SGU Episode 247

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SGU Episode 247
7th Apr 2010
SGU 246 SGU 248
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
"Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering."
Arthur C. Clarke
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, today is Wednesday April 7th 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: Yo

S: and Evan Bernstein

This Day in Skepticism (0:26)[edit]

E: Hi Everyone and a very happy birthday to our dear, departed friend Samuel Hahnemann founder of Homeopathy <laughter>

J: Hanhamahahnama

E: April 10th..

J: How did he die?

R: He gets stronger with each passing year that he's dead


B: Good one, Rebecca

R: Thank you

E: Was it poison or something?

J: Poison?

E: He died of having an illness in which he took some of his quote unquote remedy and from not seeking real, some kind of real, treatment, perhaps, he perished of the ailment

R: So he took homeopathy?

E: According to Randi, at a lecture that Randi gave not too long ago, he said he probably perished taking some kind of concoction that he came up with himself

S: Mm hm. But not homeopathic?

E: but I don't have an official word on how he died. Oh hey, I got some friends together and we wanted to send out a little song for to mark this occasion. OK, you guys ready?

R: Oh God

All (singing): Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear quack purveyor of bull snake oil salesman, happy birthday to you E: (singing): and you smell like one too


E: I got together with some fiends and we sang him a happy birthday

R: That was a “Malkovitch, Malkovitch, Malkovitch”, what the hell, that was creepy, Evan

E: I got together with some like minded people and we sang happy birthday

R: Evan, I think you need more friends 
B: I liked it Evan, I thought it was edited very well

E: I appreciate it

S: That was solid work, Evan, solid work.

E: Took me an hour

S: Jay, tell us about workers at Area 51 finally after all these years breaking their silence

News Items[edit]

Area 51 Workers Break Silence (02:01)[edit]

  • Seattle Times: [1]

J: Well it’s not so much that they broke their silence as much as they were allowed to talk about it now because so much time has gone by that it’s no longer something that they can’t talk about

S: It’s declassified

J: It’s been declassified, exactly. So this particular person, a guy named James Nose, he claims that he worked in Area 51 which is in Southern Nevada. He’s 72 years old today, so he worked there, 40 to 50 years ago. This was in the 60s and while he was there, they were testing the A12 and the SR71 which are both spy planes.

S: Blackbird… SR71 is a sweet jet

B: Yeah

R: It really is, I was just reading about that today. Bizarre

B: They go 3200 mph I think

J: Yeah, nothing actually that we know of, nothing goes faster than that

S: 2200 mph - Mach 3.29

B: Okay

S: Officially, which means it’s probably faster

B: Right

R: No, it’s gone faster. I’ve heard 3.3 something

B: I’ve read once that when that plane took off, it would leak fuel like a sieve because it was, it ran so hot that once it got to operating temperature, the metal expanded and sealed nicely, but until that happened, it was like leaking fuel

S: Yeah

R: I read once that it took off from an airport and landed 5 minutes before it started.


J: Steve, I have read reports of about how unbelievably powerful and loud those engines were once they, once the pilots punched them to take off. Very, very impressive jet plane, there.

R: If anybody wants to read a really cool, the thing I was reading Jay was on Gizmodo and it was from a pilot who has flown it in Libya during the Cold War and his story’s absolutely amazing. So that’s on Highly recommended.

B: I’ll check it out

S: But what does this guy has to say for himself?

J: To cut to the chase, I mean basically he says he was there, they were teastgin these airplanes that nobody there that he know and including himself no-one saw any kind of UFO or flying suacers or anything. When the rumours came about that there was UFOs there or they were covering things up or whatever, that the CIA didn’t care about those rumours because it kind of helped cover up what they were doing. He also admitted that the CIA at the time was definitely scaring people into not wanting to be around the area and they were paying people off if, for example, they were moving a crashed plane from point A to point B and people saw it or at one point he mentions that the plane kind of crashed into a bus that was driving in the other direction because they had it on the back end of a flat bed of some kind, they literally paid people to not talk about it. At one point he mentioned a briefcase had $25,000 in cash that they were giving someone. And he did mention this story and I do remember hearing this about one of the pilots dressed up as a gorilla and did fly upside down over a pilot, over a commercial, not a commercial pilot, a private pilot and that guy, that pilot went back and told people about it and everyone thought he was crazy and whenever pilots did see these jets and they talked about it, two other pilots, it was a ridiculous story so a lot of these pilots that did see the jets flying around didn’t really talk mention anything because it got kind of to the point that they knew that they were going to be ridiculed about it

S: Yeah

B: Yeah

R: Are you sure that it wasn’t in Hot Shots Part Deux

J: I’m not sure it wasn’t but apparently there are roots of reality here

S: Yeah, there are two elements of the story that are interesting, one no big surprise there were no aliens in Area 51 and they were secret air force planes and development there. That’s no biggie. The more interesting part of this story are all the trappings of secrecy that were going on there, the intimidation and bribing of witness the also pranking of civilian pilots in unexplainable ways, querky ways to that pilot, they saw something that made no sense to them and the notion that it was just a whimsical act of air force pilot who was pranking them is not the first thing that they would think of. It reinforces the notion that unexplained doesn’t mean unexplainable, right? You always have to consider, just becuase you don’t know what something is, it could be something totally querky but still mundane. You don’t have invoke aliens.

J: Well, if you think about Steve, a pilot seeing an aircraft move unbelievably fast, I mean faster than anyhting back then, people were not thinking that we have anything that can go that fast

S: And higher and that’s important because the sound would not reach you for so long that you would think it was silent. This fast thing moving through the sky silently could be very eery looking

E: This will not dissuade the UFO believers 
S: Not a bit

E: Not one.

S: Not one bit

E: In fact, it may embolden them further, because they feel that this is another layer of...

S: This is part of the cover up

J: Yeah, when I read this article, I’m like, man they’re just going to say this is a cover up. That’s the MO here

R: Yeah, but you know there’s one kid out there, researches Area 51 finds this and then instead of becoming a UFO researcher he becomes a, you know, stelath pilot. I think that, that might happen.

E: It is worth it, definitely. These reports are important.

R: For those listeners who didn’t have immediate access to Google during that discussion, the top speed of the Blackbird SR71 is Mach 3.5, although there were unclassified tests that I think hit 3.6

J: They turned it up to 11

S: That’s fast

R: 3.5 is what it could do… on a normal day

Ununseptium (08:03)[edit]

S: Bob tell us about Ununseptium

B: Russian and American scientists have created 6 atoms of a newly created element which will probably one day soon officially join its brethren on the Periodic Table of Elements. This new super heavy element, temporarily called Ununseptium has an atomic number of 117

S: Which is what Ununseptium means

B: Right

S: One Seventeen. It’s its temporary designitation until its official

R: When I read it just printed I thought it was just the opposite of umseptium

B: Right. It won’t become official until seperate scientists document it, but from what I’ve read

SBM Visits NCCAM ()[edit]

  • Science-Based Medicine: [3]

Copper Magnetic Jesus Bracelet ()[edit]

  • Dream Products Catalog: [4]

Who's That Noisy? ()[edit]

Answer to last week: Vladimir Zworykin

Questions and Emails ()[edit]

Human Population ()[edit]

In episode #246 either Bob or Jay (I can't tell which is which) said (paraphrased) "there are more people alive today than ever existed before". This is incorrect. Conservative estimates put the total number of Homo sapiens that have existed in total at just over 100 billion - not including Neanderthal or Homo erectus, etc. There are just under 7 billion people alive today, so we represent approximately 7% of the total human population to have ever existed. The "there are more humans alive today than ever existed before" bit is a common misconception.


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Dutch Psychic Follow-Up ()[edit]

I'm Dutch so I have access to more sources on the story of the psychic Paul van Bree who is supposed to work for the Dutch justice department. Well, the department of justice claims not to know mr. Van Bree. One journalist did call Van Bree for clarification. Van Bree told him he last visited a prison 1,5 years ago. The whole story seems to go back to a 'one-off' gig Van Bree did in prison several years ago, on invitation of that particular prison (Scheveningen). The Dutch justice department does not hire psychics on a structural base. Of course Van Bree is boasting on his website he is working for the department of justice. It's not true. The source of the story is the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, which is the Dutch 'The Daily Mail' (see: Dan and Dan). I'm very surprised the British The Telegraph copied the story without checking the story. Not very skeptical, right?

Love, Peter Jan Haas


Name that Logical Fallacy ()[edit]

Giles Corey The Genetic Fallacy

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: Scientists have discovered a species of fish that live entirely without oxygen. Item #2: A theoretical astrophysicist has proposed that our entire universe resides within a wormhole connected to a black hole. Item #3 An engineering student has developed a system for controlling electronic devices by tapping on one's own skin.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.

Arthur C. Clarke

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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