SGU Episode 100

From SGUTranscripts
Jump to: navigation, search
  Emblem-pen-orange.png This episode needs:  transcription,  proof-reading,  time-stamps,  links,  'Today I Learned' list,  categories,  segment redirects. How to Contribute

SGU Episode 100
19th June 2007
100th episode 300.gif
SGU 99 SGU 101
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis

Quote of the Week
The amount of years that she will live longer than us because of the diet is directly proportional to the horror of her life.
Perry DeAngelis
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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 Tuesday June 19th 2007 and this is your host Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society. Joining me this evening are Bob Novella -

B: Hey everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson -

R: Hello everyone.

S: Perry DeAngelis -

P: Hey.

S: Jay Novella -

J: Hi guys.

S: and Evan Bernstein.

E: Happy Juneteenth everyone.

S: How is everyone this evening.

J: Great, how you doing Steve?

E/P/etc: Fine

SGU Reaches its 100th Episode (0.42)[edit]

S: Especially tonight, because as you all know, this is a completely arbitrarily special podcast in that this is our 100th episode.

Various: Yay.

R: I feel like we're turning into Blossom - I feel like every episode is a "very special episode" of the Skeptics' Guide.

S: "Tonight, a very special episode."

R: Jay is going to get into drugs.

E: Look out Simpsons, we only have about 300 more to catch you.

B: Yeah, but we can go into syndication now.

E: Yeah.

J: Oh that's right, according to TV we could actually start our syndication after this recording.

R: And then comes the money.


P: Finally the big dough.

J: We have officially made more recordings than the original Star Trek.

B: Ha.

S: Yeah, we passed that.

R: That's sad.

B: ..27.. (mumbling)

J: That's really ridiculous when you think about it.

R: It's a lot of episodes.

S: Now some of our listeners sent in little audio recordings of them congratulating us on our 100th episode.

E: Cool.

S: Making this milestone.

J: You asked people on the board, Steve.

S: I did ask for it, yeah. I mean it wasn't spontaneous.


R: It wasn't a huge groundswell of love and support.

J: "I think I'll send in an audio recording."

R: About that ticker-tape parade, are you saying that was all set up too?

J: I'm still holding out for that.

S: So thanks to all of our listeners who sent in audio clips and we're going to play a selection of them for you.

Hey, this is Will from ?? Ontario, also on the message boards as Havermayer. I'm a big big fan of the show, been listening since around episode 48 or so. And you guys have helped encourage me to found a skeptic society at my own university, so I may do battle with the forces of woo. So keep up the good work and let's hope for another 100 episodes.
Congratulations from Hershey Pennsylvania on 100 excellent episodes of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, to Dr. Novella, all the rogues and everybody's who's appeared on the show. It's the best 1 hour programming anywhere. Keep up the good work and good luck and if there's any way to email a 2-pound bar of thank you chocolate over the internet, I would have done it, but I guess technology isn't there yet. Thanks a lot and keep it up.
This is James from Edmonton Alberta Canada, wishing the SGU congratulations on reaching 100 incredible episodes. I'm a few months away from completing a doctoral degree in physics and after all the exams and all the papers, after all the late night hours toiling away in the lab, it's your weekly podcast which has provided me with the tools that I treasure most. Nothing has been or will be more valuable to my education than what you have offered: namely the know-how for proper application of rational and critical thought to all arenas of life, the understanding of the logical fallacies that people make every day and in every way, and have found appreciation for the fallibility of human reason. This knowledge should be the birthright of every person on the planet and so I thank you sincerely for having shared it with me. Once again, congratulations.
Hey guys, this is Rudism[?] from your forum. I just want to say congratulations on your 100th and here's hoping for 100s more to come, at least as long as Perry stays on the panel. Otherwise I'll have no more reason to live.
Greetings from London to Dr Novella and his skeptical rogues. This is Jared, a fellow Connecticut native, frequent commenter as 'ex-patriot' on Rebecca's blog and a faithful SGU listener. I want to take the opportunity to congratulate you all on your 100th episode. Yours is my favorite podcast each week and I'd like to thank you for fighting the good fight against the evil forces of pseudoscience. I'd also like to thank you for giving me solid grounds from which to argue whenever a friend or family member tries to convince me that homoeopathy, chiropractic or astrology has any validity in what we like to call "real life." Keep up the great work and here's to another 100 episodes. Cheers.
Hi this is RMZ wishing the skeptical rogues well deserved congratulations for their 100th podcast and taking a quick second to talk about both what the Skeptics' Guide as well as the NESS have meant to me. I knew about the NESS because I knew Steve in med school and it wasn't long after he graduated that I was given my first copy of the NESS newsletter. Years later, when I should have been working, I went online and saw they had put up their first podcast. I downloaded it, listened to it and was hooked. And now 100 episodes later, I'm grateful to the entire set of skeptical rogues for showing me that there's this whole class of people out there who aren't even necessarily scientists who want to approach problems and questions through logical reasoning and critical thinking. So from the early days of the newsletter through the website to the fantastic recent addition of Rebecca, you guys have really evolved and let's look forward to another 100 fantastic episodes.
This is GiggiRock wishing you guys a happy 100th episode and a big thanks for making my weeks a little brighter and my mind a little bit sharper and for making skepticism a whole lot funnier. I wish you guys the best, even Perry.
Hello, my name is Travis. I go by chionactis in the forums and I'm just sending you this message to congratulate you on your 100th episode of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. It is a fantastic podcast, I very much enjoy it. You guys are a great combination of personalities and it's really refreshing to hear people actually do research to effectively discredit these pseudoscientific claims that can often cause harm. I look forward to many future episodes.
Hey, this is Mike from Just wanted to congratulate the panel for achieving the 100th episode milestone. From the very first time I listened to an episode I was hooked. I was very new to the world of skepticism and the panel on the Skeptics' Guide have been my mentors ever since. I can honestly say that because of the SGU I look at the world around me very differently now, and I've made a few friends in the process. Rebecca - you've made me realize that even hippies can be good people. You've brought an attitude to the show that was needed. Perry - what can I say? There should be way more people like you on this planet, and way less birds. Evan - you've shown me that one needs the most when faced with a puzzling situation is to use their common sense. You know, they should make an International Evan Day. Bob - every time you speak I learn something new. The government should invest billions and billions in people like you. Jay, buddy - bring on the bacon! Without you I would never have known what the hucklebuck was, and for that I thank you. Steve - Dr. Novella - is your doctorate in everything? Because sometimes it just seems that there's nothing you don't know. Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into this awesome show. It doesn't go unnoticed. You have no idea how much everyone really appreciates it. Again, congratulations guys.

P: Wasn't that nice?


P: Thank you very much everybody. That was very very very kind of all of you.

R: Yes, thank you everyone.

S: It's good to get some positive feedback.

E: Oh yeah. Thanks.

J: We usually don't hear the voices of our listeners.

E: No, podcasting is one-way, Jay.

R: Wait you're saying they don't call you?

J: You know, unless I'm taking 3 or 4 xanax, I really don't hear their voices when we do the show.

B: I thought you took the pills to stop you hearing voices.

P: I hear quite a few of them Jay in the chat room on the SGU fan site.

News Items[edit]

Updates of Prior Stories (8.02)[edit]

S: A couple of our listeners have asked that we include some follow-ups to previous stories that we have talked about. And we do do that from time to time but I thought since this is the 100th episode, I would look back and try to get some follow-up on some of the stories that we've told over the last couple of years. We've actually done several updates on Buddha boy and I wanted to find out the latest on him. This is the 16-year-old who is not eating or drinking.

P: Is he still in the ditch?

S: Well, he's missing again, that's the update?

E: Is he on a milk carton somewhere?

S: Buddha Boy is missing again.

R: Did you check McDonalds?

S: He comes and goes. He's under a tree, in a ditch, he goes missing for weeks on end.

R: He's like Bat Boy.

J: He's roaming the world like Caine from Kung Ru, right, is that what -


J: Steve, does he disappear every day, like at teatime or something like that?


S: He just disappears, they don't know where he is.

J: What's the first thing he says when he arrives again somewhere.

E: Namaste.

J: "I'm back. I have not eaten or drank anything, I promise."

E: As he burps and picks something from his teeth.

S: Right. I also found, just for some further update, that Kent Hovind is still in jail.

All: Yay, woo hoo.

P: That's a plus.

S: Neal Adams still doesn't have a clue. [1][2]


J: Aw, poor Neal, he tries really hard.

S: And Ed Warren is still dead.

B: Aw come on, what are you saying.

P: I wonder if he's been communicating with Lorraine.

J: Of course he is.

P: Or anybody else for that matter.

R: Now there's a follow-up I'd like to see.

S: He didn't send me any cards, no phone calls.

E: Nobody channeled him for you Steve?

S: No channeling. And seriously I tried to find follow-up on a lot of the other pieces, like remember the Bosnian pyramid?

Various: Yes.

S: There's nothing on that, nothing's happened.

E: You saying it was a pyramid scheme.

S: Yes, it was a pyramid scam.

B: It's good that stuff like that just kind of fades away.

S: Yeah, a lot of it does, I search on the stories and the articles that come up would date from the original news stories that we talked about on the podcast, really nothing's up there -

E: Yeah, remember James Cameron finding the tomb of Jesus?

S: I searched on that. There's a really nice website now on the lost tomb of Jesus, just promoting the show, and all of the claims that Cameron and the other producers of that show made, but there was nothing new scholarly published on it that I could find. Which also brings up the point that we do ask our listeners, since you guys are many more people than we are, if you do come across any updates to any of the stories that we discuss, send them to us because we'll definitely want to do the follow-up on the show. So hopefully with many more eyes and ears we'll pick up on stuff.

P: We get a lot of leads from emails.

S: We do. And we appreciate it, we do. And on the boards as well.

P: And on the boards.

S: And I cull them for items and I do pick up a lot of items from that.

Psychic Arrested for Fraud (10.55)[edit]

S: Rebecca, you sent me an item that was kind of an update about the whole discussion of sending psychics to prison.

R: Yeah, that spawned a pretty big discussion both on the podcast and on the boards, people trying to figure out whether or not we should outlaw psychics. Just on Tuesday, this past Tuesday, a fortune teller was sent to jail in Maryland for bilking customers out of nearly $257,000. She basically got it all out of sad desperate middle-aged women.

S: Mmm Hmm.

R: They threw the book at her and the best quote that she could offer was "I promise in Jesus' name I'm not going to do this again. I know it sounds like I'm using Jesus. I am ashamed."

J: Oh, my God, that's the best thing she could come up with?

R: Take that as you will.

J: Oh my God.

S: That's pretty lame.

R: I find it interesting though. She's being sent away on fraud charges I guess. It's funny that we can send her away because she took money from them, but it seems like that's the only way to really get psychics is when they're taking actual money and property, but not necessarily when they're doing great amounts of psychological harm to people.

S: Right.

R: Like what Sylvia Brown does to people - parents of missing children, for instance.

S: Yeah, it seems that if there's a fee for service, that's considered entertainment, but if part of the fortune telling involves a scam to get large amounts of cash and property from people, then that's over the line to fraud. It seems that that's the line that's been drawn now. The Montgomery Assistant State Attorney, Carol Crawford, was quoted as saying "This is beyond fortune telling for entertainment purposes."

P: Right.

S: And she compared her to a leech who was draining money off of vulnerable middle aged women.

P: That's because the legal system is set up to deal with frauds and thieves. It's not set up to deal with people who commit psychological damage.

R: Well if you look at it, there are laws against, for instance, therapists using their relationship with patients in an inappropriate way -

S: Yeah.

R: - to take advantage of them.

S: But that falls under professional ethics and malpractice, but there is no professional ethics for psychics.

E: That's an oxymoron.

S: It's just fraud. You're over the line to fraud or you're not. And if you're not over the line to fraud, then everything else is fine.

J: You also have to imagine that she was turned in too. It wasn't like someone was policing this.

P: Isn't the definition of being a professional, being paid for service?

S: That is one definition, but the definition I was using was a professional meaning you are a member of a profession, and not all jobs are a profession. A profession implies that there is a certain recognized relationship with society where the profession is given certain privileges and rights in exchange for ethical guidelines and other guarantees of quality of service.

J: Like a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer.

S: Yeah, and implies there are ethical guidelines that can be enforced. But psychics are not professionals in that they are not given a privileged status for exchange for being held to ethical guidelines.

J: I think, would you guys consider this a precedent? Has this ever happened before?

S: Oh yeah, this is old news.

P: Many times.

S: And this is usually, the cases I've heard about are very similar to this where hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars was involved in a long term con. It basically was a con game where being a psychic or giving some kind of psychic service was just the mechanism of the con. And really they were convicted for being a con artist and for fraud, not for giving fortunes. So that's I think the difference.

P: Jay, I remember Sergeant Friday and Officer Gannon busting fortune tellers on Dragnet in the '60s.

J: Yeah.

R: You're talking about TV now, right? Okay.

P: Just saying it goes back a long way. It's certainly not a precedent, that's all I'm saying.

S: That is true, that was the "bunco squad."

E: "Bunco squad."

P: That's right, "bunco," that's exactly right.

R: It seems like more often than not when this con comes under the context of being a psychic, it's just like in this story where the so-called psychic told the women that they had a curse on them that needed to be relieved, only through her, and which would require a long-term plan where they kept having to pay and pay and pay and she basically freaked them out into thinking that if they didn't pay, they would have this awful curse looming over them. So it seems like it's like this by-the-book psychic scam that you just see over and over again.

J: What was the curse? That every month they're going to bleed? What are we talking about?


R: Are you really trying to get us back into that?

E: We got in trouble for that too, didn't we?

S: Let's not go there again. They're cursed to tell bad jokes forever.

J: I caught that curse a long time ago.

60 Years of Flying Saucers (16.00)[edit]

S: There's another bit of an anniversary this week. Do you guys know what happened 60 years ago on June 25th?

Various: Hmmm.

B: Yes I do

J: Well we all do, Steve. You know we know.

S: Yeah, I know, it's a rhetorical question.

R: Let's not pretend.

S: Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot, Kenneth Ahhhnold, made an observation, he witnessed what he thought were bizarre objects flying in an aerial formation and it was his sighting that led to the modern flying saucer craze or the modern UFO movement. That was 60 years ago. It's an interesting story in that the one aspect of that story I'd like to point out is that Arnold described the objects as being shaped more like a boomerang and he described their movement like a saucer would be skipped over the water, and that phrase, he was describing the movement of these objects, but the word "saucer" was picked up, flying saucer, and that led to the classic image of the saucer-shaped UFO.

P: Well thank god they picked up on that word because I'd hate to be looking at pictures of boomerangs for sixty years.

S: Flying boomerangs.

E: Flying boomerangs.

P: Thank God we went with saucers.

S: Flying saucers are much better.

R: And aliens with little Australian accents.

J: It's funny when -

E: It all makes sense now.

J: - when you think of the word, the phrase "flying saucer" and you break it down and you realize the guy actually meant a flying saucer, because it's emblazoned in our heads as a spacecraft.

S: It has become a word in and of itself.

Various: Yeah.

S: That's true. There's been some articles discussing this. This was one that was sent to us, in the National Post, by a journalist Scott Van Winsburg, and it's fairly skeptical although I disagree with some of the things that he says in here. The basic point he's making is that "okay, so we have 60 years of the UFO hunt and what has it produced?" And basically it's produced nothing. We essentially have today the same things that we had going all the way back to Kenneth Arnold. We have people seeing weird stuff and we don't have one bit of solid physical evidence, one bit of evidence that stands up to scientific scrutiny.

P: Well, it's only been 60 years!

S: Yeah! All of the promises of evidence that's just around the corner, of making contact with aliens, of the proof to come never ever materialized, and that's very telling.

J: Steve, if you just said "let's not even count anything up until the mid till late '90s to present day, when all of the video cameras and cellphones and all that technology exploded, when there was recording going on all over the planet, 24 hours a day, you can even just wipe out the 30 years that precede that. We would have gotten something on film by now.

S: Yeah, a lot of people have made that observation too - as recording devices become ubiquitous, we would expect more pictures and videos of UFOs.

P: They haven't turned up anything - there's no Big Foot, there's no Nessie, there's no UFOs, ghosts, there's nothing.

B: Yeah, but doesn't that just go to prove just how sophisticated and elusive those aliens are?

J: That's a good point, Bob.

E: Yeah, they've managed to keep one step ahead of our technology.

P: But how do you explain Big Foot, Bob, you're not going to tell me he's sophisticated.

J: Yeah, explain xx Bob, c'mon.

B: He's psychic, he's psychic.

P: Heh heh.

S: And extra-dimensional.

P: That's true. That is true.

S: There's always a post hoc rationalization for the lack of evidence.

E: It all comes down to quantum mechanics.

S: Yeah, I'm sure it's got something to do with El Nino and quantum mechanics.

B: He's quantum tunneling through the earth so nobody sees.

S: There was one thing in this article that I thought was a little bit of a howler. He is going through numerous reasons why the whole UFO hypothesis is not compelling and he said that the "lack of enthusiasm" basically is as it should be because "much of their enthusiasm is based on false assumptions made by an astronomer named Frank Drake." He had the Drake Equation - 1961 Drake devised a famous equation proving, he thought, that our galaxy was teeming with advanced species. Alas the 1997 book Yes We Have No Neutrons, science writer AK Dewdney showed that a simple and logical reinterpretation of the equation yields a result of just one species, meaning us. So I totally disagree with that characterization of the Drake equation. We talked about this before.

B: Right, did Drake ever say "here's my estimates for all these variables in the equation and here's the answer to - did he ever say that ever?

S: No, it was not offered as proof of -

B: Exactly.

S: - of a lot of aliens. It was offered as "these are the variables, just then define the variables.

B: Right, a thought experiment, but this guy's making it sound like he plugged in his numbers and came up with the many many civilizations, when I don't think he ever did that.

S: Well reading the article, which of course we'll link to, it seems like he's trying to be skeptical but he really is making a very superficial reading of a lot of these points and doesn't really understand the topic to any depth. If you read a lot of the points too, he pulled out a couple quotes from some sources and, but doesn't really get down to the nub of the matter.

Nanoparticle Drug Delivery (21.35)[edit]

Nanoparticle Drug Delivery

S: A couple other bits of interesting science news this week I thought we would chat about. The first one is a pretty significant breakthrough in nanotechnology, which I know Bob always loves to talk about.

E?: Woo hooo.

S: Now any time there's anything that's really small or any piece of it is on the nano-scale, that's technically nano-technology.

B: Right, right.

S: So the term could be used very vaguely. This one is a company developed a nano-particle that could be used to deliver drugs which is very interesting application. This one is designed to treat glaucoma. Glaucoma, which is an eye disease, basically an increase of pressure inside the eye that can actually cause blindness if it's not treated, one of the limitations of treating it is that medications have a hard time penetrating the eye or getting from the blood into the eye where it needs to be.

B: 3% I think it said, 3% of medicines.

S: Yeah, just 3% of the drug that gets into your system actually gets to where it's going. A delivery system that can increase that penetration could allow the delivery of more medication without having so much of the medication being systemically in the body, so you get a fewer side effects.

P: It doesn't work like all those horror movies where they jam hypos directly into the guy's eyeball?

S: No, what happens is the nano-particles are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier's exactly what it says - it's basically a physiological mechanism to keep stuff from getting into the brain, the central nervous system, through the blood. It's basically just cells that line the blood vessels, and it carefully regulates what crosses across that barrier. It keeps out a lot of drugs. Physicians have to know which drugs cross the barrier and which ones don't, because the ones that do not cross it like an antibiotic that doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier shouldn't be used to treat infection in the brain. But ones that do cross the blood-brain barrier will get there in higher concentration. So this is a particle that's engineered basically to be able to move across the blood-brain barrier. This could be used to deliver lots of drugs, not just the one...

J: But how does it deliver the drug? I don't picture it yet. Do you know exactly how it works?

R: Yeah, is it in little baggies?

S: It's actually coated on the outside with the drug.

J: And your body just absorbs it?

S: Yes, but the key is that the particles will cross the blood-brain barrier and get into the eye where it needs to be, needs to have its action.

E: It's literally a carrier.

B: So would these be eye drops, Steve? I've never heard of a drug getting into the eye, being referred to as getting past the blood-brain barrier, although your eyes technically are bits of your brain that are kind of poking out and -

R/P/J: Ew.

B: - looking at the world -

E: That's cooool.

B: That's really what your eyes are, so.

S: The optic nerve and the retena are part of the central nervous system.

E: That's very cool.

S: It is actually exactly that, it is sort of an extension of the brain, of the central nervous system. It doesn't actually specifically say but what it does say is that the size of the particles are less abrasive than some of the complex polymers now used in most eye drops, so it makes it sound like this drug is being delivered as a drop, which needs to get across, but it also says that the particles are designed to cross the blood-brain barrier, so that may not be for this particular application but potentially future applications.

B: My question is what happens to the particles once they off-load their payload?

S: Yeah, I guess they're just cleared out.

B: They don't mention that, okay.

S: Well, they're just .. cleaned out. I don't think they build up and stay there forever. But I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of this, of high-tech drug delivery systems rather than just taking it, and it's absorbed into your stomach, it goes into your blood and then however much of it goes wherever you want it to, but actually using some kind of nano-delivery system to get drugs where we want them to and keep them away from other parts of the body, that's a good way to minimize side-effects basically which can be a very limiting factor.

R: I wonder how long before nano-technology ends up on the black market. Could you use it to get a better high? I'm not asking for personal reasons, just curious.

S: Yeah, that's interesting, I guess it depends on how easy and cost-effective the manufacturing techniques become. Right now I think you need a pretty high-end lab to do it, I don't think you could do it in a street lab. But you're right, I wonder, that's when we'll know it's really mainstream, when you can get nano-tech street drugs.

P: Nano-tech street drugs! Heh heh.

Dino Bigbird Discovered (26.11)[edit]

(Original article link now broken, perhaps like this one -

S: The other news item which has sparked some discussion is a discovery of a new species that is a dinosaur, a bird-like dinosaur.

R: A Big Bird-like dinosaur.

S: Yeah, this is Big Bird, this is dinosaur Big Bird.

E: Sesame Street Big Bird?

R: It's like 30-ft tall but it's like Big Bird if Big Bird were a dinosaur.

S: Yes, if Big Bird were a dinosaur. So it is a raptor, it's from the kind of dinosaurs that evolved into birds and this one's being called Gigantoraptor. The early claims that are being made for it is that they think it has feathers.

B: Based on what?

S: Yeah, the scientist Xu Xing at the Chinese Academy (all these fossils are being discovered in China, that's where they lived and where the fossil beds are that we're finding all these bird-like dinosaurs), and Xu Xing is quoted as saying "It had no teeth, it had a beak. Its forelimbs were very long and we believe it had feathers." Sometimes the decision whether or not it had feathers can be very difficult because they can leave only very faint impressions.

R: Yeah and you know there are guys out there who just study the evolution of the feather, and I was reading a comment from one of them online today saying that you don't see any instances of skin that quickly changes from having feathers to not having feathers, it's much more complex change than you might think. Which might be why they're kind of thinking it had feathers.

S: Yeah, this is a really fascinating area of evolutionary biology - the evolution of birds. It is also one of the best stories in evolution, I mean, going all the way back to Archeopteryx, the first sort of half-bird, half-dinosaur that was discovered. Creationists have such a hard time with this, their basic approach to all this is to declare any fossil either a full dinosaur or full bird, which is, they just ignore all of the half-way features that they have. One of the things they used to say about Archeopteryx was that its feathers were fully modern, which is true. The structure of the Archeopteryx feather is identical to modern birds, or very nearly so. It is a feather designed for flight and it has the asymmetrical shaft and the stiff feathers that you would expect. But since then, with all of these other intermediate fossils being found in China, they've started to find more primitive or transitional feathers - feathers that are symmetrical, they're not asymmetrical, they're clearly not optimized for flight.

B: Remember years ago that great discovery that was all these different intermediary feathers that was such an incredible find.

S: So again it's one of those things where the creationists say "there's no transition between major groups!" Oh, here's a transition between dinosaurs and birds. "Well, there's no transition with the feathers, the feathers are fully modern." Oh!, here's a transitional feather, Well, you can't prove that -


S: - really evolved from one to the other, keep moving that goalpost back and back and back. But I love to see these fossils, they're so gorgeous. The Peabody Museum a couple years ago had a display of all of the China feathered dinosaurs, it was really great. Probably still moving around the world, if you can see it locally try to catch it.

P: Steve - is all this just your lame attempt on our 100th show to breed life into the long slumbering monkey-bird debate with your 30-ft bird here.

R: There's a chance that this bird could kick a monkey's ass.

S: It hadn't occurred to me.

J: But Perry, this thing could kill any monkey you throw at it.

P: Must I remind you of Kingus Kongus?

R: Thousands of listeners are right now slapping their foreheads.

J: Now wait a second, what about Gigantopithecus?

P: Right, I was going to mention him too, but I like Kingus Kongus better. And either of them could grab this 30-ft bird by his toothless beak and smack him around.

J: Well Gigantopithecus actually existed though, wouldn't that be a better argument?

S: It does have that advantage. Gigantoraptor's like almost as big as T-Rex, in fact they thought it was a T-Rex when they first started pulling up the …

R: And it might actually be larger than a T-Rex -

J: It was a baby, it was an 11 year old one.

R: A teenager yeah. And they can't really tell how it would have grown.

J: But it was flightless and they thought the wings were to, what, warm the eggs?

R: Or for show possibly.

S: That's, yeah, there's lot of hypothesis about what the feathers, what purpose did they serve before they were optimized for flight. They are really good insulators so that's an obvious use.

E: Protection?

S: I don't know if they'd be more protective than scales, but that's a possibility as well. So insulation, or -

B: Gliding?

S: - or display as Rebecca said, and then yeah, then you get onto the gliding to flight path. Once they get to a certain size then they could have increased the length of predatory pounces or they could have been used to capture insects, basically like a little fly-swatter. Or they could have been used to slow descent from like dropping from a low branch and then eventually to the gliding and then to flapping flight. It's still controversial as to whether or not birds evolved from the ground up or the tree down. I think the latest fossils pushed that in the direction of the ground up.

P: Feathers also make really good hand-holds for species with opposable thumbs.

R: That's true. Um. And I found the quote that I was thinking of about feathers on the tetrapod zoology blog which is on science blogs. He asks a friend of his, an expert on feather evolution, what his thoughts were and he argued that "due to the fundamental reorganization of dermal anatomy involved in feather growth, any lineage that starts out with feathers simply cannot switch back to naked skin."

S: Interesting.

J: Steve, a little nitpick, you mentioned in the evolution of the feather, the asymmetric shaft, it's not really the shaft itself that's asymmetric, it's the distribution of feathers on either side right?

S: Well, yeah, the shaft is asymmetrically positioned.

R: Can we stop saying asymmetric shaft, because otherwise I have to make a comment you'll have to edit out.

S: Okay. Like that one. One final point on this story, this has been discussed on the board for a little bit and a couple people brought up skepticism about whether or not we should accept these fossils at face value. That's an interesting point. I think that these are probably legitimate - this paper was published in Nature - although that doesn't preclude the possibility of fraud and the reason this even comes up is because a number of years ago National Geographic went on record as promoting feathered dinosaur fossils from China that turned out to be a total fraud, they were fabricated. And the reason that that kind of thing could happen was because the paleontologists in China essentially were buying a lot of their fossils from private prospectors - basically hiring people to find fossils, bring them to the scientists and get paid money. It became a little industry which created a demand and someone filled that demand by fabricating a fake fossil. And then it wasn't discovered until the bones were examined first-hand. Sometimes when a fossil is discovered, casts are made and the casts are sent to scientists around the world, but the originals are kept safe and that can sometimes preclude first-hand investigation. That's in fact what happened with the Piltdown fossils, they were kept locked away for, what was it, forty years?

B: Yeah, quite some time.

S: It wasn't until they were taken out of cold storage and somebody drilled through them to realize it was not a fossil but fresh bone underneath. And the same thing happened with the Archeoraptor, the fake one that was promoted by National Geographic Society.

P: Yen is the root of all evil. Truth.

S: But since then the scientists have become a lot more careful but still we have to, it would be nice when the fossils get examined.

J: Yeah, I'm sure over time if there's anything inaccurate about it it'll be rooted out.

S: Yeah, it'll get rooted out.

B: Well Steve, wasn't one of the problems with Piltdown was that when the Piltdown was created, it perfectly matched what everyone was expecting to see. It was exactly what they thought that type of fossil would look like, so nobody really questioned it that hard. It was only years later as other fossils were uncovered that diverged from what everyone though how evolution went, that they said "wait a second, what's going on with the Piltdown Man? How come that's the only one that seems out of whack?" Then they really examined it and woah it's not right.

S: And specifically, to give it a little more detail, the preconception was that early man or the transitional species between ape common ancestors and man would have a human-like brain in an ape-like body. And that's what Piltdown Man had. When in fact what we found was that, we found Homo Erectus which is people walking around with a very very human-like body but with a small more ape-like brain. It was the exact opposite of what they expected with Piltdown.

P: Like Jay!

S: But by the time, with each new fossil discovery, Piltdown Man became more and more out of step with the evidence until it was written off completely as an anomaly, even before it was disproven to be a fraud, it was relegated to anomalous status because it didn't fit with the evidence. That's ultimately how fraud gets rooted out. Fraud's not true, and if you keep testing things against reality, whatever's not true has to be -

P: It also helps to lock the evidence away for 40 years.

S: Yeah, right.

B: That's one for the quote files: "Fraud is not true."


S: Fraud is not true, right. That's the ultimate weakness of it.

J: I swear to Jesus and I know it sounds corny but -


Questions and Emails (37.00)[edit]

Home Buying Pseudoscience ()[edit]

I have been house hunting lately and have bumped into some pseudoscience during that time. I was wondering if you guys could cut through the BS for me.

1) My real estate agent insists that it is a bad idea to buy a house near power lines since they cause cancer and therefore the value is reduced. I believe her that the value is reduced, but not because the threat is real, but because so many people have this mistaken belief.

2) A home inspector that I know told me that UFFI (Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation) was used as an insulation in the 70s. There was a brief health scare that this insulation caused health problems and now any house that ever had the insulation, even if it was removed at great cost, has had its value greatly reduced. And apparently there was no scientific basis behind the scare.

A link to info about UFFI:' target='_blank' class='podcast_link'>

Thanks for your great show, it's by far the best podcast of the 10 or so I listen to every week.

Jonathan Abrams Ottawa, Canada

Skeptical article on power lines: UFFI:' target='_blank' class='podcast_link'>

Magneto and Son ()[edit]

Found this video of magnetic father and son in Taiwan. Any suggestions on how they pull this off? (Or put it on, as it were)

Brandon Adams Long Beach, CA

Acupuncture Brain Surgery ()[edit]

Thanks for the great podcast, here are a some topics i thought might be interesting to research and discuss for the show...

1. I saw a show with Leanord Nemoy (can't remember the name) he showed a video of a woman in China having brain surgery with supposedly only acupuncture to numb the pain, she was fully awake during the procedure.

2. the war on drugs is an interesting topic, specifically is the research true that the netherlands has lower addiction rates than the u.s. (these statistics are all over the internet by advocates for the decriminalization of drugs in the u.s. - is it the government's right to intervene in people's choice to use drugs if they are not putting anyone else in danger -"plan columbia: cashing in on the drug war failure" was an interesting movie that stated that the u.s.government is supposedly giving money to the columbian military even though it is one of the leading smugglers of drugs out of its own country. - america has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prison population; most non-violent drug offenders (penn and teller's bullshit has an episode about the drug war)

3.the "holding back of the electric car" i know you discussed this before but the movie "who killed the electric car" says that the electric car was not given money by the government to succeed because pressure by the oil companies was put on the government to sustain the popularity of gasoline fueled cars. the movie also states that the hydrogen fuel cell cars were given government money because they knew the technology wouldn't become public or affordable for a long, long time.

4.the alleged danger of PVC, aspartame, flouride, and aluminum

5. pagan roots of christianity (more specific examples)

6. is premium gas really better than regular for some engines, and is water added to gasoline to extend it in warmer months.

7. do women cheat as much, less, or more than men? ( evolutionary theories as to why or why not)

sorry about the length, let me know if this is helpful.

Brad Carlson Illinois, USA

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Archaeologists have discovered the first known example of money, copper coins more than 8000 years old. Question #2 Physicists announced the discovery of a new elementary particle, in the same category as protons and neutrons known as baryons. Question #3 Neuroscientists have discovered that two independent brain networks share ultimate behavioral control.

Skeptical Puzzle ()[edit]

This Week's Puzzle

I notably lurk on the fringes of physics I rely on people's ignorance of water's specific capacity I was the world's only teacher of my practice from 1977-1984 I don't spend much time doing what I do I keep my momentum, yet try to stay uneven And if those dollars are burning a hole in your pocket, I can teach you to attain virtually any goal

Who am I?

Last Week's Puzzle

Franklin D. Roosevelt Mark Twain Herbert Hoover J. Paul Getty Napoleon Bonaparte Rudolph Giuliani

What un-skeptical trait do all of these famous people have in common?

Answer: Triskaidekaphobia Winner: Cosmic Vagabond

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

"The amount of years that she will live longer than us because of the diet is directly proportional to the horror of her life."

Perry John DeAngelis commenting on Rebecca Watson's vegetarian diet: 1963 - Present; a skeptical philosopher of some note

Announcements ()[edit]

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


  1. SGU_Episode_51
  2. Post-dating this podcast, Neurologica blog
Navi-previous.png Back to top of page Navi-next.png