SGU Episode 472

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SGU Episode 472
26th Jul 2014
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 471                      SGU 473

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

John Kenneth Galbraith

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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 Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Today is Thursday, July 24th, 2014, 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: Ooh! It's good to be back! How's everyone doing?

R: Yeah, it's been a while.

B: Good! Yeah!

E: We've all been on the road, so many places ...

J: On the go!

R: Apparently, both Jay and I got sick for the trouble.

S: I was a little sick too.

R: Hmm ...

B: I would

S: It's hard to shake hands with a thousand people and not pick something up.

J: Yep.

R: Yeah.

E: Come on, skeptics; wash your hands, please.

J: I was talkin' to someone at work, and we were both thinking that maybe it's just airline travel. You can't get away from germs in the plane, you know?

R: I think it's all of that. Cons, you've got people from all over, some with not the most sanitary habits. (Rogues laugh) Admittedly, you know ... not everybody washes their hands, and you're all crowded into one spot; and yeah, it's the same with the airplane, with the recycled air. And then, also, with me at least, cons means staying up all night, usually having too much to drink, or something like that. Just overdoing it, stressing yourself out to the limit.

E: Someone buys you a drink, they put their hand on the drink, you don't know where it's been, all that good stuff.

R: Ew! What?

E: Right! Touched the edge of the glass! It's all over!

S: They licked the rim of the glass ...

E: I know!

R: I was picturing somebody just sticking their hand inside your beer or something.

This Day in Skepticism (1:40)[edit]

July 26, 1895 Pierre and Marie Curie Married

R: Hey, happy anniversary ...

B: Thank you!

R: ... to the Curies.

B: Oh, cool!

R: Are you Pierre, or Marie, Bob?

B: I'm Marie, of course!

R: Yeah, good choice.

B: She was cooler!

R: Yeah, in 1895, Pierre Curie, and Marie Skłodowska got hitched in France. A team was formed. They of course, went on to win a Nobel Prize. Two years after they got married, they had a daughter, Irene, who married Frederic Joliot – I think that's how you say it. I don't know. And then they together won a Nobel Prize too!

S: Yeah, that's pretty amazing.

R: Can you believe it?

J: What was their prize?

R: Also in Chemistry, wasn't it?

S: Her real first name was what?

E: Marya?

R: Oh,

S: Marya, yeah, Marya.

B: Really?

S: Yeah, not Marie. She ...

B: Like the Moon?

S: She Frenchified it.

E: No, "e," it's a "y" in there.

S: Mary "A"

E: If you want to view her original documents and notes and stuff, it's protected in a lead box, and you have to get all into a suit, and put on protective clothes if you want to examine the original documents. They're so-o-o contaminated with radiation[1] ...

B: Oh my god! Wow!

R: Yeah.

E: Cool.

B: That sucks.

E: Well, not cool, but, you know. Interesting.

R: Well, it's slightly tragic. (Chuckles)

E: Yeah, it's unfortunate.

S: It's like, almost inevitable that whoever really discovered radioactive elements, or radioactivity would have died from it before we learned how dangerous that it was. Someone had to take that hit for the team.

R: But hey! At least they died together.

(Rogues laugh)

E: They did!

R: Actually, I don't know how closely they ...

J: Now that you say that, I have to believe that's what happened.

R: Yeah, they got married, they won the Nobel Prize together, and then they died from radioactivity ...

E: Radiation poisoning.

S: A love story for the ages.

(Jay laughs)

E: It started like Romeo and Juliet, but ended in tragedy.

S: Yep. Marie Curie is also famous for being the only female scientist that most people can name.

R: Yeah.

B: Yes.

R: Which is sad, because, again, she had a daughter who also won a Nobel Prize. So at the very least, you should be able to mention Irene.

News Items[edit]

SGU Gets Sued (4:00)[edit]

  • On February 12, 2015 SGUTranscripts received a cease and desist letter from Mark Osherow of the firm Broad and Cassel, attorneys representing Edward Tobinick, requesting that certain content be removed from this transcript. This was done pending the outcome of the legal case, Edward Lewis Tobinick M.D. d/b/a The Institute of Neurological Recovery; INR PLLC d/b/a Institute of Neurological Recovery and Edward Tobinick, M.D. v Steven Novella, M.D. and Society for Science Based Medicine, Inc. Case No 9:14-cv-80781 RLR.

S: Well, we have some interesting news items to go through today. So, I guess it was inevitable,

B: Yes.

S: that I would get sued.

(Rogues laugh nervously)

J: Well, not just you, Steve.

S: Yeah, not just me. So, The Society for Science-Based Medicine, SGU Productions, me individually, and just for good measure, Yale University were all sued by Dr. Edward Tobinick for an article I wrote on Science-based Medicine over a year ago in which I was somewhat critical of Dr. Tobinick's practice.

B: Ooh!

E: How dare you!

S: So, the quick skinny on this, guys, that he is a dermatologist and an internist, but he decided to specialize in neurology without ever getting any formal training or being board certified. So, he set up The Institute for Neurological Recovery – not to be suggestive at all. And he's using an off-label drug, Enbrel, etanercept, to treat a variety of things, including Alzheimer's disease, strokes, traumatic brain injury, and back pain due to disk disease. How could one drug treat so many things, you might be asking.

R: It can't? It does not?

S: Well, it probably can't! So, there's no double-blind placebo controlled trials looking at Enbrel for Alzheimer's disease or stroke or traumatic brain injury. He's claiming that these diseases are all caused by inflamation; and he has videos online showing people, within minutes, recovering from their stroke after getting the perispinal injection of Enbrel, which is highly implausible.

E: Steve, isn't that a red flag of these pseudoscientists who have ... there's one cause of the disease, right, for everything. That's a sure red flag, I'm (Inaudible).

S: I mean, there's red flags all over the place, which is what my original article was about. Just, look at all the red flags, you know. Yeah, one drug for many things, such rapid recovery; guy's not even a specialist with proper training, and he thinks he's revolutionized – paradigm shift – in the treatment of all these various things. He's really hard-selling his services with these videos. He's targetting a fairly desperate population with unmet needs. All the red flags are there. I'm also not the first person he's sued over this.

Tobinick was also the target of a Medical Board of California accusation against him. The Board essentially concluded that he promoted and advertised off-label use of an FDA-approved drug, claiming breakthroughs and innovation, that what he was doing was, constituted unprofessional conduct under the California Business and Professional code.

R: Did he sue them?

S: (Chuckles) No. He actually had to agree to serve a one year on probation, during which time he was required to complete courses in ethics and prescribing practices. Basically, a slap on the wrist. Then he opened up a clinic in Florida, which I pointed out is a very friendly state to physicians who practice, let's say, non-traditional medicine.

Clearly, what this represents is just his use of legal thuggery to try to silence criticism. That's what he's trying to do. I've written a thousand of these articles dissecting dubious claims that go way beyond the evidence. If you read his reviews on Yelp, there are patients who claim that he will charge ... first of all, he invites them in for a free consultation. But the consultation isn't with a physician. It's basically with somebody who works for him. It's almost like just a sales rep.

Then, of course, you have to pay to see the physician, and he charges something like $4000 for a treatment.

E: Whoa!

B: Wow.

S: What triggered my blog post about him on Science-based Medicine was an article in the L.A. Times which discusses his – one particular case; there was a woman with Alzheimer's disease, and he gave her 165 injections over four years for a total cost of $132,000 at least. I mean, that's just calculating out what they said he was charging.

And she continued to progress, really without any apparent change in the course of the illness, and died four years later in 2011. So, you know, that's pretty disgusting, sucking $132,000 out of a desperate husband who's treating his wife for Alzheimer's disease.

The lawsuit is underway, and, you know, it's a pain in the ass. What can I say? But we're gonna fight it. I mean, the thing is, we had this conversation. It wasn't much of a conversation, but we had to decide ... we could have taken the easy way out and just removed the post from Science-based Medicine, but I felt very strongly that if we did that, we basically would be baring our throats to every charlatan out there who we've ever criticized, or are going to criticize in the future. Yeah, so we just couldn't do that.

So, even though we knew that this was going to be a risky and expensive endeavor, I see we have no choice but to fight as hard as we can.

R: Well, geez, Steve, do you think that it's okay that we talk about this guy here on SGU now? Just kidding, this guy!

(Rogues laugh)

S: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, we announced this week, this is where we went public with the fact that we're being sued. I wrote a blog post about it on Science-based Medicine, and on Neurologica. Orac wrote about it on Respectful Insolence. And the story's now spreading through the Skeptical interwebs.

And part of, obviously, the calculus of deciding that we need to fight this tooth and nail, is knowing that the skeptical community has a history of supporting our own members who are targeted by lawsuits. You remember Simon Singh, who was sued; and Paul Offit was sued; and Ben Goldacre was sued; so, you know.

R: We're in good company.

S: Yeah, when these things happen, we just have to ... we have to fight as hard as we can.

J: But, the lawsuit though, Steve, it sets a very good precedent. We're letting people know that you can't sue someone out of freedom of speech, and freedom of information.

S: Yeah.

J: And most importantly, like Steve said before, fighting this guy all the way to the very end puts a message out there that this is what we're gonna do if you try to silence us. We're not spreading misinformation, or misleading information, or things that we know to not be true. We are actually stating what science says.

S: Yeah, it's my professional opinion about what the current state of the science is, and this guy's practice. So, that's perfectly legitimate public discussion and opinion.

E: Steve, is he suing you because he believes that your post is some kind of advertisment?

S: Well, I wouldn't make any statements about what he believes. Let me just say that the legal strategy they're taking is to file under what's called the Lanham Act, which means that they're essentially claiming that my blog post was an advertisment for my Neurology practice at Yale, and therefore constitutes unfair competition because I was unfairly criticizing this competitor from many states away, who Yale didn't even know existed until this lawsuit happened.

E: Oh, this is so slimy and so snakey, and so, ugh, god!

J: Also, in the science community, everybody takes heat, right? Part of the scientific process is to publish in a peer review, which he's not doing, number 1.

S: Well, he's publishing studies; he's just not publishing double-blind placebo-controlled trials. He's doing like what Stanislaw Burzynski is doing. "Oh, here's some case reports and case series and review articles and opinion pieces, but not the kind of data that would actually show if his treatments actually work or not. Because, in my opinion, it's all placebo effects. It's like the cheer-leader effect.

And it's remarkably similar, by the way, to another Florida clinic that I criticized years ago, William Hammesfahr, who was also treating patients years after they had a stroke with drugs, claiming that they could instantly reverse the symptoms of stroke. It's the same deal, you know what I mean? Remarkably similar population that's being targetted, claims that are being made, implausibility, huge amounts of cash on the barrel. In this case, insurance does not appear to be covering these treatments. Why should they?

Yeah, we'll keep you updated as the case proceeds. It's unfortunately going to be expensive. Even if we get out by the shortest possible legal route, it's gonna be tens of thousands of dollars. But we are getting lots of offers of support. So hopefully we'll try to use what support we have to keep the cost as reasonable as possible. But even a frivolous case, it's tens of thousands of dollars to defend yourself from a frivolous case.

J: What a waste of time and money too, the amount of time that Steve and I have been directing towards this, just dealing with the paperwork, and dealing with what's next, and talking to the lawyer, and all that stuff; it's hours and hours and hours, and it's draining!

S: Yeah.

J: It's a big deal, and we haven't even gone to trial yet!

S: Well, hopefully it never will. The goal is for it to get dismissed at some point along the line. We don't want it to get to trial, but ... I think the guy doesn't have a case. The fact that he's going the advertisment route, and ... there are lots of signs that this is a desperate case. I suspect he was hoping to intimidate me into pulling the article ...

R: Oh, absolutely!

S: I mean, I think that he's gonna go the distance, but I think he was hoping that I would just cave at some point. But, that's not gonna happen Dr. Tobinick. We're gonna fight this to the end.

J: Many people have emailed us asking where they can help support this effort. So you can go to

Mike Adams and Monsanto (14:02)[edit]

S: So, another thing cropped up today, that I have to mention. You guys know our friend, Mike Adams, the Health Ranger from NaturalNews. This guy is a dangerous douchebag, and I mean that sincerely. So, his latest rant is this long, paranoid screed basically accusing anyone who is not anti-GMO of being a Nazi sympathizer. And I'm not exaggerating!

B: (Chuckles) The Nazi card!

S: He plays the Nazi card – it's a Godwin from beginning to end. Full of Nazi references, saying that people who are defending GMO are like the collaborators with the Nazis; and the Nazi's killing people and using science to defend ...

E: Hyperbole much?

S: Oh, it's just incredible, the hyperbole. Yeah, it's incredible. He doesn't have a lick of evidence. There's not a link ...

E: Never has!

S: ... to anything. It's just him pulling crap out of his ass, just making stuff up, and just literally claiming that anyone who defends GMOs is a paid Monsanto shill. He says it matter-of-factly that Monsanto hired these people to lie for them, and basically they are taking money from Monsanto and lying in order to poison and kill millions of people.

E: Here, I'll play Devil's Advocate. How about this?

S: Okay.

E: Mike Adams has a serious mental condition that he cannot help himself from acting this way. What do you think about that?

S: I don't want to speculate about peoples' mental conditions, because ...

E: I do.

S: Yeah,

E: No, really. I mean, there's a sense of not ... of total detachment from reality from this guy, to the point where, his website ...

S: That is a possible explanation.

E: and everything ... and this is about as nice as you can be about this guy, I think. And give him this benefit of the doubt.

R: Well, the things he's saying sound like things that could be grabbed a hold of by people with severe delusions like paranoid schizophrenia, and they could act on those delusions, which makes it quite scary, actually.

E: Yeah.

J: Definitely.

S: He says, this is the money quote. In bold – he bolds this – talking again about Nazi sympathizers. "It is the moral right, and even the obligation of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity."

R: Okay, yeah, so that spells it out.

B: Whoa-a-a-a!

S: He's trying to incite any loser who believes what he says into hunting down and killing people who are not anti-GMO.

J: Well, he updated his blog, Steve, to be very clear, and he said, "those are the paraphrased words of the German government, not my statement."

S: Yeah.

J: But that wasn't the original way that he published it, number 1. And number 2, you can't quote someone; the quote completely agrees with his sentiment; everything about this blog agrees with this sentiment; but then say, "I'm not actually saying that because ..."

S: Yeah. Wink wink, nod nod. It's bullshit.

J: Gimme a break.

S: I know! And then he goes on from there basically inciting a witch hunt. "We have to hunt down these people, we have to expose them, we have to put their names and photos and addresses on the website so everybody knows who they are." Come on! And then he quotes, "And by the way, you have a moral obligation to kill them! Those aren't my words though! I'm just quoting the German government!"

And then, at the beginning of the article, he links to somebody who's done just that! is a website that apparently somebody else has made, that has a nice, big swastika on it, and the word "Monsanto." And then on the right side, it's all about how Monsanto has caused 270,000 suicides in India, which is a myth.

R: It's not true.

S: Total BS. It's not true. And on the left are journalists, publishers, and scientists who are Monsanto collaborators. And guess who's on the list?

E: David Gorski?

B: Wink Martindale!

S: David Gorski's on the list, he made the list.

E: John Stossel's on ...

S: John Stossel's on the list.

J: Wait! Wait! It says, underr David Gorski's name, "Key perpetrator of the poisoning of hundreds of millions of children with GMO's and vaccines." Do they not even know who they ... did they ever talk to Dave? Did they ever meet Dave? Yeah.

E: Hundreds of millions?

J: Yeah, he has killed hundreds of millions of children.

S: But, Jay, I'm sure you didn't miss the fact that I'm on the list as well.

B: Ya-a-a-ay!

E: (Gasps) No way!

S: And under me, it says,

R: Lucky you.

S: I know, it is a badge of honor, but I'm a little disturbed by the fact that he's actually telling people to kill me.

R: Yeah, yeah.

S: "Another corporate science shill who attacks the Seralini study."

J: So, Steve, you're a shill, and ...

S: I'm a shill, who gets paid nothing.

J: And you're Randi's what? What did he say?

S: Crony. I'm Randi's crony.

J: You're a crony. So a shill and a crony.

B: You're a shrony!

(Laughter and cross-talk)

E: And therefore you deserve to be wiped out.

J: Steve, maybe one day you'll be as bad-ass as David Gorski, and it'll say under your name, "Killed hundreds of millions of children!"

S: Hundreds of millions of children.

R: He's not even a pediatrician.

B: Yeah, but Steve, Steve, hearten up. I don't think he actually ate children, so you got that goin' for you.

S: That's true. I'm also a child-eater. Don't forget.

E: You're a cannibal!

S: Under publishers, they list Discover Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, Modern Farmer, MIT Technology Review,, yep, they're all shills for Monsanto.

J: Yeah, to put this into perspective, first of all, Steve has already had a stalker show up at his house.

S: That's true.

J: And it was scary.

R: When was that?

S: About a year ago.

J: The guy had an article from Skeptical Inquirer that Steve wrote, right? You wrote the article, Steve?

S: Yeah

J: And finds Steve's address, shows up at his house, and the guy had to be removed! Like, seriously! So now, who knows who's reading this guy's blog, and who knows how close they live to Steve, or any of these people?

R: Yeah, that's messed up.

S: Yeah.

J: And that's a true call to action! He is not being subtle here. So, joking about it actually relieves some of the craziness, it makes you kind of feel better about it, but the real deal here is that this guy, I think he committed a crime by writing that blog!

S: Yeah, Mika Adams, he's always been a lunatic; now he's a dangerous lunatic.

R: Yeah.

S: You know? He really should be ashamed of himself; this is just a shill for his supplements, you know?

E: That's the ironic part of the whole thing, too. Who's doing the real damage here?

S: Yeah. Well, just the whole thing reads like bizarro world. And it does show ... if he's sincere, if this is just not all a game that he's playing, this is how they see the world! They're the army of light, and skeptics, we are Hitler. It was at Age of Autism – I don't know if you guys ever peruse their blog.

R: Occasionally, when I hate myself.

S: Yeah

E: (Laughs)

S: They recently put up a post basically portraying themselves as Aragorn and the army of light, and we're Mordor; we're the host of Mordor.

E: We are?

R: (Groaning) Oh my god ...

S: This is how these people view the world!

R: Yeah.

B: Yep. I wonder who Ents are?

R: I think we all know who the Ents are.

(Evan laughs)

J: I'll tell you one thing that none of these people ever say, "I'm wrong frequently, and I change my mind. You know? Just give me proof, and I'll change my mind." Right? None of these other people are saying this. So, while we're on this topic, real quick, I just want to throw this in. Did you guys see the post about Ben Stein?

R: Yes, his sexting?

E: Wow! What was that about?

J: Yeah! How embarassing and creepy! Oh boy! This is really, like, the freaks are coming out this week, guys. I don't know what's going on, but it's truly happening.

E: I can just see his text! (Ben Stein impression) Can you take off your panties?

R: It's gross.

E: Panties? Panties.

J: The quick thing is that he was gonna give this woman who was having a baby out of wedlock, or this single mom, he was gonna give her some money to help her and everything, but it all was basically like, "I'm gonna give you this money to help you, and you're gonna send me naked pictures of you. And then when we meet, I want to hug and kiss you." That's what he said.

R: Yeah, he wrote an article, because he's very much pro-life in addition to being anti-evolution and anti-science in general, he's anti-abortion. And so he wrote this article about how wonderful and giving he is, and said that there is this woman who was gonna get an abortion, so he gave her a load of money so that she could keep her child. And then she released the text where he basically yells at her for not agreeing to be cuddled. (Chuckles)

S: Gotcha, little backfire.

E: Maybe spellcheck got the better of that text or something, I don't know.

S: Nothing though will ever beat Prince Charles getting caught ... the whole Tampon comment?

B: Oh yes.

S: Nothing'll beat that.

R: Ew! I don't even remember that, and I don't think I want to.

E: (Royal accent) Bloody hell!

S: Anyway, let's move on to some other news items.

Malaysia Flight MH17 Conspiracy Theories (23:24)[edit]

S: This is crazy night, tonight. We got some crazy stuff going down.

R: Apparently.

E: (Shivering out loud) Oh-h-h!

S: Evan!

B My stuff's not crazy!

S: I understand another Malaysia Airline went down. We do have to get a little serious and say that obviously our hearts go out to the families of people who are lost in the Malaysia flight MH-17 downing. But already, this has spawned some conspiracy theories.

E: It certainly has. Now, Malaysia Airline flight 17, or MH-17 went down on July 17th, 2014. It was a passenger flight, a Boeing 777 heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. And it's believed to have been shot down with a surface to air missile, although they're still investigating exactly who is responsible for this. It is believed the ... the main theory right now is that it was shot down by pro-Russian separatists inside the Ukraine, and we'll get to that in a minute.

But in the meantime, when your worldview is one of a skeptical nature, and you hear of this kind of terrible news breaking, you first feel shock. That's followed pretty quickly by horror. And about 10 seconds into wrapping your mind around this situation, you start to think, "Oh geez! What are the conspiracy theorists actually gonna make of all this!"

And I'm not really exaggerating. I do believe that in a matter of seconds, if not minutes, these conspiracy theories have started to go out there. It was Charles Haddon Spurgeon who originally said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

R: Well, no one really knows if he was the first to say it, which I like about that particular quote. No one really knows who said it.

E: It's attributed to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, but ...

S: That's the famous person effect. Quotes get attributed to famous people even when they didn't say them.

E: So, I knew when I saw them, like, I've gotta go a little deeper here. So, Charles Spurgeon, I'll put my nickel down on him. British preacher. In any case, look, we know the gathering of evidence, and analysis of the evidence, it takes time to sort out. But these conspiracies and falsehoods, they take seconds if not minutes to generate on the internet. Before you know it, there are hundreds, thousands, if not millions of people all over the world reading all sorts of ridiculous claims.

So, while they were still figuring out what was going on, and the wreckage was smouldering, and the bodies were still warm, the first batch of conspiracy tweets went out. Here's one, "#Obama trying to kill #Putin. Putin's plane was following almost the same route as crashed Malaysian Airlines MH-17." So, essentially, what was happening there is they're claiming that they mistook it as the plane that Vladimir Putin, the President Putin, of Russia, was in the plane, and that that was the real target.

So, there's that; but actually, his plane did not follow that route. That was quickly put to bed. Next one that came out: "Rothschilds tried to kill Putin, and they hit the wrong plane today because of BRICs, banks, and the USD END. How stupid could this Zionist idiot be?" So, okay, apparently, pro-Israeli people are part of this now.

Here's the next one, "Escalating war intentions date 7/17, fight 17, plane 777, conspiracy theory?" So, there's some sort of numerology going on there.

S: Always.

E: Although I think what they're referring to is that this particular plane first flew, they say, on July 17th 1997, and it went down on July 17th, 2014, and there's some undeniable significance to this, apparently.

S: And don't forget flight 800. TWA 800 was brought down on July 17th.

E: Now, yeah, you guys know certainly about that as you've done a little bit of investigation into what happened there because for the longest time, I don't know, do people still believe that it was

S: Oh yeah!

E: shot down by a missile?

S: Absolutely.

E: So, that conspiracy theory still has legs to it. And this obviously, here some conspiracy theorists, they believe that this somehow ties into that as well. How could it not? So, various reports also came out, they were a pile of perfect passports recovered with no damage with faces on the passports that look like computer generated images. So, there we go, we're already seeing the evidence that's starting to be planted at the site, trying to make it look like some sort of cover up.

S: Yeah, so that's ridiculous for a number of reasons. You could watch that on YouTube, he had a video up, showing video of people showing the passports. First of all, there's like, 20 passports, or 30 passports out of the hundreds of people on the plane. I'm sure some people had their passports buried deep in the carry-on or whatever, and they survived! You know, its not, right? It's not that unusual that they were able to recover some undamaged passports.

They mention, "These passports all look new! Why aren't they old and worn?" Okay, well how many travelers get their passport for the trip that they're taking? I remember when we went to Australia a few years ago, we all had brand-spanking new passports. Maybe not Rebecca, 'cause she travels more than we do.

J: I didn't either 'cause I go to Sweden now and then.

S: Yeah, but most of us did!

E: The whole family.

S: Yeah. My whole family, I know Bob did. We all had to get new passports. We hadn't travelled in a while, alright? They expire after 10 years. Anyway, that wasn't remarkable either. And just saying they look like computer generated people? That's just subjective ...

E: Nonsense.

S: Nonsense! Yeah. They look perfectly fine to me. I would never ever have thought that if the person didn't mention something. They look like normal pictures. It's just silly.

E: Here's another one, guys. "MH-17 is actually MH-370," which is of course the Malaysian Airlines 777 that supposedly went down in the Indian ocean. So here, they're both the same plane, same airline. A commenter from Above Top Secret stated, "It could be the missing plane rigged with explosives that had only just reappeared after vanishing for months. Why would they do this? Why, to start WWIII."

R: Obviously.

J: Of course!

S: How's that working out?

E: Yeah, right. Exactly. Alright, so what probably did happen? Well, obvously, they're still investigating it. Nothing's been determined officially, definitively yet. It's a war zone going on there. This is gonna be ... it's a mess to try to sort through it all, and just try to prevent local authorities from tampering with evidence. And there are legitimate concerns, and this is gonna be a long, drawn out process. Very, very sad for the families involved here.

But, here's what I think is a reasonable candidate for what happened. There is audio out there of pro-Russian rebels admitting to shooting down a plane earlier that day. Something like 20 minutes later there were radio broadcasts that were picked up and recorded. And here's some of the transcript of what those recordings. Now, these are between pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine going back and forth between them.

One guy says, "We've just shot down a plane. It fell beyond this town."

The other guy rings in and says, "Pilots. Were there pilots?"

And the guy answers, "Gone to search and photograph the plane. Smoking."

"How many minutes ago?"

"About 30 minutes ago."

They're saying the plane fell apart in the air in the area of such and such place, too difficult to pronounce.

"What do you have there?"

"It was 100% a passenger, civilian aircraft."

"Are there people?"

"Holy shit! The debris fell right into the yards."

"What kind of aircraft?"

"Don't know yet."

They asked if there are any weapons, or any evidence of weapons.

And they said, "Absolutely nothing. There's civilian items, medicinal stuff, toilet paper."

"Are there documents?"

"Yes, there's an Indonesian student document."

And the commander wraps up by saying, "They wanted to bring some spies to us, then they should not fly. We are at war here."

So this is just parts of a larger conversation that go on. You can download, you can find it online. It's easy to find. Also, one of these pro-Russian Ukrainians apparently went onto their Facebook page and made a post about it not long after it went down stating that they had taken down what they believe to be an invader's or military aircraft. A military target was hit and brought down. And then an hour later, that post disappeared when they realized that, "Oh, it was a civilian aircraft going down."

So I think the truth lies somewhere here. I don't think there's anything extraordinary. I don't think you have to jump through too many hoops or draw too many conclusions to see that this is probably one of the more likely paths that this will take as this unfolds.

R: Well, I mean, one of the things that's really fuelling these conspiracy theories, though, is actually the Russian state press. Did you guys read Julia Ioffe's piece in The New Republic?[2] It's really eye-opening. It's a look at what the Russian media is reporting about flight 17. And it's pretty much exclusively conspiracy theories. There's not a word about the pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels. There's no interacting with the victims' families, which is fuelling these conspiracy theories that say, "Oh, well, the victims didn't even have family! So, these were made up people." If they had families, we would see them on the news. Well, the news isn't putting the families on the news.

So, a lot of this seems to be aided by this pro-Russian media that is helping to kind of cover up what's happening here. And it's pretty disturbing. To put it out there, my favorite conspiracy theory, of course, is the one that claims that the plane was actually full of corpses when it left Amsterdam, and that the pilots took off, and then parachuted to safety after the plane was in the air. And then later on, bombs were detonated, blowing up the plane over Ukraine.

And, of course, if any of you watch Sherlock, you know that that is actually a plot from one of the episodes of Sherlock.

S: Yeah, right.

R: And yet it's being reported as news. As an actual theory for what happened on Russian mainstream media. So, thank goodness for the internet. I just hope that enough people in Russia have access to foreign news sources via the internet because they're certainly not getting it from their local news.

Ken Ham Denies Aliens (34:10)[edit]

S: Alright, well, we got one more crazy-town news item for this week.

E: Won't you take me to ...

S: (Chuckles) Jay, get us updated on Ken Ham's latest shenanigans.

J: Heh, Ken Ham! Yeah, I titled this one, "Ken Ham is Talking Spam." So, you may have heard ...

E: Sounds like a Dr. Seuss book! (Laughs)

J: Ken Ham, Ham I am. So you guys heard about Ken Ham said that all aliens are going to hell, so NASA should stop looking for them. Right, you've heard that?

R: Yeah. Makes sense.

E: I didn't believe it when I heard it, but yeah.

J: But it's not actually 100% factual. Ken Ham ...

R: Oh, aliens aren't all going to hell?

J: Well, there's some wrinkles in here. Let me explain it to you. Ken Ham himself stated that the media is doing a bad job of reporting the truth. And he said that he did not in fact say that aliens are going to hell. He said that because they are not Adam's descendants – Adam, from the Garden of Eden Adam – because they are not Adam's descendants, then they cannot have salvation.

Ken Ham says that life did not evolve, but was specifically created by God. Now, the first question you might ask, this is what my brain went to when I heard that, if aliens exist, then God must have created them. And if God created them, then maybe God has other plans for them as well, right? Just plans we don't know about because how do we know about God's plans anyway?

R: Yeah, and actually, that brings up the point that if they're not descendants of Adam, and all sin comes from Adam and Eve, then it's possible that aliens exist, and they are perfect.

S: No, but Ham's got you covered there, Rebecca. He said that they do have sin.

R: Oh ...

S: They apparently, yeah, because Adam's sin has spread throughout the multiverse.

R: (Cracking up) What?

S: But salvation is only for his descendants.

R: Well, that's not fair!

B: It says multiverse right in the Bible! The version I have anyway.

J: Guys, Ken Ham specifically said though, he doesn't even believe that they exist because of the word of the Gospel. He thinks because of all that, therefore God would not have made aliens, for whatever his reasoning is, but expressly, they don't exist.

So, there really was a screw up here with the press stating all of those things, 'cause I did read his two articles that he wrote on this, and he didn't really say that. It's just implied.

S: It's implied.

E: Does that mean Neptune doesn't exist because it wasn't mentioned in the Bible? Planet Neptune?

R: Unicorns do exist.

J: No, a few people that wrote about this, including Steve, put this Carl Sagan quote in there to kind of explain this other part. "In one unremarkable galaxy among hundreds of billions, there is an unremarkable star, among hundreds of billions of stars in that one galaxy. Around that star revolves a world with life. Some people who live on that world believe they are the center of the universe."

S: Yeah, that was a paraphrase. Neil DeGrasse Tyson paraphrased it in the new Cosmos, as well. It's a very, I think, powerful sentiment when you put it that way. You zero in from the universe in to this one little planet in the corner of one galaxy. And imagine the people on that planet thinking that they're the center of the entire universe. Not only that, not only the center of the universe, but Ken Ham thinks that the rest of the universe is just a show for us. And that when the salvation does eventually come, the rest of the universe is going to burn because it's just there for show. It's like the parsley on your side of your dish. You know what I mean? It's just a garnish. It's just a garnish.

E: Well, Bible said all the world's a stage, so ... and we are merely players. Is that a bible quote?

S: And the other thing, Jay, that really struck me, reading his post, is how narcissistic he is ...

J: Absolutely.

S: ... in that the universe does revolve around him. Not only that, but he writes as if scientists and skeptics, we define ourselves by not believing him. We are secularists. Scientists are secularists. And we're doing this to rebel against God; and we're looking for aliens so that we can prove evolution, to finally stick it to those creationists.

You know what, Ham? We don't care about you and your creationism. We don't think about it all the time. We love science, and we love exploring the universe, and evolution is true because of all the evidence for evolution. It's not all about sticking it in your eye. But he writes as if that's what it's all about! It's just all about ...

R: No, that's just a bonus.

S: his own belief system.

R: (Chuckles) Sticking it in his eye is just a bonus.

S: It's just a bonus, yeah.

J: He says he's like, to add to what Steve was just saying, Ken Ham wrote, "Many secularists want to discover alien life hoping that aliens can answer the deepest questions of life. Where did we come from? And what is the purpose and meaning of life?" Well, first of all, I'm not looking for aliens to answer the "where did we come from" question. And second of all, what is the purpose and meaning of life? I don't need to ask anybody else that. I'll define that for myself, thanks Ken. I'm certainly not gonna get the meaning of life out of a book.

R: Unless it's Dune.

J: Well ...

S: Jay, if you could ask aliens a question, what would be your one question?

J: Oh my god, really? Like, putting me on the spot! Okay, so ...

B: How do I make a flux capacitor!

S: (Laughs)

J: There's a lot of in's and out's but I'll play your game, you rogue. Okay, so I'm asking a seemingly super-advanced, super-intelligent race a question. I guess my question is, "How can I be more like you?" I'd want to know what ... oh god, Steve! What I really want to know? If I could ask any question just to get a really cool, science answer ...

S: That's the point, yeah.

J: Is there a multiverse?

E: Yeah!

S: Is there a multiverse? That's a good one.

E: No, it's not!

S: You could ask, "String theory, loop quantum gravity, or some other third thing?"

J: And then they'll say, "Largal snazzle theory!" Or even worse, they'd just look at each other and laugh in their alien tongue. (Strange laugh) Like, oh my god!

R: Yeah, like, what would you do if a cockroach asked you to explain the nature of the universe?

S: If it could ask.

J: Ask Steve, "Brown sugar, or white sugar?"

E: Start on the bottom of my shoe.

J: That's your question? Okay.

S: Well, Jay, wait 'till your son gets old enough to start asking incredibly naive questions,

J: I'm ready! I love those types of questions.

S: Yeah, right!

J: I need to put it into context though.

S: I would be fascinated in what kind of question a cockroach would have for me.

J: Yeah, me too.

S: And, I would be happy to engage in conversation with a cockroach.

R: I'm not saying that you'd feel too good to engage with a cockroach. I'm just saying there's some things a cockroach – even a talking cockroach – is just probably never gonna grasp. I mean, it lives for a couple days (chuckles). You have a lot of time ...

S: My serious point though, is, if it could ask, then I would answer the question that it could ask. So, my question to an alien might seem naive to them, but given my question, gimme a freakin' answer. That's obviously, my question informs them of what I'm capable of understanding in a way.

J: But also, you could also say, "Let me help you ask better questions."

S: Oh, so here's my question. "What question should I ask you?"

B: Ha! That's a good one.

R: I guess I just feel like there's a very good chance that when we're talking about the ultimate nature of the universe, we might be talking about ... like, we've had this discussion before. We might be running up against something that is simply unable to be grasped by the average human brain. Like, it might be physically impossible for you to understand it.

B: Yeah, is all reminds me of a Babylon 5 episode (Rebecca holds back a laugh) where they found this alien probe, and the probe basically asked a whole bunch of questions. Each question got a little bit harder than the one before, scientific questions primarily. And ...

J: 2 + 2! 2+ 3!

B: they deduced that if you answer all the way up to like, question 20, if you can get to 20 and answer it properly, then

E: 20 questions!

B: that's a clue to the aliens that you could be a potential threat, and then the probe blows you up. So, they decided not to answer that one question, and they were cool.

J: Steve, you remember, Steve, from your blog post about Ken Ham? You wrote something really cool, that, um ...

S: I always write something really cool!

J: that Gould said about smashing the pillars of ...

S: Yeah, that science is basically a process of smashing the pillars of our own ego. That first we thought we were the center of the universe, the we realized that wasn't true. Hey, we're the center of our galaxy; no, that's not even true. Then, that we're the pinnacle of evolution, and that's not true. We're unique in the universe, and that's not true.

J: So, we're reduced down to just saying, "My mother loves me!"

S: (Chuckles) Yeah, right. We're completely unremarkable. We're not special in that we are of the universe. The physical laws that made us exist throughout the universe. That doesn't mean though, that humanity isn't unique, that we don't have our specialness, and that we can't, again, make our own meaning within our own context. You know what I mean? So, yeah, we're a tiny little speck on a speck on a speck, but ...

B: You missed a few specks!

S: (Chuckling) Yeah. But from our perspective, we make our own meaning, as you said before, Jay. And yeah, but in Ken Ham's other world, it's like, unless we're it! You know? The rest of the universe is sludge, is nothing. Then, somehow, it doesn't have any meaning. It always strikes me as a very childish view of reality.

E: Yeah, a six year old! I read this in a Calvin and Hobbes once! And it was done very well! Only Calvin put it much more eloquently than Ken Ham did. But essentially, he said that the whole universe came down to him, and history is justified because Calvin was born. Basically, that was it. Very amusing.

S: Calvin would have it all over Ham.

The Vaccination Chronicles (44:21)[edit]

S: Well, guys, before we go on to the next news item, I want to mention very quickly that Richard Saunders, our good friend from down under, has released a video called The Vaccination Chronicles. You can get to it at Look up The Vaccination Chronicles, you'll get to it on the Googles.

And, it's a really cool project that Richard did. It's basically a lot of interviews with people who had vaccine-preventable diseases or knew people who died from vaccine-preventable diseases. So, it's a way of chronicling what the whole vaccination thing is all about, because it's important information to have. So, give it a listen.

Pits on the Moon (45:00)[edit]

S: Alright, Bob, tell us about pits on the Moon.

B: This was pretty cool. I learned a lot about the Moon actually, doing research for this. So, pits on the Moon may prove to actually be a valuable resource for future astronauts if we ever get our butts back there again. Now, these pits are big, steep walled holes that exist in various locations on the Moon, kind of like that pit that appeared in Siberia in the news recently.

E: Yeah, they look like sink holes.

B: Yeah. Now, these were discovered using sophisticated algorithms that searched through various high resolution lunar images that we've accumulated over the years. And they found over 200 of them varying in size from just 5 yards to more than 1000 yards. So, pretty big. And that's after only looking at about 40% of the lunar surface. So there could be easily 3, 4, 500 of these guys across the entire Moon's surface.

But they're found in generally two different types of locations. The first, as you might imagine, are, they found 'em in large craters where the impact was so nasty that it created these pools of lava called, "impact melt ponds" that later hardened. The 2nd location is the lunar maria, which form familiar pareidolia images of the Man on the Moon, that we're all familiar with, at least for our culture. Lots of other cultures have lots of different images that they can see.

But these dark areas were once thought to be seas, hence the name maria, but they turned out to be hardened lava flows that extend for hundreds of miles. Now, we're not exactly sure how the pits formed, but most common theories include the roof of caves or voids that collapsed; that one seems pretty obvious. Vibrations from meteor impacts could have opened some of these up. Or perhaps underground lava flows? We have these on Earth, that create these hollow tubes that eventually empty out. So, you got this tube of hardened lava that could have opened up.

So what good are these pits? What are we gonna do with them? Well, I think exploring them would be a hell of a lot of fun. But the main benefit would be as a likely Moon habitat. And that's mainly because the Moon is a lot deadlier than you may think.

First of all, you can get hit by micrometeorites ... if you have extended stays on the surface, chances increase that you can get hit by one of these. Sure, it's kinda rare, but if it did happen, you would probably be toast, because even a space suit would do very little.

E: No atmosphere to burn up those particles, right?

B: Yeah. Moon dust is actually another big problem that the pits could protect against. The deeper you go, the less of the regolith. So, I know we've all heard of Moon dust, but it actually really was a big pain in the ass for the astronauts. It's as fine as flour, but as rough as sandpaper. So it's kind of nasty just to feel it.

And I didn't know this one, some astronauts even had a physical reaction to this Moon dust that they called "Lunar hay fever." And this was made worse by the astronauts when they would enter into the crew cabin from the outside. The air would eddy and swirl. You had these little, mini-dust storms that would just throw the dust everywhere and on everything. And also, the spacesuits themselves had major problems with the dust. So, it was just not fun. And that's something that you're gonna want to live with all the time.

But the worst thing about the Moon's surface, though, was probably the radiation. Studies have shown that surface dwellers on the Moon are actually exposed to 30 or 40% greater risk from radiation than previously thought. You would think that the entire Moon itself would protect you, right? You've got the Moon under you. I mean, it's blocking half the sky, or whatever. And you would think it would at least block at least that half of the radiation so that you're not getting pelted from 360 degrees. But that's actually not correct.

The surface under your feet is radioactive. When the cosmic rays hit the surface, they create these little nuclear reactions that spray secondary particles – neutrons – that can penetrate your skin, and even mess with your DNA. Obviously, this isn't much of a concern if you're there for just a few days. None of stuff is. But, for extended stays, which I hope one day we will eventually have, all of this stuff can just get worse and worse, and just be really nasty. And eventually deadly, with the radiation especially.

What the pits can offer though, is great protection against this radiation. All they would have to do is construct a habitat in the pit. And if you build it away from the overhang by whatever 50 or 100 feet, then you're extremely well protected from this radiation.

So, we'll see what happens if we ever consider making these lunar habitats in these pits. I think it would be a great benefit. Could really actually help save lives.

E: You could build a monolith in one of these pits.

S: Yeah.

B: Ha! It's already there.

S: Yeah, was it, in 2001, the lunar base was underground? I guess it could have been built in one of these pits.It had that kind of flower petal roof, remember that, that closed back up?

B: Oh, yeah!

S: Yeah, that was cool. Alright, thanks Bob. So, we'll be living in the pits on the Moon one day.

B: Yes.

Who's That Noisy? (51:46)[edit]

  • Answer to #469: Janov
  • #470: Benny Hinn

S: Alright, Evan, we have to get caught up on Who's that Noisy.

E: Okay. We have a couple episodes to catch up on. So, back from episode 469, we played this noisy. Here we go!

And for each of the needs that are not fulfilled, there's pain. And it's registered on different levels of the brain. And what we found a way to do is go back down into the brain and get those pains out of the system. So you don't have to take pills and stuff to stuff it back. What we do is little by little, take the pain out of the system that are based on not-fulfilled need.

S: That all sounds very cromulent

E: Yeah (Chuckles) that's not babble at all, is it? Those are the words spoken by {{w|Arthur Janov}. You may remember him from the '70's – cool dude! He's American psychologist, psychotherapist, creator of Primal therapy, which he uses as a treatment for mental illness involving descending into sort of this repressed childhood pain experience, and you sort of scream out your bad stuff that happened to you when you were a kid.

Yeah, no science behind it. It's, you know ... Yoko Ono and John Lennon were perhaps his two most famous clients, and that why all in the '70's, he attained the fame and recognition that he nay not have otherwise. So, Arthur Janov. There were plenty of correct answers, but only one winner for that week. Heptron from the message boards, you're the winner. Congratulations!

And, moving on to episode 470 – wow! 470! Nice round number. We had this one. Here we go, remember this?

Dear Jesus, now heal, that eye. Heal that eye. Watch her head and the piano (Audience laughs)

E: Kinda defeats the purpose of Jesus healing you if you're gonna fall back in ecstacy and die of a head injury on a piano, so, very, very good advice from the one and only Benny Hinn.

S: Yes, Benny Hinn.

E: You guys know who Benny Hinn is?

J: Yes, we do.

R: Yeah, he chased ladies around while a saxophone played a funny song.

E: (Laughs) Are you sure about that? (Yakety Sax starts to play) You sure about that?

R: Okay, we get it.

E: Wait, there's more! Benny Hinn's a faith healer, and a real scoundrel (laughs) let's face it when it comes to this stuff. James Randi has gone after him, and many other prominent skeptics have had many a word to say about his shenanigans and antics. Amanda Rivera, winner for episode 470 on Who's that Noisy. So, congratulations! Very well done!

Moving on, brand new Who's that Noisy. Tell me what's making this sound.

(Repeated buzzing making the song Eye of the Tiger)

E: So, go ahead, and send us your thoughts as to what made that Noisy. You can email it to us at, or go ahead and post it on our forums, Look for the subthread called "Who's that Noisy." It'll be in there. Good luck everyone.

S: And if you have absolutely no idea, you could email us at

E: Yes, yes, and WTF stands for Where's the Fork?

S: Right.

Questions and Emails[edit]

Humor in Science (55:32)[edit]

Love the show – long time listener and so forth. I look forward to meeting you all at the upcoming Australian Skeptic's conference. This question may be of particular interest to Jay, as he strikes me as a Weird Al fan… I was listening to the new Weird Al Yankovic album Mandatory Fun earlier today and it got me thinking (always a good thing) – do you think humour is a good introduction to skepticism? Weird Al's song 'Word Crimes' is a good example of this – it attacks common grammatical and linguistic errors via a catchy (if somewhat disposable) song. George Hrab also skirts the line between education and piss-taking in some of his songs, but humour can be a double edged sword, particularly if people think you're making fun of them. What do you think? Is humour a good way to get around mental barriers that a logical argument may not? On a totally different note, I am a hot air balloon pilot and would like to offer you a flight when you're in Australia. Hopefully the finer details of the trip are starting to come together – please let me know if you're at all interested as there are some logistics involved in arranging crew. I gave Geo a flight the last time he was out here so he should be able to vouch for my comparative safety. Keep up the good work, Cheers, John Turnbull Sydney Australia ps. forgive the constant misspelling of the word 'humour' – I am Australian and that is how it is spelt ;)

S: Alright, we're gonna do one email this week. This email comes from John Turnbull from Sydney, Australia. Rebecca, this one is going to be covered by you, so do you want to read the email?

R: Sure. "Love the show! Long-time listener and so forth. I look forward to meeting you all at the upcoming Australian Skeptic's Conference. This question may be of particular interest to Jay, as he strikes me as a Weird Al Fan." Sorry, Jay; I'm stealing this one from you. "I was listening to the new Weird Al Yankovich album Mandatory Fun earlier, and it got me thinking," always a good thing, "do you think humour is a good introduction to skepticism? Weird Al's song, 'Word Crimes' is a good example of this. It attacks common grammatical and linguistic errors via a catchy, if somewhat disposable song. George Hrab also skirts the line between education and piss-taking in some of his songs, but humor can be a double-edged sword, particularly if people think you are making fun of them. What do you think? Is humor a good way to get around mental barriers that a logical argument may not?" And then he offers us a hot air balloon ride when we come to Australia. (Laughter) "Keep up the good work. Cheers, John Turnbull. Sydney, Australia."

Thank you so much, John. And I apologize, you did address this to Jay, but I called dibs because I happened to give a lecture on this very topic, the use of humor in science. I just gave it to the Minnesota Atheists,

S: (Swedish sounding accent) Oh ya?

R: in Minneapolis last week.

E: Ya, Marge.

S: Oh, darn tootin!

R: Is that your Minnesota accent? (Snickers)

S: I'm sure it was real good, ya.

R: I didn't meet a single person who talked like that. That's more Wisconsin.

E: Really?

S: I learned it on Fargo, so ...

E: Yeah! I mean, everything I learned about Minnesota, I learned in Fargo.

R: Yeah, well, Fargo's like, different than Minneapolis.

S: Okay.

E: Oh, real good now, okay.

R: So, John, you're absolutely correct in that, yes, humor is a good way to encourage critical thinking, and science education, and yes, also it can be a double-edged sword. You need to watch how you're using that humor, because sometimes you might have the opposite effect that you're going for.

What I talk about in my lecture is three different ways that comedy can be of use. One thing is it helps get aggression out. It makes us feel better. So, when we're venting about skeptic stuff, like getting sued, or someone threatening to kill us, and we use humor to do that, that's because humor actually does help people deal with sometimes upsetting, or even traumatic things.

And there have been a number of studies that back this up. One of the ones I talk about is great one in which subjects were asked to make jokes about gruesome pictures like a man gutting a fish. One subject made the joke, "He always wanted to work with animals." And another made the joke, "Great job for people with body odor." (Bob laughs)

So, what the researchers found was that people who were able to come up with jokes about these gruesome images came away with more positive emotions, and less intense negative emotions. But they found the effect was most drastic with the positive jokes, like the first one I told you. "He always wanted to work with animals." The effect was not quite as noticeable with sort of negative jokes like "Great job for people with body odor."

So, that's one of the things that comedy can help you do, and that we do quite often in skepticism. Comedy can also, yes, help you learn. It can get around certain mental barriers that people have to learning. Another study I talk about in my lecture is Humor in Pedagogy by Randy Garner. He forced 114 students to watch a series of three, 40 minute recorded lectures on statistics, which I think he chose because it was the most boring topic he could think up. Sorry, statisticians, but it's true.

And for some of the students he cut in topical jokes. So, jokes that had to do with the statistics lessons being learned. And for the other students, there were no jokes. And what he found was that the students who saw the funny lectures – and the did rate the lectures as actually being funny – the group that saw those lectures were more likely to report that they liked the professor; and they also were more likely to retain information from the lecture than the students who didn't get any humor.

And the other thing I talk about humor being able to do is persuade, because there's been a lot of research that shows that there's this persuasion theory basically, of humor, that suggests that there are certain ways that humor can bypass our ability to think critically sometimes about what we're hearing.

For instance, there's been a number ... most of the research in this area comes from the advertising world because they directly deal with persuasion, and what is going to be the most persuasive for the greatest number of people. And, by and large, they find that things like ironic humor can actually be more persuasive to people, and they think that it might be because it forces your brain to do more work to figure out what the joke is. And it makes you less able to necessarily deal with, to come up with arguments against what you're being told, basically.

And, the research that backs this up, there have been a number of studies where they look at the difference between just sort of goofy, easy, visual humor, and more ironic wise cracks. And what they find is that people exposed to wise cracks tend to be more easily persuaded than people who are just looking at cutesy cartoons and such.

So, that's just part of the theory. There are a number of others. Humor tends to make people like the person better, who is using the humor, which makes them more interested in being persuaded by them. If they don't like you, then it's not likely that they're going to be persuaded by any of your arguments.

S: So, I watched the Weird Al Yankovich videos, especially the one on the tinfoil.

R: Yes, oh my god!

S: They're funny. They're funny. But I think that kind of humor, I could imagine a conspiracy theorist watching that; I don't think they're gonna learn anything specifically. That was fluffy to the point where I don't think that people are gonna walk away from that without any kind of hard-hitting message.

R: Oh yeah. I should point out that when I say that his humor is the type that's good for learning, I don't mean that necessarily he's using it for that. But it is the sort of, yeah. It's this sort of nice humor that could work if he does an educational type thing.

S: But I do think, like, South Park might be pretty close to the sweet spot. They really do a great job on some issues using humor, and satire, and ridicule to ... but with meat! That, I think ... a very great vehicle. We've often talked about the cold reading episode, where they nail it! They totally show why cold reading works, and why it's dumb.

R: Yeah, and I think it's a really great point to bring up South Park. And I think that they are a great example, particularly of the use of sarcasm and irony as a way to bypass people making up counter-arguments to what they're saying. And that's the sort of thing that, as people who want to educate and persuade others, it's very good when people on our side are using it.

But obviously, we are talking about something that is in a way bypassing critical thinking. There have been sometimes that I've seen a South Park episode, I'm like, "Oh! They're actually getting something really wrong here, and they're probably convincing a lot of people of something that maybe they shouldn't be convincing them of.

S: They're not right just because they're funny.

R: Yeah.

S: Yeah. Alright ...

R: But, they are funny when they're right.

S: Oh yeah. They're especially funny when they're right, yeah.

R: Yeah.

S: Okay.

Science or Fiction (1:04:38)[edit]

Item #1: A new study finds that mouse-eared bats use the polarization of light in the evening sky to calibrate their magnetic sense of direction. Item #2: Researchers find that worker honey bees keep their hives cool by using their bodies to absorb heat and then transfer the heat to cooler parts of the hive. #3: A 15-year study of blue whale feeding behavior finds that their feeding grounds have been moving steadily north.

S:Well guys, let's move on to Science or Fiction. Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine, one fictitious, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fakeroni. We have a theme this week.

(Rebecca quietly groans)

S: I say that just to get the groan from Rebecca.

R: I know, I know.

(Bob laughs)

R: I don't like giving you the satisfaction, but I can't help it.

S: Can't help the groan.

E: Primal reaction.

S: The theme is Those Amazing Animals. You guys remember that show?

R: What? What amazing animals?

E: I remember Animals, Animals, Animals.

R: What!

E: And The New Zoo Revue. But I don't remember ...

R: I know Zoobilee Zoo. Is that the same?

B: Wha?

R: Zoobilee Zoo? No?

B: You're making that up!

R: 227? Zoobilee Zoo. Look it up. I bet there are clips online. It was ridiculous, slightly terrifying.

S: Those Amazing Animals was one of the first reality TV shows. And it starred Burgess Meredith, Priscilla Presley, and Jim Stafford.

E: Oh my god!

B: You guys don't remember that?

E: Wow!

B?: (Gravelly) Ya can't win, Rock!


R: Burgess Meredith?

(Someone makes quacking sound)

S: Alright, so this is three items about animals, and here we go.

R: Not about Burgess Meredith.

S: Not about Burgess Meredith.

E: They never knew what his age was. He would never admit to his age. So he died, nobody knew how old he really was!

B: Really?

E: Loved that story about him. Yeah.

S: Alright, here we go. Number 1: A new study finds that mouse-eared bats use the polarization of light in the evening sky to calibrate their magnetic sense of direction. Item #2: Researchers find that worker honey bees keep their hives cool by using their bodies to absorb heat, and then transfer the heat to cooler parts of the hive. And Item #3: A 15 year study of Blue whale feeding behavior finds that their feeding grounds have been moving steadily north. Rebecca, you haven't done one of these in a while, so why don't you go first?

R: (Groans) Man ... Okay.

E: A double-groan!

R: So, using the polarization of light in the evening sky to calibrate their sense of direction. That's really cool. I can certainly see how that could work. Humans, we can't see the polarization of light, but obviously, we certainly can experience it when we wear polarized glasses. And I always thought that was really cool, the way that worked. And so, yeah, I can believe that.

Honey bees keep their hives cool, using their bodies to absorb heat, and then transfer heat to cooler parts of the hive. That's weird. That's very complicated. And I can't imagine how that would actually work. So the hive heats up to greater than their body temperature. They absorb that and then go to a cooler part. That ... I don't know. Hives, I guess, they could take it down lower. I don't know. That's weird.

Blue whale feeding behavior finds that their feeding grounds have been moving steadily north. So, this is something that makes sense to me, to the point where I'm kind of surprised to see this in a science or fiction, because this seems like a fact already. It's something that would already have been established. Which lends me to wonder if maybe it already was established, and this is a fiction because maybe a new study came out disproving this.

But, it was my understanding that thanks to global warming, whales were finding food further and further north, and so, because of that, obviously, they're slowly migrating up that way. Maybe it's not Blue Whales, but I do know that climate change has had a very real impact on whales' migratory patterns, and things, I thought.

So, I guess it's between the honey bees, and the whales for me. One because it sounds too ridiculous, and the other because it sounds too obvious. I guess I'll go with the honey bees one because I don't really see how ... that seems too complicated for the bees to be doing. I'll go with that one.

S: Okay, Bob?

B: Let's see, the mouse-eared bats using polarized light. It's funny how Rebecca just kinda blithely accepted that. That's actually fairly extraordinary for a mammal to use polarized light. I think they would be the only ones that I'm aware of. I'm not surprised though, that they could do that. That's really cool, and I really hope that that one is true.

The Blue whale feeding behavior. Yeah ... yeah, that just makes perfect sense, which kind of scares me. But I'm having a big problem with the honey bee one. I just don't think bees have the heat capacity to make much of a difference. And even if they did, I think that their bodies are so tiny, I think they would transfer the heat before they took 10 paces. Also, don't they use their wings to cool their hive? I remember seeing something about that a long time ago. I'm gonna say the bees is fiction as well.

S: Okay, Evan.

E: I guess I'll jump right to it. The bees, that was the thing that stood out for me was the transfer of heat to cooler parts of the hive. I don't buy that part. Bodies could be absorbing the heat. The only thing I think of is that it's not deliberate. It just happens to be that way, but I don't know. I think the bees are too purposeful in all that they do for something like that to be the case.

And the Blue whales, real quick, moving steadily North, I thought about the global warming as well, Rebecca. So, there's nothing special there, I don't think. Polarization of lights, I didn't know about that one being the mammal's, especially the only mammals turn out to be that uses this. It's very cool. And a lot of things Rebecca said about that I kind of agree with as well. So, bees, fiction.

S: And Jay

J: Yeah, I think the one about the bats and the polarization, that seems true. Let's go on to the bees one. I've just been thinking about this the last five minutes here. I mean, if you're saying that their bodies absorb the heat, I don't know about that. I would think that in order for them to absorb heat, that they would need, maybe their fur captures heat somehow, but I think they would be able to absorb more heat if they had a lot more fluid in them. I just don't see insects as having a lot of fluid in them. I just don't know how that they would be able to capture enough heat, and then transfer it. I'll join the group, and I'll say that the honey bees one is the fake.

S: So, I guess I can take these in order. We'll start with number 1. A new study finds that mouse-eared bats use the polarization of light in the evening sky to calibrate their magnetic sense of direction. You guys all think this one is science, and this one is ... have any of you heard of, by the way (Rogues laugh) Haidinger's brush?

J: Yes.

E: What is it?

S: Haidinger's brush.

R: No.

E: Hadrian's Wall?

S: Nope. Not Hadrian's Wall. Discovered by Austrian physicist Wilhelm Carl von Hadinger in 1844. I'll tell you about that in a second. This one is ... science!

R: Yay!

B: Yeah, baby, that's cool!

S: Yeah, these bats ... so bats, we've known already that they use the magnetic field of the Earth to navigate at night. But in the early evening, like just after the sun sets, but there's still light in the sky, they check it out. They use the polarization of the light in order to calibrate their magnetic sense, and that holds them for that evening.

So, the way this was tested was the scientists had two groups of bats. A control group, and an experimental group. And they exposed them to artificial polarization, one rotated 90 degrees from the actually polarization. And then, in the middle of the night, when there was no light, they brought them out 20 miles away, and released them. Now, they should fly home. They should use their sense of navigation to fly back to the bat cave.

The control group flew straight back to their cave. The experimental group flew off 90 degrees tangent from the direction of their cave.

R: No-o-o!

S: Yeah, so pretty cool! They seemed to ...

R: Well, what happened to the bats?

S: They all died.

R: (Despairing) No-ho-ho-ho!

S: I don't know.

E: They ran into a wind turbine.

S: They were lost for a day, and then the next day they found their way back? I don't know. But Hadinger's brush, people, some people can actually see polarized light.

R: Wow!

S: Yeah. People, yes,

B: People!

S: human beings, yes.

E: Now, this can be measured, Steve, in the brain scans and stuff?

S: Oh, I don't know about that. It's a very subtle, bow-tie shaped, yellow light that takes up three to five degrees of vision that you can see against a blue sky when you have your back to the sun.

E: (Whispering) You have your back to the (inaudible)

S: But not everybody can see it.

E: We must have some listeners that have this. Please write us ...

R: Well, I wanna go try this now, so what do you do? Your back to the sun, and you look at a blue sky?

S: Yes. Yeah. And you see a little, a very tiny, and very faint little bow-tie of yellow light.

R: I am super-excited to try this.

S: That is, but if you see that, you are seeing polarized light.

J: Very cool!

B: Jesus!

E: I gotta try this.

R: I'm gonna feel like a superhero, if I can do that. What a useless superpower, but I don't care.

S: Alright, let's go on to number 2: Researchers find that worker honey bees keeping their hives cool by using their bodies to absorb heat, and then transfer the heat to cooler parts of the hive. You guys all think this one is the fiction; you don't think that honey bees are that cool. (Rogues laugh) And this one ...

R: Let's not turn this one into an insult!

S: And this one (Talks over Evan) is ... science!

(Rogues groan)

B: Wow! Oh I feel so ...

E: Damn, wrong.

J: How did they do it, Steve?

R: Don't GWR, 'cause I got teased relentlessly, by the way, in Minneapolis. People kept coming up to me, and being like, "Do you know your Science or Fiction stats this year are in the toilet?" I'm like, "Yeah, I know. And guess what? They still are."

S: Alright, so yeah! This is pretty cool. So they do use multiple methods to cool their hive, but what scientists discovered is that actually, the worker bees, especially the brood nest, needs to be cool because adult bees can can actually tolerate up to 50 degrees Celsius, 122 Farenheit, but the brood can only tolerate up to 35 degrees celcius, or 95 degrees Farenheit. So, what the scientists did, was they maliciously heated up the nest.

R: Oh my god! Scientists are the worst!

S: (Chuckles) They had to see what the bees would do! And the worker bees would push their bodies up against the brood nest wall, absorb the heat, and then fly to a cooler part of the nest and let the heat dissipate. And then keep shuttling the heat away from the brood nest with their bodies.

J: But how were they doing this, Steve? I mean, aren't they spreading some type of liquid, or something? It can't just be their bodies.

S: No, their bodies. Their bodies were transferring the heat. They would absorb the heat into their body, they would fly away and let it dissipate elsewhere.

E: They'd let it ... so there must have been dissipation on the way to flying where all.

S: Oh, sure, a little bit. Yeah, of course.

J: Curses!

S: It still was a net transfer of heat away from the brood nest. And it successfully reduced the temperature of the brood.

E: Bastard!

B: Crap!

R: God dammit!

S: Which means that a 15 year study of Blue whale feeding behavior finds that their feeding grounds have been moving steadily north is the fiction because a 15 year study of Blue whale feeding grounds published recently in Plos One have found that their feeding grounds are remarkably stable.

They have in fact not moved, even during El Niño and La Niña years. So even when the environmental conditions have been significantly different, individual Blue whales will stick to their feeding pattern. There are differences among individuals, but the individuals themselves are returning to their same feeding location patterns year after year, even, again, across different weather patterns.

The authors state that they're hoping that this information will be useful for shipping lanes, because the big problem here is that the Blue whale migrations cross over shipping lanes, and a lot of Blue Whales are getting killed by basically being hit by ships.

J: Oh, that sucks.

S: Yeah, so they could make some adjustments, they may be able to steer clear of the Blue whales because obviously, they're an endangered species. And I was able to say moving steadily north because Blue whales are entirely a northern species except maybe for pygmy blue whales. But they're mostly in North Atlantic, North Pacific, arctic type of creatures.

E: How did scientists torment the blue whales, I mean ...

(Rebecca laughs quietly)

S: They tagged them.

E: Tag 'em in pain!

R: They slowly move their food away, and see if they follow.

E: See, yes! Separate their calves from their mothers, and see what happens.

S: Right, right. That is, they just tagged them. I'm sure the whales didn't notice the tags.

E: Well ...

J: Good job, Steve.

E: Well, nature got the better of us this week.

R: Yep, good job.

B: Screw you, Steve!

S: Thank you, thank you. See, I found the bee one. I'm like, "You know what, the thing is, if I just use one animal one, you guys would go, "Oh! Animals are cool! I totally beleive that!" So I had to use three animal ones to neutralize the animal factor.

J: Neutralize

R: Very smart, Steve.

S: Thank you, thank you.

E: Blue whales eat krill, right?

S & J: Yep.

E: Make 'em Kriller Whales.

S: (Chuckling) Kriller Whales. Blue whales are my favorite animal. You know how, when you're in 3rd grade, or whatever, you do reports on your animals and stuff? I always did the blue whale.

B: Mine was spiders.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:19:06)[edit]

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

John Kenneth Galbraith

J: Hey, Steve.

S: Yeah?

J: I have a quote.

S: Let's hear it.

J: "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind, and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

(Rogues laugh)

J: This quote was sent in by a listener named Phil Sanders. And that quote is from a man named John Kenneth Galbraith. And he was a Canadian / American economist and author.

R: He's busy.

J: Let me try to pronounce that again ... (Shouting) John Kenneth Galbraith!

Announcements (1:19:37)[edit]

R: I have a quick plug. I'm not in this, no friends are in this, but I happened to go to a press event the other day for this new show called, "Annedroids," that's gonna be on Amazon Prime. As of this episode going up, it's currently streaming on Amazon Prime. And it's about a little girl scientist who builds her own robots ...

S: Cool!

R: in her Dad's junk yard. And I met the cast and the creator, and they were all just such lovely people whose hearts are totally in the right place about encouraging science education, especially amongst little girls, and people of color, and people who are poor, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Single parent households. Like, everybody is represented in the show. And I saw the pilot; it was awesome; and I just really want the show to succeed. So, it's called Annedroids. It's on Amazon Prime. Check it out.

S: Cool! And, we're gonna be at Atlanta, at DragonCon in September. Yep!

J?: That's right.

S: And then in Sydney, Australia in November, and in New Zealand in December. And we're just really busy bees ourselves. And there are some other events coming up. Once we nail down the dates we'll announce them, but we have some other things in the works. So, stay tuned for some other events coming up. Alright guys, it's good to have the crew back together.

B: Yay!

R: Yes!

E: Yeah, it's comfortable.

B: Thank you, Steve!

J: It's too bad that you're a GMO shill, and in bed with people who kill millions of children.

S: I'm a nazi sympathizer.

E: Terrible, terrible.

S: And a baby eater.

J: And a lackey.

E: What's that say about us, who we hang around with.

J: And you smell funny. Alright, well, have a good night, Steve.

S: You guys all have a good night as well.

E: Thanks, doc.

R: Good night!

S: And until next week, this is your Skeptic's 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.

Today I Learned...[edit]

  • Marie Curie had a daughter named Irene Joliot-Curie who also went on to become a scientist and won a Nobel prize in chemistry.
  • The Russian press has been fueling conspiracy theories about flight MH-17[3]
  • Humor helps people to cope with bad things, aids memory, and helps persuade people by weakening defensive mental barriers.
  • Humans can see polarized light with the naked eye in some circumstances[4]


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