SGU Episode 881

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SGU Episode 881
May 28th 2022
881 JWST.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)
SGU 880 SGU 882
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
NRG: Dr. Naomi Rowe-Gurney,
NASA planetary scientist
Quote of the Week
With less critical thinking comes more vaccine hesitancy.
Nedra Rhone, columnist, AJC
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic

Introduction, WETA Doc, AQ6[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, May 25th 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening folks!

S: So.

J: Yes.

S: Some exciting news. You know Jay, Bob and I have been doing alpha quadrant six which is our science fiction review show. And right before the pandemic we recorded a documentary at WETA in New Zealand. The special effects company that did Lord of the Rings and other movies.

E: I've heard of that.

J: District 9.

S: District 9.

J: I Am Mother.

S: Yeah that's right and King Kong. The most recent King Kong.

E: Oh yes.

S: And they did that really awesome World War I museum where the the statues were giant size.

B: Oh my god. And crazy realistic. Like crazy realistic.

S: Hyper detailed, hyper realistic and like what were they five times normal size?

B: Something like that.

S: Which is a lot bigger than it sounds. Because you think about that means you're 30 feet tall. Like the scale, that was the scale. Amazing. Anyway we did a documentary basically all about their process. And we finally published that as an AQ6 episode what two weeks ago Jay?

J: Just about.

S: So check that out. So we all do a lot of side projects every now and then we bring them up. But this is, the Alpha Quadrant 6 we've been we've done on and off. The pandemic really kind of torpedoed our schedule with this because we couldn't physically get together.

B: Photon torpedoed.

S: Yeah we tried to do some online and they were all right but you know just wasn't the same thing. Like we couldn't get in the studio together and crank out a bunch of episodes. But now we can. So so we're back on schedule putting out a video and a podcast every week.

J: Every Tuesday.

S: Every Tuesday, yep. So yeah so we want you guys to check it out. We did recently The Batman we reviewed that movie.

J: And Strange New Worlds

S: Strange New Worlds. So we try to hit that if something just comes out we'll try to hit it right away so that we could recommend it or not recommend it. Like we'll watch the first episode and give you an idea. Then we'll do wrap-up reviews or we'll do themed reviews. Like the top 10 spaceships or whatever. How many episodes total have we put since the beginning every published chance? We're getting up there.

J: You know 80 episodes.

B: Wow.

J: Oh if you want to find us you can go to That's Alpha Quadrant and the number 6. Or you can go to We have you know Facebook page. We have a Patreon so you can find us pretty much anywhere. Just look for Alpha Quadrant and then number 6.

S: Yeah doing that show's a lot of fun.

J: I love it.

B: And what are we gonna do what are we gonna do next guys? How about Love, Death & Robots review?

S: I already watched the whole season.

B: Season 3 baby. I'm partially through, no spoilers.

J: Bob Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan literally drops the day after tomorrow.

B: Yeah, we could do that.

J: Now I don't know if that's gonna be, if they're gonna drop the whole thing or if they're gonna do it episode by episode. Probably episode by episode so we'll get to review the first episode at least.

S: Then we're gonna do futurism in science fiction movies. And we've got to do Doctor Strange.

J: Yeah.

B: Yes. Hello? We got to get to the damn theater and watch it.

S: So those are the next shows that we're gonna review.

B: Let's go right now.

COVID-19 Update (3:22)[edit]

J: Can I tell you guys something else that's going on in my life?

S: Yeah.

J: So you know you covid, right?

S: Yeah I'm familiar with that, yeah.

J: So long story short my daughter did not get covid over the wave during Christmas when everybody got covid except my daughter.

S: She dodged Omicron?

J: She did. She dodged the big wave of Omicron. Well she got it last week. A week and a half ago So I have not literally seen my six-year-old daughter since Friday of last week because she stayed with her grandmother who also got covid literally the same day from the same person. Keep it in mind, you know, keep in mind man, covid is still swinging out there. There's, in Connecticut the numbers have been skyrocketing. It's happening in other states in the country probably in other places around the world as well. But just be careful. Carry masks in your car. Make sure the people that you know and love are vaccinated. Get your boosters. Like keep it in your head. You don't have to think about it every day like we did two years ago but be smart and keep up with it.

S: Speaking of which and we're actually going to talk about the monkey pox a little bit later in the show when we get to the news items. But you guys all know Mark Crislip, right?

J: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

E: Oh yes.

S: Yeah. He's awesome. So he he was writing for Science-Based Medicine for years but in 2018 he retired from Science-Based Medicine and now he's back. And he wrote his first post─

B: Awesome.

S: ─yesterday.

E: Un-retired like Tom Brady.

S: Yeah, exactly. He actually last Thursday he published it. And it was basically all about covid. It's like where are we with things right now. He's an infectious disease specialist but you should read it. He's very very funny writer just a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor but also totally on point. He basically says yeah we're never going to be done with covid. Like covid is never gonna be over. It's now permanent part of the infectious disease background. And we're definitely in the learning how to live with that face but he says things so matter-of-factly like as a specialist. It's like we know how to deal with this. We totally 100% know how to deal with this. You have to mask and get vaccinated. Those are the two things that really work right. Everything else is kind of nibbling around the edges but masking works and getting back. And then the only way to get to herd immunity is with vaccination. That's it. We're never going to get there by natural infection. That's always been a fantasy. It doesn't you know, infectious disease─

C: What about a hybrid of the both.

S: ─don't work that way. The problem is─

C: No really. I mean what about the people who do vaccinate and then the people who refuse who ultimately catch covid?

S: The problem is with the, as he explains, the problem with the relying on natural infections. Is that this virus mutates so quickly that by the time it comes around again it just reinfects you. So like omicron's really good at reinfecting people who were infected previously with covid for example. So it just doesn't work. You would need everybody to get infected at once with the same strain. Which is never going to happen.

C:' So just that is what vaccination kinda is.

S: That is what vaccination. Vaccination you can literally give everybody the same immunity all at once. That's the only way that we're ever going to really deal with pandemics like this. It's just so frustrating that's like okay here's the answer and then a bunch of people refuse to do it. And there's not really much we can do about it or are willing to do it. I mean we could.

Ulvade, TX Shooting (6:24)[edit]

C: I mean this is kind of the story of our American lives right now. Is clear and present problems that we have a clear answer to that people just refuse to.

S: I know. I know. I mean we haven't brought up yet what happened in Texas. And it's just absolutely horrible another school shooting. Another elementary school shooting. This was basically Sandy Hook redux. This is just.

C: Yeah this was the worst mass shooting in quite some time. Like we do have mass shootings nearly every day but this was the worst in quite some time.

S: Basically since Sandy Hook. Yeah totally. I mean can you just imagine just the whole classroom of young children being mowed down like that just like. You can't even wrap your head around it.

E: It's beyond horrific.

S: Yeah it's just beyond horrific. Every time there is a big, like national headline grabbing mass shooting, it's interesting to see the zeitgeist in this. Like what how are people basically responding. Like after Parkland there was this sense of this time something's really gonna happen, you know?

B: Yeah, yeah.

S: And of course nothing happened. After Sandy Hook it was like well this is so shocking. This is gonna shock even─

B: Yeah, little kids.

S: ─the cynics. I mean yeah those are little kids but nothing happened. This time around the vibe that I'm getting is everyone's just saying nothing's gonna happen. Nothing's gonna. That's nothing's gonna change. We're gonna do absolutely nothing in response to this.

E: Pretty defeatist.

C: Well you've seen the onion article, right?

B: It's just practical at this point.

C: It's getting so much coverage. There's an onion article that they published in 2014 and the headline was "No Way to Prevent This", Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

B: Awesome.

C: And they have now republished it 21 times and only changed, like the exact same article, they've just only changed the details of the shooting. 21 times since 2014. And that's the thing a certain segment of the population sees that and goes yeah WTF. And another segment of the population sees that and goes second amendment. So yeah. I mean there's a lot of memes we could be listing here and there's a lot of I guess political discussion that we could be having which we try to to be smart about how we approach it here on the SGU.

S: So we try to be, try to be evidence based and neutral when it comes to partisanship. We're doing a very very quick coverage here. And we probably should do a deep dive at some point soon. And we've talked about it before. But the bottom line is that sensible gun safety regulations work. They work. We have enough data to know that that is the case. But also the one of the best articles I saw which is again it's one of these ones that gets republished every time there's a mass shooting. So it's still relevant like every six months or so. And it compared the amount of research money that the NIH and the CDC are spending on different problems. And the number of people those problems kill, right? So you have these tiny little dots of diseases with huge budgets researching them. Then you have this massive bubble of of gun violence deaths and a teeny tiny budget to research it. So like if you look if you take a public health approach to this which is reasonable and rational but also one you know political party is against looking at this as a health care issue. A public health issue. It makes absolutely no sense. There's a complete disconnect between the magnitude of the problem and then the research priority that we're giving it. And that's by design again that's not just because no one thought of it. That is by political design. So those are the things we need to be talking about. We should be doing the science. We should be doing evidence-based rational. And the other thing is 80-90% of people want these regulations. They're not even unpopular. That's the most frustrating thing is that we lack the political will in the face of overwhelming public support. Something is broken there, right? That's what's so frustrating.

C: Well the lobbying system. Yeah. The gun lobby. That's what's broken. Is that the interests of politicians. They're placing them over the actual lives of children.

S: No absolutely. Yeah that's the that that's really, our democracy isn't working when the public can't exert their will through their elected representatives. That's, this is, it reminds of that every time one of these things happens it's like and of course nothing's going to happen because. But I the thing is. I just really hate the defeatist attitude. And that's why I'm─

B: Oh I embrace it.

S: ─I'm not happy with the overall response that I'm seeing in public of nothing's going to happen, there's nothing we could do. Because it's self-defeating, right? Even if it's true it doesn't matter.

C: It also really doesn't makes sense given the administration we're in. Like we can do something.

S: Well yeah. Well I think honestly I think the thing that we can do is vote. That's the real. I don't think we have the political people in place now to do anything because you need you need 60 votes in the senate basically. And we don't have that. And if if the public really wanted if we really wanted to do something about this it would require people voting on this issue and getting off their butts and voting. And the problem is people forget about it in three weeks and they go on to the next thing.

J: And that's also incredible that's a very slow process.

C: Yeah. Like I think we can be doing more right now. And part of that is speaking up. It's putting pressure on the people that we already voted into office by just plastering them with the message that they are failing their constituents. And by acting locally as well because yes we know that the second amendment is this big Goliath that David is facing but we can affect change at the local level. We can make sure, we can make sure that the states that we live in have the strictest laws possible. In so far as they don't encroach on on the constitution. I mean obviously─

E: [inaudible]

C: Yeah. I mean we can make sure that our neighborhoods are safe. That's what we have to do.

B: Yeah but I mean I keep going back to for me Sandy Hook was a real real watershed in many ways because that was the time I really really felt well of course something's going to happen. When we're talking 20 some odd five and six-year-olds slaughtered. I mean that I mean it was really egregious and from that angle. And it didn't happen. So then I'm thinking what will it realistically take for something to happen. And I don't have an answer to that because I can't imagine what it's going to take for something to happen. This isn't gonna do it. Sandy Hook didn't do it.

S: All right well we're not going to solve this problem today unfortunately but it is a conversation that we need to keep having. So guys let's go on with our news items.

News Items[edit]






(laughs) (laughter) (applause) [inaudible]

Monkeypox (13:29)[edit]

S: All right Cara so we've been talking about covid but what about this monkey pox I keep hearing about?

C: Yeah I don't know if you guys watched a recent episode of Last Week Tonight but he sort of intros it with like this is going on, this is going on and monkey pox I'm not going there, I can't deal with this right now. He's like we're a bit fatigued. I'm not going there. And I think it is an important conversation to have especially amongst as you mentioned the background of covid. What is monkey pox. Should I be afraid of monkey pox. What's going on. Because we're hearing it on the news and I think we can go, well we can go one of several ways but we can go one of two extreme ways. Which is the same way we went in the early covid days. This is happening somewhere else, it doesn't affect me. Even though we've seen a few cases spreading around the globe I'm not concerned about it. Or we can go the other direction which is freak the f out. And I don't recommend either of these directions. I think it's probably somewhere in the middle.

S: And to our credit though. I you know remember and have listened back at this at the v- our very first reaction to covid was be concerned but don't panic.

C: Right.

S: That was our first. And then of course it was yeah we probably should have been panicking (Cara laughs) but initially we were like yeah, this, but definitely don't ignore it. Be concerned about this. Keep an eye on it. It's too early to panic. But I think we're in the same place with the monkey pox but go ahead and give us the overview.

C: I think we probably are. I think you're right. But for individuals who here. I mean there's a reason that John Oliver was like I can't deal with this right now. Like don't tell me that there's a monkey pox infection going around the globe right now. So let's talk about what this is. This is not a pandemic. This is not an epidemic. Maybe an outbreak is a good term to use.

S: It's an outbreak. There's a very specific definition as you know that─

C: Yeah.

S: ─WHO uses outbreak epidemic and pandemic. This is at the outbreak stage now.

B: Covid was at the outbreak stage at one point. Go ahead.

C: Any pandemic starts as an outbreak. You are correct about that. So let's talk a little bit about what monkey pox is and what we know about it. So monkey pox actually is sort of a misnomer. It was identified in 1958 among lab monkeys. So we first kind of got wind of this idea of this disease because lab monkeys showed symptoms of it. But it's not a monkey disease. They're not the natural host a natural reservoir and it's very likely that individuals who catch it, now it is a zoonotic infection, but it's very likely that they're catching this as a spillover from rodents. We haven't really pinned down the exact core reservoir but it's very likely that rodents are the ones carrying monkey pox. The first cases in humans were in the 70s in the DRC. We actually saw an outbreak here in the US in 2003. I don't remember that. Do you guys remember a monkey pox outbreak in the US? I mean it happened.

E: No.

J: I remember reading about it but I wasn't aware when it happened.

C: Right. Okay. So that happened, I think they were they prairie dogs. I think that were sold from a pet store and those had come from Ghana. We're seeing that most of the spillover events are happening in Africa and there are sort of two regions. There's the West African endemic version of monkey pox. And then there is the DRC, Democratic Republic of Congo, remember that's formerly Zair kind of cluster of monkey pox. Monkey box is a pox virus. It is similar to smallpox. It's not the same thing as smallpox and here's some of the good news. We're going to be doing some good news bad news today. Some of the good news is that it is generally more mild than smallpox. It is generally less deadly. The symptoms are generally less severe. It can be quite dangerous though especially for individuals who have compromised immune systems, like many viruses. So children, older individuals, pregnant women. It can look kind of like chickenpox. One of the, there are multiple symptoms and they happen in a very particular order. You get these flu-like symptoms, a fever headache and then you start to develop, and swollen lymph nodes, and you start to develop this blistering rash that happens after that. It usually takes about four weeks in total. About a month for the entire course. Although it can be shorter. By the time the pox actually show up you've already usually been showing these other symptoms. The deadliness is low. And one thing that I think people are getting confused in their coverage is that whereas the DRC cluster of these viruses can have a case fatality rate of upwards of 10%. The outbreak that we're seeing right now is actually the Western Africa virus and it has a case fatality rate of closer to, actually under 1%. In practice it has been slightly higher 2-3% but that's usually because of poor health care not because the virus itself has that high of a fatality rate. So with proper treatment it's very unlikely that individuals will die from the type of monkey pox that is currently circulating. When we look at where it is in the world we have some, it's, depends on if we're looking at confirmed or suspected cases but the majority of them right now are in the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal. We're also seeing cases in the teens in Canada and the Netherlands. And then we've got two cases here in the US, two in Australia, two in Denmark kind of down the line. And these are all within the last several days. Like going back to earlier this month but these are updated all within the last several days. There is some idea, we still don't know where the the first spread took place, but there's some idea that it likely took place in Spain because that's where the virus was first being tracked. It could have been at a rave. It could have been at, or actually it's like a pride parade because early reports pointed to the virus spreading within the community of men who have sex with men. So we actually are seeing some parallels to some of the early panic that we saw with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Where there's some misunderstanding about how it's spread about who can catch it. Monkey pox, anybody can catch monkey pox. If we are seeing a cluster within a particular community it's just because that happens to be a community that was exposed. A monkey pox does spread through particles in the air but it doesn't spread as quickly or as easily as covid. And that's something that's important to remember. Monkeypox is not covid. It's not a coronavirus it's a completely different type of virus. Although it can be meaningful for us to make comparisons like we did early on with covid when we talked about the flu. Because it's what we know and it helps us find an established jumping off point. It is important that we remember that just because it's a virus, there are a lot of viruses out there. Remember that science or fiction we did on viruses? Didn't we all miss it?

S: Yeah. How many there are?

C: Yeah yeah like how many infect. Yeah it was a banana's number. It was like orders of magnitude more than we thought. One of the things that's important is is about finding that balance. Because what we don't want to do is say well we know about monkeypox, we know what it is, we've dealt with it before. We have actually by the way smallpox vaccines in our stockpile. And smallpox vaccines are like 80 to 85% effective against monkeypox because they are so similar. Unfortunately the original smallpox vaccine that we do have stockpiled also has like some pretty nasty side effects. Which is why when the CDC first grappled with whether they wanted to inoculate the entire population or vaccinate the entire population they decided against it. Because the risk wasn't worth the benefit at the time because there was no real risk of of catching small packs since smallpox has been eradicated. But we've always had a concern about bioterrorism which is why we've maintained these vaccines. Since then a newer vaccine has been developed so that's really promising. It was developed only like a few years ago. Right 2019 JYNNEOS, I'm not sure how to pronounce that. And it has a a lower side effect profile. And we also have an antiviral that was developed for orthopox viruses. So smallpox and monkeypox it works on. It's called Tecovirimat and so we have all of these different treatments available to us. So in some ways this is completely different than covid because we already know about it. It's a known entity. The problem is we've never seen a spread like the spread we're seeing right now. Most monkeypox outbreaks have been in either West or Central Africa and they've stayed in West or Central Africa if they have spread around the globe it's been one or two people and then they've been contained very readily. So there still are some questions has there been any sort of mutation. Is there something different about the way this virus spreading. So we really want to do exactly what we were talking about before. We want to be cautious but we also don't want to panic. Collect more data. Know that we have appropriate prevention strategies and treatment strategies on deck if we need them but hopefully we won't need them. One last thing I want to say before kind of we open it up is that there was some good reporting in the Washington Post recently I think it was just yesterday. The headline was "As monkeypox panic spreads, doctors in Africa see a double standard". And I think it's an important perspective because when we say should we be worried, well, yes or no. We're very often talking about should we in the west be worried. But this monkeypox outbreak did not just happen in specifically in Nigeria. It's been spreading for years. It's not actually new just because it's new to those of us in the west. And the fact that we have these stockpiles. And the fact that we have these treatments available really does I think lead to the question of why aren't we doing more to help it in it's or to stop it in its tracks where it's where it's happening to prevent these global outbreaks. So food for thought there.

S: Yeah I mean totally. This is like Ebola. Same thing where we need a an international rapid response team for any outbreaks like this no matter where they happen. First of all just for you know equality we want it─

C: Yeah just from a humanitarian perspective.

S: ─from a humanitarian point of view. It doesn't matter who you are we want to stop an outbreak. But even if we're being selfish and being western and privileged whatever. There are, the best way to protect everybody in the world including ourselves is to stop these outbreaks at the source where they happen. We don't want Ebola to break out we don't want the monkeypox to break out. And because every time they do then it creates the new opportunities for more mutations to happen.

C: Absolutely. Zoonotic infections are not just humanitarian problems. They are economic problems. They are public health problems. They are geopolitical problems. And to pretend like they don't play a role in all of these different contexts is to be utterly naive and isolationist in our in our response. And ultimately it's going to bite everybody in the ass.

S: Yeah I mean and when I wrote about this the I said this is, you know, you would think that covid was a wake-up call. And it only sort of was but my fear is that you know the world is getting kind of covid fatigued and before we like really learn the lesson and maybe the one-two punch is necessary. Like a near-miss. Like yeah even when covid is running its course and we start to adapt to it and live as with covet as the new normal. We have to remember it's not gonna be a hundred years before the next pandemic. That's just not the world─

C: Absolutely not.

S: ─we are living in. We're living in, yeah, there's too much international travel. The human population itself is just it's we're approaching 8 billion and we are encroaching upon nature in such a way that zoonotic infections are more likely to jump to humans. And this is just this is that's not only is covid the new normal. Pandemics are the new normal. We are living now in pandemic world. And we have to adapt to that. We realized with that first really massive outbreak of Ebola that we were not ready for it. And then we said okay we have to fix this and then we only halfway did we. But we didn't fully fully fix it. And then covid happened. We got caught with our pants down. I mean magnificently. And you know it was okay now we really have to fix it this time. And now we got the monkeypox and you know the WHO sounds like they're on top of it and that sounds good. And they say this is containable. There's no reason to panic. Yes, it's an outbreak but this is at the containable stage. But like the world's got to get its shit together. That we and we're not. We're not. To the degree that we need to be.

C: Yeah you use that term caught with our pants down and I literally was thinking while you were talking I was like that's the thing. We're not caught with our pants done we see it coming a mile away. Every pandemic started as an outbreak. Like how how were we not more prepared. We know it's gonna happen. And we this is one of those examples that we always talk about on the show. Where it's like we have the tools. We have the knowledge. We have all of the things that we need to either prevent mitigate or treat. And yet we continue to walk down the street and whistle going it's not gonna happen to me.

E: What are the roadblocks specifically?

S: Political will.

C: Political will. Financial roadblocks. It's really I mean that's what it comes down to where do we want to put our money. How do we wanna prioritize.

S: But the thing is it's not really a money issue because it doesn't cost─

C: It's not that expensive.

S: ─it's not that much money and it's a good investment. We would save so much more money. It really is just political will because we're just politically dysfunctional. That's the bottom line. There are international organizations like the World Health Organization and there are national organizations like the CDC who contribute to this. And it's just a matter of giving them the resources and the priority etc. to so that they could set up the infrastructure. I remember like when the Ebola outbreak was happening the characterization was we're building the firehouse after the fire is─

C: Right.

S: ─and you can't do that with infections. I think that what covid really that what I hope comes out of covid and again it's still kind of a mixed bag is that we realize that pandemics are a worldwide global problem that we all have to solve together. You cannot think locally when it comes to a pandemic by definition.

C: You can't be isolationist. You can't.

S: You can't be isolationist. You can't be my country first you can't do any of those things because it doesn't work.

C: It doesn't work.

S: Whatever you think. Whatever your philosophy or ideology or politics are. It doesn't work. You have to treat it like a global problem which means it's everybody's problem everywhere. And we need to treat it that way. And if we don't we're gonna get keep gonna keep getting bitten in the ass by these pandemics. So is the monkeypox going to be the next one? Probably not. But if it isn't there's something else coming down the line.

C: Absolutely.

S: As again as getting back to Mark Crislip up as he as he noted in in his recent SBM article. It's like covid is not the worst thing out there by a long shot.

C: No it is not.

S: There are even if just the respiratory viruses there are things that are much worse. Like if we get hit with a bird flu pandemic it would be much worse. Imagine covid but with like a 10% fatality rate that's─

C: Like imagine something like─

E: We're going through a bird flu right now in the in the country, aren't we?

S: Yeah.

C: Imagine something as infectious as covid but as deadly as Ebola.

E: I, forget I mean.

B: The United States just passed what the million deaths?

S: One million.

B: I mean imagine if at this point that was 10 or 15 or 20 million which easily could have been the case if this was a nastier virus which is absolutely could have been.

E: It's again it rewrites it rewrites everything at that point.

C: And something, I mean one of the points that we didn't make about monkeypox and it sounds like a negative but it's sort of a veiled positive. Is that the symptoms are really obvious with monkeypox. The unfortunate thing is that they're delayed but in infectious diseases where there is a rash associated with it, it becomes very easy to identify the infected. And it becomes a little bit easier for treatment due to that. You don't need necessarily to be doing certain, you don't need to develop certain types of tests to see if somebody has the disease you can identify it point blank.

S: It's got its own marker.

C: Yeah it's got its own marker which can be beneficial but the problem is it's delayed.

S: One of the things on the good news is the technology and Moderna is already working on specific vaccine, mRNA vaccine. So again we'll have another vaccine that we won't get to enough people. All right let's move on.

NASA Mars Plans (30:45)[edit]

S: We're gonna we have a great interview with a NASA scientist coming up later in the show. We have a couple of space news items starting with you Jay. You're gonna talk, talk to us about NASA's recent plans for Mars. They've basically fleshed out what in more detail their their plans for going to Mars. Give us the update.

J: NASA released a good block of details on their first human mission to Mars. So here are some details. So NASA said that the mission will be 30 days. So 30 days at the planet. Of course the total mission is going to be way longer than that. I think it's like 500 days round trip. Two astronauts will be on the ship in orbit while another two astronauts are planned to go down to the surface. This is kind of like they had one person in the orbiter when they when we went to the Moon with the Apollo missions. So they planned to double that. And NASA has asked pretty much anyone who wants to give them feedback on their mission planning feel free to do that. The new deadline for that feedback is on June 3rd</ which I find interesting. They want to hear from the public if anyone has any good ideas or you know just give them your feedback on on what they're doing.

S: Jay how would you feel about going to Mars and then not stepping foot on martian soil? (Evan laughs)

J: You know I thought of that actually Steve, I was─

S: You have to think of that.

J: ─I've thought of it a couple of times you just I watched a few documentaries about the Apollo missions and the astronauts that get picked and you think, people were asked. You're going to be left in the essentially the command module and you're not going down to the surface. But I will say this Steve, that the work that they do there is very important.

S: Of course.

E: It's critical.

J: You would think though if they're all the way there. Mars is so much farther than the Moon that they would be like well we'll let everybody go down. But it's complicated. It's expensive. It's dangerous. Somebody has to stay back.

S: But here's one difference Jay. So I mean the astronauts were in rotation we know that. You know during the Apollo mission. And there was a lot of competition to get one of those spots. If you were going to be in the command module there was a good chance based on what you knew at the time that in a later mission you could go down to the Moon. They didn't know that Apollo was going to get cut short. If you go all the way to Mars and back I doubt you're going again because you basically used up your life of radiation exposure. and you're probably not going to go back. So it's different in that way.

J: That's true. I mean it I think I guess to some people it's still an honor and still─

S: Of course. I get it.

J: ─a really exciting thing to do.

S: And I'm sure that's what they would say. It's like it's you you're still, it's better than being somebody left back on Earth, right? You get to go to Mars. Even if you're only going to be in orbit.

J: But Steve I thought you were gonna say this is what I thought you were gonna say. I thought you were gonna say that if you're left in the command module there's a pretty good chance that you the astronauts that went down to the Moon surface we're not gonna make it back.

S: Well that the first time that was true.

B: I was thinking about that too.

S: Collins was prepared to come back by himself, right? I mean he had he was essentially─

E: I was a contingency, yeah.

S: Yeah I mean he knew that there was a good chance that he would be making a three-day trip to back to Earth by himself and he was ready to do that.

E: You have to psychologically prepare yourself for that? Boy it's awful.

S: Training psychologically everything, it was a very real possibility.

J: So they said Steve that they're thinking late 2030s early 2040s for the first Mars mission. For the first crude Mars mission.

S: 20 years basically.

J: So I know we talked about this previously on the show but Bob and Steve mentioned it already. We talked about we talked to two people from NASA last year at NECSS and they said that speed is of the essence for many reasons. Like getting people to and from Mars as quickly as possible and of course one of the main reasons is the dangerous radiation that people will be exposed to because we also found out that there isn't like shielding and things like that there are really going to be significant. So we they said we need to get the astronauts to Mars as fast as possible to minimize the amount of radiation that they're going to have to deal with. Now gravity is a big player in this too. When we go to Mars the lack of gravity is going to be a problem. The astronauts will be in microgravity which essentially means that they're weightless for months at a time. This means that they will have muscle and bone loss. And once they get down to the surface of Mars, guess what? They will be in a weakened state. The third, the one-third Earth gravity on Mars will still feel like a ton of gravity to them. So what, one idea NASA had that they're talking about right now is in order to handle this issue that they'll have the astronauts live in a rover. This will let them get around, do science and acclimate safely. It'll be kind of like they'll be like the people from WALL-E, those people on the ship. (laughs) So once they're in good enough shape to put on the spacesuits if they're strong enough and their endurance is at the right spot then they can go outside do more science. But in the beginning man they're gonna basically have them be lying down doing more exercise to beef up so they can put those suits on. So before the astronauts get to Mars there will already be approximately 25 tons of hardware and supplies and equipment and everything poised for their use. When they arrive in orbit around Mars their ascent vehicle will already be there 100% ready to go to fly them down. So they'll be leaving probably when all of this stuff has already been put in place. NASA knows that their current plans are definitely likely to change. I mean they're talking about it right now because they're going to be pouring much more time into consideration into these missions. Right now what they're doing is they're saying that the habitat spacecraft that will be able to bring them to and from Mars surface will be, it's going to be a hybrid. It's gonna be a chemical and electrical propulsion. Preparation for these future Mars missions of course are significantly, I mean utterly influenced, and hinging on the success of the Moon missions once we get to the point where things are going very smoothly on the Moon and we get it and we have all this stuff in place. Then we could start sending equipment to Mars to prepare for humans going to Mars. But the pathway to pave that road to get there it's a huge amount of money and work. Which I find utterly fascinating. You go through this list and you're reading about just all the different things that they've realized that have to be have to come into reality at some point within the next 10-20 years.

Linear Bias (37:47)[edit]

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

Answer to previous Noisy:
Water lapping up against metal gutters of pool

New Noisy (56:37)[edit]

[Michael Jackson-esque squeals, screams, and scatting]

J: ... If you think you know what this week's Noisy is, or, my God, people, if you have heard a Noisy that you think is cool--you found it on the web, it could be something from your life, at work, at home--as long as it's interesting and doesn't sound like white noise--if it sounds like this, [imitates white noise], don't send that to me.

Announcements (58:16)[edit]

Name That Logical Fallacy (1:00:26)[edit]

Interview with Dr. Naomi Rowe-Gurney (1:13:08)[edit]

Science or Fiction (1:35:49)[edit]

Theme: Which one is older?

Item #1: The first cities predate evidence for iron use by about 5,000 years.[4]
Item #2: The first dinosaur walked the Earth 40 million years before the emergence of the first true trees.[5]
Item #3: The first firearm was invented about 900 years after the first steam engine.[6]

Answer Item
Fiction dinosaur → true tree
Science cities → iron use
steam engine → firearm
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
dinosaur → true tree
steam engine → firearm
cities → iron use
dinosaur → true tree

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: ... "to blaaave"

Evan's Response[edit]

Bob's Response[edit]

Cara's Response[edit]

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

Alternate Item: Horse-drawn Carriage[edit]

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:57:57)[edit]

With less critical thinking comes more vaccine hesitancy.
Nedra Rhone, columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[7]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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