SGU Episode 330

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SGU Episode 330
12th Nov 2012
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 329                      SGU 331

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Questioner: As a scientist, would you deny the possibility of water having been changed into wine in the Bible? CS: Deny the possibility? Certainly not. I would not deny any such possibility. But I would, of course, not spend a moment on it unless there was some evidence for it.

Carl Sagan

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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 Wednesday, November 9, 2011, 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: Hey, guys.

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Hello-o, everybody.

This Day in Skepticism[edit]

S: So, Evan, what have you got for today?

E: All right. November 12, 1935. The first modern surgery on the frontal lobes for treatment of mental disorders was performed by Egas Moniz at Santa Maria Hospital in Libson, Portugal.

S: Santa Marta.

E: What'd I say?

S: Santa Maria.

E: Did I say Santa Maria?

S: I know that rolls off the tongue...

E: Isn't that weird? It's like deeply programmed.

S: Yeah. The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria.

E: Because I am reading it and it says "Marta" and I was, sure enough. At Santa Marta Hospital in Libson, Portugal.

S: Lisbon.


E: Good evening, everyone. Moniz is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern psycho-surgery, and a developer of leucotomy, more commonly called, the lobotomy.

S: The pre-frontal lobotomy, yeah.

E: Moniz injected absolute alcohol into the frontal lobes of a mental patient through two holes drilled in his skull. Moniz later used a technique that severed neurons and led to the pre-frontal lobotomy techniques of the 1940s. And he was later awarded a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1949 for, having, done these, horrible things.


E: And these sorts of radical surgeries kind of fell out of favor once psycho-active medication became available in the preceding decades.

S: Yeah, I mean it's easy to be judgmental, you know, looking back from our current perspective about things like frontal lobotomy, but it definitely was a different time. This was pretty much in the there was any effective medication for psychiatric disorders and many people had extremely severe conditions so, you know, and also the attitude at that time was very different that it is now. And again, I'm not defending or justifying that, but it was, the views towards mental illness and psychiatric patients at that time was, definitely, almost barbaric by comparison to our modern views. You know, if you were mentally ill, you weren't really treated with the autonomy and informed consent and all the things that we take for granted today. Since then there's been a slew of, you know, ethical reformations in psychiatry. You know, really transforming how we approach and think of those patients. So, more than half a century ago, we've gotta be careful not to ..

B: Judge them too harshly?

S: Yeah, judge people from the perspective of our own time as opposed to their own time.

E: Definitely. You have to take it in context.

B: I always think in a few, two or three generations, what are they gonna look back upon, like, this decade or this generation and be aghast. Like, oh, my god, can you imagine they did that or they believed that?

E: Other sorts of therapy that were going on right before the lobotomy included insulin shock therapy, Cardiazol shock therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy, which were all, well, by comparison the lobotomy was considered a relief, in a way, in a sense, instead of a patient having to go through all these other ...

S: They would also do these, like, cold wraps. They would suddenly wrap somebody in a cold, wet blanket, and they would calm them down. Because it would just so physiologically shock them. Yeah, those were considered reasonable therapies. Electroconvulsive therapy has ...

B: That was fairly effective, wasn't it?

S: It still is. I mean, that is, it was effective but, but extreme, and it's evolved over the years. You know, it went through various stages. I think we've talked this before, where, instead of inducing a seizure in both hemispheres, you do one hemisphere, then you only do one part of it, and now they're using magnetic induction instead of electrical stimulation. But it is a fairly effective treatment for severe refractory major depression. And you know you can do it now without, you know, having people actually have a generalized seizure. So, it's much more humane and the side effects are much less than they used to be.

E: I mean, you still don't want it if, you know.

S: It's, you know, it's like for people who can't get out of bed. I mean their life is basically at zero quality of life. They're completely debilitated with depression and they're not responding to medication. That's who gets that kind of procedure.

E: By the 1950s there were almost 20,000 people who had lobotomies in the United States and 40,000 in Great Britain. But, those days are gone.

S: Yes. Thankfully.

News Items[edit]

Stroke Turns Man Gay (4:58)[edit]

S: You actually sent me the first news item tonight. Now give us the quick story on the rugby player, who, well, I don't know how to summarize it without telling the whole thing, so why don't you tell me.

E: The title of the article kind of sums it up and it's what obviously caught my attention as a headline is supposed to do.

Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym accident, wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser.

S; (laughing) Yeah.

E: So there's your headline. That'll stop you from clicking around and going to other places because you can't help but click on that to see, okay, what the heck is going on here.

B: That's funny, 'cause when I read that title I thought it was "Stroke turns man gray. I'm like, oh, wow, a stroke gave somebody gray hair, that's kind of weird.


B: I'm like, no, I think I misread that.

J: So, Steve, what do you think? What happened to him?

S: Well, you know, when I first saw that, I thought, okay, you know, that's unusual. I've never heard of that before, but it's not crazy. I mean, you know, the brain's a complex thing, and certainly people can have bizarre changes, you know, to their personality, et cetera, from focal lesions in the brain. So I actually did a quite extensive literature search, looking for other cases. And there actually are a number of case reports that are relevant to this case. In one report, the only other recent published case I could find was from 2008, and that one was actually of a man who was gay, and had a stroke, and became heterosexual. It was the opposite.

B: Oh boy. That's unfortunate. That's unfortunate.

S: And he was, you know, he was…

B: Only in the terms of people who think they can reprogram people and make them straight.

R: Oh, yeah.

B: If they get their hands on that technique…

S: Yeah, (laughing), right, I see what you're saying.

R: Soon they're gonna be (inaudible)

B: That's what I mean, and let me underscore that.

E: We can cure you know.

R: They'll be doing frontal lobotomies in church basements now.

S: Yeah, except. Well, I'll get back to that notion in a minute. Then I found older reports. One, one gold mine. It was an article that essentially was a summary of cases in which patients had significant changes in their sexual orientation after a focal lesion like a stroke or a tumor or something like that. Most of these cases, however, involved people who became disinhibited. And that's the first thing that I thought of, too, because that's common. You know, when you damage a part of the brain and that changes behavior, obviously you're taking something away. Right? You're not adding something when you cause a lesion.

R: So is it more that they're becoming pan-sexual?

S: Well, that's possible. And in some cases it appears to be the case. So there are parts of the brain that have inhibitory or decreasing effect on other parts of the brain, and if you remove the inhibition then you disinhibit or increase the activity of those other parts of the brain. So there are definitely cases where people have become sexually disinhibited after some kind of trauma or disease or tumor or lesion or whatever. And some of the cases they described were essentially describing that, a sexual disinhibition. But then they went over a few cases where patients actually, their sexual behavior changed in character, not just becoming increased. Two cases were described of men becoming pedophiles after having a lesion: a tumor or a stroke. In one case the man was found to have a tumor, and when it was removed he reverted back to his baseline personality, which was a normal, monogamous, heterosexual relationship with his wife. And then the tumor grew back, and they figured that out because he started to become obsessed with young children again. And then they removed it and he once again reverted, so there was a pretty good correlation there.

B: To hell.

S: There is a reported case of a woman becoming disinhibited and then preferring other women as opposed to her, you know, basically losing interest in her husband and becoming interested in other women. But again, that was combined with other bizarre disinhibitory behaviors like eating a lot and gaining weight, and eating non-food items. Specifically toilet paper and feces were mentioned.

(Multiple expressions of disgust from the Rogues.)

R: Like in those shows on TLC.

E: Oh, yeah, Taboo?

R: "My Weird Obsession" or…

E: Yeah.

S: Yeah. But here …

E: Where people eat couches and stuff.

S: it's a dramatic change in behavior with damage to the brain.

R: Isn't it also called pica?

S: Yeah, that's, pica is the syndrome where you eat dirt and clay or whatever.

E: So, Steve, is what you're saying shifting in sexual preferences or orientation is one of the symptoms of this stroke, or this kind of stroke; it's just one of the things that occurs?

S: Well, it's, there isn't one syndrome here. That's one thing that also emerged out of all these cases is that there's no one clear anatomical syndrome where you could say, if you damage this piece of the brain, it will have this very predictable change in your sexual orientation or behavior. And that's getting back to what Bob was saying. I don't think this is going to lead to any kind of, you know, church-basement surgery for gayness because we wouldn't know what to do. It's too complicated. There's too many pieces here, you know, interacting with each other. There does appear to be, like the temporal lobes are often involved, and the hypothalamus is often involved and the mesial structures are often involved. So, yeah, these are the parts of the brain that we know are involved in sexual behavior, so it makes sense that they would be involved. But there isn't, again, this really predictable, like, one-to-one correlation between any specific anatomical structure and a specific change in sexual orientation. So, you know, it just reinforces the, what I think we already knew, that sexual orientation is a complex affair. There's a lot of moving parts. The net effect, you know, it's hard to predict, and, these are rare cases, too. I mean, you can count on one hand, over the last 50 years, the number of reported cases like this. This is not something that happens frequently.

J: You know, what's weird about it is, the guy sustained an injury…

S: Yeah.

J: and then, you know, he had a dramatic change in, you know, a feature about him, in this case it was his sexuality. And then I'm sitting here and I'm like, you know, do I feel bad for this guy? You know, like, he was engaged.

S: He seems perfectly happy now.

(Bob and Jay talking at once; cannot distinguish what they say)

J: You know it's not, he's really not the same person, though, anymore.

S: Yeah, it's interesting. Yeah, I know, it's interesting to think about how you should feel about that.

R: Yeah, and it's interesting to think about how easy it is to change our entire conception of what our personality is.

S: Yeah.

R: You know, the things that you feel are the most integral to you as, as Jay Novella, you know, could be easily switched up in one…

J: Yep.

B: One stroke! One fell stroke.

R: If you will.

J: Yeah, just another example of "we are the meat in our head." And that's it.

S: Yeah, exactly.

J: His soul isn't fighting back to be, to be straight.

S: Right. Right. Yeah, the meat changed and he changed. You're right, absolutely.

E: Steve, is it possible that it's purely psychological and the physical effects of the stroke itself did not, possibly did not have an effect on his, on what occurred prior and afterwards?

B: That's kind of like my initial take, my very initial take was that, well he was using this as an excuse. He was always gay, he always hid it, and this was his excuse, his out.

S: Yeah.

B: So to speak. To say, oh, boy, I'll use this to say, hey! It did something to my brain, I'm gay now. I'm sorry. Not so much that he's sorry, but use it as a means to come out of the closet and, but now from what Steve's saying, that doesn't look like it's the case. It looks like it's one, you know, it's like a one-in-a-million type stroke that can have this type of an effect.

S: Yeah, unless you knew him personally, it's hard to say. But just basing,

B: Yeah.

S: Taking the media reports at face value, it doesn't seem like he was an effeminate guy who was in the closet and then decided to come out after he had the stroke, or maybe he was less inhibited about coming out after the stroke. It really seems like there were a suite of changes to his personality, and he really did have a change. So, and again, the other case reports that I found, the literature makes it plausible. But again, it's second-hand information so it's hard to really say. But interesting. You know, again, it's one of those things where you might think "oh, this is crazy," but it actually, you know, there's support for it in the literature.

E: It definitely got me to stop and kind of take a look…

S: Yeah, can that happen? Yeah.

E: Read a little more into it.

Asteroid YU55 (14:05)[edit]

S: All right, well, Bob, tell us about how the Earth is about to be destroyed yet again, by another asteroid.

B: Yeah, we had, it looks like the Earth had another close call. This past Tuesday, November 8, an asteroid had a close approach to the Earth. So close, in fact, that it was in the orbit of the moon, which are my favorite kinds of close calls. The moon is about, eh, 249,000 miles away. This new asteroid is about 202,000 miles away at its closest approach. So it got within the orbit. And just some stats on this asteroid: it was called 2005 YU55, discovered about five or six years ago. It's not big at all. It was 1,200 feet, or 400 meters long.

J: They said it was the size of an aircraft carrier.

B: Lots of these websites love to put the size in terms of, in ways that are more relatable, like, "oh, it's four football fields" or "an aircraft carrier."

J: Well that helps.

B: Yeah, it does, it does. But it seemed like people were just overdoing it a bit. Just say it's 1,200 feet long, 400 meters.

S: Also, Bob, I just want to mention, you mentioned that the asteroid came within the orbit of the moon. It's worth pointing out that many people grossly underestimate how far away the moon is. If you ask them, like with a representative, like to scale, shapes, like that they represented the Earth and the moon, to show how far away the moon would be, they hold it at something like arm's distance away. But in fact, you know, if the moon were the size of a tennis ball, let's say, and the Earth was a basketball, you'd have to be, like 30 feet away in order to represent the distance. So, it's not that close.

E: It's a quarter million miles.

S: But if you see it visually it's actually much more, it puts it into better perspective than the number. If you just go to like, lunar distance on Wikipedia, you could see a to-scale indication and you realize how far away the moon really is.

B: Yeah, actually I found a website that put it into perspective, the distances and the relative sizes. They described it as, if you envision the Earth as a medium-sized house, then the moon would be a large car, at that scale, nine football fields away. Here's football fields, again. And this, the asteroid itself, this asteroid that approached us recently, was a pencil-point dot seven football fields away. Really, really crazy tiny. You can't help but think that the dinosaur-killer asteroid from 65 million years ago, that one, well, that one was a lot bigger, but how much bigger was it? At this scale of the house-car thing, it would be as big as your thumbnail. So it's still, you can really appreciate that this, relative to the Earth, that this thing is crazy tiny, and the Earth itself really wasn't in any, in any danger. The one from 65 million years ago was 25 times bigger in diameter and 15,000 times the volume. Now, but, that doesn't mean that this thing, if it hit us, it wouldn't pack a wallop. If you dropped an aircraft carrier on the Earth, say you just dropped it on the Earth from a mile up. You know, it would be, that'd be a helluva noise, right? It would pretty much knock down anything. But, this thing was travelling at 29,000 miles per hour, relative to the Earth's surface anyway, and so, when, if this thing did hit us, I mean we're talking some wicked kinetic energy. If it hit the Earth it would have produced a four-gigaton explosion. At 4,000 megatons, four billion tons of TNT. So that would have been a helluva hit. The biggest H-bomb that's ever been tested was, I think Russia had a hydrogen bomb called Czar that was just a measly 50 megatons, right? 50 megatons, oh, that sounds tiny compared to four gigatons. This thing actually, it would have left a crater, a four-mile wide crater that's 1,700 feet deep. Can you imagine what that thing would have looked like? It would have also, as a side effect, it would have, there would have been a magnitude 7 earthquake, or more. It could have been an 8. And, of course, chances are it would have hit the ocean. And that would have produced a 70-foot high tsunami. That would have killed a lot, a lot of people. But, of course, you know, that's a worst-case scenario, so there's no real need to really fear these types of things. According to David Rabinowitz, he's a planetary scientist at Yale; Steve, do you know him?

S: No.

B: Probably not, he sits at the cool table in the cafeteria at work, right?

E: He's a real mensch.

B: Yeah, anyway. He estimates that YU55 asteroids come this close to Earth only about like once in a hundred years. And then it's only like once in a hundred thousand years that we actually get hit. So, this is exceedingly rare. But, and so, as close as this thing was, though, a lot of people were saying, hey, can, can, you know, could we actually see this thing with our naked eye? But, there was no way. There was like, it was like a hundred times dimmer than the limit of human vision. So, it was clearly not naked-eye visible, unless you're a super-hero. But if you had a six- to eight-inch telescope, though, you would have been able to see it. Hey, if anybody out there actually saw it with their telescopes, send us an e-mail and tell us about it. So, yeah, this thing, I think they projected this out for like a century and this, it's not gonna be any problem for quite some time. But hopefully it drives home a bit, the need to really, to really scope out all of these asteroids that could potentially be really hazardous, so that we could at least have as much lead time as we can. 'Cause the more lead time you have the easier it will be to actually change its trajectory in a significant way.

Anti-Vaccine News (19:30)[edit]

S: A quick update on the anti-vaccine movement. A couple of things in the news I think worth mentioning. Have you guys heard about the on-line pox parties?

E: No, what's up with that?

R: Have we! I've already got, like, a dozen lollipops ordered.

B: Pox parties…

S: Yeah. So, back in the day, like before vaccines, parents would sometimes deliberately expose their children to diseases like chicken pox because, the thought was, it's better to get it as a child than as an adult. And that's generally true. Although I think overall the risk/benefit, you know, analysis is pretty dubious when it comes to doing things like having chicken pox parties, but, it was better to get it as a child than as an adult, just because there are more risks. But in the age of vaccines, obviously, that's an unhealthy practice, you know, to deliberately infect children or expose them to a disease in the hopes that they get infected with a preventable disease that is sometimes, sometimes has complications. But, of course, if you don't believe in vaccines, then you might still think it's a good idea to have pox parties, you know, parties where you deliberately expose children to other infected kids. However, it's harder to do that these days than it used to be because there are so few children with things like chicken pox because of the vaccine. So, vaccine-denying parents, who want to revert to the old ways and expose their kids to chicken pox, they could do this by hooking up on Facebook or on-line, somehow, and then mailing, physically mailing, infected lollipops or infected items through the mail, to other, you know, parents, so that they can use those items to infect their own children.

E: That's not to say that certain things don't get shipped through mail and services, and these sorts of things, but there are very strict, tight, procedures for doing such things, and S: Yeah.

E: No way the average person is going to be able to adhere to all those rules.

S: Yeah. No, this is illegal. This is illegal.

R: Yeah. Mike the Mad Biologist, an awesome blogger I follow, made a really good point about the only difference between this and biological terrorism, bio-terrorism, is intent.

J: Yup.

R: And they're putting so many people's health at risk, postal workers, who could come into contact with the stuff, it's really alarming.

S: It's reckless, it's absolutely reckless behavior to deliberately send infecting viruses through the mail. Yeah, I mean, there could be a lot of, obviously, innocent people exposed by this, and you also can't be sure of all the organisms that you're sending through. You know, you may assume it's just chicken pox, but that may not be correct.

E: Right.

S: And there are, yeah, there are very strict regulations for sending biological material through the mail. And they're completely ignoring that. Just throwing lollipops in an envelope and licking them and sending them on their way. But, it just shows you how irresponsible and reckless they are and, and also inconsiderate; how selfish. I mean, you know, there is something extremely selfish about the whole anti-vaccine, the whole idea that, you know, "well, screw herd immunity and the population; I'm gonna do what I wanna do, because I think this is the best thing for my kid." It's not even the best thing for their kids, but they think that it is.

E: Yeah, the Mommy Instinct.

S: Everything else be damned, yeah.

R: It's so sad that you have to say something like "probably not advantageous to deliberately infect a child."

S: Yeah, right.

R: How sad that that sentence needs to be said.

S: You could just vaccinate them.

R: (whispered) Yeah.

E: Right?

S: That would be the best thing to do.

R: Yeah, I mean, I think this is the ultimate worship of natural. You know,

S: Yes.

R: We joke about how, you know, people like Jenny McCarthy complain "toxins" in vaccines, and she get botulism injected into her face. It's mind-boggling that they believe that because things are found in nature, because this is a disease that is found in nature, it must therefore be somehow better for us than whatever scientists have cooked up in their lab. It's really incredible.

S: It is the naturalistic fallacy, yeah.

E: Hey, guys, do you know what they serve at chicken pox parties?

S: I can't wait to hear.

J: Poxicles?

E: (laughing) Good, Jay. No, chicken pox pie.

S: Chicken pox pie, I like poxicles better actually.

R: Yeah, Jay's was better.

S: He stole your thunder, Evan.

E: That's alright, I'll get him later.

J: I was damn sure you were gonna say that, Evan.

E: I've got some thunder to steal myself. Go ahead, keep going.

R: He's gonna lick him later.

S: All right, very quickly, the other bit of news is that the National Vaccine Information Center, the NVIC, which is an anti-vaccine organization in the United States, managed to get a public service announcement onto some domestic flights on Delta Airlines, talking about the flu. And what they did was very deceptive. They talk about ways of preventing the flu and from spreading the flu. Mainly like washing your hands, and all the common sense stuff. And then really downplaying the role of the vaccine. But the point of all this was to refer viewers to the NVIC website, which of course is loaded with anti-vaccine misinformation and propaganda.

R: They even have screen shots of their website that include, in the ad that they bought, the screen shots show things like "mercury in vaccines" and "aluminum in vaccines," "Guardasil, the damage continues."

S: Yeah. Right. So, needless to say, the medical and the pediatric communities were not happy about this. A lot of people sent letters and e-mails to Delta to complain about it. We actually did this from, the Institute of Science and Medicine did it officially, as well as Stephen Barrett and a number of other people. I've seen about six different letters back to different people, and it's basically the same form letter that everybody's getting. And essentially what Delta said was, you know, all the usual, "we're very interested in customer feedback" blah, blah, blah, blah. But here's, their fix is, that, they say, um, here's the concluding paragraph:

Therefore, we have changed our internal review process and procedures to help insure that submitted content is vetted differently going forward. We recognize that while the views represented in Lifestyle 365 do not necessarily match those of Delta, we have a responsibility to our customer to insure all programming is relevant, accurate, and does not lend itself to interpretation.

So, they're not gonna pull it, and they're not gonna end the campaign early. It's gonna be over in, end of November, anyway. But they're basically saying, "all right, we won't screw up again going forward." But we'll see. You know, we'll definitely keep a close eye on them.

R: There was an interesting response, because, Elise, over at Skepchick. Blogged about this and also started a petition on that you can still go and sign if you'd like. We're up to 2,224 signatures. We're looking for 5,000. She's been in talks with people and they haven't dropped the issue. If we can get the ad pulled even a week early, it would save a lot of people from being exposed to this complete lunacy and misinformation campaign. This is the same organization that had an ad in Times Square, which we tried to stop and could not, but if you want a bit of a, a bit of hope, there was, this is very similar to what happened last year in theaters when anti-vaccination groups tried to run ads before movies in AMC theaters, and we did a petition that ended up making AMC, pretty quickly, turn around and pull the ads. So, we're pretty sure if we can get enough signatures on the petition, we can force Delta to take this seriously and actually pull the ad. In Flight Media is the group that supplies Delta's ads. They had the video up on their Facebook page. They took it down; actually, I think they had the video on their website and they took it down, and they disabled commenting on their Facebook page, because of the outcry. So they're definitely seeing that people are upset about this. I think if we can keep it up, I think there's a very real chance that we could get this decision reversed and actually get them to pull the ad.

S: Yeah, that, that would be good. We definitely have to keep the pressure on and you know, we're gonna be playing Whack-a-Mole a bit with this kind of thing. I mean, obviously, the NVIC is doing this now, they're trying to use their resources to put misinformation advertising in various venues, and we just have to jump on it whenever it comes to our attention. Because they are spreading medical misinformation that is harming the public, so

R: In a place where disease is very easy to transmit,

S: Yes.

R: In an enclosed space with recirculating air, with travelers from all over the world on it, a terrible

S: And a captive audience.

R: place, yeah.

E: Yeah, right?

R: Also, if you're interested in voting with your dollars, US Airways and American Airlines, throughout the month of November, are running ads from Every Child By Two, which is a campaign for actual vaccine education. Their mission is to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases. So, if you fly those airlines, maybe drop them a note thanking them for running something that is responsible.

J: That's refreshing to hear. You know, a company today doing the right thing and making a good decision.

R: Yeah, and I had heard that Delta was also going to be running Every Child By Two ads later, but I haven't seen confirmation of that in the last…I only heard of it in the context of, there's a fear that if Delta does drop the anti-vax ads, they may drop the pro-vax ads, too, just to avoid a headache. So, we certainly don't want that happening, so it would be good to reward companies that are running responsible, science-based ads.

S: Good skeptical activism. Good to see.

B: That's good work, boys.

J: That's good work, boys.

E: And gals

Man Confuses Denies Moon for UFO (30:14)[edit]

S: All right, Rebecca, a couple of UFO items that you're gonna update us on.

R: Yes, I have a very, very exciting update to my ongoing segment, "Things in the sky which are mistaken for other possibly paranormal things." Everyone's favorite segment, I think. (laughter)

R: It's been a real audience favorite, I think.

J: It's a real crowd pleaser.

R: This week's example comes to us from, where they report that a British man called the police after mistaking the moon for a UFO. The thing that sets this apart from your average "person mistakes the moon for a UFO" thing, is that there is actual tape. There is audio of the 999 call the man made, and it's very entertaining. He, it's two calls. The first one is him calling to report this strange thing in the sky that he is worried about, and the second one is him calling to apologize 'cause he took another look, and it's the moon. (Laughter.) Never mind. So,

J: We actually talked about his in the past. Like how could possibly the moon for anything other than the moon.

E: Several times.

R: Yeah. I think we talked about this like last week.

E: A couple weeks ago, the lanterns and the sightings over Ireland. The rescue flares, right?

S: Yeah.

R: The rescue flares, yup.

E: People think that they're rescue flares going up and they're notifying the authorities. But it's the moon.

S: The moon is very common.

R: So, that concludes this week's "Thing that were seen in the sky that were mistaken for other possibly paranormal things." I might be changing the name of the segment every time, I'm not sure. (laughter)

J: The only thing that should remain is the length of the title.

E: Yes.

R: Yeah. I think it could be longer. I'm going to…

E: Nice and meandering.

J: Next week's segment: "Crazy-ass things that people saw in the sky; they weren't sure what they were; they got a little confused; they had a few drinks; they called the cops…" You know. (laughter)

R: Right. And I'm not even, I don't even have to like read the story 'cause it's all gonna be in the title. (laughter)

S: You read the title and you're done.

US Government Denies UFO Coverup (32:30)[edit]

R: But there is, there's more UFO news.

S: Yes.

R: Steve, it's not just that. There's also the very exciting news that came from the U.S. government. The U.S. government has issued an official statement on UFOs and UFO conspiracy theories. You see, there was a petition, there's a website called "We the People." You can go there and start a petition if you'd like, and

J: (32:58)

R: What?

J: Yup, Star Trek, thank you.

B: Star Trek joke.

R: Oh, I'm sorry. Did I stumble into a dork reference?

S: Yes. You did. You missed the dork reference, but go on.

E: Okay, just wipe your feet and continue.

R: I'll just move on, then. Actually, hold on. I took a screen shot of something funny that I wanted to read, and now I can't find it and it's bothering me.

S: 42 minutes. Go on.

R: Oh, god. Don't pressure me, Steve.

E: No pressure.

R: (laughing) It's only gonna make things worse. (laughter) So, there's a website called "We the People." You can go there, you can make a petition. If you get a certain number of signatures, you have a chance to have your petition seen by the President. If you get enough signatures, you deserve a response, from the actual government.

E: Now, hang on. I don't know if the President actually reads, I mean his, his people

S: His people.

R: The President personally.

E: His people.

R: I'm pretty sure he personally read this ridiculous petition.

E: He logged on himself.

R: I mean, that's, that's what I'm hoping, anyway.

E: Oh, yeah, well, wait. One can hope, one can hope.

R: Um hm. So, the petition demanded that the government finally answer the general public, who is demanding to know whether or not there are really men in black. Whether or not Area 51 exists. Basically asking them to reveal all of the secret UFO data they've had stored all these years.

E: And have been denying, and denying.

R: Yeah. I mean, don't get me wrong, there's still a crisis in the U.S. with distribution of wealth and lack of jobs, but I for one am happy that someone took time out of his day to answer this very important petition. Let me see, I'm just gonna read this directly so I can get this straight. "No, you dumbasses," (laughter)

E: Sounds like the President.

S: You may be paraphrasing here.

E: Maybe he did read it.

R: Yeah, I, maybe, I might have gotten that wrong, but that's basically what they said. No. There's no such thing as that.

S: Nothing. There's nothing.

R: I wanted to see what the UFO-believing community thought of this. And I found a blog where it was being discussed. There were quite a number of comments. And they were, they were not happy. And I took a screen shot of my favorite two comments right in a row. The first one, by Jennifer K.: "I guess we can stop asking ourselves what side of the fence the present American administration sits on. And they think we all just fell off the turnip truck." Replied to by Sinzia P.: "FYI, the Pleiadian High Council on the disclosure petition: 'Dear Souls, We come to you this day in love and in our refined versions of the emotion you call disappointment." And then there are several paragraphs written by the Pleiadian High Council, which, they have their own blog, and it's totally serious.

S: I love it; I really love it when people try to pretend that they're aliens, and they talk, like in a way that's just slightly…

B: Off kilter.

S: Yeah, it's like

R: Like there's no….

E: Dan Aykroyd, the Cone Heads

R: Like there's no contractions. "We wish not to sound unloving through our stern tone, but the time truly hath come for you all to know about us and about the actions that have been taking place in your world for a millennia." It goes on like that for quite a while.

S: It's about as compelling as a 1950s movie showing an American Indian going "How." That's about how accurate.

J: And my response to the Pleiadian High Council would be if you want us to believe in you, why don't you come here?

R: Well, yeah, I mean, and, but, he is here, according to this, this blog. It's very, a very funny blog. But I just pictured Jennifer K., she types out her comment, you know, "They think we all just fell off the turnip truck." You know, enter. And then she sees the next response, and she goes, "Oh, for f___'s sake." (lots of laughter)

S: "Work with me! Work with me!"

R: "You're making us all look bad."

S: I would also note…

E: "Who let the crazies out?"

S: I would note that in response to this, also, I don't know if it was in response to this specific one, but we can pretend that it was, the White House increased the threshold for having to respond to a petition from 5,000 to 25,000. Like enough of that.

(Rogues talking at the same time, indistinguishable)

S: This one got 17,000 signatures, so they raised the threshold to above that. To 25,000. (laughter)

E: I think every administration has had to go through this since the 1950s. I can't remember an administration that didn't have to deal with the UFO question at one point or another.

R: Yeah, but rarely were they forced to answer it in such a fun, democratic way.

S: (laughing) Right.

B: Steve, are you sure you read all the zeroes? I thought they raised it to 25 million.

S: (laughing, then serious) 25,000, within, like, 30 days. It's a short…

R: I think the official number is UFO petition number plus one.

S: Plus one, right. (laughter). And, you know, a lot of people pointed out, too, when I blogged about this, you know, what was the point of this? Really, did anyone who wants the answer to this question really think that the government was going to go "Oh, okay. You got us. Here's all the information." Of course they were gonna deny it, and (inaudible) to be unmoved.

J: Yeah, but Steve, maybe they thought enough time has gone by, you know.

S: No, it's a stunt. Just to get it in the news cycle. It's what they, they're never serious.

E: Again, I've heard…this has happened before. Maybe not exact…it doesn't unfold this particular way…

S: This has happened before and it will happen again.

E: It will. You know. Presidents have outright been asked, in news conferences.

S: It's Battlestar Galactica all over again.

E: Déjà vu all over again.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Test for Orion (39:02)[edit]

S: One last news item. Jay, tell us about the update on the Orion space program.

J: Earlier this year we found out that the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Constellation program were cancelled. And the good news is that the research that they put into that original Orion, which could have just fallen on the drawing board floor, they carried it forward for the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Orion MPCV. So that's like the new branded name. I guess it's very similar to the original but they're doing more research and making it cooler. So right now Lockheed-Martin Space System, Space Systems, is building the Orion MPCV. NASA's new manned vehicle, whose first planned mission is taking place sometime in 2014, I think I read it was the spring of 2014. The first mission is going to be unmanned, and just orbit a couple of times and re-enter, and they're doing that because they want to collect data on the re-entry to see how it performs and to help them develop more technology so they can have it actually re-enter at higher speeds and what not.

S: It's probably a good idea to test it without putting a person in there first.

J: Right.

E: Yeah, that'd be my choice.

J: Now you know, remember we talked about the SLS, that's the NASA Space Launch System rocket, this was the one that had some controversy about the technology that they're using for it, is it good or whatever. But this is the new rocket that NASA's developing, and that's, that will not be ready for the 2014 test launch, although that rocket is supposed to be the one that's gonna be used and reused for the Orion. So they're gonna probably use a Delta IV heavy rocket for that planned launch in 2014. So Orion is actually being designed to take astronauts way past the Space Station to places like the moon, and there's talk about Mars missions and also asteroid missions. No missions are planned today, of course, but, you know, all these ideas are being talked about. I mean, this is a pretty exciting space ship that we're building because of what they're planning on doing with it.

S: It'll just be nice to have a ship that can get astronauts up to and from the Space Station.

E: Right.

J: Yeah, it's also a good ship for them to have because it could be like an emergency re-entry vehicle.

S: Um hmm.

J: And this, I'm assuming—remember we talked about how people, a couple people wrote in and said "why don't we use the space shuttle and just leave it docked up there and if they need to do emergency re-entry, use that." And we found out that you can't just leave a space ship docked, that there's a massive amount of wear and tear just having it float in outer space, because if it's pressurized and what not. But this actually could be a vehicle that they would leave parked at the Space Station or at points in outer space so they could use as an emergency re-entry, which is pretty cool.

S: Yeah. That would be cool.

J: So this was off the NASA site. The space craft to serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond LEO, which is Low Earth Orbit. And they said: "Capable of conducting regular in-space operations: rendevous, docking, extra-vehicular activity, in conjunction with payloads delivered by the Space Launch System, the SLS, for missions beyond LEO." And "capability to be a back-up system for International Space Station cargo and crew delivery."

S: Awesome.

J: Does that answer all your questions, Steve?

S: Yes. But now we gotta wait two years for the test launch, is what you're saying. 2014.

J: Yeah, I mean, like, they can't roll this stuff out quick enough to satiate any of us.

S: I know, I know. Well, that's good. Good. I'm glad that they're moving forward on something.

E: Yup. Private market's moving forward as well. They'd need to go, you know, there should be many vectors…

S: Yeah, absolutely.

E: working on these problems. So, it's all good.

Who's That Noisy (42:48)[edit]

S: So Evan, not only do we have to do Who's That Noisy, but you have to announce the winner from two weeks ago, because we skipped over that last time.

E: From two weeks ago, yup, yup. So I've got some housekeeping to do. Let's get right to it. First of all, I'm gonna play for you the Who's That Noisy, that was from Episode 328.

(Soft, slow music with a strong beat, and a voice begins rhythmically speaking:)

I'll be your lover, come to your side. I will open the gate to your love.


B: What the hell?

S: Terrible.

R: I think that was, uh, it's from a [??????????] (43:25) album.

S: It's from an Indian porn movie.

E: (laughing) That's what I thought. That's the best guess yet. No, that's our dear friend, Deepak Chopra, from his album, he has albums, this guy, titled A Gift of Love: Deepak and Friends Present Music Inspired by the Love Poems of Rumi. R-U-M-I.

S: Evan, this guy's a respectable doctor.

E: (laughing derisively) Respectable!

S: Come on, he's a serious academic.

E: What's he a doctor of?

J: Steve, do you have like a hidden, somewhat sexy, like rap album, or something?

(laughter; several Rogues talking at once)

B: Oh, god. Can you see the album covers, Jay? (laughs)

S: But who guessed it?

E: Trinock, from the message boards.

S: Okay.

E: We've heard of him before, right?

S: Trinock, yes. How many times has he gotten Who's That Noisy correct?

E: I don't know. Twice, at least.

S: At least twice.

E: At least twice. Now, Deepak is venturing out further into the field of music including a forthcoming rap album under his rap persona name, Deepak Shakur, and an album of opera which has a working title of Deepak Oprah.

R: Jokes!

E: And, he's working on another album filled with Tantric theme songs to be listened to only at night, titled "Nocturnal Emissions." So there you have it, the latest and greatest offerings from (talking and laughter in the background) Deepak Chopra, and I hear they make great Hanukkah presents.

S: (laughing) Okay.

R: Now I know what to get you.

S: And, now get us up to last week.

E: Here we go, Episode 329, last week's Who's That Noisy?

(very deep sound)

E: Kind of a creeking, groaning

J: That's Deepak Chopra on the toilet after going out to Taco Bell.

E: After listening to his albums, yes.

S: No, no, no, no. That is a Borg ship entering the atmosphere.

J: That's right. Awesome, Steve.

B: I think it's a, it's like a slowed-down lion's roar or something like that. It's from an animal.

E: You're right about the animal. But, not a lion's roar.

S: Wrong phylum.

E: Right. It is an animal called the mantis shrimp, which is neither shrimp nor mantid. (laughter)

S: Is that right?

E: It is a marine crustacean, member of the order, stromatophota. No, stromatopoda. P-O-D-A.

S: Stromatopoda. Foot mouth. [45:54 – should there be a footnote here? It's actually stomatopoda, I think.]

E: I love that, neither shrimp nor mantid. The mantis shrimp. Those rumbling sounds are made by them, these are, these predatory crustaceans and they are predatory, are about 25, 20 to 25 centimeters long. Their sounds have been studied in laboratories, where the researchers have found that the males make these low frequency rumbling noises. The females remain silent. And the noise is actually created by vibrating its muscles, using sensory hairs on its body to hear rumbles made by others. So there you go.

S: Very nice. Did anybody guess it?

E: We had no winners for that particular noise.

S: Ooo.

J: Wow.

S: Clean sweep.

E: Nope, that was a sweep on that one.

J: That doesn't happen often.

E: But that was challenging, you know.

J: Yeah, I mean, who would think a shrimp could bust out with that kind of craziness, you know?

E: Right, with that kind of Barry White groaning. I mean, who knew?

S: All right. Well, good job there, Evan. So what have you got for this week?

E: Okay, so. For this week, we've got something that is short and sweet, but I think, somebody should get it. Here we go. This week's Who's That Noisy.

(Tape of man talking. He says:)

There are flying saucers and we've heard other things, you know.

E: That's it. That's all you get.

S: That is short.

E: But, I predict somebody is going to get this. I predict several people are going to get it. So, give us your best guess. or write us on the forums, on our message board, at the website. And, of course, good luck to everybody.

Questions and Emails (47:30)[edit]

Question #1: Intercessory Prayer[edit]

S: All right, thank you, Evan. We're gonna do one email this week. This one comes from Bruce in Toronto, and he writes:

This is a weird one. Half of a randomised group gets intercessionary prayer

S: (He actually means intercessory prayer)

four years after the illness that landed them in hospital and appears to exhibit better recovery than those who didn't receive the "intercessory prayer." I'm just guessing here: Is the effect large enough to be considered statistically significant? Does evidence based medicine hold itself to the same standards that other branches of the sciences do? (typically 5-sigma confidence) ... ok - I doubt that is practical or financially viable. How can we distinguish cause and effect if causality is denied by the nature of the study?

S: Then he provides a link to the study. This is one of the most absurd studies I have ever read in my life. I sent this to you guys, you guys all have a chance to read it?

J: I did read it.

B: Oh my god.

E: I read, like the abstract, you know.

B: I couldn't finish it.

E: Talk about abstract.

S: No, it's wonderful. So, what the researchers did is they took 3,393 patients that had a bloodstream infection in this specific hospital, over a six-year period. They then randomly divided them into two groups. They then flipped a coin to decide which group would be the treatment group and which would be the control group. Then they had somebody pray for the treatment group. This is now years after they had the infection. And then they looked through the two groups to see, the outcomes they measured was overall mortality, the duration of fever, and the hospital stay, the duration of the hospital stay. And they found that all of those things were better in the group that was prayed for.

E: Years later?

J: Yeah, the key fact here is that it was, years later. Not, not while they were sick.

E: That confused me.

S: Yeah. Well here, here you go, Evan, you've got to read the actual study. But let me point out first that the difference in mortality was not statistically significant. Which means, there was no difference. Right?

R: By which you mean there was a difference, right?

S: It was not statistically significant, so it's within noise.

R: I'm joking. I'm saying from the standpoint of ….

S: Yeah. The difference in the fever was significant to .01 and the hospital stay to .04. Yeah, these are barely statistically significant. The differences themselves were very tiny. So this is noise. This is by definition the, you know, the kind of noise that you would expect to see in studies like this. Right? I mean, there's no clear signal here. But the way…

E: That's not what they said in the …

S: Yeah, the way the author writes it up is just sheer gold. You asked about the time factor. In the introduction, the author writes, "The purpose of the present study was to extend these observations to patients with another severe disorder, bloodstream infection. As we cannot assume a priori that time is linear as we perceive, or that God is limited by linear time as we are, the intervention was carried out four to ten years after the patients' infection and hospitalization.

E: 'Cause time is….

S: Time is not linear, Evan.

E: I'm so stupid.

S: Come on.

E: I'm not a doctor, I don't understand these complex medical practices. (laughter). Time is not linear.

S: They also report that other studies of intercessory prayer, were, 57% of them were positive. Which, again, that's exactly what we would expect from the null hypothesis with a slight publication bias. Right? (Evan laughs) So we can, negative, in other words, doesn't work.

E: Are you gonna read the conclusion?

S: Yeah, it just goes on. I mean, the whole paper is just so ridiculous. But the conclusion was "Remote retroactive" Retroactive! "intercessory prayer can improve outcomes in patients with a bloodstream infection. This intervention is cost-effective, probably has no adverse effects, and should be considered for clinical practice. "

E: Ugh.

S: "Further studies may determine the most effective form of this intervention and its effect in other severe conditions, and may clarify its mechanism."

R: Oh, man. Their faces are gonna be so red when it turns out the most effective form is praying to Zeus.

S: Yeah.

R: So red. (laughter)

E: "Should be considered for use in clinical practice." Oh, man, how embarrassing.

S: But here it, read this one, too. "Remote retroactive intercessory prayer was associated with a shorter stay in hospital and a shorter duration of fever in patients with a bloodstream infection. Mortality was lower in the intervention group, but the difference between the groups was not significant. A larger study might have shown a significant reduction in mortality."

J: Unlikely. Yeah, what was it, like .02 or something, Steve?

E: Bullshit.

R: It might have shown that prayer makes people poop rainbows.

(Several people talking at once.)

S: The opposite of the truth because the larger the study, the more the results would reflect randomness. Right? Not the less. He's hoping that the deviation from randomness would be greater with larger numbers. That's the opposite of what would happen.

E: Opposite.

S: Yeah. So I mean, the plausibility here is zero. So, this just shows, these are the kind of results that you'll get. The other thing is, you might think, right, so is it possible that there were any shenanigans that could have led to two of the three outcomes being significant? And, what we don't know is, were these the only three things the authors looked at? That's the one thing you really can never know from reading a paper. Let's say they looked at six or seven different outcomes, and they just picked two, and the mortality you kind of have to include. And that was the one that was not statistically significant. But length of fever, you know, they, okay, they could or could not have chosen that. They could have chosen other outcomes, right? In terms of like, how long it took for their cultures to become negative, or whatever. But they may have looked at other outcomes and then only chose the ones that were positive. And then not done a statistical analysis adjusting for multiple comparisons. So that's a way of making, of cherry-picking the data and of making it look positive when it's negative. Given the nonsense this guy is writing in this article, we certainly can't trust that his methods were rigorous and he didn't pull anything like that. But even if this was straight up, even if this was, you know, exactly what they said with no cherry-picking, these are, these are the random scatter of results we expect from the null hypothesis, from nothing. But it just shows you how the methods used, the P-value statistical analysis tends to over-call results. Tends to generate a lot of false positives, and a lot of raw material for publication bias, et cetera. So, but the delusionary content in the article is fabulous. But the thing that's amazing is this was published in the BMJ! A major British medical journal.

E: 2001.

S: How did the reviewers let this nonsense get through? I don't understand. How they let this guy get away with making statements like (in a pompous voice) "A larger study may have shown statistical significance." That's B.S.! (laughter) Total B.S.! Come on, who the hell reviewed this?

R: Steve, have you written your angry letter yet, to BMJ? (Steve laughs)

E: It's ten years old, though, I mean…

S: Yeah, I know. This study was published in 2001. It was just sent to us today, but. But it also shows you that the, this is what we're seeing with the intercessory prayer literature. The random scatter around "no effect" that you would expect. And the random positive things that are cropping up by random chance are not consistent from study to study. Whereas if you were seeing a real effect, you would expect to see that the same effects would be cropping up over and over again. There would be some consistency to the results.

Science or Fiction[edit]

It's time for Science or Fiction

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week, and a slight alteration. The theme is U.S. energy use

R: What?

S: And there are four items instead of three.

R: That is a terrible theme.

S: It's a great them, 'cause it allowed me to pull four items out of one news item.

E: I think it's a great theme!

S: Which I'll tell you about in a moment.

R: Stop sucking up, Evan.

S: If you read this one item, yeah, it's great.

E: I just don't wanna go first. (laughter)

R: Clever.

S: All right, here we go. Item #1: The top four sources of electricity generation in the US are coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear, in that order, followed distantly by wind, geothermal, and solar. Item #2: Total energy use in the US is down from its peak of 101.5 quads, that's quadrillion BTUs, or British Thermal Units, in 2007, so, down from its peak of 101.5 quads in 2007 to 98.0 quads in 2010; likewise carbon dioxide emissions have decreased from 6,022 million metric tons to 5,632 over the same period. Item #3: Fossil fuels represent 83% of total energy production in the US, while renewable sources represent 3.8%. And Item #4: 91% of solar power in the US is self-generated residential. Rebecca, go first.

R: So, top four sources coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, followed distantly by wind, geothermal and solar. I would have thought nuclear was ahead of hydroelectric, but, that's totally just a guess. I have no idea. Geothermal seems like it's been gaining a lot of ground, but, okay, I don't know. The second one is just, that's too much happening there. Total, I just have to read it again, in full. Total energy use in the US is down from its peak of 101.5 quads in 2007 to 98 quads in 2010, and carbon dioxide emissions have decreased from 6.022 million metric tons…

S: No, 6,022.

R: But then it says "million."

S: Yeah.

R: Six thousand twenty-two million?

S: Yes.

R: A thousand million?

S: Yup

R: Okay. Isn't that a billion?

S: I guess you could say, yeah.

R: That's what we say here in the U.S. Okay, so I'm believing that that one is true because I think Steve copied and pasted it from something weird. Because otherwise I think Steve would have said six billion. That's my only reason for thinking that's true. Fossil fuels represent 83% of total energy production in the U.S. Renewable sources represent 3.8. That jibes with what I would have guessed. There's nothing surprising there for me, but maybe that means that that's the fake one. Because that's, so, maybe renewable sources are much higher or much lower. 3.8%, hmm. And 91% of solar power in the U.S. is self-generated residential. That's concerning because, I know that a lot of businesses that want to be seen as green, or lead certified, and, a fairly easy way to do that is to install solar panels on your roof. I would have thought that there would be a higher percentage of it that was business. However, that said, I know that rich people really like solar panels as well. I've seen them, I think, in Sky Mall. I'm gonna go with the fossil fuels representing 83% of total energy production, because, it seems really, that seems normal to me. And I think that maybe it's some ridiculous figure that you are trying to fool us with.

S: Okay. Jay?

J: The first one, about the, the top four sources of electricity generation, that sounds accurate. I mean I know that coal and natural gas are far in the lead. So that part of that is correct. Hydroelectric and nuclear, I mean yeah, I guess those would definitely be the next two. I just don't know where solar is at right now, it doesn't seem like it's being used that much. But I'm gonna think that one is true. The second one, about the total energy use in the U.S. is down from its peak. I can't possibly imagine how that could be true because the population is consistently increasing. I mean, there's just more electronic devices and everything. More people have more devices now than ever. I'm gonna, I, that one is definitely on the maybe list. Fossil fuels represent 83% of total energy production in the U.S. That one seems correct. And 91% of solar power in the U.S. is self-generated. Okay. I'm gonna say that the second one about the U.S. using less energy is the fake.

S: Okay. Bob.

B: Most, a lot of what Rebecca said agrees with what I think. You're so smart, Rebecca.

R: Awww.

B: Yeah, notice that was a back-handed compliment to myself. (Rebecca laughs) But that's okay. Yeah, the first one, the top four sources, looks good, but, yeah, I think hydroelectric and nuclear, I thought they, nuclear, I thought they would be swapped, but still, though, I think that's pretty right. And the second one, actually, with the peak, the 101 quads in 2007, yeah, that agrees with some things that, that just makes sense to me, that we peaked in 2007 and it went down. So I don’t have a problem with that one, either. The second half of that one I'm not sure about, but if the first half is true, then I'm gonna go with it. It's the third and fourth one with me. The ratio of fossil fuels with renewable resources and the solar. The solar one, my first, my knee-jerk reaction to that is that no way, it's all businesses, that mostly businesses would have the, I think would have the solar, but, I think, solar's getting so popular and so many people, so many residential p… you know, houses have 'em that, that they're just swamping any panels that all these companies have. That leaves 3 though, with the ratio of fossil fuels to renewable. Yeah, it's such a wide range of numbers, it wouldn't surprise me on that. I really don't know, but, I think there's such a variability there on what's reasonable that I'm gonna, I'm gonna say that that one is fiction.

S: Okay, Evan.

E: I gotta agree with Bob and Rebecca, the third one. Fossil fuels representing 83% of total energy production, I think that number's too high, I think that's gonna wind up being lower than that is, that seems like a, you know, almost a shockingly high number in a sense. So I think that number's too high, therefore I think that one's fiction.

S: Okay. So if I've got this correct, Bob, Rebecca and Evan all think that 3, that 83% of our total energy coming from fossil fuels is fiction, and Jay, you think that number 2, the notion that energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from 2007 and 2010 is the fiction. So you all agree on number 1 and number 4. Let's start with number 4. 91% of solar power in the U.S. is self-generated residential. You guys all think that one is correct, and that on is . . . science.

R: Hooray!

S: That is correct. So total solar energy was .11 quads in 2010, not really going up too much over the last few years. Point 1 of that was self-generated residential. Only .01 was everything else. So, yeah, about 90, whatever, 91% is self-generated residential. So, yeah, it's mostly people with solar panels. Let's go to number 1; the top four sources of electricity generated in the U.S. are coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear, in that order, followed distantly by wind, geothermal and solar. You guys all think that is science, and that one is . . . the fiction.

B: No shit

E: Owww.

S: The true order, number 1 is indeed coal, 48%. So this is not energy use, this is electricity generation, right, so these are power plants. 48% coal. In the number 2 spot is nuclear at 21%, so your gut instinct was right, Rebecca.

B: Oh, shit.

R: Totally right, god damn it.

S: Number 3, natural gas at 19%, just behind nuclear, and it will overtake it soon. It's been on the increase. Hydroelectric is a distant fourth at 6.3%. And then wind, 2.3%, has been increasing. Geothermal, .38%, it actually decreased a little bit this last year, and solar .025%. So, yup.

B: Less than geothermal, huh.

S: Yeah, it's really, really insignificant. Wind is really the renew… oh, hydroelectric is considered renewable as well, so.

E: You can't store the solar stuff

B: Oh, they've got some good ideas.

E: I know. We're working on it, working on it, but…

S: The interesting thing is, what about nuclear? I mean, are we gonna have to really increase our, if we wanna displace coal, what are we gonna displace coal with? Natural gas is a good option. It's still fossil fuel, it's still not renewable, but, it's less greenhouse gas-emitting than coal; less polluting than coal, and the U.S.'s ability to produce natural gas is actually increasing because of, you guys know?

(Lots of answers at once)

S: Because of fracking. You guys familiar with fracking?

J: Oh, yeah.

B: Watch your language.

S: Yeah. We're gonna have to talk about this some other time 'cause it's now, like, a controversial topic, and I haven't completely wrapped my head around it enough to know which side to come down on. But here's the controversy. Estimates are that we have a hundred years' worth of natural gas trapped in shale that we can get at through fracking, which is like injecting water into the shale and extracting the natural gas in that way. So it's good, from that point of view. The down side is, what people are questioning is its safety. Is it, essentially the big concern is, is it contaminating the well water, the drinking water? And, I hear different things about that, different claims. So we'll probably have to cover that at some point in the future. The controversy over fracking. But regardless of that controversy, it is producing a lot of natural gas, cheaply, and it's cost-effective, and power companies are building a lot of natural gas power plants. In fact, do you guys remember a few months ago? I think it was over the summer, that explosion in Connecticut?

B: Yeahhh.

S: That shook our windows.

E: Yeah, the, the

S: That was a power plant being built in, a natural gas power plant being built in the U.S. in Connecticut, right in our nei…. That blew up.

E: The real clean facility. A billion dollar plant, was just, they were getting ready to fire it up, and get it on line. It was like a month away.

S: Yeah. They screwed up. They did some procedure wrong and they released too much gas, and it, caught fire. So let's go on. That means that number 2, total energy use in the U.S. is down from its peak of 101.5 quads in 2007 to 98.0 quads in 2010. Likewise, carbon dioxide emissions have decreased from 6,022 million metric tons in, to 5,632 over the same period is science. It actually decreased to, from 2007 to 2009. It increased a little bit in 2008, in 2010, rather. But still much lower, you know, by those figures, from 2007 peak. And it's just from people using less energy, because people are trying to conserve. That's what it's from. Interesting. So we actually are decreasing our CO2 emissions.

E: Yay!

R: Hooray for us!

E: All right.

S: We still have a long way to go.

R: Everybody turn off their iPads.

E: Now China's gonna get on board and . . .

S: Yeah, China's like, no way. They're just, they're not interested in . . .

E: No.

S: And, number 3, fossil fuels represent 83% of total energy production, again, I want to distinguish energy production from electricity generation, in the U.S. while renewable sources represent 3.8%. That is science. Because energy, you know, production and use also includes things like gas in cars, which has nothing to do with electricity production and power plants. The flow sheet is very interesting. This is the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory comes out with every year their flow chart of estimated U.S. energy use. And it has like all the different sources; how that energy flows through electricity generation, residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, you know, and where it all ends up. So it's very interesting to look at that. If you just look at the ultimate source of energy, it's, a lot of it is petroleum, coal and natural gas. Total, those three things, add up to 83%. If you add up solar, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and, just those four, you get the 3.8%. Nuclear is neither fossil fuel nor renewal. It's not greenhouse gas producing, but it's finite because you have to burn fuel, nuclear fuel. So it's not technically a renewable source. And then, the biomass is complicated. They didn't include biomass because, that's right now 4.29 quads, so it's not insignificant. But, you know, you have to, I wonder if they counted the fossil fuels that go into growing the biomass.

E: Right.

S: You know, I don't think so, from looking at the chart. It's interesting. But if you don't, if you just consider it as a renewable source, it's not, it's kind of renewable but it is using…you know, if you're growing corn and fertilizing the fields with gasoline, you know, it's not technically renewable, so, that one's tricky, at the present.

E: This was a good one, Steve. I like this Science or Fiction.

S: Yeah, you know, I was really fascinated by all the implications of the chart and I thought it'd be fun to, you know, pull four items out of that. See what you guys think about 'em.

R: You have a weird definition of the word fun.

S: (laughing) I had fun.

R: Yeah. Good job, Steve.

S: Well, thank you guys. It was, I was also reading today, it was NPR did it, I think it was NPR did a report on it, that one of the reasons that we're not building new nuclear power plants is because they're expensive. So Florida would like to build new nuclear power plants, but the estimated cost of building one is $20 billion.

B: What? Come on, 20 billion?

S: $20 billion.

B: That's insane. That's insane.

J: Why, Bob? I mean, you know how complicated and dangerous and, you know, there's just so much there.

S: And with all the modern safety features required…

B: Yeah, but 20…

S: $20 billion.

E: Yeah, the requirements.

B: I would think a couple billion. 20 just seems like so in the stratosphere to me. Wow.

S: That's the problem. $20 billion. So they're trying to figure out different ways to finance it. No company's gonna wanna outlay $20 billion for a project that's gonna take ten, fifteen years to complete. You know, whatever. Very high risk, high cost,

E: The return is…

S: Yeah, for a downstream return. But

E: Yeah, economically speaking it doesn't work.

S: It's a huge barrier, so

B: Why, why would anybody build any of them?

S: That's why, that's why it's not happening. So, you could say well, the government can pay for it, but they want private industry to do it, the government doesn't wanna have to, you know, pay for the construction. So, what Florida is considering doing, they actually passed a law to do this, is they're going to charge electricity users for the power that they're going to consume fifteen years from now from these nuclear power plants that they're gonna build.

E: Pre-charge?

S: They're gonna pre-charge them for it. Which is like a, is making a lot of people angry, you know, 'cause they think it's unfair, it's corporate welfare, blah, blah, blah. But it's…

E: If you're dead you get no benefit from it, if you die before then.

S: It's a tax. You know, it's just another…

E: Yeah, a tax.

S: way of collecting money from people to pay for it up front. So that corporations don't have to do it.

E: Not likely to happen.

S: But anyway, there's no good option. There's no good option, so that's as much of a barrier as anti-nuclear sentiments, or whatever. Now, people want to build nuclear because of the greenhouse gas issue, but this economic issue is coming up. And, I don't know what the solution is, but

E: I want our own little personal reactors, right? We talked about those sheds that you bury in your back yard.

S: Yeah, yeah.

E: . . . power, I want those.

S: Yeah, like enough to supply like 20,000 homes. Small. Costs $25 million, I believe was the estimate for those things. They last 50 years.

B: I love that idea. I'm so in love with that idea. Just burying something like that.

J: Yeah, it's a must-have for the zombie apocolypse.

E: Right?

B: Exactly, Jay, exactly.

E: Exact…Jay!

B: And such a huge capacity, too. You know, you could run your one house for like decades, or your whole community.

E: More than that, yeah

B: It just seems like such a great idea. Hopefully it doesn't contaminate the water table, but a . . .

E: Baaah! That's for the courts to figure out.

S: Right. That's for the courts to decide. (laughter) So we'll see. It'll be very interesting to see how this chart changes over the next ten, twenty years. So, thanks for playing this week, everyone.

R: Yeah, yeah.

E: Thanks for letting us play.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:14:27)[edit]

S: Can't say congratulations to anybody. Jay, do you have a quote for us this week?

J: I do. I have a quote that actually somewhat relates to one of the things that we talked about today. This was a quote from Carl Sagan, and it was sent in by a listener named Leslie Ruthven. And this quote actually has a question, because this was during a live talk Carl had given, and the questions posed to him was: "As a scientist, would you deny the possibility of water having been changed into wine in the Bible?" And Carl Sagan says, "Deny the possibility? Certainly not. I would not deny any such possibility. But I would, of course, not spend a moment on it unless there was some evidence for it." (very quietly) That's Carl Sagan.


E: (with a whistle on the "S") Carl Sagan?

S: And why did you choose a Carl Sagan quote this week, Jay?

E: Hmmm.

J: Well, you rooted me out, Steve. It was his birthday. It was Carl Sagan Day.

S: It is Carl Sagan Day on the ninth, November 9th, right. A great, great astronomer…

J: (shouts) Carl Sagan! (laughter)

E: Oh, oh my gosh. You gotta warn me a little. Gonna give a guy a heart attack, here.

S: You totally blew out . . .

R: Worth it.

(Several people talking at once).

E: You clipped. I can actually see in your mind. Perfect flatness of the top and bottom of that . . .

S: All right, thanks, Jay.

J: Steve, we need, any listener that has any extraordinary, very good or extraordinary knowledge of Google or YouTube, we actually need help with our YouTube account, we're actually having technical difficulties. Cannot get help from Google or YouTube. Anybody that has any way of helping, please contact me.

E: I mean we must have listeners that work at these companies.

J: We do. I met somebody that worked at Google at the last event that we went to, but, you know, who knows, a big company, you never know.

S: Were they the janitor or something?

J: No. The guy was really cool, but…

S: Yeah, so, we have a videos we'd like to get up, but, yeah, we're having trouble making it happen.

J: Yeah, it's an AdSense (????) (1:16:30) problem.

S: Okay. So thanks for any help, and thank you all for joining me this week.

R: Thank you, Steve.

? : (In a deep disguised voice) Thank you, Steve.

E: Thank you.

J: Yes, yes.

S: Until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

Voice-over: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at You can also check out our other podcast, The SGU 5x5, as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. 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 leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune, or your portal of choice.


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