SGU Episode 232

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SGU Episode 232
1st January 2010
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 231                      SGU 233

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


ML: Mike Lacelle

PP: Phil Plait

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Friday, January 1st, 2010 and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella–

B: Hey everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson–

R: Hello everyone.

S: Jay Novella–

J: Hola.

S: Mike Lacelle–

ML: Hey everyone.

S: and Evan Bernstein.

E: Hey everyone.

R: Who's that Mike guy? What?

S: Mike is joining us for our year end wrap up episode which has become, now, customary.

R: Oh.

S: So, welcome Mike. Evan, you're going to give us a This Day in Skepticism?

E: Absolutely, because it was 1975 when Kenneth Rooker discovered the long unknown winter destination of the monarch butterfly in the mountains of Mexico. It was a mystery for a long time.

S: Yeah.

E: I guess they had no idea where the heck the monarch butterflies, all 20 million of these butterflies, would fly off to.

J: How'd he do it? What? Did he follow them?

E: Using tags on the wings of some of the butterflies he followed their migration trails to Mexican territories and he studied it for, well, was it 38 years of data?

S: And also last night was a blue moon.

B: Yes.

E: That's right.

R: And a lunar eclipse. A partial lunar eclipse.

S: Yes.

R: From my vantage point. Not from yours.

B: Really?

S: Yes. In Europe not in the US.

E: I know. Europe gets–I know.

S: So it doesn't really count.

E: This hemisphere gets cut out of a whole bunch of–

R: All the best stuff's over here, guys. I'm telling you.

J: Did you see it?

R: I did see it. I saw the tail end of it as I was stumbling down the street toward the next party.

E: Now, the moon, though, did not turn the color blue.

R: No.

E: As the name would suggest.

R: Blue moon only means that it's the second moon in a month.

S: Second full moon in a month, yeah.

R: Second full moon.

S: And that happens on New Years Eve about once every 19 years. Next one will be in 2029.

B: Is that when Apophis is going to hit the earth?

R: It's around then. Yeah. So we might not even see it. We'll all be dead.

B: It's not going to hit.

E: They refined that, Bob, there's much less chance that that asteroid is going to hit.

B: Yeah. Not in 2029 anyway.

E: Yeah, right.

R: Did you guys see the news of the Russians, though?

E: Yeah! They're going to launch–

R: They're going to blow it out of the sky.

S: Good for them.

E: They're going to launch something and land on that asteroid.

R: Yeah right. I'm a little, shall we say, skeptical, cause I read some interview with the spokesperson and he said that the asteroid was going to come around in something like 2026 or '27. He was very vague and I was just thinking you should really have all your facts straight when you arm your missiles.

S: Yeah, you've got to be kinda precise on that point.

J: Yeah, isn't it possible that they could do something to it and actually jockey it into a worse position?

B: Oh yeah.

E: That was my thought too, absolutely.

R: Yeah.

S: They could knock it into one of the keyholes. They absolutely can.

ML: They'd need to hire Bruce Willis for the job.

S: So this is the episode where we reminisce about the best moments over the last year.

B: And decade.

S: And the SGU–and decade–and also we're going–

E: Hehe, alright.

S: –to talk about some–

B: The millenium?

S: –the best and worst of science and skepticism in the last decade.

J: Wow.

Listener Feedback (3:11)[edit]

S: But first let's go through our listener feedback as to their most outstanding SGU moments of 2009. There were a few votes for best episode. I think the one that got the most votes, though, was Rebecca's wedding.

E: Of course.

B: Yay.

R: Aww.

ML: Yeah.

R: Thank you. That was my favorite, I think.

E: Well, that was a hopefully once in a lifetime event.

B: You think?

S: I think the second one was the Nexus 2009 with Richard Wiseman as a guest.

E: That was so much fun.

R: Yeah.

J: Yeah, he was awesome on the show.

S: Two live events got the most votes.

R: We did more live events this year than any previous year because we did those, we did DragonCon... Well, I guess that's it, but that's still a lot.

S: Yeah.


E: TAM, DragonCon, (inaudible)

S: And much more!

E: We'll be doing all that plus Australia this year.

R: That's true.

S: Yeah. We'll have even more live events in 2010. That's true.

R: Soon we'll get to the point where we're just doing a live show every week. That'd be fun. (inaudible) exhausting.

E: The live events are great. Being there. The immediate feedback from the audience is, well, just something we don't typically, obviously, typically don't experience and it's always great.

S: Yeah. It's good. Honestly it's good for a once in a while thing. The downsides to the live events are that they're technically challenging and often a little bit out of our control. We're at the mercy of whatever venue we're at.

R: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

S: And we also don't control the questions, so while live questions are great we can't use them to set ourselves up to talk about topics we want to talk about.

E: That's true.

S: And they tend to be–live questions tend to be a little repetitive. I mean it's good ever now and then but it's obviously not going to become a regular thing.

R: But there's the hanging out with you guys thing. That's always fun.

S: Yeah. We love it.

E: That goes without saying. Yes.

J: It's definitely a lot more fun for me, as a panelist, to see you guys and have the face to face interaction, and–

R: Definitely, yeah.

J: Crazier stuff happens at the live events like Bob coming out in a costume.

B: Yeah, that was awesome.

J: Rebecca getting married.

S: Right. Right.

Guests of 2009 (5:12)[edit]

S: We had a lot of great guests in 2009. We always do a good job of pulling in some interesting interviews. Those that got the most votes: one was Michael Vassar, if you remember him. He's the singularity guy. A lot of people just said, "that singularity guy!"


S: Because it was just a very, not only interesting interview, but it was a little contentious and I think people liked that. The next one was Rusty Schweickart–

B: Yeah.

S: –if you remember the Apollo astronaut.

B: That was great.

S: That was, I think, my most surprising interview of the year. Phil Plait hooked us up with Rusty and it's one that I didn't see coming until Phil say, "Hey, I can get you this guy." And it turned out to be a really interesting interview. Just talking with him about his first hand experience with going up in Apollo was fascinating.

B: Yeah. That rocket door. That's something you never ever read about. Never hear about. Just those subtle little things that only someone really on the rocket would experience and know. It's just fascinating stuff.

S: Yeah. One e-mailer said that he's been a real Apollo fan for years and thought he knew everything there was to know about that launch and yet he still learned new tidbits from Rusty on that interview.

B: Cool.

J: Yeah there was a couple of things that he said like how much the rocket compresses during liftoff, but when they turn those booster off and the whole rocket snaps back to it's original size, which, I think, it's a few inches that it crunched down, and it lurched them forward and his head almost hit the freaking control panel.

S: Yeah. Cause the loosened their straps. They shouldn't oughta had done that.

B: That's it.

B: It's hard to plan and expect that. In the simulation.

S: Yeah. That brings up that point that here you have a multi-million dollar program, how many engineers and just really people involved in thinking through every little tiny little detail and yet you can't anticipate things like the astronauts loosening their shoulder straps so they can move around a little bit more and then almost cracking their head open on the control panel. I mean, they couldn't anticipate that. There's no substitute for experience is the bottom line.

J: Yeah. And just talking to someone who actually went through that. I mean, not only is the guy an icon in history but he did it. He was there. He strapped himself into that thing and did that unbelievable, awesome, science thing that when I was a kid and I read about it and saw videos about it, that got me interested in science.

S: Any other interviews stand out in your guys' minds?

R: I think Tim Minchin got a number of votes on the year end wrap up thread.

S: Yeah.

R: And for good reason. Tim is always incredibly entertaining–

E: Absolutely.

R: –and such a wonderful performer. So he's a lot of fun to interview.

ML: Michio Kaku was awesome.

B: That was a great get. Yeah.

S: Yeah. Michio Kaku got a lot–

ML: Really interesting stuff.

S: Ken Miller, it was a great interview as well and got a lot of votes.

B: Yeah.

S: Ken Miller is an evolutionary biologist who deals a lot with Creationism and just, again, one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful people, I think, on that topic. And Mark Crislip got a lot of mention as well. He's a recurring guest on our show. Did the H1N1 special with us and also has his own podcast, Quackcast, so he has a lot of experience behind the microphone. Mark is always fun to talk to.

ML: Award winning podcast.

J: Yeah. And his show is fantastic. I always learn something when I listen to his show. Actually, I learn a lot. He pile drives detail into his show like crazy. But man, his sense of humor just gets me. Like the whole time I'm listening to him I'm half laughing, you know?

E: Interview Brian Brushwood was great, as well, because who knew that later that year we'd be eating fire with him?

S: That's right.

E: On the campus of Yale.

S: There may be a video appearing on Youtube sometime soon of us eating fire with Brian Brushwood.

J: Yeah, he's a great guy.

S: Well there are many great interviews this year but those are the ones that got specifically mentioned by our listeners.

SGU's Funniest Moment (9:24)[edit]

S: The next category was the SGU's funniest moment for 2009 so before I start listing what our listeners said, do you guys have any that stick out in your mind.

ML: There's some funny conversation between Rebecca and Steve about birds. Early on in the year.

S: Can you be more specific?

ML: It was about bird jizz or something like that.

R: Was that he jizz one?

S: You mean when we were talking about bird jizz? Yeah.

ML: Yeah. You remember that time, you were talking about birds? That time.

R: I do remember discussing jizz.

S: A lot of people liked when we were talking about vomix and pasketti and mamatos.

R: And mamatos.


S: Some people liked Rebecca's line. Rebecca's good for the one liners. She said, "I can't believe the chronic doesn't cure the chronic."

R: I was pretty proud of that one too, actually.

S: The Cluckasaurus rex discussion was good.

J: That was good, Ev.

E: Yeah. That was good.

Best Science News Story of 2009 (10:17)[edit]

S: Best science news story of the year. This is an interesting one. What do you guys think?

B: The few that I liked–one of them was Ardipithecus ramidus. That was a tour de force of research and work that these scientists did over many years to put it all together before the submitted it which is what they did this year, which is basically an early stage of human evolution. It's older than Lucy. That was a tour de force, I think. That was a very intersting–the biggest surprise for me was the whole magnetic monopoles that supposedly found.

R: The monopoles, yeah.

B: That was–I remember when, Evan, you told me that, we were down at DragonCon you mentioned it–

E: That's right.

B: And I was like, "What? No way!" I just refused to believe it until I read about it. So that was–

R: That was when we were all at the Hibachi place or whatever.

B: Yeah. Right.

S: Yeah.

B: So, that was a big one for me.

S: That was definitely the most surprising headline I saw.

B: Yeah.

S: You know, "magnetic monopole?" That can't be.

B: What? Just a bare, positive or–I mean a North or South? What are you talking about? But yeah, it looks like they did. I haven't read much more about it but I think that they're still going with that interpretation. And then water on the moon. That was big. Big story. God, how many news items were made of that? That was really–a really cool thing that was finally proven.

S: Yeah. It's nice that there's water there if we ever do set up a base it'll certainly make it a lot more feasible–

B: Right.

S: to have some raw material there that's very useful. Bob, what's really interesting to me–the Ardipithicus got a lot of votes–a lot of magazines' top 10 lists. The one I didn't see was Ida or Darwinius masillae.

R: Yeah.

E: Yeah.

R: I was going to bring that up on worst science news.

S: Yeah. That was the biggest–the science was fine, but the media flap was a flop. I mean it was terrible.

E: Media flop.

S: They–this is the scientists they tried to be media savvy and they did a documentary and a website and a book and the hype that they put behind–it's basically a primate fossil. The specimen is lovely, I mean it's a very well preserved specimen.

B: Yeah. Beautiful.

S: And it is from a period of time potentially connecting two branches of primates. One leading to prosimians, like lemurs, and the other leading to monkeys, apes, and the group that also includes humans, but they tried to make it seem like this had special significance for humans, and it didn't. It was really–No one really bought that. It just seemed odd. And they also were making really ridiculous statements like "this is going to hit the scientific community like an asteroid." And they over sold it so much that it was just [sad trombone]. Nothing.

B: Yeah.

S: And now at the end of the year nobody even remembers it. So–

E: Apparently, I–

S: it's not even making anybody's list.

B: I forgot about it. If you didn't mention it I wouldn't have thought.

S: Yeah. Total fail.

B: Yeah.

S: It was a total science media fail.

B: Failure.

B: And you remember some of those articles written about it were really bad.

S: Yeah, yeah. Just terrible. I definitely like the water on the moon, Bob, and I would have to add to that methane on Mars.

B: Yep.

S: That's still in contention that that that could be from life.

E: Absolutely.

S: Sounds like they've ruled out meteors. There's no geological process that we know of that could explain it so it's something unknown or maybe it's little Martian critters.

J: Yeah. Bottom line if that's bacteria producing it that's the biggest news story of the century.

S: Yeah. Millennium in my opinion.

B: Yeah. Maybe next year.

E: Life one another planet. I mean that–psh–forget it.

S: Non-Earth life–that's huge. Huge.

R: Yeah. That would win.

E: And it was the year of H1N1, too. There was so much going on with the flu and the–you know–swine flu–so much press on it.

S: Yeah. And it's–

E: It's kind of passed us by right now but if you remember the summer months–

B: It was big.

E: every other headline was about H1N1.

S: Yeah. And the flu is still chugging along. I mean, we're still right in the midst of it. There is a lot of scare mongering about the vaccine. It made Discover's #1 science story of 2009 was the fear mongering surrounding vaccines and they got the story right, so good for them.

E: Yeah.

S: And here we are, you know, several months into the vaccination program and nothing. There's like no extra cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, there's no–really nothing rising above background level for any side effects so it's turned out, thank goodness, to be completely safe.

E: So you're saying the media hyped it? What?

S: It wasn't so much–it was definitely partly the media but the anti-vaccination movement really went full bore and also just a lot of alternative medicine groups and anyone who has a beef with science based medicine or vaccines particular used the H1N1 swine flu vaccine as a scare tactic and nothing. It turned out that, as we predicted, it's a safe vaccine. It's known technology. We'll monitor it closely but we don't expect any surprises and it turned out to be totally fine.

E: Yep.

S: I also think we should mention this was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landings on the moon.

E: Oh. Good point.

S: And one of the coolest things to come out of that was–actually not directly tied to the anniversary but one of the coolest Apollo related stories was the LRO taking pictures of the lunar landing sites–the Apollo landing sites–

E: Yeah.

S: Including the footpaths of the astronauts shuffling through the regolith.

E: Part of the greater conspiracy.

S: Yeah.


R: There were a lot of great photos that came out this year. Especially more wonderful photo's of Cassini. Like the things that Carolyn Porco always shows in her talks. I think we talked about some of the pictures.

S: And we have to mention the Large Hadron Collider went online this year.

B: Back online. Yes.

R: We didn't die.

S: Back on. But it actually started smashing stuff.

J: And did break records. It's now the most–

ML: (inaudible)

J: the most energetic.

S: It is the most energetic collider in the world. Yep.

J: Yeah. Absolutely not an insignificant thing happening. That is the most expensive and complicated machine that humans have ever built, right?

S: Yes.

E: Absolutely. And number of black holes created by the Large Hadron Collider?

S, J, M, B: Zero.

R: So far.

ML: And Steve, you said it was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, it was also the 40th anniversary of the Internet–

S: Oh, is that right?

ML: in 2009. Yes. The first 4 node network was made by ARPA–yeah, ARPANET is what is was called back then in December of 1969.

R: Which is related to the LHC, actually. I mean, it's the same people, isn't it?

B: Right. CERN, yeah.

S: Yeah. Yeah.

R: Yeah.

S: Some other ones that got mentioned was crocoduck.

R: Crocoduck is a good one.

E: Quacksnap.

S: The quacksnap, yep. The holographic universe.

J: That still totally freaks me out.

B: They like that one, huh?

S: Yeah.

R: Oh, yeah.

B: That was freaky.

S: Yeah. It's essentially like our universe–you can make an analogy between the way our universe is structured and a hologram meaning that it's just a–there's a graininess to our universe which is due to the fact that it's really a picture on–as if it were a picture on the surface of a sphere. I guess it's on a 4-dimensional–the surface of a 4-dimensional sphere. So it's kind of like a hologram. It's hard to do it justice without spending another 20 minutes talking about it but go back and listen to that episode[link needed].

B: Yeah. That's it in a nutshell.

R: Basically, we're all living inside a snow globe.

S: Right.

E: Oh no. Ah! They're shaking it again! Ah! Hey, we were talking about 40th anniversary stuff. Other numbers or years of significance that occurred–150 years, Origin of Species

S: That's right.

E: 200 years, Darwin's birthday.

B: Yeah.

E: 400 years, Galileo's telescope.

S: Very nice.

B: I'll throw another one in there 50 year anniversary of physicist Richard Feynman's very famous lecture, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom that he gave at the American Physical Society at Caltech where he basically laid out the potential of nanotechnology, essentially. Really laid it out there, as far as I could tell, for the very first time. Anniversary of note, I think.

Most Outrageous Illogical Statement or Pseudo-Scientific Claim of 2009 (18:37)[edit]

S: Let's go now to the other side–the flip side the most outrageous illogical statement or pseudo-scientific claim of the year. A lot of people voted for the YouTube video on how homeopathy works. Do you guys remember that one?

R: Yes.

B: That was awesome.

?: Loved it.

S: That totally incomprehensible nonsense about trying to explain homeopathy. It was really just amazing. The thing that always gets me is that you could take mass out of E=mc2 cause there's not that much mass in the universe so you can just eliminate it from the equation.

B: Yeah. That was good.

ML: They get an 'A' for effort.

B: Wow.

R: It's one of those things where it's delivered by someone who says something like that and then smiles and nods and then everyone in the audience just smiles and nods. "Yeah. Of course. You can do that. Yeah."

S: Oh, we didn't actually see the audience in that YouTube video.

J: You know, Steve, you don't have to–

S: You can imagine what the audience was doing but it's irrelevant. The thing is it was trying to make sense–

R: It's the assumed authority by the person who's speaking such completely and utter BS.

S: Right. Yeah. She projects that she should be having some authority, and she's spoke like a teacher talking to 5 year olds, too.

R: Right.

S: Which made it all the more entertaining as a skeptic.

B: A teacher who mispronounced people's names.

S: Yes.

B: Hawkings.

S: Hawkings. We–it's wonderful when homeopaths or pseudo-scientists do a better job than we can of making their belief systems seem ridiculous. I mean, we don't have to do anything else except point to that.

R: I think, one of my favorite news stories that–maybe it's true, maybe it's not pseudo-science, but the LHC reaching back in time to stop itself from happening.

S: Yeah, right.

ML: Yes.

R: I loved that story.

B: Yeah. That was fun.

R: Really? There's nothing you could say to that.

J: You so don't know if those scientists–we don't know if they were actually doing it as a thought experiment or if they were serious, right?

S: Yeah.

B: Well, I think they were serious, absolutely.

S: I think that was definitely the most bizarre thing to come out of a serious science paper.

B: Steve, could we go over some of the best Xbox360–

ML: Yes, let's do it.

J: Yeah. Let's do that.

E: Oh, wait wait. I have a quote for you. I want to see if you know who said this, in 2009. "They took this beautiful man and they basically put poison into him. Why couldn't they have built him up nutritionally and gotten rid of the toxins in his body? We have an epidemic going on and I have to say–"

J: Suzanne Somers.

E: Yay.

S: About Patrick Swayze.

E: Yes. About Patrick Swayze.

ML: Oh, god.

R: Defiling the memory of Patrick Swayze.

ML: Most outrageous statement, "Steve eats babies."

S: Yeah, the whole–the anti-vaccine movement deserves a big–you know–mention. They get my vote–I don't want to get ahead of ourselves but they're the skeptical–

B: Too late.

S: –jackass of the year collectively, and that certainly is part of why. But go back to the science stories the one that got a mention for ridiculous claims was when the study came out showing that essentially fake acupuncture was no different than quote/unquote "real" acupuncture and the scientists concluded that "therefore fake acupuncture must work too." Let's just turn the entire premise of scientific medicine on its head just for this one study.

J: OK, when you just said that, Steve, I had about a 3 second rage fire through me, you know? I just need to do something violent about that, right now.

R: I'm so glad I'm not in the same room with you.

J: Let's talk about something good. How about they found water on the moon.

S: It's true. They did. But don't forget–

J: That's fantastic.

S: –don't forget, quantum jumping! That was a good discussion.


R: Quantum jumping. That was a great one. That was where–

B: That was good.

R: –we went on a long rant about going to different dimensions, right?

S: To learn skills from other versions of yourself.

R: Yes.

E: Yeah.

R: Yeah.

J: Rebecca, you said something about how you could pay for it by loving yourself.


R: Which you know you would do.

S: Another item that got some votes was the claim that Thomas Jefferson was a creationist before the Origin of Species was published.

R: Oh, right.

S: Before evolutionary theory was presented. Yeah, that's meaningful.

E: Yeah.

Jackass of 2009 (23:02)[edit]

S: Well, let's move on to the jackass of the year. We already mentioned the anti-vaccinationists so J.B. Handley I think has to stand in for that crew. I think he was the person who was most pushing that forward this year and the baby eating picture was just the most disgusting thing that they did. But just their increasing efforts to work tirelessly against vaccines as a science based health care intervention and just the tactics they use are absolutely horrendous, so they get my vote. They get my vote. I agree with Discover Magazine.

R: I think I would throw in with the BCA, the British Chiropractic Association, since I'm representing from jolly old England and just–you know–if any listeners have been asleep for the past year they're the people who are suing Simon Singh for libel.

S: Right.

R: For saying that their treatments are bogus. Which they are. So, I suppose I'll be sued now, too. Anyway, douchbags. Jackasses.

J: I kinda see Susanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy just kind of hovering around each other.

S: Yeah.

E: You gotta throw Oprah in there, I think, to that coven of witches, too.

S: Yeah. I think Oprah really won last year. I don't know that–she's kinda been coasting this year. Did she really do anything new? I mean she did Jenny McCarthy her own show.

E: She gave McCarthy the show. Yeah.

ML: Right.

R: Yeah.

B: That's pretty bad.

R: And she's retiring to, probably, only–she's retiring her show, I should say, to only rise up in a douchier way later, I'm sure.

S: Right.

R: But–

S: Not her media empire.

R: Right.

S: Jay, if you're going to mention Susanne Somers I think we have to also give honorable mention to other cancer quacks. Gonzales, whose treatment for pancreatic cancer this year was shown to be much worse than standard therapy. In fact, it was as bad, if not worse, than no treatment at all, and yet he continues to push it. And Hulda Clark who finally died this year.

E: Halllda.

S: It's an in memoriam.

J: Yep. Definitely.

R: And, how about the guy who treated the H1N1 cheerleader?

S: Oh, yes. But that gets all wrapped up–

R: Desiree Jennings.

S: Yeah. Desiree Jennings. It gets wrapped up in the anti-vax stuff. That was the other really nasty thing this year. The exploitation of that poor girl, Desiree Jennings. And that was Buttar.

R: Buttar, yeah.

S: The guy who treated her with chelation therapy. Totally disgusting.

E: That was bad.

ML: What about the pope?

R: The pope for–condoms

ML: For his comments on condoms and AIDS his recent rant about women.

E: Everything. This is one of the worst Popes in a long, long time.

R: He's a pretty bad Pope.

S: Worst Pope of the year.

ML: Palpatine.


J: I need more Popes.

E: I'm going to throw an honorable mention to Charlie Sheen. Charlie.

S: Oh, Charlie.

E: Who led the raves of the 9/11 deniers this year.

S: Yeah, but it was the death throes of the 9/11 denial–the Truther movement, right?

B: The death rattle.

S: The death rattle. They're pretty much done.

E: But he gets the honorable mention, also, because he was arrested for allegedly wielding a knife against his girlfriend.

R: That's true.

E: So, what we have here is a knife wielding 9/11 denier–

R: Allegedly.

E: I think when you put that combination together that is by definition a menace to society and therefor deserves mention.

S: Evan, you're poisoning the well, with the whole knife wielding–


R: No no. This needs to be said.

E: I said "allegedly."

R: It needs to be said, though. It happened. It's in the news.

E: It's true.

S: Alright. What about Bill Maher?

J: Yeah.

R: Yeah. Yeah. He's big news but only–the funny thing, though–Okay, so he was a jackass, yes, because of his denying any form of science based medicine but it's not through anything that he did specifically this year. It's only because of what that foundation did to give him a prize for it and I think they're the jackasses.

S: He got the–giving Maher the Richard Dawkins reward.

R: Yes.

S: Yeah. They definitely go on the list.

R: I think that they're jackasses for promoting such an anti-science jackass.

E: And they took a lot of heat for that.

J: Yeah. I agree with Rebecca.

B: But as long as he's an atheist.

S: Right.

R: Right. Even though he's not and has specifically said, "I'm not an atheist."

S: Yeah.

R: I mean they pretty much failed on every level there.

Skeptic of 2009 (27:34)[edit]

S: Well, the final category that we put to our listeners was the skeptic of the year and the person who got the most votes was Phil Plait and we brought Phil on to chat with us for a few minutes about that and to let him know that he won. But before we go to that interview, let's go through the honorable mentions. Other people who were also mentioned by our listeners as skeptic of the year. Richard Wiseman got mention, as did Richard Dawkins and P.Z.–

J: Simon Singe.

ML: Simon Singh, yeah.

S: Simon Singh.

B: Singe?

R: Simon Singe?

S: Simon Singh for–

J: I can't help it. I always say that when I say his name. I love that. It's like a super hero name. Simon Singe.


S: And he has some kind of fire based super power.

J: Of course.

S: Simon Singe. That's actually pretty good!

ML: It's not water based, Steve.

R: That's why homeopathy–I can imagine like there's a homeopathy–

J: Yeah. He fights homeopathy with fire power.

R: –villain. Sprays them with water.


J: He's also known in smaller circles as The Evaporator.


E: Very small circles.

S: And Amy Wallace of Wired Magazine was mentioned as well, for her article on the anti-vaccine movement. Always nice to get a good, solid, mainstream journalist–journalism–

B: Yeah.

R: Yeah, she was fantastic.

S: –getting the science right.

R: Although, I think that–I probably gave it to Simon last year, too, but, I think I would have gone with him again this year because–

E: Nothing wrong with that.

R: –he's just so boldly leading the fight against the chiropractors as well as the entire British libel law problem. It's really impressive.

S: He definitely deserves props.

E: He's suffered the most arrows.

J: Yeah.

S: And some mentioned the crew over at Science Based Medicine.

B: Yeah.

S: So I have to mention my colleagues over there–

E: Hear, hear!

ML: Yep.

S: –who are, trust me, they are working hard with forming the Institute for Science and Medicine this year. They're now doing double time service, running Science Based Medicine and now ISM. Really, they've been incredibly hard working this year.

Interview with Phil Plait (29:39)[edit]

S: So, let's bring Phil Plait on to chat about a few things. Phil, welcome to the Skeptics' Guide.

PP: Hey. How's it going guys?

B: Good, Phil.

S: It's always a pleasure to have you on and we wanted to chat you for our year-end wrap up show. Now we have a done a very informal survey of our listeners through the forums. So, it was somewhat selective–self selective sample of our listeners and we asked them to vote for a number of things including the skeptic of the year and guess who got the most votes.

PP: Uhh... Jenny McCarthy.

S: She was very close.

PP: Meryl Dorey. Who else is there?

S: Actually, Jenny McCarthy was in the running for jackass of the year.

PP: Really?

S: That's right.

E: She got plenty of votes.

PP: (laughter)

S: But, absolutely yeah. She's starting to become a favorite. But Phil Plait, #1 votes for skeptic of the year from our listeners.

PP: You're kidding! Really?

S: Yeah.

PP: What were they thinking?

S: Really.

PP: Was this before or after I announced I was leaving the JREF?

S: It was in the last couple of weeks, so... And also you got a lot of votes for favorite interview of the year but you know, you had more opportunities than most other guests.

PP: (laughter) That's not fair. I've been on more than Rebecca has recently.

S: Yeah! (laughter)

R: Whaaat?

S: Somebody calculated you've been on 5.1% of our episodes.

PP: Is that by time or by word usage or by Star Trek references?

E: By Stardate.

S: Yeah. Star Trek reference I think would be much higher than that. So congratulations. There's no trophy or anything. It's just–

PP: Well, I'd like to thank all the little people.

S: You get to come on our show and chat with us.

E: Yay!

PP: Yeah. That's really very cool. I'm surprised and grateful and... Insert cliche here.

S: Yeah.

PP: That's really cool.

S: Well, seriously, you are one of the work horses of the skeptical movement. You're ubiquitous, right? You do a lot of things.

PP: Well, that just goes to show you how disorganized and sad the skeptic movement is.


PP: You know, I'm not even wearing pants right now and so I think–well, I'm wearing sweat pants, I guess that counts, sort of. Just means we have to have more professionals getting involved. That's why D.J. Grothe's going to be running the JREF now. He's actually a little bit more professional than I am.

E: And he has a tailor.

PP: True. His beard is far more neatly trimmed than mine is.

J: But Phil, it's really true that you're amazingly accessible. When I listen back to the shows and whenever we have you on we all laugh a lot more, there's a lot more energy when we talk to you because, you know, you just–you push it up a notch.

PP: Well, I can hear that in your voice, so–


PP: No. Seriously, that's–it's terrific. That's really wonderful. Now if all those people would actually buy my book... That would be even better.

S: Let's not get crazy. So, Death from the Skies, is that out in paperback yet?

PP: Yeah! Yeah. It's got the creepy comic book cover and everything.

J: Phil actually had a version of it printed on one big toilet paper roll so you could just slowly read it when you're in the john.

PP: Read it one page at a time. That'd be great.

S: That's where I read it anyway.

B: (laughter)

J: That's actually a good idea, guys.

S: Yeah! Toilet paper books.

PP: I'm just thinking this through.

S: You have to read far enough ahead depending on how much you need to use.

PP: In fact, in fact, if you're going to write a murder mystery where the mystery is resolved on the last page, that's a great way to make sure people don't go to the last page and read it first, because you can't really get to it without making a huge mess.

B: Yeah. That is a good idea cause I think your friends would buy it, and your enemies.

J: That's right!

PP: True.

B: Cause your enemies would just really get into it.

PP: And they'd have to buy it in a 9 pack so it would really–you'd really boost sales that way, too.

E: Yeah, but it's super absorbent, so–

PP: You could see a wall of your books at Target.

S: But then–the thing is you couldn't share a bathroom with somebody because you miss the segments when they were using it.

PP: In fact, in fact, this–

B: His and hers toilet paper.

PP: –this would prevent piracy.

E: That is true.

PP: Nobody's going to steal it and it's your own personal download.


PP: Thank you. Thank you.

J: He's here all night.

E: I love toilet humor.

PP: And you can hear everybody on the SGU forums changing their vote right now.


E: Click click click-click.

S: So, Phil, what are your plans for next year?

PP: You know, blogging. Secret stuff I can't talk about yet.

S: Just more of the same plus the secret stuff you can't talk about.

PP: Well, less of some things but more–yeah, it'll be writing the blog I've got–I've got some other writing things I'd like to do. I've been tossing around some ideas for a long time and it just depends how much time I have. I just wrote a couple of articles for the print version of Discover Magazine. They come out with a special issue every few months. This one's called "Extreme Universe!" and they asked me to write short blurbs about my favorite bad and good science and science fiction movies, so... That's available on newsstands everywhere, so you can pick that up. But I'd like to do more for that. I've been wanting to write for the print version of the magazine for a long time so we finally got around to doing that, testing that out. You know, I really enjoy writing. I haven't gotten tired of it yet, which surprises me because I get tired of almost everything after a short period of time. I'm still really enjoying sitting down and just talking about this stuff. So I'm hoping to do more.

S: Phil, let me put you on the spot and ask you a couple quick questions.

PP: Okay.

S: Biggest astronomy news item of 2009.

PP: Water on the moon.

S: Okay. What about methane on Mars?

E: Close second?

PP: The methane on Mars is still too much of a mystery and not well understood.

S: Okay. Fair enough.

PP: For me to be–It's big news, it's very interesting, but we don't know how big it is as opposed to water on the moon which actually is extremely interesting.

S: Yeah. We know exactly what the utility of that is.

PP: Yes.

B: Right.

S: Yeah. Phil, biggest astronomy news item of the decade.

B: Ooo.

PP: Oh... I don't know. That's too hard.

S: Okay.

PP: Now we had basically kind of sort of direct evidence for dark matter in the Bullet Cluster observations.

S: Yeah.

PP: This cluster–the two different clusters of galaxies slammed into each other and you can measure directly where the gas is, you expect in a head on collision between two clusters the gas in the clusters would slam into each other and stop dead like two cars on the highway moving at opposite–head on at 60 mph they kind of stop. The stars pass through each other, the gas stops. But the dark matter, theoretically should just keep going and when you measure the effects of dark matter through it's gravity that's exactly what they found.

S: Right.

PP: So, it's a statistical observation in that you can't point and say that's where the dark matter is, kinda sorta. It's more like–it's like predicting how many times you're going to flip a coin heads if you flip it 100 times. It's about 50. And so you kind of statistically can say the same thing about dark matter. Where do you expect to see it? By measuring it's effects on the light coming from background galaxies which gets affected as it passes through the dark matter. And when you do that you say, "Oh look. The dark matter's moved on," and so you can just clearly see that the dark matter exists. And if that makes no sense I'm actually waving my hands. If you could see me the hand waving makes it all very clear. But you can look up "Bullet Cluster" on the web and you'll find things about that.

S: Yeah. Phil, one more question. We're talking about the big winners and losers over the last decade in terms of not who's right or wrong, but who has advanced their agenda. Now I'll just get your opinion about one thing. Moon hoaxers. Do you think the last decade was good for them or bad for them?

PP: Uhm... Well, 2001 is when the Fox TV show came out. The conspiracy theory. Did we land on the moon? And so that was a huge boost for them. There have been–you know, it's been mentioned in a couple of movies and it's kind of gotten into the popular culture. However, I think most people understand that the real promulgators of this conspiracy theory are lunatics and so it's–on the other hand they've gained a lot of ground with kids who are young and don't know how to parse a logical argument very well.

S: Do you think the Mythbusters special on the moon hoax took a chunk out of them?

PP: You know, I have no idea. It's so hard to measure these sorts of things. If you measure it by number of YouTube commenters, which is of course the gold standard of how things work, certainly there are a lot of these guys out there. There are a couple of them out there that call me names that always crack me up. It probably infuriates them that I ignore them, so, that makes me happy. I think they're probably gaining ground in younger kids but that's the kind of thing that people tend to grow out of. So, I really don't think 5 years from now somebody who's 12 years old and thinks the Apollo landings are fake. When they're 17 I think they're going to look back and think, "Oh, what was I thinking."

S: Yeah.

PP: So, there you go.

S: Well Phil, it's always awesome to have you on the show.

PP: Ah, it's been great. Happy New Year.

S: Yes. Happy New Year. Looking forward to another banner year of skepticism.

PP: Yay.

J: Phil, you're awesome.

PP: True.


PP: No. You guys are. And I'm pointing right at the little avatars of you on Skype right now.

J: Aw, thanks Phil.

E: Avatar. Seen that movie.

PP: Oh, god. No. No!

E: It's Avatar.

PP: Don't make me talk about that.

S: Alright. Goodnight Phil.

J: See ya next year, Phil.

E: Goodnight, Phil.

PP: Talk to you later.

2000 to 2010 in Skepticism (39:15)[edit]

S: Well, I thought we turn from 2009 to the last decade and talk about–what I want to do is I want to throw out to you guys some big topics that skeptics deal with and then we're going to chat about whether or not we thought over the last decade they were winners or losers.

B: Okay.

S: Okay?

R: Okay.

Creationism/Intelligent Design (39:39)[edit]

S: So, I'll give you an easy one to start out with. For example, the whole Creationism/Intelligent Design movement. What kind of a decade did they have?

R: They lost so much.

J: Lost.

B: Big time. Dover was one–

E: Dover crushed them.

B: Dover. Huge huge epic fail on their part.

E: It didn't destroy them. You can't destroy these unsinkable ducks, but, I mean that Dover case was a nice, nice victory for science and skepticism.

R: Right. And speaking of that and just to reach slightly back to the skeptic of the year I think Eugenie Scott deserves a mention for continuing that fight in Texas this year with the Texas State Board of Ed fight to include–to keep science in the textbooks.

S: Yeah. Well, she's on the short list for skeptic of the decade. Even though we didn't ask for that category. I definitely think she's someone who over the last 10 years has consistently fought for science in that arena. And she's gotten–definitely this year, though, we should mention, she was given a couple of really significant awards. Recognitions of her work. She was honored by the California Academy of Sciences in October and she won the Gould prize by Scientific American. So–

E: That could have gone to so many people.

S: The Steve J. Gould prize. Yep. So, she definitely deserves mention. What about–so I agree that in general the Creationism/Intelligent Design movement, they're intellectually bankrupt, they're really desperately flailing around for a strategy. They got hit hard at Dover. There new strategy in the last decade has been the academic freedom angle.

J: Yeah. Expelled.

S: Which I don't–Yeah, I don't think–Expelled, I think was a failure.

E: I think so, too.

S: Yeah. It doesn't have that much legs but they did make some mischief in Texas if you recall–

E: Textbooks.

S: this past year with the textbooks. So with the science textbooks standards.

E: Kansas. Georgia. Every couple–yeah, every year or two it's a new state. They move around they test different waters but thankfully they continue to largely fail.

J: I don't know if I totally agree with you guys. I mean, I think, just the fact that they were even considered in what they were basically trying to do. I mean, they caused a lot of trouble.

R: Yeah, but in every major battle they have lost.

S: If we think about it this way, where were they 10 years ago and where are they now? Have they really advanced their cause. I don't think have. I think they've basically lost the last decade. Not that they're–you're right Jay we vigilance. They're causing mischief. They are continually–they have resources and they're looking for new strategies all the time, but I don't think they've advanced their cause. Certainly the science has relentlessly gone against them. They haven't really come up with anything new or interesting to say.

J: What about that creation museum in Kentucky? They came up with that.

S: Yeah. It's basically. It's a laughing stock. They're doing a good job catering to their core. Which is easy. That doesn't advance you're movement. They're just now stroking their core. That's basically all their doing.

R: Let's as Kent Hovind if he thinks the decade was a good one or a bad one.


R: Oh, wait. We can't, because he's in jail.

E: Kent Hovind, also know as 655321.

?: (inaudible) 321

Ufology (43:03)[edit]

S: Okay. What about Ufology?

B: I think they didn't make hardly any ground. I put them in the loser category for this past 10 years.

J: Yeah, me too.

B: First off, digital technology really hurt them because everybody's got a camera these days and still it's the same old crappy video and images. There's no real in your face, "Holy crap look at that" type of thing–

S: Yeah.

B: which is what you'd expect with so many camcorders and cameras all over the place. And, Steve, you made a good point in your blog about it that they didn't come up with any new twists this decade. The kidnappings or abductions or–

S: Yeah. Previous decades they've added alien abductions or alien implants or something. There was really nothing new that I could think of.

B: Yeah.

S: No new twist on the mythology. They didn't really advance the mythology at all.

R: Well, and to build on Bob's point about digital technology hurting them I think it also hurts them in another way. Not just that there's a lack of evidence considering that everyone's walking around with a camera, but also, everyone's walking around with a camera and they actually are taking photos and things of odd phenomena–

E: Smoke rings–

R: such as–or like the mysterious swirls over Russia–

E: Right.

R: or whatever it was.

S: Norway.

R: Norway.

S: Norway spirals, yeah.

R: Right. So a lot of people got that on film and so people were able to look at it, examine it, and then explain it. Missiles and whatnot. So, I think it hurts them, too, because it's easier than ever to investigate these things.

B: And another wrinkle on that is the appreciation I think of easy it is to fake any of that. People look at it and their first thought is gotta be, "Alright. Now that could have been faked using whatever." Photoshop or other digital technology to make it look convincing but still be very fake.

S: Know what's the funny? The half a dozen or so times I've blogged about this issue and say essentially there's no smoking gun evidence of alien spacecraft, there's not good videos, no good photographs–

J: Yeah.

S: Invariably somebody shows up in the comments and say, "No good videos? You're just not looking hard enough. Look at this." And then link to some total crappy video. It's just happened today–

J: Just today.

S: we were linked to a video of this blurry blob dangling from a string. I mean, really?


S: We have a different definition of compelling evidence.

E: Plan 9 from outer space.

J: But look at this. This is the best we have.

ML: Or that video of the alien in the window.

E: How much is the alien in the window?

B: Oh my god. Remember that?

S: That was this year. We need to mention that, as well. That guy now is pushing forward this–the proposal to get–

B: The committee, yeah.

S: Denver to spend money on a committee for alien relations.

E: Denver. Oh, what a waste.

ESP Research (45:54)[edit]

S: Alright, next topic. ESP research.

B: Nowhere. They got nothing.

S: I think you've got to put them in the loser column, too, this year, because essentially, again, no new paradigm of research and they've basically admitted that, "Yeah, the results are not reproducible and we have nothing." That's like the big conclusion of all the research that's been done. They really–they don't have anything.

E: All margin error, within the noise levels.

S: Yeah.

E: That's where all activity takes place.

S: They came up with the notion of the decline effect. The decline effect means that the better the research you do the effect size declines. Until it disappears.

R: Right.

E: Hey, welcome to science.


B: Welcome to science.

S: They're trying to say this is a feature of ESP.

J: Oh my god.

S: Rather than a feature of the research.

B: So it's nonexistence is a feature. Nice.

S: Yes. It's inability to document–

R: It's not a bug. It's a feature.

B: Are you kidding me? They're basically saying, "The harder you look, and the less proof you find the harder you look, that's proof."

S: That's part of–

R: Yeah.

S: that's just like saying, "Bigfoot can become invisible and travel interdimensionally. It's just like saying fake acupuncture works too."

R: "Your skeptical energy is disrupting the thing."

J: Wait a second. I see a pattern there.


Bigfoot and Cryptozoology (42:28)[edit]

S: It's all post hoc rationalization as to why the science is invalidating your pseudo-science. Alright. Bigfoot and cryptozoology?

B: Oh, come on.

J: Oh, god.

S: They're nowhere.

R: Continues to be a joke.

B: The biggest thing that happened to Bigfoot was a frozen rubber suit. There you go.

B: A frozen rubber suit.

R: Yeah. That made them all look completely ridiculous. As if they didn't already.

S: A cop who got fired from his job.

B: What made it cool was the suit was from one of my favorite Halloween websites.

E: Costumeurs.

B: Merchandise websites. Horror dome!

J: I'll never forget that when, Bob–

B: That's a great website.

J: when Bob first saw the costume unfrozen he calls me up and he goes, "I know what company made that, and it's awesome."


B: It's a high end Bigfoot costume, absolutely.

E: Who made the pig guts that they poured all over the costume in the Styrofoam container.

B: That was real stuff. They used some real roadkill didn't they?

R: There was possum DNA in there. Nobody thinks about the poor little possum.

E: Headline read, "Bigfoot Related to Possum." "DNA Concludes"–

S: This was the decade that the surgeons photo was revealed as a hoax in a deathbed confession.

B: Yep. That's right. I forgot about that.

S: Of the Loch Ness monster. The famous Loch Ness monster photo, also called the surgeons photo.

E: The plank of wood.

R: And also with the Bigfoot footage, the famous Paterson film–

E: Oh, the Paterson film, yeah. That was also–

R: someone took that and overlapped and overlapped the frames so that–they steadied the camera to make it look like it was obviously a person walking.

S: Yes. Yeah, right. And we also have to mention on the other side that skeptical scientists investigating this area, Joe Nickell in particular, have made some advances. They've figured out that a lot of sea monster sightings are probably schools of otters swimming in formation.

R: Yeah.

B: Oh, yeah. Right. Excellent. Good one, Joe.

New Ageism (49:13)[edit]

S: Alright. Next category, New Ageism.

B: Ooo, that that–

R: So that's kind of an open category.

B: I think it's–

J: I think it's doing fantastic. It's getting into our healthcare.

R: Well, yeah, that's what I was going to say. If you include alt med in new age then I would say they're winning. Yeah. Or they're better off now than they were 10 years ago.

S: Well, I think they're winning even if you set aside alternative medicine as a separate issue and if you look–there was a recent–we'll probably discuss this in more detail in a future episode[link needed] but there was a recent Pew Forum survey looking at a number of belief systems. One was have you ever had a religious or mystical experience and that was skyrocketing from 19562 at 22% saying, "Yes," to 2009, 48% saying, "Yes."

B: Wow.

S: More than double. And the last the decade's a very steep incline up.

J: Blame the counterculture.

S: Yeah. The general sense of mysticism and spirituality and new agey type of beliefs I think are–were advancing their cause in the last decade, in a number of ways. Yeah, alt med only being one of them.

Ghosts (50:22)[edit]

E: You know what else when on the rise, I think, in this decade? I don't know if it was on your list–you were gonna bring it up but ghosts.

S: That's the next one on my list, Evan.

B: Yeah.

S: Ghost hunting–and I agree, and I think that the success of Ghost Hunting as a belief system is entirely due to reality TV.

B: Yep.

ML: Those plumbers.

E: Absolutely. So many TV shows out there on this ghost stuff.

B: I got a list. Ghost Hunters. Paranormal State. Ghost Adventures. Most Haunted, not to mention Medium and Ghost Whisperer.

S: And the G Hunters, don't forget them.

B: Oh yeah.

ML: The G Hunters.

B: Right.

E: I've only seen one episode, though.

B: I think this is transitory, though. I think these aren't going to last that–cause how many times have I seen a preview where all–their main evidence for the week is somebody saying, "Did you hear that?" or, "Something touched me," and that's it.

S: Yeah.

R: I don't know. People–Are people still watching those?

B: I guess.

R: Like is there anyone out there that's still watching that going, "Ooo! Scary."

E: They do. I overhear talk in my office. We've got 40-50 people in the office and at least 3 or 4 of them on any given week–they weekly tune into these shows and–

S: Well, what do they say about it Evan? What is there to say? "Did you see that guy really scare himself?"

R: Right.

E: Exactly.


E: That's what they should be saying but no, they have no clue. They're all caught up in–

B: "Did you see that anomalous infrared image?"


E: It's adults who like to scare themselves. That's all it is.

S: They need to find another hobby.

E: Yeah. Try masturbation.

B: Why? Steve, they're getting rich off of that hobby.

S: I'm talking about the viewers.

R: Viewers, right.


B: Nevermind.

S: No. You're right. For them it was unbelievable. But, I agree, this is going to run it's cycle and it will go away.

Paranormal (52:04)[edit]

S: What about just the paranormal in general?

R: Paranormal in general? I–

S: Anything paranormal.

B: I'd give it an increase. Slight uptick, maybe.

R: I don't know. I'm going to call this one even.

S: Yeah, I think I'm with you, Rebecca. I think it's even.

Scientology (52:19)[edit]

J: Alright. I'll throw another one out there. Scientology.

R: Definitely down.

ML: Oh yeah.

S: They're way on the wane.

J: I don't agree. I don't agree.

S: Their numbers, Jay, their numbers on the wane.

R: Their numbers are dropping.

J: According to who?

R: More and more mainstream–St. Petersburg Times runs a weekly Scientology watch now. Anonymous. All of their skeletons have been dragged out of the closet at this point and they're a total joke.

E: And France has all but illegalized them.

B: Jay, I got two words for you man, couch incident.


B: You know when Tom Cruise jumped on that couch on Oprah and all the other stuff that he said he made Scientology an absolute joke. And did you guys know–I didn't realize this, that there was a common expression called "jumping the couch", kind of like when a TV show jumps the shark.

ML: Jumps the shark, yeah.

B: Used to describe someone going off the deep end in public. Jumping the couch. How awesome is that? I think he hurt Scientology more than anything did because he's so high profile. He was their #1 guy and everyone thought–he went from being at the top box office sensation really, in the world, one of the biggest guys to being a joke. Like, this guy is crazy and something's wrong with him.

S: Don't forget the South Park episode.

R: Yeah.

B: Oh, yeah, the closet.

S: Which–the thing about Scientology, like any cult–

B: Right.

S: is that it trades on secrecy. It advances itself by not letting people know what they really believe until you're deep on the inside. Once that information gets out, once people realize that Scientology is all about this guy Xenu and alien spirits it loses a lot of their ability to advance itself. So I think that's hurt them and those are the kinds of things that once the genie's out of the bottle it's out. So, I've think they've had to actually–had some permanent harm done to them in the last decade. But speaking of South Park, those guys have to get mentioned as–

B: Yeah.

S: one of the real forces of skeptical goodness over the last decade.

E: Definitely.

ML: Oh yeah.

E: Without a doubt.

B: Even though they might not want to put themselves into that group.

S: They don't like labels.

B: No.

S: They don't like labels. Cause they want to go after everyone equally.

B: Yeah. Everyone's fair game to them.

S: Yeah. Right.

Alternative Medicine (54:28)[edit]

S: What about–we mentioned alternative medicine already so let's talk about that just by itself.

R: Yeah. I think that's–

J: Yeah, they're winning this decade.

R: Yeah. Unfortunately.

E: It's on the rise.

J: Infiltrated big time.

R: Mostly with the anti-vax stuff, but also, I think, homeopathy.

J: Academia, from just the stories Steve has told it's getting down right scary what they're doing at universities. It's like, "Wow.

S: They certainly have made ground in the last 10 years. However, I think that they are–

J: Peaking?

S: they're peaking–

J: I hope.

S: and their–in the last decade I think they were cashing in on a lot of the ideological advances they made in the 1990's. The real shift was in the 1990's where fraud because alternative. That's where that shift occurred.

J: Right.

S: And now they're just running with that. And while they continue to gain ground with that I think also in the last 10 years now the counter movement is really organizing and there's now, I think, a scientific backlash forming against alternative medicine and again the way you take the wind out of the sails of movements like this is to expose it for what it really is. This is not about providing alternatives or integrating ideas or anything. This is just about selling fraudulent healthcare with a new flashy label. That's all it is. And once we make that point and really drive it home I think the whole appeal of alternative medicine goes away. So, that is hopefully we're starting to turn the corner there.

J: Yeah.

S: Maybe we'll have this chat again in 10 more years and we'll see how that goes but that's what it seems to me.

J: Hope you're right, man.

S: Anti-vaxxers won this last decade. Flat out. They went from nowhere 10 years ago to being a major movement with–causing a lot of mischief. All the numbers went in their direction.

B: And death. Don't forget death.

S: Vaccine compliance–

E: Gee. Good point, Bob. There's a direct correlation there.

S: Yeah. No, vaccine compliance is down and vaccine preventable diseases are coming back. And they are well funded, well organized, they have now celebrities on their roster. They hugely advanced their cause in the last 10 years. But again, I think there's a cycle to these things. There's–the backlash is happening and we are starting to get mainstream media who see them for what they are and–

J: And we have front line skeptics like Richard Saunders and Dr. Raichi in Australia, where they have it bad, over there.

S: Yeah.

J: And they're doing a lot of good.

S: They're doing a lot of good work. There's a lot of organizations doing a lot of good work. Paul Offit–

R: Paul Offit.

S: yeah, has been sort of the tireless guy on the front lines taking a lot of personal heat for tirelessly fighting against the anti-vaxxers so he gets props for that.

E: Absolutely.

B: And also, Steve, we're seeing the outbreaks of mumps and measles and things. Things that we thought were gone for good. How long can the anti-vaxxers really last in the face of that? Imagine–and I think it's going to get worse in the next few years it's gonna get worse.

S: Yeah.

B: At some point people are going to be like, "Woah. Wait a second. Look what's going on." People are going realize the correlation here and isn't that going–

S: Yeah.

J: I hope so, Bob.

B: to really burst their bubble at some point?

S: That's what some people think. That when the vaccine preventable diseases really start to come back that will start to turn the tide against the anti-vax movement. We're trying to do it before it gets to that point.

B: Right.

ML: Yeah. It's just too bad it has to get to that point.

S: Yeah. Like the safety valve. Eventually, it'll get to that point. But, I also want to point out that the anti-vaxxers have advanced their cause in the last 10 years despite the fact that the scientific evidence has gone completely against them. 10 years ago there really wasn't much published about thimerosal. Now, 10 years later, we pretty much know it's not associated with autism. Every–there have been more that a dozen solid studies showing that there's no correlation.

B: Right.

J: I know, but Steve, the fear mongering gives them the win.

E: Move the goal post.

J: You can always pull people in with fear.

S: It's true, temporarily. I think, long run the scientific evidence works in your advantage.

R: Although it might not hurt if we campaigned with protests with signs that show exactly what someone looks like when they are stricken with polio.

S: Or dying from measles.

B: Want to know how good the vaccinations have worked? I don't even know what measles and mumps are. I don't know what they look like.

R: Yeah. And that's the problem, I think, is that a lot of people think of them like, "Oh, it's like the chicken pox. You have it when you're a kid. You get over it. It's fine." They don't realize exactly how debilitating these diseases can be. How deadly.

J: That's part of the problem. Yep.

Global Warming Advocates and Dissidents (59:18)[edit]

S: Okay. Next topic. Ready for this one?

B: Yeah.

E: Ready.

S: Global warming advocates and dissidents.

R: Oh, god. Can we just skip it?

J: Oh, god.

ML: Christ.

S: Who won the last decade?

B: I refuse to talk about it.

S: Who's making more ground. Is it the global warming advocates or global warming dissidents?

R: I think advocates only because–

J: Advocates.

B: The advocates.

E: Advocates.

R: talk about it. But, I think it's a close call because the opposition has been so vehement and like disturbingly so. And both sides are so politicized and there's horrible people on both sides. I mean, it's–

S: Yeah.

E: Look at the way corporations and governments are moving, though. The vector is towards solutions for global warming. So, I think in that sense, they're winning out.

J: Yeah.

S: I think I'm going to call this one a tie.

J: Really.

S: Yeah. I think so. I think that the global warming advocates certainly have been successful in setting the agenda and in talking about solutions to the perceived problem of anthropogenic global warming. Global warming dissidents have been very successful in promoting that there isn't a consensus on global warming. That the science is controversial, the science itself. That there's a conspiracy. Even if you–the very recent episode of climategate. They use episodes like that to cast a significant amount of doubt on the notion that there is anthropogenic global warming. So both sides, I think, have advanced their opinions and they're pretty much going head to head in the public arena. I don't know that I could give a clear victory to either side.

R: I think we're all going to lose. That's my pessimistic prediction.

E: Science is going to solve this problem. One way or the other.

S: I agree. I think while this debate rages the science will steadily advance and will solve the problem for us.

E: Yep.

R: I disagree.

E: I have total faith–


S: Not that I would say that I have faith that science will give us a utopia no mater what we do, but I do think that these problems are solvable. They're solvable by incremental scientific advance.

R: I don't disagree with that. What makes me disagree in general with the idea that it will win the day is not that I don't think that science can't come up with these–scientists can't come up with these solutions it's that the politicians and the corporations will implement them. But that remains to be seen.

S: Well, I think–I'll continue to disagree with you in this reason–for this reason. I agree with you that we can't count on politicians to do the right thing. Nor can we count on corporations to be selfless. I think the kind of technological advances that are going to improve the situation are ones that are win win. Ones that are advantageous to corporations and to people. When you can save money and also lower carbon footprint, you'll do it. So when those things come online people will do it. People will get light bulbs that use–

R: If it's not too late.

S: There's that question–

R: By that point the 3rd world countries will be–could be wiped out by drought. So, it's kind of a–

S: That's a question, that, yeah is a tough call. Extrapolating into the future in terms of–I think long term that we will fix this problem. Also, we can't–even though it may be too late in terms of how much CO2 we've already pumped into the atmosphere but we–I think it's possible we can come up with solutions even for that. Even–not just talking about putting less CO2 into the atmosphere going forward–

J: Removing it.

S: Yeah. Dealing with the CO2 that's already there. I think we'll be fine, is my opinion. But no one can predict the future.

R: I hope you're right.

E: Except for psychics.

The Skeptical Movement (1:03:20)[edit]

S: So, final category is the skeptical movement. Where are we now compared to 10 years ago?

J: I would say–

E: God bless the internet.


J: Well, look at what's taken place over the past 10 years. First of all, the podcasting universe took off and so did skeptical podcasts and we have a lot of people getting a lot of very good podcast programming. I think it's fantastic in this way and that we have the–now this whole medium didn't exist before.

S: Yeah.

J: Also, look at how TAM has evolved over the past–we're up TAM8 is coming up so over the past 7 years. We've all heard the story about how what the attendance was like at TAM early on versus today and the demographic has changed. And also just blogging in general, I think, is a good way to gauge how well skepticism is doing. I think we have larger numbers now, today–much, much larger numbers today that we did 10 years ago.

ML: Oh yeah. Definite winner in the last decade.

R: And in terms of battles won, if you look back over all the things we just went over, most of those are losing and I think that's because of the response from skeptics and scientists. I think it's an overall win in terms of more people getting involved not just the podcasts and the blogs as Jay said, those are very important, but they're–it's encouraging grassroots activism of a sort.

S: Yeah.

R: Getting people really involved and making a difference.

S: Absolutely. If you think about the previous decade there was a lawsuit–a libel suit by Uri Geller against James Randi and–

J: Oh God. Remember?

S: then PSICOP. Without getting into the horey details the bottom line was that even though the libel suit itself failed it was successful in intimidating the skeptical movement and keeping the skeptical movement more fractured than it otherwise would have been. It was a very successful lawsuit from the point of view of bullying and intimidation, even though it failed legally. You fast forward to this year, we talked about Simon Singh, and the response is very different. Rather the libel suits against prominent skeptics fracturing the movement and hurting us, we rallied behind Simon Singh. It strengthened us and it completely back-lashed against the BCA. And the difference there is that now we are much better networked and organized because of the internet and because we're a bigger, more vibrant, group. We definitely are younger. We have more energy and we definitely have our mojo. I think the last decade–this is an easy call was a huge, big win for the skeptical movement.

B: Yep.

E: Sí.

E-mails of 2009 (1:06:14)[edit]

S: So, I pulled out two of–two e-mails that I got over the last year that stuck out. So, I'm going to read them very quickly and you guys if you have any that you wanted to quickly read.

J: Dear skeptics, you suck.


S: As typical we get a lot of feedback. We appreciate the feedback we get from our listeners. We read every e-mail even though, I regret the fact that we don't have time to answer every e-mail I promise you we do read every single one and it's still like 95% positive, I think, and 5% negative. Almost all the negative e-mails we got this year was over our coverage of climategate, actually. Just because that's such a politically contentious issue.

R: Yes. And we look forward to deleting your angry e-mails about tonight's episode.

E: Yes. In 2010 we'll be (inaudible).

B: Or we might save them for next year.

S: But we do love the positive feedback just because it does–it's helps us know that we're having an impact and that's important to keep us motivated to spend all the time and effort that we do in putting out this podcast. So, thanks to everyone who took the time to write us. But I do want to read a couple that stood out to me. Here's the first one. Actually, for some reason I don't have the name of the person who sent this in, but they wrote,

Hey. I'm a completely new listener to your program. My doctor actually prescribed a new drug for my anxiety and noticed that I had my iPhone with me at the consultation. From there he told me that it would be a good idea to sign up to your podcast. He also stated, and I quote, "These guys say that's it's your 'escape to reality'." I was really impressed that, one, I wasn't lectured by my doctor to get therapy, and two, my doctor related to me and gave me useful information in an attempt to find a way to make sense of the horrible bullshit that I had consistently feed into. This bullshit is fed to me by the mainstream media. I would like to express my thanks for your podcast in helping me make the first steps in overcoming my anxiety. However, I still am dealing with my acknowledgment of condition I understand it will never be cured.

R: A doctor prescribed us.

B: That doctor's awesome.

S: The SGU–we were prescribed as therapy for anxiety because we are "you're escape to reality."

R: Can we say, "4 out of 5 doctors recommend"–

ML: Do not operate heavy machine while listening to the SGU.

J: Yeah. Are we a controlled substance?

S: Will we have to be regulated by the FDA?

R: Actually, Jon Ronson told me that he listens to us while he falls asleep every night.


R: And I said, "Should I take that as a compliment or–" he's like, "No. It's just very soothing. Makes me fall asleep.

B: Oh my god.

R: So, yes, do not listen while operating heavy machinery.

J: Could you imagine? That conversation took place somewhere. Two people somewhere were like, "I think you really need to start listening." Really? To us?


S: Well, that was certainly an unusual e-mail. The second one is along a similar line. This is from Kiera Neil from Melborne, Australia, and she writes,

I am almost 13 and this year my dad has been playing your podcasts in the car. I have loved the show as much as he has complaining when I miss something and not wanting to stop when have to wait for the next one. I just wanted to tell you guys that thanks to your podcast my 7th grade science marks have improved amazingly. Just this year I have gone from 72% in my first test to 96% in the last. All because of listening to the podcast. Also, the 5x5 episodes have helped me understand so much. Rebecca you are my idol and I hope to be like when I grow up.

B: Oh my god.

R: Awww.

Your's sincerely, Kiera the budding skeptic.

R: Thanks awesome.

E: Awesome.

R: That makes me feel like I have a lot more awesomeness to do this year to keep up with that.

S: That's right. So not only can you prescribe the SGU for anxiety it will also get you 24% better grades in science class.

R: Can we get that put on Starburst stickers that we can put on the website? Guaranteed to–

E: Well, we were called one of the 15 podcasts that made you smarter.

S: That's true.

R: And also, Health listens to us. Which, you guys are old and–

S: Yes.

E: Yes.

R: sad and don't but it's awesome!

S: I know that. No, I know that. Although, they think that you're not funny.


R: He did not say–

E: He insulted our humor.

R: They said all of us in general are not funny. So–

S: Really? That's not what I–

R: So–

S: Memories are so flawed.

R: F*** you, Health, but also, you're awesome.


R: I love you.

S: I love you! Go to hell!

?: We like the moon.

R: Can I read one of my favorite e-mails?

S: Yes. Go ahead.

R: It just came the other day. It's from–


R: It's from a listener named Jim who writes,–

ML: Oh yes.

The interview about the LHC was unfortunately what one would expect from a high school student trying to get by without research. Circulating kittens is not possible since you have to use charged particles. It's all magnetic steering and acceleration. It is a very uniformed and dumb question to ask an expert. It's frankly bordering on the insulting.

R: So, I just wanted to thank Jim for writing in to correct us. It turns out it is not, in fact, possible, to circulate a kitten through the Large Hadron Collider. Thank you.

ML: Thank you, Jim.

S: You would think, Brian Cox, who actually operates it, would have known that.

R: Yeah. It's weird that he didn't.

E: He mistook it for the Large Kitten Collider.

R: Right. That's what I was about to say, that–

E: Which is a whole nother device all together.

R: scientists are working on that.

E: He's got to get his facts straight.

S: Yeah. The LKC. Yeah.

R: Right.

S: It's an easy mistake to make.

R: Located beneath Cutopia.

S: That's going to be our first real t-shirt. The LKC. The Large Kitten Collider.


R: Can someone please make an animation that just show what that might look like?

E: Oh please.

R: Cause, I'd pay good money for that.

Science or Fiction Statistics (1:11:57)[edit]

S: Mike, I understand that you have compiled some science or fiction statistics for us.

ML: Yes I have.

R: Don't. Uh oh.

E: Oo.

ML: Jay.

R: Now, I would like to say–did you split them up into before Rebecca started recording the podcast at 2 AM–

S: Oh please.

R: and after Rebecca started recording the podcast at 2 AM?

ML: No.

R: I believe that has had a significant effect on my performance.

S: There was too little data for subgroup analysis, Rebecca, so I'm just going to have to go with the meta-analysis–

ML: That's right.

S: of the whole year.

R: Fine.

S: So go ahead, Mike.

R: Go on.

ML: So in 2009 the Science or Fiction stats are as follows. At the bottom is Jay.

J: What?

ML: Yes.

R: That was good. You almost sounded surprised.

ML: Jay–you can look at it half full–glass half empty glass–Jay answered 50% of the questions right.

J: I'm actually shocked cause it felt like I got everything wrong.

R: That's better than average.

ML: Nope. You got half. And then Evan got 56%. Rebecca got 64.3%–

R: Yeah!

ML: and Bob, at the top, is 76.5%–

J: Wow, Bob.

B: 76.

ML: and I got 100%.

J: Yeah. That's cause you're playing by yourself.

R: Good job, Mike.

E: Yeah, ya know.

R: You always win when you play with yourself.

E: That's like a batter getting one at bat in a baseball season.

ML: The longest winning streak was Bob with 9 wins. He did that twice.

E: Nein.

S: In honor of the movie 9.

ML: Yes.

B: Twice.

E: Nein.

ML: That's right, Bob, twice.

E: Oh, that's 18.

ML: The longest losing streak was Jay, with 4. He did that twice, too. And the number of times that everybody lost was 7. The number of times where everybody won was 12. And I started counting–I didn't start counting until about July or August but starting in July or August the number of times Steve was called a bastard was 14.


J: Awesome.

S: So just 14, huh?

ML: Just 14, yeah.

E: 13 by Bob.

J: Thanks Mike.

E: 1 by Rebecca.

R: Thank you for compiling those, Mike.

E: Preciate it, man.

R: But I'm pretty sure that if you just take into account the first of the year I'm beating Bob.

B: Whoa whoa whoa, I don't think so.

R: I'm pretty sure.

ML: I can do that right now. Let me see.

R: Really? On the fly?

S: Really? You can test Rebecca's claim that fast can you?


R: It's okay. I just PayPaled Mike $20.


R: (inaudible) gear, Mike.

E: I'll just Google it.

ML: No, it's still Bob. Bob had 75%. Rebecca had 73%.

R: Am I closer.

ML: 73.

R: See.

S: Oh, very close. But, still Bob is beating you.

R: 73. I knew it.

E: Close, but no cigar.

R: I took a nose dive. It's 1 in the morning for god's sakes. How am I supposed to answer your crazy fiction science questions?

ML: And Jay's still sitting at 50.

J: 50. I mean what?

R: Aww.

S: Hey, you chose to move to London. You chose your husband over the show, so pay.

R: I did not choose–No.

E: That is true. Yeah.

R: I'd like to correct on this point because it turns out free will is an illusion, Steve.

S: So you didn't actually choose.

R: I did not choose. There is no "me" to choose.

S: The absence of free will is not incompatible with the notion of making choices.

R: Uh, it is, actually.

S: No, it isn't.

R: In this instance, because–

S: Because it serves your purposes.

R: Yes.

S: Okay.

R: Look, I would love to banter with you more, Steve, but it's 1 in the morning and I'm really tired, okay?

S: So, one other comment, do not e-mail us to tell us that this isn't the end of the decade.

R: Oh, god.

ML: Oh, jeez.

R: We don't want to hear it.

E: Or do and get it deleted.

R: I've already set up the filter in Gmail to just it right to trash.

E: Right.

S: We choose to end the decade this year. So that's it. And speaking of which that brings us to the end of our year and decade in review.

R: Oh. This was fun.

S: It was a lot of fun.

R: We should do this every week.

S: We should do this every year.

E: A lot–lot of fun. We should do this every decade.

The SGU in 2010 (1:15:57)[edit]

S: I've been looking forward to the SGU in 2010. We got Nexus 2010 coming up April 1717, in New York. TAM8, DragonCon 2010, and then in November we're off to Australia.

R: Australia. Very exciting.

S: Which we are looking forward to.

R: And speaking of things that are happening this year, next Friday–Friday, January 8th, Richard Wiseman will be in Boston. Boston Skeptic's are hosting him at the Brattle Theatre. You can buy tickets on the Brattle Theatre's website or you can find out all the information at

S: Thanks to everyone for listening over the last year. Thanks to everyone who gave us a donation. We had a nice flurry of donations in the last couple of weeks. I guess people are making their pre-tax year donations.

R: We are still accepting them. FYI.

S: We are still accepting them.

E: Oh yeah.

S: But it helps keep the lights on and keeps the bandwidth going.

ML: It helps–

R: And thank you for the good rating on iTunes. Those are always lovely.

S: And for the podcast award. We appreciate that.

R: Oh yeah. We won a podcast award.

B: Oh yeah.

E: Oh yes. Our first major podcast award.

S: We are now an award winning podcast for the first time.

R: Did we get like a leg lamp or something for that?

B: A leg lamp.

S: We got a laurel and hearty handshake.

B: Hey Steve, I'd like to thank you for working your ass off again this year.

R: Yeah. Thank you, Steve.

J: Yeah.

S: Eh, you don't have to do that every year.

R: Once a year.

E: Steve, you're lazy. You're a lazy bum and you don't do anything.

B: We actually–we got an e-mail not too long ago where someone very explicitly was asking questions about how does Steve do it. How could he possibly get all that done. They think that there's some secret to it.

R: There's a quantum Steve from another dimension that jumped in and helped.

S: Right. And not the stoner, right.

ML: Well, you guys answered that two years ago[link needed]. Steve has a bunch of clones in the basement.

E: Dude.

S: Chained up, yeah.

B: Steve works a lot and plays very little. That's what it boils down to.

ML: Really? He's always on WarCraft. I'm always seeing–

B: Well, he's working while he's on there. It's hard work.

E: Exnay on the orcraftway.

Conclusion (1:18:09)[edit]

S: Well, thanks to all of you guys for another year.

R: Thank you, Steve.

S: You guys put the hours in, as well.

ML: Thanks, Steve.

J: Our pleasure.

E: Well, thank you, Steve. It's been great.

S: And until next year and next decade, this is your Skeptics' 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 If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us spread the word by voting for us on Digg, or leaving us a review on iTunes. You can find links to these sites and others through our homepage. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto, and is used with permission.

Today I Learned[edit]


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