SGU Episode 216

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SGU Episode 216
9th September 2009
SGU 215 SGU 217
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
Skeptics...pfft! They only believe in science.
Anonymous DragonCon Loser
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

S: Today is Sunday September something - I think it is 6th and this is your host Steven Novella Joining me as always are Rebecca Watson, Jay Novella, and Evan Burnstein.


e:Can we help you?

R: You gotta love Dragon Con

E: Its Adam Savage

S: The Q&A is at the end of this show

R: Can someone come here and help me out?


(bob arrives 1:25)

B: I have a speech.

S: and apparently bob novella

E: Hey Bob

B: Ahoy you chumy skummy bilge rats (in a pirate accent)

S: Bob has always wants to say that

R: I thought we above gimmick

J: Rebecca - this isn't a gimmick - he is always wearing that

S: well welcome to Dragon con.

R: Look at you. Don't touch me.

S: Bob is in his un-dead pirate costume for the listeners that are not here

R: it works really well as a pod cast

S: Oh yeah. Oh Yeah So you gotta love dragon con. 2:21

S: first of all I want to thank Derek and Swoopy for getting skepticism and science and pod-casting in to a huge convention like this so thank-you Derrek this is only our second year but all ready we love coming here. I mean how often do you get to have your picture taken with Alex from a clockwork orange?

R: I'm hiding under the table. Not in a sexy way

S: apparently Andy McDowell has done some other minor roles but we know what he was. But jay keeps calling him Roddy McDowell

R: Yeah jay comes over to me and is like we met Roddy McDowell. Oh holly crap what did he look like.

J: shut up


S: and it is also great because we get to meet a lot of our skeptical friends from around the world that we only have a virtual relationship with and which we don't get to see in person very often. We just met for the first time Dr Rachel Dunlop from Australia. And of course many old friends now. S: Now I guess you are probably wondering why this picture is up there for. We've definitely noticed however that the skeptics are not in costume and it is starting to feel a little...

B: (murmurs)

S: ... most of the skeptics are not in costume. actually the four guys had a plan for a lame costume for dragon con. We were all going to grow goatees and come as our mirror image evil selves. But we failed but we could not grow decent goatees.

R: George Rhab grew one over night

S: It was pathetic. But here is the lovely Sheryl Loxten who was exploring steam punk as a possible skeptical costume. And I think she pulls it off very well. But we had to replicate this experiment. So.

<some picture is shown>

R: you are really making that work

S: so you can see Rebecca looking on adoringly from the sidelines

J/B: It is not adoringly Steve. As I was talking to her (inaudible @ 4:43)

S: Don't brush my melon

R: Don't take my catch phrase

?: thats yours?

R: Well technically its don't (inaudible)

J/B: This picture is George (Rhab) with his incredibly large invisible girlfriend


S: I love taking pictures of George Rhab because he is always the sharpest dressed guy in the room. Which I suspect is why he likes hanging out with skeptics

J/B: we make him look good

S: Yeah we lower the bar a little bit. Here we see that jay finally perfected that shrink ray he was working on.


J: That was one hell of a night guys.

S: Though he insists that not everything shrunk equally.

S: wait for it.

S: Last night at 12 o'clock when everyone is partying I am saying like we have to prep the show. We have to have to have a show tomorrow. This is Rebecca's response.


R: you have no way of knowing

News Items[edit]

S: so we have a few news items that we are going to cover and then we are going to leave most of the show to some live questions - that is always our favorite part

Google and UFOs ()[edit] Google UFO Doodle Explained

S: So yesterday we were looking through some news items and Rebecca found this one. 6:31

R: I did. I get a google alert on the most ridiculous things and one of them is UFOs. And the Internet went crazy yesterday because google mysteriously put up a UFO logo and nobody could explain why. And normal people would be like oh Ok there's a UFO on Google. Thats great. Not normal people flood the internet with comments like the one you see on the screen there which I'll read in the style in which it is written.

R: You won't believe it. I got a video that is showing a ufo. This could be most scaryiest video ever reported except look it up.

R: And you know we got a chuckle out of this because what is it with Caps Lock and crazy people? Why?

J/B: But Rebecca people use caps lock so much now we need something past that. So I was thinking we need super caps lock. It needs to be like twice as big and it needs to make noize.

S: or yeah and it needs to be blinking.

R: for when caps lock isn't crazy enough for you.

R: But the best theory thought for it I saw for it was that yesterday in New Hampshire there was a UFO festival. So maybe thats why. Maybe because of Dragon Con. Who cares. The Internet cares obviously.


Mongolian death worm ()[edit]

The Observers: The "Mongolian Death Worm", fact or fantasy?

S: So here we are looking at a picture of the Mongolian death worm. 8:14

S: You have to say it like that or it does not mean the same thing

R: you use super caps lock

J/B: And this is clearly out of a D and D book

S: right. The only thing more fierce than this is the Alaskan bull worm. And all you parents out there might get that reference. But other wise no - not so much.

R: no no.

S: I thought I had heard of everything but even Joe Nickle a famous cryptozoologist and sceptic had not heard of the mongolian death worm.

R: I've heard of the mongolian death worm. I love the mongolian death worm.

E: You thought is was a dance though.

R: It is part of my ?? voice style

J/B: That mouth obviously does detend (sic) damage.


R: I love the mongolian death worm because take a creature that is not at all frightening - its just a worm - and yet somehow ... It like that thing from Tremors - is Tremors that one from Kevin Bacon? -

S: Yes.

S: And so yeah but to make is scary they say that it spits acid and farts lightning. (9:38)

E: why are we talking about this

S: we are talking about this because some guy called Richard Freeman - which I thought was the guy from halflife right -

R: The nerd jokes are coming fast and furious now right

S: we have got our nerd game up.

S: So he thinks he found it right. He's launched a mission into the Gobi desert and said we are gonna find the Mongolian death worm or the things that sounds that and hes now got his press releases out saying after his expedition he doesn't have the actual worm. Right. But he says the worm certainly exists . When we talked to people in Mongolia they were all quite certain about that. They did not believe that it spits electricity but they did believe that it was venomous.


S: They are very afraid of it. A whole family packed up their hut and moved when they heard of sightings of the worm. So we launched a scientific expedition into Mongolia and came back with anecdotes. That's research money well spent.

b/J: Rebecca could you please read the first two sentences with cap locks. <10:47>

R: the worms really exists we are quite certain of that.

(banter) 11:00

Chupacabra ()[edit]

CNN: Texas mystery: 'Defective coyote' or chupacabra?

S: Since we are on Cryptozoology - do you guys know what this is?

audiencE: its a dog

R: No its not a dog. It is obviously la Chupacabra. And you have to say it like that.

S: And when these things mature they turn into aliens of course.

S: So this fell into the hands of a taxidermist in Texas who is going to preserve it for posterity. Now these kind of weird creatures get found - you know dead animals that look all wierd - get found all the time. And instead of say oh look at that weird dead animal that is partially decomposing . Now we've got infinite news cycle its got to be something that is supernatural. Right so if it is dogish its La Chupacabra right. That's what it is. although ...

(laughter) <11:52>

J: He's clearly been of his meds for the show man

S: If you are going to say Chupacabra - I mean - you know ...

R: do it right

S: um. But I think its probably ... Oh heres the guy Jerry Air. And he says "I don't want to be known as the Chupacabra quack. But people say there is a mythical beast and that I have one. I'll call it Chupacabra because the people love it but I don't know what it is." - Jerry Air - Chupacabra Quack.

S: But you know. Has anyone seen like a Coyote. They are like kinda weird looking dogs. So like half the time these dog like corpses that get found they are just Coyotes or they are just Coyotes that have mated with the domestic dog and produced something even weirder than just a Coyote.

s:But you know they are funny looking to us. Especially if their hair is falling off and they are emaciated because they starve to death or something .

R: or the mange

S: Right or they have mange. They look bizarre - right.

B: <unintelligible through his pirate mask>


<banter> J: Bob takes off more of his pirate clothes. Bob take the mask off.

R: you really need that hand.

B: You do not really want to see my hair.

B: Not only does the coyote look bizarre The process of decay also kinda does bizarre things.

J: So bob you are taking to us about decay now.

R: So your a zombie with an inside view of decay


B: It is a very interesting process. Do You know that there are some byproducts of the process of decay that the scientists named putracine and <??>. Isnt that interesting?


S: That is strangly sexy. Wait did I say that out loud (14:10)

Note added in proof: Follow up CNN story says that the Kentucky Department of Fish and wildlife determine that the animal is a racoon CNN video

Magnetic monopoles ()[edit] Magnetic Monopoles Detected In A Real Magnet For The First Time

S: We actually have a serious news item to talk about today. I highly recommend you take of the mask for this one bob.

B: No I am going to stick it out. (14:20)

B: How ofter do you get to take about magnetic monopoles as a pirate skeleton?

R: once or twice. 14:31

B: My friend Jack mentioned the title of this the other day at dinner and my first reaction was "no way" the next one was "holly crap". Because I have heard about magnetic monopoles for years and I thought we would never discover them. They are kinda bizarre things that had been predicted by theory going way back to 1931 with Paul Dirac. Theoretical Physicists said you can get a single magnetic pole like a north or a south. If you take a bar or horseshoe magnet and cut it in half you don't get a north here and a south here. You get a north and a south here and a north and a south here. Now there was no theoretical reason why you couldn't have single magnetic pole and it looks like these scientists may have discovered it. Jay do you have the name of that scientist - Jays German is really good.

J: Evan you do it.

E: Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie

J: oont energy (in mock german accent)

B: Yeah and we have permission from Germans to do this

R: The entire country.

B: The idea is that they found this crystal a berkinstal crystal that when you chill to near absolute zero the latice structure - the geometry of the crystal becomes bizare. It is actually it become like ice. Imagine a 4 sided pyramid - at the vertices's you have atoms. And if you chill to to really close to absolute zero the atoms that are really like bar magnets and they line up in a certain way and in some instances this creates a monopole in the midle of the pyramid. You can image a 4 sided pyramid with magnetic monopole in the middle appears - whether a south or a north appears. Now they did not see this to start with because the charges are so tiny. But by using neturon scattering they determined it and they firmly believe that these are real magnetic monopoles and they have some interesting application ins science. And I did find it very interesting. And I did not think it is was ever something that we would ever see. So read about it because it is interesting stuff.

S: When I heard this my first reactions was "no way - magnetic mono pole - come on"

B: (inaudible)

S: that was my second one "yeah science or fiction". If the cycle was just right I know I would have gotten bob on that one.

S: this is like a mythic thing. They have been saying for decades there is no such thing as a magnetic mono-pole, no-one has ever seen one. People have looked for them. Maybe they exist, maybe they dont. So if this pans out. If this is replicable and this true then this is huge. Now suddenly there is magnetic monopoles. Like for my whole life up to this point there haven't been magnetic monopoles.

S: I think Rebecca you were saying that someone at one of your panels was asking how often you are surprised and change you mind from new evidence. Well how about today. This is huge.

R: well yesterday

J: But did these start out as a regular magnet ?

S: yeah they start out with magnetism and then they some how contrive to make a monopole. While bob and I were talking - are they really a monopole or is the other pole just diffused in the crystal somehow

B: Yeah that is always possible because they used an indirect method to detect it. But it is not just one institute and one study. It is an international team of scientists. and it is a couple of studies. They even created these monopoles a sort of a difuse sort of gas. And these guys are extremely confident that they have this. I mean we will see if it pans out but these guys are fairly confident about it.

S: Yeah this is not cold fusion. But this is big. But until it gets verified we are not going to be re-writing the text books right? We need a little more confirmation. But this the first time someone has made a plausible claim of having a magnetic mono pole. So cool.

J: I was excited because I thought it was magnetic monopoly

R: Actually when jack anounced at the dinner I was like magnetic monocles? Rad.

R: I would have liked to contribute to that discussion but I can concentrate on anything bob is saying. Thats all.


S: So we love doing live questions and answers at our live gigs (19:02)

Live Q&A ()[edit]

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item # 1: Programmers have developed visual recognition software that is able to read CAPCHA distorted text as well as humans. Item # 2: A team at MIT has finally figured out the 3-dimensional structure of cement. Item # 3: Engineers have developed the first fully functioning circuit that runs fully off the energy inside a tree.

Who's That Noisy ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week: The Reverend Jim Jones

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

Skeptics? Pffft, they only believe in Science - Anonymous Dragoncon Loser

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 '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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