SGU Episode 200

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SGU Episode 200
May 20th 2009
SGU 199 SGU 201
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
Thomas Henry Huxley
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Show Notes


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, May 20th, 2009, and this is episode number 200.

R: Yay!

E: Woo-hoo!

J: 200!

B: Don't you love the odometer effect?

S: Yeah, this is your host, Steven Novella, and joining me this week, as always, is Bob Novella …

B: Hey everybody.

S: … Rebecca Watson …

R: Hello everyone.

S: … Jay Novella …

J: Hey, guys!

S: … And Evan Bernstein …

E: And, hello! 200... incredible.

J: (Laughs) Evan! What the hell? That was so cheesy!

(Rogues Laugh)

R: That was pretty cheesy

J: (Snooty accent) And, hello!

E: (Snooty accent) Hello!

R: I feel like he just opened up a hotel room holding a glass of cheap champagne.

J: (Laughs)

B: Steve will fix it in post production. Steve, you have a “de-cheesy” button, right?

R: (Laughs) De-cheesify that.

S: There's a “De-fromage” filter.

B & R: (Laughs)

J: So what's happening? Is this a podcast? What are we doing here?

R: I think it is. It's our 200th!

E: Oh, it is our 200. I mean, it was May 4th in which we—of 2005—in which we actually recorded out very first episode. And we just celebrated that a couple weeks ago. And it so happens around the same time is now our 200th episode. So it's a series of celebrations this month.

R: We're always just looking for a reason to party.

E: Absolutely.

B: That's right.

J: Did anything else happen, though? This time?

This Day in Skepticism (1:31)[edit]

  • Marie Curie is presented with a gram of radium worth $100,000 at the White House in Washington DC in 1921.

E: Oh, well yes, actually. Okay, so here's something funny that happened, kind of. In 1921, Marie Curie, you remember her?

S: (Sarcastic) Yeah, she was hilarious.

E: (Laughs) She was presented with a gram of radium worth a hundred thousand dollars at the White House in Washington DC.

R: Which promptly gave her cancer.

E: (Laughs) It's about the most interesting thing I could find today...

R: Too soon?

E: far as science goes.

S: That was it. She was presented with the... radium

E: She was presented with a gram of radium.

J: Well, what can you do with radium? What would be the things you'd use if for?

S: Uh... ruining film?

R: Yeah, destroying your enemies. There's a lot you can do with it.

E: Marie Curie discovered radioactivity.

R: The hard way.

E: Was she awarded the Nobel Prize for that?

R: Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes. One in physics in 1903 and one in chemistry in 1911. She is the first person to have won two Nobel Prizes. And she was awesome.

E: She was. And at a time in which, you know, women could not even vote. Uh, so, that was pretty impressive.

News Items[edit]

Missing Link Ida (2:33)[edit]

R: Yeah. I feel like there was a big announcement this week. Google's homepage is telling me that there was something going on.

S: Something about a missing link. You know, these things come out every other week.

R: Yeah.

E: Finally.

S: This was the big news item of the week. Scientists have unveiled – this is a fossil that was actually discovered a number of years ago. I think it's been sitting around in somebody's private collection -

R: I think it was like '85 or something.

S: - Yeah, for like 24 or 25 years and then it came to the attention of scientists about 2 years ago, who have been studying this fossil and now they're unveiling the fossil and their initial findings. This is a fossil of a transitional species – what is alleged to be a transitional species between prosimians, which are the earliest primates, and the other branch of primates which led to monkeys, apes, and humans. This, again, dates to about 47 million years ago. This species makes a connection between these two major branches of primates and one of the remarkable features of this particular specimen is that it is over 95% complete. It is a remarkably -

E: Wow.

S: - complete specimen. Beautifully preserved. One of those specimens that fell to the bottom of a lake, probably. Died in the mud and then was soon covered by layers of mud and was perfectly preserved in that fashion. In fact, it's one of the rare specimens that where you can still see the impression of the fur of the animal.

R: That's so cool.

B: That's wicked.

S: It is definitely cool.

J: Wouldn't they have, uh, – wouldn't what's-his-face have collected 2 of those creatures and...

R: Yeah, where's the – where's the boy?

E: Uh, that would be Noah, not “what's-his-face”.

J: Yeah, whatever.

R: (Laughs)

S: (Laughing) What's-his-face, yeah.

E: “What's-his-Bible”

S: As interesting as this fossil is – of course we're also interested in the way these news stories are reported, and this one has been all over the map. The first news story I saw on this was from Sky News.

E: Yeah, so did I.

S: And this is just about the worst science news reporting I have seen in a while. I know we criticize the way the main stream media presents science stories a lot on this podcast – and there are good – there's good reporting and there's bad reporting often on issues. This was the worst. They – they crammed about as many misconceptions into their story as possible. In addition to that, it seems to me as if the scientists themselves, who are unveiling this fossil, were engaging in a lot of hype and hyperbole. You know, you always wonder, were the being quoted out of context? You know, were they being treated fairly? But even allowing for a little bit of that, they just – you know, the sound bytes that they were offering up to the press, you know, to me were irresponsible.

So, this fossil which is dubbed “Ida”, I-D-A after the daughter of the – of the – probably one of the researchers. One of the experts is quoted as saying that this is the “Eighth Wonder of the World” – said “The impact on paleontology will be something like an asteroid falling down to Earth.” So... not quite. You know, first let's have the scientific community take a look at this fossil and see what it really means. But then, in 'Sky News' – this is what – this is what they say about it: “Researchers say proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.”

B: Oh. My. God.

S: Finally!

R: We've all been waiting.

E: All that other stuff, it was just speculation, and theory, and conjecture.

R: Yeah, we don't even know where Darwin came up with that crap. Surely, he didn't have evidence.

E: There was nothing before this!

S: There is a tendency in reporting new and interesting findings – and sometimes the scientists do this themselves, sometimes it's their press office, but often the media – to overemphasize the previous state of our ignorance, right? So they want to say, “We knew nothing, but now this discovery changes everything."

E: Yeah. (Laughs)

S: That's always how they want to couch it, but in so doing they really completely misrepresent the current state of knowledge. Come on – This? This one fossil confirms Darwin's Theory of Evolution? Please.

R: Yeah, I mean there are a million biologists slapping their foreheads –

S: Yeah.

R: – like, “Oh, well just forget about all that work we've been doing. This is it.

E: Yeah! A parad – They're treating it like a paradigm shift.

J: You know, and that one fossil would also disprove all of Intelligent Design and everything like – you know – they're putting so much weight on this one thing. It's ridiculous.

S: Yeah. Yeah, it's very – it's counterproductive! Here's another misconception that – it seems as if the scientists themselves were promoting to the media, 'cause there was, there was at least quote marks around these statements. Oh, another interesting thing is that the scientists waited two years to present this and there's already a documentary starring Sir David Attenborough about this fossil and so some of these quote are from David Attenborough who said that “This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals." As though this is the one that connects us directly with them.

R: Also – you know – that quote could have been taken out of context. If it comes from the documentary they've been doing it might have just been used as an introduction. Like, “We're going to use this piece to show you exactly how we're connected to the rest of the mammals.”

S: Yes, all these (unintelligible). But here's the other quotes he gives: “The link they would have said up to now is missing. Well, it's no longer missing.” referring to the link between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. So here's another trend in reporting fossils. Whatever connection can be made to humanity is always overemphasized as well. This is a link between the two earliest branches within primates: prosimians and then the monkeys, apes, and hominids.

J: (Creepy voice) Monkey.

S: But it's not the link that connects the human branch to the rest of primates any more than it's a link between apes and primates, you know what I mean? Or –

R: Yeah.

S: – That's completely the wrong context. This is 40 million years in the past of humans branching off from the rest of primates or the rest of mammals. I mean, it just is nonsensical. I'm not even sure what they're trying to convey there, except trying to make it seem like this has some very direct and specific implications for human evolution which it really doesn't except that it's a primate.

B: How many similar other branchings happened in the past?

S: Right.

B: That are just as cool as this one. I mean, it's not unique in that regard.

S: Right.

B: But, Steve. Real quick, you mentioned the movie with Attenborough and stuff. But you're only really scratching the surface at the level of this coordinated event between the scientists and the History Channel. There was the unveiling at the American Museum of Natural History. There was the publishing of a peer-reviewed article. A film like – that you mentioned – going into detail about the secretive two year study of the fossil. A book release, an exclusive arrangement with ABC News, and an elaborate website. All, you know, orchestrated by the History Channel and these scientists. And, regarding this, the scientists at the University of Oslo – One of the guys who kind of put all this team together – He said any pop band is doing the same thing. Uh, any athlete is doing the same thing. We have to start thinking the same way in science.

S: But it's really diluting the science, I think.

R: But is there – is there a point to be made in there though? That scientists do have to think about the perception and how to get the word out about scientific discoveries. I mean, obviously, things have gone terribly wrong in this case when it comes to some of the news that's being reported. But, at its heart, you know, I can certainly understand the sentiment of wanting your work recognized and wanting to reach out to a mainstream audience.

S: Yeah, absolutely. Just don't distort the science in the process, that's all.

R: Yeah.

B: That's true, but there's another factor – there's another point to this. And this isn't really just a couple guys that were looking at this fossil for the past couple years. This is an international team of scientists that have been vetting this fossil for all this time. So, to me that gives it maybe a little bit more credence in that, you know, it's a pretty big team of pretty good scientists that already have checked this out for two years

S: Yeah.

B: – So, it's not like – it's not like Hans Fleischmann that got some –

S: Pons. Pons and Fleishmann.

B: – I'm sorry

J: (Creepy German Accent) Hans.

E: Hans and Franz. (Laughs)

S: Hans and Franz!

B: (Laughs) It's not like Pons and Fleischmann who got a little extra heat coming down, like “Oh, we got Cold Fusion.” You know, it's been vetted for quite a while. So, it's -

S: Yeah, it's a legitimate fossil, I'm sure it's going to have very significant implications in terms of our understanding of primate evolution. It is a quote-unquote “Missing Link”, although that term is misleading and we should really try to get away from it. It is a transitional species, clearly. And it's also -- you know -- the researchers acknowledge it's probably not a direct ancestor. So, again, not the “Grandmother” but the “Great-Aunt”, as we say.

B: Right, I like that. Yep.

S: So they acknowledge that. But, the hype was so disgusting that the – and the distortion – again, downplaying what we already know about evolution, for example, as well as saying, like “This is the most significant transitional specimen ever found." Whereas other scientists are like, “Um... it's nice but it's no archeopteryx.” This is no feathered dinosaur. I mean, come on! Let's put things in perspective –

R: Yeah.

S: – We have lots of other fossils that are more significant in terms of their implications as a transitional species.

J: You know what's ironic about this is that we – in the big scheme of things – that, you know, any news that supports evolution is fantastic, in a way. But, we're also skeptics. We're also sticklers for information not only being correct, but we also want the information explained properly.

S: Yeah.

J: If we were creationists, we would be jumping all over this exploiting it to the nth degree, but here we are on our podcast criticizing something that we should – you know – most people would just say “Yeah, that's great. It's a good article.” you know. But we're here criticizing it because it wasn't even presented correctly.

E: It distorted the science. It distorted the truth. They're treating it like a paradigm shift and it's merely another piece of the puzzle that was predicted that we would eventually find.

S: Yeah. You know, you shouldn't make the science enthusiasts cringe, right? Yes, you want to reach out to the public that – you know, where it's just one other piece of news in the news cycle and may not have a preexisting deep interest in science. And you can make it sexy, you can make it interesting. But if you do it in a way that makes anybody who knows what they're talking about – you know – again, do the face-palm and cringe, you failed. I mean, you've made some major mistakes if you've done that and I think this is contributing to the – you know, ironically I think they contributed to the public misunderstanding of the science.

Jay, the creationists, like my favorite “Evolution News and Views”, the Discovery Institute propaganda blog, of course they did jump all over the media circus surrounding this fossil. They – obviously, they have nothing significant to say about the science. This is a transitional species, beautifully preserved, well dated, rigorously examined scientifically. It fills in – yes, it does fill in a piece of the puzzle in terms of the history of evolution on the Earth. But, they opened the door to criticizing the media hype and ascribing it to quote-unquote “Those Darwinists”, right? Whereas we're sitting here saying – you know – the news media and these irresponsible scientists are presenting this with inappropriate hype. But they're criticizing the same things we're criticizing but attaching it to “Those Darwinists”, as if we're trying to “pull one over” on the public by deceiving them about the implications of this fossil. So when you – you know – if when you're dealing with evolution, and the presentation of evolution to the public. If you do that and you have no recognition that half of the public doesn't believe in evolution and that there are dedicated critics out there. I mean, that's just incredibly naïve. You have to – every statement you say, every sound bite you hand the media has to be done very deliberately with the knowledge that this is a controversial subject about which this – the public is profoundly confused – which has extreme ideological enemies. And if you just ignore that – you know – you're going to be just handing gifts to the anti-scientific side of this equation.

B: It just shows how they're just not on their radar – it seems – right? They're not even thinking about it.

S: It's terrible. It's like that guy we were talking about – the other scientist – about the Cambrian Explosion – talking about it as if these fossils just appeared out of a magic box.

B: Right. Oh, no. God!

S: You just can't say things like that! You know – it's just – It's misleading and it's wrong first of all.

E: Really? A magic box?

S: It's hyperbole that is just gift-wrapped for the critics of evolution, you know? But some media outlets did get it right. The BBC article in particular was very good.

GPS Failure (16:22)[edit]

R: I heard that my GPS System is going to explode. Oh noes!!! What do I do?

J: Well, let's talk about it then.

B: We love out acronyms. ATM, IBM, LASER, FUBAR is one of my favorites. Here's one that's pretty –


B: – indispensible: GPS. I'm sure you guys have all heard of GPS. Don't even need to say what it means.

E: Oh, yeah. They ship anywhere. Oh wait, that's UPS.

B: (Laughs) Global Positioning System. So, I was pretty shocked then when I ran across headlines like these today: “A world without GPS? Unthinkable”, “GPS on verge of breakdown, report finds”. So, needless to say, I had to find out what the hubbub was about. It turns out, the US Government Accountability Office. Imagine – Don't they sound – You don't want them breathing down your back, right? The US Government Accountability Office.

R: Do we have one of those? Seriously? I can't believe that our government is accountable for anything.

(Rogues Laugh)

B: Yeah, right. There you go.

E: Very good point, Rebecca.

R: What have they been doing the past 10 years?

B: They've been looking at GPS, I guess. They're basically a government watchdog agency as you might have surmised. They recently warned congress that because of poor management with a 2 billion dollar upgrade – it's actually going to threaten the GPS service.

J: The upgrade is going to threaten it?

B: Well, yeah. The upgrade is a 2 billion dollar upgrade program that's being worked on – it's actually threatening the GPS service. Now, from the report – I read the summary of the report – and what they're saying is that the oldest satellites that comprise the GPS system is – they're going to start “dying” – quote-unquote – next year. And replacements are not going to be ready.

J: What?

R: (Gasp)

B: Right. That's what they're saying. And it's because of two reasons, basically. There's technical problems, as you might imagine. I guess it's pretty complicated to put this stuff together. And they're having troubles with the contractor. I think they got a new contractor and they're having some trouble with this firm, or whatever it is. So the result has been a 870 million dollar cost overrun.

J: What? Oh, yeah, let's –

B: It does sound like a lot of money.

J: – Yeah, let's just overrun by almost half the amount of money that it was costing.

B: Yeah, right!

R: Alright, well – but – I mean – who cares? Like, is this really a life or death situation? Are we going to freak out because we might have to go back to – you know –

E: 1994

R: – using primitive tools like maps and stopping at the gas station to ask for directions? Ahhhhh!

S: Obviously, Rebecca, you don't understand the implications.

B: No! Oh, absolutely not!

J: What she just told the world was that she doesn't have a GPS system. Because if she did –

R: Where am I going to put a GPS on my bike?

E: Travels by block.

S: You want guys – you want a guy to pull over and talk to somebody rather than use a gadget to know where they're going?

B: Oh, I think – clearly – I need to do a little bit of background of exactly what GPS is and what it does for us.

R: Alright, but make it quick.

J: Bob, everybody knows what the hell it is and what it does for us.

R: Yeah, you stick it in your car and it drives you around Boston and gets you lost.

B: The details are interesting. Our GPS is the only fully functional global navigation satellite system in the world, becoming fully operational in '95.

J: (Palpatine impression?) Station is fully functional.

B: The Russians actually had one. I wasn't aware of this. The Russians had a global navigation satellite system. But, because of all the economic problems they were going through it totally went into disrepair, and now it's essentially unusable. So, they actually have the satellites up there – enough to cover the globe – but it's actually just kinda – you know – they're just limping along and not doing what they need to do. And there are other countries, actually – China is working on one that's global and the European Union is actually going to have one that's going to come on line in 2013. The Russian one might be back online in 2010. They're predicting it might come back online. Although, I don't know if it could interface with our system.

J: Nyet

B: So these satellites – is a constellation – they call these constellations of satellites – they're in orbit – in medium Earth orbit around the Earth – a thousand to 22 thousand miles up is this area called “Medium Earth Orbit” and we've got about 31 to 32 satellites – depending on who you talk to about this and --

E: (Laughs)

R: Is one Pluto?

E: “I'll say 31!” “I'll say 32.”

B: – So, Rebecca – so what this thing – this isn't just navigation on your iPhone or your car navigator. This is map-making, land-surveying, commerce, geocaching, geo-shagging

R: Geoca – wait, geo-shagging? –

B: Look it up!

E: Geo-shagging!

R: – Is that like geocaching but with sex?

B: You got it!

R: Oh, that's 'so' nerdy!

B: And, not to mention all the military uses. So this technology is just ubiquitous.

R: Meh.

B: And if we lost it, it would impact national security. So this is a big deal, if it's true. If this is true.

Alright, so what are the symptoms? Say, worst case scenario, and this report is correct and we start getting these GPS brownouts. What's going to happen?

S: So, Bob. Can you tell me what's failing about these satellites? Cuz they seem to be so high up it's not like their orbit's decaying or anything, right? They're just running out of juice or just – what's going on?

B: These satellites have a lifespan. When they go up they say “This satellite is going to last for so many years.” That's how long the productive life is –

J: Okay...

B: – And that kind of keys into why I don't think that this is going to be much of a problem. Because... the expected lifespan is not necessarily the actual lifespan, especially for military –

E: Right.

B: – Military space equipment. They last longer. I mean, look at these probes –

E: Space shuttle!

B: – No. Look at the probes we send to 'Mars'. They say, “Well, we're going to use this thing for six months.” and then 30 years later this thing is still kicking around. I mean, these things just – they last longer. So this is not hard and fast. It's not like these “birds” are going to drop out of the sky.

J: Bob, you know we have to kind of also trust the experts. You know, these are people that understand the technology, understand the hardware. And if they say that things could start potentially be breaking down as early as next year – I mean – I would tend to agree with them and not go on what you just said.

B: No, it could. It definitely could. But one satellite's not going to do it. We only need a minimum of 24 satellites and we have 31. So what are the odds of seven of them failing before replacements start getting into orbit? It's –

E: What are the odds?

B: – Its – you know – I don't think this is – It doesn't sound urgent to me. It's something that we should be looking into. But don't forget, Jay, that GPS is so important that if the shit really started hitting the fan and this was starting to look nasty our government would – I think they would do pretty much what – exactly what was needed. They would throw money at this, whatever was needed to get this stuff fixed. Because there's no way. There's no way.

R: Billions!

J: Are we at that point right now? I mean, if it is as serious as you say.

R: He's saying that it's not serious.

B: Look at the worst symptoms that I was able to find regarding this. It's going to take longer for your computer to compute your location.

J: (Falsetto) No!

B: So, you wait a few more seconds and then it's gonna be – it'll be a little bit worse in areas that have poor sky views like, say – they call these downtown canyons. Like, you're between all these buildings –

J: Yeah.

B: -- Or you're inside buildings. It's going to take a little bit longer. The military applications will be worse because they rely on much more precise locations that it would be a little tougher for them. But the consumers wouldn't – would barely see this, I think. At least initially. It would take – It's not gonna – it's not like your Navigator's gonna take an hour to find out where you are and make it unusable. So –

J: Well, for everybody's sake I hope that they figure out what's going on, they mop this thing up quick, and no – there'll be no disturbance for the military or for –

E: In the Force.

J: – And the fact that I love my Garmin. So there it is.

S: It's just a matter of getting satellites up in the – to replace the ones that are failing.

J: Yeah, but you gotta build the satellites, guys. And if a contractor's screwing up –

B: Right.

J: – They don't have the satellites ready to launch. I mean, that's what it probably boils down to.

B: But – There's a workaround though and we've got these other global systems coming online in the next four or five years and they're specifically being designed to interface with GPS so they'll augment each other and help each other. So you'll be able to kind of like “fuse” these global navigation satellite systems together with, say, the Galileo one in the European Union or GLONAS, perhaps. So, they'll help each others' reliability and their accuracy. And don't forget: worst case scenario, all we gotta do is tap into the alien satellites and use their network, and we can probably be accurate to within one angstrom.

R: Perfect.

S: Right.

J: Okay.

R: So, bottom line: don't panic. Okay. Next!

Stem Cell Quackery in China (25:02)[edit]

S: Well, stem cells have been in the news again. I know we've actually spoken before about the fact that there are many clinics throughout the world, especially in China, selling stem cell therapy, usually for something on the order of $20,000 per treatment. And there's another clinic out there that's been getting a lot of news in the east. This Beike Biotech clinic in northeast China.

E: (Disgusted) Huh!

S: And, same deal. They're making claims that – for amazing clinical therapeutic effects but they're not publishing any science. They're not – nobody knows what they're actually injecting into people and the bottom line is that while the potential for stem cell research is tremendous – I mean, I think stem cells – you know, there's the tremendous potential there to be very effective therapies for a lot of things in 5 to 20 years. There really isn't anything right now that's available clinically. There are – you know – there's clinical research going on, etc. but –

R: So these guys basically are like – they sound no better than faith healers or anybody selling miracle cures to desperate people.

S: That's basically it. At really incredible prices. So, unfortunately, they've been very successful in getting their stories told in Western media. And even when the Western media tries to be responsible and does a reasonable job at covering the story, the bottom line is it's still – to people who are sick or to parents – they're only going to see the story that they wrap – you know, the personal anecdote that they wrap the story around. So, unfortunately, that's what they did in this case. This is a BBC reporting on this. And, again, generally BBC does a great job with these science stories. But they tell the story of a 3-year-old girl named Dakota whose parents spent 30,000 Pounds to bring her to this Beike Biotech clinic to treat her blindness.

R: It's incredibly sad because –

S: It is very sad.

R: – And – you know – like you said, just by publishing the information it somehow does make it worse and in this case the mother specifically said that basically the doctors told them, “Don't bother going online just to find some crazy out-there cure cuz they're not going to work.” And that's exactly what she did. She went online. She searched until she found something that offered a glimmer of hope to give her child sight back and went for it. And the result is that she brings the kid back and they test the kid and she still doesn't have any sight. Yet, the mother says she does. She wants to believe it so badly that she's thinking that her daughter can see now despite the fact that she obviously cannot.

B: Ugh.

S: The parents, confident in the therapy, agreed to have the child's vision tested and it showed zero difference before and after the therapy. But the mother is quoted as saying, “If a specialist wants to argue the point, come and watch my child and tell me that the child isn't seeing anything and that it never made a difference.” Very sad. And this is typical of cons, actually, that people would rather believe they made the right decision and not admit that they were victimized, right?

R: Yeah.

S: And this is especially true when – and in this case I've actually personally seen this exact scenario play out. You have a parent taking care of a sick child, they want to do everything possible. There's this “miracle cure” that's being dangled before them and they can't afford the incredibly ridiculous price tag. So, what do they do? They have a fund-raiser among all their friends and their neighborhood and their family. Everyone gets together, raises a lot of money so that they can hand it over to some quack selling them false hope. And then the treatment doesn't work, but the parents – at that point there's almost no way, psychologically, they're going to be able to admit that there was no effect. So they look for anything – you know, the confirmation bias – to convince themselves that there was some effect.

R: And, of course, this case is bad, but at least it's not the worst case in which the kid is, for instance, on chemo, but is taken off it so that they can fly him across, you know, the world so he can get some quack treatment –

S: Right.

R: – ends up causing more damage. In this case it looks like they've only lost, you know, a great deal of money and spent a lot of – worth, you know, a lot of time for nothing. But...

S: Right. And, you know, of course when they're confronted by the media – the people who are part of this clinic – about what they're doing they say, “Oh, well, scientists in the West don't pay attention to Chinese scientists and we're publishing in Chinese journals and they don't know what we're doing. But, that's BS. That's just not true. They're not publishing any scientific results other than sometimes maybe some case series, which is, essentially, they're just their own anecdotal experience. But –

B: I guess they don't want American money, either.

S: Well, they're getting the American money, right? They're –

B: Yeah, but not in the quantities they would get it if they actually marketed this successfully in the United States. If it actually worked, you know, that'd be a great motivator to go everywhere, not be isolated where you are, but spread it all over the world.

S: The thing is, science has to be transparent, right? And, in medicine it's the same way. If there's one clinic in the world doing something it's almost guaranteed that it's fake, that it's a con job. The only possible exception to that is if you have a particularly gifted surgeon who personally perfected a new surgical technique and, therefore, that's the only guy at the moment, or only woman, who has the technical skill and knowledge to do a new surgical technique. So, in that case it's actually plausible that there may be only one Center that can do it. But if it's just a therapy, if it's a drug, or stem cells, or whatever – if the science is there, then there'll be hundreds, if not thousands of institutions around the world that will be able to do it, right? But, in this case the science just isn't there. You know, there are tons of technical problems that have yet to be worked out in the stem cell technology, and they're not just saying that they've made one or two steps in stem cell therapy. If their clinical claims are true, then they've made a dozen or twenty steps and – you know – they're ten to twenty years ahead of the rest of the world, and they have nothing to show for it. That just is beyond credibility, unfortunately. But people will read even a skeptical article and they will see, “These parents believe their 3-year-old girl was helped. That's enough for me. That's enough of a desperate hope.” From their perspective it's not even unreasonable. If you're facing a death sentence from an incurable disease, even a thin hope might be rational, you know. You really can't put it on the patient or on the family – you know – parents of a sick child. Very sad, but this is not going to go away any time soon, unfortunately.

James Randi Bumper (32:18)[edit]

This is James Randi, and you're listening to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe

Questions and E-mails[edit]

Question # 1 - Candiru Fish Story (32:27)[edit]

S: Let's do a couple of emails this week.

J: Let's do that.

R: Let's.

S: Let's do that. First email comes from Eddie G. from Saint Louis.

J: (Laughing) Steve!

E: You have to say it like this: Eddie G.

R: (Laughs)

S: And Eddie – reminds me of Neil G. Remember him? Neil G?

E: (Laughs) Oh, yeah!

J: Yeah, me like! Me like!

R: Neil Gaiman? Oh, right... (groans)

S: And he writes:

Several years ago a coworker brought an article to my attention in an issue of Maxim referring to the 'fish feared by all men of the Amazon', for its tendency to follow the flow of urine and swim up the human male urethra, thereby lodging itself and being nearly impossible to remove. He was convinced it had to be true, 'Why else would Maxim print it?' I had my doubts. To me it all sounded like the kind of nonsense tailor made to strike fear in the heart (and other dearer parts) of a Maxim subscriber. I noted it made no mention of the fish being attracted to women, or other mammals, for that matter, merely to urine produced by human males. The article went so far as to imply this was a stage of the catfish's life cycle. Since then this fish story has reemerged over and over again, but my attempts to find any information on it haven't been terribly successful. Mostly it sounds like an urban legend, but I was wondering if you had any insights. Eddie G. St. Louis

R: Okay, first of all, can we address the idea that 'Why else would Maxim print it?' People, let's not go to Maxim for our science, okay? Whether this turns out to be right or wrong, you know, like, 'How to get in her pants' is not – that's not news and it's not logical and it's just... Put down the magazine! Stop buying that crap!

B: But it is important!

R: It's... it's so not important. I mean, really! Maxim? Come on!

S: Yeah, that's a separate issue, and you're absolutely right. Yeah.

R: All right.

E: I read it for the technical articles, myself.

R: (Laughing) Shut up!

E: (unintelligible)

S: So, what do you guys think?

R: Yeah, I mean, just get the porn!

S: Tell me, what do you guys think? Does a fish swim up the stream of urine into the end of the penis and lodge itself in the urethra?

R: Yes!

J: What is this, Science or Fiction?

B: A stream? How long does it stay a stream? I mean, it's totally getting attenuated probably, you know, an inch or two from the end.

S: No it isn't!

J: I would say that yes, that creature exists. That's my guess.

R: Well, the candiru exists. The question is whether or not it actually does that.

J: I say it does that.

S: So, kind of. You know, I was actually surprised how true this is.

R: Well, how maybe true this is.

S: Yeah, well I – you know. There are pictures.

R: Cecil covered this on Straight Dope –

S: Yeah.

J: Cecil?

R: – is what you're going to bring up, right? Uncle Cecil, who we all know and love and trust. And, he had originally posted that it doesn't exist, that it's an urban legend, or that he was, at least, very skeptical –

S: Yeah.

R: – of whether or not it does exist. But then this study came up, or this case study came up in which a doctor claims to have discovered this very thing and – I don't know. Steve, do you want to address this case study?

S: Yeah, so there's a published, or at least presented case study where a man claims to have been standing in a river, in the Amazon, up to his thighs and peeing in the river. And that a, like, about two-inch long fish jumped out of the water and into his urethra. It basically latched on and then wiggled its way in there. Now, so, it didn't swim up the stream of his urine. Right, so that part was embellishment. At least, if you're taking this story at face value. So there doesn't seem to be any support for the notion that it's, like, swimming up the urine stream. Or even, really, that it's attracted to urine or that urine has anything to do with this at all. What this fish does do though is, this fish is a parasite. And it crawls inside of animals. It will find any orifice, work its way inside, and then, you know, eat and reproduce on the inside of an animal. That is the life cycle of this case. But this is an individual case where I guess the fish was looking for an orifice and there was one so it jumped in. The man eventually presented to medical care and a urologist actually endoscopically removed the now dead fish from inside his scrotum. What I can say is, this doesn't mean that this is a true case, but what I can say is the doctors are named, which is always a good point, you know, it makes a story more credible when you actually have the individuals referred to by name. And the description of the medical procedure sounded completely kosher to me. It made sense, and sounded like an actual medical description of a procedure. So, it didn't have the red flags of “this is somebody making up a fake medical story” to make it sound legitimate. You know what I mean?

R: Oh, but, can I – yeah, there is – I agree with you, on those points. However, I do think that the doctors sound very legit and Cecil says he talked to one of the doctors that was involved, and it all sounds like it's on the up-and-up. But, what the doctors know is that there was a fish inside this man's urethra and that they removed it.

S: Right.

R: What they're taking on faith is the man's story –

S: Is how it got there, right.

R: Yes. And, I feel that in this case Cecil was not skeptical enough of the story. Because, there are other ways for objects to become lodged in a penis.

S: Right.

R: And –

B: I don't want to hear this.

J: And you would know.

R: I know this because I have access to the internet and... (laughs)

S: That's the only way that you know.

E: (Laughs)

R: And as we all know, if there's something pervy out there that has been thought of, then someone has done it and uploaded it to the internet. And, you know there is a certain fetish that involves sticking things in your penis and –

J: Oh, come on. Really? Really?

R: – I think that it's – yes, really.

J: We're not going to talk about this.

R: Well, no. I think that this is a legitimate issue. It's very, you know, common that people get things stuck inside them and have to go to the emergency room.

S: That's true, but are you going to put a carnivorous parasite in there? I mean, come on. That's –

R: Hey. Hey, it might not be my thing.

S: Talk about poor judgment.

B: Steve, they put hamsters up there.

R: But I also wouldn't put – yeah. I wouldn't put a lot of things.

S: Hamsters aren't known for eating animals from the inside out.

R: I'm not saying that this is necessarily what happened. I'm just saying there are other explanations.

S: Here's my hypothesis – is that the guy was submerged from the waist down at some point and the thing crawled in there, 'cause that's what it does!

E: Yeah.

S: You know, jumping out of the water is not that – you know – if he – and maybe he was only – you know, by his description, you imagine, he was only up to his thighs. You know, that's pretty much right there. It's not like it would had to have gone very far. You know what I mean?

R: Yeah.

S: So, the bit that always seemed the most extraordinary to me was the actually swimming up the stream of the urine. That always seemed ridiculous, and I think we can safely remove that element from the story.

B: I thought he meant when he was urinating within, you know, waist-deep –

E: Yeah.

B: – and following the stream. I didn't know you meant the stream was outside the water.

S: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

E: It wasn't clear, but you kind of have to draw your own conclusions.

B: That's whacked.

S: Well, that's the – that's the urban legend is, like, so you imagine somebody standing on the shore and the fish swimming up the urine.

B: Oh, that's crazy.

S: Yeah, that's crazy.

R: I've heard sharks can do that too.

S: All right, that's just the – right, the embellishment of the story.

R: Swim up your stream and eat you.

S: All right. So, yeah, and the other bit that sounds reasonable is that the fish normally is not a parasite on humans, does not normally crawl in the urethra. It does though, however, just find its way inside mammals and is a parasite from the inside. And that this is just an accidental thing that happens, rarely. There are reports of, like finding a dead mammal in a river, and you cut it open and these things spill out of it, you know, 'cause they were basically feasting from the inside.

R: Well, now that our male audience has now completely torn off all their –

S: Right.

R: – headphones and thrown away their iPods. Um, should we continue?

S: Yeah. But, it's interesting because this is more true than I thought it was gonna be when I first read the story. You know, it's interesting.

R: Yeah.

E: Hm.

J: All right, so the bottom line is that, indeed, this thing will crawl up your Willy Wonka.

S: Yeah.

E: If it can get up there, yeah.

R: Did you just say, “your Willy Wonka”? That's just wrong.

S: Don't swim naked in the Amazon. That's the lesson. All right!

E: That's great advice!

R: Man, if only... only I'd learned that sooner.

S: That's a safety tip. I think what we need to do, is we need to do a safety tip each week.

E: Oh, “Tip of the Week”, right.

S: “Safety Tip of the Week”.

J: Steve, we're going to give those kind of safety tips? Like, “don't set yourself on fire”, “don't let a fish swim up your –

S: Yeah!

E: Exactly!

J: – Gizmo”, I mean...

S: As a public service announcement.

R: “Don't chop off your arm with a machete”.

S: Yeah! Exactly, exactly.

(Rogues laugh)

S: Right? “Don't eat uranium”.

E: (Laughs) “Don't take silver colloidal medicine”.

S: Yeah, “Don't drink silver”. Right, stuff like that.

E: Things they don't tell you about at school.

R: “Don't put monkeys in your pants”.

E: Yeah, or birds.

S: “Don't put monkeys, or birds, in your pants”. Right, exactly. All right, let's go on to one more email.

Question # 2 - One Million Dollars (41:56)[edit]

S: This one comes from... the pronunciation guide is almost as bad as the words! Why – why give –

R: It's Lasse –

S: Lasse Maruen. But why give a pronunciation guide that has “R-E-U-X” in it?

E: Yeah, why?

S: I mean, come one. All right, let's say “Maruen”. This one comes from Lasse Maruen. And they write:

I understand that you do all this show on your free time, and that your expenses are covered by donations. So I wonder, what would you do with [insert Dr. Evil] one million dollars? More seriously - what would you do if somebody donated huge amounts of cash to SGU? Would you do more shows? Quit your day jobs? Hire people to help with production? Spend it all on one huge party? I wish to stress that I am not a crazy rich person, but you never know, there might be somebody listening, so keep that in mind when you discuss this Thanks for a great show! Lasse Marøen (Pronunciation guide: La-seh Ma-reux-an) e body of the email here

J: (Dr. Evil impression) Million dollars! What would we do with a million bucks?

S: (Continue email.) I wish to stress that I am not a crazy rich person – Ugh!

E: (Disappointed) Oh!

S: (finish email.)

E: We always keep that in mind.

R: Solid gold rocket bike!

S: Right. Honestly, I've never thought about this. What would we do if someone –

E: Two hundred thousand transcripts of Nightline. That's what I would buy. 5 dollars each.

R: I'd quit my job, yes, in an instant. And I would do an SGU every day.

J: Yeah, well, we wouldn't do one every day. I mean, if we had enough money to really do this full time, I mean, I think would reasonably say we'd do 3 a week and we'd produce other content too. I mean, let's face it, we do have a ton of ideas.

S: Yeah.

R: Yeah.

J: Some of which we may be executing right now, which is a secret.

R: Ton of ideas, not a ton of time.

S: Exactly, (unintelligible)

B: You know what I would do? I would stop looking for work.

S: (laughs)

R: (Pityingly) Awww!

E: (Laughs) Oh!

R: Seriously, my job takes up, you know, like, 12 hours of my day, every day. If I could get those 12 hours back, think of how awesome I would be!

S: Right.

B: Ha-ha!

R: I'd be twice as awesome.

E: It would be nice if we could all have professional careers, and what I mean by professional is: we get paid for it –

S: For doing this.

E: – Careers in skepticism. That would be really nice. It would take more than a million bucks, though, to get us all –

R: Not me!

E: – You know, full-time working in the field of skepticism and make a living for our families and so forth.

R: Not for me. I'm cheap! Just going to put that out there. I don't mean that in a sexy way. I just mean, I am literally inexpensive.

S: There are different answers depending on exactly the level of cash that you're talking about. And, we would upscale what we do to meet, really, almost any amount of money that somebody would throw our way. So, absolutely we would hire people to do things that, right now, we're slumming for volunteers to do, right? We could hire people to do the website full-time, hire people to do post-production. You know, we would obviously get better equipment than we have.

R: Clip Jay's toenails.

S: Right. We could hire people to do video production. We could basically have a skeptical studio where we produce all skeptical content, not only our own. I mean, you can just keep scaling this up. You know, a video production company, et cetera.

R: An official skeptical pony.

S: (Laughs) Skeptical pony?

R: We could ride.

(Rogues laugh)

J: But, most importantly though, I mean, what would we do? We would attend every event that we could.

E: Mm-hm.

S: Right.

E: Yeah.

J: There's just so many other things that we could spend time doing –

R: Yeah.

J: – that would be adding to our content, you know?

S: Right.

J: And, Steve has been begging me not to say anything, but we have some secret stuff that we're working on right now that we could do a lot more of.

S: We're hoping to have some of it ready for TAM 7. I'd like to have it actually ready before I promise it. But, you know, there may be some –

R: Yes, we could have, you know, more live shows.

E: As long as we're dreaming right now.

S: More live shows? Yeah. Oh, you know, more conferences. You know, absolutely. There's so much – actual marketing. Can you imagine?

E: Yeah, real marketing is what we really need.

J: (High-pitched disbelief) What?

S: See, obviously, we're not waiting around for somebody like Bill Gates to drop 10 million dollars on us. Although, that would be nice if you're listening, Bill!

E: Yeah, Bill!

S: But, we certainly would put it to good use. I would also point out that “The Other Side”, on almost every issue that we cover, has millions of dollars. I mean, it's incredible –

E: Ugh, billions.

S: The Discovery Institute has millions of dollars. Those jack-asses at Age of Autism, they make $400,000 a year –

E: Kevin Trudeau.

S: – they spend, marketing misinformation about vaccines. And here we are, doing it for free in our spare time, trying to counteract all of these things. It's incredible.

E: Just look what Kevin Trudeau, a one man band, look what he did.

S: Yeah. Well, it's just that there is millions of dollars to be made on the other side. That's unfortunately the case. Wherein – as we say, as we've proven, there is no money in skepticism. But...

E: (Laughs)

Correction (46:32)[edit]

S: So we had a minor correction or clarification from last week, Bob, on your piece about heavy water and the ultra-dense deuterium.

B: Yeah, a lot of people pointed out correctly that the heavy water ice would not, in fact, sink if our oceans were made of heavy water. It would not sink, because even though the heavy water ice is denser than regular water ice it's not denser than heavy water itself. So, it would, in fact, float as well. What I should have pointed out – what I should have said was that if water, H2O, didn't have that bizarre property that it does not get denser when it freezes like most other elements, that it would do that, it would not float – the ice would not float, it would freeze from the bottom up. But, luckily, it has that unusual property and – 'cause life, I think, would be very different –

S: Right.

B: – if –

S: So, regular water, H2O, does get denser as it cools down to about 4 degrees Celsius, and then it actually gets lighter. And, ice is actually lighter than water, so it floats on the surface. So, water freezes from the top down rather than the bottom up. And the bottom of oceans is typically always exactly 4 degrees Celsius, 'cause that's what the densest water's gonna be. Whereas, deuterium water, D2O, becomes densest at around 6 to 7 degrees, and then it gets lighter again. So, deuterium ice would sink in regular water, but it would still float in deuterium water, is the bottom line. So, we wanted to just clarify that one point.

B: And thanks for everybody for pointin' that out.

S: Yeah, thanks to all 1 million of you who wrote in to tell us about that.

B: Ha-ha!

Science or Fiction (48:15)[edit]

Item # 1: Scientists have developed a new dating technique for ceramics and pottery that involves measuring its water content with a microscale capable of detecting 1/10 of a millionth of gram. Item # 2: Neuroscientists mapping brain networks find that children younger than 12 have disorganized and chaotic brain function. Item # 3: New research finds that attaining goals of fame, fortune, and good looks are associated with less, not more, happiness.

S: Well, let's go on to Science or Fiction.

It's time for Science or Fiction

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Is everyone ready?

R: So ready.

E: (Sean Connery impression) Well met!

S: Here we go, item number 1: Scientists have developed a new dating technique for ceramics and pottery that involves measuring its water content with a microscale capable of detecting 1/10 of a millionth of gram. Item number 2: Neuroscientists mapping brain networks find that children younger than 12 have disorganized and chaotic brain function. And item number 3: New research finds that attaining goals of fame, fortune, and good looks are associated with less, not more, happiness. Bob, go first.

B: A dating technique, ceramics and pottery that involves measuring its water content with a microscale capable of detecting 1/10th of a millionth of a gram. That's not much water. A microscale? I guess a microscale isn't what I think it is. But, um, I mean it's just – yeah, that sounds interesting and nothing's jumping out at me on that one. Um, what is it assuming now, that the amount of water content changes over time, so therefore they can determine how old it is, I guess. I don't know.

Let's see, the second one here. Neuroscientists mapping brain networks find that children younger than 12 have disorganized and chaotic brain function. Disorganized and chaotic. Sounds... possible. As the brain matures, it's more organized and less chaotic, I guess.

Let's look at number 3, then. Uh, attaining goals of fame, fortune, and good looks are associated with less, not more, happiness. That makes perfect sense to me. So few people can attain fame, fortune, and good looks that a lot of people are pretty frustrated and not as happy. Um, so that makes probably the most sense of any of the other ones, so let's see which one – which of the other ones are less likely, then. Um... (silence)

R: Yeah, any moment now. Any moment, it's going to happen. I can feel it.

B: Yep. Yep. Any moment –

R: We're getting close.

B: – Any moment. When you say that, it actually slows me down.

S: If you weigh these choices, Bob, and organize your thoughts, I trust you'll be happy.

B: (Sarcastic) Ha... ha.

E: Disorganized and chaotic brain functions, Bob.

B: Wouldn't the water content change depending on the environment that it's in? For some reason, number 2, I'm going to say the disorganized and chaotic brain function – I'm just – Flip a coin, and say that that one's fiction.

S: Okay, Jay?

J: You know, after reading these through I really think that the second one about the disorganized brain function, that one seems to be the most likely off. I mean, it seems – I mean, I'm sorry – that one seems to be most likely the fake. And I can understand the idea of the brain, like, in mid-development and going through changes. It's not only going through changes, but it's actually growing. You know, the size of the brain is growing and everything. There's got to be something, you know, not completely settled happening in a child's mind. I mean, it's underdeveloped, and with the changes that are taking place over the next 5 to 10 years, I'm sure that that – wait, wait a second.

S: You just said it's fake and then made a case for it being true.

E: Yeah, contradicted yourself.

R: Did you just talk yourself out of it?

J: All right, you know, the children having disorganized and chaotic brain functions... is the fake, I think.

S: Okay.

J: That's it, yeah.

S: All right, Rebecca.

R: I tend to agree, because I can't imagine something as cool and amazing as the brain could ever be called “disorganized and chaotic” at any time during our lives. It forms these pathways, like, immediately and – I don't know, everything I've ever read about the brain shows that it wouldn't be called that, normally. So, um, and then, as for the others, um, dating ceramics and pottery by measuring its water. That makes sense, because I'm thinking of how the come out of the kiln, you know, and then I can see that the water content would change over time. So, uh, yeah. I think that makes sense. And, I agree with what Bob said about happiness. Um, fame, and fortune, and good looks. They're fleeting and difficult to meet the standards set by our society. So, that would cause less happiness. So, I'm saying that the second one is, in fact, false. Children younger than 12 do, in fact, have organized brain function.

S: Okay, Evan?

E: I'll agree with everyone else. Here was my thinking – is that, you know, we think of 12, we think of how young that is, and so forth. But, it was only what? A hundred, 150 years ago that people, what, lived to an average of 40, 45 years old. We're living to 78 nowadays, so we kind of take it for granted. So, I would say you pretty much had to have your brain wired up pretty well by then. So that's why I think 2 is fiction.

S: Okay. So, let's take these in order.

J: Okay.

S: Number 1: Scientists have developed a new dating technique for ceramics and pottery that involves measuring its water content with a microscale capable of detecting 1/10th of a millionth of a gram. And that one... is... science!

B: Cool.

S: Yeah, this one is very cool. Very cool.

B: So is the microscale so accurate with the weight that it could tell from day to day how the weight is changing?

S: Not from day to day, no. So, this is used to date archaeological finds and they say that it's accurate for pottery or ceramics that are up to about 2000 years old. But they think that with some tweaking they might be able to push that to about 10,000 years old. And, what they do – this is called “rehydroxylation dating”. Rehydroxylation dating. And, Rebecca's right. When you fire a brick, or a tile, or pottery, or whatever in the kiln, that sort of resets the clock, right? That bakes out all the water –

R: Right.

S: – So you know that, at the moment of creation, it essentially has no water content 'cause it's all been baked out.

R: See, I know this because I do a lot of “paint your own pottery” classes.

S: Is that right?

R: (Laughs)

E: I thought it was 'cause you shop at Pottery Barn.

S: (Laughs)

R: That doesn't even make sense.

S: No, it doesn't.

B & R: (Laughs)

S: And then, water will slowly, slowly, slowly, over the years bind with the pottery. So what they do, if they find a little piece of pottery in an archaeological find, they weigh it, they bake out all the water –

B: Ah.

S: – Weigh it again. So now they know how much water was in it. And then –

B: Excellent.

S: – In order to calibrate it, they then will observe it over time. And this is where the microscale really comes into play. They say, okay, now how quickly is it going to accrue water over time. And then they extrapolate from that to the total water content and, therefore, its total age. Does that make sense?

J: Mm-hm.

E: Very much so.

S: Very cool. It's very clever. Very cool technique.

J: That is pretty cool.

S: Now, interestingly, they say that if we know the exact age of a piece of pottery from other lines of evidence –

B: Verify it.

S: Yeah, you could verify, we know this thing was made in 1250 AD, right? Or whatever. Then, they can – knowing the date – they can use this technique in order to calibrate the rate at which, over historical time, the water would have bound with that piece of pottery. They could say, “This is how fast it's binding water now. This is the average rate at which it was binding water over its lifetime.” And that may become a way of estimating the average temperature over historical time. Isn't that interesting? So if you know –

B: Wow.

S: – You can guess the temperature. You can say, “All right. We're gonna basically assume that the current rates are the same as the average rates over historical time” to estimate the age. But if we actually knew the age, then we could use that to estimate the average temperature over the historical time. So this might be another way, another line of evidence, to sort of get at the whole question of Global Warming or Climate Change. What have temperatures been in the past? So, very cool. And of course – you know – archaeologists will love this. I mean, to date a find. I mean, these kind of bricks and bits of ceramics and clay and whatever is very common in a lot of archaeological finds. This'll be a huge boon to archaeology.

B: Wouldn't the environment be a huge factor in determining how quickly it binds with water?

S: You mean like, is it buried under the ground –

B: Right. Right.

S: – versus laying on the surface versus under a lake?

B: Yeah.

S: I would assume.

B: So then, when they weigh it, and then they fire it again, and then they see how quickly it binds, they really should be putting it in a similar environment that it was for the majority of its lifetime in order to be apples to apples.

S: Yeah.

B: I'm sure they thought of that, but I just wonder how they deal with it.

S: Yeah, I didn't have access to the technical paper, only the press stories about it, so I don't – I couldn't find anything. I thought – I had that same thought. I mean, what about the environment? And, they didn't mention anything about that. I'm sure they take that into consideration, but that sounds like a variable that might introduce some error.

R: Next!

S: Next! Neuroscientists mapping brain networks find that children younger than 12 have disorganized and chaotic brain function. Clearly, Rebecca, you don't have kids, right?

R: (Laughs)

E: Not that she knows of.

S: Not that she knows of.

R: I've met some.

S: You have?

R: Before. I think. Once or twice. Hey, I ran a magic shop. Come on.

S: Neuroscientists mapping brain networks find that children younger than 12 have disorganized and chaotic brain function. And, this one, you guys all thought was the fiction.

E: We thought.

S: Those with and without children thought that this one was fiction. And this one... is... fiction.

E: Yeah!

R: Ah-ha! Yeah!

B: Just didn't sound right.

R: See, I know kids. I know 12-year-olds.

S: Yes.

J: Oh, yeah?

E: You know to avoid them, right?

R: I practically am a 12-year-old.

S: That's true.

E: Well, goes without saying.

S: In fact, this was based upon a real story where they did compare the brain mapping of children and adults. The senior author, Steven Peterson, is quoted as saying, “Regardless of how tempting it might be to assume otherwise, a normal child's brain is not inherently disorganized or chaotic.” So, it's exactly the opposite of true. But, what is true is that kids' brains are organized differently than adults'. And they undergo a fairly significant reorganization as they age, as they mature. But they're still organized throughout the whole process. It's just different. The way – and when I mean organized, I mean – you know, there are different parts of the brain, different “modules”, if you will that participate in different functions. And they network together in order to perform tasks. And the pattern by which these different brain structures network with each other during different tasks changes significantly as we age or mature. That's what they found.

R: Cool.

S: Right.

R: Makes sense.

S: But it's still – Of course, this is still a functioning brain every step of the way. But it's interesting that kids – what that means is that kids, you know, especially very young kids, they tested down to 7 years old. They didn't test younger than 7. They think differently than adults, you know?

B: They're not human. They're not human.

S: (Laughs)

E: (Laughs)

S: It's funny to think about that 'cause, you know, I have a 9-year-old, and Bob has an 11-year-old, and it's funny – even at 9 years old, it's interesting because, in a lot of ways you can actually relate to her and almost think of her like a little adult. But, then every now and then she'll –

B: Right.

S: – reveal that, wow, she's really thinking about things in a very different way than the way an adult would think about things –

B: Yeah.

S: – and the way they construct their world really is interestingly different. But they can fool you, you know, just conversation and whatnot. You tend to assume it's like a little adult talking to you, but it really isn't.

R: Yeah, I've been reading Bruce Hood's new book, SuperSense, and hopefully we'll have him on the show soon. It's a very good book.

S: I'm reading that book, too.

R:. Oh, what are the chances?

S: What are the odds?

R: So, he discusses a lot of really interesting research that's been done on children, and a lot that's been done on babies. And, it's really cool to see how they test exactly how kids think and, in the case of “SuperSense”, he's looking into how they view the supernatural world and how they process information in that way. So – and he makes the case that they do think very differently from adults.

S: Right.

R: It's really interesting.

S: It is very interesting. So, congratulations everyone.

J: Why, thank you.

R: Thank you.

E: Yes,

S: Of course, all this means that number 3, new research finds that attaining goals of fame, fortune, and good looks are associated with less, not more, happiness is... science.

R: So, Jay, just give up on that.

S: Right. I guess that means if we did become famous skeptics and become wealthy, then we'd all be unhappy.

R: Really, 'cause I still kind of want that million dollars, though.

S: Yeah, yeah. Doesn't seem right.

E: Yeah.

S: So, these were psychological researchers which were following up on previous research that finds that people do find happiness when they set a goal for themselves and then they work to achieve that goal. But, that does lead to happiness. So-called “determination”.

E: Yeah. Hard work. Definitely.

S: Right. But what they were saying – what they further explored with this rather long-term survey they did was, does it matter what kind of goals people are achieving? And what they found was that goals that essentially involve personal growth: developing close relationships, community involvement, physical health, et cetera did lead to happiness. While goals that involved extrinsic things like riches, or good looks, or fame actually led to less happiness. And they say, well, this was the first time that that question was asked, separating out the kinds of goals as opposed to just seeking goals versus not seeking goals. So, it's good to have goals and it's good to work towards them, but they should be ones that are fulfilling to you, personally. And, if you're trying to achieve this extrinsic goal, or superficial, or whatever, that tends to lead to unhappiness and disappointment. But, you know, I think kind of confirms conventional wisdom, you know.

R: Yeah, makes sense.

E: I think so. Yeah.

S: Kind of makes a certain sense. Yeah. Although, yeah, I still want the million bucks.

E: (Laughs) Yeah.

R: And we still win. Yay!

S: (Laughs) Good job, everyone. All right, Evan.

Who's That Noisy (1:03:56)[edit]

  • Answer to last week - Dean Radin

This is the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe: Who's That Noisy?

(Hums Imperial March)


R: Who's that noisy?

E: I love this time of the show. Let's play last week's “Who's That Noisy?”

So of course, there's plenty of reaction to these kinds of things. There's lots of skeptical comments that basically say that there are billions of people out there with trillions of experiences and so we hear the weird stuff. Occasionally there's going to be an unusual coincidence and those are the things that bubble up to the top. And, so, while the experience that I just read, which is a true experience, maybe it's a 1 in a trillion chance. But it's because there's all these other experiences that we don't hear about.

E: Any guesses? No?

R: Um... no.

E: No. That's okay, because someone guessed, rather quickly, and they were correct, from the message board, that that was our old friend Dean Radin talking.

S: Dean Radin.

E: I don't think I ever heard him speak before, before I actually went to look him up. You know, I've certainly read about – read some stuff that he's published and so forth. And Magnus M from the message boards was the first one to correctly guess. So, congratulations.

S: Congratulations.

R: Well done.

E: Dean Radin. What doesn't he believe? That's the question – that's a shorter list.

R: (Laughs)

E: You want one for this week?

S: Yes, Evan, please give us the –

R: Mm, kind of, yeah.

S: – Who's That Noisy for this week. I can't wait to hear it.

E: All right. I challenge our listeners to figure out “Who's That Noisy?”

(Who's That Noisy Clip (1:05:31): Rapid rhythmic tapping like a woodpecker, but more hollow sounding)

E: All right, that's it

R: I think it's what happens right before the firing squad.

S: (Laughs)

E: (Laughs) The drum roll?

R: Yeah.

E: Cigarette, bandana, er – blindfold, and...

R: Do I win?

S: All right. That's interesting, Evan.

E: It was a good one. So, see what you can come up with, and good luck everyone.

Quote of the Week (1:06:03)[edit]

Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. - Thomas Henry Huxley

J: All right, so, Thomas Henry Huxley. Who doesn't know about this guy? Steve who is –

S: T. H. Huxley is one of my favorite intellectuals.

S&B: Darwin's Bulldog.

S: Yeah. Essentially coined the term “agnosticism” to describe his own beliefs.

E: Big man.

S: Just an incredible, incredible intellect.

E: What did he say?

R: And, were you bringing him up for a reason, or did you just want to talk about him?

J: “Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” How about that? … T. H. Hux!

S: (Laughs)

R: “T. H. Hux”?

J: There it is.

S: “Hux”?

E: “Hux” to his friends.

S: “Hux” to his friends? I don't think I've ever seen a quote from T. H. Huxley that I didn't think was awesome.

B: (Laughs)

S: He's always good for a quote.

Perry DeAngelis Tribute (1:06:56)[edit]

S: Well, to celebrate our 200th episode we are going to do a quick look back at the Rogue who didn't make it to 200 with us, Perry DeAngelis. Evan put together a brief compilation of some Perry quotes, including some material that never made it to the podcast. So take a listen:

“Aw, God... DNA? The double helix thing? Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Perry got it right! Double helix! Thank you. Secretaries. Double helix! It's a helix thing. It's science-ish. Remember Helix and Oscar, two men living together... what? Sorry.”

“Yay! Steve, you gotta insert a roaring crowd there. Seriously, on the edit. Insert a roaring crowd. All right.”

“Whatever Rosie has from Disney, I want that. Whatever – they wouldn't give her the contract she wanted, according to her. She wanted more money. She wanted 10 mil, and they wouldn't do it. I think the final straw was that diatribe she did at that awards show. I forget the awards.”

“So Bob, you think that this – yeah, good – you think that this planet is also in the vicious grip of Global Warming, like we are? The universe is pretty big, you know? It's pretty big. There's probably a lot of Class M planets out there. Yeah, yeah. Ecos? Yeah. It's a bad place.”

“Well, now wait a minute, Steve. I heard a creationist correct himself about... uh... you know, actually, I think in the whole 6000 history – year history of the Earth I don't think a creationist has ever corrected himself. About anything.”

“(Laughs) I stand corrected. I stand corrected. See? I'm willing to admit it! I'm willing to admit it. Thank you.”

“There's a lot that's big about me, baby. What? Sorry.”

“But, I want to just say, I don't know about reading. I am on the cutting edge. I have a television in my bathroom, thank you very much. So when I sit on the can I can get absorbed into a program. I can sit there for an hour!”

“What are you talking about? Sometimes I lounge in the tub for hours, you know, with a good movie on.”

“But you never got a marriage proposal from me! (Laughs) So there you go! Thank you! All right, come on.”

“Jay's a member! So they pickle you and then freeze you, Jay? (Creepy voice) We thawed out another one for dinner! (Scared voice) It's game over man! (Different creepy accent) I love them frozen – I love them frozen babies!”

“Excuse me. Don't talk over my jokes, please.”

“Yeah! And you can't say George Bush is like Hitler. You can only use that for people who are actually like Hitler! Like, say, Rosie!”

“I dare you to leave that in the podcast, Steve. I dare you to leave that in the podcast.”

“(Laughs hysterically) That's cool. Yeah, let's move on. Let's just keep recording. Let's just finish this up. Let's finish this abortion up. That oughta hold the little sons of bitches til next week (Laughs). Come on!”

J: Yeah, Perry unedited was... was, you know, indescribable.

S: It was. Perry in the raw. That was only a little taste of Perry.

R: Yeah, seriously. (laughs)

S: I wish you could have made it to 200 with us.

R: Yeah.

E: Definitely. Definitely, these – yes. Yep. But, we're always thinking about him and he's always part of us –

S: Always.

E: – and he's always part of this show. No doubt about it.

S: Always.

E: He will always be.

B: I wish he was frozen.

R: And he's still there in the archives.

E: Yeah, right. Jay, if only he took your advice and froze his head, we might some day be reacquainted with him.

S & R: (Laughs)

E: Oh, well.

S: Perry's frozen head is missing!

E & R: (Laughs)

S: Well, thanks for that, Evan. Thanks for 200 episodes of SGU, guys.

E: Woo-hoo!

S: What can I say?

B: Wow. 200 hours.

R: Hey, thanks for having me. Not for all 200 though.

S: And thanks to all of our listeners for making this the fun ride that it is.

R: Yeah. Thanks everyone.

S: This wouldn't be nearly as much fun if there weren't people actually listening to the show.

E: Listening, giving us feedback.

J: Yeah, definitely.

R: Uh, no. And if there weren't people actually listening then we would probably all be in a crazy hospital or something.

S: (Laughs)

R: A nice padded room. “They just keep talking!”

E: (Laughs)

J: Of course, it makes a difference, but... you know to me it's like... the fact that we – we're doing something that has an effect is important. But, you know, I would want to be – I would be working at this in one way or another, I guess, no matter how successful or unsuccessful we were. But I also really love spending time with you guys. I mean, the show is fun because of you guys.

R: Yeah. We have a good time.

E: Yeah, without a doubt, the company. It's good company.

J: Yeah.

E: I look forward to it every week.

S: Yeah. And I think that that comes across.

B: Yeah. Most of you guys are awesome.

S: Yeah. (Laughs).

(Rogues laugh)

R: Hey! Man, you skip out to go to one Star Trek movie and...

S: (Laughs)

E: On a Thursday!

J: (Laughs)

R: It was the premiere!

E: The day before release!

J: Rebecca, the fact is, you're a total geek/dork, just like the rest of us. You have –

R: Yeah, I'm just mega-cool about it.

J: – completely – you tipped your hand. Everybody knows. And there's nothing bad about it. I mean, it's –

R: There's no hand tipping! I know I'm a dork! I'm just the coolest dork ever.

(Rogues laugh)

J: Oh, no, no, no. I'm sorry. You have to be part Geek to go to a Star Trek movie. You went and you were –

R: Yeah.

J: – you're the perfect girl to be on the show with us. That's it.

R: I'm an ultra-rad geek!. (Laughs)

J: Yes. We love you.

R: Aw. I love you too.

B: As Perry would say, you're a hippie-geek.

R: Um, he would call me a liberal hippie. Yeah.

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah. Who's starving herself slowly with a vegetarian diet.

R: (Laughs)

E: That's what he'd say.

R: The length of my life is... what is it? Inversely proportional to the quality of it?

S: To the torture. The horror.

R: Oh, that's right. The horror of my... (Laughs) The amount of years I'll live is proportional to the horror of my life. (Laughs) Aw.

E: Good stuff. It would never have been said without a podcast. So...

R: (Laughs)

S: Well, thanks again, guys.

B: Surely.

R: Thank you, Steve.

E: I look forward to another 200 and then some.

J: Thanks, Steve.

R: Indeed.

S: Here's to another 200, absolutely. And until next week –

E: And then more.

S: – this –

E: 201!

S: – This is your Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

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 'info @'. If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us to 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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