SGU Episode 406

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SGU Episode 406
27th Apr 2012
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 405                      SGU 407

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.

Mark Twain

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, April 24, 2013, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella,

B: Hey, everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson,

R: Hello, everyone.

S: Jay Novella,

J: Hey, guys.

S: and Evan Bernstein.

E: Mach-cho maroon.

S: Thank you, Evan.

J: That sounds very Game of Thrones-y.

E: It's the first words I think I've ever spoken in Dothraki.

J: And what does it mean?

R: It means "Die, scum!" (laughter) (garbled comments)

S: It means: "Your horse is ugly."

J: Does it mean Hello?

R: It means hello.

E: Yes. It's the long way of saying "hello."

S: Or as close as you get to it in Dothraki.

J: Game of Thrones is kicking ass. The latest episode was awesome.

B: Yeah.

J: And that has nothing to do with science.

E: Everything to do with pop culture.

S: That's right.

This Day in Skepticism (1:02)[edit]

April 27, 1791: Birth of Samuel Morse

R: But you know what does have to do, slightly, with science is that today, April 27, is the birthday of Samuel Morse, who was born in 1791.

E: Oh, happy birthday.

B: Wait. I missed that segue. What's, how did you do that? Oh, never mind. Go ahead. (laughter)

R: You know, it was just so smooth, you missed it. Yeah, so, Samuel Morse, most people know as the inventor, or co-inventor, of Morse code. I found it really interesting, I was reading up on him, and apparently he got interested in telegraph systems because he was far away from his wife when she took ill, and he got a telegram saying that she was basically on her death bed. And by the time he was able to rush to see her, she was already dead and buried. And he was so angry about it

E: Sad.

R: that he gave up painting. He had been a painter. And he dedicated his life to finding a better way to communicate over long distances. So, yeah, a tragedy, but it was positive results for humanity.

J: You know what he said when he got there and they said "Your wife is dead."? He said, "She's dit dit dit dit dit dit dit dit dit dit dit dead?"

B: Oh, my, God. (groans and laughter)

S: That was bad.

E: Wow.

J: Guys, guys, come on.

B: Please edit that out, Steve. (laughter continues) Imagine how awesome that was back then when you realize that, holy crap, we can communicate so fast over hundreds, thousands, of miles. It must have been like pure science fiction to them.

S: Yeah, so, I learned some interesting things about Samuel Morse. First of all, he graduated from Yale. So he's a Yale alum. Supported himself as a painter, as Rebecca said. He didn't just invent, actually co-invent, with Alfred Vail, Morse code. He actually developed the electrical telegraph. And he, one of the critical inventions for that was the relay. He invented the relay. You guys know how that works?

J: Sure.

S: Hit me.

J: Oh, the re--, you mean the thing that boosts the signal so it can go over long distances.

S: Yeah. So, 'cause the wires back then were so crappy, one signal could really only go not even a mile. It couldn't go very far at all. So he figured out a way of putting in a relay where the signal hits a relay circuit which essentially, a very weak signal, you have a very sensitive circuit, so that even a weak signal comes in, and it activates a magnet, which triggers an arm, which creates a new click, which then can go the next distance to the next relay. So very simple, very basic, but that was a critical invention to the functioning of the

B: Oh, yeah.

S: over long distances.

B: They had to set those up every mile? Wow, that's a lot.

S: Yeah, something like that, yeah.

B: Initially, at least.

E: It's like fiber optic today; they have relay stations.

S: Do you guys know what the first message sent across one of those telegraphs was?

J: Yes.

B: I used to know it.

J: "Send more Chuck Berry."

R: Well, I only know because I read it like an hour ago.

J: Say it with authority.

R: I know exactly what it was, Steve. It was "A patient waiter is no loser."

S: Right. Which is interesting because it's not . . .

B: That's kinda lame.

S: Yeah. It's kinda lame.

R: Yeah.

S: But his father was

R: It's no "What hath God wrought?"

S: Yeah, "what hath God wrought?"

E: Or "Watson, come here, I want you.

S: That's what he said when he was transmitting from the Supreme Court chamber.

E: Right.

S: His father was a Calvinist preacher, so it's kind of, I guess, has the moralistic tone with which he was raised. His father was Jedidiah Morse. You gotta love that name, Jedidiah. Not many Jedidiahs around today.

B: No.

S: And Morse also was pro-slavery. And was active in resisting both Catholics and immigrants.

E: Um hm.

J: When you say "resisting," what do you mean "resist"?

S: He was, he actively campaigned against immigrants and Catholics.

R: Horrible person

J: Wow.

R: who did some good stuff.

J: I didn't know that.

B: I like him a little less now.

S: He was a product of his time and his father.

B: True.

S: Gotta cut him a little bit of slack.

R: I don't know, there were plenty of people of his time who were vehemently anti-slavery.

S: Um hm. I agree, I just said "a little bit." It's hard to look back 200 years and be too heavily moralizing.

R: Eh. I find it easy. (laughter)

S: Are you guys enjoying the first real days of spring that we've had so far?

J: Awesome.

B: Oh, I'm lovin' it. 'Bout time.

E: Yeah, this 42 degree weather is wonderful.

S: Well, hey, we had such a long winter; you're right, it's still a little on the cold side. Today there were all these various unmistakable signs of spring, sort of like all at once. So, first, the forsythia is in full bloom. Second, bluebirds have moved into our bluebird house. They're gonna make little baby bluebirds.

R: How do the bluebirds know that the bluebird house is for them?

S: That's a really good question.

E: They use the GPS.

J: They can fit in it.

R: There's a sign.

S: So a bluebird house has an opening of a certain size. But honestly, it's more about positioning. You need to place it three to five feet above the ground, in an open area, with nothing obscuring the ground beneath it. So, bluebirds wanna make sure they can see snakes and other things coming. So if you do that, if you hang it at the right height in a sort of openish area, bluebirds will move into it. I mean it's,

R: And no other bird?

S: Well, hang on. The other bird that will tend to steal a bluebird house from the bluebird is the house sparrow. We have plenty of house sparrows, but bluebirds always seem to move into our bluebird houses. So it's remarkably consistent.

J: Rebecca, what do you think, like you have, the pair of bluebirds are flying around and the wife bluebird goes "What about this one, honey?" And the husband's like "Nope, that's only two feet off the gound."

R: Yeah, I mean they definitely have like a measuring tape and a list of wants.

S: It works, it absolutely works.

R: Good view of snakes, in-ground pool.

B: My favorite sign of spring is that the White Walkers are retreating back north.

S: Yup. (laughter and garbled comments) Nice call-back. The robins are more visible. As we learned previously they don't actually; they do migrate, but there are robins in the winter but they stay more in the forest. But the robins that are here come out and are more visible in the spring. And I actually grilled steaks on the grill on my deck today, for dinner.

E: Delicious.

R: Man, you went all out.

S: Yeah. And, the single most profound marker that spring is here was

E: Allergies.

S: No. I don't have allergies luckily. Was, the ice cream truck came around.

R: You have an ice cream truck?

S: Yup. My daughters go insane. You know, they see the ice cream truck and they just go crazy.

E: Come on, you go a little crazy, too. Admit it.

J: Does the guy play music, Steve, or

S: Of course.

J: Does he ring the bell, what is it?

S: Of course, you've got the music and the bell and they just lose their minds.

R: We never had an ice cream truck when I was a kid; it was too rural.

B: We did.

S: Oh, yeah, we did.

B: Jay, you were insane. I have a distinct memory of you, one night, sitting at the end of our driveway. You were a little shit, probably six or seven, crying your eyes out because the ice cream man didn't come, or you missed him, or something, and you were just like bawling 'cause you wanted your ice cream, and you missed it. (laughter)

J: I never forgave that guy, either.

E: That bastard.

News Items[edit]

Mars One (9:01)[edit]

S: All right, well let's move on. Bob, you're gonna tell us about (imitating Schwarzenegger) "Get your ass to Mars." (laughter)

B: You just totally took my opening line. Thank you so much.

S: Bob, you gotta warn me if you're gonna do that.

B: Whatever.

S: It was a bit obvious

B: I know, but I added a little flourish at the end. I said "Get your ass to Mars and never come back." Are you guys ready for an out-of-this-world reality TV show? I can't believe they're doing this. The company Mars One is planning on making a reality show that showcases the entire process of selecting and training astronauts, their trip to Mars, and the rest of their lives living on Mars. And like we said, it's a one-way trip. That's the real kicker that everybody's talking about. Would you guys do that? Would you guys actually consider that? Or would you want to hear the details first?

R: No.

E: I don't think so.

R: I don't need the details. No. I don't wanna go on a reality show so people can watch me die in space. No. Thank you.

(speaking simultaneously – inaudible)

B: --when I'm 70 or 80, or what the hell. So, the first question is why are you doing a one-way trip? There's two good reasons. The scientists feel that it's feasible to send people to Mars pretty much now, but the tech just doesn't seem to exist to bring them back right now. I kind of thought that was a weird reason because even if we don't have it now, surely it'll exist at some point. And if we put resources into it it wouldn't take that long. I think one of the reasons that they're doing this is that it's a real attention grabber. Headlines.

S: The think is though, what do you do, when to get to Mars, you find out that you don't like it there.

B: Well, yeah, you're done. Game over.

R: You'd kill yourself.

E: You suck it, basically.

B: Yeah, it'll make for a good episode. They're already talking about how they'll have a crematorium because people will of course die. But another good reason, probably the best reason that they're not gonna come back,

E: What if you're the last one to die, though? How're you gonna get in that crematorium?

B: Yeah, I wouldn't worry too much about it. So the best reason though why they're not coming back is that, imagine seven or eight months in space; astronauts, as we know, lose muscle mass, they lose bone mass; it's really, really horrific on the body. Even if you're exercising all the time, there's a huge hit that you take; and then time that you spend in Mars' weaker gravitational field, that's not gonna help much either. And scientists feel that readjusting to Earth's gravity after so much time, it's pretty much impossible, with today's technology anyway. After all that time, you're just not coming back. That's a really, really good reason.

J: That sounds odd to me, Bob. What about people that suffer phenomenal injuries and have to be bedridden for six months or a year. You can't grow back the tissue that you lost, and the bone mass?

B: Yeah, it's weird. It's not like if you become paralyzed, where your muscles just turn to mush and it's completely and utterly irrevocable.. .

S: But people who are bedridden lose a lot of muscle mass. You could lose one to three percent of your muscle mass per day if you're sick and in the hospital and completely immobile. Especially for older people. So that's why they have weeks and months, sometimes, of rehab, just to recover from the debility that results, Jay.

B: Yeah, Jay, and that's also one of the big down sides to yo-yo weight loss, where you lose a lot of weight and inevitably a lot of muscle weight and then you gain back a lot of fat. At the end of the cycle you have much less muscle than you had, and that's a hit that your body could take for the rest of its life, 'cause it's just so hard to get back all that muscle that you lost. It's really bad. And that's a really good reason why once you're there you're gonna be committed. The gravitational pull on Mars is about 38% of Earth's. So that's really, really low. I mean things, it'd be easy to get around and things would be light and that's all great, but, man, your muscles just say we don't need all of this muscle, let's get rid of it. I'm very curious how walking will be accomplished on Mars. How similar to moon-walking will it be? Or will it be a fusion between the moon-hopping and the Earth-walking? I'd be curious to see that.

J: Bob, what's their budget? How could they possibly afford to do this?

B: That's actually one of the key problems, Jay, is funding. They figure it's gonna cost about six billion U.S. dollars to get there, just for the first group.

S: How many bit coins is it gonna cost? (laughter)

E: Seven.

R: Oh, you know, if they send a big-time movie star, if they send like Julia Roberts, that should secure them at least one billion from the foreign markets.

J: Why, 'cause they wanna get rid of her? (laughter)

R: It's a movie-making joke. You cast the right people, you get the funding. That's the way it works, in Hollywood.

S: So who should we send to Mars on a one-way trip?

B: Justin Bieber! (laughter)

E: Wow, Bob.

R: What did Justin Bieber ever do to you?

B: Nothing, I just felt like it.

J: It's not really him, it's more his haircut.

S: Could we just send his haircut?

J: So, look, there's a lot of things about this that I just don't have enough information on, or they're just not making enough sense. First of all, how do you get billions of dollars for a TV show? Second of all, who's developing the technology? How are they gonna live an extended period of time on a planet where they can't manufacture things, grow food, what's up?

B: Let me go through some of this, then, Jay. What they're gonna need, more than a few astronauts: they're talking about 24 astronauts. So the idea is they're gonna have six groups of four astronauts, and every two years four astronauts are gonna be sent there, with the first one going in 2022. The selection process will be finalized in 2015; so it's only a couple years away. Then they're gonna go through seven years of training. And, think about it though, seven years of a reality show of astronauts training. That's gonna get so boring. There's no way they're gonna maintain a TV show for that long.

S: I don't know, Bob. I mean, ghost hunter shows have lasted for that long.

R: Yeah, The Real World has been going on for that long.

B: I guess.

R: It's crap, but people still watch it, I guess.

B: Well, if they do a good job, they can make it interesting. But seven years of training?

S: What they need to do is they need to vote people off the planet. (laughter)

B: Well actually, what they're gonna, that's close, Steve. What they're gonna do, in true reality show style, is they're gonna vote four astronauts, the first four to go, who of course will be the most famous. Who doesn't wanna be the first ones to go? Except me.

R: Anyone with a brain, doesn't wanna be the first to go.

B: Jay, you mentioned technology. Space X, they're gonna work with Space X. And the idea is to use a slightly enlarged version of the Dragon capsule to get them there. And

R: I never noticed before how much "Space X" sounds like "space sex." Because that was very confusing when you first said it.

S: Space sex?

R: Um hm.

B: I never thought of that. Thank you. They're gonna use those really cool retro propulsion rockets to land it because of course parachutes aren't gonna cut it. Jay, to survive, they're gonna have solar panels, of course, for energy. They're gonna recycle and extract water from the soil if it's there, if they can actually find some. And food, and they're gonna grow their own food. That's another technology that I don't know how they're pull that off. And then of course, every two years they'll get a nice resupply of their Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from Earth when the next group arrives. But as you can imagine, right, there's gonna be tons of problems. One of them is the solar wind. Mars just does not have, a very thin atmosphere. It's about a hundredth, less than a hundredth the density of Earth's atmosphere. It's almost a friggin' vacuum. And Mars doesn't have a magnetosphere. I mean, damn.

J: It doesn't seem like the survival of these people is going to be high. It's scaring me.

S: They are gonna send supplies ahead of the first astronauts. So there should be material and food and everything they'll need there to get going.

B; Well, they want to send a series of rovers to go there. And that's also one of the reasons why I'm pessimistic. They want to send a bunch of rovers. I mean, are they even working on these rovers? I mean, you know how long it takes to design and develop and test all that. I'm not even sure where they even are with that preliminary step right there. And so it's not just a magnetosphere that's not there, which is basically a shield for the solar wind and cosmic ray particles. It really is why there's lots of life on the surface of the planet.

S: Their habitat will basically have to be under ground.

B: yeah, they're gonna have to . . . maybe that's one of the things these rovers can do is help make these pits for their habitat. So if they're gonna have to be under many feet of dirt, then they'll be okay. But there's also no liquid water, really. None that they could really tap into that we've found. And then the radiation, not just the radiation on the planet, but the trip radiation, and we've talked about this on the show. It's nasty. Just going there, you've got these energetic particles in the solar wind; you've got cosmic rays. I mean, they won't kill you outright, necessarily, but they will greatly increase your chances of getting cancer. And the question is . . .

R: These people are not gonna live long enough to get cancer. They don't need to worry about that.

B: I guess.

R: Like if they die of cancer, it'll be the greatest thing that ever happened to them.

J: You know, there's social implications here, as well. What about laws?

S: They're on their own. The whole idea is they can create their own civilization.

E: The wild west. That's great. What if one of them goes nuts and starts to break down?

S: Well they'll have seven years vet these people. They're gonna be . . . so part of the training . . . first of all, they're gonna be trained in emergency medicine, dentistry, engineering, all the skills they're gonna need to do everything they need on their own and they're gonna also spend extended periods of time in simulated Martian habitats, and have simulated emergencies. So, that's seven years of vetting for these people.

E: What if these people don't pan out in year three or four, what . . . you're gonna have to have teams of people going through this process. I mean, imagine the hundreds of people that they're gonna have to select from.

B: Yeah. I would think they're gonna have maybe one or two backups. You know, you're talking fifty, sixty, seventy people, if they go that route, which isn't, I mean $6 billion will go a long way for that kind of stuff. NASA astronaut Stan Love had a great description of this. He, I think he described it really well. He just happened to come back from Antarctica, and he says "That place is a picnic compared to Mars." He says it's full of water, you can go outside and breathe the air. It's paradise compared to Mars, and yet nobody has moved there permanently. And you know, as nasty as that place is, Mars is ten hundred times worse and people are gonna spend the rest of their lives there. It's just crazy.

R: What happens when the show is cancelled?

E: That's a good point.

R: You know, ratings are down, they need that time slot for something else.

S: I think, let me go against the grain and say that I think this is a wonderful idea.

B: No. You're full of shit. No. All right, I love the idea of a community off the Earth, and Stephen Hawking would really agree with us on that. But go to the moon first! It's only three days away. Vet all the technology and develop it on the moon. If there's a huge disaster, you can be there in mere days, rather than months and a billion dollars later.

R: Good point.

S: All right, that's a really good point.

B: Moon Base Alpha first, then Mars.

J: Well, wait, Bob. That might be part of their plan, though. As Rebecca says, let's say the show gets cancelled. The show's gonna probably get cancelled right around when everyone's gonna die. Right?

E; That convenient.

S: Well the show may be cancelled before they even . . . It's gonna be seven years of reality TV before they even blast off for Mars. Remember. So, this is highly risky in multiple ways. This is gonna be very difficult to pull off. But you gotta give it to them for the vision here, of trying to . . . If they pull this off, then you really have to give it to them for being bold and the amount of dedication it's going to take to usher this project to completion is going to be amazing. So, they will have to capture the imagination of the world with this project. The people that they select are going to have a lot to do with this. And they have ten years to work out the technological limitations. It's not impossible, it's just gonna be really, really hard. But if they're serious about this, I think that . . . I'd love to see them try; I wish them well; I would love to see them succeed, as long as they appreciate that they're not going into this thinking this is gonna be an easy endeavor. As long as they appreciate all the many ways this can fail, and they are doing everything they possibly can to deal with all of those hurdles, then, let's see what they do.

R: Who's the "they" again? Who's actually doing this?

S: Mars One, I guess, is the organization.

B: Yeah, they're based out of Denmark.

J: Steve, I don't disagree with that at all. I see what you're saying, and I like the idea of all these billions of dollars that go into entertainment that is really, at the end of the day, it doesn't achieve things like technology and pushing the limits of man's fortitude . . .

S: You know what I think is likely to happen? If they get this off the ground, I think that they're going to have an interesting reality TV show that will be a dry run for a real colonization trip to either the moon or Mars. But they probably won't ever launch. If they do launch; if they're successful enough, in terms of raising money and keeping the whole project going to the point where they're ready to launch, that will be a huge success right there. Anything that happens after that, you know, I would still consider this to be a success. Of course it's high risk. They will have . . . basically like 2022 or 2023, they're gonna have to make a hard assessment of whether or not they actually have all the pieces in place to send people to Mars. Probably there's gonna be tons of delays and it will probably never happen. But . . .

B: Oh, 2022 or 3, I'd say 2018 they'd be like, shit, we're not gonna make this. And to me, that's my biggest beef with this is that 2022 just seems way too soon to pull this off. There's too many hurdles.

S: I like the idea that they're planning on using the Space X

B: Oh, absolutely.

S: So that may throw a lot of funding their way.

B: That would be great.

S: That would be a good consequence of all this.

J: It's a lot of money they have to get, and that's gonna be a huge hurdle for them.

B: I've got a quote on that as well. Dr. Chris Lintott, he's Oxford University, he thinks that it's technologically plausible, feasible. But in his mind funding is gonna be the biggest problem. He said "It's about having the political will and the financial muscle to make this happen. That's what nobody has been able to solve so far." So the undoing of this entire project might be just purely from funding, 'cause it's a lot of money. It's got a lot of sustained interest that you'd have to have for many, many years. And if you can pull that off, that might be the biggest hurdle of all.

S: Hopefully this is a story we'll be reporting on over the years. I hope it doesn't die in the crib. It'll be interesting.

B: And if anyone wants to register you have until August 31 of 2013, and they certainly have lots of volunteers. I've heard numbers over 40,000 requests already.

R: Oh, my god.

B: It'll cost you money, though. I think it's 38 bucks for the United States. But depending on what country you're in, the prices will vary. But yeah, lots of people are interested in it.

Bomb Detector Fraud (24:43)[edit]

S: Okay, Jay, there's some good news from the U.K. about a convicted con artist.

J: Yeah. Do you all remember the story we covered about James McCormick? He's the guy who sold the fake bomb detectors that were eventually used in real life situations in Iraq. Well, things didn't turn out so good for Mr. McCormick. This is a horrifying story with a possible good ending. It hasn't ended quite yet. I think it's going in the right direction, but this, let me give you the quick background. April 23, 2013, during a hearing in London at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, the Court was told that McCormick's fake detectors were 100% ineffectual. The harshest fact that came out was that McCormick knew they didn't work. So, this guy invents quote unquote invents, a detector that can do the following things: this is what he claims. The devices could bypass all forms of concealment. They can detect drugs and people along with explosives, would work under water, and of course, from the air. Would track an object up to one kilometer, or 320, sorry 3,280 feet below the ground. Below the ground. The bomb detectors came with cards which were programmed, quote unquote programmed, to detect a wide array of substances from ivory to $100 bank notes. Other substances could be detected. But, it was claimed if you put in a jar with a sticker which would absorb its vapors, so whatever it is, whatever you want, you put that item, or a piece of it, in a jar, and the sticker would absorb the vapors from that object. And then if you stuck that sticker to the thing, it could detect it. All right? Now. This is insane, and we talked about this already, so a lot of you already know that fact. The ADE651 detector. He made how much money? Fifty million pounds! 76 million US dollars from this scam. He sold 6,000 units to Iraq. Not a bad haul for a scam. Pretty damn good. Officials said the device was modeled after a novelty $20 golf ball finder. Oh, god, when I read that, I was so pissed off at the idea that this guy was basically flipping through a magazine on an airplane, say, I'm not sure if that was it, but you know the kind of junk that I'm talking about. This chachki crap, $20 golf ball finder that doesn't work. This hand-held device. He bought hundreds of those. Listen, Evan, he bought them. Hundreds of 'em. Put his own custom sticker on it and sold them as bomb detectors.

S: He didn't even make 'em himself?

J: Well, the first version of it, no. It was this crappy golf-ball finder. He sold them for 5K each. So then, when he sold them and it worked, he went out and made a much cooler looking one, and he sold those to the Iraqi government, and those he sold for up to 27,000 pounds, 40,000 US dollars each.

E: Ironically, those don't detect golf balls

S: It's basically a dousing rod.

J: Yeah.

S: That's how it works.

E; Very expensive one.

J: Yeah, and if you look at it, an antenna

B: Well, not really.

J: Yes, Bob, in a way. It is, Bob, it is. You have to see it.

B: There's no ideomotor effect

J: Yes, there is. Bob, Bob. Yes there is.

B: Really?

J: Yeah, pay attention. Okay? You're in school now, I'm your teacher. All right, you hold the device in your hand and you pull the antenna out; it scopes out. And then it's on like a ball-bearing device, so it shifts with the person's hand that's using it. So, yeah, Bob, that's it. They're looking at the movement of that thing, and the people are, the people who are using it are coming up with the answers themselves: am I detecting something here? Yes or no. That's it. It is in essence a dowsing rod. So finally the U.K. government banned the sale of the detector in Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010, and senior Iraqi officials that knew the device for a fake and some of them who were bribed to continue purchasing them. And when I say they were bribed, a lot of money exchanged hands. This guy bribed the hell out of

B: Millions of dollars. Millions of dollars.

J: Absolutely. Sadly, some of these devices are still active at some checkpoints in Iraq.

E: Really?

J: It's ridiculous. I don't know why or how that could possibly be happening. There was a very sad story. You know, to put a face on this whole thing. A woman named Henine Awan, who was an Iraqi woman, was pregnant at the time, and she lost her baby because a bomb went off that wasn't caught by the fake detector. She needed 59 operations after she was injured in January, 2009, and I saw a video of her talking, and I'm telling you, she was horribly, horribly burned. Another interesting thing, there's a detective inspector, Ed Heath, said "It is clear that both civilians and armed forces personnel were put at significant risk in relying upon the equipment. McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those that used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. He amassed many millions of pounds through his greed and criminal enterprise." And he's going to be sentenced on May 2 of 2013. There's no doubt that he knew that it didn't work. One of the salesmen that was working with him at one point asked him specifically, you know, I really need to know if this thing works, and he said "It is working. It's earning money."

R: Ecchh

B: Oh, my god.

S: Do you have any idea of what possible sentence he's facing?

J: I couldn't find anything, but it doesn't look good.

B: I read he faces up to eight years in jail, which I think is pathetic.

R: Yeah.

E: Five to eight is what I read, yeah.

B: Up to eight years is a joke.

S: Yeah, sometimes laws just need an asshole clause. You know, where the judge has the discretion to just really dramatically increase the sentence.

R: I don't know. I don't understand how they even come to that sentence, because, I mean, I don't think you even need a cause because he's endangering the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people.

S: The law may not cover it.

E: Yeah.

R: How? I don't understand.

B: You know, guys, the other side of the story for me was the total lack of apparent effort to deal with this, to investigate this, to do something about it.

S: Up front, oh, yeah.

B: It's ridiculous. I read about a, that the police did a two-and-a-half year investigation, and they're talking about a University of Cambridge professor did a fully double-blind trial and he found it was no better than random chance, three out of twenty-five times. Two-and-a-half years to determine this? Really? I mean, we could set that experiment up in an afternoon. Two-and-a-half years. I'm sure there's lots of red tape and lots of things you gotta go through, but, that just seems an incredibly long period of time to come to those kind of conclusions.

S: Yeah.

B: And it seemed like the government just

S: Total failure.

B: They didn't seem to want to investigate it or take any action. I mean this has been out there for not months, it's been years, right?

E: Yeah.

B: I read 2008, 2009? It's 2013. What took so long?

S: This exact kind of device has been sold multiple ways by multiple people. This was not unique.

J: The real travesty here is the fact that they didn't vet this thing out. I mean you're really gonna take some unknown guy by his word? Didn't they test it? Didn't one person unbox one of these and test it with a few different bombs, or whatever? The claims he made are extreme.

S: Yeah, wasn't there one person in the chain who wasn't blatantly scientifically ignorant and saw that this was a total sham? Anybody with even a basic level of critical thinking should have been able to see that this was a total scam from the get-go, right?

J: Yeah, and beyond that, Steve, isn't there a protocol in place? Doesn't the military have . . .

S: Apparently not.

J: Well, there you go. It's very revealing.

E: You're right, Jay, it's very revealing.

S: Well, we'll follow up when he gets sentenced. I just wanna see what kind of time this guys gets.

TED and Chopra (37:42)[edit]

S: But let's move on for now. Are you guys aware of the whole TED fiasco that happened recently?

B: Oh, my god. Unbelievable.

R: Another one?

J: Very disappointing.

B: It's very believable.

S: Well, I don't know which one you're referring to, but this is one, yeah, Deepak Chopra got involved. So the TED talks are a prestigious series of interesting, provocative lectures. TED, do you guys know what TED stands for, by the way?

R: Technology, Entertainment, Design?

S: Yeah, but the scope has expanded since then, but it was initially Technology, Entertainment, Design. And the tagline of the lecture series is Ideas Worth Spreading, and it became a very high profile, prestigious series of short, provocative lectures on topics in science and related things. TED spawned TEDx. TEDx are local, independently run and organized TED-branded lecture series that are supposed to strive for the same level of quality that TED itself has. And there are TEDx conferences all over the world. Well, apparently, some of the TEDx events have not been up to the standards of TED. There were a couple recent ones by Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock: you guys know who these guys are, right? Sheldrake is a big proponent of ESP. Graham Hancock is big into alternate history, ancient civilizations, etc. So, bottom line, both of these guys are crackpots, in my opinion. And they gave talks that were very unsettling to some people in the audience who have some knowledge of science, and there were complaints. There were complaints from people in the audience who said "What is TEDx doing promoting these lectures and these people?" This prompted a, and everything now gets a lot of attention in the blogosphere, etc., and social media. This prompted an open letter by some TEDx directors to all of the TEDx organizers. It's actually an excellent primer on how to tell the difference between science and pseudoscience. They go down a list of red flags for how to tell if a speaker is legitimate and they said "It's your job to vet them. It's not your audience's job to figure out if the speaker is offering legitimate science or not. It's your job, and this is how you do it. And if you're not sure, we'll help you, and here's the guideline." And it's a very excellent guideline. They actually reference Science-Based Medicine at one point.

J: Oh, excellent.

E: Well, there you go.

J: How did they reference it?

S: As a source you can go to to, for example, see if a medical claim is legitimate or not. And they reference other skeptical sources. Clearly, they were steeped in the skeptical culture, you know, movement. And they knew what they were talking about. This is the kind of thing that any experienced skeptic could have written or will find very familiar. So, excellent job. That provoked a backlash by Deepak Chopra.

R: Surprise!

S: And some of his cronies. So they wrote an article in the Huff Poo attacking the TEDx directors who wrote this open letter, and criticizing them for all the usual straw men, boogie men crap. It's really terrible. So, here's one quote from it:

What the militant atheists and self-described skeptics hate is a certain brand of magical thinking that endangers science. In particular, there is a bugaboo of non-local consciousness which causes the hair on the back of their necks to stand on end. A layman would be forgiven for not grasping why such an innocent-sounding phrase could spell danger to good science.

So, thoughout the letter they're attacking quote, unquote, militant atheists, and every single time, just about, Chopra refers to Richard Dawkins, he calls him "militant atheist Richard Dawkins."

R: I think he actually changed his first name to "militant atheist." (laughter)

E: I'd like to say to Chopra, "I don't think you know what this word means."

S: Well, I mean, he's trying to portray skeptics as the fanatics. Right? That we're the ones with an axe to grind; we're the ones on the extreme. And he's just talking about the cutting edge; we're just not aware. The other thing that's really funny—we've kind of been talking about Games of Thrones this episode—that the article is based upon this really lame, gratuitous analogy to the Games of Thrones.

B: He got it so wrong, it was a joke.

S: He gets everything wrong. So, he basically is trying to make this analogy that skeptics are like the Guardians on the Great Wall.

R: There are no Guardians.

S: I know. And, first he calls it a hereditary order, --it's not hereditary. (laughter) And the he says that the Guardians, meaning the Night Watch, but the Guardians defend the Empire from the monsters and the creatures on the other side of the Wall without ever going north of the Wall to see what's actually there.

R: That's so . . . you just watch the first episode . . .

S: I know. The very first scene are Rangers north of the Wall.

R: Ya dummy. If Deepak can't even get this right . . . come on.

B: You know, what's worse than a politician or a pseudoscientist misquoting or mis-referencing a bit of popular culture. Like, when –

E: Oh, the Spock thing, yeah.

B: Spock, and they mix up Star Wars and Star Trek and all that, and it's like, oh, my god. Your advisors, your consultants should have been there for you when you wrote this.

S: The whole article sort of revolves around this analogy, and he gets it horribly wrong. Sometimes in details that are not relevant to the point, but it just shows that he's not even aware. He didn't read the books or watch the series. Either that or he pays very poor attention to detail. But in one critical aspect, the analogy fails in a very meaningful way when he claims that the Guardians don't go north of the wall in the same way that skeptics don't actually investigate the topics that they dismiss in their militant atheism. And both are absolutely wrong. In fact, skeptics spend a great deal of time and energy carefully examining the claims of people like Chopra and Sheldrake and Hancock. We actually do what most mainstream scientists don't do. We're at the wall, we range north of the wall, we are investigating and we're trying to warn the Empire, "Hey, there's a bunch of nonsense up here!"

R: And just to be clear, in Chopra's analogy here, in his metaphor, he is the zombie. (laughter)

S: That's right. He's the one (inaudible)

R: All right. Just making sure I've got that right.

S: He also says there are dragons north of the wall—wrong!

B: Wr- o-o-o-ng!

R: God.

E: Here be dragons.

J: Is he getting like loaded before he watches this TV show?

S: (laughing) I don't he's, Jay, I think he has a vague notion of what's going on, and probably never really watched the show.

R: He sat down to write those things, like, "What do the kids like these days?"

S: Yeah, "What's popular these days?"

B: No, not "the kids," the "kiddies." The kiddies.

E: Well, you know Chopra. He's good at stealing a word here and a word there, and twisting into something he thinks is for his benefit—

R: So, the wall is the new quantum.

S: Yeah, but what he's really saying in his article is that there should be no standards. That anything should go. And that we're all adults, so any speculative thinking is all fine. Just leave us alone and let us say whatever we want.

B: Yeah, and let the audience decide, right?

S: Let the audience decide. Which is funny because he triggers many of the red flags that the open letter specifically warned about. In his response. He's actually showing himself to be a pseudoscientist in his response to the open letter. By their own criteria. Without showing any awareness that he's doing so.

B: That was wonderful.

S: Oh, it was just terrible. And of course, that's exactly what the cranks and charlatans want, is for there to be no standards. And he pulled the Galileo gambit, by the way. I don't even know if I need to say what that is. Anybody who compares something to Galileo is automatically a crank, period. And he equated having some standards with censorship. Which again, that's a sign that, that's one of the red flags that they had in the open letter. If they try to say that they're being censored because you're trying to hold them to some standard, that's a red flag that they're a crank.

B: Somebody replied to those comments specifically, and I love what they were saying about Galileo and how for every one true Galileo there's thousands of cranks, and also, if Galileo were alive today, he would recognize the need to do good research and not just throw it out there and see if it sticks on the wall, and to do good science. Something that they don't do.

S: That was Chris Anderson from TED, responding to Deepak Chopra. Totally nailed it. He said

No one here claims that mainstream science is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It isn't. But it is the best starting point we have for judging new information. Yes. A modern-day Galileo may be out there with paradigm shifting ideas that will at some point overturn huge pieces of existing science. But he or she should expect to face a robust standard of proof before their ideas take hold. And for every Galileo, there are thousands of people who just have bad unscientific ideas.

B: That was beautiful. He did a great job.

S: Yeah. Chopra responded. Again. He responded again on the Huff Poo, on his blog. And this one is just, "Oh, you know, these scientists just don't understand the cutting edge." He's saying that they don't understand that the observer is in the equation. Right? That the universe is not just about what's being observed from a distance, but there's an observer in the mix as well. It's like, really? I mean . . .yeah, yeah, the physicists haven't been talking about this for the last twenty years? Come on. A total straw man. Again, I think someone said that Deepak Chopra should be banned from using the word "quantum" ever again.

B: I'll send that!

R: Censorship!

S: At one of his debates, a physicist who was in the audience suggested that he attend a basic course, like monitor a basic class on quantum mechanics. 'Cause clearly he doesn't understand the first thing about it.

R: Wasn't that Leonard Mlodinow?

S: Was it? No, I know he . . . I think this was somebody in the audience. I don't think . . . I know Leonard Mlodinow has debated Chopra.

R: I thought that's how he came to know Deepak Chopra, was that he spoke up in the audience.

S: Oh, is that right?

R: I might be getting this completely wrong.

(speaking simultaneously – inaudible)

J: You're right, Rebecca.

S: But, this is the kind of pushback that we're going to get. I see this as a sign that we're being successful. That we are shining a light on the cranks and showing why what they're doing is nonsensical, and we're getting things like, you know, people who are actually directors of TEDx are writing very critical thinking, very skeptical open letters about the difference between science and pseudoscience. That's a huge victory for the skeptical movement. And we are forcing the cranks to try to attack us and to try to marginalize us, because we're having an impact. And we just have to keep the pressure back up against them. We can't let them define us. Of course they want to define us as the militant ones, right? I think what I'm gonna do is, every time I refer to Deepak Chopra from now on, I'm gonna refer to him as "militant crank Deepak Chopra." (laughter)

B: I like it.

R: Yeah, I think that's fair.

E: How do ya like that, Deepak?

S: You think that's fair?

R: Yeah.

S: We'll see how militant crank Deepak Chopra responds to that.

J: This is one of those rare news items that is really exciting, it gives me some hope. This could have gone a much darker path. TED could have gone into a really bad place, and was allowing all this junk science in there.

S: Well, hey, not that there aren't marginal and dubious TED talks. I'm not saying that that's a paragon. But maybe this will improve the quality of even TED by focusing a light on this issue of science versus pseudoscience.

R: :Yeah, that's just it—

E: Bring it to the forefront.

R: That's what I meant by, when you said "problem with TED talks." I said another one. TEDx is just rife with B.S. But it's good that they've recognized that and are taking steps to solve it.

S: Yeah, and I think it's demonstrably because of skeptical watchdogs.

Creationism and Dinosaurs (45:53)[edit]

S: Speaking of militant cranks, Rebecca, you're gonna tell us about one who is going to be talking at a Kansas public school.

R: Yes. Dr. G. Thomas Sharp has been hired to come to a small, a southwest Kansas school district to deliver two assemblies next week on the truth about dinosaurs. And I know about this because the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, is threatening the school district that they'll be taken to court if they continue on with these assemblies. The reason why is because Sharp is the founder of the Creation Truth Foundation. And when he is teaching the truth about dinosaurs, the things he teaches are things like dinosaurs were on the ark with Noah, and evolution is wrong.

S: Did you watch his online video?

R: I did, actually. There's an hour-long video in which he's, it's called The Truth About Dinosaurs and it's released by Sharp. So I have to assume that this is going to be at least similar to what he's going to be delivering to the Kansas school. I should mention that the ACLU, when they threatened the school district with court action, the superintendent of schools, Mark Crawford, responded to say that the assemblies were going to continue and that the, all the assemblies would be in line with the law. They would not actually be anything to do with creationism. And again, this is the founder of the Creation Truth Foundation. So I mean, it's right there in the name. And then, yeah, if you watch this horrible hour-long lecture he gives on YouTube, it's astounding the things he, I mean he's preaching, basically.

J: Give us a few tidbits, like what were some of the crazier things he said?

R: Well, like he refers to dinosaurs as god's lizards, and I mean, the Bible is sprinkled throughout. He accuses

E: Godzilla, what?

R: He refers to actual science as being done by secularists, and as though it's a filthy word.

S: All right, then, let's say that he scrubs his talk of any biblical god or secular religious references,

R: Then it'll be ten seconds long.

S: It'll still be a mountain of absolute unscientific nonsense. Now, the approach that he takes, first of all, this is all nothing new. This is like 1970's style creationism.

R: We should be clear, this is not intelligent design.

S: No.

R: The thinly veiled creationism. This is creationism, yeah.

E: Retro-creationism.

S: So he does the whole taking quote of scientists out of context, usually from public writing—writing meant for the lay public, not technical writing. And then he just completely mystery mongers. He tries to blow out of proportion what we don't know. Like, for example, and he's doing the whole, he doesn't really say evolution is wrong, he's doing the equivalency thing where evolution is one model and creation is another model, and the only way to interpret the evidence is through your preconceived notions. So if you assume evolution, then you'll interpret the evidence from an evolutionary perspective. But if you go with the biblical assumption that there was a flood and everything, then you could make sense of everything with the flood. And for example, he does the whole alternate geology, flood geology, and he said that there is no consensus that dinosaurs evolved from birds. And then he pulls some quote segment out of context from somebody, in a popular article, to make it sound like we have no idea what's going on. He's like, oh, the fossils are rare and they're in such poor condition and we have no idea what these dinosaurs were like, you know. Completely mis-characterizing the overwhelming evidence. There was just a study published this week showing that dinosaurs, that theropod dinosaurs that are closely related to early birds nested their eggs the same way that birds do. There's one more piece of evidence that birds evolved from a certain type of dinosaur.

R: And while he's preaching that, he's implying heavily that scientists are outright lying to kids and using dinosaurs as some sort of enticing ploy to get them to come to their evil museums and lie to them. He says that scientists discount the flood and scientists disagree on dinosaurs, birds evolving from dinosaurs, and yet they continue to lie kids about it. I mean, it's, he's clearly implying nefarious purposes on the part of scientists.

S: He's just accusing scientists of doing exactly what he's doing.

R: Yeah.

S: He's dinosaurs as a lure so that he could lie through his teeth about the state of the scientific evidence about evolution and dinosaurs.

E: And this superintendent of this school says it's completely and totally school-appropriate.

B: I think he was, he seemed pretty clear and adamant that he would not allow creationism to be taught, and I think they got ahold of him and they convinced him, this is what we're gonna talk about, this is what we're gonna say. And I think what they're actually gonna do might be very different. Or, I kind of also think that they're gonna scrub the hell out of their talk and get very

S: Yeah but Bob, he knows exactly what's going on. He knows, the point of this—

R: The guy who started the Creation Truth Foundation, you don't invite him to give a lecture to students and then say that it's got nothing to do with creationism.

S: This is deliberate stealth creationism in public schools, period. That's what this is.

R: And I do want to mention that the assemblies are required for students to attend.

S: Yeah. Mandatory. Mandatory.

R: Yeah.

Survey Announcement (52:18)[edit]

S: Evan, before we go to Who's That Noisy? a very quick announcement. We are doing a survey of our listeners. You can get to the survey, it's a quick demographic survey. We'd really appreciate if you'd take just a moment to fill it out so we could know more about our listeners. Go to home page and you'll see it right on the home page, big white box with the survey in there. And again, we'd appreciate if you'd take a moment to fill that out.

Who's That Noisy? (52:46)[edit]

Puzzle for last week S: All right, well, Evan. We're now a couple of weeks behind on Who's That Noisy?

E: Yeah, well, we'll get caught up. Going back to March 30 it was when we asked the following puzzle:

Mark is visiting a psychic, the Great Griftina. The Great Griftina tells Mark to think of the number 1, 2 or 3. The Great Griftina tells Mark that she will ask one question of him, and must only reply with "yes," "no," or "I don't know." So what question should the Great Griftina ask Mark to find out exactly which number Mark has chosen.

S: And I think there were a few different kinds of right answers to this.

E: Yeah, there was. A lot of the correct answers took the form, well, something like this, which I'm calling the standard solution, but I counted a lot of the solutions as correct that sort of had this premise in mind. So here's the answer, the standard solution: If I have the numbers one or two in mind, is the number that you have in mind larger than the numbers I have in mind? And a couple of variations on this that I found interesting are a little bit different from the standard solution. Someone posed, let's see, it was listener Brandon from Miami, Florida said that you could ask this question: If you subtracted two from your number, would the square root of the result be greater than zero?

R: It's just really, if she's just dumb, it's always gonna be, I don't know. (laughter)

E: That's true. You have to assume that the people know math, and understand concepts like square roots and so forth.

S: Right.

E: And that works out. The winner this week is Yves von Gennip.

S: And what have you got for this week?

E: This week we're going back to the classic Who's That Noisy? I'm gonna play something for you. And you're gonna try to figure out exactly who is saying this. Are you ready?

S: Oh, yeah.

(Woman speaking English with a foreign accent) You want to create weight loss, you can start using feng shui. The best way is to have black or blue plates, and actually making sure that you don't put too much on your plate at the same time.

S: Feng shui to lose weight.

J: Ev, you don't think it might something to do with the fact that she says "Don't put so much stuff on your plate"?

E: (laughing) I was hoping you'd catch that, Jay. Yeah, that's exactly what I thought. What the hell does feng shui have to do with that? But I never heard that before. Feng shui as a weight loss program? That was new to me, so I thought I would share that with you, and go ahead and give us your guess. is our forums. Go ahead and post your answer there or send your answer in to and we'll do it again next week. Good luck, everyone.

S: All right, well, thanks, Evan.

Questions and Emails (55:35)[edit]

Bitcoin Follow Up: Corrections and further analysis of Bitcoin (55:35)[edit]

S: Jay, on our live private recording that we put up last week, you had a segment on Bitcoin and that generated quite of feedback. We're not gonna read any one email because there were so many, but we definitely need to do a follow-up on the Bitcoin segment.

J: I read a recent article about Bitcoin. I pitched it to Steve, thought it was a very interesting topic. I went to the Wikipedia page; I followed some links through the Wikipedia page. I ended up reading some conflicting sources of information. I thought that I had vetted things down to the point where I could have the discussion, because we want to be very careful that we're not, a lot of times news articles have one source, you know, you might have seen this—where you go to 50 different websites and it's all linking back to the single. There's lots of sources for Bitcoin on the web. Unfortunately, a lot of the information that I found was skewed and a couple of times was just flat-out wrong. What we found after re-investigating the Bitcoin information is, well, we'll give you the corrections, but, what Steve and I wanted to discuss tonight are the missteps of research. And we'll use my experience in the last week as an example of some of the things that may—now, I've been doing research for a long time. Steve has been helping me learn how to do high-end research. We talk about it on the show all the time.

S: I do think it's interesting to talk about the process that we go through. A lot of people ask us about that process. This is a good opportunity to review it. We obviously don't always achieve the ideal that we shoot for. But what I like to see on every item; first of all, you have to find as many independent sources on the topic that you're researching as possible. And you have to follow each resource back to its original source, and that's how you discover sometimes that you may be reading twenty or thirty sources, but they're all linking to the same original source, and therefore you really only have one source. Wikipedia is a reasonable place to start just to get an overview but that's never your ultimate source for anything. You can follow those links back to the things that are sourcing Wikipedia, but ultimately you always want to get to primary sources and to multiple primary sources. One of the questions that you're trying answer early on—when Jay and I were talking about this earlier, I said "I do this basically every day when I write my blog." I spend my first fifteen or twenty minutes researching a topic just trying to figure out, first of all, how deep that well goes, how complicated is it? The second is, how much of a consensus is there on this? Am I going to be able to find a reference that's going to be definitive because the information is non-controversial and represents the consensus of scientific opinion. When a topic is controversial or has a lot of passion behind it, then it takes a lot more time, because you're going to be getting conflicting information and you're gonna have to sort which references are better, which arguments are better. You know, who really, you know, what we can know. It takes a long time to wrap your head around topics the more controversial they get. I think what happened with Bitcoin is that the whole topic was a lot more controversial than we realized, and a lot more awash in mythology and misinformation. So, I think that the thing that, Jay, that you should have done, was when you started to get conflicting information in the research, that should have been a big red flag that this is not as settled as it appeared to you at the time.

J: And I figured it was just a matter of me finding a more definitive and trustworthy source.

S: You know what else is interesting is that we've had, again, many emails pointing out some of the factual errors on the reporting of Bitcoin. But interestingly, the emails that we got, although they purported to be informative, they had a lot of conflicting information, too. They conflicted with each other. So, and then I've been researching this quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, and I found tons of conflicting information. But let's get to it, Jay. Tell us, what are the pretty clearly established factual bits of information that we need to correct?

J: One mistake I made was I said that Bitcoins are divisible by Satoshi, that's like the pennies, say, in the Bitcoin world. I said that a Satoshi was worth fifty cents, and they're not. At all. Not even close. A Satoshi is a hundred millionth of one Bitcoin. So it’s a phenomenally small value. So, and to give you an idea, like right now, BItcoin value has been changing. But you know we're in the $150 per Bitcoin range, about, right now. Like I said, that goes up and down. I checked today a couple of times and I saw the value had changed even today. Another thing that I wanted to correct was we were interchanging the term "Bitcoin" with "Bitcoins." It is "Bitcoin." To be very pendantic about it, that's the correct way to say it.

B: aaah.

J: I'm never gonna say that word correct deliberately for the rest of my life.

E: Ummm.

J: Satoshi Nakamoto is not a person, he or she or the group of people, that's a pseudonym for the creaters of Bitcoin.

S: Which, nobody really knows who that is.

R: And they're not even positive that it's a pseudonym, right?

S: Yeah, it's just all shrouded in mystery, the identity of the creator or creators.

E: Kind of like Shakespeare. Just kidding.

J: A few legitimate organizations, news outlets and companies, tried to find out who the creator was, and they couldn't do it. So, we just don't know who they are.

S: Jay, I found, when I was doing my research, I found a couple of things that conflicted with what you were finding. One was that, one site I read said that there is actually no "this one code equals this one Bitcoin." Rather, the code is all just tracking the transactions. So there's information that says you received a Bitcoin, but it's not like, oh, I have this bit of code here and this bit of code is my Bitcoin. But you said that you thought, that wasn't the impression that you had. You think that there is a code for each Bitcoin.

J: I still am under the impression that a single unique Bitcoin has a single unique identifier. I do, I did read what you read that each transaction, the code to that Bitcoin changes and it grows with the transaction, so the transaction history is the input.

S: Yeah.

J: But, I'm telling you, Steve, I keep reading it, I think I get it and I read something else, and I'm like I'm not quite sure now. It's inherently a very complicated thing.

S: The thing I read that was different from your understanding was that in mining, when you're like doing processing to mine for Bitcoins, that that processing is contributing to the distributed network that's tracking the transactions. It's not just some completely irrelevant side routine looking for numbers, it's actually contributing processing power to the Bitcoin phenomena.

J: Yeah, those servers become part of the cloud.

S: Yeah. What I also found interesting was that there's, again, the passionate writing on the internet. There's a lot of people criticizing Bitcoin, but they're coming from the metal currency enthusiast segment. So there is a subculture of people who don't like fiat money. Fiat money is basically what a government says, this is legal tender. We're gonna manufacture it and there you go. And as opposed to having a gold standard. And there are still people around who say nope, we should have a gold standard. Currency should be based on gold, silver, copper, not just government fiat, and these people really hate the idea of Bitcoin. Just digital grassroots fiat, if you will, being currency. I think they're generating a lot of the online criticism of Bitcoin and then the Bitcoin enthusiasts are responding to that, and I think we triggered some of that defensiveness when we were discussing Bitcoin, even though we were taking a pretty neutral approach, just trying to describe the phenomenon.

R: William Jennings Bryan would use Bitcoin.

S: You think so?

R: I think so.

E: On a cross of gold, yes.

J: So a couple more quick points. We did mention also that a Bitcoin wallet company, and a wallet refers to a company you can start an account with online that will hold your virtual Bitcoins for you. We said that they got hacked. And we got into, me and Rebecca and an emailer were talking about the idea that like a DDOS attack is really not being hacked. Being hacked implies that they broke into your system, your information was compromised, and I agree with Rebecca. I think using the word "hack" for a DDOS attack, which is basically just pinging a website so often that it crashes 'cause it can't handle the server load. That's being hacked as well today, in general terms.

S: In the vernacular. Yeah

R: And also we were talking about several cases in which different efforts were being made to access Bitcoins and to disrupt Bitcoin. So, I think it's perfectly reasonable to use "hack" as the umbrella term for the various ways that people are using underhanded methods of disrupting the market.

J: So, to sum up this whole thing, yeah, Bitcoin, the Bitcoin idea, and if you read about it you'll see; it's very complicated. It takes awhile to begin to wrap your head around the whole thing—

S: And that's just the technology. The technology is complicated, but then there's an entirely separate economic discussion. Like, there are some people saying that Bitcoin isn't really currency. It's mainly not used as an exchange for goods, it's mainly hoarded, and it's actually traded like a commodity, more than just a currency. In other words currencies can be commodities, but, it's price fluctuates like a commodity, it's hoarded by speculators, like 99% or something of Bitcoins out there are being hoarded by speculators. So it really hasn't, some people are arguing, I mean I'm sure the enthusiasts are not gonna like this, but some people are arguing that it's not really behaving like a real currency. But maybe it just needs time to establish itself.

J: But if anybody out there knows exactly what to do and wants to help, send us an email at and it'd be fun. I wanna do it. I wanna see the system work. I wanna start a wallet account. I wanna go through the whole process and I'd really like someone that knows what they're doing to help me do it, so.

R: Oh, but you know, I have some bad news. This news item went on so long that Bitcoin went out of business. Sorry. (laughter)

E: Don't worry, Jay.

J: I would like to formally announce the SGUCoin.

S: The SGUCoin.

R: Okay, yeah.

E: Our own currency! Oh, I like that.

J: It's gonna be really easy. Super. It looks exactly like real U.S. currency.

E: Backed by the full faith and credit of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. I love it.

Science or Fiction (1:06:54)[edit]

S: All right, well, let's go on with Science or Fiction.

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one they think is the fake. There is a sort of theme this week.

R: Oooh, sort of.

S: The theme is that each one of these items has a percentage in there somewhere. That's it. That's a very mild theme.

R: It's a stupid theme.

S: Well they all happened to have a percentage in there, so, whatever, spontaneous—

R: That's not a theme, that's a coincidence. (laughter)

S: You call it a coincidence. I call it a theme. All right. Are you all ready for this week?

E: Rebecca is.

S: Okay.

J: Do it. Do it.

S: #1: Scientists have developed a vaccine that can reduce the risk of developing autism in high-risk infants by over 20%. Item #2: A study finds that medical interns spend only 12% of their time with patients, while spending 40% of their time on computers. And Item #3: A new study finds that over 50% of products recalled by the FDA between 2004 and 2012 because they probably would "cause serious adverse health consequences or death" were dietary supplements. Jay, go first.

J: The first one, about the autism vaccine, wow. And I find that to be amazingly ironic. I would love to believe that that's true. But right out of the gate, I don't feel that this one is the truth, because I don't think we know enough about autism to actually create a vaccine for it. And it says by over 20%. That's a large number. So, tentatively that one is already my choice. The second one about the medical interns spending 12% of their time with the patients and 40% on computers, I can see that, but that seems like a huge amount of time to spend on the computer system and if they're actually working, which is one thing to be established, and when you say spending their time at computers, I'm hoping that that is work time and not just screwing off time. And if it is true, I wouldn't find it that unbelievable because I know how complicated and poorly developed a lot of these pieces of software are that hospitals and healthcare use. Every time I go to any of my doctors, they all complain about the software, almost every time. That one is believable. The third one about the FDA recalling, all the recalls, or 50% of the recalls between 2004 and 2012 were dietary supplements. That's another one, I could believe that. I mean there's a lot of dietary supplements. Now we say the FDA recalled them, Steve, see if you can answer this question, were these things that were approved by the FDA and then the FDA pulled them back, or did the FDA say "hey, you just can't sell that anymore because it's dangerous"? 'Cause I know that supplements don't have to be approved by the FDA.

S: Well then you answered your own question.

J: Now I'm even more confused than when I started. All right. So I'm gonna go under the idea the FDA just said "Hey you can't sell that anymore because it's hurting people," so I believe it. I think that's true. Therefore I'm going to say that the first one, about the autism vaccine is fake.

S: Okay. Bob?

B: Jay made a lot of sense. I just can't buy the autism vaccine at all. I don't even, I'm not even sure why you would think we would, which now, of course, makes me think that there's some subtle thing in here that I’m missing that makes it science. So I'm really pissed. So, the medical interns, yeah. I can kind of see that. I don't know enough of what medical interns need to be doing during the day, and it kind of makes sense to me that 40% of the time at the computers. You know, there's so much that can be done. They can be doing so many other things besides. Like goofing off, as Jay suggested. Yeah, I can kind of buy that, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was wrong. And then, the FDA recall. I just don't have a good memory of lots of different things that have been recalled by the FDA between that time period. And the ones that do stick out are the few dietary supplements that caused issues. So, I think maybe there were so few actual recalls that the dietary supplements could amount to over 50%. So that kind of makes sense, too. I mean I just don't know how they're gonna come up with a vaccine when we're not even sure what the hell's going on. I just gotta say that that one's fiction.

S: Rebecca?

R: Yeah. I agree with what everybody's saying, that the FDA, I mean, I can think of several high profile recalls of things like spinach. Any e-coli problem that gets out there. Because they're high profile doesn't necessarily mean that they're dominating what the FDA's doing, because they still are pretty few and far between. So, yeah, I can believe 50%. And I would assume the other 50% are things like e-coli stuff happening in vegetables and meats. So, yeah, it makes sense. The computer thing, yeah, definitely. There's so much to do on computers. Jay said it all. It's fine. And I agree with Bob, the autism thing is ridiculous. A vaccine reduces the risk of developing autism in high-risk infants. It's ridiculous. I can't even . . . it would be great, but, no. I refuse to believe that's true.

S: Okay. Evan?

E: I have to go with the team here. I'm sorry. Very vanilla, non-creative. But for all the same reasons. How is that possible? Vaccine, no.

S: All right. So let's start with number two. A study finds that medical interns spend only 12% of their time with patients while spending 40% of their time at computers. You all think this one is science, and this one is . . . science.

E: Well, they've gotta play Sky Rim right? And other things.

S. Yeah. Mine Craft, or whatever. Sure. Yeah, it's stress release. Seriously, you guys are right. I mean Jay pretty much nailed it. Medicine is now run by computers, electronic medical records systems. Getting test results. Ordering tests. Everything you order, documenting all your notes. Everything is done on the computer, so all of the information surrounding taking care of patients is there, so it's not surprising that they spend that much time. I basically spend my entire day at a computer.

R: Slacker.

S: This is outpatient versus medical interns which are inpatient, but in the outpatient setting, I'm documenting the patient's note while I'm talking with them. I'm basically typing the whole time I'm talking with the patient. Then I examine them. I discuss other things with them, but you know, through all of that I'm ordering their tests. I'm looking up their test results. It's all on the computer. A seamless part of the visit now. There's just no way around it. So yeah, that's not a surprising figure. Interesting, this survey also found they spend 7% of their time just walking from one location to another.

B: (laughing) Awesome.

S: Which also makes perfect sense.

E: Wow.

S: A round in the in the hospital, these huge sprawling buildings.

R: Get those kids some roller skates!

S: Seriously.

R: --productivity.

S: All right, let's go back to number one. Scientists have developed a vaccine that can reduce the risk of developing autism in high-risk infants by over 20%. You all think this one is ridiculous.

R: Ridiculous!

S: Just absolutely ridiculous.

E: Ridiculous.

S: Let me read you the headline of this news item. Guelph Scientists Develop First Vaccine to Help Control Autism Symptoms.

J: Twenty percent, though, Steve?

R: That's symptoms.

B: Symptoms!

S: I was hoping to get you guys for reading this news item, but apparently . . .

R: Well luckily we didn't.

S: None of you read the news item.

B: I would have quit if we were wrong. I would have been "game over." Outta here.

J: Wouldn't it have been awesome if a vaccine cured autism? (laughter)

S: I know. The irony would be delicious.

B: It would be great, but man, you kind of need to know what is actually happening first. There's probably a genetic component. What have they got, some viral factors in there of something?

S: No, there's definitely an epigenetic component to autism, and that could be a target of a vaccine. So it's absolutely plausible.

B: True.

S: But this was a vaccine against Clostridium bolteae, which is a bacteria that causes diarrhea and and g.i. symptoms, which is very common in children with autism. About 75% have g.i. symptoms. So this is a vaccine that was developed, it's not, it's probably a decade away from actually getting approved. So potentially it could help treat g.i. symptoms, which is common in kids with autism, people with autism. So, it's not a treatment for autism itself. But the headline, I thought, was delicious. You know, the vaccine to help control autism symptoms. I wonder what the anti-vaxers will say?

B: I was thinking about that.

R: That's pretty good.

B: That is pretty funny.

R: It is still funny.

S: It is. I tried to twist it into a real one, but I don't know. I like the other two ones for real ones. So let's go to number three, a news study finds that over 50% of products recalled by the FDA between 2004 and 2012 because they probably would cause serious adverse health consequences or death, in quotes, were dietary supplements, and that one is science. So Rebecca, these aren't food items, these are products, and the "cause serious adverse health consequences or death" is the wording for a Class 1 drug recall. So this is the percentage of Class 1 drug recalls between that period of time that were in fact dietary supplements. And yeah, Jay is right, the FDA does not have to approve supplements before they're on the market. That's thanks to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, or DSHEA. Which is a crappy law that needs to be repealed.

E: Yup.

S: What the study, is the study published in JAMA, what they found was, they looked at basically all the Class 1 drug recalls, and they found that 51%, just over 50%, were in fact dietary supplements, not drugs. And do you know which classes of dietary supplements were most likely to be recalled?

R: Homeopathy.

S: Nope. 'Cause there's nothing in homeopathy. So these are basically

R: I think of like Xicam, that was a big recall.

S: Yeah, one.

J: Megadose vitamins.

S: Nope. So these are mainly for, so the FDA can't pull a product simply because it doesn't work, right? So homeopathy's safe. And it's difficult for the FDA to actually prove that harm has been done, but it can pull a product if it's adulterated with something that is a drug or something that's known to be hazardous. So most of these are dietary supplements that are adulterated. The single most common category representing 40%, for male enhancement. Male, you know, sexual enhancement. And followed by weight loss. A very common class of drug, of supplement. So not surprising. So essentially they're just putting stuff in there that's like real drugs, and they're not allowed to do that. So there are things that, you know, once the FDA shows that there's substances in there that shouldn't be there, they can pull it right away. They don't have to show that it's causing harm or anything.

R: Which is a shame, because that's the first time those have a chance of working.

S: Yeah, they only work when they actually put real drugs in there. So, good job, everyone.

R: Thank you.

J: (using upper class British accent) Good job, everyone!

S: I guess it was kind of easy in retrospect, but, I was hoping to get anybody who might have read the headline and said "Ooo, vaccines, autism."

R: Nope.

E: Missed it. Thank goodness.

Announcements (1:19:10)[edit]

S: Couple quick announcements before we go to the quote. We are getting started with the production of the Occ the Skeptical Caveman web series. If you live in New England and you want to help out in any way, then give us an email at, referencing Occ the Skeptical Caveman. And we'll talk with you about what roles we have for volunteers. And it is time to get ready for the The Amazing Meeting, TAM 2013 is right around the corner now, July 11-14.

J: In Las Vegas.

S: Yeah, so TAM is the biggest conference, skepto-conference each year. We love it. We have a ton of fun. And there's a lot of SGU-related events going on at TAM this year. So we are gonna do our live show from the stage as we always do. In addition, we have, Friday night, the SGU dinner. This is a dinner where we, all the Rogues will be there, and sometimes some other skeptical celebrities show up as our guests, and we will make the rounds, talk to all of our listeners. And we hold an auction for certain select skeptical memorabilia.

J: The auction is a fund-raiser for the SGU as well.

S: Yeah. That does sell out, so if you are going to TAM and you want to join us for the dinner, I suggest you register early. And, even more likely to sell out early is the SGU Skeptical Poker Tournament.

J: Yeah, last year was our first year. We only had 60 seats last year, and we had such a demand that we moved that to a hundred seats for this year. I had a blast. I came in third. So, I mean, as you can imagine, I was shocked and in utter awe of myself and my card playing. I guarantee that's not gonna happen again this year. But the poker tournament is hosted by Joshie Berger, and we're playing Texas Hold 'Em. And it's, there's prizes. Some of the prizes we gave out last year were all-access passes to TAM and to NECSS. We're gonna be coming up with some new prizes this year. Probably use those two same prizes again, but it's just a ton of fun and it lasts a long time. It's definitely worth the entry fee. Every table has a skeptical celebrity sitting at it, so whenever you're at a table—so what we do is the skeptical celebrities change every 15 minutes or so. So you get a chance to sit with most of them, especially if you last halfway through, you're gonna sit with everybody.

S: There'll always be a notable skeptic at every table and your goal is to knock them out, is to be the one to knock out the notable skeptic and if you do, you get some, you'll get some recognition that you did that. Last year we gave out cards.

J: Signature cards.

S: Yeah, signed cards saying "I Knocked Steve Novella out of the Skeptical Poker Tournament." But, so we'll do something like that. Maybe even a little bit better this year. Lots of fun, we'll definitely sell out, so, if you're interested, sign up for that early. And, this is an awesome skeptical conference. There's going to be, the theme this year is "Fighting the Fakers." There's gonna be a science-based medicine workshop and panel, like there has been for the last couple of years. I'll be giving an individual talk as well. And Randi, of course, is there. George Hrab is hosting. They have an awesome line-up of speakers. Susan Blackmore, Jerry Coyne, Barbara Drescher, Max Maven, Massimo Pigliucci and Massimo Polidoro, you get two Massimos

J: For the price of one (laughter)

S: Michael Shermer, Jamy Ian Swiss, Karen Stollznow, and they're not done. They have some other speakers that they, very high profile speakers they're looking to line up. We can't mention names until they're a hundred percent confirmed, but even with the speakers we have so far, and I should mentioned the keynote is Susan Jacoby. But even with the speakers we have so far, it is going to be an awesome conference and it can only get better as they confirm more high profile speakers.

J: If you haven't gone to TAM you really need to go. It's essentially the skeptical Mecca. You need to go because you're gonna meet not only a ton of awesome people that are in the skeptical community. You're also gonna get access to any notable skeptics that are gonna be there. The speakers and a lot of people are just milling about and you can walk up and talk to whoever you'd like. We're gonna be at the SGU table. We typically have a table there where we sell swag, and we're, mostly, there to meet our listeners, and we're gonna spend a lot of time just waiting around to talk to people.

S: So go to to register for that event, and we hope to see a lot of you there.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:49)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, do you have a quote for us this week?

J: I have a quote. This quote was sent in by a listener named Ulrich Fisher from Canada. It's a Mark Twain quote. I love Mark Twain; I love quoting Mark Twain. I'm about to quote Mr. Mark Twain.

Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.

(shouting) Mr. Mark Twain! (laughter)

S: Pithy quote. I like that. It's definitely better to be in miserable uncertainty.

J: I'm so happily miserable.

S: We can also call that spectrum from cocky ignorance to miserable certainty the Chopra to Dawkins spectrum. (laughter)

E: Yeah. Very militant.

S: You know, reference to militant crank Deepak Chopra. Well, thank you guys for joining me this week.

R: Thank you, Steve.

B: You're welcome.

E: Thank you.

J: Thanks, Steve.

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

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

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