SGU Episode 337

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SGU Episode 337
31st December 2011

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

SGU 336 SGU 338
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
M: Mike Lacelle
Quote of the Week
To a clear eye the smallest fact is a window through which the infinite may be seen.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, December 21st 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: Evan Bernstein,

E: Hey, ho, how ya doin'?

S: And... Mike Lacelle.

M: Hey, everyone. How's it goin'?

J: Mike!

S: How're you doin', Mike?

R: Mike!

M: Good. How was everyone's year?

R: Super!

J: It was good. Thanks for asking.

SGU 2011 Review[edit]

Best Episode (0:36)[edit]

S: That's what we're talking about tonight. So, Mike always joins us for the year-end wrap-up episode. And so now we're gonna talk about 2011, a year of SGU science and skepticism. We're gonna start, as we always do, with the "best of." It's actually best and worst of, of 2011. We've tabulated the feedback from our listeners, those who sent us email or chimed in on the forums. Thanks everyone who responded. So let's go down the list. The first thing on the list is the best episode.

B: For me, I've got two shows that really stand out. The second TAM show[link needed] this past July was so much fun. We had True Fellas[1] that we premiered. We had Rebecca and my Science or Fiction contest, which turned out not as embarrassing as I had feared, but still very funny. That was—I also talked about that last shuttle launch that I was actually on-site and saw. So for me, that second day that we taped was a lot of fun. And the second one, of course, I mean how could we not mention SGU 24? That was just—

S: Yeah.

B: —an epic monstrosity of an episode, that was—took—was crazy work, but still it was... it went by pretty fast, I think, and I thought it was very successful and a lot of fun.

R: Yeah.

S: The SGU 24 did get a lot of mention from our listeners, just for the heroic effort, if nothing else. It was fun. It was a lot of work. It almost destroyed Jay's marriage before it happened.

M: Oh my god.

S: He was working so hard for it. Luckily, we planned the SGU 24 show two weeks before Jay got married. Or was it one week?

J: It was one week before.

R: It was one week.

S: One week.

E: Well, but it was four weeks, or something, and then, Jay, you moved the wedding back, I think.

S: (laughs)

R: Are you blaming Jay for this?

E: No. No, not at all, but—

J: Yeah, we actually moved the date back two weeks, so it was originally planned for roughly three weeks before, and we had to change the place where we were doing our wedding 'cause we had too many people. But, you know, it's like one of those things... you never know how bad it's gonna be until it happens, until like, you really get into it, and it—it took me a month to build the set. And of course, leading up to it, the week, two weeks up to it, it was like, every night for four or five hours, I was like screaming at everyone; I was not sleeping; I lost like fricking ten pounds. I was freaking out. It was horrible.

M: Jay made me cry, twice.

R: Aw. You probably deserved it, though.

E: Ohhh.

M: I'm not the one who spray-painted the friggin' camera, Bob.


B: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I got five molecules of paint on the camera. Pardon me.

M: CCD chips, Bob. CCD chips.


S: Another episode that got a mention was 290, Episode Number 290, where we did, we had the guest rogue, Dr. Ray Greek[2]. A lot of people like that interview. And just overall thought it was a good episode with a lot of good discussion.

J: That was a good interview because Ray and you did not agree on a couple of different things that you were discussing.

S: Yeah. There was, it was polite disagreement on the whole animal rights thing and research.

J: Well, you guys handled it really well, I mean—there was no confrontation whatsoever, and, you know, it was pretty significant disagreements I thought you guys were having. But, both of you definitely were respecting each other, and I remember Ray emailing us afterwards saying, you know, "wow, it turned out so good, I was so happy that you and I were communicating so well" and all that, and it was just a cool, cool disagreement to have without there being any—nobody's hair was standing up.

Best Interview (4:24)[edit]

S: Well, this kind of dovetails into the next "best of", which is the best interview of the year, and Ray Greek did get some mention. Joshie Berger[3], I think, got a lot of mentions, as well.

R: Joshie's well loved.

S: He's a funny guy. We had good chemistry with him on the show and I think that everyone really—

B: He's a force of nature, that guy.

J: Joshie definitely is incredible to talk to, even when you're just hanging out with him. He's always funny. He always has profound or provocative things to say and everything. I mean, you know, he pretty much is who he is on the show, he is in person. Never a loss of energy with that guy; he's awesome.

B: Check out his Facebook post, he's like the boldest guy I know, and only Joshie can get away with that stuff. And you don't even—you know, it just doesn't bother you. I wouldn't dream of saying things like that.

E: His background amazes me, 'cause he effectively escaped that Jewish cult of a family that he was born and raised into.

S: Right. Right.

E: And, has been effectively trying to bring people over and escape from that kind of lifestyle—

J: Yeah, he's a good skeptic.

E: —that kind of orthodoxy.

J: He is pulling people over, and he is educating a lot of people. And he does it with in-your-face and humor and everything and it works. It's really good. I'm actually—Joshie's one of those people that I'm excited to see what he pulls off. I'm sure that he's gonna have something happen that's gonna be pretty cool.

S: Yeah. And he made a cameo for us at the 24-hour show. He cooked us lunch, or dinner on Saturday, which was—

B: That was awesome, yeah.

S: The other interview that got a lot of mention was a recent one, with Neil deGrasse Tyson[4].

M: Yeah.

E: Yeah, I put that on my list.

S: Yeah, Neil's just awesome.

R: Ditto.

B: He's so charismatic. You just can't help but just—

S: Yeah.

B: —be in awe when he talks. He just grabs your attention, and just won't let it go. It's really—there's not many speakers that are like that.

E: And never enough time with him, it seems. I mean, we could go on for days talking about things with him. You just never tire of Neil.

S: Yeah.

R: Yeah, that's just it; we've interviewed him a number of times and it's always been fantastic, every single time.

J: He's one of those people that I feel has really put a lot of energy into educating himself and polishing himself to actually do this. He's very calculated in what he says and how he interacts with his audience, and I've heard him talk about this.

S: Yeah.

J: You know, he monitors his audience and he's able—he's so quick that he can actually change what he's doing and change his demeanor and change what he's talking about.

S: Although, you know what's funny? When I edit the interviews, when I edit the shows, I pick up a lot of things that I miss while we're doing the interview, while we're doing the show. And during the Neil deGrasse Tyson interview, we were talking about what you were just saying, Jay, about how you present yourself, and studying how to be a good speaker, and being very deliberate in word choice and whatnot. And he sort of gently chided me during the interview for using the term "sensory modality." As if that was too technical a term to throw at a lay audience. And we had a little bit of fun with that. But when I listened back to the interview, I noticed, which I didn't notice at the time, which would have been perfect, but like, not two minutes before that he used the term "in situ."


S: Which, I think, is a little bit more obscure than "sensory modality" and if I only had picked up on that it would have been the perfect comeback. But, I didn't.

E: Next time. You'll get him next time.

S: I didn't even think about it until I was editing the show.

R: It's tough to one-up Neil.

S: I know it's tough.

B: Yeah, right.

E: Can I give honorable mention to Mark Mervine[5], who came on—

B: Yeah!

E: —and is an expert on nuclear power with the time of the Fukushima—

S: Yeah.

M: Oh, yeah.

E: —nuclear meltdown.

R: Yeah, he was on my list, too. I wouldn't even call that honorable mention. I think he was just—he did an awesome job. And huge thanks to his daughter, Evelyn, who was writing for Skepchic at the time—

S: Yeah.

R: —for getting us that interview, 'cause he was very knowledgeable and it was just—yeah, it was the perfect person to have on at the perfect time.

S: I have to say, as much as I—of course I love interviewing all of our skeptical colleagues, and the regular players; they're regular for a reason, 'cause they're awesome. But, often the interviews that I find like the most surprisingly interesting are those with just scientists or just experts who are not part of the skeptical community, or as part of the skeptical movement, not the kind of name that would come up if you think about who would be a good interview for the podcast, but they have just some area of expertise that they're really interested in talking about or they did some research that they want to talk about, and often those are in many ways the best interviews. Like who would have figured this—

R: Yeah.

S: You know, this nuclear scientist, or technician really, you know, being such an awesome interview.

R: And along the same lines, Paul Provenza[6] was one of my favorite—

S: Yeah.

E: Mmm.

B: Yeah.

R: —interviews to do this year. I found him surprisingly relatable. I guess I had low expectations because I assumed that he was too brilliant to be nice and... and to get along so well with all of us, but he was really fantastic and down-to-earth. I really enjoyed talking to him.

S: Yeah, he got a lot of votes, too.

J: I completely was in love talking to Bill Nye[7]. I love talking to him.

S: Yes.

J: Yeah, I can't not mention him, even though I think it's more personal, maybe. The interview—the interview was good, but I was sitting there like just bouncing out of my seat the whole time 'cause I just love being in front of that guy. And also, George Hrab, to me—

S: Hrab (correcting pronunciation)

J: I love it. George Hrab to me—

E: H-rab.

J: I love having him on the show and I absolutely love talking to him and I think we get into very cool conversations with him.

S: Speaking of George, I actually—I wanted to mention another episode as in my top five for the year. And that was the episode that aired on September 24th.

E: 323?

S: 323. This was the first show that we ever recorded in front of a live audience, but not a live show. You know what I mean? When we were at Dragon*Con, we did our live show—we're on stage, you know, recording a show but in front of an audience. But then we also recorded like a studio audience show, where they were just observing us recording the show. It was a small intimate group; like ten, fifteen people. And it really, it lent such a fun dynamic to the show. There was just something about it that was different.

J: Yeah, and Brian Brushwood joined us live.

S: Yeah, George Hrab and Brian Brushwood joined us as guests on the show, and we definitely need to do that again. That was a lot of fun.

J: That was a weird show, though, because we went in areas, like we never even approached personal material like this before. Like we were talking about crazy stuff; a few people actually that wrote in, said something—we were talking about when we were kids and about peeing and stuff (laughter) and all sorts of crazy stuff.

E: Yeah, that, that's Geo.

J: Yeah, Geo did bring that up that night.

R: I think that I speak for all of us when I say that our live shows are some of the most fun to do because we have a different dynamic when we're all in one room. For those listeners who don't know, we record this in completely different cities, so we don't actually see each other. So doing a live show gives us a completely different dynamic, but we're still in front of a large audience every time we do a live show, except for this one particular show we were doing where there were only—how many, fifteen?

S: Yeah, I think fifteen, maybe.

J: Yeah. And we were kind of sitting in a circle, like we could see each other in a way that we never have seen each other before during a recording. I have to say, too, when we talk to Randi, I have so much fun during our conversations with Randi, and he—you know for a guy in his 80s, he jumps in the room with us, he's just as funny as the rest of us. He's—arguably he's, you know, he's got more speechcraft than all of us.

S: Well, yeah. I mean, he's obviously been doing this a long time. He's very—he's very polished. He's actually the only professional showman of all of us, obviously. And he' know, recently he's been very sharp. You know, I think he's really recovered well from his prior issues. You know, his ailments. And it's great to see Randi in good form.

B: He's so lucky. I know I'm just gonna be a blithering idiot if I reach that age. He's as sharp as a tack.

R: Yeah, I mean I'm not a quarter that sharp when I have a cold. Let alone having all that—

E: Yeah. It's all that Nyquil you drink.

R: I do drink a lot of that. It's delicious, what can I say?

Funniest Moments (13:25)[edit]

S: So Jay, you mentioned talking about peeing, and that got a lot of vote as the funniest moment of the year, when Bob and I were reminiscing[link needed] about how far you could pee as a young child.


J: Yeah, are we gonna talk about that again?

S: Just that much. You have to go back and listen to the episode.

R: Well, the listeners like it.

J: I had, you know, just mammoth skills at urinating when I was six years—five or six years old.

S: So, what other bits did you guys like from the year?

J: I don't know why this stands out for me. I just absolutely loved it the moment that it happened. Of course it has something to do with me making fun of Rebecca, but I'll play it for you.

R: It's not out of the question for a plant to produce sound. That happens, you know, even like Venus fly-traps and things can produce small amounts of sound. But I think it's more likely—

(deep voice) Feed me!

J: Yeah, what do they say, Rebecca?

R: (laughing) I think...

J: (slowly, in a somewhat high-pitched voice) Land... here... please. Come. Land... here. (giggling)

R: I, I, are you done?

J: And then, at the end of that show... I don't know where you got this second clip from, Steve, but this is what Steve played at the end of that show as like the

S: The outtake?

J: You know, the Easter egg.

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

(little voice): Come... here... come.


M: Oh, man. For the 24-hour show, and Jay's wedding, I stayed up with Jay and Courtney for two weeks, and I think Jay said that "come here, come... here..." line about, I don't know, a good dozen times.


J: Something gets stuck in my head and I just blow it out. I say it a million times until I can't stand it anymore. Another bit I loved, which I think is funny and I didn't really—when it happened it was in the same episode as the "come here" thing. Where I was absolutely sure that there was no way that the multiverses were communicate—were you know, basically sending each other information—'member that? That science item—Science or Fiction item and I was—

R: Is this the one where you had like a complete nervous breakdown?

J: I was so pissed. I was so freakin' mad because I—

R: It was pretty entertaining.

J: So I have, I actually have some audio for that, so I'll play that right now.

B: All right, the first one about the multiverse.

J: Bob, come on, Bob.

E: Give him a chance.

J: I think most of the reason why I think that is because of what Bob has drilled into me over the years. Bob, really? Come on!

B: Well, let me talk. (laughter) Jay, I agree that discovering or detecting something outside our universe is probably impossible. But, Jay, I disagree with your premise; they don't necessarily need to detect something outside the universe. They could potentially detect another universe that somehow interacted with our universe.

J: I hate you.

B: That's—

J: NO! It's bullshit!

B: A much more higher probability.

J: Bob, we're in an enclosed system!

B: I know, but if the multiverses interact somehow, so perhaps they could possibly look at that interaction; perhaps looking at the cosmic microwave background radiation...

J: Okay, so which would mean that there has to be some type of energy exchange, which there isn't! Bob!

B: I'm just saying, Jay, it sounds more plausible than you—

J: Plausible? Oh, my god!

E: (laughing) Poor Jay.

B: If you look at these other multiverses, they could potentially interact somehow with the cosmic microwave background radiation, perhaps. So there could be some sort of interaction, so yeah, detecting a universe outside of ours, no. But—

J: Bob, I can barely find—I can barely find my way to the post office, and you're telling me that we're detecting the multiverses?


R: Well, to be fair, you're not a physicist, Jay.
[link needed]

J: Thanks, Rebecca.

R: Well, it's true; you're not a physicist.

S: And you were wrong about that, Jay. Let's remind of—yeah, you were wrong.

J: I was dead wrong. Yeah.

J: I still don't believe it.

E: But passionate. You know, you get points for passionate.

J: I still don't think we're detecting the multiverse. I think that point's clear.

S: So, Jay, is that your most unbelievable science or fiction story for the year?

J: That happens to be, yes, that was the one I put in there.

S: Yeah, that was a pretty good one.

R: You pretty much have to.

S: Someone voted for the Who's That Noisy exchange[8] in episode 287 about "My Little Pony".

R: Yeah, and I'm glad I was there to defend, at least a little bit, "My Little Pony" and assert how cool it is. Because I think a large portion of our audience are bronies.


R: —and other My Little Pony fans.

J: Rebecca, please.

E: Hey, if they're teaching skeptical messages—

M: Is that like juggalos?

E: —more power, more power to the pony.

R: If you'll recall we—well, first of all, the reboot of that cartoon series has a huge following. And it's a huge overlap with our particular brand of science-loving geeks. And, second of all, if you recall, after we played that Who's That Noisy, the next week, someone wrote in to say that he was a writer for My Little Pony.

S: Oh, yeah.

E: And that episode in fact.

R: And that he's a skeptic. Yeah, he helped write that episode and he did his best to put skepticism into "My Little Pony". So, yeah, we've got people on the inside there; we've gotta give them some respect.

J: All right, well—

S: I'm not sure that you've convinced me. Mike, do you have any best moments for the year?

M: The 24 show, for me, was a good one.

E: Let's play it now.


M: Yeah, let's cue that up.

J: Well, I'd be curious to hear, out of the 24 hours, what was your favorite bit that we did during that whole time?

R: Which hour?

M: Which hour? Hour 13 was awesome.

S: I like the quiz show... in which I kicked all of your butts.

R: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

S: That's just a side point; that's not really relevant.

J: I have two very memorable moments during the 24-hour show. One was the D&D game.

(Several people respond at once)

B: That was surprisingly awesome.

J: Yeah, I thought our friend Doug did an incredible job coming up with a skeptically-themed, 30-minute D&D game; it was a lot fun. I was really surprised. We had no idea, you know, we came up with all these ideas about what we were gonna do and we don't know what's gonna work or what wasn't gonna work.

B: Not just that, Jay. You know D&D very well. It's generally these huge long boring stretches and it's not necessarily made for video at all. And he made it just jam-packed with awesomeness and it was fast-paced and interesting, and he perfectly tuned that for the venue, like I did not anticipate could be done.

S: I have to say I was skeptical of the whole idea of running a skeptical D&D game during a live show because, yeah, conventional wisdom is watching other people role play is the most boring thing in the world. But, even when the people role-playing are having fun, watching them do that is just incredibly boring. But Doug—his performance of the game was what made it fun.

R: Yeah, and it was fun even for people who don't like D&D. Like, I've never played D&D in my life and I thought it was a lot of fun and we heard from a lot of listeners who have never played and they thought it was awesome, too, so I think that that's the mark of a successful D&D game.

J: And, you know, now, Rebecca, you have played D&D.

R: No, well yeah, I mean I have, just then, yes.

S: So you can't say you've never played anymore.

R: Damn it!

J: Or you can call it Skeptics & Dragons if you want.

R: (whispering) Damn it.

S: One more point on your geek list.

E: I've seen you in the LARP costume, too, so—

R: That's true—yeah, I've done all of that now. I wanna play a full game. But I would rather it be skeptical. But so long as Doug runs it I think I'll be happy.

J: We'll have you down for a weekend and we'll fulfill all these other geek-slash-dork fantasies of yours; don't worry about it.

R: Yeah, I'll have to make like a dork bucket list. A dorket list.

S: (laughs) Dork bucket list.

E: We'll have you down for dinner.

J: The other thing I loved—I really thought was fun and just unexpectedly good was our musical jam with George.

S: Yeah!

B: Oh, God, yeah.

R: I hated that.


E: Were you rhythmically challenged?

R: I hated that because I hate trying to keep rhythm.


R: I really like—I like playing guitar; I like playing the trumpet. I can't play the tambourine. To save my life.

J: It was more like we—you know, the thing that made it interesting was we were doing it together, you know. We've never done anything like that together before. You know, George drove us well through that, and it was, the chances of that not working as well as it did were great. And it did; it worked. It came off funny and it was fun to do. But you know what? I think my—now that I think about it, my favorite part of the whole thing, other than the second it ended, was when we interviewed Dad.

S: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that was—

B: Yeah. That was another segment that really was so much better than I anticipated.

S: You're just a pessimist, Bob.

B: These little horror stories go through your mind, "Oh, Dad, please don't say that and please don't mention this."


B: And it was really scary because this is live, but it was just an order of magnitude better than I imagined. It's like, holy crap, this is great.

S: I had my finger on the kill switch the whole time.


S: Oh, another technical problem!

R: The kill switch was just a gun pointed at your father.


S: But you know, your parents can give a perspective on you that nobody else can. It's not always the perspective you'd like to have broadcast to thousands of people.


Jackass of the Year (23:16)[edit]

S: All right. So, I—let's move on to, first, the jackass of the year, and then skeptic of the year. This is always a fun segment.

R: I'm gonna put my coin down on Burzynski.

S: Burzynski is on my short list.

M: Yup, that's who I have.

S: Stanislaw Burzynski, for trying to intimidate science bloggers, who were criticizing him for being a cancer quack. For selling his chemotherapy, antineoplastons, as if it's some natural non-chemotherapy. And claiming to have, like, personalized chemotherapy regimen, you know, by doing genetic analysis. It's all just made-up crap.

R: Someone on the forums put their finger on it. They said "Burzynski deserves to have the Streisand effect renamed for him."

J: (laughs)

S: Yeah.

R: Which is the name for the effect that, you know, the more you try to keep something quiet, the more the internet will publicize it.

S: Right. Although that was named for Streisand before the internet, but. Some people—The flip side of this—at least one listener voted for the skeptical blogging community as skeptic of the year for having the backlash against Burzynski, and other similar episodes. When someone tries to suppress legitimate skeptical criticism by bullying or intimidation or threatening a lawsuit or calling somebody's... complaining to their internet service provider to get them shut down in some way, we decide, okay, now we're gonna magnify the criticism a hundred times, and criticize you further for being a bully. And that's worked every time and this was just the latest episode. It was awesome.

J: Yeah, you cannot do that on the internet. They have a clear lack of understanding and appreciation for how powerful the internet is and how willing people are to not play. They're not gonna do what you want, and that's it. You cannot hold information back.

S: Right. We have a network now. If someone says, hey—

R: We have a posse, is what Steve means.

S: We do. This guy's trying to shut me down, the word goes out, and within a day there's at least a dozen of the highest profile science blogs on the planet are now criticizing you. Good work.

B: I had to throw out—I mean, this guy didn't kill anybody and didn't take away anyone's medicine, but still, it really annoyed the crap out of me: Harold Camping.

J: Of course! That's my guy.

S: Oh, yeah.

E: He's on my list.

B: Because he turned the stupidest little thing, and the media blowup is what really surprised me. I mean, I drove every day by billboards. People are spending thousands of dollars just on a stupid billboard advertising this crap. And cars that had stickers and signs on them. And I saw it on the news like all the time and I read articles about it. It's like "oh my god, how is this getting such play? How are so many people focusing on this and wasting tens of—or more—tens of thousands of dollars on something—

S: He did destroy people's lives.

R: Yeah, and there are people who—

S: Maybe not their health, but—

R: —put down their pets, and, I mean, yeah, he caused an incredible amount of havoc in people's lives. He definitely deserves to be on the list.

J: Absolutely.

S: He's the loser of the year. I would definitely vote for him for loser of the year.

J: That was a very illuminating event, because, you know, I'm hearing people at work talk about it!

S: You mean, taking it seriously?

J: Yes.

S/E: Wow.

M: I have on my list for jackass of the year—I'm not sure exactly who it is, but it's the people who are putting those Italian scientists on, or geologists, I guess, on trial for manslaughter, for not predicting the earthquake[link needed].

E: Yeah.

R: Oh, yeah.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah, that was pathetic.

E: Ken Ring made my list, as well.

R: Yeah, good one. I heard from a few of our Australian listeners who are very—Australian/New Zealand listeners who are very thankful that we called out Ken Ring on his B.S. They were, kind of like the Burzynski thing, they were relieved to see other skeptics around the world pick up the story and criticize him for it.

S: All right, you guys haven't mentioned my number one yet.

E: Wakefield.

R: Kevin Trudeau? Should also be on there.

S: So, Kevin Trudeau; he's always on the list, but I picked him a few years ago. I picked Egnor as my nemesis one or two years ago. Who do you think—

R: Bennett, is it Bennett?

J: Oz.

E: Oz.

S: Oz. Mehmet Oz. My pick for this year as my anti-skeptical nemesis. The thing that really pushed him over the top was the arsenic and apple juice story[link needed] this year, where he—

J: That was horrible science.

S: —made a non-issue into a complete scare-mongering, ignoring the FDA and ignoring the government. Essentially saying "this is irresponsible reporting, you’re getting your facts wrong, here are the real facts." And they said, "Forget it, we're gonna do the story anyway. Screw the facts, this is gonna get us good ratings." Completing his journey to the dark side, essentially, with that piece. So he definitely wins for me this year.

E: And you got to confront him face-to-face on his show[link needed].

S: I did, and I have to—there's that too, and I have to sort of, he has to be my pick this year since I was on the Dr. Oz show, and did go in front of—toe-to-toe with him.

J: Well, how about Mabus, what's his name?

R: Oh, Mabus.

S: David Mabus.

E: Mabus, yeaaah. Pretty good, Jay.

S: That's interesting, yeah. So this is a guy who has been harassing skeptics online for years. He's sending us death threats, emails, tweets; getting multiple, multiple sockpuppets to leave comments. I mean, I actually had to change commenting policy on my blogs just for this guy. Seriously. Just to keep him from spamming our comment section. Finally, finally we were able to get the authorities to take action against him, and he was arrested!

R: Thanks mostly to Tim Farley.

S: Yeah.

E: Tim, yeah, good job Tim.

R: For getting that going.

J: He did good work on that.

R: Compiling every death threat that Mabus ever sent and then focusing on the police until they did something about it.

S: Those Canadian Mounties are hard to get motivated, I gotta tell ya.

R: Yeah. Yeah, and it was thanks to a couple of people in Canada who got threatened who were able to push the issue there.

S: Right.

E: You okay now, Mike?

M: I'm fine. (laughter) Thank you.

E: OK, good.

R: The sad thing is that recently he appears to have made a resurgence. Some people—

S: Really?

R: I saw a link to a forum where there were some Mabus-like rantings, and he has a very distinctive style that I think—

S: Yeah.

R: —would be difficult and pointless to emulate. So, it does sound like he's back out on the streets, but I have yet to receive a death threat, and I don't think he's—I think at this point he's keeping it to internet—obscure internet forums. So, hopefully it'll stay that way.

J: I thought he was in jail.

S: Yeah, but not forever. What do you think, that's a life sentence for harassing people on the internet? The guy's gonna get out—

R: Well, the hope wasn't that he would go to jail, but that he would get help.

S: Help. Right, he does sound like he needs help.

R: Apparently, he didn't get that.

Skeptic of the Year (30:49)[edit]

S: All right. Skeptic of the Year. So, the person I think got the most votes from our listeners was Christopher Hitchens. Which, you know, I think is a little bit biased because we'd just been focused on him and talking about him because he just recently died. But, somebody made a very good point. That, not just to honor him because he recently died, but he really worked tirelessly, right up until the very end. And that definitely deserves a mention and recognition.

E: He not only worked tirelessly to the end, but he defended his own personal position and his scope of the universe and everything—

S: His world view, yeah.

E: —and his own mortality, right. He did not change under the pressures of staring death right in the face.

S: No, in fact he used it as an opportunity to be even more outspoken and eloquent about, I think, the power of the materialist world view.

J: You know, I'm actually surprised at how emotional talking about Christopher Hitchens makes me. He definitely was not a personal friend of mine, by any stretch of the imagination or whatever, but... just his story and his success and how true he was and how strong he was has an effect on me.

S: Yeah.

J: And I definitely, he's definitely the skeptic of the year for me. He struggled the most and I think succeeded the most this year.

R: I'd probably mark him down as my atheist of the year. Skeptic of the year, though, I don't know; I got—I gotta go with another crowd favorite. I don't know if he's my number one, I haven't decided yet. But he's gotta be up there. It's Rhys Morgan.

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah, he made my list.

B: Yeah.

R: Like, to me he's almost, in a way, the opposite of choosing Christopher Hitchens. Because Rhys Morgan is—

B: Not dead.

R: —someone who's very young; who has his entire life ahead of him and yet he's displayed such amazing courage and conviction for his age. For any age, really. Like, he would be kicking ass if he was in his thirties, but the fact that he's very young makes it all the more impressive.

S: Yeah, I agree. He's definitely on my short list. And—that one feature is what strikes me the most is that he's just calmly fearless about confronting pseudoscience and nonsense. And like, as Christopher Hitchens said, don't be a spectator to nonsense or to evil and Rhys is living his life that way, so he definitely is on the short list.

E: At seventeen, I mean, jees, I wish I—I wish I was a fraction of what he is at seventeen when I was seventeen.

S: Yeah.

B: I was a putz when I was seventeen.


R: Oh, god, I was so stupid.

E: I don't even like thinking about what I was believing back then, it's just ridiculous. So.

J: Yeah, definitely.

E: Good choice, Rebecca.

J: He definitely has a high intelligence, and he's very well spoken, and he is successful. He's been doing a good job. He puts his mind to something and he gets somewhere with it. And that's definitely commendable.

M: I've got those two on my list. I also have you, Steve, on my list, for actually going on the Dr. Oz show.

R: Yeah.

M: And, you know, doing really well and not being editable, you know what I mean?

S: (with false modesty) I tried my best.

R: Yeah. Steve is on my short list for the exact same reason. Because oftentimes you see skeptics going into the lion's den, and actually just yesterday I saw a video of Paul Offit giving a fantastic talk, as he always does, but he was talking about how he would never go on Oprah, because he's like, you know, Oprah and Jenny McCarthy are the show, and you've got your hero and your victim and your villain, which part do you think you're gonna play if you're going on that show. So, you know, you don't go on a show just to be the villain; it's too difficult. And I think that for 99.9% of skeptics that's true. Like, I often see skeptics going on shows, and I'm just like, "what are you doing, this is not working!" You know, you're getting edited, all the shit—

J: It's easy to fail.

R: Yeah, but Steve, you did a fantastic job, going in there and—yeah, not giving them the opportunity to edit you poorly, and making the case for skepticism in a way that was relatable and easy to understand. You got in, you got out, you did a good job.

B: And guys, do you remember talking—I remember we talked about this before he went on. And we seriously brought up the idea, or maybe it was through email, like well, you know maybe he shouldn't go because you know what they could do—

R: Oh, I was totally against it.

B: Yeah.

R: (laughs) I was very much against it.

B: (laughs)

E: Not me, I wish I could have gone.

S: Well, I think I benefited a little bit from low expectations. You know, I think that there was so much fear about how horrible it was gonna be, that all I had to do was survive. And I think I managed to survive, so.

B: Yeah, and not spew flames out of your mouth.

S: Not to vomit on the stage and have my head turn around 360 degrees.

J: Steve, I definitely think that you're more—you know, you're definitely more resilient now than you've ever been. Your chops are very well rehearsed and you know the material and you know how to talk. That's very important. You've definitely learned how not to give them sound bits and things that they can turn around and, you know, with them using their weasel words and everything. The fact that you dodged the editing—

R: Sound bits.

J: The fact that you dodged the editing to me was a miracle.

B: Well Jay, don't forget though, it was a mistake on their part as well. As awesome as Steve did, they didn't film him long enough to give themselves any wiggle room, which I think, I'm sure in hindsight they were like, "damn, we should have padded this out a bit because—"

R: Put a camera in the green room, something.

B: He gave us nothing to work with; I mean the best that they could possibly do was have these pictures of Steve nodding to questions that you think he was nodding in answer to when he really wasn't; that's like the best that they could have done. They really should have padded it out to give themselves options, but that—I don't think that they knew what they were dealing with.

E: But I think that's why the gal was on there, too. Right? It was really a three-way conversation—

S: Yeah. She was terrible.

E: So they did have those kinds of options, and yeah, she was... she was nonexistent as far as I was concerned.

S: She was vacuous.

J: You know, the thing I loved about that whole event was... it's like, when it ended, I'm like, "He did it!" You know, it was like "Whoa! It came out so good! Holy shit!" (laughter) And then everyone—

B: High five!

J: You know, we're getting tons of emails, and everyone saw it, and everyone partook in that event, and it was definitely a galvanizing moment, I think, for the skeptical community.

M: And now to my mom you're known as "my friend who was on the Dr. Oz show." (laughter) Even tonight I was talking to my mom and I was like, "I'm gonna be recording an episode of that show." And she's like, "Oh, with your friend who was on the Dr. Oz show."


M: Yes, with him.

(several people talking at once)

S: It's sad, though, it's sad that that's like a claim to fame. It's terrible.

R: Well, that's what our culture values. That's why you went on, you know.

S: Well, yeah, obviously.

B: How many millions of people saw that?

S: No, obviously, that's what it was about. It was an opportunity that could not—

B: I mean, that's huge penetration.

S: That's ultimately what we decided. The risks were huge but it was just an opportunity we couldn't pass up.

J: Yup.

B: Yup.

E: Not just viewers of the show; I mean, this is the Oprah crowd that tunes into that show, specifically.

B: Yeah.

E: Right? It's not like you had a random sample of people, you know; you had this very defined set of people that watch shows like that.

S: Yeah.

E: So it was, it was really going in front of a—almost an angry mob, in a sense.

B: You could have had a real impact where they actually started thinking about what you were saying, and actually did some research and possibly even changed their minds. That's just how powerful it can be when you've got an audience that incredibly huge.

J: Bob, you're referring to the sleepers out there, right? The people that don't know it but they actually are intelligent and can, you know...

E: The one percent of that crowd, probably, yeah.

B: Yeah.

E: Probably about one percent. But still all right, that translates into thousands—

S: I did hear from some people that like Dr. Oz, watch the Dr. Oz show, but say, "Yeah, but when he goes off on that alternative medicine stuff, I don't really buy it."

R: Yeah, that's what I was about to point out. I mean, I hate talking about people as though they're these "others" that are just too stupid to live. Like, they're... it's a huge audience, and these people watch because, you know, he's likable, because he's already famous, so—or just because it's on.

S: A lot of the segments are fine.

R: There are tons of people out there who—

S: A lot of the segments are just straight-up information about health-related issues. It's—it really is only when he delves into these other issues that he screws up.

R: He comes across like a doctor, so you can't really blame them for thinking that the things he's saying are all truthful. So it's good to have somebody go on and be like "Actually, that's not quite right."

S: Yeah.

R: Because, yeah, these people aren't unable to think critically—

E: No.

R: —they're just, they just need somebody to—

J: Yeah, that's why I called, I called them "sleepers" because they actually can and will respond to intelligent thinking; it's just they don't hear it. They don't have—you know, they're not there; they're not dialing in.

R: Yeah, I guess I'm just saying I think it's more than one percent. I think everybody in that audience has the ability to think critically.

E: They definitely do, but I don't know if they have the ability, Rebecca, to determine what's alternative medicine and what's not, and that's where Oz is really, really bad, and why he's kind of an enemy of our community. It's 'cause he blurs those lines.

S: He's blurring the lines in a very dangerous way. Absolutely.

R: Yeah. I agree.

Best Science News Stories of the Year (40:32)[edit]

S: Well, let's move on to the best science news stories of the year. There's one—I mean, I have to say, there's just one news story that everyone is choosing as their favorite news story. It's the number one science news story from Discover magazine; all of our listeners are picking it and that is (Steve take a deep breath):

B: The neutrino, probably.

S: The faster-than-light neutrinos.

E: Impossible!

S: Impossible. It is—I definitely think, the most interesting science news story of the year. Whether it ultimately turns out to be true or not. If it's true, neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light, the revisions that will require to relativity is mind-boggling. And if it's not true; if it's some error or anomaly, that's gonna really interesting, too. Just figuring out why this measurement is coming out the way it is. So, I agree. I think that should be—that's the most exciting, interesting news story of the year.

R: Yup.

B: I don't know.

E: (laughs) Bob's unimpressed.

B: I just couldn't get past the idea that it's—the overwhelming likelihood is that it's not going faster than the speed of light. I mean, yeah, I came across it many times as well, but that's why I couldn't put it really near the top of my list. The couple things that I had were the—the end of the shuttle. The era of the shuttle—

S: Yeah.

E: Yup, that's on my list.

B: It was over this year. And to me that was a really big science story. It was such an incredible run they had, such an amazing adventure with the shuttle and it was really sad to see it go. And I was so happy that I was able to see—actually see a naked-eye launch. I wasn't naked, but, you know, I saw it with my own eyes.

R: You wish you were—

S: Whose eyes would you see it with? As Randi likes to say.

E: And Bob, you were naked, you just had clothes over it at the time.

B: Oh. Okay.

E: Always naked all the time, by the way.

B: So, to me that was really big. The other big thing for me was the Higgs. They haven't really conclusively found it yet, but it's looking damn good. It popped up in the news over and over and over throughout the year, and I think—well, I won't make my prediction for 2012 now, but I think we're gonna see some great things about Higgs in the very near future. And the other thing—I wasn't sure how to handle this one. I thought this is more of an event, a news story, that had lots of good science in it and that was the earthquake and tsunami devastation of Japan.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of unique.

S: Kind of unique?

E: (laughs)

B: —In that it's not like a scientific discovery or an experiment, but it was still this event that had lots of science involved in it. It was devastating. I'm just kind of surprised we're not reading more about it, still.

R: For the Higgs thing, I don't think that counts as science news of the year yet. Because there's really no news yet. The news is that there will be news.

S: Yes. That the news is upcoming.

R: I think that—

S: I agree.

R: I think next year, yeah.

S: Probably next year or the year after is gonna be the year of the Higgs. But it's just—we're anticipating it. It's coming.

B: And they're really backing it into a corner. I mean, they're just whittling away at all these different energies that it can—now they know, it cannot be here, and it cannot be here. So if it exists, it's gotta be in this little tiny space. And, I mean, yeah, it's not gonna be as amazing and awesome as when they finally say, "yup, we're at sigma 5, and it's a one-in-a-million chance that this is just background noise." Yeah, that's gonna be an amazing event and I guess I'll vote for that next year, if it happens next year.

S: Bob, enough about the Higgs! All right. My short list also includes just all of the Kepler discovery of exoplanets.

E: You took mine.

J: Yeah, I'm totally with you on that, Steve.

S: It just—here's the update. Just since our last—

B: Just today!

S: Just today, two more planets just about exactly Earth's size. But they are too close to their star. They're like really really close; they're too hot to have life. They're not in the Goldilocks zone. But yeah, there're two Earth size... So the technology's capable of discovering Earth-size planets, capable of finding them far enough away from the star to be—to have liquid water, to be in the life zone. And, you know, god, we're getting close. We're zeroing in on one planet that has all of those, all of the features that would make it truly a twin to the Earth. Not quite, quite there but we're getting so much—we're getting so close. I think next year, it's going to be very very likely. But now I'm hearing rumors that NASA's considering cutting short the budget for Kepler. What kind of craziness is that? That's crazy! That's the most—

J: Limited money and they have a lot of things—

S: Come on, that is the most newsworthy, exciting thing NASA's doing. And they're gonna cut it?

E: Since Hubble, really.

J: I'm not arguing with you, Steve; I'm just giving you some of their problems.

B: I don't know, Steve. I don't think that's really worthy of a news item. I mean, they're really close to discovering this hypothetical twin to Earth that's got all these factors that match the Earth, but, they're getting real close, but they're not quite there yet. I mean, maybe next year we can make that your number one.


J: Steve, I picked that item as well.

S: Yes?

J: The main reason is, of all the items we've talked about this year, and all the news items I've read that didn't make it to the show, that was the one that actually made me sit in my chair with my hands off my keyboard and think. Because, I just went on this wild tangent about, okay, now we find these planets, and then, you know, we're gonna find planets eventually, especially within the next ten years, with better equipment out in space, and the ability to really get an idea of what state those planets are in right now. We're gonna find planets that are going to be populated by people. And then I started thinking about, "well, what's that gonna be like? When is that gonna take place? How far in the future is that gonna be?"

S: Using the word "people" very loosely, to mean intelligent beings.

J: No, I mean humans.

R: Humans. In the future, you mean. Humans could go there and populate—

S: Oh, in the future.

J: In the future, yeah.

E: Ah, that, that whole thing.

S: Yeah.

J: Yeah, then I'm like, I went on that whole story in my head. Like, okay, you know, there are gonna be pioneers that are gonna wanna go out there and they might be on generation ships, and then they're gonna get there and they're gonna... you know, it's fascinating.

S: Yeah.

J: And it's going to happen!

S: They're gonna spend thousands and thousands of years to get there, multiple generations, only to find they don't like it there.

R: It's boring.

S: Nah, let's go back.


E: Isn't Kepler like the little engine that could, though, as far as satellites go?

S: Oh, yeah, Yeah, yeah.

E: 2,326 planet candidates that it's discovered in two years. The better part of two, two-and-a-half years.

S: It's everything we hoped it would be, and more.

R: I wanna throw in a nomination for tech news of the year.

S: Oh, you're gonna steal mine.

J: (laughs)

R: Maybe I'm not.

S: Go ahead.

R: I bet I'm not.

B: Steal it, Rebecca.

R: I was specifically going for one that might not be mentioned because of its relative banality. But, driverless cars. I think the news of Google putting driverless cars on the street was really awesome, and is one of those small yet huge leaps that we, as humans, are taking into the future.

S: Yup. That wasn't my one, but I agree that that's good. All right, so I had a tech one; that's why I thought you might steal it. My tech one is the no-focus camera. Are you guys familiar with this?

R: Oh! Did we talk about that though?

S: No, we didn't; we did not talk about it; this is a camera—

E: How did we miss that?

B: Steve, is this the one that after you take the picture you actually can focus in on whatever you want to focus in on?

S: Yes, the Lytro.

R: That was pretty great.

S: Yeah, so it splits the light up and stores so much information, and then—so essentially, it's like focusing it everywhere at the same time. So then you could look and you could change what part of the picture you want to focus on after you've taken the picture. So you just point, snap, and then you decide how to focus it. It's awesome. And it's different from the software that focuses blurry images, which, I think, goes right along with this.

R: Yeah, which is also awesome.

S: Which is also awesome, but completely different than this technology. This is the camera, and that's the software.

R: Enhance!.

S: I know, it's actually that stuff we've laughed at for being nonsense for years, for being a TV thing that's not real. And now it, yeah, it's real.

R: It breaks my heart that our great-great-grandchildren will look back on those CSI episodes and not realize how ridiculous they are.


B: Steve.

E: Another story I think we missed—Steve, do you have your Discover magazine?

S: Yeah.

E: Top 100 stories? Story number 59, "The Mismeasure of Stephen Jay Gould"[9].

S: Yes. I didn't miss that; I read all about it when it happened, 'cause, you know, Stephen Jay Gould is one of my intellectual heroes. I read The Mismeasure of Man. A very interesting story.

E: Stephen Gould launched a famous assault on Samuel Morton, who was a 19th century anthropologist. And Morton measured the skull sizes of Caucasians and it was controversial because they said Caucasians had larger skulls than other races and therefore they were more intelligent. And Gould took him to task, basically, on that, talking about his bad techniques. He got the math wrong, he excluded evidence, and all this stuff. But Morton's errors had favored his—Gould said Morton's errors had favored his bias, boosting whites, or cheating blacks, but this past year a team of scientists turned the tables on Gould showing that the true errors were that of Gould's.

S: Yeah, that Morton actually—that the errors, if anything, went in the opposite direction, against his bias. And in fact, Gould made choices about how to—which data to include when he was re-analyzing Morton's data, he actually had a lot of bias in how he was examining the data. So it was—a complete flip-flop. Not that it necessarily invalidates all the points that Gould was making in the book, but in fact it's ironic that in writing the book he presented yet another example of how our pre-conceived notions and our desires can subtly bias how we look at data, but in a profound way that actually alters the outcome.

R: Read around the time that that came out, I read several criticisms of that study as well, so I'm not totally—and it's been too long; I don't remember, unfortunately. I can't speak to it, but—

S: May not be the final word?

R: Yeah.

S: Well, it's good. This kind of exchange—you know, no one is exempt from this kind of analysis or criticism. In the end, the data is the data, and that's what we should focus on. And we do have to—this is the messy process of science that beats out these biases and how we get to the real answer. It's actually a good story; it's disappointing at first when you hear about it, then you think, okay, yeah, but this is science, this is how it works.

In Memoriam (52:02)[edit]

S: Let's go on to the 2011 In Memoriam, where we mention the names of famous scientists or just people that intersect the kind of topics that we deal with who passed away this—in 2011. Of course, Christopher Hitchens is on the list; we talked about him already. There's a few other names that I had on the list of people that I would like to just mention: Andy Rooney, who I think was a very sharp wit, died this year. Steve Jobs, of course. Peter Falk.

J: Oh, yeah, Peter Falk.

S: Peter Falk, because Columbo; I mean, Columbo was the quintessential unassuming, sort of, critical-thinking detective. "Ah, just one more thing." You know, he'd turn around at the end and then he would, like, totally eviscerate the guy. And he'd like, it'd take him like two seconds to figure out who did it, and then he would spend the rest of the episode tricking them into revealing themselves. It's a fun show, if you've never seen it.

M: Sounds like The Mentalist.

S: The Mentalist. It is The Mentalist. The Mentalist essentially is a rehash of Columbo. It started out being about a mentalist who was working for the California Bureau of Investigation, using mentalism.

R: So, yeah, it started out as being a ripoff of Psych.

S: Yes. And then it turned into a ripoff of Columbo.


R: Okay. Good to know.

S: I also had Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Kevorkian.

R: Oh, yeah.

J: When did he die?

S: He died this year. For bringing to the forefront like no one else, to the point where his name became synonomous with doctor-assisted suicide. He brought the issue to the forefront for discussion, for debate. That's always a good thing. And—

M: It's a big issue right now.

S: We also—we talked about on the show[link needed], Jack LaLanne. He died earlier in the year.

E: Jack LaLanne tried escaping it as long as he could.

S: Yeah, he got it right. Exercise, eat and right exercise regularly. And he lived a long, vibrant, physically healthy life. Anecdotal, but pretty good, pretty powerful anecdote. Do you guys have anybody you want to add to the list?

E: Dr. Lynn Margulis.

R: Oh, yeah.

S: Oh, Dr. Margulis, how could I forget Dr. Margulis? Good one.

E: Yeah. Biologist. Proposed the theory of symbiogenesis.

R: Also proposed numerous theories on 9/11 and HIV that were not well taken by the skeptical community.

S: Right.

R: She did a blog tour a few years ago when a book of hers came out and she very kindly stopped by Skepchic to answer some questions and it was not an easy time for her. Because people were acknowledging her contributions to science while still taking her to task for certain controversial statements she had made. And she, I think pretty gamely, attempted to answer them all.

E: Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who did work on the Hepatitis B vaccine and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976 for his research into infectious viral disease.

R: There's also the Nobel Prize winner who died this year, didn't he...?

E: Oh, they awarded posthumously.

S: Just barely, yeah, barely. It was technically—the Nobel Committee had to say it was—that they made the decision before he died, so it wasn't posthumous.

R: Steinman Dr. Ralph Steinman.

Best of Who's That Noisy? (55:42)[edit]

S: Well, Evan, we're not gonna do a Who's That Noisy this week, but one of the "Best of" categories was the Best of Who's That Noisy. So, do you have a couple of favorites you wanna replay?

E: Yeah, a couple of favorites I'll replay for you and we'll talk a little bit about each one, all right?

S: Yep.

E: Here we go, here's one of 'em.

(sounds like a distressed, squawking animal)

E: You guys remember that?

R: Oh, god. That wasn't the sad beaver, was it?

E: No. It was not the sad beaver.


E: That was in 2010, thank you very much. That's way in the past.

R: Okay, good.

S: That was the sad squirrel.


E: That was the sad watermelon, fermenting and hissing and spitting and making all kinds of unnatural noises.

S: That was a watermelon! The screaming watermelon.

J: Oh, yeah.

E: The screaming watermelon. You guys remember it?

S: That was the—that's—I agree, that was the most shocking Who's That Noisy.

E: It was one of 'em.

S: —of this year. It was good. The screaming watermelon.

R: Makes me sad.


R: Not as sad as the beaver, but makes me never wanna have fruit.

E: All right. Here's another one. This one's, I think, one of the prettiest ones of the year. Here we go.

(metallic or glass tinkling sounds)

J: That's my favorite one.

E: The screw being dropped down the turbine.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah, that was number one on my list.

S: I like that.

B: I love that.

E: As one listener described it, "If you're an engineer working on engines, that's the most horrific noise you can hear."


E: Gosh, could you imagine? I guess it's... the equivalent of what? Being a surgeon and leaving a tool in the body or something?

S: Yeah, having the count off. Well, Evan, since you're cueing up sounds, listener Jason Ferber, if you remember last year, he sent a mash-up of Jay expressing disbelief about Science or Fiction items, especially ones that turned out to be true.

J: I loved that.

S: This year he did a different mash-up, which he's calling "Steve Calls It." Can you play that?

(tape of Steve quotes all run together)

It smells so much like crap it's not even worth a second look... Utter pile of crap... If you do some experiments like this and you conclude that we are seeing into the future, you're a crank... So seriously mentally ill they're just barely able to use the internet... You can't think about it for more than two seconds without seeing how ridiculous it is... So yeah, this is a con job... In fact, astrology is a total unmitigated load of pseudo-scientific crap... The positive studies are all crap... This study is complete and utter crap... Because intuition is magic that you pull out of thin air, like "Oh, it's squiggly."... Yeah, it's Spain. There are Roman ruins all over the place... You're gonna try to defend it with science, and you're scientifically illiterate... I mean, this is on the point of being delusional... Because if you can't do that then your claim's BS... This is the guy who absolutely sold his soul to become a media whore... It's all his tortured apologist logic... They're selling magic amulets and making millions. How cynical must these people be?... This is all bullshit though... Total, total BS... It's all made-up BS anyway... He's a jackass... It basically is a quackfest... But then in CAM-world, all bets are off; it's Bizarro World of research and evidence and logic; it's totally insane... The reliable way to generate a bizarre experience is to make your brain not function properly... Science works, bitches!... Holy crap, Batman!... Oscillococcinum doesn't even exist... At the end of the day they're using all the same old pseudo-scientific crap... Yeah, total crap... He's awesomely cranky... It's a crappy model... Homeopathy is impossible, is absurd, is unscientific, and the evidence in fact shows that it doesn't work... Wrong and wrong... Clearly off the deep end on this one... This is real science; this is fake science... I am a hopeless fraud... The whole paper is just so ridiculous... BS!... It's the same malarkey... This guy is a psychopath... Ooh, that's weird—it's a ghost! Or it's a UFO.

S: So I don't know where people get this idea from that I'm critical.


R: Tell us how you really feel, Steve.

B: That was great.

R: I like the one of Steve saying that he's full of—that he's a total fraud.

S: Yeah.

R: That's my favorite one, and I'm going to use that against him in the future.

S: Right, out of context.

R: Um hmm.

S: The mash-ups are funny, yeah.

R: Yeah, who sent that in? What was his name again?

S: Jason Ferber.

R: Jason. Jason, you're amazing. Keep up the great work.

E: You did a great job, Jason.

B: That's a lot of work.

E: Very nice.

S: Yeah, you've gotta target somebody else next year. So you did Jay last year, me this year. Someone else is gonna be on the—he's gonna have to—

B: Rebecca's next.

E: I'll plan on making a series outrageous comments.

R: There you go.

(a lot of talking and laughter at once)

J: Yeah, right? Just to get him so he makes a mash-up?

E: Exactly.

Science or Fiction (1:00:43)[edit]

S: All right, well let's go on to Science or Fiction.

(theme music. Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.)

S: Each week, even on the last show of the year, I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine, one fictitious. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Now—but first, this year, Mike, you're gonna give us the Science or Fiction stats so far this year.

J: Oh, god.

M: (laughs) Are you guys ready for this?

E: Uhhh

J: Definitely my worst year of all time.

M: (laughs) Actually, yeah.


E: I think I had a bad year too, though.

M: So, 2011, Science or Fiction—

B: We all did except Rebecca.

R: I was thinking I had a bad year, too. I don't know.

M: Nope, Rebecca, you got 71.7%.

R: Oh?

E: That's a nice percentage, Rebecca.

R: I'll take that.

M: It's a good number. Bob, you had 64.6.

R: So a distant second is what you would call that, right?

M: Yes. In fact, last year Bob had 74.5, so...

B: Well, let's see how distant these other ones are, shall we?

E: Ooooo. A ten percent drop!

B: Who?

M: You did. So, and then Jay.

B: Yeah, it was pathetic.

M: Jay has 45.8%.

J: Ohhhh, my god!

S: Better than random guessing.

R: Still better than chance.

M: Compared to last year's 59.6.

J: Horrible year.

M: And Evan has 44%.

E: Yeah, I think that was my worst year.

M: Yeah, it was anybody's worst year, really. And—

B: Rebecca, great job!

R: Thank you.

M: And Steve has 80%, so.

E: Yeah! Four out of five!

S: Thank you.

M: Yup, four out of five. Good job, Steve. The amount of times everybody won was four times. And the amount of times that there was a clean sweep was also four times.

S: Pretty good, pretty balanced.

E: That's all right. Cut those ends off

R: Take that.

M: And that's that.

S: All right. Well, here's your final chance at getting your percentages up a little bit in 2011.

R: Pressure's off for me. You know what, this is like, this is senior year.

S: This is your victory lap.

R: I already got accepted.

J: Victory lap. Let's get this frickin' year over with. Finally.

E: So Rebecca's going first? I like it.

S: So, this is what I did for this year. I took three science stories that we talked about on the show earlier in the year. So we'll see if you remember these stories, of course one altered to be false, from earlier in the year.

R: I win these because I can hold information in my head for a week.


R: A week! Tops!

S: Okay, here we go. Item number one: While the other shuttles will end their days in various museums now that the shuttle program is over, NASA plans to dismantle the shuttle Endeavour to study the effects of space travel on its components. Item number two: Japan's space agency has joined forces with a fishing company to build a giant net several kilometers in size to collect debris littering space. And item number three: New research shows that genetically modified cells can be made to communicate with each other as if they were electronic circuits. Mike, you get to go first.

M: Item number one, I think I heard other plans for the Endeavour, so I'm gonna go with that one being fiction.

S: That's it? (inaudible) comment on two or three?

M: That's all I've got; that's all I'm saying.

S: Short and sweet? All right, Bob?

E: Brevity there.

B: Let's see. All right, then I'll start with three. Modified cells communicate as if they were electronic circuits. Oh, reminds me of a Next Generation episode. God, I really don't remember a lot about this, it's so fuzzy. How far back in the year did you go? January first?

S: November.

E: But no further than that.

B: That one's a little suspect. Something's not rubbing me right on that one. That was a weird expression.

R: Yeah.


S: It's right up there with Bob touching wood... in his dreams.


J: That was a good moment. All right, so anyway, Bob, can this last—

R: Can we go back and talk about some of our favorite moments? 'Cause that's probably...

J: Bob, short and sweet. Come on, end the year strong.

B: Okay. The space agency and the fishing company, yeah, that sounds, that sounds—

E: Fishy.

B: —somewhat ridiculous, but, fishy, nice. But I'll go with that one. And the—see, the thing is, I thought that with the shuttle that the shuttles were dismantled, every one of them is pretty much taken apart and put back together and studied. So, why would they need to specify one specific shuttle? Maybe, I guess possibly for long-term study. But I think they really took apart every shuttle anyway. And took lots of parts with it. So I'm gonna say that one's fiction. Done.

S: Okay. Jay.

J: I'm going to pick the Endeavour one as the fake.

E: You're just trying to one-up Mike, aren't you, Jay?

B: Jay, mull it over.

S: All right. Evan?

E: I recall all of these to a certain degree. How's that? Japan and the fishing company and the net. Yeah, Bob, I think you reported on that if I'm not mistaken.

B: I thought Jay did.

E: It's definitely a Bob—No, I thought you did. Could have sworn you did. Well, I guess we'll find out soon enough. And I'm pretty sure that that one remained intact. Steve did not tinker with that one. The genetically modified cells one, I also seem to recall that as written here, as I'm reading it right now. And with the, with the shuttle, I recall us talking about it. I know we talked about—did we talk about the four cities? The three cities where they were going? I know Houston's upset they didn't get one, but New York is getting one, or parts of one; they're getting the fuselage of one or something to that effect. I don't recall talking about plans to dismantle the thing as part of that specific item we covered, so that's the one that's fiction.

S: Okay. And Rebecca.

R: I'll be honest, I was gonna go with the space net because I don't remember that at all. But, everybody sounds so sure of themselves, so...


E: And you have nothing to lose!

R: So, I'm gonna G.W.E. on this one, and go with everybody and say—

B: Our plan worked, guys! (laughter)

R: Yeah, this was all just an elaborate trap—

B: We're all wrong!

R: —to get me to choose the wrong one.

E: It's a trap!

S: Okay. So you all go with number one. So we'll go in reverse order, then. New research shows that genetically modified cells can be made to communicate with each other as if they were electronic circuits. That one... is... science.

R: Hooray.

S: Yes, we did in fact talk about that one. And this—the news item is talking about the plausibility of building biological computers. Building a computer out of cells, essentially, that are acting like circuits. So that one is true. We'll go to number two. Japan's space agency has joined forces with a fishing company to build a giant net several kilometers in size to collect debris littering space. You all think that one is science. And that one is... science! Good job, everyone.

J: Yeah, how could you guys not distinctly remember that? It's—

E: Jay, did you report on it, or did Bob?

J: Yeah. No, I did.

E: All right.

J: Yeah, you remember that they were gonna make a net and they were gonna go out and basically capture space debris.

E: Yeah. Uh huh.

J: And what'll happen is that net will...

S: Jay, they're not gonna basically capture space debris, they're gonna actually capture space debris.

J: They're gonna actually capture space debris—

R: Well, that is the "basic" of it.

J: I'm saying in simple terms, Steve, so Rebecca understands.

R: Oh, thank you.

J: Then what happens is that bag of space debris will go into the atmosphere and it'll just... it'll burn up.

S: Okay. Which means that "While the other shuttles will end their days in various museums now that the shuttle program is over, NASA plans to dismantle the shuttle Endeavour to study the effect of space travel on its components" is complete and utter fiction. The fate of the shuttles is: Enterprise is going to the Air and Space Museum [sic] in New York City, Discovery will end up at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the Endeavour

J: Shantyville!

S: Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and Atlantis will be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

M: Isn't the Endeavour going to some Canadian museum?

S: As of when we talked about this story, it was—the decision was that it's going to the California Science Space Center.

M: Oh, no, it's the arm[10].

S: (laughs) Just the arm.

M: The Canada arm is coming—

S: Just the arm but not the whole shuttle?

R: We were all fooled by Mike's confidence. Mike's false bravado.

E: Talk about getting the crumbs.

R: He led us to the right decision for the wrong reason.

E: "What do we do with this scrap arm that doesn't work anymore? Ah, Send it to the Canadians."

R: We'll get the Steven Colbert Memorial treadmill.

B: That was an amazing device!

S: It was.

M: Yes it was.

B: Just sayin'.

M: Also a Canadian.

S: All right, well, glad you guys all ended on a positive note.

E: Yay, I'm up to like 45 or—

M: 45.1 now, Evan. Bob's at 63, Jay's at 46.9, Rebecca's at 75—

S: Still all less than 80%, thank you.

B: Excellent.

R: It's pretty embarrassing for you, Steve.

E: No, Mike's a thousand percent.

S: Is this your only Science or Fiction this year, Mike?

M: It's the only time I was invited on the show, so—

S: Yeah. (scoffs)

M: (laughs)

S: Can you whine a little more when you say that?

M: (sounding like he's crying) This is the only time, Steve.

R: You know what, Mike, you don't run the SGU Fansite anymore.

M: Yeah, I'm not important anymore.

R: Yeah. Sorry, man.

SGU Statistics (1:10:47)[edit]

S: Okay. So before we go on to talk about some of the best skeptical quotes of the year, let's do some SGU stats. So, all-time downloads. How many times has the SGU, all episodes, all-time, been downloaded?

B: 32 million.

E: No. 23 million.

S: 26,843,356.

E: Ooo.

B: Wow. We're clogging the internet.

S: We're running about 150 to 175,000 downloads per week. Our per-episode downloads is averaging about 90,000. What do you think is the single most downloaded episode?

E: The Joshie one.

R: The Joshie one, I think was—

(others also talking in background)

S: Episode 293. February 26, 2011, interview with Joshie Berger; 110,000 downloads for that episode. Number two, though, is only at—is at 103,000, only, it's just a little bit behind it. That's episode—aired on—we recorded it on 5/31/2011, and that featured an interview with Jamie Bernstein. Which was also a popular interview.

B: Oh, wow.

R: Jamie, who works for Women Thinking Free Foundation.

S: Yeah.

R: Who infiltrated a—an anti-vaccination conference—

S: It was a good episode.

R: —and got kicked out. Yeah, yeah. We have to break six figures for our per-episode download, next year.

S: Yeah.

R: So, everybody who's listening has to go out and tell their friends.

E: Yeah, spam your friends. Come on.

S: Well we keep—we keep going up. So, taking the lowest number, which is just like the per-episode download, we're at 90K. You know, it varies. Takes a few weeks to get up to that point, and each episode varies a little bit, but that's about the average where we're getting to. It would be awfully nice if we could just like officially fully break the 100K barrier.

R: It'd be awfully nice.

S: Awfully nice.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:12:44)[edit]

S: Okay. So, Jay, we're going to talk about—you're gonna give us a quote of the week, but also we're gonna just talk about great quotes, skeptical quotes, this year.

M: Okay, I have a worst quote of the year, can I do that?

J: Sure.

E: Oh, gosh.

R: Was it fnnnrrrrrrrrrrrrr?


J: Noooooooooooooooooooo.

M: This is the quote: "Guys, we should do a 24-hour podcast."


J: Thank you.

M: One week before Jay gets married.

J: You're obviously paying attention.

S: Also me.

E: Here's mine. All right, I wanna give mine before someone else jumps on this: "Homeopathy is the idea that we just cured the world of terrorism by dumping Osama's corpse in the ocean."

J: Oh, yeah, that was a good one.

E: Shawn McFly.

S: That was a good quote.

B: I came across a quote that Jay quoted himself earlier this year and it just grabbed my— really caught my attention. I thought it was a great quote. This from Carl Sagan, and he said, "Microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death."

S: Well, I was gonna come up with another quote, but then I took an arrow to the knee, so I couldn't—


R: Steve, no. Bad!

E: I'm looking this up, because I couldn't...

J: (laughing)

E: "took an arrow to the knee."

J: All right, this is a quote sent in by Ulrich Fisher from Surrey, B.C., Canada. And this is actually a quote written by Thomas Henry Huxley.

To a clear eye, the smallest fact is a window through which the infinite may be seen.

A biologist and writer of some note. (Shouts) Thomas Huxley!

B: (laughs)

S: T.H. Huxley is one of my favorite historical intellectuals. Well, guys, thanks for joining me this week and this whole year. It's been a lot of fun. 2011's been a good year. What are your hopes for next year?

R: Uhhhhhhhhhhh

M: To be invited to the show again.

E: World peace.

S: Mike wants to be invited back on the show. We'll see, Mike.

M: (laughing) Okay.

J: When you say "hopes" what are you talking about, Steve? Like just in general or—

S: For skepticism, for the SGU, for yourself.

R: More live shows.

S: I think maybe we might be able to pull off another live show or two. Probably not 24 hours.

M: Noooo.

R: No, I didn't say, don't put words in my mouth, Steve.

S: I'm not, I'm just clarifying.

R: Shut up!


R: (calmly) I would like more live shows on. And that includes at conferences and stuff.

S: Yeah, well we have—there's four conferences next year that we'll—probably we'll participate in in some way, one way or the other. There's NECSS of course, coming up in April. TAM, TAM 10 in July. Then Dragon*Con, in... Labor Day. And then, CSICon is planning on having another conference next year as well. So, a proliferation of skeptical conferences. Which is a good thing.

J: I plan on making, hopefully, at least three SGU videos next year.

S: I hope you do; I'd like to do three with you as well. I think that they—they're a ton of work; a lot more work than audio. But, they're fun to produce. And if you haven't seen the videos yet, actually, not many of our listeners have actually seen the videos on YouTube. Go to YouTube, look up the SGU channel. The latest one on there is True Fellas, which is a skeptical take on the movie "Goodfellas." I think it's pretty funny, so I think you'll enjoy watching it.

M: And you should subscribe to the channel and "like" the video.

J: Okay, so you can just go to

S: And thanks to all of our listeners, for listening to us throughout the year, for being so supportive. For being present at the live shows, for those of you who go, participating on the Forums, sending us emails. Just doing everything to make the SGU what it is and keep it a lively endeavor.

E: Hear, hear. Listeners are awesome.

S: We do have awesome listeners, I have to say.

E: We definitely do.

J: And Steve, we can't forget to thank you. I mean, you do the lion's share of the work. And—

E: Oh, yes.

J: Which includes doing all the post-production on the show, which, you know, can be anywhere from four to six hours a week. Not to mention the four blogs that you write and all of the other stuff that you do that a lot of people don't even know about like...

E: Right.

S: Before we totally end the show, I do wanna say, that you, of all the other people working on the show, you've stepped up the amount of work that you do. We joked about you like almost destroying your marriage and everything. But seriously, you did a crapload of work this year, on the 24-hour show, on the videos, and behind the scenes. There was a time when Jay and I would have like an hour-long conversation every single morning for weeks, like prepping for the 24-hour show.

E: Leading up to that show.

S: Yeah. So, thank you, Jay, for dramatically increasing the amount of work you did this year.

R: Yeah, well done.

E: Great job, Jay.

J: My mispleasure.

S: (laughs) And thanks to all of you for joining me.

E: Thanks, doc, thanks Rebecca, thanks Bob, thank you Mike, thank you all.

S: Thank you, John Boy. And until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

Voiceover: 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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