SGU Episode 114

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SGU Episode 114
September 27th 2007
SGU 113 SGU 115
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
RS: Richard Saunders
Quote of the Week
To know the history of science is to recognize the mortality of any claim to universal truth.
Evelyn Fox Keller
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

News Items[edit]

Rebecca's Big News (1:10)[edit]

Acupuncture Study (5:47)[edit]

Teacher Fired over Bible Comments (16:06)[edit]


Super Boy? (22:21)[edit]


    Altitude and Oxygen

Questions and E-mails[edit]

Smart Sex (27:40)[edit]

Let me begin by saying I love the podcast, in fact it's the only podcast I download and listen to every week. My girlfriend and I watched the new television show Manswers on the Spike network. This show claims to, 'answer the most important questions to guys.'

The featured question was whether party girls, athletic girls or smart girls are better in bed. Unfortunately I can't find anything along the lines of citation so I can't confirm if what they claimed is true, however there was a doctor discussing a study. In this study it was determined party girls generally think all they have to do is show up for sex and their job is done, athletic generally view sex as a recreational and competitive activity, and smart girls are generally more comfortable with their sexuality and ultimately better in bed.

I am sorry to ask you to open this veritable Pandora's Box of more worship and attempted wooing of the lovely and intelligent Rebecca Watson, but I was wondering if you had any knowledge of this or other studies done like this. Plus I thought it was something all of you, especially Rebecca, would enjoy hearing and it gives me hope for the future when a network boasting it's, 'The First Network for Men,' comes right out and tells men intelligent women are more desirable.

Bruce Botelho Jr.
RI, U.S.A.

Colloidal Snake Oil (32:24)[edit]

Hello Skeptical team

Love the show and your 'cut to the quick' approach to questions.
I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the practice of taking colloidal minerals as a dietary suppliment with its, reportedly, extensive health benefits (reference the site below for background information).

I also confess that I have been a regular consumer of these minerals so at worst if you burst my bubble you will also save me some money.


Ian Byrne
Sydney Australia

Howdy. Firstly let me say that you guys rock. I have listened to all your pod casts now and have linked to a lot of other great ones through your recommendations. CHEERS!
I have recently voiced my concerns about a supplement leaflet being distributed around my city to local government and the dept. of medicine here in NZ and I'm yet to hear back... I'd also like your guys thoughts on this quackery.

The leaflet is advertising a 'natural' supplement called Colloidal Silver. The statements on the leaflet are advertising the healing properties as being Silver dispersed in liquid and that because of modern farming practices normal levels of this element in the soil are being depleted i.e. vegetables and fruits are lacking in this element... and so (the information says) we need to boost our levels by taking this supplement.

The leaflet claims that Colloidal Silver will heal over 70 different afflictions including Bladder infections, Diabetes, Meningitis, Pneumonia and Cancer! (Skin and Leukemia).
If this is true I would be thrilled (and amazed!) that finally someone has found a cure for cancer AND all these other causes of human suffering in one simple substance.
I've done a small amount of research myself on this product and found that it has been shown during tests to have no efficacy at all and that Long-term use of silver preparations can lead to a condition called argyria. (Stephen Barrett, M.D.)

I am very concerned that people who are looking for help will take this information as fact and waste money on this product or cause harm to them selves.

Thanks again!..
Warren Mahy
New Zealand

Interview with Richard Saunders (36:25)[edit]

  • Richard is a prominent Australian skeptic who runs the Mystery Investigators

Randi Speaks (57:12)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic

    James Randi returns to give his skeptical commentary in his own unique style.

    This week's topic: Faith Healers

S: Randi, one of the more despicable con artists that we encounter are faith healers, and you certainly have a lot of experience with them. Can you tell us about some of your experiences with some of the worst faith healers?

JR: Well, (indistinct) one of my very first experiences with—I was about to say "debunking", but I don't accept that terminology, of course—of investigating these people was the faith healer who was known as Little David. I encountered him when I—I guess I'd be about 17 at the time and I was in Toronto, Canada, where I was born and almost raised, and I was in the company of my good friend Terrence Kingsley Lawson, who was a magic buddy of mine. He had dragged me to this church on a Thursday afternoon, I seem to recall, and when the church was not being used for legitimate church work, if there's any such thing in the world. We saw this man, Little David, and this was a kid about my age, I guess; about 17 at that time, who had been highly touted. He had blond hair, which we suspected was bleached—no; could that be? Yes, I think it could be. It was sort of reddish-blond, and he was thoroughly made up and such. We hadn't quite experienced him because he was being touted by the preacher out front, who was building the audience up into great expectation. Lawson and myself sat in the upper balcony at the extreme left side. From where I sat, I could get a view of a little bit of a rose garden that was outside the church, and I called the attention of Lawson to the fact that we could see Little David adjusting his tie and his shirt and whatnot and sort of fluffing himself up and with a big mirror looking at himself to make sure his hair was exactly right. It was a Thursday afternoon; he wanted to look good. So, we were sort of getting a look at him preparing to go on stage, so to speak. And then, to my astonishment—you'll pardon the indelicacy of the observation—Little David decided that it was... urinate, and he did so in the rose garden. I think the roses all died instantly; I'm not sure, but I couldn't see from where I was, but I swear they could have. We thought that was pretty funny that here was this sainted character who was taking advantage of the rose garden for purposes other than what it was designed for. In any case, he did manage to straighten himself up and they announced, "here he is, Little David!" and he roared on stage like a rock star. Now, we didn't have rock stars in those days, but we had other stars of various kinds. I'm sure that they all took lessons from him or he took lessons from them; I'm not sure. And he burst out on the stage and started to screech and hoop and holler and hallelujah and carry on. And he did some apparent healings. We were highly suspicious of the healings as we were sort of prepared to be, and we tried to follow a couple of the healees outside, and we found that they got into the same van and drove off. We thought maybe they were from a church group, though they might have been plants that he had there—ringers who would claim to have been healed. In any case, I was quite annoyed by seeing this thing, because it was pretty obvious to me that these people were not genuinely afflicted with any of the diseases they said they had and they couldn't be instantly healed that way. But it was my first encounter with the faith healers.

Now, that tuned me up to the fact that... well, many years later, coming upon people like W.B. Grant and Peter Popoff, of course, who we thoroughly exposed on the Johnny Carson show, as I'm sure you know. They all do the same thing. It's the same razzmatazz; it's the same showmanship. They learn from one another. Catherine Coleman, way back, we used to see her on television. I never got to meet Cathy. But she was a similar character; very ethereal and dressed in—she looked like she was dressed with aid of curtains, just off the windows, because it was all filmy and she looked like Isadora Duncan as she glided around on the stage. As I said, I only saw her on television, but she was typical of a certain class of these people; the old evangelist type that wanted to dress in a spiritual fashion and use their so-called powers to heal people left and right. Now, the stories about the faith healers that I could give you are rather numerous; most of them are expressed in my books and in my one book called The Faith Healers, strangely enough. But that book and my other books need to be upgraded and updated because so much has happened in the field since. The fact that Peter Popoff was using a little hearing device in his ear to intercept broadcasts from his wife who was backstage and was monitoring the place by television—by video, that is. Shows that the faith healers and the rest of the scam artists out there have moved up a little bit. Not very much, but a little bit in their use of technology. I think that people like Catherine Coleman and The Holy Paul, I think was his name—that was an interesting one; I must get back to that in a moment—have used some technology along the way.

But let me tell you about this fellow named Paul. Some place in California—I've forgotten where it was—somebody took me to a service and we stayed in the balcony and observed him down on the floor and we thought that he was probably using a radio intercept and then we discovered, inadvertently, what the radio intercept was. His wife was introduced on the stage with their current baby. She wandered up into the balcony; she was walking back and forth with the baby and jogging the baby the way mothers do to keep the baby quiet and satisfied. And... (chuckles) very impressive... she would pause every now and then and consult a pad that she had underneath the baby. It'd be like a stenographer's pad with notes on it. And I determined to get close to her and I snuck up behind a column and listened to what she was saying to the baby, and she was saying things like, "his name is Sam and he's in the third row with the red and white shirt". So, what she was doing was transmitting to her husband on stage. She had all the hooks that she'd gathered about the victims that they were about to fleece and she was broadcasting by talking to the baby. Now that was a pretty interesting bit of misdirection; you know, you can't fault a mother for cooing to her baby, but she was transmitting information to Paul—David Paul was his name. There have been so many gimmicks like this, but they have not used technology except with this sole exception, so far as I know.

S: Randi, thank you very much.

JR: A pleasure.

Science or Fiction (1:04:34)[edit]

Question #1: New study shows that women with anorexia nervosa actually experience the taste of food differently than normal controls. Question #2: A computer model demonstrates how tolls can actually decrease travel time for drivers. Question #3: Researchers have developed a device that uses stem cells to identify terrorists in crowded public locations, such as airports.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:17:15)[edit]

A scientist worth $10.64 believed he discovered it.
And he claimed it was faster than Hermes.
But despite Poseidon's discovery, it could not be found the same way
In the end, a scientist worth $1.23 proved the first scientist was wrong

What was it?

Winner: Rogue Combine and Kevin
Answer: Vulcan

Quote of the Week (1:20:47)[edit]

To know the history of science is to recognize the mortality of any claim to universal truth. - Evelyn Fox Keller

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.


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