: Four hundred!

E: Not three hundred and ninety-nine.

C: No, what was that reference you guys?

E: What? Three hundred?

C: No, four hundred. Both of them at the same time. Four hundred! What is ...

E: What your take on three hundred?

C: Oh, I see.

E: Which is a Family Guy joke from way back when.

B: See, I didn't even know where it came from, but I still, you read the question.

S: Three hundred!


News Items[edit]

Growing Human Embryos (8:30)[edit]

Overprescribing Antibiotics (18:43)[edit]

(Commercial at 37:59)

Earth-Sized Planets Around Red Dwarf (39:58)[edit]

Mike Adams Slanders Skeptics (50:03)[edit]

S: Okay, Evan.

E: Um-hmm...

S: This is an interesting news item, very unfortunate. But I think it's one that's important that we talk about. Summarize what's been going on between Mike Adams and David Gorski.

E: Mike Adams and David Gorski, yes, okay. Well, as you know, Mike Adams is also known as the Health Ranger. That's a moniker he's given himself to make himself sound, I don't know, credentialed or something. And his website is called You might be familiar with the name and/or the website.

S: Not to be confused with Nature News, which is legitimate.

E: There you go! Thank you! (Cara chuckles) Mike Adams is an AIDS denier, meaning he doesn't think that AIDS is caused by HIV. He is anti-vaccine.

S: So he's an HIV denier, technically.

E: Uh, I suppose you could say that ... is ...

S: I did.

E: a bit more accurate, sure.

S: We call them HIV deniers, yes.

E: He is also anti-vaccination. He's a 9/11 Truther. He is an Obama Birther. You see a pattern here? He thinks Chemtrails are real. He has advocated violence against GMO supporters. He equated Monsanto and its collaborators to Nazi's. And perhaps most heinously, he has advocated for the killing of scientists he deems to be criminals. So that just really scratches the surface of who Mike Adams is, but you need to kind of keep all that in mind.

S: Yeah, in other words, he's a dangerous lunatic.

E: (Laughs) 'Kay! Thank you, Steve. (Chuckles) You can say those things. It means much more coming from you than I think it does from me. Adams recently wrote an article attacking David Gorski. David Gorski, as many of you know, is the managing editor of the website And of course, SBM is a balwark of medical rationality fighting against quacks and snake oil salesmen who put peoples' lives at risk with their useless remedies and anti-scientific practices.

As summarized by SBM, regarding the unfounded attacks on Gorski by Addams, this is how part of it reads.
“Because of his criticism of pseudoscience and quackery on UseNet, online discussion forums and blogs over the last eighteen years, Dr. Gorski has angered some supporters of dubious health practices and pseudoscience. As a result, there are a number of articles and posts online that repeat misinformation and outright lies about him. Most recently,”
(and this is the news item.
”in response to Dr. Gorski's criticism of an anti-vaccine movie directed by Andrew Wakefield and supported by Robert Deneiro, Mike Adams resurrected the false 2010 charge of an undisclosed financial conflict of interest, and written a series of screeds against him. For instance, that he sabotaged the entry for the movie on Wikipedia, and accused of being in cahoots with a corrupt oncologist who bilked Medicare out of millions, and gave therapeudic people who didn't have cancer. Adams has posted fake patient reviews, and even claims to have reported Dr. Gorski to the FBI, Michigan Attorney-General, and his state medical board. Worse, in doing so, Adams has made similar allegations against the cancer center where Gorski works in an effort to pollute the center's Google reputation along with Dr. Gorski's reputation.

So, of course, David went on the defence, and needed to defend himself against Adams, even though a lot of it was downright ridiculous. Other things definitely needed to be addressed. So regarding the claim by Addams that Gorski edited the anti-vaxx movie's Wiki page, Gorski wrote,

”Adams really does seem to think that I have massive power over what Wikipedia does and does not publish about vaccines and medicine. Rather, it's all a sham, a conman's patter, to convince his readers that I'm a major player in a conspiracy to manipulate health articles on Wikipedia from behind the scenes.”

And let me break away from that for a second. In fact, Adams went so far as to accusing Gorski of editing the Wiki entry under an assumed name. But when David went and researched the edit history of that page, neither Gorski's name nor the assumed name showed up as having edited the entry. So what (Cara laughs) the hell is Adams even talking about? (Cara laughs harder)

S: He's just making shit up!

E: He's making stuff up

C: That's so crazy!

E: about making stuff up! The layers are ridiculous here. So these conflicts of interest that Adams accuses Gorski about, what's that all about? Well here's what David has to say about that.

”Adams regurgitated the claim that I have an undisclosed financial conflict of interest with Sanofee Aventis because my research involves studying Brillutec, a drug made by the company; and this is why I so strongly anti-vaccine groups. This is a lie originally published in a post on an anti-vaccine blog, Age of Autism, back in 2010 by a college student named Jake Crosby. It was baseless then, and it is baseless now. As I said then, I have never received a dime from this company to study the drug, and they don't even own the US rights to this any more. They sold them back in 2013. So to talk about it as if it's still happening is ridiculous. It's also particularly risible to think that a surgical oncologist would be developing an autism drug for a pharmaceutical company! Not that Adams has ever concerned himself with how risible he sounds. Indeed, I have to wonder how much contempt Adams has for his own audience, given how downright idiotic his writing post sounds.

S: Complete, but that's like, maybe the one reasonable thing about Mike Adams is that he understands exactly how brain-dead his audience is, which unfortunately, it's also huge. And let me just quickly summarize the core of this claim, is that David Gorski and the Carmonos Cancer Center is connected to this oncologist who was arrested, and found guilty of essentially prescribing chemotherapy inappropriately to patients in order to bilk them of money, and to bilk Medicare.

Gorski actually wrote about this guy, criticizing him, saying, “This guy's an evil scumbag for doing this,” right? And now, Adams is trying to connect them. And I think the only connection is that this guy rented an office in the same building as the Carmonos Cancer Center, where David Gorski works, with hundreds of other oncologists.

E: Yeah!

S: That's it! So they look for any tiny connection. It doesn't matter how tenuous it is, how incidental, how circumstantial it is, and then he weaves that into this grand conspiracy theory with Gorski as the sort of mastermind behind the scene, pulling all of these strings. It's ridiculous!

E: It's so flaccid. You may as well say that there's a connection there because David Gorski and this other doctor, this Dr. Fattah, used the same airport one day.

S: Yeah, that's basically it. That's essentially it. So this is partly how the conspiracy mind works, but I also, I have to think – I can't read Adams' mind, but it doesn't really make a difference any more. He's acting as if he doesn't give a crap about what the truth is. That's what matters. He has a pathological disregard for the truth. As long as he could weave it into his conspiracy theory.

I mean, he is actually slandering David Gorski and the Carmonos Cancer Center, just in a horrific way. I also just very, very quickly, I want to talk about sort of the bigger issue here, because after we had decided that we were gonna talk about this, I read Kevin Fulton's latest blog post where he talks about the fact that the Food Babe has successfully FOIA'ed his email. So now she has in her grubby little hands thousands of emails

E: Twenty-seven hundred emails, right?

S: Yeah, twenty-seven hundred emails. And she's gonna get to go through there and do the same thing – look for any tenuous connection. And Kevin's correctly trying to get ahead of it by saying, “These are the kind of things that she might be able to dig up. It's all innocent. It's all nothing.” But she's almost certainly gonna try to spin these incidental connections or statements or whatever.

I mean, just imagine if somebody went trolling, somebody who hated you and was trying to destroy your reputation went trolling through twenty-seven hundred of your emails.

E: Bound to find some little thing.

S: Yeah, including emails where you were speaking off the cuff to friends and colleagues.

B: Yeah, well as long as you don't go through my browsing history, I'm pretty good.


E: That's a whole other thing. You're right, Steve, I wouldn't be surprised, because I emailed Kevin a few times. Maybe a few of my emails are even in there.

S: Sure!

C: Oh, my emails with Kevin were in the first FOIA request, for sure. My name came out.

S: Students email. Students who emailed him looking for advice, they're all in there. It's ridiculous.

E: It's harassment!

S: It's harassment. It's absolutely harassment. And the connection between these two things, and I will also connect it to the fact that the SGU was sued. I'm still being sued. Even though we won the case in summary judgment, Tobenick appealed the case, and that's still ongoing. He's dragging this out as much as he possibly can, racking up the cost. This has been ruinously expensive for the SGU.

These people are scumbags. That's the bottom line. These are not nice people. I know that it's easy to say that about people that you have an ideological disagreement with, but honestly, this is beyond just a disagreement of worldview. These are not nice people. They are gunning for us. They are gunning for skeptics individually, skeptics as a group.

E: Absolutely. And it doesn't stop at just medicine, with Adams. You know, he's gone ahead in a more recent post, and attacked the skeptical community directly!

S: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

E: Directly, he did!

S: Yeah, this is the guy who had a hit list of people who he said were like Nazi's, and should be killed!

E: Yep.

S: And David Gorski was on that list, I was on that list, a lot of other ... anybody who's decided that the science favors the safety of GMO's, they were on that list.

C: Jesus!

E: I mean, really, and the FBI – speaking of FBI investigations I mentioned earlier – the FBI took a look at what Adams had to say when all that came down a couple of years ago. And I don't know what the end result was in that

S: I don't think anything came of it.

E: Nothing must have come of it, but the reports were that they did, at least somebody was trying to take it seriously, when you start threatening people like that, you do have to take it very seriously. And that's, Mike Adams, it puts him in a whole other class of a dangerous, dangerous individual.

S: Oh yeah.

What's the Word (1:00:25)[edit]

  • Amphidromic

S: All right, we are gonna do a What's the Word, Cara.

C: Yes. What is the word today? It is Amphidromic. Does anybody have a guess as to what that means? Amphidromic. Well, Steve probably already knows.

S: I know.

E: Well...

B: I have no idea.

C: Okay.

B: Suss it out.

C: So, if we break it down, it is of Greek origin, but it's a pretty new word, just happening within the last century. And “amphi” and “drome” - “drome” is a root that kind of translates to “running.” And “amphi,” which we actually hear that word – have you guys heard other science words with that root? Like amphipathic?

S: I haven't heard that one, but I've heard other words with “dromic” in it like amphidromic.

C: Oh, interesting. And I've heard other words with “amphi” in it, like an amphipathic molecule, right, is both water soluble and liposoluble. So that would be meaning “both.”

S: Yeah, and for “dromic,” in terms of like, “running,” if we're conducting nerves, if you conduct an antidromic direction, that's against the direction of that the nerve normally conducts.

C: Oh, interesting. Yeah, so it is basically running both ways; that's sort of the rough translation. Does that help you guys at all? Probably not. (Chuckles) So it's actually suggested by a listener named Gerry from Redding in the United Kingdom. And he says, “I have a suggestion for What's the Word: Amphidromic – point where there's almost zero tides. I only heard this word for the first time today while researching places to stay in Norway.”

And so the dictionary definition is of course a little bit more complicated. “A point of almost zero tidal fluctuation on the ocean surface represented on a chart co-tidal lines by a point from which these lines radiate.” Or an even more sophisticated definition from Merriam Webster: “Relating to a system of tidal action in which the tide wave progresses around a point or center of little or no tide.”

So that's often called the amphidromic point, or the amphidromic region. So I think to understand this a little better, we have to understand tides, right? You guys know what the biggest contributor to tides on Earth is?

E: The Moon!

B: The Moon?

C: And what's the other contributor?

S: The Sun.

C: Yeah!

E: The Sun.

B: Ah, yeah.

C: And the Moon's a little more than two times more powerful a contributor, or more significant a contributor than the Sun. The Sun really often works to either intensify the tidal effect of the Moon, or to

B: attenuate?

C: bring it down a little bit. Yes, attenuate it, thank you. I was like, “Detensify, that's a word.”


E: It is now!

C: I was so glad I'm the one who does this segment! And so (laughs) when we think about the way that the tides work, they're actually, by the way, crazy complicated. And you can kind of break your brain really trying to wrap your head around every single thing that contributes to the tides. But generally speaking, let's say you're taking Oceanography 101, and you want to learn the basic components; there are three big things that contribute to the tides: The Earth, of course, because the Earth is the body that has the water; the Moon; and the Sun. So how much does the Moon versus the Sun contribute to the tides?

B: Yeah, the Moon contributes much more than the

S: Twice as much.

E: Twice as much.

C: Yeah, like, even a little more than twice as much, because it's obviously so much closer. Now the Sun does contribute, but really more in just making the tides more intense or pulling the tides back so that they're less intense. It doesn't actually make the tides go in any sort of different direction or anything.

The reasoning behind the tides, at the simplest level, is because of two major forces at play: Gravity and centrifugal force. So when you think about the fact that at any given time, the Moon is actually rotating around the Earth, at any given time, the closest point between the Moon and the Earth is where we're going to see the largest tidal bulge. And that's both a contribution of pure forces of gravity, because the Earth is covered by this liquid body, and the liquid body, actually, you can see the effects of the force of gravity on liquid much more than you can on solid objects that are planted on the Earth.

So it's both a contribution of the bulging because of the force of gravity, but also this centrifugal force, because when the Earth spins, you actually see kind of a pinching in around that axial point. So you've got both the bulge towards the Moon, and the pinching in around the body of the Earth. It's a little bit confusing, right? Because there's also a tide on the exact opposite point where the Moon is.

But if you think about it, it makes sense because you both have this force from the spinning. So you've got this pinching, sort of around the waist. You've got the bulge that's closest to the Moon, the bulge that's farthest away from the Moon is contributed to by that centrifugal force. It's also because it's not just the water that has the gravitational force exerted on it. The whole Earth has a gravitational force exerted on it. And so the point that's the farthest away is actually physically moving away from the Earth, as the Earth has that gravitational pull on it.

So you see all of these factors combined, and that's in the simplest model ever, like we're drawing it on a graph. Contribute to that all sorts of other factors like the placement where we are in relation to the Sun, because like I said, the Sun can either increase or decrease the effect of the Moon's gravity. And also, things like the Coriolis effect, which is more of a mathematical principle.

Obviously, if we're talking about normal Newtonian laws of motion, if I'm gonna throw a paper airplane from the north pole down to an intended target on the equator, I'm gonna expect that it goes in a straight line; but because the Earth is rotating, it's actually gonna veer off of course. And we see the same thing happening with the tides. And that's how you have these spins, these kind of eddies, these big rotational portions of the tides when you start mapping out the entire Earth.

Now the amphidromic points on the Earth are the places where we can physically map out all of these little spots where these forces kind of come together. And there are sometimes called amphidromic points, they're also called, “tidal nodes.” And you can physically map them. And the nice thing is, they make for a really great vacation.

Did you ever wonder why people go to Tahiti so often? Well, it's an amphidromic point, and that's because the Coriolis effect is actually spinning around in such a way that you find these points on the Earth where the water's pretty calm. I know we say “zero.” I'm not sure that it's fair to say “zero.” I think there are some ...

E: Approaching zero.

C: But approaching zero, yeah. And that's physically based on a measurement of the amplitude of the tide itself; between high tide and low tide, make a calculation of the difference. If it doesn't seem to be that there's a difference, then we're talking about an amphidromic point. But!

E: But!

C: Oceanographers that are listening, I know you'll have a lot more to say about this. (Evan chuckles) I'm not saying, “Don't send in your (cracks up) corrections.” I'm not saying, “I don't want to learn more,” because I absolutely do. But of course, this is a huge oversimplification of tidal physics. There is a lot that comes into play.

S: Yeah, it's like, every time I hear somebody try to thoroughly explain how the tides work, it seems like it's different, you know?

C: Oh yeah!

S: It's like, a slightly different, or sometimes not-so-slightly different explanation about what – people are trying to figure out different ways to really explain what's happening.

B: Yeah

S: It's damn complicated.

B: It is. It's very complicated, there's lots of different people saying it lots of different ways. Ultimately though, if you were to boil it down to two words, it's caused by tidal acceleration. That's the key; and I recommend, go to YouTube and look for a video called “What Physics Teachers Get Wrong About the Tides”

C: Oh, nice!

B: by PBS Digital Studios. Wonderful, best explanation I've ever come across. And remember: Two words. It's all about tidal acceleration.

C: Tidal acceleration.

E: Or an alternative (for alternative science), you can go to Bill O'Reilly, and he'll tell you.


E: The tides go in, the tides go out. We don't know why!

(Steve and Evan laugh)

Questions and Emails (1:08:48)[edit]

  • Muad'Dib


(Commercial at 1:09:48)

Science or Fiction (1:11:10)[edit]

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:28:21)[edit]

A scientific idea may require a lot of reasoning to work out an appropriate test, may be difficult to test, may require the development of new technological tools to test, or may require one to make independently testable assumptions to test — but to be scientific, an idea must be testable, somehow, someway.

Berkeley University's Understanding Science webpage 'What is Science?'

Announcements ()[edit]

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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