SGU Episode 563

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SGU Episode 563
23th Apr 2016
SGU 562 SGU 564
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
C: Cara Santa Maria

Quote of the Week
An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.
Werner Heisenberg
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

S: Hello, and welcome to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, April 20th, 2016, 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, folks!

What's the Word (0:25)[edit]

  • Geodesic

S: We're gonna start with What's the Word, Cara.

C: Ooh! I love starting.

J: (Laughs) She gets so excited.

C: All right – I know! 'Cause I'm like, “That's me!” Okay, so, the word this week is another frustrating word that is pronounced two different ways. I'm gonna go with the consensus pronunciation, which is geodessic, although I personally would like to say geodeesic, which you can say too,

B: Yeah

C: I have learned. So, what do you guys know about that word?

B: It's a very strong, structural shape. It's that shape, that semi-circular shape that's very, very strong.

C: So you're thinking of a geodesic ...

B: dome.

C: dome.

B: Yes.

C: Or a geodesic sphere, right? Like, we think of – a good example of a geodesic sphere that I think a lot of people have seen is the ball at Epcot.

E: Oh, sure.

B: Just what I was thinking!

C: Yeah, but that's actually kind of an iteration of the term. The term itself really just refers to the geometry of a curved surface. And what we're actually talking about is the shortest distance between two points. That's a geodesic.

E: Straight line.

C: Yeah, so it's a

B: Oh!

C: straight line on a piece of paper; but on a curved surface, like the Earth, a geodesic is actually just a portion of a great circle. Does that make sense?

J: Right.

C: So when you think about the Earth, the great circle, which would be line around the Earth that's at its widest point, would be the – as we say in Texas, eequater, or the equator.


C: And that is a geodesic. And there are a lot of different ways that you can calculate out geodesic lines. And as you start to actually subdivide an entire sphere or a dome into geodesics, that's where you come up with that kind of tesselation, triangular pattern that you see in geodesic domes. So this word actually comes from – the original term “geodessie,” which is the way that original Earth scientists surveyed in an effort to try to actually measure the Earth. So geodessie was the field of Earth measurement. And from this endeavor to measure the Earth came the term geodesic, which was coined in 1809.

Its alternative form is “geodedic.” That means the same thing, but it branches from these early attempts to measure the Earth, dating back to the 1600's. Geodesic is also used outside of pure math and geometry. You may hear about geodesics in general relativity. So that's of course the ...

B: curved space-time,

C: Yes!

B: right?

C: Yes, the shortest distance between two points in curved space-time. And ... yeah, so, it's a cool word to use. And it's usually, if we're talking about, sort of, as the crow flies – actually, maybe not as the crow flies, 'cause a crow flies through air. But, in our own atmosphere, as the crow flies, the quickest way to get someplace in your car, it's not actually a straight line. It's actually a geodesic.

E: Right

C: So you can use that term.

E: That's true, 'cause we don't live on a flat Earth.

C: Exactly.

S: Right

E: At least most of us don't.

J: What?

C: (Laughs) My mind is blown! (Evan laughs) How does it have four corners then? How does it have four corners?

E: Maths, they disappear as they go over the horizon, that whole thing.

C: Yeah

News Items[edit]

Neural Bypass (3:51)[edit]

Dinosaur Extinction (18:00)[edit]

Universe in a lab (34:09)[edit]

(Commercial at 43:04)

Genetic Superheroes (44:41)[edit]

Who's That Noisy? (54:38)[edit]

  •  ?

Name the Logical Fallacy (57:08)[edit]

S: All right, we're gonna do a Name That Logical Fallacy.

C: Hooray!

S: These are fun. I'm not gonna read the entire email. I'm just gonna read bits and pieces of it because it's a little bit long. This comes from DD – they don't give their full name. And this is off of the Science Based Medicine website. So after some non-sequitur introduction, they write,

”A hundred years ago, and for all of time / history before, nature was only way to heal from diseases of any kind. Cancer is no exception. To limit ourselves with limiting beliefs that man-made drugs are the only answer to good health is not only foolish, it is just plain brainwashed stupidity.”

Why don't we pause there.

C: Straw man!

S: Very good.

C: Yay!

S: Definitely some straw men in there. There's also the appeal to nature fallacy in there. I've been corrected on that. It's actually the appeal to nature fallacy,

B: Ah!

S: because the naturalistic fallacy means something else in philosophy.

C: Oh, that's funny.

S: Without getting into that, to avoid confusion to the more traditional, philosophical use, we should call it the “appeal to nature fallacy.” So I'm passing the pedantry on down to you.

(Cara laughs)

S: So, yeah, so the appeal to nature fallacy, absolutely, in that just saying, “Well, yeah, nature's fantastic, so that nature can heal stuff.” And what is the straw man, Cara?

C: Saying that modern medicine is good means that we can't somehow heal from disease – like, my own immune system can still help me clear a cold.

S: Right

C: Like, to me, that's what the straw man is, that he's saying that we have argued, or specifically that people argue that no way to be healed historically is relevant any more, because we have modern medicine.

S: Yeah, worse than that. I mean, she says, “Limiting beliefs that man-made drugs are the only answer to good health.”

C: Yeah, that.

S: When did we ever say

C: Nobody ever said that!

S: anything like that? That's not our position; we've never said anything like that.

B: Pure straw man.

S: Yeah, that's a massive straw man. And again, I'm not trying to pick on this one person. I get this every day. This is just representative of the kind of feedback that we at Science Based Medicine get almost on a daily basis, definitely on a weekly basis. This is cookie cutter propaganda. It's absolutely a cookie cutter.

So, there's this notion that nature's wonderful, everything natural is good, and we should get back to nature. And if we knock nature, then we're evil, you know? 'Cause how could you possibly say anything negative about nature? And of course, people like to completely eliminate any kind of nuance or subtlety from our position.

So, yeah, saying, “You think that everything natural is bad, and drugs are the only way to heal.” Even worse than heal, to only approach to quote-unquote, “good health.” That's just, nobody believes that. That's just complete nonsense.

B: Steve, I love where he says, “for all of time and history, nature was the only way to heal from diseases.” What was the average life span up until a hundred years ago?

(Rogues laugh)

S: Yeah

B: Uh, hello?

S: So, even if that were true, it doesn't mean anything, right?

C: No, yeah.

S: That's a non-sequitur.

C: It's like before medicine, we had no medicine. (Laughs)

S: Yeah.

C: Obviously!

B: Right, and a walking twenty miles was the best, or riding an animal, that worked, but I'd rather take a car, or a plane.

S: Yeah

J: Wow, you're lazy, Bob!

E: Yeah

(Bob chuckles)

C: So lazy.

S: She goes on.

”Anyone who knocks something when they have not tried it is not to be believed.”

J: Well, I never tried suicide.

S: I never tried hemlock.

C: That's like the opposite of an appeal to authority.

S: It's the appeal to anecdote, yeah.

C: Ah, there you go.

S: Yeah, so you're exactly right. It's saying that only anecdotal evidence is meaningful. Not only is it saying that anecdotes are useful (which they're not), that's just saying “Your personal experience is valuable as scientific evidence.” Well, actually, it's very misleading scientific evidence. But they're saying that it's the only thing that's valuable. It's like taking one step further. She goes on,

”Thousands of people around the globe are being cured of cancer now, every day, with these very same methods that the Truth About Cancer”

That's a website

”is sharing. If that is not science enough for you, then what difference does it make what you find in your test tube in a lab?

B: That's the bullshit fallacy.

C: Yeah, what is that?

B: “Thousands of people around the globe are being cured of cancer now, every day.” Uh, okay, sure. Really? Really? Get me some-a that!

(Rogues laugh)

S: So the question is, “How do you know that?” That gets back to – she's sort of assuming her conclusion there, or she's - again – basing it on anecdotes, and she's saying that that's the science.

No, it's not. That's not science, that's anecdote. That's confirmation bias, placebo effects, misinformation, all the things that could lead somebody, or just blind propaganda. It's people selling you stuff, and making stuff up. As we say, dead patients tell no tales, right? (Bob chuckles) If you're listening to the people who think that they were cured,

E: Except a Johnny

S: you're, by definition, not listening to the people who died.

C: That's the Texas Sharp Shooter, that's cherry-picking, right?

S: It's cherry-picking.

C: Yeah

S: Yeah

C: That's what that is. It's like, right? The guy shoots up the side of the bar, and then he goes and draws the bullseye after the bullets are there, and says, “I'm gonna hit the bullseye.” He's just picking the cluster that fits his data.

S: Yeah, it's not exactly that, 'cause that's sort of a post hoc ...

C: Yeah, that's true.

S: You're deciding what the criteria are

C: after the fact.

S: after you see the data. Yeah, so you're looking at the data, and then deciding, “Oh, that means that I won.”

C: Yeah

S: You know, whatever. But you didn't say that ahead of time. So you're drawing the target around the bullet hole rather than drawing the target and then hitting it.

C: But drawing the target around the living people instead of the dead people is definitely cherry picking.

S: This is just cherry-picking. This is confirmation bias, listening to the hits and ignoring the misses. The whole point about science, that you look at all the data systematically. The people who live, or the people who die, the people who do well, the people who don't do well, you control for variables. It's still patients. She's acting as if subjects in a trial aren't patients. They are patients. We're just counting all of them, systematically; and not just biasedly cherry-picking them. Okay, she goes, one more, one more little section.

C: Oh no! (Chuckles nervously)

”So Steve, you are either also brainwashed, or you are one who has their hands in the pockets of Americans, trading health for profits, along with you-”

E: Uh, false dichotomy.

B: False dichotomy!

E: Got it.

(Rogues laugh)

J: Steve, wait,

S: Yes?

J: are you holding out on us? Do you have a ton of money we don't know about?

E: Yes and no.

S: (Sarcastic) Yeah, I would. (Normal) Right, so it's a false dichotomy, narrowing the list of possibilities to either

E: A or B

S: you're brainwashed” or you are

B: on the take.

S: on the take,” yeah. It's like, “Or, I'm right, and you're wrong.” That's another possibility you weren't considering. (Rogue laugh) But it's also an ad hominem.

E: Homina-homina

S: You know, trying to make it about me.

J: Yeah, at that point, why doesn't she just call you an asshole, you know what I mean?

E: She did!

S: Well, she basically does.

E: In about two hundred words.

S: She finishes, “You are not the authority on science. Real lives, and people are.” Okay.

C: Yeah, and you're looking at the data from real lives and people,

S: Yeah!

C: and reporting on it.

S: Exactly, exactly.

“Hope you can live with your conscience, and you are the only one who will have to answer for that in years to come.”

J: You're gonna answer for that, Steve.

E: Yeah, Steve.

S: Yeah, I have no problem. Me and my conscience are just fine, thank you. The thing is, people will so casually assume that other people are evil. It's like, no, people are people. Most people think they're the good guys. And we often have to remind ourselves – I mean, there are psychopathic con artists out there, yes, absolutely. But I think they're the exception rather than the rule. Most people – DD thinks that she's right. She thinks that she's a good person, even though she's completely misguided here. She's just regurgitating this, vomiting forth this propaganda

B: It's pathological thinking.

S: as if it's wisdom; and it's kind of sad, actually. But she's a victim.

C: What's the website?

S: Systematically misinformed.

J: Yeah, without a doubt, Steve.

C: Is it Truth About Cancer or something like ...

S: Yeah, it's just all cancer, alternative medicine quackery.

C: Yeah

J: Yeah, and the sad thing is that she got caught up in somebody else's BS,

S: Yeah

J: and there are so few ways for people like that to actually find their way out. I mean, think about it. The real perspective here is, she's talking to a professional skeptic, a neurologist, someone that really has their – in my opinion – has their thumb on the best reality that humans can determine, or one of the best versions of reality. And she's just dismissing everything that Steve thinks and says is complete BS. It's really sad. She's not ...

S: No, it's sad, yeah. She's not engaging.

J: Yeah, that was my next

S: She's not engaging at all.

J: point. She's just accusing.

S: She's just ...

B: Vitriol.

S: it's us versus them. She's dismissing, rather than trying to find out why I think what I do. She knows, right? She thinks that she already knows, and she's just pontificating, you know.

B: Yeah

S: That's all this is.

B: And ...

C: And the sad thing is, this is perpetuating a lie that is actually a dangerous one. You know, I think

S: Yeah

C: there is a sliding scale, we talk a lot about pseudoscience and quackery And it's all harmful, but some are much more harmful than others. And I mean, I'm looking at this Truth About Cancer website right now, and there is some, it looks like they talk about, “Hey, do your chemotherapy,” and stuff. But like, there's so much bullshit on this website that could really damage peoples' lives!

B: Sure

C: People – we've seen it all the time – they choose to take supplements instead of getting chemo. They opt for a treatment that doesn't have any proof, instead of trying the things that could potentially help you.

S: No, it's very, very dangerous. It's very dangerous.

(Commercial at 1:07:15)

Science or Fiction (1:08:32)[edit]

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:25:55)[edit]

An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.

Announcements (1:26:22)[edit]

  • NECSS 2016 is coming

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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