SGU Episode 519
|This episode needs: proof-reading,||How to Contribute|
|SGU Episode 519|
|June 20th 2015|
|SGU 518||SGU 520|
|S: Steven Novella|
|B: Bob Novella|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
|Quote of the Week|
|I read science, because to me, that's extremely exciting. It's like a great detective story, and it's happening right in front of us.|
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Forgotten Superheroes of Science (9:10)
- 3 News Items
- 4 Who's That Noisy (44:04)
- 5 Dumbest Thing of the Week (48:49)
- 6 Questions and Emails
- 7 Science or Fiction (1:06:35)
- 8 Planets Through a Telescope (1:20:45)
- 9 Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:52)
- 10 Today I Learned
- 11 References
You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello, and welcome to The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, June 17th, 2015, and this is your host, Steven Novella! Joining me this week are Bob Novella ...
B: Hey, everybody.
S: Jay Novella ...
J: Hey guys!
S: and Evan Bernstein.
B: Good evening, folks!
Virtual Reality Goggles (0:24)
J: I have.
B: No; I did old tech years ago, but ...
J: I used the recent one. A friend of mine bought the SDK, you know, when they send you the thing to develop software with it.
E: Mm hm.
J: This isn't the brand new one that's coming out very soon. This is the one that's been around for a couple of years. And it was remarkable!
E: You didn't find it heavy, bulky, sort of pulling on your head, kind of uncomfortable ...
E: ...to wear?
J: No. It was really actually pretty damn good. And they made massive improvements on the latest one. But I'll tell you, the coolest thing I experienced while using it was, you put the head set on, and it's reading the position of your head, right? So of course, you turn your head, where you're looking at changes as if you're in a real 3D environment.
But this particular simulation was you sitting in the cockpit of a space, you know, fighter, kind of like an X-wing fighter set up. And what's really cool is, you look down, and you see your body sitting in the chair. And it was in an orientation that was so like the way I was sitting. And I had a few moments where
J: ... Yeah. My brain criss crossed.
J: I'm like, “Oh! The character moved its hand!” You could see it grabbing the controls and stuff. It was really cool!
E: Cut the chatter robe too!
J: You look up, and you could see out this huge glass windows that it was on top of, so you could see what was flying around you. And you looked down, and the chair is perched up high up into this cockpit, but you could see ten to fifteen feet below. It was just really awesome!
S: So, I wrote about this recently, because of the problem with virtual reality technology so far is the simulation sickness, like motion sickness, but in reverse. If your visual system is telling your brain that you're moving, but your body doesn't feel the movement, the disconnect can give you motion sickness – sensation, nausea, et cetera. So, actually, the cockpit is probably one of the best applications, because you have this static cockpit, that really helps orient you, and really minimizes ...
B: Grounds you, yeah.
S: ... yeah, the simulation sickness. The ones where it's difficult is when there's nothing like that. It's just one hundred percent moving environment. I haven't tried it yet. I'm anxious to see how I'll do, because I have a little bit of a problem with motion sickness.
B: Yes, you do! You always have, I remember that.
E: Still cleaning up those shoes, Bob, right?
B: I remember that cruise, when we were little kids.
J: That's awesome!
S: Yeah, when I play video games,- immersive video games - I can only get so close to the monitor.
S: If the monitor fills up too much of my visual field, I get motion sick-
E: Oh, you start to lose that ...
S: Yeah. So, tt's not too bad. I could handle a pretty large screen, as long as it's a couple of feet away from me. I just can't do too much. I have had, I had those three monitors arranged in a little bit of a wrap-around. That was too much. I almost couldn't play video games with those monitors.
E: What part of the brain is causing that sickness?
S: So, it's mainly the cerebellum. But it's a disconnect between your visual system, your vestibular system, your proprioception, and your cerebellum brings all of that information together, and synchronizes it, and makes sure it all agrees with itself. And if there's a major disconnect ... we just didn't evolve in a situation where that would be true, you know what I mean? So, you have to be on the deck of a ship, or in a car, or with virtual reality goggles before you could create a significant disconnect between those streams. And the brain doesn't know how to handle it. It just creates motion sickness.
B: What about IMAX, Steve? Couldn't that do it? Because that fills ...
B: That fills a big field of view.
S: It can. I've gotten a little woozy on IMAX if I sit too close.
S: But then there are people like - I wrote about it – there are people in the comments who seemed to have it a lot worse than I do.
B: Oh, wow!
S: You can adapt. You can actually train yourself, and your brain gets used to it, and you don't experience it as much. So, the first time is bound to be the worst. But, we'll see. It might take me some time to adapt to the visual reality goggles. But the companies are making progress. So Jay, the head tracking is a huge advantage.
S: But they're also working on eye-tracking. I know there are some companies who already have that.
B: Yeah. And a nose, right? They're adding a nose.
S: Yeah, the artificial nose, to ground you. Just like the cockpit does.
E: Oh, cool! Yeah, yeah.
S: Yeah. This will all minimize it. It probably won't ever completely get rid of it for people who are sensitive. But all of these little tricks that help your brain process the information better may help. And then, eventually, imagine if they could, if you could give the proper physical feedback too, not just visual.
B: Oh my god! Tactile ...
J: Well, they're working on that. Some companies are coming out with some type of glove.
J: And that's gonna take a while. But it's good that they're working on a technology. I mean, the really important thing to take away from this is that the virtual reality, and augmented reality experiences are coming.
S: They're coming.
J: The companies are investing millions, if not tens of millions of dollars easily into this technology. And then it's just gonna turn into another peripheral that we're gonna have.
S: Yeah. No, we're definitely there. We're in the earlier adopter phase, or the phase one, maybe we're actually a little bit past that. And I think it'll mature very quickly now. I think we're right in that very fast stage. So, I think within five years, we'll take it for granted as another peripheral device on our computer.
B: It's gonna go way beyond that. This is gonna be, we've talked about this before, this is gonna be, I think, bigger than smart phones.
S: I don't know...
B: This is, when it's mature ...
E: That's a big statement!
B: It's hard to predict all the applications, and how people are gonna use it. But I think monitors will go away. You will be wearing these. Imagine if they were just sunglasses. You can put your sunglasses on – bam! There's your monitor. It could be fully immersive; it could be partially immersive.
J: Bob, that, what you just said, is very far away. Right now, these devices need to be large.
J: They're not crazy heavy at all – they're fine. But they have big screens inside them. And they're even making those bigger now.
S: Like, a lot of things, it'll be for gaming. And I think it's gonna be for gaming for a while.
E: That's the best, most obvious ...
S: Non-gaming applications, it's hard to say. Those things...
S: And I disagree with you, Bob. I think you, particularly, tend to over-estimate how much penetration new technology's gonna have. But I think definitely it'll have niche application. I think it's a no-brainer it'll be used for gaming.
B: Oh my god!
S: But, replacing a monitor, maybe eventually. But just because we can use VR instead of a monitor doesn't mean it's gonna be better for every application. Right? Do you really need VR to do word processing? Maybe people won't want to do it for basic applications. They'll have their monitor for basic stuff. And then they'll put it on the VR when they want to be 3D and immersive. But they won't want 3D immersivity for every little application that they use.
B: But it doesn't have to be. It could basically look just like a monitor. But you don't need the hardware. Sure, I think there will be some niche applications for old school monitors, but for word processing, so what? Just have the monitor projected onto your retina, or onto your glasses.
Look at smart phones; and look at everything that phones do; look at what phones can do today. Who could have guessed what phones do. They do everything!
S: Yeah, just ten years longer than I think everyone thought.
E: (Laughs) That's true.
B: I think maybe the reality will be between us, but maybe closer to me, I think.
S: Well, I'm not ... all I'm saying is you can't predict. You don't know if it's go the way of the segway, where it has a really small niche application. It didn't transform the way we move in cities.
B: Oh, come on! That's ridiculous! They were ... we're not talking gaming technology ...
B: We're talking augmented reality. Augmented reality! That has so many applications.
S: Bob, let me give you a better example.
E: Bob, just say it. Just say it! It's porn! Say it, Bob!
S: Alright, I will give you porn. I will give you porn. But, think about videophones. Why isn't everybody using a video phone? Who could have possibly predicted that even when the technology was available, we wouldn't be using it.
B: That's right.
S: All I'm saying is we can't predict, until people actually try to use it for every day things, like word processing, and email, we won't know.
B: I said that! I basically said that. I said we won't know all the applications, and how people are gonna use it. I give you that. Absolutely.
B: But there's so many, that even if ten percent of them are used, it'll be deep.
S: When we say gaming, gaming is a euphemism for porn.
Forgotten Superheroes of Science (9:10)
- Jerry Lawson: Electronic engineer and video game pioneer who helped to develop the first gaming
S: Bob, tell us about this week's Forgotten Superhero of Science.
B: Yes! This week's edition of Forgotten Superheroes of Science. I am covering Jerry Lawson, 1940 – 2011. He was a -
E: The King Jerry Lawson? The famous wrestler?
S: No, the musician Jerry Lawson.
E: Oh, that's Jerry Lawler! Oh, I'm sorry.
S: No, there was a musician Jerry Lawson – or is – I think he's still alive.
B: Okay. But this is not him. This guy, this Jerry was a Jerry. This was a self-taught engineer. And he was involved in development of the '70's video game consoles that used cartridges for the first time ever.
E: Oh no!
B: Ever hear of him? Now, Lawson wore a lot of hats at the height of his career. He was the chief software engineer; and the director of engineering; and marketing for Fairchild Semi-Conductors division of video games in the '70's. And interestingly, that marketing job that he had was held previously by a Mike Markkula, who later co-founded Apple Computers. So that was interesting.
So, under his supervision, he and his team developed the very first video game console system that used interchangeable cartridges to play different games. They just didn't exist before that! And I do want to mention that the initial cartridge idea itself and the prototype came from Wallace Kirschner, and Lawrence Haskel. They did a lot of the initial stuff. Their ideas though, needed to be modified and adjusted. And Jerry did many things like design the electronics and things. He had some solid input. But those two guys also deserve some serious kudos for what they did.
Now, we take this for granted today, whether it's cartridges when we were growing up; or today, with game disks, the game CD's. But before Lawson, the games were part of the console. They were embedded in the console, which is very limiting, because this was very, very expensive! So, you'd have to do different games, you'd have to by another console that was made specifically for that. So, this was a great business model! First of all, you have that one initial cash outlay, and then – bam! You can buy a lot of the cheaper cartridges, and then now CD's, that we're all familiar with this.
Also, there were more firsts. The system had enough basic AI as well to allow humans to play against computers, which was a first in the industry. Playing against the computer, that had never been done as well. Also, it had, for the first time, a pause button. So you could actually stop the game play; do what you needed to do; you could change some settings; and then start again. Nobody had it before that.
So, they released in 1976, it was called the Fairchild Channel F. The first gaming console with such a capability. And, of course, you've probably never heard of that console ever. I never had.
B: Fairchild Channel F? What a lame name, first of all. Really did not get a hell of a lot of market penetration. But, you can take away from the fact that this system was the first to have this technology, which was of course used by the giants later on – Atari, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox. Actually, Atari was developing system with a similar cartridge system, but when they saw this, they're like, “Oh boy! We're really gotta push this along and make it good, because everyone's gonna be flooding the market with cartridges,” which they did.
So, now, don't forget, we're talking about an industry, the gaming industry's twice as big as the movie industry – two times! It just dwarfs movies, and we know how big movies are. Consoles alone – just gaming consoles – pull in about fifty-five billion United States dollars a year! PC games are less than half of that. Actually, mobile gaming is poised to really explode, so that will probably overtake the consoles. But as of now, consoles are king.
And even after Atari took over, which they did very quickly after they released it, Lawson still founded and ran Videosoft, which was a gaming development company that wrote the software for the Atari 2600 in the '80's. So even after that console went bust, he was still writing the software for Atari, which was king at that time.
So, clearly, these guys were pioneers early in this industry. In fact, Lawson was one of the very few black engineers in the industry at that time, which makes it even more remarkable. So, remember Jerry Lawson, and Kershner, and Hascal as well. Mention them to your friends, perhaps when discussing program storage units. Fairchild, F8, CPU's, and sprite pixels.
E: Gosh, here's the ironic thing, is that now, when you buy, you can buy Atari consoles and these old games and stuff, but there is no cartridge now! Now it's all built into the controller itself! You just press a button to choose your game! So it's kind of come full circle in that regard.
All right, let's move on to some news items.
Nutrition Research (13:53)
S: I'm going to continue my informal series on talking about the science of science itself when scientists analyze or write about or discuss how to go about doing better science. This time, in the cross hairs, is nutrition research. There was an article written in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings by Edward Archer and his colleagues in which he challenges the legitimacy of much of nutrition research. Specifically, they're criticizing reliance on memory-based dietary assessment methods, essentially asking people what they ate yesterday. The authors noted that, it was pretty damning, they were pretty critical. They essentially said that any research based upon this is unscientific, and is not reliable.
So, for example, it said it is clearly established that people have terrible memories when it comes to recalling in any kind of detail what they ate. There's also significant biases. People might underestimate amounts of food that they ate, for example. It's easy to influence people, in terms of their recall of what they ate.
E: It means you can suggest something, and whether they ate it or not ...
S: Well, just, yeah
E: They might think they actually did eat it?
S: Exactly. Or the way the questions are asked could easily bias how they recall the information. Therefore, they say that we need to rethink this as a research method. This is not a rigorous enough research methodology, and all nutrition guidelines and recommendations based upon this type of research are suspect. Pretty damning for an entire field of research.
Researchers, some nutritionists have responded, saying, “But well, hey, hold on. This type of research has gotten us pretty far. And we have figured out some important things like the association between a fatty diet and cardiovascular disease for example.”
So, my thought, reading about this, and reading all the responses, is I think that their criticism is valid. This is a significant limitation in this type of research. But a limitation is not necessarily fatal. I think another way to look at it is that it probably limits the research to picking up big signals in the data, you know what I mean?
So, in other words, if there's any big effect, any big nutritional dietary effect, this kind of research probably will still be able to pick it out. But as you get more and more subtle, more and more details, then the inaccuracies in this type of research start to obscure any signal. The noise becomes greater than the signal. And I think we've probably already picked a lot of the low hanging fruit. As research progresses in any discipline, we answer the big, obvious questions then we have to get more subtle and more subtle as we delve deeper and deeper and deeper into the research. And as you do so, you also need more and more rigorous research methods because you're looking for subtler and subtler effects often. So, I think for dietary research, we may be at that point where if we really want to continue to push forward, maybe we do need to think about more rigorous ways to capture information about what people are eating.
So, the trick is, dietary research, an ideal study is just really hard to do. You can highly control what people eat for a short period of time. It's hard to highly control what people eat for a long period of time. And so, researchers rely on observational studies for longer term studies. If you want to track people for a year, you can't, it'd be really hard to be giving them completely controlled diet for over the course of a year as they go about their lives.
So you rely upon things like a diary, where they just write down everything they eat. But that introduces systematic biases, and errors, et cetera. So, that's the dilemma, is how do we capture long term information about what people are doing in the real world with high fidelity. And maybe the current compromises we're making are not optimal.
Technology may come to the rescue. It may be possible for; it is getting easier for people to record what they eat with smart phones. They have them with them all the time; and so you can have an app that helps them record more accurately what they're eating. So that's helping.
S: There may be some more passive methods of just observing and recording what they eat, that doesn't rely upon memory. Bob, that reminded me of people who will – you've talked about this – who will record their whole life.[link needed]
S: So, imagine if we have a cohort of people who are doing that, and you could actually review, do a life review, and see what they've eaten.
B: Yeah, just have your AI software just go through all that data, and find the pertinent moments.
S: Yeah. Yeah, so technology will probably solve these problems for us. But in the meantime, we have to figure out maybe how to make the best compromise, and maybe add a little bit more rigor to these types of studies.
On the other hand, I also do want to say that what I think is interesting I think for the basic science – figuring out the details of the interaction between nutrition and health – obviously we want the most rigorous studies possible. But when you're talking about giving people advice about just what they should eat in their every day life, I think the broad brushstrokes are fine. I think if you tried to give people too much detail, it becomes overwhelming very, very quickly, you know?
Like, how deep are you gonna drill down on what you should and should not be eating? And I've talked about this before. There was a study that looked at many common ingredients in a cook book. I think it looked at the first hundred ingredients they came across in that cook book, and then did a literature search on each ingredient. And Seventy-two percent of the ingredients had studies showing that it either decreases or increased the risk of cancer.
S: So, imagine trying to tweak your diet in to that degree, where you're like, it's become crazy. I think you get beyond diminishing returns.
E: A full time job then!
S: It becomes counter productive. You could give people all kinds of really highly detailed nutrition information, but it's just unlikely that the average person's gonna be able to avail themselves of that kind of detail without obsessing over it. And then you may be getting more and more work for smaller and smaller returns. Whereas you're probably better off giving people basic advice that's easy to adhere to, that covers ninety-five percent of the benefits of having a healthful diet. You know what I'm saying?
E: I'll take that ninety-five percent, for not having to fret every sweating minute of my life over it.
S: Yeah. And, I forget the name of the guy who said this first, but the basic advice is, “Eat a variety of food, not too much, mostly plants.” That's it. If you do that, you're like ninety-five percent of the way there. And then everything else is the detail, that's probably gonna have diminishing returns.
Graphene Light Emission (20:54)
S: All right, Jay.
S: I always have an eye out for applications for graphene. There's this new super material that's gonna change our civilization. So tell us about the latest.
J: Graphene is pretty damn awesome. And I think we're lucky to have discovered it. Right? I mean, is it naturally occurring, Steve? Do you know?
S: Well, it's basically graphite. The original researchers figured out just by using sticky tape on graphite, you could pull off a very thin layer. If you do that a few times, you could actually get to a single molecule layer thick of carbon atoms, which is what graphene is. And that opened up these whole new world of two dimensional substances. And graphene is just the first of that. This is, we're on the brink of a massive change in material science based upon these 2D materials.
J: So, a few weeks ago, if you guys remember, I discussed the photonic, or optical computers, right? So, a new development, now brings us one important step closer to achieving this. And it's really cool that this news item came out just weeks after I covered the optical computers.
So, a post-doctoral research scientist named, Young Duck Kim led a team of researchers from Columbia Seoul National University, and Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science – which is cool that they call that the school KRISS, I like that. The team announced that for the first time, visible, on-chip light has been produced using graphene. Graphene, it's an allotrope of carbon; meaning that it's carbon atoms are organized in a particular and unique way, right? So, this is so cool, graphite is where the carbon atoms are bonded, they're in sheets, like a hexagonal latticework, but stacked.
B: Just stick them somewhere, yeah.
J: Graphene is the single sheet of chicken wire.
J: Graphite is multiple sheets on top of each other. Graphene, Bob, it's an amazing material. It's two hundred times stronger than steel by weight; it conducts heat and electricity with great efficiency; and it's nearly transparent. So, the researchers used graphene as a filament. They attached strips of it to metal electrodes, and they passed current through it – literally like a light bulb. It is a light bulb.
This causes the filaments to heat up, and they produce this bright and visible light. Can you imagine that? They heat this thing up; the electricity passes through it; it heats it up; it vibrates the molecules; and the vibration causes friction; and that friction causes heat light.
Graphene has all these other properties also that make this the perfect material for this application, right? So they have, it's mostly transparent, like I said. It allows light to pass through it. So, depending on how far away the graphene strips are from the substrate, or the basic structure around the graphene. Now, if you picture a filament, it's hanging in mid air, and there's nothing underneath it; but with graphene, they would put a reflective surface underneath it, so it bounces the light back. And they found that depending on how far away that substrate is from the actual graphene, it changes the frequency of light, so they can control what color light comes out; which means we're gonna have monitors.
E: (Laughs) That's awesome! Yes!
J: And really small. Super-super small, like pixels, if you will, right? That's awesome.
B: Jay, I wonder how efficient it is. You mention the heat and the light. I wonder what the ratio, peak of light is? If you look at a regular incandescent bulb, that's a shit-ton of heat coming out of that thing. You could use it to warm up if you put your hands close enough to that.
S: You could literally use it as an Easy-Bake Oven.
J: Cook pies with it; that's true!
B: Right. Then you got the LED's, that don't. So I wonder where that stands?
J: I don't have the exact numbers on it, but they said that graphene gets really hot, and becomes less able to conduct heat as it gets hotter, right? So, just imagine if you will, that the hotter it gets, the less it's liable to transfer the heat. So this confines the hot spot to an incredibly small point in the center of the filament.
So if you think of the filament as just for illustrative purposes, a two inch strip of tape, right? It looks just like a piece of clear tape. There's gonna be a little pencil point in the middle of that, where all the heat is going, and all the light is coming from, in the center. So, that energy is really not gonna escape, Bob, in the way that you would think it would. It just gets better as it gets hotter, if you could imagine.
S: But would this; so they're talking about light on a chip applications.
S: But would this just, could this be developed into a light source, like a light bulb.
J: I don't see why not. I guess if you did it enough, and you grouped it in a particular way that you could. And I'd be interested to see the amount of energy versus the light that you'll get out of it. Is it even worth it? But I mean, Steve,
S: Would it be cost effective, yeah.
J: when we say a light source, I mean, researchers are talking about this technology being used for monitors.
J: For the monitors to take any shape we want. However, if what Bob says comes true, we won't need these monitors.
B: Right, Jay, right!
E: Use them in the virtual reality goggles!
J: It's just remarkable that we can even make this, and manipulate it, and do it. How do you pick up a sheet of atoms? How did they even transfer it? You know what I mean? It's all that technology that they had to figure out even before they can get to these incredible experiments.
B: But it's taking too damn long. I've been reading about graphene for years! (Everyone laughs) When can I got to the store and buy some of this stuff?
S: It's being used a lot, Bob. There isn't the so-called killer app for graphene yet; but it's being used a lot in manufacturing. Bob, are you aware of transition metal dichalcogenides?
B: I've heard of transition metals, but not that other thing you said. What's that about?
S: Dico ... so this is also two-dimensional; it's a type of two-dimensional material that is a combination of a transition metal - like molybdenum, or tungsten – and chalcogen – which are the elements that are beneath oxygen in the periodic table.
B: Uh huh...
S: And these are also a series of two-dimensional materials. And apparently, there's potentially hundreds of them with different combinations of atoms; and all with different properties.
B: Oh my god! Wow!
S: Yes, so it's like, you name it. What set of properties do you want? You could eventually find the permutation of this that has it. You want semiconductor, insulator, conductor? You want, how strong do you want it, whatever. So, some people think this has been overlooked because of graphene is so sexy, but that this really has a tremendous amount of potential for the future as well.
B: I gotta look that one up. That sounds cool.
S: It seems likely that this is really going to have a significant impact on industry in the future – in the very near future.
Global Warming Challenge (27:34)
S: All right, Evan. I was at the Center for Inquiry conference this last weekend.
E: How was it?
S: It was very good. It was excellent.
E: Saw a lot of our friends up there I'm sure.
S: The talks were all great, absolutely. Yes, a lot of our friends. And, while the conference was going on, they announced the CFI Global Warming Challenge.
E: Yeah, here we go! New challenge at hand! Let's see what happens.
S: Tell us about it.
E: The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – which is a program of the Center for Inquiry – is throwing down the gauntlet to the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is a group that claims that global warming actually stopped in 1998. Here's what The Economist had to say about the Heartland Institute: “The world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man made climate change.”
And from their website, themselves, at the Heartland Institute, “The level of warming in the most recent fifteen year period, since 1998, is not significantly different from zero.” Natural variability is responsible for late twentieth century warming, and the cessation of warming since 1998. So, there you go; bold statement.
Here's the challenge from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. “If the thirty year average global land surface temperature goes up in 2015,” we'll take a measurement right at the end of 2015, and if it goes up, “then the Heartland Institute must donate $25,000 to a science education non-profit.” That's an interesting challenge!
S: Yeah, and if it doesn't, CSI will donate to a non-profit designated by the Heartland Institute, so it works both ways.
E: From all I've read, and all the commentses, there's no way; it's basically a win bet for CSI.
E: The global land surface temperature is going to go up in 2015. It has to! If you're gonna take, it's based on the thirty year average, and the numbers have been increasing. So, even if there was zero rise this year, if it was flat, it would still go up in the measurement at the end of the year.
S: Because the thirty year average would be higher, yeah.
E: Correct, which totally goes one hundred percent against what the Heartland Institute is trying to tell people.
E: Will the Heartland Institute accept this challenge, is the question of the moment. I looked up to see if they had had any response, as of today. None that I could find. But it's still kind of fresh. So we'll see if later this week, maybe if they come out with something, we can do an update next week.
S: Yeah. I predict they will completely ignore it, which strategically is what they should do, because this is a lose-lose for them. Because they're denying the science. And so a fair challenge like this, which basically says what the science is, that the average temperatures are continuing to rise. It shows what they're doing for what it is.
S: So there's no win scenario for them. Their best bet is just to ignore it.
E: And that coincides also this week with news out of Vatican City.
S: Always a dangerous beginning to a sentence.
E: News item, flash! So, the Pope basically, is gonna be getting his own sort of challenge going. Here's what he's gonna do. He's gonna try to convince the one billion plus people in the world that look up to him as their spiritual leader in Catholicism, that global warming is a fact, and a threat to all humanity. He's got this official proclamation coming out. It's called an encyclical. That's your new word of the day, everyone. Look it up. An encyclical is a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic church. And it's considered the highest level of a teaching document that the Pope can issue. So it's a pretty important document.
The document is going to state, and it comes out tomorrow. So, unfortunately, we don't have the document right now to review, but it's already been kind of leaked. So they know exactly what's it's going to say. It's gonna state that global warming is directly linked to the human activities, and because of the intensive use of fossil fuels.
Pope Francis is basically teaching his faithful that there is evidence around us that global warming is happening, and can no longer be ignored. He brings up arctic ice melting, deforestation of the Amazon rain forest, and these sorts of things. So, he's gonna have examples for people. But, what he's also gonna do is actually place blame, as Popes have been want to do over time. He's placing blame at the doorstep of, and I quote, “the enormous consumption by rich countries at the expense of people in poorer countries.”
But, the pontiff is going to try to rally all humans, not just Roman Catholics, but everybody, to try to prevent the destruction of the ecosystem. So he's a hundred percent backing the science and the evidence. And he's gonna try to convince over a billion people of it. So ...
S: Yeah, it's interesting. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of the church sticking their fingers into anything.
S: But if you're gonna use your influence on the faithful, I can't argue with using it to support a scientific consensus on an important issue of the day. I think that's a good precedent.
Well, you guys heard, we actually missed this last week. This should have been our dumbest thing of the week for last week. GOP candidate Rick Santorum, on a radio show, said that the Pope should quote-unquote “leave science to the scientists.”
B: Oh boy.
S: He said without the slightest hint of irony. He was challenged on that, saying, so, “The Pope can't talk about science,” even though he actually has a degree in chemistry, which you don't. But it's okay for politicians to talk about science. And then Santorum responded that, “Well, we have to make decisions on public policy.”
It's like, yeah, that's right. That's why it's even more important for you to listen to the consensus of scientific opinion; because you're making actual decisions! You're not just telling people what they should do; you're actually making decisions about what the country is doing. So, the irony was so thick, to have a climate denying politician saying that the Pope should leave the science to the scientists. Yes, the scientists have already given their opinion on this question. The consensus of scientific opinion overwhelmingly is that humans are causing the globe to warm.
And so, it's legitimate for anyone to then base their actions on that scientific consensus. That is leaving it to the scientists. Questioning the science is not leaving it to the scientists. Unbelievable.
B: Oh yeah.
E: Well, I'm glad he's in the running for President! I'm glad he's not gonna win. (Steve and Evan laugh). As you were saying, Steve, I too have a few uncomfortable sort of feelings about when the Pope kind of says stuff, and does things, a couple things. He says that there needs to be the establishment of a new political authority to tackle pollution. I don't know about that.
S: That's pretty bold.
E: That's bold. I'm not really all that comfortable with Popes having any sort of hand in the design of a governing body.
E: I think they have too much influence over ...
S: It's a little medieval.
E: some things. Yeah, you know, Popes have had armies before in the past. (Laughter) And it hasn't turned out well.
S: Not to good effect.
E: And look! I've come down hard on this Pope and other Popes before him. And as far as I'm concerned, this guy is in the business of the exorcism industry. I'm sorry; I have no other way of putting it. And I know I get kind of harsh, and this is a pet peeve of mine specifically. I can't stand reading every single day in the news about exorcisms happening all over the place! Mexico just had a country-wide exorcism that went on.
J: Whoa! Did you see that? They said the whole country is filled with demons!
E: It's flowing with ... I mean, come on! It's so out of control. So when this Pope says other things that I actually; are good, or that make scientific sense, and so forth, we still have to remember that this person is part of an organization which promotes, frankly, cruelties and abuses!
E: Abuses on a global scale! This person's not an angel.
(Commercial: 35:52 – 37:41)
Philae Wakes Up (37:41)
S: All right, Bob, so some good science news. The sleeper has awakened.
B: Ha, ha. You like that title I had, huh?
S: I do like it. I do love Dune.
B: Yeah, this was very exciting. I was just, I had forgotten about it. And then I was like, “Oh boy! How awesome is that?” So, space professionals and aficionados the world over are psyched as hell that Philae, the first vehicle ever to make a soft landing on a comet, has finally announced that it's alive and well, inside it's very annoying shadow on comet 67P. I'm sure you all remember back in November 2014, it made that huge announcement. After decades of effort, and ten years traveling through space, the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe ejected its lander module, Philae, which landed on comet 67P. It was an absolute first. And it looked like it would never even happen after so many years, because there were just so many issues, and problems, and glitches, that just happened over and over.
So, if you remember, we've got to cover what happened. After Philae seemed to land, the sensors indicated, “Yes, it has landed,” but other sensors were saying that, “No! It's rotating in free space.” Or it's rotating. So, it must be in free space. So, what they found out later was that the two harpoons that were on board had not fired. Major, major glitch. So, basically, it bounced. There was nothing to hold it down. It bounced up a kilometer; came down, probably bounced again, and finally settled down. And if you were on the comet, it would have actually been quite interesting, because it's not like a bounce on the Earth. There's very little gravity on this thing, even though it's huge. So, you don't need retro rockets, you don't need parachutes, you just basically in free fall. And in free fall, instead of going in all 120 miles an hour, like on Earth, it was only going one mile an hour, with nothing to hold it down like the harpoon, even that little impact sent it careening back into space about a kilometer.
It was finally on the comet, but it slid around probably a little bit, and then they started looking at the pictures, and the pictures were not good. Basically, Philae was in a dark ditch near a very high wall that totally blocked the sun; not totally, but blocked significantly the sun's access to the solar panels. Not good. So, the battery was just not gonna be charged after a while.
So, they knew they had sixty hours. That was a hard and fast amount of time that they had before the power levels would hit zero. So they scrambled around. They re-prioritized the tasks to get the things done that they could get done, and needed to be done within sixty hours. And they did accomplish a lot of them. But then they had to put it in hibernation. And there was still lots of data on the hard drive that was never sent. So, they're like, “Oh crap! What are we gonna do now?”
There was a little bit of hope that as the comet got closer to the sun, it would be more and more powerful, and that it might charge the batteries. They just had to wait and listen.
Then I remember, in the middle of March, the European Space Agency was starting to listen, because they thought it might be perking up around this time. And it didn't. Days and days passed. They figured, “That's it. We're done here.”
So now, this is months after that! That was in mid-March. Finally, finally, last Saturday happened, and this is the thirteenth of June. Rosetta sent a eighty-five second message from Philae of course. Everybody's just freaking out!
Now, the data that it sent was probably a few weeks old, but still, a few weeks isn't that much. Philae sent house keeping telemetry. And the bottom line was that the sub systems were working fine. And even in that bitterly cold environment, there was no real degradation, so it was in decent shape. And I didn't know this until I did this research. It sent a three second burst a day after that, with just a little bit more information saying that, it was a more up to date status, and that it was warming up. It was all ready at minus five Celsius. So it was warming up nicely. So that was great!
So this was just such, obviously, amazing news. I like this quote from BBC science editor David Shukman. He said, “This is one of the most astonishing moments in space exploration. And the grins on the faces of scientists and engineers were totally justified.”
So now, I think we're gonna finally, hopefully see most all of its mission come to fruition. It'll be able to drill, finally. Which was the holy grail of what they wanted to do, really. Not, after landing, they wanted to drill; they wanted to examine the primordial solar system stuff. And there's lots of experiments that they're going to do. We may learn if life on the Earth was seeded from space, from comets. If comets are made of H2O, and it's also got lots of carbon-bearing molecules, which are just as critical to life as we know it, it could be very illuminating.
One thing though, the water on Philae could not have seeded the Earth, because the chemical signature was just different; different type of water. But the other really interesting thing that came out of this – and I'll close with this – was that the hibernation of Philae itself was a big, big bonus. Because it was in that shade for all that time, it looks like it will probably be able to last a lot longer than anticipated. And it'll be able to record the formation of the comet's tail from the surface of the comet itself. So, that's an amazing ...
B: an amazing bonus that we're gonna get from this.
B: So I think it was definitely worth the wait.
S: Can you imagine if it finds actual life in the water of the comet?
S: Probably not capable of doing that. It's probably not equipped with what it would need to have in order to make that determination, but it's not impossible. It would be a huge boost to the panspermia hypothesis. If there was frozen little microbes in the comet.
B: That would be great. And I've gotta so hope that that's true. But just finding, just determining with a high confidence level that the carbon on that comet could have seeded Earth, that would be in and of itself would be fascinating.
E: Hey, and don't forget, we wouldn't have had Shirtgate without this launch...
B: Oh, god!
E: helping out this whole mission.
E: Gotta remember that!
S: At least none of the scientists said that they don't like to work with girls because they cry when you criticize them.
B: Oh my god!
(Evan laughs loudly) Oh my god! Oh, we have come so far, yet we have so much to learn.
B: Oh god.
Who's That Noisy (44:04)
- Answer to last week: First singing computer
S: Well, Jay, it's time for Who's That Noisy.
J: Absolutely. So, last week, I played this noisy for you:
(Music plays) Robotic voice: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of you.”
J: I know you guys recognize the song.
E: Oh, sure.
J: And I'm guessing that of course, it's making you think of something very specific.
J: That's right. There is a very interesting back story here, but let me get to the business end of the stick first. So, this week's winner is Muel Richardson David. Or maybe that's David Muel Richardson. I can't tell by his email. But thank you for winning this week's Who's That Noisy. You guessed it correctly.
So, what we're talking about here guys, is this is in 1961, the IBM 7094 was the first computer to sing! And they chose Daisy Bell. The vocals were programmed by John Kelly and Carol Lockbaum . And the accompaniment, which is the music, was programmed by Max Matthews.
Now, there is a little bit of a question, or a controversy, or a not so sure what the truth is situation going on where they think that this was an obvious and direct inspiration for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, with HAL, the computer. And there's lots of things that people are drawing lines between the two.
So, first of all, Kubrick denied all of this. But what people are saying is that the letters IBM, if you go to the next letter in the alphabet, it spells H-A-L. HAL sings that same song, which is a pretty damn remarkable coincidence, if it is a coincidence.
S: Well, there was also, I read that, Arthur C. Clarke may have incorporated that into the story; maybe it didn't come from Kubrick, and Clarke did visit Bell Labs, and was aware of this fact, that that song was the first song sung by a computer. So, it could be a massive coincidence, but that does seem...
J: It seems very unlikely.
J: That was really cool. I found that back story to make for a very interesting idea, where the song came from, and then it ends up in one of the best movies of all time, in one of the most interesting moments in that movie in my opinion.
S: Yeah, powerful, very powerful moment.
J: And I have next week's Who's That Noisy. Well, it's this week's, to be revealed next week. What is this?
(Meowing, squeaking sound)
J: What adorable animal is that?
E: I don't know, but I want it one.
J: (Laughs) You want it one?
E: (Laughs) It sounds like the noises the gremlins made before they turned all evil when you got 'em wet.
J: You know, Evan, I can't believe you said that. Because I had a similar, like, “That's a soon to be bad animal noise,” you know what I mean? That's like, or like the noise in Jurassic Park , where ...
E: Yeah yeah!
S: Yeah, before the dinosaur eats you.
E: What a cute little dinosaur! AAAH!
E: He calls him a dog. He tries to play fetch with him.
J: That actor cracks me up! So! If you think you know the answer to this week's Who's That Noisy, email me at email@example.com. Send me your ideas; send me good recipes for chocolate chip cookies; and have a great week.
(Commercial 47:45 – 48:49)
Dumbest Thing of the Week (48:49)
S: All right. We have a Dumbest Thing of the Week this week, although this can also double for a Name That Logical Fallacy. Take your pick! But here we go. Tell me who said this:
Some people think that all complementary therapies should be available on the NHS, some people think none should, and some believe, as I do, that we need to determine what works for what conditions and provide those treatments for patients. We cannot get bogged down with demands for randomized controlled trial evidence, as some do.
E: Bogged down? (Laughs)
S: So, in sentence number one, he says we need to determine what works; and in sentence number two he says we can't get bogged down with actual evidence.
S: It's David Tredinnick, who is today, the Parliament voted on whether or not either he, or Sarah Wollaston will become the chair of the Health Select Committee. So, this is a Member of Parliament of the UK. We have spoken about him before. And he ran last year, actually, for the chair, and was soundly defeated. He only got nine votes, was knocked out in the first round. But this year, it's only him and Sarah Wollaston who is the chair over the past year. She's an actual physician, and seems to have a science-based attitude towards nonsense in medicine.
She warned, for example, about using homeopathy instead of actual vaccinations. That can cause harm, so she seems to get it. But Tredennick, not so much! So, yeah, he's the guy, if you recall, who thought that we should incorporate astrology into the NHS, that it would really help out the over-extended NHS by incorporating this ancient wisdom of astrology.
S: Although he didn't say which form of astrology. So, in another article he wrote in 2009, he said, “I am talking about a long-standing discipline - an art and a science that has been with us since the ancient Egyptian, Roman, Babylonian, and Assyrian times. It is part of the Chinese, Muslim, and Hindu cultures. Criticism is deeply offensive to those cultures, and I have a Muslim college in my constituency.” So there!
S: I added the “so there.”
E: So there! Wow! (Laughs)
S: So, should we use Chinese, Muslim, or Hindu astrology, I wonder? Because they're mutually incompatible, and (inaudible).
E: The answer is yes.
S: We have to offend two out of three, I guess. Or we could just offend all of them. I actually think it's offensive to those cultures to say that they, to tag them with some ancient, pre-scientific superstition. Like they say, we can't offend Western culture by criticizing bloodletting.
E: This guy is...
S: I wrote about this at Science-Based Medicine. You can get to a really, I did a deep dive on everything he wrote because it's just a never-ending font of complementary and alternative medicine propaganda. He's got all the propaganda down, right? So I just, deconstructing what he said as just a way of deconstructing the standard propaganda.
So in addition to, I'm taking this balanced view, this evidence-based alternative medicine, but not that real rigorous double-blind placebo controlled trial evidence. We don't want that. We don't want to get bogged down with all that stuff.
So, what he's saying is we want to use crappy evidence, right? We want to use anecdotal evidence, and quote-unquote “real world” evidence, which means anecdotal evidence; the kind of stuff that's not capable of determining whether or not something actually works. So that's sort of the alternative medicine party line. You want to be able to cherry-pick crappy evidence as we see fit, and we don't want to be tied down with rigorous controlled evidence, because it doesn't give us the answers we want.
B: Well, hopefully that stupid comment will make a difference in their vote.
S: It's funny, reading the comments. A lot of people think he doesn't have a chance. He got trounced last year; he's probably gonna get trounced this year. Actually, the vote was today, but it won't be announced until tomorrow, as we record this. By the time the show is out, the answer will be announced. So, I will put that information on my Science-Based Medicine blog post on David Tredennick. So, you could go there to see what the result of the vote was. I'm predicting he's gonna lose. I'll be unpleasantly surprised if he wins. It'll be a disaster if he wins. This is probably the worst person in the world to put as the Chair of the Health Select Committee.
J: Wow! That's a huge statement, Steve.
S: And it, it's as much about what it says, as how horrible he would be in terms of his qualifications, you know what I mean? It's almost like a referendum on, “Do we want medicine to be science-based?” And if he wins, that's a huge rejection of science, and endorsement of nonsense in the health care system in the UK by the Members of Parliament. This is not a popular vote; this is a vote among MP's. It would be a horrible ...
E: That's right.
S: ... commentary on politics in the UK, and I think just the politics of alternative medicine in general. It would be very disheartening if this guy wins. He goes to the, “Patients are usually more open-minded than many doctors.” I mean, he plays the open-minded card. And I hasten to point out that it's actually the true believers who are closed-minded. Science is open-minded, because we listen to the evidence, and we'll change our mind if the evidence changes. Tredennik clearly doesn't listen to the evidence. He believes in homeopathy no matter how many times it's proven not to work. He still believes in astrology. I mean, you have to be absolutely close-minded to maintain beliefs in these pre-scientific ideas that have been disproven by centuries of science. That's close-mindedness.
S: Being gullible isn't being open-minded; it's being gullible. That's what he is.
S: Hey, here's a quick update I'm recording after I did the primary show. So, Wollaston did win for Health Select Committee Chair. She trounced Tredennik 532 to 64, a solid victory. So at least we had a good outcome.
Questions and Emails
Question #1: Hive Mind (55:17)
S: All right, we've got one email this week. I think you guys are gonna ...
E: Well, we didn't get many.
S: Well, one that we're gonna talk about.
E: Oh! (Laughs)
S: We get tons of emails. I do read them all, I hasten to say. I do read all the emails; we can't obviously answer all of them.
E: Especially the five page ones. Those are some of our favorites.
S: (Chuckles) There is something to be said for brevity. All right, well this email comes from Steve – he didn't give his location. Steve writes:
Hi Rouges I read this article in Aeon magazine http://aeon.co/magazine/psychology/do-we-really-want-to-fuse-our-minds-together/ It is saying that if two or more consciousnesses were joined with a high data rate link they would disappear and a new conscious would arise. He also mentions anaesthetising half a persons brain revealing a new personality I can't find any mention of the anaesthetic experiment on the web and wondered if it is true and also would a repeat of both experiments reveal the same personality when repeated?? Love to know what you think Key passage below Thanks for your show Steve
S: All right, thank you Steve. It's a very interesting question; very fascinating. So, let me deal with the second part of that question first. Then we can talk about fusing minds together.
B: He's talking about the corpus callosum.
S: The corpus callosum, there's other connections, but that's the most prominent connection between the two hemispheres. So, each hemisphere of the brain is a conscious brain unto itself. And they are fused into one seamless brain. But there are people who have had their brains disconnected, the split brain surgeries for epilepsy, or whatever; and there's a series of experiments called the Split Brain Experiments where you could sort of interact with one hemisphere or the other at a time, and show that they're not communicating to each other; it's very interesting.
And there are procedures where we put one half of the brain to sleep at a time. It's called a Wada test. It's not an acronym; it's a guy's name.
J: Hot Wada?
S: And you give a drug into the artery that feeds one hemisphere, and you put that hemisphere to sleep. And then we test their memory and their language, to see how much memory and language is in each hemisphere. And this is a preparation for surgery, because we want to know, if we have to do epilepsy surgery on somebody, are they gonna be able to talk afterwards. Anyway, so that test has been done.
They don't, obviously, they're different when half their brain is put to sleep, but it's hard to say that they have a different personality. It's just that their brain's not fully functional because half of it's asleep. They may stop talking; they may not be able to do math; whatever. But they are different. But, yeah, different personality, that might be over-selling it.
But, now let's go in the other direction. What would happen if two peoples' brains were connected as robustly as the corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres of one person's brain. What would happen? Would they fuse into one consciousness? Would they be one person? That's really interesting to think about. What do you guys think?
J: I would think, no. I mean, if you fuse them together, which is a strange term. I guess you would say incorporate them ...
S: Yeah, you make a brain to brain connection. So, let's say, Jay, your brain and my brain were connected; like your neurons were connected to my neurons the same way that the two hemispheres of the brain are connected together. Now, the thing is, your two hemispheres developed together, you know what I mean?
S: They have functional connections between the two. There are networks that span the two hemispheres. Whereas if you take two completely independent brains, and just hook them together, it's not the same thing.
S: Because, yeah, there aren't any networks that span your brain to my brain. But, could they develop over the time? Brains are plastic. If you and I tried to do things together, over time, would we form connections that were functional, and I don't know. It's really interesting. What would it take? How much would it even be possible? And over how much time would it take for plasticity to meld the two brains together, to where they could function synchronously. And could it get to the point where they would be essentially one emergent consciousness, rather than two working together?
B: I think it all depends on the nature of the connection, and how young you do it. I think those are the two key things.
S: Yeah. It could be.
J: So, Steve, at that point, together, you and I would truly make Voltron.
S: Or it would be like a Vulcan mind meld.
E: Which explains Voltron.
S: All right, let me give you another version of this. This is something I've actually written about before. I think this probably the best way to accomplish transitioning to machine consciousness. So, let's say instead of connecting your brain to another mature brain, you connect it to an artificially intelligent computer, piece of hardware.
It may have AI capability and algorithms, but it is essentially a blank slate. Your brain massively connects to it, and it becomes just an extension of your brain. Additional resources for your brain to use. But over ten or twenty years, whatever, some long period of time, your consciousness could be more represented in this artificially intelligent supercomputer than in your meat brain to the point that when your meat brain dies, you don't even notice it, because your consciousness has mainly been migrated over to the supercomputer. Any way...
J: Are you saying that speed is a factor though?
S: Well, whatever. It's just the capacity, the processing capacity, and the memory capacity of this computer, maybe it exceeds that of your own brain, could exceed it by a hundred-fold. That your meat brain is only one percent of your neural capacity.
B: Yeah, I think it's a great idea, and it would overcome the biggest problem of this type of thing, and that's continuity,
B: which we've talked about.
S: Yeah, I think that's the best bet for continuity in my opinion, if that's the kind of the thing that you worry about. Yeah. But I think it could work. And so, the article that Steve links to also talks about, like a hive mind. Now, we're talking about the Borg, right?
E: Oh, collective, yeah.
S: So, not just two people, but connect an entire civilization in a hive mind through subspace or whatever.
E: Ooh! Now we're talking!
S: Let's just say they just wirelessly, they could have a city of people with a million people, and their brains are all wirelessly and massively connected to each other.
S: Could you get lost in this hive mind, just become part of the collective? Nothing that says that that's impossible. I mean, some version of that might emerge technologically out of our civilization.
B: Yeah, but there could be a down side to it. If you look at some of the latest research with wasp colonies, they show that what they call distributed cognition, where because the hive of the wasps are so functionally integrated, that the individual wasps themselves, they have much less capable brains individually than other wasps that are more solitary, or that are in a smaller hive.
E: Because their brains don't have to work so hard to survive?
B: They don't. Yeah, so you're basically, you're sharing information in a sense. So the hive mind could be big, but the individual minds, which would be like neurons, would be small. And this is just recent research; and it was the opposite of what the social mind theory tells you, where human minds became much more complex because of our social interactions. Well, bees are social as well; but it's a different type of sociality. And that's why they think that their brains, individually diminished, where ours actually got bigger. So, interesting stuff.
S: Maybe that explains Facebook. It's like a hive mind where people (Everyone laughs) .their brains start to atrophy.
E: And an echo chamber.
S: That explains a lot! All right. Interesting. That's one of those futuristic totally blow your mind type of ideas. The thing is, we know now that this could all work. We can interface brains with brains, brains with machines, machines with brains. They can communicate with each other. Your brain plasticity nicely incorporates new connections, new technology, whatever, if the plasticity is fine. It's all dynamic. You know what I mean?
So we've overcome pretty much every theoretical limit to this. And we know that it can work. It's really just a matter of getting the technology to actually function. And there's no theoretical reason why they can't work. It's just a matter of time. So it's almost inevitable that this kind of stuff is going to happen in some version or another in the future. It's just a matter of when, and what the specific manifestations are going to be.
So I think if you think about if you flash forward a hundred years, what are the really big differences gonna be that will surprise us. I think this is one of those things. Brain-machine-brain interfaces is like, we how this is gonna transform civilization.
B: Yeah, I agree, but I think the possibility of it happening could be completely obviated with other technology like AI, like individual brain augmentation.
B: We might not even want to do it because of those other technologies.
S: Yeah. We don't know; that's the thing. Something is gonna happen; we don't know the details. I don't think we could even really; there's no was we can anticipate the details. There's too many variables.
(Commercial 1:04:47 – 1:06:35)
Science or Fiction (1:06:35)
(Music) “It's time for Science of Fiction”
S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts – two genuine, and one fictitious. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. You guys swept me last week! Bob, you ended your losing streak with a win last week.
B: Ugh, don't remind me.
S: All right, we have just three regular news items this week; no theme.
S: You ready?
B: I mean, yay! I mean, yay! (Laughter)
S: Did I Jedi mind trick you? Here we go: Item number one: Item #1: An extensive study of gorilla behavior finds that the dominant male does not distinguish his own offspring from that of other males.
Evan, it is your turn to go first.
E: Okay, the first one, gorilla behavior. “An extensive study finds that the dominant male does not distinguish his own offspring from that of other males.” Okay, maybe that's part of being the alpha male, is basically everyone and everything else becomes sort of irrelevant in the family, including their own. And therefore, they wouldn't distinguish their own. They would just become another one of the flock, basically, because, “Hey! I'm too busy being the alpha male.” So, maybe that's right.
The second one, the 3D printer capable of printing objects – wow – entirely out of carbon nanotubes. I don't know. I think ... So we've got the 3D printer technology. Okay, we're there. Capable of printing objects entirely out of carbon nanotubes. I don't know if we're there yet. If that's the case, that's huge, because then we're talking ... I think we've made a big ol' leap at that point. And I'm not sure that we've actually made that leap. I'm not sure about that one.
The last one is, “New discovery finds the Moon is shrouded in a permanent dust cloud.” Why? Moon has gravity. Dust should be falling, albeit slower than Earth, back to the surface of the Moon. The cloud itself might be very close to the surface. I mean, we're not talking something maybe something that's a kilometer above it. Perhaps it's just kind of this haze that hangs near the ground level that is constantly there for the regolith and other dust, and that's being kicked up by whatevers – solar forces, or just having going around the Earth and stuffs, and the rotation. So, maybe that one's right.
I'm having a problem with the 3D printer one, of the three of these. I don't think we're there yet. I think that's a few; several steps away. We're still working on carbon nanotube technology, and 3D printers are here. But, the two have not met yet. So I'll say that one's fiction.
S: Okay. Bob?
B: Let's see, gorilla behavior. They can't distinguish between their kids. That's not too surprising. I thought there was one dominant male, and that male was having pretty much most of the sex. So chances are those kids are gonna be his any way. But, yeah, I can kind of see that one.
I'm gonna go to three. The dust cloud on the Moon. Yeah, Evan, you're right. If it's a dust cloud, it would be falling. It would mean that it would have to be continually recreated. And what could do that? I mean, the only thing I can think of would be micrometeorites hitting the Moon, throwing stuff up into the atmosphere. And that's continually happening, of course. So, that seems to be totally plausible. It's really cool. I hope it's true.
The 3D printer one, yeah, I'm not buying this one either. We're not quite there. I mean, I didn't know, I didn't think that we could make a continuous carbon nanotubes with arbitrary length, which it seems like we would be able to do if this 3D printer actually existed. That would be a huge breakthrough. And we'd probably also be able to make a space elevator with that technology too. And I would have heard about that. I don't think we're quite there yet either. So I agree with Evan. I agree with Evan. So, yeah, I'm gonna say the nanotubes are fiction!
S: Okay. Jay?
J: Well, the one about the gorilla, that's interesting. You're saying it can't distinguish its own offspring. That's interesting. I don't know. I mean, I find that hard to believe that they couldn't distinguish their own offspring. Wouldn't they know just like we know? They recognize them, unless they just don't get involved. Okay, I guess I could see that. Maybe if they're the alpha male, they're too busy, and they just don't really know.
B: It doesn't say “can't distinguish.” It says it “does not distinguish.” Maybe they do distinguish them, but they don't evince that behavior. They don't care.
J: Sure, okay. That makes sense. That is a little, softens the blow. All right, second one, about the 3D printer printing nanotubes. You guys have picked that one. I could see that. I'm not figuring out how it could use nanotubes. I thought the idea of nanotubes was that they have to make tubes, right? You just shoot a bunch of short tubes out ... I don't know. It just seems kind of weird to me. I don't know how they'd connect, and make a structure, and all that. So that one seems a little mysterious.
Then this final one: Discovery finds this thing about the Moon, shrouded in a permanent dust cloud. I completely believe that one. So between the gorilla, and the nantubes, I'm gonna GWB.
S: Okay, so you're all in agreement this week. So I guess we'll start with number one. “An extensive study of gorilla behavior finds that the dominant male does not distinguish between his own offspring from that of other males.” You all think this one is science. And this one is ... science!
S: This one is actually more interesting than you guys realize. Gorillas live in groups of a few males and a few females. There is an alpha male; and the alpha male is responsible for most of the reproduction. But the other males sneak some in, and they get some children as well. What the study showed was that the alpha males spend as much time and attention with infants from other males as their own! And that is atypical for Primates.
Usually, a primate, the alpha male in a group like this, they would very much recognize and prefer their own offspring over unrelated offspring. But this is what the researchers think. So, there are other Primate groups where you have a sole male with a group of females, no other males. And a hundred percent of their children are their own. And so, they do not have to distinguish their own children from other children because all the children in the troop, a hundred percent of the children are theirs.
So, what they think is that gorillas recently evolved their current arrangement.
S: In the recent past, gorillas had harems of one male and several females - and they haven't had time to evolve the behavior of distinguishing their own children from other children. Isn't that cool?
J: That was awesome.
S: Okay! So, let's go on to number two. “Engineers have developed a 3D printer that is capable of printing objects entirely out of carbon nanotubes. You guys all think this is fiction. And this one is ... the fiction.
E: All right!
J: Excellent! Two in a row! Two in a row!
S: So ...
S: But, we're closer maybe than you think. Now, it's possible – I tried. I actually spent a lot of time looking around to see if there is any product out there that prints entirely out of carbon nanotubes. And I could not find anything. If there is anything out there, it eluded my direct search, and so it's got to be pretty obscure. But there are lots of printers that print with carbon nanotubes, just not entirely.
B: Oh! Really?
B: That's a surprise.
S: And the carbon nanotubes don't have to be continuous. They can just be, because they're tiny, guys, right? So it's just a bunch of short segments of carbon nanotubes, right? What you can do is, you can include the carbon nanotubes in a plastic extrusion, right? So it's part of the material that the 3D printers are using; but it's not a hundred percent carbon nanotubes. So, it could be part of plastic.
The company that came the closest was a company that's called, “Mark Forged,” where they still have two different, they have nylon and carbon nanotubes. There's still two different materials. But the carbon nanotubes fill the nylon casing. So, it's basically carbon fiber encased in nylon. And it's supposed to be stronger than metal, and very stiff. So, it could be an incredible building material.
The news item that triggered this for me was one, it's cool in its own right, and I almost made this sort of a science. But, is a, they've figured out a way of making a 3D printer that could print in wood, essentially.
J: Wow! What, so what does it look like? What's the product, the end result look like?
S: Obviously, 3D printing, which is additive manufacturing, where instead of carving stuff away, you're adding stuff in a 3D configuration driven by computers. Plastics and metals are your basic standard 3D printers, because they can be liquid, and you can lay them down layer by layer, and create your three-dimensional object.
Wood, obviously, doesn't melt. You can't make liquid wood. But what you can do is break the cellulose down into very small bits, and then include it with a resin. And then you have this liquid that's mostly water actually. And you can print with that. So you have this liquid of small pieces of cellulose.
But then it has to dry. So there's this second part to it. You print what you want to print entirely out of cellulose, and then you dry it, to let all the water evaporate. And part of the trick is keeping its shape while it's drying. But you could also use that. Like, it will flatten out over time, and if you just incorporate that into the process, you could actually be an advantage, if that's what you're going for.
But, anyways, so it sounds like it's not quite ready. Or it may only have some limited applications. But it could be another option. They showed a little cellulose chair that they 3D printed. It looks pretty cool! And they talked about including carbon nanofibers in with the cellulose, which is where I got that idea.
S: The reason you would do that, now they say that these carbon nanofibers, the carbon nanotubes are small little segments. They're not contiguously hooked up together.
S: And therefore, you don't really get the benefits of strength out of them.
B: Oh, yeah! Yeah.
S: But you do get the benefit of ...
B: Wait! Wait.
S: Nope, nope. electrical conductivity.
S: So, if you want an electrically conducting material, if you get a certain threshold of the carbon nanotubes in there, it becomes a conductive material. So you can have plastics or now cellulose that's conductive by just including the carbon nanofibers. That's primarily why they add it.
What these other printers say that they add enough of it that you actually do get the strengthening benefit out of it as well.
So, guys, we're there. I had to bite my tongue when we were talking about this earlier in the show. [Graphene] You can buy 3D printers that will incorporate carbon nanofibers into the construction. Not a hundred percent, but who cares? It's embedded in either cellulose or plastic or encased in nylon. But, yeah, you could make parts out of it. They think eventually, you could print circuits, you know, using this type of technology. All right ...
B: Which means...
S: Which means ... “A new discovery finds that the Moon is shrouded in a permanent dust cloud,” is science! This is pretty cool!
S: What do you guys think, where do you think it comes from? Yeah, what's causing it? What do you think?
B: I think it's the micrometeorites.
E: Solar wind!
S: Nope, Bob's right. Micrometeorites. The Moon is constantly being bombarded with little dust grains of micrometeorites all the time. And they kick up even more dust. And because there's no atmosphere, and very little gravity, the dust that gets kicked up shrouds the Moon, and takes a long time to settle back down. So, the Moon is constantly being pelted with these micrometeorites, and therefore there's a permanent dust cloud ...
S: ... shrouding the Moon. This was discovered by the NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environmental Explorer, LADEE, which launched in September 2013. One of the detectors aboard this was called the lunar dust experiment. They charted more than 140,000 impacts during a six month mission.
S: So, 280,000 impacts a year. That's a lot! So that's a nice, steady flow of impacts, enough to keep the dust cloud up at all times. They also said that it was asymmetrical, because of the direction of the Moon is moving. You know, it's more on the leading edge. And then it also varies over time. And a dust shroud increases significantly during meteor showers because obviously,
B: Makes sense!
S: the Earth and Moon are, yep, passing through, like, the Perseid meteor shower, for example.
E: The Leonids, yeah.
S: The Leonid meteor shower, yep. You get the dust cloud, will increase. So,
B: All lame showers.
S: Added ...
E: The ones you never get to see, Bob.
E: It's always cloudy. Always.
B: Very cool; I like ...
S: Add one little detail to our knowledge about the Moon. Cool.
Planets Through a Telescope (1:20:45)
S: I broke out my telescope last night because there were three planets in the early evening sky.
E: Venus, and Jupiter, and which one?
E: Oh! Saturn!
S: were all visible. So I broke out my telescope, first time this season, 'cause it's been cold. But, anyway, it's always tricky because you want it to be late enough in the season that it's warm at night, but then it gets dark really late. And anyway, so, it was at a perfect time. It was just, the sun was just setting. So, we got a great view of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. I showed my girls; they loved it.
But Jupiter, the cool thing about Jupiter; I mean, at the resolution with my backyard telescope, that you could see ...
J: Wait, wait, wait, Steve. You could see Cthulhu?
S: No, I did not see Cthulhu.
J: All right, good.
S: But the cool thing about Jupiter is that you could see all four of its large moons.
E: Large moons, yes you can!
E: In a nice, perfect, little line.
S: A perfect, little line, yeah. It is awesome! You look at it, and you're like, first of all, you can see the scale. You can see how far away the moons are from Jupiter. And you're looking at a little system. It's amazing! And just thinking about Galileo seeing that for the first time; unbelievable that image must have been, to see another little system out there. It must have just been unbelievable.
E: Talk about a whole new perspective.
B: We can't imagine what went through his head. That
J: He must have lost his mind!
B: And I bet he got no sleep that night. Come on!
E: I know what he said! “I can't wait to tell the Pope! I can't wait to tell the Pope!”
S: “He's gonna love this!”
E: Wait 'till they know!
S: But it was Galileo taking observations over weeks and months where he could see moons changing position. It was clear. They were orbiting around Jupiter. And that was the first time anyone could prove something orbiting around something other than the Earth, you know?
B: Yeah, just don't tell the church.
S: Yeah, exactly. That was cool. But, awesome to be able to just go in my backyard and share that with my daughters, you know.
E: I love that too. I have a telescope, and we do the exact same -
S: Yeah, it's just, it's great, great way.
E: Family gazing night. It's awesome.
S: Yep. Definitely, it's a great way to engage kids in science. What is cooler than that, yeah.
B: Yeah, I remember looking at the Moon with my daughter, and the Moon is, of course, I think it's the best thing to see, because there's such detail, and structure,
B: Because it's the Moon! It's so close!
S: That's cool. Looking at the Moon is cool, because you can see the craters, and you can see a lot of the detail.
S: But, there is something transcendent about looking at Jupiter and its moons.
S: Or, the other thing is Saturn and its rings.
B: Yes! Oh my god!
E: Oh my god!
S: Those rings pop out at you, and you're like, “Oh my god! There's Saturn! You're looking at Saturn. You can see it. You can see the point of light in the sky. You look through the telescope, and you can see it with its rings. It's gorgeous. And you're looking directly at it. And it's just an amazing experience.
E: You become transported in a way!
E: It really, really takes you off this planet in a very real sense.
S: Yep. All right. Good job this week guys.
J: Thank you, sir!
B: Thanks, Steve.
E: Thanks! That was fun!
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:52)
S: All right, Evan, hit us with a quote.
E: Okay, here we go!
'I read science, because to me, that's extremely exciting. It's like a great detective story, and it's happening right in front of us.' - Alan Alda
The immortal words of Mr. Alan Alda!
S: Yeah, I agree.
E: I love Alan Alda.
E: Famous actor, director, entertainer, science aficionado, has a degree in science, among other things. Very well educated. An awesome, awesome spokesperson for science education all around. He goes and teaches scientists how to be better communicators
E: at science. It's so great, what he's done, you know, in his mostly post-acting part of his life. He still acts and does other things, but he's really embraced science education, and he's a great asset to the cause.
E: In the book, he voiced Arthur Sinclair Jr., the director of the United States government's fictional Department of Strategic Resources.
B: And his reading was wonderful! It was a very enjoyable chapter.
S: I totally agree with that sentiment also. I mean, I remember, there's nothing better than watching a great science documentary, where they take you through some mystery that scientists solved. And it is, it's like the best detective story ever. It really is. When it's done properly, that's how I like science documentaries to work. It's like, there was this mystery, and then this is what they tried to figure it out, and whatever, you know? With all the blind alleys, and all the thinking, and then how each piece of evidence was another clue, and they eventually put it all together. Oh, god, that's awesome!
B: It is. And Steve, and as you know, the story doesn't end because those discoveries then build upon other discoveries
B: later on. It's never-ending!
S: There's always another chapter.
E: That's right!
S: It's The NeverEnding Story!
E: You open one door; three more doors open! It really is great.
S: Yeah. All right. Thanks Evan.
Well, thank you for joining me this week, everyone.
B: You're welcome, Steve.
E: Good to be joined to you.
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 theskepticsguide.org, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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