SGU Episode 529

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SGU Episode 529
August 29th 2015
SGU 528 SGU 530
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
C: Cara Santa Maria

Quote of the Week
Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
Oscar Wilde
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (0:54)[edit]

  • Daniel Hale Williams: African-American general surgeon who was among the first surgeons to successfully operate on a heart

S: All right, Bob, tell us about the Forgotten Superhero of Science this week.

B: Yeah, this week, for Forgotten Superheroes of Science, I'm talking about Daniel Hale Williams, who was an African-American general surgeon who was among the first people to operate on a human heart. Ever hear of him?

S: Yep

B: Oh, okay. Nice surprise!


E: Well then, moving on...

B: Williams was born in 1856 in Holidaysberg, Pennsylvania. Never heard a' that place! After taking various jobs, he decided that he wanted to get more into education, so he started working as an apprentice with Doctor Henry Palmer, who was a very accomplished surgeon of the day. And after that, he completed his training at Chicago Medical College.

Now, in 1883, was a big year for him. He and James Cornish came into his hospital with a nasty stab wound in his chest. Now, I didn't know this – Steve, maybe you did. At that time, surgical treatment of heart wounds were disapproved of. Doctors generally stayed away from any type of nasty chest wounds or heart wounds. I guess my take is that it just was too risky, and not even worth it.

But Williams still opened up this guy's chest, and without any blood transfusions, no modern antibiotics or anesthetics, he sutured the wound in the sack around the heart, the peri

J: Perichorium

E: Paricardium

B: Yes, the paricardium. The patient lived for another twenty years, so big success. Now, sources say that he – some sources say that he was the first to do that kind of operation. Others say that it was H.C. Dalton. But he was definitely among the first one or two to actually do that. And it seemed pretty quickly after that, heart surgery became increasingly common, especially after the early 1900's.

He, at that same time, in the early 1890's, he opened a Provident Hospital, which was the first one to have a racially integrated staff. And he also quickly adopted sterilization procedures from Lister and Pasteur, which was really cool, 'cause we know how many lives that saved. I was doing some research on those procedures, and if you had any type of nasty operation, like even a broken limb, they would generally just amputate the limb, because it just would have been too problematic to try to fix it, without some sort of infection setting in.

Some sources were saying that seventy percent of the people died. So he took this up relatively early. Even, I think it was in the late or early 1880's, lots of doctors in the United States still were anti-Lister, as they're called.

So, let's see. He also published several articles on surgery and medical journals. And he was the only black charter member of the American College of Surgeons in 1913. I think a lot of what he did were amazing accomplishments, but especially considering the period of time, when African-American citizens were still, even at that time, being prevented from, admitted to hospitals, and getting any staff physicians there, it was really a tough time. And it was really even more remarkable what this guy accomplished.

So, remember Daniel Hale Williams; mention him to your friends, perhaps when discussing the visceral paracardium and mesothilial cells -

(Cara laughs)

B: if it comes up.

S: Or maybe the next time you get a sucking chest wound.

(Evan chuckles)

C: Ewugh! Yikes! Do you know if the character in The Nick, Dr. Algernon Edwards, is he based on Daniel Hale Williams? Did you watch The Nick?

S: I mean, I have, I saw the first season. Yeah, it's a similar character. It's basically a character in the same position as him. I don't know how historically based he is. But, sure, it's very similar.

C: Yeah, it's like this black surgeon in a white hospital, at the time when, I mean, I remember the episode where they finally got electricity in the surgery suite, you know? They were just

S: Yeah

C: doing everything – they had to do it during the day, because there's a sky light at the top, so they could see. It's insane.

S: Yeah, The Nick is good, but it is funny how they had everything happening at once, you know what I mean?

C: Oh yeah. They always do that for TV.

S: Twenty years of innovations happening in one season, you know.

C: Yeah, I felt the same way, to go off on the most random tangent – I was on the plane this week, 'cause I was traveling like a crazy person, and I watched The Imitation Game. And I know that like

E: Oh yes.

C: a guest on SGU, like forever ago, I think we were talking about The Imitation Game, and I was like “Yeah, I haven't seen it yet, but I know all about the story.” So I finally watched it, and they did the same thing,

S: Oh yeah.

C: basically made, Cura Nightly represent like, hundreds and hundreds of women at Bletchly Park.

S: Yeah

C: And that kind of annoyed me. But otherwise, I thought it was a great movie.

S: Yeah, I mean, that wasn't even the most egregious reflection of that movie. They had the characters, that one small group of cryptologists doing stuff that other teams of people did, you know.

C: Yeah, yeah, and that's such a common device, because it's like, “Audience dumb. Can't follow multiple plot lines.”

S: Yeah, right. So, yeah. I understand you have to simplify things for cinema. I get that, but,

C: Sure, sure.

S: that was a little bit much.

C: And it was really offensive too.

J: What are you guys talking about?

C: Uh (laughs) The Imitation Game.

E: Blasters.

C: Blasters.

S: Yeah.

C: (Imitiates blaster sound) Pew! Pew!

B: Steve, Steve,

C: Pew! Pew! Pew!

S: Yeah

B: Steve, you said that show had lots of things happening at the same time. That reminds me of – remember the Dune prequel books, that were written by, I think, a relative. And they did the same thing, because in just like, the space of half of a book, you had all these major milestones that we've come to know and love in Dune, such as Guild navigation, and a lot of the Benegizerate milestones. They all happen, like, right within the same five or ten years in the book.

And I remember you commenting on that, Steve. Like, “Really? All of this stuff happened at this time? All this major stuff?”

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

B: But that still, I enjoyed those prequels. They were good.

S: There was also the Dr. House thing. You guys watch the show, Dr. House?

J: Sure!

C: Yeah

S: Where, yeah, like, the three residents that he's training do everything. You know?


S: They go into the lab, and run the test. Then they do the surgery themselves. Then they're doing colonoscopy. And they're doing the work of like, fifty doctors in the hospital, ridiculous.

(Bob laughs loudly)

S: But they have to do everything.

E: They'd have to pay fifty actors, you know?

C: And the budgets are only so big, man.

S: Get some extra, you know.

C: (Laughing) Yeah.

S: Or you know what? You know, you get the lab report back. It doesn't have to actually see the person doing the thing.

(Cara laughs)

E: But then, what else are you gonna watch for an hour? Fifteen minute show! (Laughs)

S: All right, let's move on.

News Items[edit]

Anti-Vax Nonsense (7:29)[edit]

Group Think Lie Detection (25:18)[edit]

WiFi Lawsuit (36:50)[edit]

Universal Flu Vaccine (41:38)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (47:57)[edit]

  • No puzzle last week

Interview with Miles Greb (49:25)[edit]

Science or Fiction (1:02:01)[edit]

Item #1: Scientists recently claimed that malformed plankton is evidence that heavy metals, such as iron, lead, and arsenic, poisoning the world’s oceans contributed to mass extinctions occurring between 485 and 420 million years ago. Item #2: A recent study finds that having even a single felony conviction is associated with a 4 fold increase in the risk of spousal murder. Item #3: A new study finds that federal mandates requiring school children to eat more fruits and vegetables during school lunch actually lead to decreased consumption.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:19:10)[edit]

'Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.' - Oscar Wilde

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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