SGU Episode 28

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SGU Episode 28
February 1st 2006
SGU 27 SGU 29
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
TS: Tara Smith
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Show Notes


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, February 1, 2006. This is Steven Novella, your host, president of the New England Skeptical Society. Joining me tonight are Perry DeAngelis, ...

P: Righto.

S: ... Evan Berstein, ...

E: Hi everyone.

S: ... and Bob Novella.

B: Good evening.

News Items[edit]

Word from The Amazing Meeting 4 (TAM4) (0:36)[edit]

S: So I was sitting in my office yesterday in front of my laptop, which is connected to the Internet, and guess who skyped me out of the blue?

E: Uhm.

P: Couldn't imagine.

B: George Bush.

S: No, not quite. Our friend The Amazing Randi, James Randi.

B: Oh, yeah? No way.

P: You made a friend for life.

S: Right.

E: Did he misdial?

S: No. Actually what he told me was: he just got back from the TAM 4, The Amazing Meeting.

E: Right.

S: They had an excellent meeting, almost maximum capacity attendance, which I think is about he said 600. He said the lectures were incredible and went off without a hitch. He was basically just glowing from the wonderful meeting, and he wanted to talk to somebody about it, about how good the meeting was.

B: No way

S: So of course he thought of me.

P: Good man. Good man.

E: Of course he did. Of course.

S: Actually, what he said was I was the only one in his address book who was online but ...

B: Ha, ha. You know what they say: you were the fifth person he tried.

P: Right place at the right time

S: I thought it was fun.

B: Awesome.

S: It was good to talk to... to talk to James about it, It was good, but ...

B: Did you record it?

S: No, I don't have the recorder at work on my laptop. I did not record it, but we talked about the meeting a bit. One thing of interest is that they do make a DVD of the video of all of the lectures. So you can ...

B: Oh, wow!

S: So in a few weeks they should have the DVD for the meeting available. I noticed the DVDs for previous years meetings are for sale on Randi's website So keep an eye out for that. Hopefully we will be able to get to one of these meetings in the future, but they're definitely taking off. He said the attendance is increasing every year. They're definitely going to look for a bigger venue next year.

E: That's what he said.

S: So, congratulations to Randi and the JREF for a conference well done.

E: Hear, hear.

Vatican may have found Pope John Paul II 'miracle'(2:38)[edit]

S: Other news items, just again to get us started. Evan, you sent me this one. "Vatican may have found Pope John Paul's miracle." So, in order to become a saint, within Catholic tradition, one of the criteria is that you have to have, I think, is it three verified miracles attributed to the individual that's up for sainthood, and there are those who think that Pope John Paul II, should be considered for sainthood, and now they're touting his alleged first miracle, which interestingly is a young nun who was afflicted apparently with Parkinson's disease. Now Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder. It is a disorder, in fact, that Pope John Paul II suffered from himself. You may have noticed that in the last 10 years or so of his life he was fairly hunched over, he didn't move very much, you may even have noticed he had a tremor. That was his Parkinson's disease. And it was very, very advanced by the time he died. Well apparently upon his death, a nun who was afflicted with Parkinson's disease prayed to him and, was allegedly cured of her Parkinson's disease.

P: That's interesting. Do you think God misdirected the cure there?

S: I don't know. It was interesting that you would think that God would cure or heal a nun of the same disease and not deign to heal the pope himself. So the church thinks it worthy of investigation, that they haven't declared it a miracle, they just think their preliminary investigation has determined that they think that it deserves a further looking into.

E: Do you think they'll consult neurologists and other ...

S: I don't know. They say that they consulted physicians, but who knows how skeptically trained they were. Just being a physician is not enough to assess an apparent miracle.

P: Are you aware of Parkinson's spontaneous remission cases, Steve?

S: Well, you know, Parkinson's is a syndrome. It just a constellation of signs and symptoms that can have many causes. so if you're talking about specifically Parkinson's disease, which is caused by death of a certain population of brain cells, no, there are no spontaneous remissions. But you could theoretically have parkinsonism, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, induced by, say, a drug or a toxin, and when the effect of that drug goes away, the symptoms can get better. So it depends on specifically what her diagnosis was. It's also possible she didn't even have Parkinson's disease or parkinsonism. Sometimes people are prematurely and incorrectly given that diagnosis because they have some other kind of tremor or some other symptom which is due to something else. So always with these miracle cases you have to – or cases with an apparent healing, whether it's a faith healing or whatever, unless you objectively document that the disease alleged to have been cured actually existed in the first place, the remission doesn't really mean anything. So, again, I don't know to what extent the medical history was established in this case.

P: It's such a powerful motive for fraud. You have to be ...

S: Pious fraud, yeah, pious fraud. Absolutely, so certainly I don't think I would put any credence on it unless it was exquisitely documented, and then all you could say was there was an apparent spontaneous remission, which again does happen sometimes in certain diseases. If it were a case of Parkinson's that spontaneously remitted, I think all we could say was whatever was causing that was not dead brain cells. It must have been something else that is amenable to spontaneous remission.

E: Well I think we can lend a hand here in deciding whether or not this was a true miracle, because the very last sentence of the article, at least the one I'm reading here – – the last sentence reads: "The experts must rule out any natural explanation for the recovery before a miracle can be certified."

S: Right.

E: I'd say that Steve, certainly you could lend yourself to that explaining the natural remission or whatever.

S: Again, if the case was documented adequately ahead of time. If there weren't adequate documentation of her medical condition beforehand, it may not be possible at this point in time to say definitively what happened. So basically it all depends on the documentation.

P: At least the Catholic Church in the past has demonstrated a reasonable degree of rigor when verifying these sorts of things.

S: Yeah, they are fairly conservative. They do not want to prematurely label something as miraculous. They are often – officially they will withhold that designation even when there is popular belief that a miracle has occurred. But, again, they are a religious institution. They are the Catholic Church. They will in some cases say that a miracle occurred even short of what skeptics would consider scientific proof.

P: Their belief system presupposes a supernatural world.

S: Of course.

E: So this will be the first of the three miracles that they are trying to attribute. I wonder what the next two are going to be.

S: We can only wait and see.

E: Stay tuned.

S: Well they haven't established this one yet, so we won't get ahead of ourselves.

President Bush's State of the Union calls for research spending (8:24)[edit]

S: The next thing that happened this week that is of interest was Bush's State of the Union address. Perry, I know you're always enrapt with these things. You follow the political news very closely. You saw the State of the Union address?

P: I did indeed. I thought it was a fine performance by our chief executive last night. There was some possibility of some controversy there when Mrs. Sheehan showed up, invited by some congresspeople, but she was escorted out for having a derogatory T-shirt about the war.

S: Right.

P: They also escorted out another woman who had a positive tee shirt about the war. So, uh.

S: At least they were balanced.

P: They were trying to be consistent, indeed they were. It's a very dignified, important speech, and you have to be careful about who you let in. On the whole, I thought it was a good speech.

S: But the thing that caught or interest skeptically, not a purely politically issue, was his call for increased science education.

P: Indeed.

S: What this will lead to in concrete practical terms remains to be seen. At least at the federal level, presidents have a long history of making... of good speechifying about education but then not really doing much about it.

E: Right. Right.

S: Although Bush is the one president – he did pass No Child Left Behind. For good or for ill, he actually shifted control from the states to the federal government with regards to education. So, again, regardless of what you think about the effectiveness of that policy, he is trying to do something at the federal level. And now he is calling for increased – a 22% increase in clean energy research, so again more funding of research there, and in general more support for education in both science and math. So we'll see. This kind of efforts did, I think, actually lead to improved education as I believe we discussed in the last episode, following Sputnik.

P: There was certainly a great deal made about his call for clean energy and the attempt to make us less oil dependent, he being from Texas and the general, the conventional wisdom being that he is in the pocket of big oil.

S: Right.

P: So it was duly noted today and much discussed, his seeming to break away from that.

S: We'll see if anything concrete comes from it. We certainly endorse any increase in overall support for science education, but it's got to be done in the right way. Again, we had this conversation during the last episode. Just throwing money at the problem I don't think is going to help.

Questions and Emails (11:06)[edit]

S: Well let's move on to your e-mails and questions. We actually had quite a busy week in terms of getting e-mail from listeners to the show.

Aircraft Transponders(11:15)[edit]

S: One e-mail harkens back to an episode we did in September discussing the 9/11 conspiracy theories. If you guys recall, the issue came up that when the hijackers hijacked the jetliners, the first thing they did was turn off the transponders, and we speculated as to why it is even possible to turn off a transponder in a cockpit? That seems like a security hole. Well, a pilot and engineer, Glenn Barliss, who is a recent but avid listener to our podcast, wrote us this e-mail. He writes "I am listening to your podcast to catch up with your shows, and I'm up to September 2005. Enjoy it very much. The 9/11 conspiracy show had a brief discussion of the aircraft transponder and a question as to why it can be turned off in the cockpit. As a pilot and electrical engineer I can tell you there are very good technical reasons why this is necessary." I responded to him "Well, can you tell us what those technical reasons might be?", and he obliged with a rather long answer, but I will hit the highlights. He says, basically, that first how transponders work. They send out a radar signal basically which not only a greatly enhances the radar profile of an airplane. Small airplanes may be almost invisible by air traffic controller radar, but their transponders make them very visible, it also can send out a four-digit identification number, and also can transmit specific codes that give information about the flight. For example the code 1200 means that the plane is flying on – it's on VFR, which is basically flying by radar, and then 7500 means hijacking in progress, 7600 means loss of two-way radio communications, 7700 means airborne emergency. So that's how transponders work. He said that it's necessary to be able to turn off the transponder, because if you couldn't turn off the transponder then all of the airplanes that were taxiing on the runway or in various stages of essentially being in the airport itself, would be blasting away their transponder signals, and would be completely flooding the air traffic control tower in the airport with signals that they don't need to see. So in fact the last thing they do before takeoff is to switch the transponder on, and they turn it off soon after landing. In addition, of course they need to turn it off at times to reserve its battery, in order to do maintenance, etc. etc. So, basically, his point was there are times when you have to turn it off. So that answered a question that we left unanswered from that previous podcast.

E: That's great when our listeners call in and educate us on these things. Certainly, we don't know all the details about (inaudible), and it's really great that they chime in and give us their two cents.

S: Absolutely. Occasionally things come up that we didn't have a chance to look up or just none of us happen to know, so thanks to Glenn Barliss for giving us that information.

E: Thank you, Glenn.

Creation (14:31)[edit]

S: We got another e-mail. Now last episode we had an e-mail by an individual who didn't sign his full name, but his e-mail contained the initials RC, so I've been referring to him as RC, who took exception to Darwinian evolution, essentially thought that it was unproved and that scientists have faith in the origin of life. Not only did we discuss it on the show, but I sent him a written response, which is included in our notes page for the show. Well RC wrote back. He wrote back a fairly long response, and I can't read the entire thing, but I'll hit, again, some of the highlights. For example, he wrote: if God created the universe and all that's in it, he did so the way he felt like doing, and that includes evolution or, in his italics, or the appearance of evolution.

E: Right.

S: So that captures a very common belief among creationists that "well, any evidence you find for evolution could be explained on the basis that God made the Earth to appear as if it evolved." The problem with that of course is that ...

B: How do you tell the difference.

S: ... those notions are untestable. They're outside the realm of science. In fact, you can use that logic to say that the world is the way it is not because of some fact of nature, but because God arbitrarily made it that way. You can use that – you can apply that to anything in science, literally any scientific claim.

P: This is an old, old argument.

S: Yeah, it's very, very old. It's very old. And it's just logically – it's irrelevant. Yeah, sure, God could have made the entire universe 5 seconds ago to appear exactly as if it evolved naturally over 15 billion years in every way. There's absolutely no scientific way to prove or disprove that idea. It is simply outside the realm of science. Science can only be agnostic towards such notions. He talks a lot about this idea. I think that just captures it, but he didn't quite understand that point that we're not saying that we can prove scientifically or that science rules out that God played a hand in this, just that you have to state it within in a testable scientific way, and notions like God created the world to appear as if it evolved, or that you can't prove that God didn't will life to form, you know, through natural processes or whatever. Scientists don't say that. Science just doesn't deal with those questions at all. It can't. The other point is it's not by choice. It's not that science choose to exclude supernatural explanations, as some IDers falsely claim. Science, by its very nature, can't deal with supernatural explanations because it simply doesn't fit into the process, the logic of science.

B: Even if it did, Steve, it's ...

S: Yeah.

B: If science did that, science would essentially be closing the book on that type of inquiry, because there, ...

S: Right.

B: ... there's your ultimate answer. Science typically creates lots more questions when it delivers an answer, and if we did that, you'd just be closing these books on research, and like "Huh! There it is. There's the answer".

S: Right.

B: How much further can you go than that?

S: Right. That's it, exactly. Whenever you get to the point where God did it, you can't go beyond that. There's no place to go. There's no further questions to ask. Science ends.

E: It's the ultimate god of the gaps.

S: Right, it's the God of the gaps. In fact, I used the God of the gaps explanation in the podcast last week, and in my response to him and in his reply he acknowledged that concept and said "I'm not trying to employ the God of the gaps," but then he went on to say that he thinks that the idea that gaps in science are shrinking is false. He did not buy into that. He said that when science answers questions, that begets a lot more questions. Again, he sort of missed the point of it. That is true. I think that as we learn more about the world, every time we answer a question, it usually spawns a bunch of new questions. In fact, the best ideas in science are ones that create even more questions. However, the size of these questions do shrink over time. I use, for example, the field of genetics. In the beginning of the first part leading up to the middle of the 20th century we discovered that not only can traits be inherited, they're inherited as discrete units. That was Mendel's discovery that these units correlate to genes, and that DNA is the substrate of the genetic code of inherited information. Those are big knowledge gaps that were filled definitively and forever. Those facts will never change. That also spawned hundreds of subsequent questions about genetics which were answered, which spawned thousands of still smaller questions about it. So we are now looking at very tiny, minute questions with regard to specifically how genes work, how they're transcribed, etc. etc., but nothing even close to the scope of the fact that DNA exists. That's what we mean by shrinking gap. It's sort of the scope and the implications of the questions that we're asking are getting smaller and smaller, narrower and narrower, as the big questions get answered. With the fossil record, it's actually a little bit more literal. If you look at the morphological distance between two related species, that is a morphological gap that has to be filled evolutionarily. There had to be something between them. As we find a fossil that lies morphologically between these two species, that creates two smaller gaps. The number of gaps actually increases every time we find a transitional fossil, but the size of those gaps shrinks. That's a little bit easier to see visually, but it's the same exact concept. I can't go into everything that he wrote, because it takes a little bit too long, but one final thing: he mentioned as, again, a gap that evolutionary scientists have not filled, the notion of – he writes specifically – take the relationship that exists between bees and flowers. Bees depend on flowers for honey; flowers depend on bees for reproduction. How did this relationship develop? And he essentially says that scientists have no answer for this question. Well ...

B: He hasn't been looking.

S: He needs to read more about evolution. Natural scientists have written about co-evolution extensively. There's extensive writing about the notion of co-evolution. It absolutely has been addressed head on by natural scientists with really good questions – with really good answers. But I think the key misconception in his question is this: flowers depend on bees for reproduction. That is not true.

E: Not true.

S: Flowers – and especially if you think about millions of years ago the precursors to modern flowering plants – they didn't depend upon insects for reproduction. They have their genetic material in pollen that gets spread either to themselves or to other plants, and they can spread by wind. They can spread by direct contact.

B: Animals.

S: By rubbing up against animals. Maybe they get rubbed up against by insects, but they don't need any one of these things to reproduce. They could reproduce without it. But, an insects, if an insect started to exploit pollen as a food source, that would create a new mechanism to spread the pollen, and it may, in fact, be more efficient than the other methods. So plants that tended to attract insects to their pollen would reproduce more quickly and would therefore evolutionarily out-compete their competitors. So, then bees are now using the food to survive. Again, they must have been eating something else before pollen existed, but they started to exploit pollen because it was there. It was a free food source. So, that started selective pressures to become better at getting and living off of pollen, selective pressures for flowering plants to be more attractive to insects and become more efficient at using them to spread their pollen, and there you have this dance of co-evolution.

B: Yeah, Steve, it doesn't take too much imagination to imagine a scenario where that could happen. This reminds me a little bit of intelligent design, where it's kind of like, you know, the half tractor thing: all or nothing.

S: Yeah. Right. Exactly.

B: It's no all or nothing. You could imagine flowers and bees just like easing into their ...

S: Yeah.

B: ... dependence on each other. It's not like bam! from day one you've got to ...

S: Right.

B: You've got to be fully dependent. It probably took 500,000 years before that to fully evolve or more. So it's not an all or nothing thing.

S: Absolutely! I think the other misconception that people who are not familiar with naturalism and evolutionary theory have is that animals have a very narrow set of behaviors that they do, that animals do one thing that they are absolutely dependent upon. Certainly some animals are, but the animals that are very narrow in their behavior and in the food that they eat are destined to become extinct and to not leave any descendent species. A lot of species, however, are fairly – they are what we call generalists. They might exploit a variety of foodstuffs. They might occasionally engage in behavior that's different than their typical behavior. Predators will occasionally scavenge. Animals which eat fruit may occasionally eat other plants, or occasionally eat meat, even. So, there's a lot more variability in animal behavior than a lot of people think, and that variability always allows for the foot in the door for engaging in a new behavior which leads a species down a new evolutionary path. Again, I think RC is being reasonable. He is at least trying to argue sensibly and logically. He's not just attacking us or making crazy statements, so we certainly appreciate that. I think he just has some gaps and misconceptions in his knowledge of evolution and would do well just to pick up a couple of non-hostile evolutionary textbooks.

HIV Denial (25:48)[edit]

S: We do have one more e-mail, but it does lead into a topic that we are going to be discussing with the special guest that we have tonight. So let's go to that guest now.

Interview with Tara Smith (25:57)[edit]

S: So joining us now is Tara Smith. Tara, welcome to the Skeptics' Guide.

TS: Thank you.

S: Thanks for joining us. So, Tara, just to give a little bit of background, is a PhD in, you said, epidemiology. Is that correct?

TS: My PhD is in microbiology.

S: Microbiolgy. And you have a specialty in infectious disease?

TS: Yes.

S: And you are currently an assistant professor at the University of Michigan?

TS: Of Iowa.

S: Of Iowa, I'm sorry, of Iowa.

TS: Michigan was my postdoc work.

S: And postdoc at Michigan.

TS: Yes.

S: And you, several months ago, you tell me, you founded a group called the Iowans for Science. Tell me a little bit about that.

TS: Just a group. Mostly people who have been concerned about evolution and science being taught properly in our schools. So we've just kind of gotten together; really haven't made a lot of progress yet, but just getting together and doing some chatting about how to properly teach science in Iowa and how to teach it not only to students but also get the public interested into have them understand what the controversies are ...

S: Right.

TS: ... in science right now.

S: Right.

P: That's a noble cause, a noble cause.

S: Absolutely.

TS: Yeah.

S: That happens to be the mission of the New England Skeptical Society as well, so we are brothers in arms, as it were.

TS: Yes, definitely.

S: Tara, you know you have a distinction on the Skeptics' Guide. You are, in fact, the first female voice ever to be recorded on this show.

TS: Is that so?

S: Sorry to say, the ranks of skepticism are rather bereft of women.

TS: Yes. Yeah. I've noticed that before. We're a ...

S: We definitely need more like you in the movement.

TS: (laughs) Well, thank you.

P: I've never thought about that, Steve. You're absolutely right.

S: Absolutely

P: The first woman we've had on the show.

E: Well, the first female skeptic. The first female skeptic.

S: First female skeptic. You are right.

P: That's true.

S: You're right.

P: We had a psychic detective.

E: We had a psychic on.

TS: Oh, did you?

P: Jan Helen McGee.

S: That's right. You're right, Evan. I found you through your blog Aetiology.

TS: Right.

S: Which has the British spelling 'A-E-T...'

TS: Yes.

S: ... 'I-O-L-O-G-Y', where I guess you write about all things scientific and skeptical, it seems. Let's get to the e-mail that led me to your blog. This was sent to us through the Ask-The-Skeptic section of the NESS website. Unfortunately, the person who sent it did not deign to sign it, so it's from anonymous. It's a bit rambling, but let me read the part that we're interested here.


AIDS (28:45)[edit]

S: He writes: discuss why the basic criterion "scientific proof" in scare quotes, of AIDS has never been met. The requirement that HIV-1 RNA transcribed, cloned, replicated, and retransmitted in the lab has never occurred, yet you still accept the scientific dogma as scientific fact. Belief that some marker exists to test the current blood supplies for a disease that cannot be replicated. It kinda... it's a very incoherent e-mail...

TS: Uh, huh.

S: Within it I see some glimpses of more coherent tracts that I've read about HIV denial, basically people who deny that the human immunodeficiency virus causes the disease AIDS.

TS: Right.

S: He also writes later on about – where is that – something about using treatments to treat autoimmune diseases. Here we go. Why would you inject toxic chemicals into a patient which would destroy the immune system to cure an autoimmune disease? So he makes the common misconception that AIDS is an "autoimmune" disease.

TS: Right.

S: I actually hear people sometimes refer to the autoimmune system, which always cracks me up.


S: Some science fiction show made that gaffe recently.

E: Oh, my God! The "autoimmune system"? Come on! So anyway, AIDS of course is an "immunodeficiency" disease, not an autoimmune disease.

TS: Yes,

S: And we don't use immunosuppressive therapy to treat it. In fact, the treatment, if anything, is designed to support the immune system. So, you had written on your blog about this story of Christine Maggiore. Why don't you tell us about that.

Christine Maggiore (30:28)[edit]

TS: Well this is a woman. She was diagnosed as being HIV positive, roughly a decade ago. So she started out as an HIV activist, working to educate people, and then she heard about the ideas of a professor named Peter Duesberg.

S: Right.

TS: And he's been the most prominent of the AIDS deniers since the beginning. And so she came to look further into his writings, and decided that he was correct: HIV didn't cause AIDS, and everyone had been misled. There was this whole conspiracy, and it was really drugs that were causing AIDS and she had nothing to fear by being HIV-positive.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: So along the way she ended up getting married and having two children. During her pregnancy she did not take any anti-retroviral drugs, didn't take AZT, and then, even worse, she breast-fed both of her children ...

S: Right.

TS: ... which has been known to increase the probability of transmitting the HIV virus to babies. So, last year, her three-year old daughter Eliza Jane died of what was found to be pneumocystis carinii, an organism that is often found in people who are immunosuppressed, and very commonly found in AIDS patients. She has since hired her own team of experts to refute the coroner's findings, and they know her daughter didn't die of AIDS, she died of anaphylactic shock, a reaction to the antibiotics that were given to her.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: So she's kind of on this whole crusade, and really just miseducating people about AIDS.

S: Right.

TS: And in the meantime, she lost her own daughter to it.

S: Right and it seems as if she's too emotionally wrapped up in her position now to really look at it logically or reasonably.

TS: Yeha, absolutely. She went on a TV show, one of those 60 Minutes or Dateline or something like that a couple of months ago, and said she still denies that HIV causes AIDS, that her daughter died of AIDS. They showed her pictures of pneumocystis in her daughter's lungs. They showed her stains of her daughter's neurons that were infected with HIV. She had HIV encephalitis.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: She still didn't believe them. The doctors are biased against her.

S: Right.

S: Once you're in the land of bias and conspiracy, evidence is irrelevant.

TS: Yeah.

P: Did she think that the – Tara, did she think that the pictures were faked or doctored or not of her child.

TS: She didn't say. She said she didn't buy it.

P: OK.

S: Right.

TS: No reason for it, she just didn't believe it.

P: OK.

S: Now, I note from reading a lot of the literature about this phenomenon that the whole HIV denial phenomenon picked up steam in the late 80's and through the 90's, but then the protease inhibitors came on the market. Now protease inhibitors are the newer treatments, the newer anti-retroviral treatments that kill and stop the AIDS virus from replicating in the body, and they were pretty darn effective, and people with ...

TS: Right.

S: ... AIDS started living much, much longer – it really started to become more of a chronic disease than a terminal disease, and the HIV denial subsided a bit, but now it's making a resurgence. Have you noticed that, and what would you attribute that to?

TS: I mean it's hard to say. There's nothing new as far as their arguments. They're the exact same thing that Duesberg had said from the beginning. A lot of it is recycled. They don't educate themselves on the literature. They don't know what been found since the early nineties when all of this was originally published.

S: Right.

TS: It's just a lot of people wanting to believe what their friends tell them, and things like that.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: It's also the fact that these people are living longer is almost a problem, too. They see these people that are HIV-positive but yet they're living longer lives. They seem healthy. So, obviously the virus must not be causing the disease, then. So it's almost as if some of those treatments have backfired by showing that people can live longer lives, even though they are HIV-positive.

S: Right. It's interesting – there's no belief so insane or ridiculous that there aren't tons of people who are willing to flock to its belief.

TS: Mm, hm.

S: This is a good example of that. You would think "why deny that HIV causes AIDS?" Where does that come from? Once the notion takes hold, it just takes on a life of its own. Now you have essentially just a couple of people are really all that's necessary to push the idea forward, and once you start surrounding and all the usual emotional trappings: there's a government conspiracy against us and the pharmaceutical companies are conspiring just to make money, and just people are so ready and willing to believe those notions. The actual scientific details are irrelevant.

TS: Yes, absolutely.

S: I think it's really that just those emotional appeals that are driving this.

TS: Sometimes it is also people either in the scientific field or in the media kind of overstate things.

S: Right.

TS: There is still this idea that AIDS is automatically a death sentence. If you're infected with HIV, you're doing to die, and you're going to die soon. But we know that now that some people do seem to be resistant to the virus.

S: Right.

TS: There are certain genetic mutations that will lead them for whatever reason, we don't understand clearly yet, they don't seem to develop AIDS, or else it takes them a very, very long for them to do that.

S: Right.

TS: So there's some backlash against that, too. "Well, if AIDS is just such a death sentence, then why am I still healthy ten years later even though I haven't taken drugs?"

S: Right.

TS: So there's a lot of that, too, kind of a black box right now for the scientific community, we really don't know why some of these people are living longer and not needing drugs to stave off their infection. They take note of that.

S: That's a good point. Basically, I think you can compare this to other denial phenomenon: holocaust denial, evolution denial, there's mental illness denial, and they employ the same logical strategies, and what you're alluding to is the fact that, you know, reality is complicated, it's complex. Medicine is very, very complicated, and what the deniers survive on is all of the details, the apparent inconsistencies and the complexity that any discipline like this necessarily creates. So, yeah, sure, some people live longer than others with the virus whether the're treated or not treated, and we don't know everything about how the – what the cycle of the HIV virus is. There may be co-infecting factors. Yeah, there's legitimate and discussion and debate about a lot of the details.

TS: Uh, huh.

S: Just like creationists talk about arguments that evolutionists have about the details of evolution, and they turn that into doubt about the basic core facts that ...

TS: Exactly.

S: ... the correlation between HIV and AIDS is overwhelmingly demonstrated with multiple independent lines of evidence. So it is a good example of the denial phenomenon in general. And it's kind of a little bit more of a tangible topic than say something huge like evolution. So that's why I found it very fascinating to look at it. You really can learn a lot about how, the logic that they employ.

TS: Absolutely. I mean that when you take them like AIDS denial and evolution denial and you put their message side by side, it's striking how much they're the same.

S: Yeah.

TS: They use the gaps in the literature, and they take a quote from a scientist that says "We don't understand this phenomenon" and then they take that out of context and just quote-mine that and say "Oh well, look, they don't understand this. This means they are completely wrong."

S: Right.

TS: They have a lot of these same methods. They appeal to experts. They have – Maggiore founded a group called Alive and Well, and on her board of advisors is Duesberg, who is a PhD and he's a ...

S: Mm, hm.

TS: ... member of the National Academy of Sciences.

S: Right.

TS: So he's someone who looks respectable, even though the rest of his ideas are heretic, crazy.

S: Are nutty.

TS: Yeah. He also in addition to AIDS denial, he denies that the human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer. He denies that prions cause mad cow disease. Anything that he can deny, it seems like ...

S: Right.

TS: ... he wants to get in on the ground floor, there. So they take these people who are supposed to be experts and put them – align them with their group, and so then they can say "Hey, look at this guy who won accolades in his field, and he agrees with us, so we must be right."

S: Yeah. They make the argument from authority.

TS: Mm, hm.

S: But they invest in authority in an individual scientist, ...

TS: Right.

S: ... which is quirky, as opposed to the scientific community, where individual quirkiness should work itself out in ...

TS: Right.

S: ... some sort of consensus.

TS: Yes.

S: I do think that the similarities between evolution denial, creationism, intelligent design, and HIV denial are striking. I did in fact a few years ago I wrote an article about just that on skepticism and denial.

TS: Oh, did you?

S: Yeah. It's on my website. But it is also compares it to mental illness denial and holocaust denial saying so what are the common logical threads among them and you pointed out a lot. Some of the ones that come to the foreground are the moving goal posts syndrome. The idea that no matter how much evidence emerges, it's not enough. With creationists, of course, it doesn't matter how many transitional fossils we find, ...

TS: Right.

S: ... it's never enough.

TS: There's always more gaps.

S: There's always more gaps. With HIV denial, what I find that they do is – 10 years ago, one of the big points of the HIV deniers was how come, with all of the HIV drugs that are being given to patients, how come patients with HIV aren't living longer. Now, ten, fifteen years later, they're living dramatically longer, but that's not enough, now. That evidence, that additional piece of evidence, is no longer enough, so they just sort of migrate over to some other claim that's not being met. You can't prove that the virus is actually killing the immune cells.

TS: Right.

S: Or that there isn't some other infectious agent that's also present. Whatever.

TS: Right.

S: You can always point to something we don't know, because we never know everything down to the last dot and [[wikipedia:tittle}, as they say.

TS: Absolutely. It's – I won't say funny, it's not really funny, it's almost sad, but the thing is that you can do that with most any infectious disease.

S: Sure.

TS: Take influenza. Many more people are infected than are symptomatic. So just because you're not seeing symptoms in everyone, that certainly doesn't mean the influenza virus doesn't cause that disease. And they hold HIV up to this higher standard than they do any other infectious disease.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: Really, if you took that argument to their logical end, you'd just be denying the whole germ theory.

S: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, in fact, sometimes they do fall into that trap. The evolution deniers, in order to deny evolution, they really have to deny all historical sciences. And in essence, they end up doing that. They deny any ability to investigate history, whatever it is, in a scientific way. And the same thing with the HIV deniers. You end up denying really all of infectious disease. And then, even by logical extension, all of medicine.

TS: Uh, huh.

S: It's really the same logic and evidence we use to base all medical practice on, and there's roughly the same degree of uncertainty, and, in fact, there is often less uncertainty in these topics. I think that the whole HIV hypothesis is one of the better well-established hypotheses in medical science.

TS: Mm, hm.

S: There's certainly other fields that are even – for which the evidence is less clear.

TS: Oh, definitely.

P: What would you guess at as a motive for this particular denial, either of you, Steve or Tara?

TS: It depends on which group you are talking to. There are still people like {w|Phillip_E._Johnson]] and Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute, who also deny HIV. There's more on the religious right. They don't want to see AIDS as a viral disease that anyone is susceptible to. They want to see it as a life-style disease that ...

B: God's wrath.

TS: ... these marginalized people. It's the homosexual, it's the prostitute, ...

S: Mm, hm.

TS: ... drug users. They're getting what they deserve for their behavior, essentially, is their argument.

P: I see.

TS: But this new crop of left-wing almost HIV deniers, the rock stars, the old ACT UP group in San Francisco, and Maggiore's group. It just seems really rooted in that anti-government distrust, conspiracy theory ...

S: Right.

TS: ... type of thing. "We don't trust the government. We don't trust the pharmaceutical companies. We want everything to be natural, and not putting anything toxic in our bodies. So, these AIDS drugs are toxic, therefore they must be actually causing AIDS instead of the virus."

TS: Right. It's anti-authoritarian, new-age kind of ideology on the left ...

TS: Yeah. Yeah.

S: ... and religious nuts on the right.

TS: Yeah.

S: Which is true basically of all alternative medicine is that ...

TS: Yeah.

S: ... you get those same two groups. Either the anti-regulation or sort of religious people on the right, and you get the new-age anti-authoritarians on the left.

TS: Huh, huh.

S: And so there's broad political support for things like alternative medicine. And I also noticed a lot of correlation between that and HIV.

TS: Mm, hm.

S: HIV denial. It goes hand in hand with a lot of touting natural remedies, etc.

TS: Yes, and Maggiore's book – she released a book – she talks about that, about homeopathy ...

S: Right.

TS: ... and all these different kind of – her herbal treatments and acupuncture, just anything other than "western medicine", to treat this.

Iowans For Science (44:30)[edit]

TS: Right. So let's move off this topic a little bit. I'm interested in the Iowans For Science. It sounds like evolution is the primary topic that you guys cover. Have you dabbled in anything else, either pseudoscientific or paranormal?

TS: Not yet. Evolution was kind of the main interest, because we do have Guillermo Gonzalez. He's a fellow with the Discovery Institute on the faculty at Iowa State University.

B: Oh.

TS: He's the author of The Privileged Planet, which is a book ...

S: Yup.

TS: ... and video that came out recently. So he's made a lot of noise in Ames, Iowa.

S: Yeah.

TS: So that was kind of the main thing is that we wanted to get a group together to show our solidarity really against that kind of thing being taught as science in Iowa. So that was the reason for trying to get a coherent group together for this.

S: Yeah. But you know, Tara, that creationism is a gateway topic to full-fledged skepticism.

TS: Uh, huh. Absolutely.

S: It often leads scientists into the full spectrum of skeptical activity. In fact it was the first topic that really got me interested in skepticism itself.

TS: Uh, huh.

S: Because, again, even at high school, evolution was one of my favorite topics within the realm of science, and I just became fascinated with this morbid fascination with creationism. "How could you deny the facts that are so abundant and so apparent?"

TS: Uh, huh.

S: How could someone's logic be so tortured, and now here I am heading a skeptical society. It would be interesting to see what your group evolves into. Again, I think that once you develop the tools of evaluating pseudoscience, of identifying logical fallacies, of the abuse and misuse of science, you'll find that they apply to any pseudoscientific topic.

TS: Oh, definitely.

S: Anyone. We freely frequently get e-mails about a variety of topics that we write about: UFOs, crop circles, it doesn't matter. And almost literally, you can use like a form letter response, and just copy in whatever topic it is that they are talking about into the form letter.

TS: Uh, huh.

S: And it would perfectly suffice to respond to the comments that these people are making. It doesn't matter.

P: Because they're failures of reason and logic. It's not the specifics of their particular holy cow that are at issue.

TS: Uh, huh.

S: Right.

P: It's their ability to reason.

S: It's the same ones over and over and over and over again. It really does seem to be just a tendency of human thought. This is the low common denominator.

TS: Yeah.

S: The pathway of least resistance for our thoughts to take unless you have enough education to rise above it.

TS: Right.

S: We have on the Skeptic's Guide webpage, we have our top 20 logical fallacies.

TS: Uh, huh. Very nice.

S: Because if you really understand just those logical fallacies, that's 99% of what you're going to encounter in the paranormal or pseudoscientific literature. You just go through and pick out the different logical fallacies. There's a very finite number of errors in thought that people make.

TS: Mm, hm.

P: And they're not that creative.

S: No, they're not. They're not. They just – mostly they're not that bright is the bottom line. And occasionally you get somebody like either Behe with intelligent design or Duesberg with HIV denial. Somebody who has some intellectual capacity, enough to get a PhD and succeed in their narrow field. But still their thinking is so muddled with illogic or emotion that it does not save them from embracing utter nonsense.

TS: Well another HIV denier, Kary Mullis, who won the Noble prize for invention of the PCR reaction, he wrote I think it was an autobiography I guess, and talks about astrology and all these other things that he believes in, ...

S: Right.

TS: ... that are exactly the opposite of what you guys would promote. It's funny how you can isolate those things.

S: Yeah.

TS: You can have your science over here, but all those those nutty ideas for other things.

S: Right. Right.

P: Advanced degrees don't make you immuno to illogic.

S: Right.

TS: Don't make you autoimmune, too.

S: Autoimmune. Absolutely. We were talking about James Randi a little bit earlier in the episode, and he loves ranting against PhDs who are full of absolute nonsense.

TS: Uh huh.

S: Partly because he's not an academician ...

TS: Right. Right.

S: ... by training, but he has a different skill set. He's a magician, obviously a very bright guy, very intelligent. He completely understands the foibles of human thought and how easy it is to deceive others and how easily we deceive ourselves. And that skill set applies itself much better to this whole field of pseudoscience. So he's often pitted against people who are, may be very accomplished scientists, but don't know the first thing about deception, and they fall utterly, either under the sway or just duped by childish deception. He delights in exposing them, of course.

Antibiotics (49:54)[edit]

B: Tara, I was wondering. I'm interested in antibiotics and the direction that antibiotic usage is going. It seems to be leading to – it's just very frightening to me that we could enter a pre-antibiotic era again with all the overuse and misuse that people are – the way that people use it. I'm just kind of interested in your thoughts on that, and I'm actually interested in a specific idea that a doctor came up with that I think is a great type of antibiotic that, maybe you've heard of it. It's called cyclic antibiotic peptides.

TS: Peptide antibiotic like the ones from our own skin, and things like that?

B: Well it's very novel. It's really not a chemical attack. It's more of a mechanical attack against ...

TS: Mm, hm.

B: ... against bacteria.

TS: Poking holes in it, essentially.

B: Yeah, right. It basically takes these rings of amino acids. They join up, kind of like a rolled up carpet, and create a hole in the membrane of the bacteria, and within 15 or 20 seconds it's dead. I was wondering if you were familiar with this. Is this guy a crackpot? The doctor's name, by the way, is M. Reza Ghadiri.

TS: OK. I'm not familiar with that name.

B: OK.

TS: But it sounds like, and I'm not sure what he has written about it, but we do all have antibiotics on our skin, and in a wide variety of animals in other species, that are these peptide antibiotics. They do exactly what you say. They generally make little holes in the bacteria or something like that. Kill them quickly, and it's part of our innate immune defence.

B: Oh wow!

TS: Before our B cells, before our T-cells, before any of that adaptive stuff. They're just on our skin to help us fend off bacteria. So there was kind of an argument about this, about the evolution of resistance to these. And they actually did some studies that I wrote about on my blog before. It was several months ago. One professor who had been interested in developing these as an antibiotic said the same thing that you said, that because there would have to be such a change, it would be very unlikely that antibiotic resistance would develop. So another professor said, "Well, I'd take you up on that challenge. Let's do some experiments and let's see." So they did that. They took Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and I think they did another species of bacteria. I can't remember off-hand. And then they dosed them with these peptides, started out at a low concentration ...

B: Uh, huh.

TS: ... and steadily raised it, and they found that, indeed, they did develop resistance to these. So I think it's an interesting idea, and it's definitely a possibility, but we have to be careful.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: This is something that is really an ancient defense. It's widely distributed through out the animal kingdom, so it's something that happens millions and millions and millions of years back in our evolution. So we don't want to lose that. That's even more important than ...

B: Right.

TS: ... the chemical antibiotics that we have now.

B: I didn't know that it was a natural defense.

TS: Yup.

B: That it already existed. I thought it was completely novel.

TS: That's really what they based it on.

B: OK.

S: So what you're saying is if we develop a pharmaceutical antibiotic that's based upon this principle, and bacteria develop resistance to that, they'll also be developing resistance to our natural skin-level resistance to these bacteria. That would be a bad thing.

TS: Yes. It would. And that's the fear of using it. As I mentioned there, there are a number of different permutations of these peptide antibiotics, so it might be possible to find one that's not present either in our repertoire or in nature that we could use and maybe that perhaps they can't develop resistance to or something. But it is something that you want to do a lot of testing and a lot of searching first ...

B: Oh, yeah.

TS: ... before you can jump in with both feet.

S: What's your sense about Bob's first question, which is do you think we're heading into an era where we're just going to be overwhelmed with resistant bacteria, and it will be almost like the pre-antibiotic era, where there are lots of infections where we don't have any effective treatments for?

TS: Well, I mean we're definitely heading there with staph, with staph aureus.

S: Yeah.

TS: You know right now, before ...

B: Forty-thousand people a year die from it.

TS: Yeah. Yeah. Before it was a problem in hospitals where we had these methicillin-resistant strains. Now they're widespread in the community. We've had a couple of strains that are resistant to Vancomycin, which is kind of that antibiotic of last defense.

B: Right.

TS: It's strange, because we have some bacteria that are still very susceptible to even penicillin.

S: Yeah.

TS: The strep species are susceptible to penicillin with the exception of strep pneumo. So I think it's really on a kind of a bacteria-by-bacteria basis.

S: Right.

TS: Some certainly are winning that race. They're almost there. And we're not cranking out antibiotics at anything close to the rate that we're going to need them.

S: Yeah. Yeah.

TS: It's definitely a concern. But the good thing is that even when I was an undergrad, there was almost, or least it seemed to me, that there was no concern in the medical field for this. This is when Stuart Levy was really pushing that this is a problem, and we need to address overuse of antibiotics. We need to address antibiotics in agriculture.

S: Mm, hm.

TS: And it seems like in the past decade that's at least become – people have become aware of it. So I guess that's a start.

S: Yeah. There's certainly a huge awareness of it in the medical community.

TS: Mm, hm.

S: There's been a move away from using antibiotics for probable viral infections, like ear infections, etc., ...

B: Oh my God, yeah.

S: ... using specific antibiotics whenever possible.

B: Finishing your course of medicine. I just had a friend at work – I couldn't believe it. He said that he went on a course of antibiotics, he felt better like half-way through, and stopped taking it.

TS: Yeah.

S: That's a classic thing.

B: I just said: you're just speeding up the evolution of these nasty bugs that are ...

TS: Yup.

B: ... that the antibiotics won't help on. One of my pet peeves – I remember like last year when looking for just normal hand soap, like this pump soap.

TS: Oh, yeah. Mm hmm.

B: And I don't want to buy the stuff that kills bacteria, the stuff the bacteria-killing soap.

S: Anti-bacterial.

TS: Mm, hm.

B: Because you don't want to kill bacteria indiscriminately.

TS: Right.

B: There's so many of them that are good, if you kill off the good bacteria, what's going to take its place? And I couldn't find one pump soap that didn't kill bacteria. It's like ...

TS: Yup.

B: ... proliferated everywhere, and now you can't even find the normal stuff any more, and people don't realize that there's so many good bacteria out there.

TS: Mm, hm.

B: I mean we could not, literally, could not live without them.

S: Right.

B: I mean our body – I read a figure once that astounded me. Your body is some crazy percentage bacteria. It's not even you. It's like forty --

TS: By cell number you're about ten times more bacteria than eukaryotic cells.

B: I know.

S: Right.

B: And people have this innate fear of them.

TS: Yeah.

B: An innate of insects or bugs – they just think that bacteria are bad. Get rid of all bacteria.

P: Well they are all little and squirmally.


TS: Well, you know there is such a push for everything to be sterile, now: sterile counter tops and sterile bathrooms and sterile kid's toys. Everything has to be sprayed with Lysol every time after you touch it.

S: Right.

TS: Yeah, it's crazy.

S: Not only do we run the risk of perhaps killing off too many of our good bacteria that actually help us fight off infection, it also – our immune systems want to be stimulated on a regular basis. Every time you get exposed to a little bit of bacteria, it actually helps keep our immune system active and healthy. If you lived in a truly pristine, sterile environment, ...

B: Bubble.

S: ... you wouldn't have good resistance to disease.

TS: That's come out in the form of the Hygiene hypothesis for ...

S: Right.

TS: ... reasons why there's all this childhood asthma and allergies is that people are cleaning too much, and these kids aren't getting exposed. They're not making mud pies and playing in the dirt like kids used to.

S: Right.

TS: Maybe it's taking a toll on us. Who knows?

S: Well, Tara, thanks again for joining us on the Skeptics' Guide. We really ...

TS: Oh, very happy to be here. Thank you.

S: It was very short notice.

TS: It was.

S: We'd love to have you on again some time in the future.

TS: Oh, sure.

S: Good luck with the Iowans for Science.

TS: Thank you so much.

S: Take care, Tara.

B: Thank you, Tara.

TS: Thank you.

Discussion (58:50)[edit]

S: Well that was great having Tara Smith on the show: our first female skeptic on the show.

B: Yaaaay!

S: What did you guys think of her?

P: Awesome!

B: She was awesome.

S: Very good.

P: Very good.

E: Very good.

S: Definitely have to get her back.

P: Check our her website. She's a hotty. There's a picture of her.


P: Sorry. I had to say it. It's the truth. It's the truth, and highly intelligent and motivated. I hope she does get more involved, Steve, in ...

S: Yeah.

P: ... in your end of the business, there.

S: Yeah. She said she's interested in alternative medicine. There's definitely room for young, enthusiastic people to be active in that.

Science Or Fiction (59:26)[edit]

S: So, we have a few minutes left. I do have a Science or Fiction for this week, so why don't we finish up this week with Science or Fiction?

B: Sure.

S: Again, the rules are that we've sort of been rotating the duties. Perry did his first one last time. Bob's done a couple. And I've ...

P: Stumped them all, by the way, last week.

S: You did, you did. You cheated, but you did stump us all.

P: I shaded. Difference: "cheat", "shaded".

S: How Science or Fiction works: I will come up with three science facts or news items. Two of them are true or real, and one I made up. Now we talked a lot this week about denial, so I thought that the Science or Fiction would follow that theme. So the theme for this week is Holocaust Denial. What I'm going to do: I'm going to give you three claims that are made by the holocaust deniers, also known as historical revisionists. Two of these claims that they make are actually true.

B: Good.

S: One – these are all claims that they make. So what is true is that these are all claims that are made by prominent holocaust deniers. But only two of them are actually correct. One of the claims is false. OK, ready?

S: So claim number one: there is no evidence that Adolf Hitler ever ordered the final solution, or the extermination of all Jews in Europe. Number two: there is no physical proof or documentation of the existence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps. And number three: the claim that the Nazis mass-produced soap from the remains of concentration camp victims was a war-time propaganda lie. Again, those are three claims made by holocaust deniers. Two of them are actually true.

P: I'll go first.

S: OK, go ahead, Perry.

P: The first one I believe is true. The decision, the main decision for the final solution happened at the Wannsee Conference. Hitler was not present. So the first one, I believe is accurate.

S: OK.

P: The third one I believe is also accurate. I think that – I don't think they mass-produced soap. There may have been an incident or something, just like the lamp shades. I think that the second one, however, that there's no evidence of gas chambers at the camps, is I think completely false. I think there is both archeological and a great deal of ...

B: Documentation.

P: ... eye-witness testimony, but in particular I believe there is archeological evidence to support that.

S: Again, eye-witness testimony is not part of the question. It's physical, proven documentation. Just to be clear. Just to be clear because you said that.

P: Oh, very good. Well I think there is.

S: OK, but fine. Number two is your answer.

P: That is correct.

S: Evan, why don't you go next.

E: Number two is my answer as well for the exact same reasons that Perry gave.

S: OK.

E: I think Hitler only verbally referred to a final solution, and no documents or anything with his signature or name is on there that links him in writing to that term "final solution", and the soap and like Perry also mentioned the lamp shades comment. I've certainly heard that bantered about before, but I don't think there's any truth to that. That does sound like mythology to me. It's nothing I've ever read about. Yet gas chambers, absolutely, in fact, I think we had, someone came in to lecture for us several years ago for the New England Skeptical Society, and specifically talked about holocaust denial and ...

S: Right.

E: ... talked specifically about the gas chamber evidence. So the second one is my choice.

S: OK. Bob, what do you think?

B: Yeah, I don't have too much more to add than what Perry and Evan added. I'm almost positive that there was no physical evidence that Hitler ordered the final solution, just that he talked about it, but nothing written down, no documentation. The soap one, I remember hearing that growing up, and I believed it, but I do not recall any evidence ever introduced to support that, so the fact that that might really be a myth is not surprising. But the gas chambers, I've heard and read stuff about it.

S: Right.

B: I don't actually remember specifics, but I know, I'm almost positive there's evidence for that kind of thing, actually onsite and documentation so... But then, again, this seems almost too easy, Steve. Read the second one, again, exactly. What did you say earlier?

S: There is no physical – the second one is: there is no physical proof or documentation of the existence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps.

B: All right. I'll stick with it. Two is definitely it.

S: All right. Now, this one was easy. You guys all got it right. You guys are very well educated on holocaust denial. I figured it would be easy. This is a little more for the audience. So just to go over them, the first one: you guys are right. Adolf Hitler spoke in many of his speeches about eradicating the Jews ...

E: Right.

S: ... from Germany and eradicating them. He used the term "ausreißen", which translates to "to rip out by the roots", the Jews from Europe. But he never signed an order saying systematically murder them in concentration camps. Again, it points to the fact that the holocaust was not one order, one event, one thing. It was a complex compilation of events that occurred and evolved over years. It kind of just developed over time out of the philosophy and intent of the Nazis and of Hitler. But the holocaust deniers use the lack of simplistic smoking-gun evidence as an argument that it was never the intention of the Nazis to kill all the Jews.

P: Oops.

S: Number three is also one again – Bob you're right, I heard that growing up too. It was sort of part of holocaust lore: "Yeah, they made soap and lampshades of the victims." In fact, they never made any soap out of anybody. There's no evidence for that at all. Interestingly, the holocaust deniers are correct in that claim, that that was in fact a propaganda that was started at the time of World War Two, and in fact lingered on even into modern times. People I think still believe that, but it was just wartime propaganda. But what they say is that holocaust historians have been forced to back away from the claim that the Nazis made soap out of the concentration camp victims because of the evidence presented by the revisionists. That is in fact not true. The historians have never claimed that victims were made into soap. That was never claimed by any historian. It only ever was just some superficial propaganda.

P: Talk about unnecessary propaganda.

S: Right. Like it wasn't bad enough?

P: Right. Yeah. The actual horrors (unintelligible)

S: I don't know if it was conscious propaganda. It was just one of those things that just spontaneously like a rumor that just takes on a life of its own. The other thing: a couple of you brought up the lamp shades. I didn't put that in there, but in fact the lampshades were a little bit different. There were a few artefacts recovered that in fact did include ...

P: I've seen them on television. Unless they were all faked.

S: No, they're genuine. They actually contain human skin, forensically proven. A book bound in human skin as leather. A couple of lampshades. But there was no mass production of these. It was just a few items that were recovered. I believe they were in the possession of a woman, her name is K-O-C-H, and I believe it's pronounced "cock", the way her name is pronounced, in German. Those were real, but the scope of that was very, very, very, very small. That was just one individual apparently. And two, the holocaust deniers actually claim that there's no evidence that the gas chambers existed, and they, again, take a lot of quotes out of context and misinterpret data or just make claims like "Well, if there were gas chambers, why aren't there aerial photos showing the gas ..." whatever. They just arbitrarily decide what evidence there should be.

E: Satellite photos.

S: Yeah. Satellite photos. And they ignore the evidence that is there. The buildings are there. In some of the camps where the Nazis had time, they destroyed the camps before they were taken over. I don't know why they bothered, but they did. So, yeah, sure in some places all we have left is one wall where the gas chamber used to be. A lot of the evidence is eye-witness testimony which they happily dismiss. But there is enough. There are drawings. There are documentation of the schematics of certain of some of the gas chambers, although not a lot. A lot of their construction, etc., is shrouded in poor documentation in the "mists of history" as they say. And again all of that – the lack of evidence is sort of trumped by the deniers who say they didn't really exist. But there is more than adequate documentation and physical evidence. Less than you may think, but it's there to prove they in fact did exist.

P: The Nazis worked very, very hard to hide what they did.

S: Yeah, they did.

P: You know.

S: They did.

P: With the power of the entire state behind them, they worked very hard to hide it.

S: They did destroy a lot of the buildings that were used, a lot of the evidence, and although we did capture some of the camps with victims alive in the camp as the Nazis were in retreat. They didn't have the time to completely cover their tracks. So you guys paid attention during lectures on the holocaust denial, I guess, and remembered those details. It's all very, very good. So that's all the time we have for this week. Thanks again for joining us, guys, Bob, Evan, Perry.

E: Thank you.

P: Thanks. Hope to see you all next week.

B: A pleasure. Good episode.

S: Always good to talk to you guys. Until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a production of the New England Skeptical Society. For information about this and other episodes, visit our website at 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


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