SGU Episode 260

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SGU Episode 260
30th June 2010
Ray-finned.JPG
SGU 259 SGU 261
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
Guest
GH: George Hrab
Quote of the Week
Science has a simple faith, which transcends utility. Nearly all men of science, all men of learning for that matter, and men of simple ways too, have it in some form and in some degree. It is the faith that it is the privilege of man to learn to understand, and that this is his mission. If we abandon that mission under stress we shall abandon it forever, for stress will not cease. Knowledge for the sake of understanding, not merely to prevail, that is the essence of our being. None can define its limits, or set its ultimate boundaries.
Vannevar Bush
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Show Notes
Forum Topic

Pre-Introduction (00:00)[edit]

GH: Hey everybody. You know what I purchased today? I purchased something which I have not purchased in quite a long time, and this purchase was significant. Well, it wasn't significant, but it was significant when I realized how long it had actually been since I purcahsed this very particular item. I bought a cymbal bag. Now, those of you who know that I play with the Philidelphia Funk Authority know that I carry all of my gear around in my car. And amongst that gear, of course, are the cymbals. The plates, the dishes of brass on which I clang so wholeheartedly. And I have had, I have had the same cymbal bag since high school.

GH: I realized today that I have had three times as many cars as I have had cymbal bags. Now, the cymbal bag is just a big nylon, nylon? I don't know, nylon bag that holds your cymbols. And the thing is is that the cymbals are stored on edge so that edge is slowly, over let's say, I don't know, twenty years (chuckles), digs in and tears through. And the inside of this thing has just been shredded to pieces, so I have this nice black piz, which is the technical term. I have black piz all over my cymbals, and, just for years, I have just accepted the fact that that bag has black piz in it instead of buying another bag.

GH: Well, since the, the hole, much like the crack in the current season of Doctor Who, the hole in my bag is just appearing more and more often, and it just finally came time for me to buy a new cymbal bag. And it was like, "Okay, I'll bite the bullet, and I'll spend twenty bucks." So, like I said, I have had (chuckles) since high school, what, four cars? And one cymbal bag. I don't know. It must be like how guys refuse to throw away underwear. Its the same kind of thing, I guess. Alright, let's start the show shall we?

GH: (Geologic Podcast intro music starts) This is the (music stops) Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

Introduction (02:15)[edit]

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

S: Hello, and welcome to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, June 30th 2010, and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella.

B: Hey, everybody.

S: Jay Novella.

J: Hey, guys.

S: Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening.

S: And we have a special guest Rogue this week, you may have guessed if you're familar with his podcast already, but George Hrab is joining us.

GH: Hello! (laughter from all)

B: Oh, my god.

J: George!

E: Hi, George!

B: That was the lamest hello I ever heard.

E: Second lamest.

S: I was going to say that was the second lamest hello I'd ever heard.

B: Yeah.

GH: But it was timed right though. (laughter)

S: Well, George, thanks for taking time out of your busy recording schedule to join us on the SGU. We had you on before, but this your first time as a guest Rogue.

GH: Yes, you know, any time I have to be a guest on something that involves studying before hand that's always very exciting. (laughter) I've got my notes (sound of a thick stack of paper slapping desk repeatedly) right here in front of me, and I'm all set to go.

B: Hard, you've got hard copies?

GH: Yeah.

B: Okay.

GH: See I'm old school, man. Yeah, these are handwritten on yellow paper with one of those big square pencils you would get in kindergarten. That's what I still use. (laughter) For safety.

S: So, before we go on, you know, we do have...our podcasts have a lot of overlap, but there may be some people listening to us who haven't heard the Geologic podcast or listened to you music. So, George give us a brief intro about yourself.

GH: Oh, geez, I have a show called the Geologic Podcast which has nothing to do which geology, well, .02% to do with geology. Its a silly show which just has a nice skepticism bent to it. Its nowhere near as organized as your program. Its more about the sort of mad ravings of what happens to me throughout the week. Both as a professional musician and as a skeptic trying to deal with things in the world. And my day job is playing drums for a funk band out of Philidelphia, and in my spare time, when not doing the podcast or doing the drumming thing, I record albums that tend to be...have music which in somewhat of a skeptical scientific nerdy, kind of, bent. That's the quick Cliff Notes version of what I'm about.

S: And your latest album, Trebuchet, is just out, correct?

GH: Yes! We just released it last week. It was put into my feed, my podcast feed and a bunch of other podcasts very generously put into their feeds as well. If you're remotely interested, its show number 170 of the Geologic Podcast. Its a 70 minute album, 17 songs, all 17 songs are in that show for free. You can go check it out.

Yeah, we're trying something different this time. Its the first time I've released an album and been doing a podcast at the same time. So, we decided to put the whole mishbaugh (?) into the feed and see what happens. And the response has been pretty positive so far.

J: Awesome.

E: I should hope so. I enjoyed the album tremendously, George. I thought it was really, really great. I enjoyed all the songs.

GH: Oh, thank you very much. That's very nice. Thank you, thank you. Yeah, I'm happy with it. I'm happy with it.

J: George, I had dinner with my parents, and my mom tries to pretend that she understands what a podcast is, and she asks me, "So, what do you guys talking about on the next show?" And I said, "Oh, we're having this awesome guy on that has his own podcast." And I told her your name, and I told her a couple of doodads about you. And she's like, "Well, what's his podcast about?" And I was like, "Well, uh..."

GH: Right, exactly.

J: "Well, its...he just kind of tells us what he did over the week, and then he makes fun of..."

GH: Right. "And that's interesting?"

J: Yeah. So, I give her this totally lame explanation, and she goes, "Uh-huh. Okay." (laughter)

GH: She should talk to my folks. They'd get along great probably.

S: Jay, you didn't tell her that George actually speaks to his mother on the podcast, did you?

J: No.

S: Okay, good.

GH: Oh.

J: That's not happening on our show.

E: Is that some kind of invitation now to...?

B: Because you know that conversation would veer to politics.

S: Well, you know, it'd be like, "Oh, we talk to his mother on his podcast, I see."

GH: "The Hrab boy is nice, he likes his mom, he includes his mother."

J: The conversation would be about...it would have something to do with being careful and food.

E: "At least he calls her once in a while."

J: That would be the topic.

GH: Right.

This Day in Skepticism (06:42)[edit]

S: Evan, what's special about today?

E: Ah! Today, July 10th.

S: Well, when its released.

E: It was back in 1997 when scientists report the findings of DNA analysis of Neanderthal skeleton which support the Out of Africa theory of human evolution, placing an African eve at 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.

S: That's right.

GH: And she was played by Meryl Streep, right?

E: Oh, probably, yes.

GH: Or is that a different thing? Sorry, sorry, sorry.

S: Now, of course, the fundamentalist creationists immediately latched on to that, and I remember watching, for whatever reason, the 700 Club at the time and...

B: Ooooh.

GH: Eeee.

S: ...Pat Robertson saying that scientists have discovered that a woman named Eve is the ancestor to all humans. No further context.

GH: (older Bill Clinton-ish voice) "Its hard to believe, but, apparently, there's this one woman, she's just...science has proven that Eve is just...she's the first woman, and there you go. Its just amazing. Its just amazing" (laughter)

B: That was good man.

J: So, because the scientist called her Eve, he said her name was Eve?

S: Yes. Yeah, and missed the whole mitochondrial eve thing where it wasn't the sole female ancestor, just the one who's mitochondria eventually dominated in the population. But, anyway...

E: Creationists...

J: So, he thinks that they spoke English back then and named her Eve?

S: Well, he didn't...

B: He probably thinks that they found her dinosaur license, Jay.

S: Right, I mean, you know, they tend to latch on to anything science-y that they can twist to say it supports their beliefs. I, also, remember another fundamentalist telling me once that scientists have discovered lakes of fire on Venus, therefore the Bible is true because it mentions lakes of fire.

B: Okay...

E: (sigh) Lakes of fire.

GH: Quod erat demonstrandum. (laughter) That's it, that's it.

B: Q.E.D.

E: Look, a burning bush! But Steve, there was a real scientific controversy though that this helped put to rest.

J: You can get rid of that with penicillin. (?)

S: Yeah, this was a very exciting piece of evidence, yeah. It...I don't think it put the debate to rest, but if definitely was a huge score in the out of Africa theory column which still predominates. The notion that the different populations of humans migrated out of Africa and then diversified, as opposed to evolving in situ. Asians did not evolve in Asia versus Europeans in Europe, we all evolved in Africa, migrated out, and then spread around the world. That was, basically, the two competing hypotheses.

B: But Steve, didn't it also demonstrate the bottleneck that the human population went through were our population went down to, what was it, 10,000 members at one point? Something like that?

S: Yes.

E: A few 10,000, I think.

B: It was also...it demonstrates that fact, I think, very well.

S: Right, and, in fact, though I remember at one point looking deeply into the question of "the bottleneck", and I don't remember if I wrote about it or we talked about it on the show, but there may have been multiple bottlenecks. Its actually a really complicated paleontological question at this point. Or there might have been what they were calling the "Coke bottleneck", the really long bottleneck as opposed to a brief one, you know what I mean?

B: Hmm...

GH: Is that geographically also, or is that like a single bottlenecks (sic) happening simultaneously, or is it just bottlenecks that happen in time?

S: Well, this is one where, basically, the entire human population that led to us, there could have been other humans in other places, but the population that eventually led to modern humanity passed through a very very small population period, and that period of time might have been a very long period of time. That's the question: How many of these bottleneck were they? (sic) How long did they last? And this is, basically, being answered by analyzing genetics, the genes of different populations of people around the planet, and this mitochondrial eve story was really the beginning, from what I can recall, of that kind of analysis. At least it was the first big major story to come out of it, and, now, we have 10+ years of subsequent analyses that are really deepening this story. The out of Africa is still the predominate theory, the multiple bottlenecks are starting to be fleshed out although, certainly, a long way from being completely settled.

E: How much evidence would it take to, kind of, overturn what we've learned in the last 10, 15 years? I mean, it would have to be a pretty significant chunks (sic) of evidence in order to go back to, I think, some other theory.

S: Yeah, I think its getting pretty solid. Its at the 90% level or something just to put an arbitrary number on it, meaning its pretty solid, but not at the point where it would shock me if new evidence started to move in the other direction. I just think its...we're definitely in favor of the out of Africa and the bottleneck hypotheses.

B: I wonder how much genetic diversity there'd be if we hadn't gone