SGU Episode 888

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SGU Episode 888
July 16th 2022
888 JWST main image deep field smacs0723.jpg

JWST's First Deep Field Image

SGU 887                      SGU 889

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


AJR: Andrea Jones-Rooy,

political, social, and data scientist

Quote of the Week

Anyone who attempts to generate random numbers by deterministic means is, of course, living in a state of sin.

John von Neumann, Hungarian-American mathematician and polymath

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Navigating Social Media, Misinformation, Pandemics[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, July 13th 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening folks!

S: And we have a special guest rogue this week Andrea Jones-Rooy. Andrea welcome back to the SGU.

AJR: Thank you so much. Hi everyone. Great to be here.

S: Great to have you on the show.

B: Andrea!

E: Hey Andrea.

J: Hey Andrea let me ask you do you notice, I know it's anecdotal but do you notice that the city is actually kind of hotter now?

AJR: I think it's approaching infinity but it depends on if you want to use Fahrenheit or Celcius.

E: Oh it's a good point.

AJR: But it's very hot. I've been blasting the AC all day to keep it from like being intolerable. It just doesn't cool down. And I'm also actively the cause of global warming I think.

S: So guess which number episode this is?

J: 300!

E: 888?

S: 888.

J: Good guess Evan.

AJR: That's very auspicious.

[talking over each other]

B: Super auspicious and they would love this number.

AJR: Yeah. Well done.

J: It must mean something.

B: We're gonna get a lot of downloads in China.

E: Oh it means something.

J: Well talking about good things I just wanna remind everybody we have NECSS coming up.

AJR: Great segway Jay.

J: Yes I know. The fact that you're here and you're on the executive committee is it's I have to talk about it. So I'm excited because we have a really cool topic this year. The topic this year is navigating the misinformation apocalypse. So we will be talking in many different ways about how to deal with all the misinformation that's out there and people's experience with misinformation. And the keynote is going to be between Bill Nye and David Copperfield and I had the pleasure of talking to them yesterday for an hour about the keynote because they they wanted to go through all the different things that they could discuss. and we had a really fun and interesting conversation. And they have great stories to tell. It's gonna be a very fun discussion so I hope that you join us. Go and you can get your tickets there. Don't forget that if you buy the tickets you could watch the conference for up to 3 months after is airs. So It's available to you for a very long time.

B: Jay we've been on the air since 2005. Haven't we already solved that problem? Why are we still working on this?

S: Misinformation thing?

B: Yeah I mean.

J: Bob it's worse now. Arguably it's worse now than it ever was.

B:Oh it absolutely is. We have failed.

AJR: We don't know the counterfactual how much worse it could be if it wasn't for the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

B: True.

AJR: I mean at least you're damping it.

J: Andrea I would love to see statistics that would never exist but I would love to know what the world would have been like today if the internet didn't come into existence.

E: That's interesting.

AJR: You know I was actually just reading a study today where someone tried to figure out whether getting off the internet was actually gonna help people. It was in the context of politics. And they did this study in the lead up to the mid-term election when they were like, all right these people get off Facebook for 3 months before the election and then report back in. Not like a particularly well-controlled study. Anyway the punchline is they were happier. They were less polarized. They used Facebook less after the election when the study was over. And it was just Facebook. It's not the whole internet. But I was I gotta get off Facebook.

B: Wow.

E: That's interesting.

J: Yeah I have dramatically decreased my use of social media outside of the SGU. I barely post things. I'm barely perusing. I just don't wanna have anything to do with it. It just irritates me.

S: It's exhausting but at the same time like this is kinda my job though as a skeptic. As a science communicator. I mean how can you avoid it? The whole point is─

AJR: Steve I feel the same way.

S: ─we're trying to convince people of a more rational approach to the really controversial topics. Like just today on Science Based Medicine I wrote entitled Biological Sex is not Binary or the Science of Biological Sex and the subtitle is biological sex is not strictly binary. And people lost their freaking mind. I'm just going over the basic science. There's nothing scientifically controversial about anything that I say. But people, just the amount, the degree to which they are willing to torture their logic in order to make some semi-point. I'm not even sure what they're saying half the time. It's just amazing.

AJR: Well Steve I'm sure the science that you're writing about has been around a lot longer than the argument for the last few years that we've all been freaked out about.

S: Oh totally.

AJR: We've known about intersex people forever and ever. It's not like you're making up new science to defend some woke stance.

S: No. Not at all. Because that's what the people think. It's like it's also not controversial among actual biologists. Biologists who study this are like, of course it's not binary are you crazy. Here's a good example and I think that the duck-billed platypus needs to become the poster child of the trans community. I'd love to see duck-billed platypus saying that platypuses are mammals too. Because some mammals lay eggs. It's like the exact same thing.

AJR: We gotta put that on a flag.

S: There's no sharp line between evolutionary categories. Biology is messy. You cannot. And it just happens to be that human sexuality, first of all it's not all about reproduction. And two it's not strictly binary. There's a lot of mishmash in the middle. That's just a fact.

AJR: Well I remember the first time I learned we don't really know, maybe it's changed since I heard this many years ago, but we don't really know where our species begins or ends.

S: That's correct.

AJR: It's really hard to say.

S: It really depends. It depends on the species. Also depends if you're only including extant members or extinct members. Like some species all their relatives could have died off. And they could be all there by themselves at the end of some twig. And it's like pretty clear that yes that's one species but evolutionarily there is no sharp line. When did they stop being the same species as their most closely related other population. They're just populations. And populations are interbreeding. We had this conversation last week with an expert on dog evolution. He's like yeah they're spreading their genes all over the place. Like the idea of species. You can't apply. You can't draw any kind of lines here. There's too much interbreeding going on. You can come up with some kind of functional semi-definition. It's like pseudo-objective but it's like between planet and dwarf planet. We're just making up criteria that sound good just so we could have categories that make us feel good about ourselves.

AJR: And then millennials freak out about loosing Pluto.

S: Yeah.

E: There are dwarf planets?

S: But the reality just doesn't conform to that. So anyway I was just hoping to educate people a little bit about the biology of sex. It's not all about gametes and chromosomes. There's a lot more going on there. But they still freak out.

E: Well you did educate them. But that doesn't stop them from freaking out. So they have to, hey you learn in different ways.

AJR: Maybe this is the most naive I've ever said but maybe if we all just educate enough at some point we'll all come around. I don't know. Speaking of Jay of the conference I feel that this is a very urgent topic. Because I fell less confident about that than I did [inaudible]. For example when I was growing up which is like logical.

J: Another thing that we have to deal with though is that I feel like my life is infinitely more complex than it was when I was in my twenties. The internet introduces an incredible amount of complexity. And to a person that's wired like me it really produces an extraordinary amount of stress. So decoupling myself from social media and from other things that I've come to do on the internet actually is a destresser for me.

AJR: Well and there's also, I don't know Jay if this falls under the same category but just like there's the social media part of the internet and the voices and communication. But there's also so much more information that we've ever had to confront.

E: Oh my gosh. Drinking from a fire hose.

AJR: I used to have books and the evening news when my parents had it on. And that what sort fo like well I know what's happening. And now there's no way to know.

S: It's overwhelming. There's to many things to worry about. There's just too much bad stuff and nonsense going on. You do have to focus a little bit. All right this is my little corner of the nonsense that I'm gonna deal with and I just can't pay attention. I don't have the bandwidth for everything else. You know what I mean? To some extent you gotta prioritize. But you can't do that entirely. No matter what you think we have to be aware enough to participate in our democracy. You can't take that for granted anymore that it's just gonna chug along. You have to pay attention or it could go bye-bye. There's just too many things we have to pay attention to.

AJR: And they all feel and probably are very existential. It's hard for me to be like. Because I agree with you Steve. The democracy is a huge one. Climate change. Pandemics. Future pandemics. Dealing with this nefarious potentials. For this current one it's not something that I can be like I'm just gonna check out for a little bit. Because I need a brake.

S: I know. It's though. Because I'm the physician in the family and in the social group and I get a lot of these questions. So like not too long go my wife was doing this she's like okay so this person that we know had an exposure to somebody who was just diagnosed with covid. I just put my head in my hands I was like oh my got I'm so tired of these questions. Of having to troubleshoot everyone's pandemic exposure and everything. It's just exhausting. Of course I happily do it. But I'm just saying it's just constant. It's constant.

AJR: So I should save my questions Steve for after the recording?

S: No but it's true because everyone has to worry now. What do I do? Do I, like there's this updated CDC criteria about how we mitigate our risk and manage things. It's like just get vaccinated.

B: And boosted.

S: And boosted.

AJR: And maybe boosted again.

S: And then just when we get a handle on this stuff the monkey pox will come along and throw a monkey wrench into everything.

AJR: At least the name is a little more fun.

S: It's a little more fun.

AJR: I feel a little bit like we're in a movie.

S: I agree. It's a little bit more fun. The monkey pox. And we already have a working vaccine for it. Which is good. We just have to produce a lot of it.

AJR: And then we get to hear from all the anti-vaxxers why we shouldn't take it. So we have that conversation to look forward to.

E: Oh yes, that's forever now. That is ensconced.

AJR: Well uplifting talk everyone that's great.

E: Hey this is what we do.

S: But we also like to just talk about cool science, and that's mostly what we're going to do in the News Item segment of the show this week, starting with Jay.

News Items[edit]

Green Steel (11:10)[edit]

S: You're going to tell us about the race to create "green steel."

J: Yeah Steve so we're at a point with steel production where the industry is trying to come up with new technology that will get them off of fossil fuels. And it's interesting the information that I have to share will fill you in on basically just how bad steel production is and how far it needs to come in order for it not to be very bad for the environment. So global steel production right now it's over about 2 million metric tons produced annually. And that is an incredible amount of steel globally that's being produced. Steel is of course essential for our modern world and our modern economy. It's ubiquitous. It's versatile. It has amazing versatility. It is a corner stone or a pillar of modern society. So you can't really live without it. And we have to work around what's happening today to get to a point where we can move forward and not destroy the planet. Concrete kind of comes up in my head at the same time. We need concrete. And concrete production is bad too. So there's lot's of technologies today that needs to change and steel is one of the biggest. So there is a heavy cost here with steel because steel production create up to 11% of the global greenhouse gas emissions per year. That's huge.

S: Yeah that's a lot. We focus a lot on energy production which of course is the biggest chunk. Transportation and energy. Burning fossil fuels for that. But there's other industries that contribute significantly. Yes so like basically 10% of greenhouse gasses come from steel production. So that's a huge opportunity.

J: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean when we finally do get there it'll be a big game changer. So steel production over the years of course it's steadily increased and it's gonna continue to increase because every year demand goes up. it's estimated that steel production will increase by 33% by 2050. So that's a pretty significant increase. Half of the global steel production today by the way is made in China. The United Nations has said that industrial carbon emissions must be lowered in order to do what? Slow down global warming. So no duh. But there's a lot of industries that have to spend and awful lot of money to do this. And industrial carbon emissions must be lowered by 93% they say by 2050. That's a lot of time, money and consideration that needs to desperately be spent in order to slow down global warming. It's not gonna stop it but we need to slow it down as best we can. Steel makers are desperately now looking to find new ways into find low carbon technologies like using electricity and hydrogen instead of carbon-producing resources. So it's becoming a very important thing to the industry. And we're seeing large companies and small companies trying to innovate technology to move away from the way that they're produce steel today. Now this is no small feat because steel industry like I said is huge. It's a huge industry. In 2017 global steel production was 2.5 trillion US dollar industry. That's tremendous. There are over 6 million people employed by steel manufacturers. That's tremendous. So changing a critical component of this industry is very very likely to be a major disruption to a lot of people. And of course huge amounts of money have to be spent in order to make all these changes. The most common way steel is produced starts with crushing iron ore until it's pellets size. And we now what they do is while they're doing that they're also preparing coal. They're heating it and they're converting it something called coke. So the iron ore and the coke are then combined with limestone and they're put into a blast furnace. And a blast furnace is an intense, intensely hot temperatures. It burns the coke and the mixture becomes liquid iron. And then that molten liquid iron is then put into an oxygen furnace where it's hit with pure oxygen and this removes carbon from liquid iron and the result is crude steel. Now just in what I said there is so much energy being used to create the heat they need. And the fact that the way that they're making the coke, which is made out of coal, that of course has an incredible amount of carbon in it. You won't be surprised to hear that this process goes back to 1850s. And guess what? It produces a large amount of carbon dioxide. All along the production lines. Unfortunately 70% of modern steel is still made this way guys. So we're using technology that was made a very very long time ago today. So check this out. For each ton of steel produced, two tons of carbon dioxide are emitted.

B: Wow.

J: That's insane. That is a lot carbon dioxide. Now steel is also reclaimed as scrap and melted back down. And this accounts for the remaining 30%. This reclamation process uses electric arc furnaces and as you can guess this furnaces produce a significantly lower amount of CO2. And we could increase steel recycling as high as 45% of the global demand. By 2050. But this would take a significant amount of government policy changes. And I think everybody knows not to expect that.

AJR: Yeah.

J: Because lots of global governments, big governments around the world today seem not to be able to get out of their own way. I certainly know that's the case here in the Unites States. Many companies have developed new methods of steel production that's significantly or completely lower carbon emissions. But none of them have been scaled up to industrial size yet. And that's, we've talked about this many times on the show. If you cant's scale up the technology it's worthless. So having these ideas and having some technology that steal needs to all that engineering and all that innovation that needs to be into it in order to scale it up. That's what's gonna take 30 to 50 years to do. And there's always a giant hurdle but at least the work is starting to be done to get there. Another major concern is that new methods are developed that they'll be reliant on electricity. Now why is that a problem? Because they're gonna be reliant on a lot more electricity in order to do this. This means that solar and has to be significantly increased. If the electricity used is being generated by burning fossil fuels there isn't much gain here. You don't wanna spark up a coal fire plant to fuel our green steel industry. It has to be renewable from the beginning. The renewable energy infrastructure has to be there to support new electrical demand. So experts say that we would need approximately three times the solar and wind energy generation we have today just for the steel industry. So that alone is a whole other thing that has to happen while they are augmenting this technology and making new innovations. They're also kind of waiting for the world to change. Another thing I read was that a lot factories have been built in places that make it convenient to get coal and bring coal to them. So they're not in places that are near where solar panels are gonna be and that energy is gonna be available. They've been built around the fossil fuel industry. Which sucks. Because that means that a lot of factories would have to move and all sorts of change. This will likely increase the cost of steel production. Because if these companies start spending a ton of money to make all this innovations that money has to come from somewhere. And they'll just raise the price of steel which consumers will have to deal with as that transitions is happening. And again governments could offset some of these costs to consumers very easily if they could just make decisions. And China also guys unfortunately is a major concern here. Because one - no one really knows what's going on in China. The country is said that they plan to be carbon neutral by 2060. That's a pretty long way off. But not an unreasonable date. But still 2060 is pretty far away from today. And meanwhile China has announced that they are building 18 new blast furnaces which are essentially the old technology. Okay you're building more coal fire-plants and you're building more these traditional blast furnaces factories. So they don't have technology to transition their steel yet either. And they're 70% of steel production. So lots of factors here guys. Number one I did not know that steel production was so bad for the environment. I had no idea. But right out of the gate. I mean we need steel so desperately. This isn't like stop doing it. We can't. We just can't. Society can't move forward without steel.

S: No. We need to find mechanisms of making it with less carbon. Doing it electrically is the way to go but of course that means we need to ramp up our electricity. Our green electricity production. If you're burning coal to make the electricity it doesn't help.

J: Yeah it's ridiculous.

S: So that's the other thing. We talk about decarbonizing our energy infrastructure but at the same time we are increasing the amount of energy that we are producing. And that becomes even more dramatic if you include oh yeah and we're also going to decarbonize transportation by having electric cars. And the steel industry by making all electric steel production so we're not burning fossil fuels there. Again we have to doing running the numbers we have to include that.

J: Yeah and Steve the backbone of the electric grid need to be completely revamp. And we need to start doing it now. Right now. We have to be ready for all these companies to be upgrading and changing the world over to completely to electric. And the fact that, I don't know exactly what's going on globally. But I do know in the United States almost nothing is happening.

S: Yeah.

AJR: Yeah. I haven't seen anything.

B: If only we knew how important this was 20 and 30 years ago. If only we knew.

S: Yeah.

B: What we had to do.

AJR: If someone had uttered a word.

S: If only scientist predicted this was going to happen. Oh boy.

AJR: I mean and on the China side of things where China's building sort of like old model because that's where you're like well at least some countries can start anew and China says well I'm not going to. I'm frustrated with that but I'm also sympathetic because I think China, India, other developing countries will say you all got to pollute like crazy during your development. So we're gonna do that too. But that's just gonna lock them into this technology for even longer. It's depressing on every level.

S: Technology is advancing. That's only thing good that's happening. But in terms of government or society or industry or whatever there's really not much happening.

AJR: And it is hard to imagine a version where we don't as Jay was saying either as consumers somehow pay more because the steel companies or the government steps in like it just seems like from a short term and sympathetic cost perspective it's hard to. The people who were getting solar panels in the United States are the people who can afford to get them installed. Even with government incentives.

E: Yeah it's expensive.

AJR: This is reminding me of a paper I read in 2010 when I think it was whenever when Obama was in power and gas prices were really high then. And it was some paper, economics paper that was like given the gas prices keep getting really obnoxious why aren't we seeing the market respond with alternatives to offset this high raising costs. And basically the punchline in this particular article was well it's so, there's so much fluctuation that there's no incentive to do anything long-term. So it's like yeah gas prices are high. We all wish we had electric vehicles right now but then gas prices went back down. Until now. And so it's just kind of punctuated pattern to that doesn't from a business perspective doesn't incentivize anyone to pay the cost up front. Maybe that will change. Maybe it will keep gas prices will keep being as high and we'll all have to change what we're doing. I don't know. But that still doesn't address the steel thing. And I just looking around just how much steel is around me and it's [inaudible]. I think 10% of climate issues are from steel and I think a lot of that steel is right next to me.

S: We talk about that a little bit in our upcoming book the Skeptics Guide to the Future. Where one part of the book is look around you. You're probably mostly surrounded by materials that we've been using for thousands of years.

B: Yeah, right.

S: Sure.

AJR: Yeah.

S: So there's every reason to think that we'll be using─

E: Cause it works.

S: ─steel far into the future. It's a good material.

B: It is.

S: It's not going anywhere.

AJR: If anything steel has been sort of green-washed from a marketing perspective to me or I think because it's like that's the sustainable, reusable steel this and steel that as opposed to plastic. And these things aren't free. Just like electricity. Still has to powered by something. It's not like it's a magic bullet. But it's tempting to think of it.

T. rex Arms (24:54)[edit]

S: All right. Let's talk about something that's pure fun now. There's no social implications for this whatsoever.

E: All right. What's that.

S: We're doing to talk about the length of T.rex arms.

AJR: Nice. My father was killed by T. rex arm so I'm offended.

S: Oh okay.

AJR: By other than that.

S: Well sorry. Trigger warning for anyone who was ever been mauled by a dinosaur. You guys know when T. rex was first discovered? Give me a guess, what year?

B: It was 1883.

AJR: I was gonna say 1950. That can't be right.

J: I was gonna say 1920s.

E: No it's early 1900s, isn't it?

S: 1902. Barnum Brown. Even when he when the first specimen was found Brown did not think that the arms were parts of that same skeleton. Oh it must be another─

E: Sure. Why would he?

S: ─specimen intermingled here. They just didn't go. And obviously this is like an iconic aspect of the T. rex is that it has comically small arms that just seem incongruent with otherwise massive proportions of the T. rex. And it is still a bit of an enduring scientific question. Not so much a mastery as just like a question and it's also just culturally iconic. The tiny arms of a T. rex are easy to make fun of. So the question becomes why are the T.rex's arms so small? They are too short to reach their mouth, so they can't be used─

B: Are you sure?

E: I saw one smoking a cigarette once in a Gary Larson cartoon.

AJR: And it was really cool.

B: So Steve why I mean are you sure about that reconstructions of T.rexes and it seems like they could potentially reach the mouth a little bit.

E: I mean if they tilt their neck.

B: If they tilt their head down. I gotta say this is especially interesting coincidence because I'm reading Neal Ashes science fiction novel and there's a lot of time travel. They're going back in time. It's fascinating. Great book called Cowl. This guy's like no, you guys got it all wrong about T. rex. The arms were perfect for picking decaying flesh from between it's giant teeth. That's what it. And the guys like─

E: Oh they're toothpicks.

B: ─yes. Exactly. And he's like that's exactly and the guy's like I see it cause he goes back in time. So I'm like how cool is that.

S: But in the world of real science not science fiction. That is standard. The arms are too short their mouth. They're only about 3 feet long.

AJR: Maybe they're have good manners. They're using forks or chopsticks or something.

E: Tool users.

AJR: Yeah the first tool users.

E: I like it.

S: It's a really fascinating evolutionary question and you could look at it from a couple of different directions. One is what's the utility of the arms being that size. How are they using the arms that where they could be that size or maybe might benefit from being small. But you could also look at it from a negative perspective. Maybe the arms are small to avoid the determent. So that they're not getting in a way or something. You know what I mean? Like pressure against the detriment versus for utility. And of course evolutionary forces are complicated. It's not like there's one thing that is causing a specific change. All the time. Sometimes that could be the case. But often it's a balance of multiple factors. And evolution reaches some kind of homeostasis. Where all of this factors are sort of in some kind of an optimal balance. And also there's coaptation where morphology may change for one initial reason but then that triggers other evolutionary forces that come into play. Like it can be used for some other reason.

B: Like flight.

S: Yeah exactly. You developed feathers for one reason and then you could use them for flying.

B: Holy crap I can fly now.

S: So why would the arms be getting in the way? That's one question. And the classic answer is because the T. rex's head is so big. They're obligate bipeds. They have to walk on two legs. They basically pivot their balance on those two legs. And the head is balanced by the tail. So if you're trying to maximize the head in front of the legs then the more the arms shrink the more the front of the leg weight can be aportioned to the big jaws. And that's basically what the T.rex is hunting and killing and eating with.

B: I like that theory.

E: it works for me.

S: Yeah so they're small so the head could be bigger. So that's one idea.

AJR: The arm throws off the balance.

S: Yeah they throw of the balance.

E: Yeah and big mouth [inaudible] the wiring net too.

S: There is a recent and alternate hypothesis that derives from the belief based upon evidence that T.rex's may have haunted in groups. And they may have fed in groups. Because they are often multiple individuals are found, the remains of multiple individuals are found together. Doesn't necessarily mean that they hunted or ate together. They may have just died together but that's sort of indirect evidence. So if they did the hypothesis is that if you can imagine a bunch of T.rexes feeding on a carcass with their just huge destructive jaws. That you would want to get your arms out of the way. Even incidental, accidental injury or maybe competitive injury to the arms could be deadly. You're getting an infection and you die. So it would be selective pressure against having arms that were so small that they wouldn't get in the way when the bunch of T.rexes are feeding on a carcass. That seems a little bit of a stretch to me but okay. That could have played a role. In addition. I don't think it would be a primary thing. But then you could ask the question why didn't they disappear entirely? If they're just a detriment. So they stabilize that a size that has some other function. So what is that function?

E: Scratching their bellies.

S: They could certainly do that. They could certainly scratch their bellies.

AJR: Is there an elbow joint? How much dexterity do they have?

S: I mean the arms. All right let me backup a little bit.

J: Backup come on.

S: There's another factor were gonna add in here.

B: Claws?

S: And that is the question cause this will impact thinking about it evolutionarily. Did the short arms of the T.rex evolved only once or multiple times.

J: Why would they evolve multiple times?

B: Because they did.

S: If they did evolve multiple times that would argue─

B: There's a good reason.

S: ─for some kind of a generalized evolutionary pressure─

B: Benefit.

S: ─on this basic form. So in fact there are─

B: 3 right?

S: ─3 evolutionarily groups. All within theropod dinosaurs that have the same basic configuration of a huge head.

B: Without common ancestors.

S: And tiny arms. Without common ancestors. So it evolved at least 3 times independently.

AJR: Oh. Wow.

E: Yeah something's going on there.

S: Now we're talking. So there's tyrannosaurids, the carcharodontosaurus and the abelisaurids. There is a recent news items which is has triggered me writing about this. The recent discovery of a well-preserved carcharodontosaurus that showed the small arm configuration. Previously we'd never a specimen with the arms. So now that makes a third group not derived from or not with a common ansestor with tyrannosaurs with small arms that independently evolved a small arms. So there's clearly something going here evolutionarily. Also we know that there were T.rex ancestors with huge arms. And so we know that so again there's no common, there's no tiny arm common ancestor. These are three independent groups all which involved tiny arms. So there's gotta be some pretty profound evolutionarily forces going on here. So we talked about skipping them out of the way, balancing the big head. So what do you think what are the hypothesis how could the arms have been used. Now of course Andrea I believe it was you who asked basically asked the question well what was their morphology? What did the arms look like?

AJR: Right, what [inaudible].

S: And that what triggered me to get to this part because it depends on what species you're talking about. They're not all the same. But generally speaking, generally speaking they're strong, muscular arms with completely mobile shoulder and elbow joint.

B: Yeah keep in mind though in absolute terms T.rex's arms were diesel.

S: They were diesel.

B: They could curl I read they could curl 200 pounds. Each arm. 200. That's a lot. That's a strong damn arm.

S: 3 feet. 3 feet.

AJR: Wow. Okay.

S: Compared to the T.rex their tiny but in absolute terms they're pretty robust. They can do stuff.

AJR: Looking at my own arm feeling insignificant.

S: Yes, they're much bigger that your arm.

AJR: I gotta get to the gym.

S: They're basically their arms are like a 6-foot-tall persons leg. That's like a general proportion.

AJR: Okay. Yeah.

S: If you wanna think how big they are. So they clearly were doing stuff. They weren't vestigial just out of the way little stumps. They were usable as Bob said diesel arms.

B: And with claws!

AJR: Technical scientific term.

S: With claws.

B: Don't forget the claws man.

S: Some of those species. Some species in fact had huge claws. Huge claws. Not just tiny little claws. Which suggest that they are being used not just to hold things or whatever some non-combat purpose. A huge claw implies─

E: Grasping.

S: ─not just grasping. They were using it as a weapon. Weapon sized claw─

AJR: Yeah, slicing.

S: ─on some of these small arm theropod dinosaurs in these three groups. All right so.

E: They were tackling.

S: Yeah so what would that mean? There is a fairly recent hypothesis─

B: Yeah I love this one.

S: ─first one I found in 2017. I like this one. Now if you can imagine wrestling with a Tyrannosaurus. Whether it's with another competitor of the same species or with a pray species. If they get inside its huge mouth close to the body it might be─

B: Outside the mouth but not inside the mouth. Inside in terms of away from.

S: Yeah yeah yeah. You know what I mean. I meant inside their attack radius. Anyone who has sparred. Anyone who has sparred especially with a reach weapon. Jay and Evan I know that you're familiar with this.

E: Oh yes.

AJR: Fencing kind of thing?

S: If somebody gets, if your enemy get inside your reach you're toast, right? Because you can't really effectively fight against them.

B: Yeah like a rifle inside a close like inside a building.

AJR: Aah. I see.

S: Yes. Or if you had a like a two-hander sword. You're fighting with a Scottish claymore. A massive sword. And somebody with a dagger gets up really close to you. You're pretty much you're toast.

E: It's over.

AJR: Sword's useless.

E: Sword becomes useless.

S: That's the strategy.

B: Unless you have little arms coming out of your chest.

S: Unless you have little arms. (laughter) Coming out of your chest with huge claws.

AJR: Backup armor.

E: Say hello to my little arms.

S: Exactly. So that's one idea.

B: I love that idea.

AJR: Is that a t-shirt? I need a t-shirt that says say hello to my little arms.

S: If you get like right up close. Belly to belly. If you get belly to belly with a T.rex it could slash the hell out of you with these arms. So I like that because it immediately made sense to me.

AJR: That's also awesome. Yeah. the ultimate [inaudible].

B: But Steve there's another one though. There's one more.

S: The oldest hypothesis actually. The first hypothesis for what are they doing with these arms.

B: Sex baby.

S: Was during copulation. During sex.

AJR: I was gonna ask that.

S: This was a way of basically─

E: Gotta hold something.

B: T.rex sex.

S: ─some kind of stability. Like just holding on and sure. Okay. You can use your imagination and imagine two T.rexes doing it. And the arms are just there.

AJR: I'm sorry you would say I am using my imagination. Yeah it's not [inaudible].

B: Yo clip your claws bro.

S: Yeah. It wouldn't explain the huge claws that are clearly look like weapons. But that could also be one of the utilities. And then others have proposed that it could also be used for savaging. The arms would still be able to rend the flesh of a corpse. Maybe with a little bit more dexterity than a giant mouth would. Whether that would be necessary or useful. Where they just crunch the bones and everything all at once. And just eat it up. I don't know. The problem is we can't observe these things in nature because they're not alive so we have to infer it from their morphology.

B: Unless we go back in time.

J: Is it possible that the arms were just useless if they lived longer maybe they would've just gone away?

S: No. That's not a viable hypothesis. Because there are so many species within three groups that have these robust arms. And it was plenty of evolutionary time for them to completely go away if that were the only evolutionary forces at work.

AJR: Like snakes loosing their legs kind of thing.

S: Yeah. Exactly. Snakes. They are legless lizards. Snakes have lost their legs. There's not reason why they would've just completely lost them if they were just in the way. If they were not being used for anything. So that's not really a viable hypothesis.

AJR: At the risk of treading in the sex binary. Is there a difference between male versus female T.rex arms? Because I was thinking maybe it's like the claws are to show sexual prowess peacock's style.

S: So we don't have enough specimens to know. I thinks it's the bottom line.

AJR: I'm not even sure, oh is that a female T.rex? I don't know.

E: So Steve will they ever be able to draw new conclusions going forward? Are we at the peak information and all we can do is asses it.

S: We don't have that many specimens. We don't have that many specimens. The answer is the more specimens we get the more we will be able to test hypothesis about what they were using those arms for. There's a limit though to that kind of inferential evidence. We're never gonna know for sure. I may be one of those things like if we ever did somehow observe a T.rex in the wild. It would be like oh my god that's completely different than what we've imagined them their behavior to be. Animal behavior can sometimes be surprising. And unusual. And again if you were a one-off I would say we have no idea. If they were a one-off but because there's so many species I think that's where we're gonna be able to make some intelligent guesses about what they were using them for because we can then start to compare. That's why there's so much room for more evidence. We have lots of different species with very few specimens. And some are incomplete. This is the first time they found arms attached to the third group. Knowing that they were also tiny. As we get more data I think a more clear picture will develop.

AJR: I'm not sure this is like a fair question but is there any estimate of how many specimens are out there? Is it likely that there are three more T.rexes will ever find or is that just like a completely unknown question.

S: To be found? Yeah. I don't.

AJR: Yeah.

S: I've never seen an estimate. that's an interesting question. Somebody may have published a paper estimating how many T.rexes are out there to be found.

AJR: The thing there's not very many are there like thousands eventually in our future. I mean it obviously depend on a lot of different things. I gotta became a paleontologist.

S: Okay so more than 40 specimens of Tyrannosaurus have been identified.

B: 40?

S: I think only. Yeah. 40 different specimens. But not all complete. I think only a small number of them are complete. And I think that's of Tyrannosaurus as a group. Not T. rex as a species. So that gives you some idea what we're dealing with now.

AJR: Velociraptor arms were weapons, right? I mean I'm basing this on Jurassic Park. But I'm trying to think of other dinosaurs with arms.

S: Yeah but that group the smaller theropods with─

B: The foot claw.

S: ─like a deinonychus and velociraptor they had foot claw. That huge curved one claw that sticks up.

B: Just gut you.

E: Nasty thing.

S: And they would rip your belly open.

AJR: They got Newman's butt good.

B: So Steve I like the idea of potentially in the future finding out more details by running simulations. That's an interesting idea how far we could take that running simulations based on what we know about potential DNA and their morphology as much as we know about it. And then trying to extrapolate from that and maybe get some ideas.

S: Yeah it would be interesting once we get to the point we have enough computing power and good enough software and everything where we could have virtual T.rexes running around and we could at least see like the plausibility study. And we could do hypothesis testing. Like would this work? What it would have looked like? Would this have created any unanticipated problems that would be deal killer for it.

B: We're nowhere near that level of sophistication yet.

AJR: What would need to be true for it to be a secondary weapon or whatever. I'm mostly thinking when he suggested the simulations I was like yeah well where are those inflatable T.rex costumes.

B: Oh my god. There are so funny.

AJR: At least as a thought experiment or as a way to proof of concept I think.

S: Or eventually once we get a good neurolink going you could be a T.rex. A virtual T.rex and then see how it feels.

E: Unleash yourself on the plains and go hunting.

S: Then we'll get a good idea. There will be virtual T.rexes running round if not biological ones. Or we'll make robot T.rexes and then let them loose and see what happens.

E: Yeah. With AI.

AJR: I think Boston Dynamics. They should be [inaudible].

S: Yeah. Totally.

E: Oh gosh. You don't wanna see what's in their secret chamber.

S: We could do this and just make them five inches tall and make everything else to scale and some of the physics would be different.

B: Gravity would. Yeah.

S: But we could still just morphologically see how that works.

AJR: Just in case they get a mind of their own tear up Boston. Like how did Boston?

S: We a thousand T.rexes to scale just to see how they would fight and oh, you know.

AJR: And it turns out the arms are very useful.

S: At killing people.

B: Or killing their makers.

AJR: Disrupting the subway system.

[commercial brake]

Getting Out the Vote (44:58)[edit]

S: All right Andrea.

AJR: Yeah.

S: Back to messy sociology. You're gonna tell us about research on getting out to vote.

AJR: I'm so sorry.

S: That's all right.

AJR: Yeah I'm so sorry. This is. The T.rexes were more fun but there's gotta be a way to combine these. This is. So this is a political science paper that came out earlier this month. Hot off the presses. There's no paywall at the moment. It's not gated so you can read it yourself. It's called: "Getting out the vote in the projects: lessons from a community organizing experiment" in a journal Politics, Groups, and Identities. And so I like this article because it brings up a couple of really big methodological challenges in political science. And that I think. And this is maybe as hopeful as I can be about politics are actually if we could continue to get a better grip on these questions we could actually make our government s do something to Jay's point that we can't really count on them. At least for steel. So one of the big things that we do in political science is try to figure out why people vote and what gets people to vote. And in American context there's been it's one of the best empirically studied areas in political science. A lot of field experiments in particular but not just field experiments on what kind of interventions with voters get people to show up to vote. And not surprisingly the evidence is basically the more involved you are the more likely the people are to vote. So sending someone something in the mail that's says yo go vote is less effective than showing up at their door and saying hey vote. Which is even less effective than showing up at their door three times. There's a point after which restraining orders get involved, right? And obviously the content of these messages matters as well. So it does all sorts of interesting work that's like most of your neighbors are voting, are you? That's different from you've gotta vote shaming based versus relative behavior based. So there's a lot it's fairly well researched. But this article, this paper point out two problems in this research. They're not the only ones who point this out but they're one of the few to try to address the problem. One problem is that it turns out that all these interventions on balance do tend to "work". Which is that as best we can tell the effect isn't massive but as best we can tell all the stuff we all hear about in the US about mobilizing and canvasing and get out to vote. It tends to help. And we think that in the absence of this intervention fewer people would vote. But of the people that we think, and this is after decades of work, most of the people that we think are ending up voting are pretty well-off Americans. So middle class, white. This paper mostly focuses on class and race so I'll leave it there. So basically what happens with these get out to vote campaigns is we get people who are almost gonna vote and this can tip them into doing it. What it doesn't' seem to be doing is have any effect on communities that historically do not have high participation rates. And this paper in particular focuses on the intersection of a low socioeconomic class and black Americans. So there's very little participation in voting and very little research on what might cause this folks to participate more. Because most of the research while not empirically designed to why people tend to focus on white people, suburbs, that sort of thing. The other thing that this paper and this part I think is a little bit harder for me to get my head around but the other thing that they talk about is that the interventions that we've been doing and we've been studying in political science for getting out to vote have been individual. Or like dyadic based. So basically I go to someone's house I knock on the door and say hey can I register you to vote? Can I get you to commit you're gonna vote on? What's your plan to go vote? It's one on one interactions. And their argument and I don't know enough about this to say what I think of it but their argument is that a lot of people who don't vote it's not an individual issue it's that the society, the group, the community that their in has, they've grown up in a community where nobody votes and so an intervention that bases them the change and behavior on the individual is not likely to work. You have to tap into social networks. And the whole community needs to be, you need a community level interventions as opposed to individual level. So all of this is to say they have a nice two by two matrix and I love a two by two matrix. All of this to say this paper is a randomize experiment. They partnered with a community organizing group in Akron, Ohio. In the lead up to the 2018 mid-term elections and they started their work 2017 and did some followup in 2018. They had a two-faced project. So this group was gonna go in to a community blocks. Housing units kind of like big sections. And as randomized as political science can get in the sense that there were six possible housing development that they could have worked in. But this organization only had the budget to intervene in two. So they used a random number generator and picked two of those six possible housing units. And so those were the treatment and then the other four communities were the control. So it was about 300 people overall in the treatment over the two units. And about a thousand in the control. And the treatment was in 2017 a number of people who were not from that community but were of the same racial background and weren't necessarily spoke the same language. If there were second languages or non-English languages. Went in and held like community organized event. So let's get together and talk about some of the problems facing our community. Let's get together and talk about what we'd like to see the local government do with respect to crime. With respect to trash. With respect to this. With respect to that. And get people talking and there was nothing about the election. It was just let's talk about the governments of this community and let's see what we would like changed. That was in 2017. And that was the treatment. In 2018 the organization sent people to do one on one get out to vote work in all six. So the treatment and control all supposedly got the same like hey don't forget to register to vote. So the whole experiment got registered to vote. And then in the end it turned out that there was a three percentage point difference. Something like 17% of the community in the treatment group went to vote in midterm elections and 14% in control group voted in the elections. And one of the frustrating take away, well couple of frustrating take always. One that it's not a huge gap but on the other hand thinking about American elections that's a big difference.

B: Yeah that would make a big difference.

AJR: So okay. So that's something big. So it's both depressing but also matters. The other thing in this I'm really interested to hear you all what you think about this because it's something that I think we've talked about before is it's not statistically significant. That's the reason is because the sample size is tiny. To get a study with the kind of statistical power that you would need 0.05 level or anything that you would want you need something like 80 housing units. Is what they said. So they're not even close. The number of people and the amount work that would need to be done to actually do a potentially powerful enough experiment is huge and we don't really have the budget or resources for that in political science usually. And community organizations don't really have that. So we don't have a statistically significant result. That said statistical significance is not the only thing that we care about when we think about results. But it is something that I think puts a big damper on excitement that might be generated from this study. So they also did a bunch of qualitative research and because I'm a huge snob I was like I guess but I don't really. I mean I care and they were like the focus groups were consistent. And that's good but I don't think quite as moved by that but don't tell the authors I said that part. So community level organizing. I know a lot of people. I was thinking of Cara as well when I was reading this. Cause I know that she's very involved in community organizing. I have a lot of family members who are. And I was like okay it feels good. Then maybe this makes a difference. There's still a ton more work to do. This is way less carefully studied than the T.rex arms. Just in a sense that this is an only study of it's kind. Specifically is in this particular community level gap that focuses on the intersection of black and lower, non, below middle class. So it's one of the first projects. So it's encouraging but it also I think highlights how hard it is to do this kind of rigorous scientific studies in the real world. Never mind in an ethical way because you're effecting real elections. You're not just working in a lab. One of the things I'm wondering from you all is, yeah the statistical significance deal-braker and also just political science research. How it's so messy and there's million other things that we couldn't possibly control for in these field experiments. And I'm both excited about it but I also realize its limitations.

S: You have to say that because it wasn't statistically significant we don't know if the result is real or not. They may be reasons to think that it's consistent. there was a dose response. Whatever. There's other things you could bring in to bear to say that it's the trend is probably a real effect. But you don't really know. But it does tell you that if there is a real effect it's small. Although as you say small effects can tip elections if it is a close election. Doesn't mean it's not impactful. But it's just objectively speaking magnitude wise it's a small effect. That's why you need a really powerful study to see it statistically. But it is does make sense also what I know about the psychological research to begin with that the hey your neighbors are voting approach is the one that works the best. The sort of social norming.

B: Peer.

S: The shaming kinda negative thing doesn't really work generally speaking.

B: What do they call it tough love.

S: At least in medicine. Shaming people into doing stuff in counter productive actually.

B: Scared straight.

S: But social norming. Using social. Yeah scared straight doesn't work. \social pressure does work. Although modestly. That's the other thing. Is that the effect it's hard to change people's behavior. To just decide you're gonna make people do something and then to change it. When you're going against the stream.

B: Don't cross the streams.

S: Meaning like for example getting people to quit smoking. All the things that we do have a tiny effect. And we're kind of debating, nibbling around the edges. We're debating oh this method has a 6% response rate as opposed to a 3% response rate. It's like yeah but still just an abysmal 6% response. You would think that someone saying hey you should stop doing this or you're gonna die would have a huger impact but it doesn't.

AJR: The black lungs on a carton and that sort of thing.

E: The power of nicotine.

S: For voting I mean I guess you gotta find out what's the hook. Just saying oh your country is going to hell if you don't vote that's not gonna do it probably.

AJR: Right.

E: Right.

AJR: Well and the argument in this paper is that these are communities in particular the hypothesis kinda the sub-hypothesis here or the assumption that we are operating is it's these are our communities that are long since the discouraged voters basically of America. Which is like the types of anecdotes that they're saying in these conversations are like nothing is ever changed. I've been living here for a million years. I've never seen a government tried to help me once. Why would I suddenly start voting? I haven't voted my whole life, I'm not going. And everyone around you thinks that. So this study was like we've gotta change the broader. Not just tell them that other people around you are voting but kind of do this community level interventions to change the very view of the efficacy of voting. Which is a massive undertaking.

S: Massive.

AJR: Also I'm skeptical of that the treatment which is a handful of town hall meetings is actually gonna do. Maybe a different type of intervention would have been different. Maybe an actual politician showing up and working. I don't know.

S: They would probably have to see really positive change happening. You're right that cynicism is defeatist. And that is hard. That is hard to work against. That is the kind of thing that we have to be careful of as skeptics. Because it is easy to slide into defeatism of saying oh nothing we'll do is gonna move the needle on global warming. It's done. It's like yeah but even if I think that that's true I'm not gonna accept it as true because it's self defeating. And first of all you don't know that it's true. It's just a guess. But why have a subjective opinion that is self-defeating?

AJR: Right.

S: But it's hard. That is hard.

AJR: My environmental microeconomics professor in grad school. Super classical microeconomics neoliberal he was like you need a no regrets policy. Which is like let's do it and hope it made life better even if it turns out we didn't need to do it. And I think Steve what you're talking about is that where it's like okay maybe nothing we do is gonna make a difference but what's something we can do that even if it doesn't make a difference is probably still for the better. Like pollute less. Or you know.

S: Yeah exactly. That's an approach I take a lot to like a medical intervention. I don't know if this is gonna work or not but you should do it anyway. You know what I mean? I don't know if losing wight is gonna reduce your migraines but you probably wanna loose wight anyway. Just as an example. Or whatever. Let's treat your neck pain. Or let's improve your sleep. Let's do the things that are good for you anyway and whether or not we can scientifically prove to a rigorous degree that it absolutely will address your other issue. It's kind of a win-win so why not do it? There's that sort of pragmatic thing of let's get people involved and you probably should deal with the underlying conspiracy theories that are feeding the nihilism anyway. And we could figure sort out later whether or not it gets people to actually vote. Obviously we were interested in knowing that but it's a positive intervention even if it fails. You can look at it that way.

E: There's no harm.

AJR: We hope right? I mean I don't know exactly what those community organizers said but my sense is that I sort of trusted them to do something that was not harmful. You could imagine though the shame based one could be─

S: It could be.

AJR: ─more harmful if you get the IRB involved where you start shaming people. And there was some study or some effort to cause you can publish who voted and so they were like threats in one study. Where they were like if you don't go vote we're gonna tell your neighbors that you didn't vote. And I was like this is surely unethical.

James Webb Images (59:36)[edit]

S: All right Bob tell us about the latest James Webb images. These are all over the place.

B: Oh it's nothing, you know. (laughter)

AJR: Next.

B: Well yes Steve this was the week for the James Webb Space Telescope. It was absolutely all over the news and that's because its first images were released to the public and oh boy are they magnificent. Now I scowered my brain for moments to come up with a perfect geeky references for this specific news item, and I came up with a couple: "Now witness the power of this fully operational Space Telescope; and this one's for Jay: "My god, ___!" Finish it, Jay.

J: "'s full of stars!"

S: It's full of stars.

B: Yes it's full of stars. Very good Jay. That was now that specific quote was in the book for 2001: Space Odyssey. Not in the movie. But it was in the 2010 sequel.

S: 2010 sequel.

B: 2010 yeah. I love that this astronomy news seem to capture so much attention. Countless articles. TV. Web news items. Blogs. memes. All over the place. And then the president of the United States essentially releases the first full color image from James Webb at a public event at the White House. And this made it so all of it just made me feel so good. Clearly James Webb Space Telescope is a bonified cultural phenomenon. At least it really seemed this week. And maybe last December when it launched. The world wide enthusiasm it actually makes me emotional this past week. To see the love out there. I wish we'd see this level of interest more often. It makes me think of that episode of Sliders, going back a little, where they went to an Earth were scientists were heroes. Where science was worshiped. It was like I wanna go there. So now it's especially good timing now for me. That was so many things in the United States and all over the planet going horribly wrong. My god in ways that I would not even anticipated just not too long ago. So it made me feel better if for just a few minutes. Now let's start with this magnificent image that president Biden revealed. And he revealed it on my mom's 85 birthday. And Steve and Jay, your mom's too. July 11th.

S: What a coincidence.

AJR: Amazing.

E: Hope you remembered to call.

B: One day ahead of the rest of the first images that were released this past week. And so this first image that everybody saw was that deep space image that showed thousand and thousands galaxies. This was James Webb's first deep field image. Which is essentially zoom. An extreme zoom in a galaxy cluster showing the faintest infrared objects, galaxies ever seen. Perhaps some of them more than 13 billion light years away. And consider this it took the telescope 12.5h to create that image. And it was far sharper and deeper than what Hubble had produced when it looked, when it tried to create it over weeks.

E: Yeah I heard a month, right.

B: Three weeks or even a month. James Webb knocked it out in 12.5h. And that's just a first one. That's not even gonna. That one's gonna be updated soon.

S: Wait before you go off of that image though I want you should look it like individual galaxies in that image. You're taking the whole gestalt but spend some time zooming in and looking cause they're beautiful.

E: Diverse.

S: There's so many gorgeous.

B: And they're all over every image.

S: I think the one that gets all the attention was like the pancake galaxy. Like that seems to be wobbly.

B: One line.

E: Gravitational lensing.

S: But I wanna yeah is that the shape of the galaxy or is that gravitational lensing?

B: Which one? What do you mean wobbly?

S: Well it's like you're seeing it almost on it's edge. And it looks like it's wavy. From the side. The galaxy is wavy. You know what I mean?

B: Well I mean I'm not familiar with that specific one but that could be the byproduct. That wave could be a byproduct of a close encounter with a nearby galaxy. In fact the Milky Way has such a wave. It might not be as overt as the one you're talking about but we have detected waves in the Milky Way caused by close encounters with other galaxies. But I don't know that specifically so won't say any more about it.

S: You don't have the image right in front of you?

B: I got 70 tabs open here man. But I did find a super-high res version and it was jumping around.

S: There's also a lot of arcs of light in that image and I wonder is that an artifact of James Webb or is that gravitational lensing effect?

B: No. There's absolutely. There's absolutely gravitational lensing going on because that galaxy cluster that that first image was a zoom in on was also acted as a gravitational lens for some of those more distant galaxies behind it. So you will definitely be seeing some odd shapes because caused by the gravitational lensing. But I will go to Bill Nelson NASA administrator quote that I like. He said: "Webb's First Deep Field is not only the first full-color image from the James Webb Space Telescope, it’s the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant Universe, so far. This image covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. It’s just a tiny sliver of the vast universe. This mission was made possible by human ingenuity – the incredible NASA Webb team and our international partners at the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Webb is just the start of what we can accomplish in the future when we work together for the benefit of humanity." So that's a great quote─

AJR: Beautiful..

B: ─from Bill Nelson. Much better than his quote about China last week. Blah blah blah. All, right. So next image I'll discuss the planetary nebula called the Southern Ring Nebula. 2 500 light years away. Beautiful, beautiful image. Now of course planetary nebula I have to say yet again is a misnomer. Has nothing to do with planets in any way. These are intermediate mass stars at the end of their years of fusion that have ejected layers of gas during it's giant phase. And then that gas spreads out into beautiful patterns for millennia. About ten thousand years. So this is a brief period where this planetary nebula is so gorgeous. And another whatever 5-6 thousand years we're not gonna it's gonna be too diffused to even really see. So they are very brief and beautiful. This ring nebula is especially special because it's binary. The fainter one the fainter star that you could just kinda barely see. That's the one that released all the gas. And it's brighter partner because it's in orbit they're in orbit. It helps stir up the beautiful patterns in the gas that James Webb revealed like it's never been revealed before. Really loved that image. One of my favorites of those that were released were of the five galaxies called Stephan's Quintet. Which you remember. You may remember seeing them. I bet you all of us have seen these galaxies before. Cause if you have seen it's a Wonderful Life then you have seen those galaxies. Remember? Like two minutes into the movie those goofy angels are talking and they light up. The galaxies light up depending on which angel is talking? That was Stephan's Quintet. that's what those galaxies were. Which is an awesome find. Like oh my god that's right. I remember that. And if you go back to the image of the image that they used of the Stephan's Quintet. God when was that movie made? In the 50s? In the 40s? The image is, it's clearly Stephan's Quintet but it's horrible. Of course because it was made 70-80 years ago. They didn't have James Webb. Or even the Hubble back then. So the image is horrible. Especially compared to what was just released now. So yeah these are beautiful. Check these out. Zoom in on these. The Quintet is actually more of a quartet of gravitationally interacting galaxies. Two of them are seriously merging. They're so far into the merge that one is called blah-blah-blah-A and the other is called blah-blah-blah-B. Some you know 782O53b whatever. They are 280 million light years away and they are merging at 2 million miles per hour. So the Webb images shows in detail how this merger triggers star formation within these galaxies. And that's because when galaxies merge star are hitting each other. It's all about the vast amounts of gas that are smacking together and that what creates all the star formation that James Webb space telescope is now seeing in unprecedented detail. Beautiful, beautiful images. And then so what's going on, what's gonna happen in the near future? Well I think we may already or we will very soon have another deep field that will have even more clarity and higher resolution than what we saw just on July 11th. And I hope if you're remember my talk, was it 2 or 3 weeks ago, I talked about how these deep field images from Hubble helped us estimate that there may be 6 to 20 trillion galaxies in the observable universe. I hope they used this new whatever new image that James Webb comes up with to refine that and get it down. Is it close to 6 trillion galaxies or is it closer to 20 trillion? Or is it even more that 20 trillion? So I think that will help us find out how many galaxies there are in the observable universe. In the next 6 months will we'll see results from what's called theEarly Release Science Programs. These are programs created especially for Webb to be released within the first 6 or 12 months of James Webb Space Telescope being activated. And that's gonna include studies of the solar system, galaxies, intergalactic space, massive black holes and more. Also James Webb will be looking at Jupiter and its satellites like Europe. They'll be studied. And of course it's gonna be looking at exoplanets like for example those famous one in the TRAPPIST-1 system 48 light years away.

E: We're going there.

B: If you remember that's where they found seven planets in orbit around a dim dwarf star. Three of them are Earth sized and they're orbiting the habitable zone. And James Webb already found clear signatures using spectrographic equipment. Water in a hot Jupiter. Fascinating stuff. So if you haven't already, like we've said, go online, look at the larger version.

S: Yeah you gotta get [inaudible] stuff.

B: Super high-res. Wait 10 minutes. Get a cup of coffee while in downloads. Just download it and just zoom in. Click around and you see oh look at this, this little tiny blob of light. When I zoom in it's this gorgeous spiral galaxy and you could look at any image. Look at any image that I talked about and just zoom in and you will see background. Very faint background images of those of more and more galaxies that have never been seen before. They're stunning. And these are just the first batch. I've heard them compared to, you know Steve when you get your first. You get your fancy new camera. Doing your test pictures. And you're using mostly the default settings. That what James Webb has done. These are essentially the default settings. In the future we're gonna see─

E: So it's not optimized yet?

B: I mean not fully optimized. Sure they tweaked them. And they did a lot of marketing research and because this batch was important because this was the initial release and they succeeded very well. But in the future we're gonna see more images and data. Not just pretty pictures but amazing data that really pushed the envelope what James Webb Space Telescope can accomplish. So it's gonna be a hell of a ride for the next couple of decades. For the James Webb Space Telescope.

S: Awesome.

AJR: Literally we need something good going on. That's great.

B: Tell me about it.

E: Yes I know.

B: I love it. Love it.

AJR: Can I? I read something on Twitter right before we started that made me angry. That was about this. Can I bring the mood down slightly?

B: Yes. Sure.

AJR: I wanna hear your take on this I should say.

E: Oh deniers? James Webb deniers?

B: I think I know what it is.

AJR: Yeah it's all fake and this is─

E: Right, the Moon landing hoaxers.

AJR: I did hear.

B: Were they not impressed?

AJR: Yeah someone compared a someone named Seth Ruden I think on Twitter compared the big galaxy picture to the carpets in bowling alleys and I thought that was hilarious. But that's not the thing. Bowling alleys nailed it in the 90s. What made me angry was someone who is an expert in this field was tweeting about the pictures and talking about what monumental achievement. All this great stuff. Much like what we were just talking about here. And then someone started clamoring and quote-tweeting and saying all this things like yeah but when are we gonna talk about real issues like climate change and poverty.

B: Oh my god.

E: Yeah we run into that often.

AJR: And Ukraine.

B: That old canard.

AJR: And I was like what a party killer. Jesus. And is like I kinda get where he was coming from but on the other hand I was like how can you see this as a zero-sum? This is like the wonder and all the amazing parts of being human and surely whatever technology we learn from this can eventually help us all live better. Whatever. I don't know. But I got very upset about it. I'm curious what the skeptics take is on. Cause they're not wrong. These are problems. And you can imagine the money being spent on more earthly concerns.

S: I hate that.

E: We can do multiple things at the same time.

AJR: Yeah right, that's what I thought.

S: It's often like the logical fallacy or relative privation. Is like oh we have to focus all our attention on what I think is the single most important thing or there's always gonna be something more important. Doesn't mean we can't do anything if we're not curing cancer in kids? It's ridiculous. By the end of this year there will be 8 billion people on this planet.

E: Yeah that's right.

S: We can do a lot of stuff at the same time.

B: You know platforms like this here's one example where I mean a lot of this is just pure science and it's pure information. And we need to be in love with just the idea of basic research that has no immediate benefit but how about some immediate potential benefits like for example using platforms. Maybe not like James Webb but other platforms that can say oh look, this asteroid is gonna hit us in 20 years. Let's save 8 billion people with this knowledge that we got from this technology. We can potentially save the entire planet. So there is some nice stuff that can actually have immediate impact on people besides just like ooh, look at this cool picture. Oh my god.

AJR: And I imagine I also felt great seeing this and reading the quote that you read was various agencies, international governments got together. We worked together. It's human cooperation made me feel united as a species. I think the morale means a lot as well. I think that shouldn't be discounted. It's gonna make me vote. All this stuff.

[commercial brake]

Who's That Noisy? (1:16:03)[edit]

S: Jay get us up to date on Who's That Noisy.

J: All right guys last time I played this Noisy:

[hissing with rising horn sounds]

Right so you hear a horrible horn sound? And people always say bagpipes.

E: (laughs) Yeah that is bagpipe-ish.

S: Someone will say bagpipes.

J: Many many people said bagpipes. But the firs person to send one in was Sarah Mangham and she said: "I think this kinda sounds like a bagpipe but maybe being played with helium." That is not correct. There are no bagpipes destroyed in this Who's That Noisy.

S: Now I wanna hear bagpipes played with helium.

AJR: Same.

E: That has to exist.

J: Listener named Shane Hellier wrote in said: "Hi Jay, this week sound like a group of horn players trying to do a Shepard tone". For those of you who don't know it is and ascending or descending tone that seems to go on forever but they play a trick on your mind when they do it because as the notes are going up there's lower notes that are taking over and it really does feel like it's going up and up and up. It's really cool. Look it up if you haven't heard it and take a listen.

S: We've played it on the show before. That's what I thought too. It has that vibe that is like that forever escalating scale. That illusion. That auditory illusion. I know we've had that on the show before.

J: So another listener wrote in Gerald Age and he said: "This is a song of sirens leading seamen to their deaths." That is not correct. Although if you do listen to those horns as much as I have recently you will probably die.

AJR: Wow.

J: Cause they're not pleasant to hear. Ashley Zinyk. Z-I-N-Y-K.

AJR: Cool name.

J: Some help there? Sounds good to you? "Hi Jay I think this week's noise is a pipe organ starting up. The blower takes a while to fill the whole machine with pressurized air." That's interesting. And that is also incorrect. And we have a winner for this week. Name is Jeremy Sea. "Hi Jay and Rogues, I believe this week's Noisy is taken from Tom Scott's video on gravity-fed, decorative water fountains." And that is absolutely correct. Now this is coming from Steven Tuscan who initially wrote in. So here's the explanation though. 300 years ago rich German aristocrats were knows to spend some of their wealth on something called water features. I had never heard about this. So water features were giant fountains, big bodies of water or something along those lines. And some of them were built in a way or when like let's say there's a waterfall type of thing happening on the property they could use that pressure to do different things. To have a fountain. Or they could have air blow out of horn. Cause they very cleverly built it so as the water is coming down it creates air pressure and they blow that air out of the horns. So that was it. So basically there was a lot of really rich people in Germany who spent a lot of their extra money on very very expensive gardens. And these water features. Basically making their giant yards look amazing and have all these cool things. So thank you very much for sending that Noisy in. I had never heard of any of this. Which is why life is so freaking interesting.

New Noisy (1:19:42)[edit]

J: I have a new Noisy this week. This Noisy was sent in by a listener named Robert House. And here it is:

[increasing number of small animals chirping/twittering/squeaking]

J: Okay so something is happening in this video. In this audio. It was a video that I took the audio from. There is something happening. That's my clue. If you think you know what this week's Noisy is or you heard something really cool, please do--just send it to me. You never know, I might love it. Send it to

Patreon Reminder (1:20:31)[edit]

J: Hey if you haven't considered why don't you consider becoming a Patreon of the SGU? We have a Patreon. We have some very interesting levels on there and different things, award that you can get if you become a patron. But most of all what you'll be doing is just helping support the continuation of this podcast. We are in our what, 17th year Steve?

S: Mhm.

J: That's a long time.

S: We completed 17 year. We're on our 18th year.

J: We're on out 18th year. Over 850 episodes.

S: 888.

J: But if you do get, 888 you're right. But if you do get anything out of this show and you appreciate the work that we do please go to and become our patron. You could join our discord. We have a thriving discord community with tons of awesome people in there. And lot's of perks in there as well.

S: All right thanks Jay.

Quote Quiz/Quotation Rotation/Potent Quotables (1:21:22)[edit]

S: Evan you have a quote quiz for this week.

E: I do. The return of the Quote Quiz. Potent Quotables. The games in which I challenge my fellow Rogues to guess the quote. I'm gonna give them three choices. I'm gonna say the quote and then they're gonna have multiple choice. Three choice to decide which one, which person, which character, which whomever said that quote. Andrea? Are you ready to play this game?

AJR: I've never been more ready. Let's do it. (Evan laughs) I'm ready to google all this quotes. No I'm not gonna do it.

E: So we have a mix of different sort of themes in a sense but and there's five quotes total. The first quote is, comes from Star Trek, so I'll give you that heads up. here's the quote: "Compassion. That's the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it's the one that keeps men ahead of them". Was that quote uttered by:

a) Dr Leonard McCoy

b) Dr Phil Boyce

c) Dr Phlox

AJR: Well I think. Yeah?

E: Go ahead Andrea you start. And I'm gonna be keeping score for you by the way.

AJR: Okay great. This is gonna be very easy for you because now is where I, I just see myself off the show because I've never seen Star Trek. (laughter) So I'm gonna go with B.

B: Andrea you're dead to me.

AJR: I know I'm sorry. There's a lot of science fiction I like I just like somehow missed a lot of big ones as well.

B: You're young. There's still time.

S: The good news is you get to watch all of Star Trek for the first time.

AJR: There you go. Yeah.

E: Lucky.

AJR: Silver lining. I'm gonna hang up right now and go do it. (laughter) Then Evan I'll call you with my answer to the quote quiz.

E: You'll get back to me on that one.

AJR: Couple years.

E: All right so which one?

AJR: So B just because it's in the middle.

E: Okay. B because it's in the middle.

AJR: And the third one sounded like a fake name. It sounded like a flax. I don't know.

E: Those are 3 doctors that have been.

AJR: Oh they're real people?

E: No they are characters.

AJR: Well characters.

S: They're all fictional characters.

E: Several doctors that have been on various Star Trek series. All right Steve let's run to you. A, B or C?

S: I mean it sound like a Bones McCoy quote but I don't recognize it so I'm gonna say Dr Phlox.

E: Okay Dr Phlox. And let's go to Jay.

J: Yeah I think I would have remembered McCoy saying that so I'll say Phlox as well.

E: And Bob.

B: My exact reasoning is two previous schmucks.

AJR: Yeah should've said Phlox.

E: And the answer is Dr Leonard McCoy.

S: Oh man.

B: No way! What episode?

E: Episode The Ultimate Computer.

B: Compassion?

E: Yep.

S: I was thinking of that episode actually. I didn't remember that quote. I haven't seen it in a while.

B: Compassion.

[talking over each other]

B: I should've known that.

E: Oh that's a good one.

B: I blame myself.

E: Pleasantly surprised. Let's move on to the second quote. Here we go . This is skeptics okay?

B: I'm too embarrassed to go on.

E: Famous skeptics. Here we go: "Ideas have consequences. And totally erroneous ideas are likely to have destructive consequences". Who said that? Was it:

a) James Randi

b) Steve Allen

c) Issac Asimov

And we're gonna start with Steve on this one.

B: Say it again?

E: You need the names again or the quote again?

B: No. Quote again.

E: "Ideas have consequences. And totally erroneous ideas are likely to have destructive consequences".

S: I'll say Randi.

E: Okay. Jay.

J: That sounds like Randi to me.

E: It does sound like Randi so there's Jay. Bob?

B: The third one was Asimov?

E: Yes it was.

B: I gotta go with Asimov.

E: Okay. And Andrea.

AJR: Yeah I originally was like oh this is Steve Novella quote but that's not fair for this game.

S: Best are from me.

AJR: As paraphrased from I'm gonna go Asimov as well because he's awesome.

E: Asimov as well and the answer is b - Steve Allen. From his book More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion and Morality.

B: Wow man. He was good man.

AJR: Are we all 0 for 0?

S: Yep.

E: Yes I know. Isn't that exciting?

S: 0 for 2.

B: That's fine that means I'm winning.

E: Exactly. We have a tie.

AJR: Yeah. Perfect.

E: We have 3 tie-braked questions in effect. All right here's the third one. This is Nobel Prize. Nobel Prize is this theme. "Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes and cells. Chromosomes carry the genetic information. Telomeres are buffers. They are like the tips of shoe laces. If you loose the tips the ends start freing". Who said that? Was it:

a) Nobel Prize winner Francis Armold

b) Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn

c) Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna

Let's start with Jay.

J: I think it was the third person.

E: Doudna? Jennifer Doudna? Okay. Let's do to Bob.

B: Doudna.

E: Let's go to Andrea.

AJR: I'm tempted by Doudna but I'm gonna go I'm gonna go Francis Arnold.

E: And Steve.

S: I'm gonna say Blackburn just so one of us gets a point. I was gonna say Blackburn but that's all the more reason.

E: And the answer is Elizabeth Blackburn. Blackburn won the Nobel Prize in 2009 on her research on anti-aging. In particular on the benefits of lengthening telomeres. Francis Arnols won was co-winner of the prize directed evolution of enzymes. And Jennifer Doudna co-winner for her research with CRISPR technologies.


E: All right fourth question. Fourth quote. Here we go. This one we'll call pseudosicence. Here's the quote: "80% of the extra virgin olive oil that you buy every day in your supermarket isn't the real deal. It may even be fake". Who said that? Was it:

a) Dr Mehmet Oz

b) Gwyneth Paltrow

c) Vani Hari the Food Babe

S: Yes. They all said it.

AJR: They all quoting each other as references.

E: We're gonna go to Bob first for this one.

B: The first one? Wait you said Oz is the first one?

E: Oz is first. Gwyneth Paltrow second. Second is Gwyneth Paltrow. Third is the Food Babe.

B: Gwyneth.

E: And Andrea.

AJR: Yeah going straight Gwyneth on this one. I already referenced goop earlier.

E: Steve?

S: Even before you said the name my initial reaction was Vani Hari the Food Babe.

E: Vani Hari. And Jay.

J: I really think it's the Food Babe.

E: Food Babe. And the answer is Dr Mehmet Oz. (laughter)

S:Uncanny at missing the answer.

E: I didn't realize that extra virgin olive oil was scam. Like this thing. Like people have apparently there's this idea that's it's not extra virgin olive oil. Or it's not real olive oil.

J: I've read that.

E: It's controversial thing.

J: I've read that and I've done a little bit of research to it and it seems to be a legitimate claim. I don't know about the 80% but it seems to be a legitimate issue.

AJR: What is it? It's not olives? It's not virgin? It's not extra-virgin?

E: Several things wrong with it. The 80%. Right, that it's not olives. First of all that there's other oils and other impurities or whatever else going in there. Plus just not what it's advertised or claiming to be. So that may be worthy of a little deep dive in the future episode. But I've never heard that one before. All right the last one. Steve you are in the lead. With one. (laughter)

AJR: Wow.

E: So now is the time everyone. Here we go.

AJR: To tie up.

E: I hope everyone gets this one. All right.

B: Except Steve.

E: Movies. Movies. Here's the quote: "The neutrinos are mutating into a new kind of nuclear particle". Was that uttered by:

a) The Doctor from Dr Who, the movie

b) Dr Satnam Tsurutani from 2012

c) Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, Star Trek nemesis

Andrea, you get to wrap it up.

AJR: Well I've at least seen Doctor Who so I'm gonna go with Doctor Who.

E: Okay. Steve?

S: I know that Geordi La Forge could see neutrinos. And based entirely on that I'm gonna say Geordi La Forge.

E: Okay. Jay.

J: Yeah. I'm gonna go with Geordi La Forge. I mean it just sound like something that he'd say. Like you know like Star Trek: The Next Generation had I think pretty mediocre technobabble. And this is very silly sounding thing that seems like it can from the Next Gen.

E: All right Bob final guess. Go for it.

B: So you're saying though that Geordi from the movie Nemesis?

E: Yep.

B: Yeah. There's a reason I only saw that once. (laughter) Ugh. So disappointing. I do now that Geordi can see neutrinos. But that was from the Next Gen episode. I have no memory of that from Nemesis but I don't remember much from that movie. What the hell, I'll go with Geordi.

E: Okay Geordi. And the answer is Dr Satnam Tsurutani from the movie 2012.

AJR: Did we all get that wrong again?

E: Considered one of the silliest most ridiculous quote. Even for a science fiction movie.

B: But I don't remember it. I though about it. I enjoyed the hell out of that movie. That was the epic disaster movie.

E: It was disaster movie porn is basically is what it was.

B: It really was. But what was the context of that statement? I don't remember because. Something about the core of the Earth.

E: That's right they took samples─

B: Oh yeah shit.

E: ─from the core of the Earth and they were comparing the neutrinos.

B: Damn it. Yeah it is ridiculous.

E: And then on the course of couple days or something they said that they were mutating because they were starting to interact with actual physical material.

B: They do they do oscillate between different types of neutrinos. But it's still a neutrino and it still doesn't interact with like light years of matter. It would go right through without interacting. So the fact that it could change so fundamentally is silly but what the hell. It's a damn disaster movie. And a good one too just without weird technobabble.

E: The winner of the quiz is Steve.

S: With one point.

E: With one point. Well done Steve.

J: I'm just flabbergasted on how poorly we played it.

AJR: That was.

B: They were kind of obscure.

E: They were a little obscure.

S: Good deceptive answers in most of them.

E: Yeah that and that's Steve you've prep science or fiction so much its fining the ones that aren't either making up the fiction or finding the incorrect ones. That's often the challenge. To make them sound plausible. Even though they aren't.

S: All right guys let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:32:40)[edit]

Item #1: A new study finds that smart thermostats, designed to save energy through efficiency, can increase strain on the electricity grid and worsen peak demand.[5]
Item #2: Researchers find that intranasal oxytocin is effective in improving emotional sensitivity and relationship satisfaction in couples undergoing therapy.[6]
Item #3: A new analysis finds that the probability of one or more human casualties from rocket body reentry is about 10% over the next decade.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Intranasal oxytocin
Science Smart thermostats can strain
More reentries, more death
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
More reentries, more death
Intranasal oxytocin
Intranasal oxytocin
Smart thermostats can strain

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

S: Each I come up with three sceince news items or facts. Two real and one fictisious. And then I challange my expert skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Just three news items this week. Are you all ready?

J: Yes.

B: Yep.

AJR: Ready.

E: Ready.

S: All right. Here we go. Item #1: A new study finds that smart thermostats, designed to save energy through efficiency, can increase strain on the electricity grid and worsen peak demand. Item #2: Researchers find that intranasal oxytocin is effective in improving emotional sensitivity and relationship satisfaction in couples undergoing therapy. And item #3: A new analysis finds that the probability of one or more human casualties from rocket body reentry is about 10% over the next decade. All right Jay go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right the one about smart thermostats. The claim here is that they can increase strain on the electric grid and worsen peak demand. Well I would imagine that they are using more electricity than the old school ones just because there's lot more processing happening. I think that's possible. But I don't think that's what you're talking about. Because you're saying it can increase strain on the electricity grid and worsen peak demand. That might be have something to do with the fact that they're programmable. So maybe it's like they're changing the temperatures in people's houses as the day goes on because they can do it they can make changes on their own. Or you can program it. I think that's plausible. At the very least. Let me go on to the next one. This intranasal oxytocin. Steve what exactly does oxytocin do?

S: Well if you knew that. I'll give this to you. It's the love hormone. It's the one that gets released when you are in love or also when women are having babies. That's why people would study it for this purpose.

J: I mean I think that this one's plausible as well. And to cut to the chase. The last one here about 10%. Rocket body reentry is about 10% over the next decade. I just don't think that. I think 10% is way to high. People getting hit with debris. So I think that one is the fiction.

B: Wait wait wait.

S: Okay. What do you mean?

B: Okay.

S: Shut up. (laughter)

B: I just misinterpreted #3 so I'm glad Jay said that.

S: Okay Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Oh boy. The smart thermostats. Yeah they're designed to save energy but can increase the strain on the electricity grid and worsen peak demand. Okay. Under what circumstances though? User error? that's always a factor in anything having to do with technology. People are not using their smart thermostats right. Setting them correctly. Whatever. I think the human element involved in that equations could certainly overcome any designs that the unit had to save energy. So I think that one's right. Other one I'm feeling. Oh boy. It's down to the other two, isn't it? The rocket one. Yes. 10% seems like super high. Whenever we hear about. We never hear about people getting hit with falling debris from space and there's probably good reason for that. But if this were to be science that means they're anticipating an enormous increase in rocket activity over the course of the next decade. Is that the case? I mean is it gonna go up so much so that that tips it to that level? I don't know. But there is a lot of. There's a lot of activity. But then they're using rockets that return and land themselves and things. That's a really tough one. But this intranasal oxytocin improving emotional sensitivity. So it's like a nasal spray? This is how this works?

S: Yeah.

E: Okay.

S: It's just a drug delivery system. That's how it gets absorbed.

E: So. Yikes. I will say the oxytocin one is the fiction. Cause it's about the it's not being used for therapy. It's not that's gotta be the part that's not correct in some capacity. Okay. That's it.

S: Okay. Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: All right so the thermostat one. I could see that. Especially if you've got some kind of like programmable synchronization going on with lots of them syncing up at the same time. Like oh when the sun sets in this time zone switch it to this. I could see that. The third one. Casualties from rocket body reentry. Yeah. I mean if you do I mean what's that the risk per year is much lower. I mean that's possible I guess. But the one. The oxytocin one potentially is problematic. I think I kinda like take a chance and say that it may be a blood-brain barrier problem problem that would make this one fiction.

S: All right Andrea so you've got Jay for the rockets. Bob and Evan for the oxytocin. What do you say?

Andrea's Response[edit]

AJR: Right. Well if I were smart I would do the Steve Novella strategy of picking the one no one has picked yet.

S: It worked last time.

AJR: Worked last time. I think the energy one makes sense to me. The rocket body reentry I also thought 10% seemed high but maybe it's my optimism that there'll be lots of cool space stuff going on and we do find ways to kill ourselves. So I think maybe 10% isn't too high. The oxytocin one gives me pause because I'm aware of intranasal treatment. I've been following intranasal ketamine as a treatment and I could easily see this being an article in Psychology Today which I don't know if that's the best basis for science versus fiction. But the part I'm hung up on is improving emotional sensitivity. I'm not. I mean I guess you could measure it. I don't quite know what it means and it kinda feels like an exaggeration of a claim so I wanted to go there but maybe this is unfair? I think I am gonna say the thermostat one is fiction just to be strategic about it.

S: Okay.

AJR: Yeah.

S: All right. So since you're our guest I'll save you for last. We'll take this in reverse order. We'll start with #3.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: A new analysis finds that the probability of one or more human casualties from rocket body reentry is about 10% over the next decade. Jay you think this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. Sorry Jay. So yeah this is─

B: That's a lot.

S: ─that's a lot. And the thinking was prior to this that the chance of anyone getting hit by a rocket reentry was negligible. That it was literally negligible. But there's a few trends happening and the big one is just the dramatic increase in the number of rockets that we're sending up. But also just increases in the world population as well. There's more people around.

E: 8 billion people.

S: Yep. We're gonna hit 8 billion by the end of the year. So they ran the numbers agai and you know what it's actually a lot higher than we thought. The probability was 10% basically over the next decade. The problem is with uncontrolled rocket reentry. You have like a multi-staged rocket and the parts that don't get into orbit they are almost in orbit but it decays and it they're low enough in the atmosphere that they come down to the ground. But there's absolutely no control over where they come down. They don't try to control the reentry in any way. Cause that would basically require that you have a rocket on this that piece with a little bit of fuel enough to de-orbit in a controlled fashion. that's the standard that we're going for. We want all rockets to have controlled de-orbiting of any of their stages. They're not getting put into full orbit. Bt it's more expensive to do that. So obviously some rockets will the first stage will land again. Like SpaceX. But that's not that's the exception of the rule at this point for all the rockets that that are going up there. And they're still most of the rocket pieces are not being don't have controlled reentry. They have uncontrolled reentry. Guess where most of them come down? Which part of the world? North, south.

J: The ocean.

E: Which ocean.

S: Which hemisphere?

E: Oh southern hemisphere.

S: Southern hemisphere. Yep.

E: Cause there's less land.

S: No it's not that's not it's purely because of just orbital mechanics and just the way they send up the rockets or whatever. It just so happens that most of them end up coming down the southern hemisphere. But yeah if we wanna mitigate this we really have to enforce international standards of you really have to make sure that everything comes down in a controlled way like you crash into ocean. Also there's the issue of space junk too. Things that end up getting fully into orbit. Like the last bit may the last stage anything that is with the probe of the satellite all the way to the end is by necessity also in orbit and just drifting around. So those have to be de-orbited in a controlled way as well. But anyway that's going to be an increasing problem and the numbers are not insignificant. All right we'll keep going backwards.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: #2: Researchers find that intranasal oxytocin is effective in improving emotional sensitivity and relationship satisfaction in couples undergoing therapy. Bob and Evan you think this one is the fiction. Jay and Andrea you think this one is science. And this one is─

B: Say it.

S: ─the fiction.

AJR: Shouldn't have gone for the Steve's method.

S: Yeah didn't work this time.

E: That's not a bad play though.

S: But this was more plausible than you might think. In fact there was a recent study looking at intranasal oxytocin and this is what they expected to find but it was negative. And looking back over the research this is a hypothesis that it may have this effect but there isn't any clinical data yet to show that it actually does. So the idea is Andrea you asked about the emotional sensitivity. That's exactly what they're looking for. So what the research we have shows that the blood levels of oxytocin correlate with for example the ability to sense emotions in others. Like to know when someone else is angry. To know when they're happy.

AJR: Interesting. Yeah.

S: And the idea being that spouses may not be detecting the emotion of their spouse during a conversation and so it leads to misunderstandings and arguments and fights. And if we just give them some oxytocin not only does it reinforce their bond it also makes them more emotionally sensitive. So that's the working hypothesis. But the data at this point it's only correlational with blood levels not anything showing that if you give them oxytocin it has that effect. This was like one of the first attempts to show that it was negative. So it's probably gonna be a failed strategy but what it did show is that couples need therapy. They actually need. It's not a substitute for actually having doing the hard work of therapy. And you wouldn't that's also little simplistic. The idea that you're gonna take a drug and it's gonna make you're marriage better is kind of little bit of wishful thinking.

AJR: Sound like an episode of Black Mirror.

S: Yeah maybe.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All this means that a new study finds that smart thermostats, designed to save energy through efficiency, can increase strain on the electricity grid and worsen peak demand is science. Bob you were closest in terms of figuring out why it is. Did you read the study cause you were pretty close.

B: No.

S: It's all because they're synchronized. It's cause they're synchronized. And the worst part of it so there's a couple reasons why there so synchronized and a couple of you kind of hit on why in terms of a big picture. Because of user error. What are most people doing? That are causing this do you think?

E: Overwriting?

S: No they are not doing anything.

E: Nothing.

S: They're allowing the the factory default settings to be left in place.

B: Password is password.

E: So they're not setting it up correctly.

S: They're not setting it up correctly.

E: The initial setup.

S: They can't figure out how to set it up. They don't know how to change it so they're just like screw it I'll just leave it with the factory default.

E: Oh god.

AJR: So every single one turns on at the same time.

S: Exactly. So what they're finding what the study found was that you have all these smart thermostats turning on the heat at 6 AM. Exactly on the dot. And so you have this sudden pick demand and it's also bad because it's before the sunrise. So you don't even have the solar power to help. Although it does occur when wind energy would be available. But still the end result is that they gotta turn on a lot of gas powered power plants right at 6 AM in order to deal with the surge of demand that's happening because all these factory default thermostats are hitting are coming on at exactly the same time.

AJR: Wow.

B: I'd be pissed man.

AJR: Yeah and it's not the case that I imagine it has to be spread out. Putting a random number generator and go 6 AM plus or minus a minute or two but that probable wouldn't [inaudible] it's like hours.

S: Probably no but I think that let's say you had the manufacturers set the factory default in five minute increments. From 5:45 to 6:15. So at least there's a half an hour in which─

B: Ramp up.

S: ─ramp up rather than all coming on at exactly at six. But also they said there needs to be they need to be more user friendly. And there needs to be more hand-holding so that people can set them up properly. Cause not everybody needs them on at 6. It's just that they're just lazy and defaulting to the factory default. And so if they could choose when it come on there probably would be more of a variety of when they would be coming on and going off and all that sort of stuff. So it wouldn't be this default synchronization. But it is a funny unintended consequence. Because the smart thermostats do save energy. So they could be pretty good. They also can shift electricity use to off peak which is their primary purpose. Because then that helps the grid and the energy is cheaper so it saves you money. When I efficiency that's more of how much you're paying for electricity. Not necessarily the total power used. Because it's shifting a lot of your energy expense to off-peak which is cheaper. But it's not so good for the utility company it they're all coming on at the same time. And that could more than offset the environmental advantage. The worst thing about peak demand is that utility companies they start with their best sources of electricity. The most environmentally friendly, cheapest, all that stuff. And then they go progressively down to the less and less efficient, cost-effective and more and more polluting forms of energy. And so when you get to that peak demand that's when you're turning on all the fossil fuel power plants. So it's bad. It's bad for the environment. It's bad for the utility company. And leveling out the power usage is a good thing.

AJR: That's interesting.

S: I was talking to somebody recently about electric cars and it's like like oh if we do switch over to electric cars won't that require a lot more electricity production and it's like yeah not as much as you think because electric cars are all gonna charge off-peak. For our electric car when you pull the car into the driveway you plug it in an you forget it. And it automatically charges itself in the wee-hours of the morning off-peak. So it actually helps the utility company because it helps level out their production. Anything that levels out demand is a good thing for them.

AJR: So here's what we do is we set the factory default for electric cars to stop charging at 6AM.

S: There you go.

AJR: When the thermostats kick on and then if they do it right.

S: At least for our Tesla the way it works is it says when do you want to your car to be ready for you. When you're leaving for work in the morning. So if you're leaving at 8 o'clock in the morning it will time everything for 8 o'clock. Not only does it time makes sure the car is fully recharged by then but it also conditions the battery so it's ready to go. And could also heat up the car for you. So yeah it's really cool.

E: For Bob it will pour his coffee for him.

B: Yes.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:50:47)[edit]

Anyone who attempts to generate random numbers by deterministic means is, of course, living in a state of sin.
John von Neumann (1903-1957), Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, engineer and polymath

S: All right. Evan you got a quote for us?

E: Yeah Andrea you just talked about random number generators, didn't you?

AJR: I did.

E: How did you know that this week's quote was gonna be about that? That is remarkable.

AJR: I think the crystals told me.

E: It must've been. or the tiny T.rex arms.

AJR: Yeah. They were holding the crystals which is how I tell them. Which is what the arms are for.

E: Exactly. Here's the quote: "Anyone who attempts to generate random numbers by deterministic means is, of course, living in a state of sin." Which is funny. John von Neumann.

S: Neumann isn't it Newman?

E: Neumann. Neumann.

J: Neumann.

E: Neumann I believe.

B: I've heard Neumann.

AJR: Yeah.

S: Really? N-E-U is Neumann?

E: N-E-U-M-A-N-N. Hungarian. Hungarian but also American. Perhaps best known for his work on the early development of computers. And he developed MANIAC M-A-N-I-A-C Mathematical Analyzer Numerical Integrator and Automatic Computer. Which was at the time the fastest computer of it's kind. This back right after World War II so the late 40s early 50s.

B: Yeah he was awesome.

E: Bob I know you'd know him.

AJR: That's funny that you said he's best known for the computer. I know that he did that but I know him from like a game theory perspective.

B: Oh yeah.

E: Yeah co-wrote the classic Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.

AJR: Yeah.

E: Yeah he was.

AJR: He was awesome.

E: He contributed to fields of math, mathematical logic, quantum mechanics, economics and game theory. So he was quite the brain.

AJR: So cool.

B: Awesome dude.

S: All right Andrea it was wonderful to have you on the show.

B: Yes!

E: Yey Andrea.

AJR: Thanks for having me. It was great to be here.

B: Come back.

AJR: Thank you thank you.

E: See you again soon.

AJR: I'd love to. Yeah this was great. I'm gonna look up T.rexes for the rest of the day.

S: And thanks everyone for joining me this week.

B: Sure man.

J: You got it Steve.

E: Thank you doctor.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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  • Fact/Description
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