SGU Episode 140

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SGU Episode 140
26th March 2008
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 139                      SGU 141

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

P: Perry DeAngelis


ES: Eugenie Scott

Quote of the Week

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

Neil Armstrong

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the skeptic's guide to the universe. Today is Wednesday, March 26th, and this is your host, Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society, and joining me this evening are Bob Novella,

B: Hey everybody

S: Rebecca Watson

R: Hello everyone

S: Jay Novella

J: 'ello governor

S: And Evan Bernstein

E: Hi everyone,

This Day in Skepticism (0:32)[edit]

E: On this day in 1953, Jonas Salk announces his polio vaccine

R: Yay

E: A great day in history

R: I mean: boo polio, yay Jonas

S: Yay to vaccine. We have an excellent interview coming up with Eugenie Scott, to get everyone updated on-

R: Yay, Genie!

S: -the whole 'Expelled' hubbub. And-

R: Boo, Ben Stein

S: -And evolution, "slash" intelligent design efforts.

News Items[edit]

Asteroid Rebecca (1:08)[edit]

S: But first, a few news items, the first of which, Rebecca, you blogged about this yesterday, asteroid Rebecca, tell us about that.

R: Yeah, there's a newly named asteroid floating around, asteroid Rebecca Watson, I am very pleased and I have a gigantic ego because this past week, an astronomer in Alaska, named Jeff Metcalfe, called me and asked if it was ok if he named an asteroid after me. He discovered it back in 2001, it was previously numbered asteroid 153289, and after a very lon, secretive process, he gained approval to name the asteroid after me. And the best thing is that my asteroid is not alone in getting a cool new name, Jeff discovered three other asteroids around the same time, and he has named the other threeL 'Phil Plait', 'Paul Myers', after PZ Myers of Pharyngula, and 'Michael Stackpole', all of whom I happen to like. So it's kind of cool that now I have an asteroid flying around space with three good buddies.

S: And how big is your asteroid?

R: My asteroid happens to be 4.3kilometers in diameter, which is much larger than the other guys-

E: Doesn't look that big from here though

R: It's the biggest of the bunch

S: Yours is bigger than theirs, huh? That's pretty big for an asteroid, from what I understand, a couple of miles

R: It's a good size, and-

S: How much damage would it do if it hit the Earth?

R: I think it would pretty much kill everybody

S: The extinction of men?

R: I think so

B: Depends on the velocity

E; Rebecca kills us all

R: Well, you know, it's my asteroid, so it would be going fast. There are over half a million known asteroids, but only a small number of those get names. And they have to be pretty stable and observed for a while before they're allowed to get a name. So, that means that my asteroid in particular will remain stable for billions of years, and has no chance of impacting a planet, sadly enough.

S: Well, congratulations, that's certainly cool

Airborne and False Advertising (3:22)[edit] Airborne Settles Case On False Advertising

S: The next news item has to do with a supplement called Airborne. Airborne is a vitamin, herbal supplement that's marketed as a cold remedy. This is the one that was allegedly developed by a school teacher – which is meant to lend it some credibility – and you take it, you know, whenever you're going to go on an airplane, or be in a germ-filled environment where at the first signs of a cold the instructions tell you. Well, the company that makes Airborne, Airborne Health, was recently the target of a class action law-suit, which was brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and they alleged that the company was deceitful in their advertiding, and the company just settled for $23.3million, which will be reimbursed to consumers who apply for it, and have to present proof of purchase. The reason for the lawsuit is that the company claimed that they had a clinical study that demonstrated that the product worked. It turns out that the company that the – 'quote-unquote' - independent company that did the study was a two-man operation that was brought into existence purely for the purpose of doing this study for Airborne. Neither of which had any research experience whatsoever. So it was a complete hack-job that was put together

Oregon Man Claims He Is Pregnant ()[edit]

Hypnotist Robs Banks ()[edit]

Questions and Emails ()[edit]

Follow up on Robins ()[edit]

Dr. Novella,

On the most recent edition of the SGU you mentioned seeing your first robins of the spring. You also stated that you had recently learned that they were non migratory and that they just move from their summer lawn/yard habitat to another habitat in winter. This is not accurate. American Robins are highly migratory. A quick look at a field guide range map shows that they vacate the entire northern half of their breeding range in the winter and that they winter in many areas of the south where they do not occur in the summer. I think where the confusion is coming from is that most people in the northeast, midwest, etc., are used to seeing robins arrive in the spring and spend the summer hopping about their lawns, only to disappear every fall. However, as you were told, robins do winter much farther north than many people are aware of as they do in your area. You were correct that these birds spend the winter in heavier cover such as areas that have evergreens, so people do not generally see them. But, these wintering birds are almost certainly not your local breeders; your local breeders migrate south and a much smaller number of northern birds arrive in the fall to spend the winter in your area. This is actually a fairly common pattern among widespread bird species such as robins, Red tailed Hawks, Horned Larks, and Song Sparrows, the local birds leave for the winter and are replaced by members of the same species (though often a different subspecies) arriving from further north. As a last point, the scientific name for the American Robin is Turdus migratorius. I think the meaning is pretty clear even to those who don't speak Latin.

Thanks for a great podcast and blogs. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely, Aaron Brees Des Moines, IA

More on Soap ()[edit]

Yes, the basic idea of a surfactant is a hydrophobe head group and and a hydrophilic tale. One end sits in the water and the other end likes the oily side. However, there is a huge number of different surfactants. They come in anionic, cationic, nonionic and amphoteric varieties. Using these surfactants in a formulation can do all sorts of different things.

If you use one type you can really dry out your skin as it will strip away the natural oil and grease on your skin. Another surfactant could be much milder and leave more of the grease. Baby bath soaps use this kind usually.

These things depend on the active ingredient levels but mostly on the formulation used. It is not a case that if somebody came up with something new everybody wouyld copy it. These formulations can be patent protected and often are. We carry over 11 patents, all on surfactant formulations. Most of these do something pretty unique even though the individual ingredients are the same as others are using.


From the SGU Boards

Interview with Eugenie Scott ()[edit]

Eugenie Scott is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Eduction

She discusses, among other topics, the new ID propaganda film, Expelled:

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

  1. Falling coconuts kill more people each year than shark attacks.
  2. Astronauts in orbit cannot burp.
  3. DNA was first discovered and isolated by Swiss biologist Johan Friedrich Miescher in 1869.
  4. Sweden boasts a working hotel sculpted entirely from ice, which has to be rebuilt from scratch each winter.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

Neil Armstrong

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 and For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at For questions, suggestions, and other feedback, please use the "Contact Us" form on the website, or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us spread the word by voting for us on Digg, or leaving us a review on iTunes. You can find links to these sites and others through our homepage. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto, and is used with permission.


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