SGU Episode 340

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SGU Episode 340
21st January 2012
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 339                      SGU 341

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


ES: Eugenie Scott

Quote of the Week

As I look back on nearly half a century of research, I am struck by the fact that my life in science has never proceeded along a straight line toward a goal, but in a series of steps in different and unexpected directions. It reminds me of the walks I loved to take in Paris- not journeys toward a particular goal, but random strolls that were directed, at each corner, by the curious or beautiful that appeared down one street or the other. I think it’s a good way to explore and a great way to live."

K. E. van Holde

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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, January 18, 2012, 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: Good evening. Bob, it's good to have you back.

B: (hesitantly) It's kinda nice to be back.

S: Kinda nice.

R: How was Disney World?

B: Disney, the Magic Kingdom was awesome. I've gone so many times, I'm never tired of it. Three times, Pirates of the Caribbean, and we hit Haunted Mansion twice.

E: Bob, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, they now wave to you instead of you waving to them.

J: Yeah, right?

B: Yeah, they like me.

E: Hey, Bob!

R: (drawn out) Bob!

J: (in a deep voice) Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!

B: (laughing) Jay.

J: I love that.

This Day in Skepticism (0:55)[edit]

S: Well, welcome back. Rebecca, tell us about this day in skepticism.

R: I would love to, Steve. I was originally going to talk about how on January 21st, 1799 Edward Jenner's smallpox vaccination was introduced. However, we talk about that all the time.

J or S: (0:01:13) (In an Indian accent) All de time.

R: So, all the time.

E: Ach, it's so . . . ach.

R: So, instead, I thought I would go with, on January 20, 1885, LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented the first roller coaster. Now, he never claimed to have invented the roller coaster, but he was definitely instrumental in creating and popularizing them all over the U.S. and Europe. This first roller coaster that he patented was the switchback railway at Coney Island, which had already become a big tourist destination by 1885. And on the switchback railway, tourists would climb a tower and then sit down sideways in the car that carried them 600 feet to another tower. And then the car was switched over to a return track and sent back. Which, okay, isn't the most exciting ride in the world, but for 1885 you have no idea. It was crazy. The design he created was most likely based on a railway in what is now known as Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, known back then as Mauch Chunk. So it was called the Mauch Chunk switchback railway. You can see why they switched it to Jim Thorpe. Mauch Chunk. But the switchback railway there was a nine-mile gravity railroad that was built in 1827 to carry coal from the mines to the chutes. And it was so scenic and fun to ride that it soon became a tourist attraction, and it got to the point where it would carry coal in the mornings and passengers in the afternoon. So, Thompson most likely used that as the template to create the first roller coaster.

S: Interesting.

R: And, you guys might be reminded of the Katoomba Scenic Railway

S: Um hmm.

E: Oh, yeah.

R: Which, yeah, we all rode when we were in Australia, back in 2010. That was also . . .

J: Yeah, that was the thing where I was terrified, remember?

E: Yes, you were.

R: It was pretty scary. And that too was originally built to move coal, so the same sort of thing. That one was built sometime between 1878 and 1900, and it, too, was also turned into a tourist attraction. And, yeah, it's a lot of fun. It's called the world's steepest railway. Although at the time I rode it, I suggested that it could have been called the world's most boring roller coaster, I had no idea that those sort of railways were actually the forerunners of roller coasters. So, yeah, January 20, 1885, the first roller coaster was patented. Thompson later went on to patent a bunch more things, particularly a roller coaster that featured tunnels and scenery, which he called the scenic railway. The next time you ride a roller coaster, you should thank LeMarcus Adna Thompson.

S: I'll do that.

J: I'm never riding that thing again, by the way.

B: Oh, Jay.

R: That was so fun, come on.

J: Yeah, but I sat in front and when they brought us back up the mountain,

E: That was worse than going down.

J: And I was in the front, it was like you're being pulled backwards on a roller coaster and it was like being dangled from a string and them slowly like inching me up the mountain and I was, I can't even think about it, it's ridiculous.

In Memoriam: Ajita Kamal (4:14)[edit]

Nirmukta: In Memoriam: Ajita Kamal, 1978-2011

S: All right. We have a bit of sad news at the beginning of the show. I don't know if you guys ever met Ajita Kamal? He started an Indian podcast called Nirmukta, or Nirmookta. Yeah, I was on that, he recorded me at NECSS two years ago. I met him. Very nice guy. Very enthusiastic.

R: Oh, he was at NECSS?

S: He was at NECSS, yeah.

R: Oh, I didn't realize that. Maybe I did meet him.

S: And, so, unfortunately, he died recently.

B: Oh, god, how?

S: A young guy. He was born 1978. So he like, in his 30s.

B: What happened, Steve?

S: We don't know. So, he sort of fell off the radar for a few days. Nobody knew what was going on or where he was. And then the word came down that, they actually had to search for him, and they said that they recovered his body somewhere near his residence. There was a formal investigation, but no further details have been made publicly available. So that's all we know; is that he essentially was missing for a short time and then they found his body. So it clearly was . . .

B: Whoa.

S: Well, it doesn't sound like it was natural causes. You know, it sounds like something untoward happened. Very, very tragic, very unfortunate. So, I just wanted to mention that and give our sympathies to his fans in India. And, you know, it's just sad to lose a young enthusiastic skeptic.

R: Yeah.

News Items[edit]

NECSS 2012 (5:40)[edit]

S: Well, let's go on to some positive news, some happy news. Jay, NECSS 2012. Give us the skinny.

J: So, guys, NECSS two thousand twelve.

R: I think it's happening in twenty-twelve, if I'm not mistaken.

S: It's happening in twenty-twelve, not . . .

E: Two aught one two.

J: NECSS two thousand twelve. Twenty-twelve. So, yeah, this is our fourth conference on science and skepticism. That's what NECSS stands for, did you know that, Evan?

E: I did, yes. Yes. Our fourth conference that we are co-hosting.

J: It's actually the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. So we're having that April 21st to 22nd, that's Saturday and Sunday, and if you come early, if you come Friday we have a few events that are happening on Friday as well. And you should just go to the website. It's and we have all the information there. You can register on the site, you can see a list of the speakers, and you know we have an ever-growing list. We have a lot of panels happening this year. We have two live podcasts. We have the SGU live recording, and we have a Rationally Speaking live recording, which is always good. Once again we're running the NECSS Student Sponsorship Program. So if you're interested in being sponsored to come to NECSS this year for free, just go to the website, take a look at the parameters that you have to meet. You have to write a short summary. You have to be of a certain age, and a few other things. You have to be able to sing really well. Just come, take a look. Really love to see your applications . .

S: And if you're interested in sponsoring a student, go to the website, too. This year we have James Randi coming back, always a pleasure. Seth Shostak, PZ Myers, who's always an enthusiastic speaker. Kevin Slavin, John Bohannan, Joe Nickell, Brian Wecht, Jamy Ian Swiss is MC'ing again, Julia Galef will be there. She is one of the hosts of Rationally Speaking, along with Massimo Pigliucci,

J: (shouting in background) George Hrab!

S: George Hrab is returning.

J: Geo!

S: Andrew McAllister, Michael Rogers, Ethan Brown, and of course, the entire crew of the Skeptics' Guide will be there to do a live show, to meet our listeners. We'll have a table there. We'll maybe be doing some other special events. We'll be available the whole weekend. And we certainly make a huge effort at these live events to be as accessible as possible, so we hope to see a lot of our listeners there. Go to Also, if you are a member of the New York City Skeptics or the New England Skeptical Society, essentially if you have donated $25 or more to the NESS or SGU in the last year, then contact the relevant organization for your discount code. You actually get a discount for NECSS. And seriously, at the venue where we're at, we have sold out every time we were there, so if you don't want to miss out on getting a ticket, I would go early and register.

R: Good thinkin'.

E: Fantabulous!

Photographing Black Holes (8:28)[edit]

DailyMail: New telescope array will capture the first-ever photograph of a black hole

S: All right, let's move on. Bob, you're going to tell us how to take a picture of a black hole.

B: Yes, I am.

R: Lo-o-n-n-g exposure.

S: You might think that's an oxymoron, taking a picture of a black hole.

B: Yeah, it doesn't make sense if you know a little bit about black holes, but according to some recent news scientists may soon have a direct image, as Steve said, of the black hole in the center of our galaxy. They're going to be using a virtual telescope as big as the Earth, and they may have, for the first time, a picture of the shadow of a black hole. That's actually something I never heard about, the shadow of a black hole. And I'll get into that later. Scientists are meeting this week, actually, to discuss this project. It has probably one of the coolest names for a telescope project: The Event Horizon Telescope. Obviously, building a real telescope as big as the Earth would be just a tad expensive and time-consuming. It's called a virtual telescope because it uses a common process called interferometry to combine the individual images of many telescopes into one big image. The cool thing is if you have enough telescopes, the resulting image is comparable to the image of one gi-normous telescope as big as the distance that separates all of them. The farther apart that they are, the bigger the actual telescope you'd be replicating. Now, in the case of the Event Horizon Project, they're using fifty radio telescopes around the world that when combined will give us an image as if we had, as I said, one radio telescope as big as the Earth itself. Now it'll be far and away the most detailed picture of the center of our galaxy and the super-massive black hole that's ever been taken. This is no small feat considering that the four million solar mass, super massive black hole is 26,000 light years away, and I think that's approximately 153 quintillion miles, that's really, really far away, even though relatively speaking it's close, it's still a whole bunch of miles. And the black hole itself is about as big as Mercury's orbit. The orbit of Mercury is kinda big, but it's so far away that resolving this thing is kind of like seeing a grapefruit on the moon. As Steve said, you may think, but black holes devour everything, even light. They're by definition invisible. That's true, but we can see the immediate vicinity around it. Dimitrios Psaltis, Associate Professor of Astronomy and Physics at University of Arizona, recently said, "We expect to see the swirling of matter going into the black hole in real time. What we're really hoping to see is how the black hole is fed." Now, it's even better than that, though,

S: Yeah, that makes sense.

B: Yeah, the glowing matter around a black hole should clearly delineate its shadow. Now this shadow is actually the silhouette of its event horizon, which is the boundary in space-time around the hole that once you cross there's no coming back, even if you're traveling at the speed of light. You know, what might we see with such a view? Some scientists have speculated that we could, we might be able to see real-time flaring events occurring near the black hole. We might see actual rotation of the super-massive black hole. We could also examine very closely the accretion disk dynamics. The accretion disk is the disk of matter that is swirling around and around like going down a drain into the black hole. As it gets closer to the black hole, it heats up and emits the radiation that allows us to see this thing. And we also might be able to see extreme relativistic effects that's predicted to be acting on the volume of space around the black hole, which actually has a name. Do any of you know the name of the black hole?

R: Joey.

?: (11:45) Thomas.

B: No, it's Sagittarius A. I didn't know that. So this leads us to Einstein and the test of relativity.

S: Doesn't it always?

B: (laughing) Yeah.

E: Appropriate.

B: This theory predicts that the shadow should be perfectly circular. If it's not, then Einstein's got some 'splaining to do. And we may find that GR, I'm sorry, we may find that general relativity needs some modification. But really though, is there any doubt that this billionth test of his theory will succeed? It would be kinda cool if we found some special case where general relativity fails and maybe get some new physics out of it, but I'm really not holding my breath. But still, there's so much that we can get out of this, I really can't wait to see that first snapshot of a black hole and its event horizon.

J: Bob, do you know how black holes are created?

B: Yeah.

J: That's where God divided by zero.

B: (laughing) Yeah, 'cause you try to do some serious physics inside, you know, within the singularity and yeah, you start dividing by zero and things kinda get wacky. But, just, Jay, do you know how black holes are created?

J: Yeah, I know. I know. (laughter)

S: I just choose not to say right now.

J: Yeah, I choose not to say, but I do know.

E: Yeah, it's something to do with the . . .

B: I'm sure you do know, but did you know that, there's two ways that I'm aware of, to create 'em. One of course is the collapse of giant stars, after a supernova. But also black holes were created after the Big Bang. And the cool thing about that is that the black holes that were created were probably less massive than the minimum required for a star to create a black hole. So you could, so I'm sure the black, the big bang created these black holes with relatively very little mass and chances are they've already evaporated away. 'Cause through Hawking radiation and stuff black holes evap, slowly, very slowly, evaporate over time. And over, you know, many, many billions or trillions of years eventually they'll all evaporate. But some of these, some of those from the big bang I'm sure were so tiny that they've already evaporated.

S: Another way to make a black hole doesn't have to be the remnant of a super-massive star. It could be two smaller remnants that combine together.

B: Yeah, that's true.

S: And then get over the threshold

B: Yeah, two colliding neutron stars. I mean, still they're the by-products of super-massive stars, but, true, there's another mechanism.

S: Or it could be you have, like a neutron star that has a companion star and it sucks off enough matter from the companion star to, again, get over that mass threshold and become a black hole.

B: Yeah, it get, what is it, getting past neutron degeneracy.

SOPA/PIPA (14:17)[edit]

Stanford Law Review: Don't Break the Internet

S: Jay,you're also gonna tell us about the next news item, which has been all over the news as we record this show. Wikipedia is actually in blackout.

J: Yes. So, Wikipedia, Reddit, and there's about, estimated ten thousand other websites that blacked out their pages today in protest

R: The skeptic network

J: to SOPA and Poopa, I mean PIPA. They all showed warnings on their websites and several of them gave links to contact your congressman and everything. And actually it really seems that this effort worked. I mean it really got the word out and we had quite a number of politicians, I think it was up to six last I checked, that actually backed out of supporting SOPA and PIPA. So, the Protect IP Act of 2011, PIPA, and the Stop Online Piracy Act known as SOPA. These are two legislative initiatives that both attempt to deal with the global online copyright and trademark infringement. I don't disagree with the government getting involved in trying to do some policing of online piracy and the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. There's definitely a line that I think they, they would be going too far, like, of course, with these two pieces of legislation. But there's definitely things that can be done that would be positive overall, and, let's face it, if somebody created material, you know, it should not be illegally distributed, especially at a, at a degree where they could put people out of business or when things that big happen, of course I disagree with it, but

S: Yeah, if we're talking about first principles, just basic principles, we want a system in which the freedom of speech on the internet is protected, but at the same time people's intellectual property are protected so that we want there to be an incentive for people to do a lot of work to create content. And people should, do have a right to benefit from their hard, their hard work, and their intellectual property. So how do we balance those two things? How do we balance intellectual property without squelching freedom? I agree that the way that Congress set about doing it, neither of these two proposals so far, PIPA, that's not the way. Whatever the compromise is, I don't think they're anywhere near it.

J: So the way that, and in very simplistic terms, the backbone to the internet is based on something called DNS, and that is the internet's domain name system. So, to give you a quick understanding of how the DNS works, just think of it as your physical address at your home. The postal service delivers mail to you and they know where you live because of your street address, and they use something called zip codes in the United States, which helps localize your neighborhood and everything. But in the end, what it boils down to is a specific address that points to a specific location, and that's how the DNS works on the internet for people's domain names. So what they're proposing is that they would be able to, that people that complain about another person's site and also given very little detail into what the problem is, more of just issuing the complaint, it would give them power enough to knock your website off the internet. They basically would remove you from the DNS listing, meaning that nobody would be able to find your website.

S: They force IP servers, and basically everyone else on the internet not to anything that would allow people to get to you on the internet, so you become invisible, essentially.

J: Yeah, it would affect U.S. internet service providers, domain name registries, domain name registrars, operators of domain name servers, which is a category that includes hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, colleges, universities, non-profit organizations. I mean basically anyone that's part of the domain name system and anyone that has data, addresses, that are stored to point people to where other websites exist. What would happen, if this legislation passed, what would happen? And part of this is things that I've read and part of this is my opinion. But it's believed that it would quickly inspire programmers to write software that would easily get around what SOPA and PIPA are blocking. And what we would see would be something along the lines of easily installed plug-ins to your browser that would just seamlessly ignore the channels that blocked the addresses. So you would get to the sites that you wanna get to anyway, with maybe a little bit more of a delay. That would be like layer one. Then layer two, I think it would be reasonable to say that if things got really bad, then you would find that there would be other ways of navigating through the internet. That other address systems would come up. It would be like the Post Office trying to deliver you something, but there's multiple address systems. Like you might have four street addresses at your single house. Imagine if your street name had three or four names, and depending on who you're talking to you have to give them a different address so they know how to get to you. And it would become, it would become a catastrophic mess on the web.

S: So my understanding, Jay, is that the law would, essentially, force people to break the DNS system in order to get around it.

J: Right. And we would. Every single person that cares about going to websites and that, you know, is a frequent user of the internet, would install free software and just circumnavigate anything that they put in place anyway, because you know what? They would not be able to police it. It just wouldn't be policeable. It would inconvenience a lot of people and then we would just continue to have workarounds to get around it. And you know, it even goes deeper than that. There's really, the devil is in the details here. And it's a really bad devil that I'm talking about. You know, they would even be telling banks and advertising companies and they could not advertise with companies that are blocked. So they would be affecting a lot of online business, and that would have an effect on the economy. And both bills describe procedures that are actually not constitutionally legitimate. Which blows my mind. Think of it like this. So accusations could be made in court and one, without both parties being present. Meaning, that your site could be shut down with absolutely no warning. And this is called an ex parte proceeding. These are proceedings where only one side of the two parties needs to be present.

B: Sweet.

J: So, you could be taken to court and not even know it. And you don't have to be there, and they don't even have to notify you.

S: You'll know it when your site gets shut down.

J: That's right.

R: Yeah, this has, you know, this directly relates to, those of you who are in the U.K., particularly in England, will understand what we're talking about because you already have horrific libel laws. The copyright laws, the copyright threats that would come in through SOPA would be similarly chilling for those of us in the U.S. and around the world, because they would allow people to sue very very easily. We could no longer have an SGU forum, for instance. It would just have to go. Basically, the legality of it would make it impossible to produce content on line.

S: Yeah, it would be so easy to harass sites to silence criticism. All you've gotta do is just make an accusation. It doesn't even have to be legitimate. The person doesn't have an ability to defend themselves. The way the law is written it is completely broken. From a legal point of view. This is mainly coming from a really good article which I recommend, on the Stanford Law Review. So, there's an essay by Mark Lemly, David Levine and David Post. So, you know, these are actual lawyers who know what they're talking about. And they make a very strong case that this is not only unconstitutional, it's anti-constitutional. For reasons, partly the reasons that we stated, that the accused doesn't have a right to defend themselves. There's no due process before draconian measures are taken. So, yeah, I think, I agree with Jay in that I can see Congress's heart may be in the right place, but this is a very flawed piece of, these two proposals are very, both very flawed. They're very similar and

B: They have a heart?

S: The reaction is, of Wikipedia and other sites protesting it I think is appropriate and I think it's hopefully going to at least put it on hold for a while, until we can think this through more thoroughly. This is just too, too rash.

J: Steve, could you imagine how damning it would be? Companies would use this to put each other out of business.

S: Yeah.

J: It would be a race to the finish line. I mean, all a competitor would have to do is drum up complaints about one of their competitors, get their website knocked off the internet, and that, that could shut down a company.

S: Well, could you imagine every crank, quack and charlatan out there who wants to silence criticism of their nonsense? How easy it would be for them to completely shut down the online skeptical movement with those kind of . . .

E: Two seconds.

R: Yeah, and that's why I compare it to the libel law.

S: Yeah.

R: I mean it would be absolutely . . . it would be censorship. It would get down to censorship very easy censorship (inaudible at 23:22)

S: Yeah, exactly.

R: The good news is that the protests are working a bit. I think that people are actually calling their, Americans are calling their congresspeople. Internationally people are causing a fuss, and it's sort of having an effect. SOPA was technically shelved.

S: Yeah.

R: That's the Senate's version of it. It was shelved, but not defeated, so it is still lurking, and with PIPA, the most controversial part of it has been removed. Or at least, one of the senators, Senator Patrick Leahy, has agreed to, or has said he's willing to remove it. So, there's that. But people should definitely continue to call their congresspeople to complain and let them know that this is not, this is not good for the future of the internet.

E: One encouraging thing is that President Obama had said that he will not pass this in its current manifestation, or basically any combin, any compromised bill that comes out of these two pieces of legislation in each House. So that's a good sign that our Executive is, as of right now, on our side in regards to this argument. But he kind of left the door open a little bit, too, to say, well, not as is, but if something else comes along that he feels is more practical that maybe he will go with something like that.

R: The other good news from the SOPA front is that good news/just hilarious news, I guess, is that one of the SOPA authors, Senator Lamar Smith of Texas, has apparently violated copyright on his own website. He stole an artist's painting or photograph, an artist's photograph, and used it as the background to his website, and the artist has made a statement saying that he did not give permission for that to be used. So under the rules of SOPA, were it to pass, that artist could make Lamar Smith's website completely unavailable. So.

B: Holy justice.

E: Yeah. Some pigs are more equal than others. So, somehow his website would still be up. That would be my wager.

R: Mmm.

S: Yeah, definitely an issue we have to keep an eye on. And, just as the broader concept, too, of whittling away internet freedom for various reasons, for, you know, security to meter the web, the internet freedom cause is an important one. We're in the, you know, a lot of people think we're in the golden age of the internet right now, and that it's never gonna be as free as it is now. But if we want it to stay that way, it's something that we're gonna have to jealously guard and keep an eye on. You know we talked recently about the hacker web, you know, putting up private satellites, creating sort of an alternate internet essentially that governments can't control. Maybe that's what will ultimately happen. There'll be this black internet, you know, that, where, an underground internet. Hopefully it won't come to that. Hopefully we'll have one seamless worldwide internet, free flow of information, and you know, we'll have to learn to adapt to the implications of that and if we do want to take any measures to limit piracy, which again, I totally agree with, we have to take a really thoughtful, nuanced approach to that. Not this sloppy draconian mechanism that, is just crazy.

E: Coming down heavy-handed on everyone for the sake of . . .

S: Don't you just get this image of these, like, 60+ guys in Congress who have no idea what the internet is. The "intertubes," the system of tubes, these are the people who are gonna make legislation, you know, that's gonna have dramatic effects on the flow of information over the internet, and freedom of speech? I don't know, maybe that judgment is incorrect, but I just, I fear that there's, that they're a little out of touch, that they're just the wrong generation to be making this decision. You know what I mean?

J: Yeah, I agree with you, Steve.

E: I don't think you're wrong at all, Steve. I share that exact same . . .

J: (using a very elderly voice) When I was a boy . . . (laughter)

E: Interslice.

Homeopathic Burn Treatment (27:35)[edit]

RepectfulOnsolence: The homeopathic treatment of burns: The ultimate in valuing symptomatic treatment over all else

S: One more news item. This one, we talk about homeopathy all the time, but sometimes an item comes up that is just so absurd we can't resist pointing it out. So recently there was an article exploring the homeopathic treatment for burns, for burn injuries. What do you think that treatment is?

J: Fire!

S: Yes.

E: Hot scalding water.

S: That's right.

R: A little bit of fire, just a little bit. 'Cause you know, you have to take some away, for it to be effective.


S: Yeah, so you actually add more heat to the burned area in order to get the body to heal itself.

E: Huh.

S: Even more, which is, of course, the exact opposite of what you should do.

R: No, that's why they stick hypothermic patients in freezers. (laughter)

S: Right, and when you're having a hypoxic injury, you know, you have too little oxygen to the brain, you should deprive the brain of even more oxygen. That way it'll heal itself. (laughter)

E: Like cures like. If you break a leg, break your other leg.

R: If you get rabies, just have a bunch more animals with rabies bite you.

S: So, I guess, is homeopathy the hair of the dog kind of approach to medicine?

R: Yeah, it is. But not as delicious, I believe. (laughter). In fact, actually that's very astute, particularly for this, for this burn one. Because and you know, as you go on to explain what the burn one is all about it'll become clear to the listeners, but the idea of hair of the dog is if you get drunk, then the next day if you're starting to experience a hangover, if you have a little bit of whatever you were drinking the night before, that's supposed to cure the hangover. When in fact what it probably, if it works at all what it probably does is just gets you drunk again and just sort of prolongs, you know, your drunkenness to the point where you don't have the hangover for at least another couple of hours.

B: That's exactly what happens, yeah.

R: So, yeah, you think it's making it better, but in fact you've actually, sort of made it worse.

S: No, you haven't made it worse, you've just delayed your, you just don't notice it for a while.

R: Yeah, so.

B: Actually I think drinking alcohol when you have a hangover is the only surefire cure. (laughter)

R: Well, besides the true homeopathic remedy, drinking a lot of water.

J: It's not really a cure, Bob.

B: Yeah, it's a cure. The hangover will go away. You will be drunk. You're delaying the inevitable, you're just pushing back the inevitable hangover, but it will get rid of your hangover . . .

S: Well, but let's be clear. Let's be clear. It's actually not treating the hangover, the hangover has multiple causes, but the primary cause is

B: Dehydration?

S: Yeah, well it's dehydration, but it's not just dehydration. There's actually breakdown products of alcohol that are toxins. And it's really those, that's what really causes the hangover, and it takes time for your body to metabolize those. So until your body gets rid of the downstream effects of the alcohol itself, that's why you have the hangover. By drinking more alcohol you're just adding more of the substances to your body, so it'll take even longer to metabolize them and get rid of them. It's not treating that, it's just masking it by making you drunk. Too drunk to notice that you feel like crap, and then you'll feel like even more crap when that drunk wears off, so

R: Which is why this is the perfect analogy for the burn thing.

S: It is.

R: Okay, because. So the homeopathic cure for burning is in fact, yeah, this, these homeopaths are saying that if you get a burn you should put it over a flame, instead of running it under cool water, and that that will make it, that'll stop a blister from appearing and it'll heal faster and you'll get smooth skin and it won't hurt as much. And, the thing is, some of those things are right, in a way. That does not mean that it's something good that you should do. For instance, putting an already burned section of your hand over a flame might make it hurt less as it's healing, but that's because you've turned your first degree burn into a second or third degree burn by burning off all the nerves. So, you don't feel anything anymore because you've destroyed your skin much deeper than you had previously. So in much the same way that drinking more makes it seem like it's working, the next day you're actually making things horribly worse. Terrible idea. Don't burn your burns!

S: Don't burn your burns, yeah.

J: It seems so intuitive, doesn't it? (laughter)

E: Homeopathy is like a 250-year-old running joke.

R: Yeah.

E: In which they're trying, you know, just, trying to compound the ridiculousness on top of more ridiculousness to the point, you know, where will it end?

R: They're like trolls.

J: You know this is one of those examples where people actually hurt themselves, and they'll like it because it's reinforcing their fantasy.

S: It certainly creates the impression that there's no practical limit to the degree to which people can believe in nonsensical things. Just because it's wrapped in some, you know, feel-good ideology, or just because somebody's claiming it. Or because they are overly impressed with anecdotal evidence or placebo effects and they just don't understand how easy it is for us to deceive ourselves, and therefore when they hear a story, "Oh, somebody did this and they felt better. Really? Well it must work!" That's as simple, sometimes, as it gets.

Who's That Noisy? (33:14)[edit]

S: Evan, bring us up to date on Who's That Noisy?

E: Yes. I must play for you last week's Who's That Noisy to refresh all of your memories out there. Now, remember we were looking for a theme for last week's Who's That Noisy, and here we go!

Tweeting birds. Electronic toy music. Piping sounds.

E: We had some very, very interesting guesses this week. Many of them were wrong. Only one was correct.

S: Only one correct answer.

E: Only one correct . . . but that's all you need. You only need one.

S: So it's easy to determine which one was the first.

E: (laughs) It was a, you know, a series of, three distinct noises. One apparently not having much to do with the other, but, what they all have in common is that those are . . . clocks! Those are noises that actual clocks make. Those are their alarms, in a sense. The first clock you heard was care of the National Audubon Society, it's their bird clock, in which there is a bird at each hour position on the clock, and when that hour strikes, you get the bird tweet. And in this case, we heard the robin. Steve, you knew that was a robin, right?

S: Oh, yeah.

E: The second one was a little clip from the La Crosse alarm clock. It's this red, sort of lit up, obnoxious looking clock that plays a lot of different tunes and the light flashes red in sync with the tune that it's playing. The third one is the world's only steam-powered clock, that resides in Vancouver, and on every hour it plays a little whistling tune. So I clipped a little piece of the whistling tune, stuck it there at the end of the noisy. The world's only steam-powered clock. Fascinating. Ashley, a listener from Waukesha, Wisconsin, correctly guessed. So, she must have been to Vancouver at some point, and that was perhaps the giveaway. And saw the clock or heard the clock. In any case, she's the winner. Well done, Ashley. Oh, other guesses included science fiction movies, UFO communications, someone said that these were all noises from Disney productions or Disney movies, cell phone ring . .

S: So I think everybody, everybody related that third one to the Close Encounters noise.

R: Yeah.

B: Yeah, it's the first thing I thought, too.

E: And now, this week's, brand new, fresh off the presses Who's That Noisy?

(noisy background; man says:) There's no such thing as a psychic"

E: That's it.

S: Okay, thanks, Evan, that's interesting.

Quickie With Bob: New forms of ice (35:43)[edit]

R: I demand a quickie with Bob!

S: A quickie with Bob! Thought you were gonna forget. Bob, you got a quickie for us, or what?

E: I say.

B: Yes. Thank you, Rebecca, I thought you'd never ask.

R: No, thank you, Bob.

B: Scientists predict new types of ice that may exist in ultra-extreme environments. Cornell researchers, using high-powered computers and higher-powered brains, predict that there are new phases of water-ice that may exist on Neptune, Uranus and many extra-solar planets. In these environments, atmospheric pressure can reach above 1.5 terrapascals, which is equivalent to 15 million normal Earth atmospheres pressing down on you. A lot of pressure. Their models predict a series of stable and never-before seen forms of ice that no lab on Earth can come close to recreating. These simulations predict that ice becomes metallic not at 15 million atmospheres like many scientists believe, but at 48 million atmospheres. Before that, though, separate water molecules disappear, replaced instead by networks of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The ice may also become a stable insulator before it becomes metallic. And finally, the other big finding that these scientists made, or at least that they predicted using their models, was that ice may actually become a quantum liquid in which, counterintuitively, the pressure gets so high that a solid becomes a liquid. So check out for more information on this topic. Hoped you like it.

S: Sounds good. Thanks, Bob.

R: Thanks for that quickie, Bob.

Interview: Eugenie Scott (37:10)[edit]

S: We have a great interview with Eugenie Scott, so let's go to that interview now.


S: Joining us now is Eugenie Scott. Genie, welcome back to the Skeptics' Guide.

ES: Thank you. It's lovely to be back.

S: And Genie is from the National Center for Science Education, and I'll go on the record and say that the SGU believes in science education. Go out on a limb. That's something that we support.

R: Breaking news.

E: Controversy.

ES: Now it can be told.

S: (laughing) Right. We've had you on the show several times, talking mostly about creationism, intelligent design, and their attempts to destroy science education. And the good work of the NCSE to prevent that, but we're having you on this week to talk about a new initiative from the NCSE, so tell us about that.

ES: We have found over the last, oh, several years, actually, but especially over the last couple of years, that just as teachers get push-back for teaching evolution, student complaints, parental complaints, school board-level controversies, even state legislations, so now they also are getting comparable push-back for the temerity of teaching global warming and other climate science concepts. So we investigated the situation, checked with other science organizations and science education organizations and environmental organizations, and they have been hearing the same thing, but nobody was doing anything about it, and their view was "well you guys do such a good job helping teachers with evolution, you should just take this on." So, you know, we thought hard about it and decided, yeah, we probably should take this on because no one else is doing it and teachers are needing help with this. So, we swallowed hard (laughing) and decided to expand because it's a big decision. We announced this week that we are adding a new member to the Board of Directors of NCSE, and that is Dr. Peter Gleick, of the Pacific Institute, a very well know planet scientist and water resources specialist, National Academy of Science member, testified before Congress many times. Very articulate communicator of science. And on staff, a climate scientist named Mark McCaffrey, who comes to us from the University of California CIRES Center, a climate science institute, where he was their education guy. So we are very happy to have Mark with us so that we have that scientific expertise on staff, and also on our Board. So we're very excited about this new initiative. And a little scared.

S: As you should be, if you take it seriously. So do you think that the kind of things that you've been doing to defend science education from infiltrations from creationism will translate, will apply to the same kind of things that are happening with climate change denial?

ES: You know we have always said, when it comes to the creationism and evolution controversy that the science is absolutely necessary, but it's not sufficient. The good news is that we have the science in evolution. Everybody's quite on the same page: living things have common ancestors, the universe is old, and all that is very well agreed upon within the scientific community. Not necessarily shared by a high enough percentage of the general public, but the scientists are all on the same base. So we have a situation where there's a disconnect between the science community and the public. There's a comparable disconnect between the science community and the public on global warming and the climate change issues. And we, the science is necessary, but not sufficient. You have to look at both the teaching of evolution and the teaching of, of climate change as also being political problems. And that's what we deal with. We help teachers and other citizens, school board members, to find out how to resolve these controversies that occur at the classroom level or the school district level or the state level. How do you talk to each other? How do you make a good argument to the school board? What are the things you need to bring in? Those kinds of approaches translate no matter your topic is. One of the reasons why we wanted to get Mark McCaffrey is because we, we're a bunch of evolutionists, you know, we're biologists and geologists, and we needed somebody who knew the climate science literature better than we did. We're all working very hard to get up to snuff, but we wanted to have that science expertise on staff and on our Board. But really, the kind of bread and butter stuff that NCSE does is a lot of this person-to-person or community-to-community kind of counseling when somebody calls us and has a problem. You know, I think one of the times I was on your really quite wonderful show, was talking about the Kitzmiller versus Dover trial. I think people think of NCSE as this, you know, riding our white horse to the rescue in legal cases, not. That's a very rare kind of occurrence for us. Most of the time, I mean, the vast majority of what we do, you all in the public never hear about it, because it's a teacher calling up and asking what should she do about a parent who is complaining about teaching of evolution, teaching of climate change. You know, what are the arguments that she can bring to that parent to keep that kid from being yanked out of the class, for example. So, and that's the sort of stuff that's never going to make the newspaper, obviously.

R: So you're like client advocacy ninjas.

ES: Yeah, yeah, I guess that's ab – I kinda like that image, actually. I mean, can you see me in a cape? (laughter)

S: Ninjas don't wear capes.

R: Ninjas. . . Steve, . . . you guys, don't muddle this with the facts. I wanna see Genie in a cape, okay?

ES: What's wrong with me, I mean, I know . . .

S:S: Be accurate.

ES: I know ninjas don't have light savers, I wasn't expecting that. And I should have known, of course, the cape gets in the way when you're climbing through the window and all . . . (a lot of background talk). I'd have to be a lot more limber to climb through those windows, but yeah, the ninja kind of image, I'll work on that, Rebecca. There's some possibility.

R: Are you guys, are you at all afraid of splitting your audience? Because whenever someone talks to a group of skeptics about global warming, it seems that there are, there's a significant portion of people who self-identify as skeptics and science-advocacy people who don't believe in, particularly, human-caused global warming. So are you worried at all about splitting your audience?

ES: One of the things that we had to think about very carefully as a small and (clears throat) unfunded, underfunded non-profit is, are we gonna lose members? And, yeah, we know, we figured we were going to lose members on this. And we have. We've already heard from some people who are not going to renew and they're terribly disappointed with us. On the other hand, we're also going to gain new members. A lot of people are finding out about NCSE for the first time this week, as we're promoting our, getting out publicity about the climate change initiative. And, they're interested in climate change and they may not be especially interested in evolution, so, you know, we're gonna win some and lose some. I think, on the whole we'll probably be okay, but there certainly will be a period where membership will go down and that obviously is a concern to a group that doesn't have all that great a budget to start with.

R: Well, you know, we'll just have to encourage our listeners to start doing even more to make up for the people that you've lost.

ES: Well, I appreciate that.

E: Genie, is there a grant that the organization receives, you know, kind of like a thing that, you know, you bundle donations on top of, but you kinda use a certain amount of money sort of as a . . .

ES: We did, as I mentioned, hire a new staff member. And, you know, it's funny, he actually wants a salary! What an odd attitude! So, yes, we had to raise money in order to expand into this program. I was very very fortunate in that one of my Board members was interested enough and concerned enough about this issue that he gave us start-up funds. Of course, it's going to be a responsibility that I have to continue supporting this program and so yes, we will have to be doing some special fundraising to support and to maintain and I hope expand the climate change initiative.

S: Despite the topic, the principles are the same. That you don't want there to be a political infringement upon teaching science based upon what the consensus of scientific opinion is. And you've always gone beyond strictly

ES: Precisely.

S: evolution or biological issues because a lot of the bills that were sort of anti-evolution or pro-creationism, those also would throw in things like the big bang, you know, which is a similar issue. You've dealt with issues other than strictly evolution just because it's not, it's under the same kind of principle, right?

ES: Well, we've dealt, yeah, we've dealt with evolution broadly. Not just biological evolution, but we've dealt, of course, with astronomical evolution, with geological evolution. I mean, evolution is a topic that of course virtually all of science, so, yes, the universe is old, the planet has evolved, galaxies cumulatively change through time, you know. The universe has had a history. That's what evolution is all about. And biological evolution tends to be the most controversial aspect of that wide sweep, and so, that tends to be the one that we end up talking about the most, but, yeah, we certainly have included a number of subjects. And of course, the other thing that NCSE has dealt with over the years is the nature of science itself. How do scientists answer questions about the natural world and how do we explain the natural world? What is the procedure that we use? What kind of thinking do we use? And, helping the public and helping students understand that is very critical to the evolution issue and it will be important, I think, to the issue of global warming, 'cause, I like the way you put it, Steve, you said that this is one of the concerns that we have with both of these topics, is that the science not be compromised by political issues. And that is a major concern. In both evolution and climate change you have very strong agreement in the scientific community that these are valid sciences. In climate change there’s very uniformity of opinion that the planet is getting warmer, that people have a lot to do with it. The other similarity that we see between teaching evolution and teaching climate change is that there is a very strong ideological foundation that motivates the opposition to teaching these subjects. In the case of evolution, obviously, the motivation is religious ideology. In the case of climate change, kind of like Rebecca was alluding to earlier, it’s more a political or a and/or an economic ideology. I mean people will argue that global change, global warming is not happening because the consequences really are unacceptable. I mean, they may not put it quite in those terms, but that appears to be the motivation. The claim is that global warming is invalid science, that it’s merely a political movement of liberals who are trying to increase central government, and the central government is going to tell us what to do, and this will impinge upon American individualism. These are all the kinds of ideological issues that appear to be motivating a great deal of the anti-global-warming perspective. And just like the religious ideology that motivates anti-evolution, they will try to argue that the science is weak. The science of evolution is weak, the science of global warming is weak, and, whereas actually, within the science community, both evolution and global warming are considered to be very firmly based, and very solid science. So that’s another parallel. I mean we keep seeing more and more similarities between problems teachers have teaching evolution and problems that they have teaching climate change.

S: Yeah, I think another parallel is that the opposition are both forms of denialism. You know, there’s evolution denial and climate change denial, and they often use very similar intellectual strategies in order to promote those ideologies. So you, you know what, if you can teach and define and explore the process of denialism, how that works, why it’s not legitimate, why it’s pathological science, you cover both ends, you cover both evolution denial and climate change denial, right?

ES: Yes, and we find some very definite parallels in the, in the strategies that are used. I mean, first of all, attack the science.

S: Right.

ES: Because if the science is weak, then the whole thing falls. I mean, obviously there’s no point in teaching weak science in the schools so the creationists have attacked evolution for decades. Because if they can present evolution as a weak or invalid science then obviously it has no place in the science classroom. Same argument is being made the climate change denialists, that well, it’s really just the sun, or sunspots, or it’s just normal cycles, or it’s this, that or the other thing. It’s not, it’s not happening, or it is happening but people aren’t responsible. I mean, there’s a variety of positions that are taken. And the other really interesting parallel, the more distressing parallel that we’re finding that affects education is the, the anti-creation and the anti-climate-change positions are being packaged, if you will, as critical thinking for students, or academic freedom for teachers.

S: Um hmm.

ES: The academic freedom acts, which have sprung up like so many toadstools in the last six or seven years, often bundle evolution, global warming, origin of life, stem cells, things that, cloning, things that the religious right is distressed about. These tend to get bundled into these same bills and presented that teachers should have the academic freedom to present all views of issues and should not be fettered by their school districts and restricted from going beyond the curriculum and teaching these ideas. So basically what this is, what these bills try to be, is a get-out-of-jail-free card for creationist teachers.

S: Yeah.

ES: It’s a dog whistle, if you will, saying “go ahead and teach creationism because we’ve just passed a law in your state that says your school district can’t tell you to knock it off.” Now, the good news is that even though my colleague Glenn Branch counted 38 bills over the last five or six years that have fallen to this academic freedom kind of category, not all of which, by the way, include global warming, but they all include evolution. There’s been just dozens of these bills. Only one of them, so far, has passed.

S: Um hmm.

ES: And that’s the Louisiana bill in 2008. And, and, if I can, guys, just put a, a little bee in the ear of your listeners, or a fly in the peripheral vision, or whatever other analogy we wanna use, these bills don’t fail on their own. They fail because citizens like the people listening to this program are willing to take a stand against bad science for their kids. And they’re willing to write those letters, to call those legislators, to call up on the talk shows and, and really come out in favor of opposing these bills. So, we depend upon people like that, you know, we can only present, we can only provide the information. We need the people on the ground to really carry the water.

S: Right.

ES: So, we’re very, very grateful to the citizens in this country for carrying on this fight.

S: Yeah, but you serve as a clearing house, if you will,

ES: We do.

S: for all of these efforts, and that’s a pivotal role. I mean, somebody’s gotta be that. ‘Cause it’s hard to have, you know, a grass-roots kind of an effort without there being some central organizing group. And I think that’s why, you know, people look to you to fill that role and you do it very well.

ES: We, we try our best. And, we have been helpful. But as I say, we really depend on the citizens who are willing to do it.

S: Right.

ES: You can’t just say “Let NCSE do it.”

S: Exactly.

ES: (laughing) That isn’t gonna happen. I’m out here in Oakland, California. I have a staff of about ten, including support people, rounding up, including part-timers, and I assure you we cannot be in 15,000 separate school districts, so, citizens, step up to the plate. We need you.

S: Other than just applying what you’ve already been doing with creationism to climate change and hiring new experts, which I think is a great idea, is there anything else, any other aspect of this new initiative that you want to talk about? Anything bold that you’re doing?

ES: On our website we have new resources that we just opened up this week. And clearly we will be adding to them over the years and months. Our evolution sources didn’t crop all at once and they’ve grown gradually. But we have some basic stuff there on our website that we hope will be helpful to especially teachers, but anyone interested in this topic. We have a Climate Change 101 section, which is sort of basic scientific explanations, but also links to sites that will give a more in-depth presentation of the basic science. We have a section on climate change denial where we present some of the common arguments of deniers and the politics involved and the varieties of denial and there’ll be a lot to add on that. And links, of course, to sites like which is a wonderful site which lists the main hundred or so denier arguments and their scientific refutations. We have a section on teaching that we, we hope to expand. Mark McCaffrey is a very experienced, he spent ten, fifteen years in climate science education, so he would really like to try to build up those resources for us. And in good old NCSE fashion we have a section of our new climate portion of the website on taking action. If you need to either defend climate science or you need to support climate science, there’s where you can go for some information.

S: All right, Genie. Thanks again. We always enjoy having you on the show.

ES: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

S: All right, and good luck with your new initiative.

ES: Thank you.

R: Thanks, Genie.

E: Thanks, Genie.

Science or Fiction (57:06)[edit]

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fictitious. I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. This week, Bob is going to be filling in for me, just so he can keep his perfect 100% record going one more week. He had to skip town last week, now he's actually taking over Science or Fiction just to . . .

R: Very sneaky.

S: exempt himself again.

E: You know in baseball you have to have a minimum number of plate appearances in order for your average to count.

R: Mmm. Good point.

B: I'm not playing baseball.

E: I understand.

S: You're just trying to work in those sports analogies any way you can.

E: (laughs) I took flak from a listener 'cause I mentioned that I thought, had thought that Ted Williams, in his famous 1941 run to .400 began his first game 0 for 4, and that wasn't true, he had a hit in his first game. And, yeah.

S: You screwed up, you know.

E: Well, you know, listener had had to point that out.

R: Who knew that our nerdy listeners knew anything about sports?

E: So, I stood corrected.

B: Hey, guys, you ready?

S: Yup.

R: Yes.

E: Yas.

B: Okay. For this week's Science or Fiction, number one: Marine scientists propose putting a price on whales in order to save them. Number two: According to a new mouse study, intestinal worm infections help treat lung cancer. And number three: Researchers associate lack of sleep with increased appetite. Let's see, Evan, you go first this time.

E: Okay. Hmm. Marine scientists propose putting a price on whales in order to save them. How? I mean, what, under what authority would they be able to put a price on a whale? Right? That anyone would respect, do they have the sort of power to do that? I mean, I'm not quite getting the gist here. Penalties, I suppose, right? But governments have to impose those penalties. Usually just a bunch of scientists can't start penalizing people, nobody'll pay any attention to them.

B: Penalizing in what way, I mean, I think you're misinterpreting.

E: Oh, am I? Well, putting a price on whales in order to save them. But isn't there already some sort of intrinsic value, or, so, well let's move on. The new mouse study, done by the folks, the fine folks down in Disney World. Intestinal worm infections help treat lung cancer. When I start thinking about worms and treatments and these sorts of things, I start thinking about, you know, when they put maggots on open wounds and stuff to, what they create that, they heal it up, right? They, I'm not exactly sure how it happens. But applying maggots to open wounds seems to be something that, that does actually work. As unappealing and ancient as it might be, I believe there is something to that, so perhaps this, along those similar lines, could make this one true. The last one, lack of sleep with increased appetite. Well, this is, this is interesting, because when I think "lack of sleep" I think if somebody's awake more, are they more, is their appetite increased, or are they more likely to eat just for the sake of being awake, and their body sort of needs, is craving fuel or energy. Simply based on the fact that it is, it happens to be awake. But I'm not quite sure that that's exactly what we're getting at here. I, I'm gonna say, I'm gonna say that I'm not understanding the marine scientists one exactly correctly, so I'd be, I think at my own peril choosing that one as the fiction. So, therefore, that leaves me with the lack of sleep and increased appetite one, and I'm gonna say that that one's the fiction.

B: Okay. Jay, you're next.

J: Okay, so the marine scientists putting a price on whales in order to save them. I'm interpreting that as they're saying that people may be fined or would be have a financial responsibility if they end up hurting or killing any whales.

B: Well, whether this is a news item or if it's a complete fabrication, regardless my intention, whether I made this, or the news item is really different from what you guys are saying. So, what I'll add to this is that what I meant, or what was meant by putting a price on whales was that, was that, the idea is, that yeah, you can kill whales, but you gotta pay.

J: Oh, okay, if you kill a whale you have to . . .

B: Evan, you can, now that I've given that information, if you want, if you want to your guess,

E: Oh, boy.

B: I think it would be fair to let you once I cleared that up.

E: Okay, I'm gonna stick with my answer.

B: Okay. So Jay, continue.

J: I mean, regardless of what you say, Bob, I'm gonna interpret it the way I want to

B: Go right ahead.

J: 'cause I'm studying homeopathy. Well, okay, so that being said, I'm gonna think that that one is science, 'cause I can see them trying something like that in order to, in order to save the lives of whales. The second one about the intestinal worm helping to treat lung cancer: I find that very strange. I mean, I'm thinking maybe that the, that maybe the worm secretes something that could help fight off cancer or, something along those lines I could see possibly making sense, but I'm really iffy on that one. The last one here, I'm definitely going to think the last one about sleep increasing, lack of sleep increasing appetite, I'm going to completely and utterly agree with that one, through my own life experience. So, I'm going to say that the worms helping lung infections is absolutely false.

B: Cancer.

J: Thank you.

B: Okay. Steve.

S: Marine scientist proposes putting a price on whales in order to save them. So, if you interpret that as you have to pay some sort of fee in order to hunt whales, that, that at least makes sense. That's the way the situation is with buffalo, I believe that you can hunt a certain limited number of buffalo and the fee is very high in order to do that. So the idea is out there, so, that's plausible, that a marine scientist said that. The mouse study looking at intestinal worm infections, helping treat lung cancer, again, that's, it's hard to, you know, in a mouse, you know, it's easy to believe any outcome like this. There have been a number of studies recently looking at, you know, intestinal worms and changing metabolism or having an effect that, you know, that could be exploited. So this, I think, is plausible. Of course, I didn't hear about this. The third one to me is the easiest. That's, I'm say, I agree with that one, the one about the lack of sleep increasing appetite. So, it's definitely between one and two for me. Both seem plausible. I guess I'll, I'll go with the intestinal worm one being the fiction, just because there's probably the most opportunities to screw with that one.

B: Okay. So let me see, who's left. Oh, Rebecca.

R: Yeah. Thanks. Don't forget me. (laughter) I don't get why you guys didn't understand the whale thing. I, that makes sense to me. That, I mean maybe, maybe I'm still misunderstanding it. But, we've got carbon credits, you know, we've got, for ages people have sought to intertwine economics and environmental policy in a way that could benefit the environment. It makes sense. If you can, if you can make that happen, oftentimes, it can be really great for the environment, 'cause people think with their wallets. So, yeah, I believe that's true. The lack of sleep one, I think is, like Steve said, yeah, I mean, there's tons of anecdotal evidence to support that and I'm sure a good deal of research as well. But from my perspective, yeah, you stay up late, you get hungry. So that makes perfect sense. Intestinal worms, yeah, I've seen, I've heard of a lot of studies recently, as Steve says, that they can treat all sorts of things, or that they're trying to figure out if they can treat all sorts of things. But lung cancer, that's way more extreme than I have seen, so, I'm gonna go with that one being the fiction as well.

B: Okay. So Rebecca, Jay and Steve think intestinal worms are fiction. And Evan thinks that the lack of sleep, right, Evan?

E: Yes.

B: And, nobody picked number one, so I'll start with that. Marine scientists propose putting a price on whales in order to save them. And that one is science.

R: Yay!

B: This was, this is pretty interesting. I'm sorry if there was, if it was a little confusing. But what makes this a little bit counterintuitive is that typically people who are against whaling would pretty much cringe at any idea of actually letting people, permitting people to kill whales, because you put a price on them. And, I was a little bit surprised that whale harvesting has actually doubled since the 1990s, so it's not actually getting any better. It's getting worse. This is despite anti-whaling organizations spending many millions per year for lobbying and education and protests and even, you know, the dangerous confrontations on the high seas that we've seen in so many documentaries on TV. So an economist and two marine scientists writing in the Journal of Nature proposed putting a price on each whale in order to save them. The name of the article is A Market Approach to Saving the Whales. The authors write:

We propose an alternative path forward that could break the deadlock, quotas that could be bought and sold creating a market that would be economically, ecologically and socially viable for whalers and whales alike.

This is similar to trading markets that already exist for things like air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. So what would happen would be that they'd have an auctioning off of annual whale-catch quotas, so you can trade them in a carefully controlled global market. So, so once you do that they believe that, you know, they would create these quotas that would be tolerable and they think that it'll, though it wouldn't be easy, there would be some difficulties that it would really help to, you know, to put a stop to, you know, the runaway whaling that we're still seeing to this day. So I thought it was an interesting proposal. I'm curious to see what happens with that. So, we've got two and three. I'll go to three: researchers associate lack of sleep with increased appetite, and that one is . . . science as well. Sorry, Evan. This one is from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Researchers Christian Benedict and Helgi Schi&oumlth of the Department of Neuroscience in Uppsala University. They studied the brains of healthy males after a normal night's sleep and another group of males after a night with no sleep at all. And they showed, the key, the key thing that they showed was that the specific area of the brain associated with appetite sensation is activated more by images of food in the group of men that got no sleep. So that's kind of how they determined this. Yeah, it kind of makes sense that if you're awake all night and you're potentially not just laying in bed with your eyes opening, opened, you're, you know, you're active, you're moving around and that would, you know, increase your appetite just 'cause you're spending more calories. But I think they haven't really given a reason for this, but, for some reason if you're not, if you don't sleep at all, that part of your brain gets activated by seeing images of food. So, and of course I think it's reasonable to then conclude that they're actually, you know, more hungry. I wonder if they even actually asked them "Hey, are you, you know, are you more hungry today than normal?"

S: So I didn't want to say too much when I was giving my answer, but this is, the association between lack of sleep and increased appetite is old news. Right, that's clearly well established, so, you know, that's why it was the easiest one for me, unless this was contradicting a lot of existing research.

B: Yeah.

S: And the primary hypothesis is that it's hormonal. That essentially lack of sleep causes you to secrete appetite-increasing hormones. So that, there's other research which shows that's probably the mechanism.

B: Okay. I don't know why I picked another brain news item. I will not do that anymore.

R: Know your audience, Bob.

S: No, I think that was a good job, Bob, solid.

B: Yeah, yeah. Eat shit.

R: You got, you got one of us.

B: (laughing) Yeah. I do feel better because I think last time you guys swept me. But since, since lack of sufficient sleep is a worsening problem in our modern 24-hour society, it's important to add poor sleep as yet another risk factor for weight gain. So

S: Yeah, so I tell patients about that all the time, actually, 'cause I see a lot of people who are in the vicious cycle of poor sleep, gain weight, which makes the sleep even worse, makes it harder to exercise, they gain more weight, their sleep gets worse, which makes them even more hungry.

B: Domino effect, yeah.

S: So unfortunately it's a self-reinforcing cycle and they have to break out of it by sort of addressing all of these things at once. You have to address their sleep and their exercise and their weight in a concerted way and not just focus on one of them.

B: So, this of course means that number two, according to a new mouse study, intestinal worm infections help treat lung cancer, is, of course, fiction, and this was based on an actual news item that's pretty much the same except the intestinal worms helped with, helped repair lung damage and inflammation but have no, have no real effect on lung cancer, which is a little extreme, so, Rebecca, you were right there, that was a little too optimistic. But, this was a new study published in Nature Medicine that had shown that the immune reaction that mice have to intestinal worms promoted wound healing in the lungs. The cytokines, which are a protein that helps the body get rid of the worms in this case, also helped heal lung injuries and inflammation. And, it was interesting that lung injuries were actually caused by the worms as they made their way to the mice's gut. They're travelling through the body and they just kind of like barrel through lots of different things to different tissues and they, I guess this made holes in the lungs and so they had wounds in the lungs and there was inflammation. So what's happening is that the immune response that these intestinal worms cause have the beneficial effect of actually also healing and helping with the inflammation of the wounds in the lung. Now it's possible that inducing a similar type of immune response in humans could potentially help treat wounds, including lung injuries cause by respiratory infections like pneumonia. So they might, if this effect transfers to humans, which it can do sometimes, it could be of some benefit by inducing the specific immune response that these, that these worms caused. So. Good job, everybody!

R: Cool!

B: Except Evan.

R: Aw.

E: Yeah.

R: Evan did well, too. He just, didn't get it right.

E: Yeah, well, you know.

R: Well, just not well enough.

S: He did well-ish.

B: Well-ish. (laughter)

E: Welsh.

S: (laughing). Welsh, yeah. All right, thanks for covering for me, Bob.

B: Sure thing.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:12:45)[edit]

S: Jay, do you have a good quote for us this week?

J: This is a quote sent in by a listener named Pierce Maguire, from Ireland. (in an Irish accent) From Ireland.

S: (in an Irish accent) Ireland.

J: This is a quote from K.E. van Holde.

As I look back on nearly half a century of research, I am struck by the fact that my life in science has never proceeded along a straight line toward a goal, but in a series of steps in different and unexpected directions. It reminds me of the walks I loved to take in Paris- not journeys toward a particular goal, but random strolls that were directed, at each corner, by the curious or beautiful that appeared down one street or the other. I think it’s a good way to explore and a great way to live.

(shouting) K.E. van Holde! (in a normal voice) A biochemist of some note.

Announcements (1:13:31)[edit]

R: Steve.

S: Yeah?

R: I have an, I have an announcement.

S: Hit me.

R: Last week I mentioned that the horrific preacher Helen Ukpabio was coming to America to preach her craziness about witchcraft and whatnot, and I asked if anyone would be organizing any kind of counter-protest. Well, there are people. Alvarro was very kind to write in. He's from Houston and he says that some of the Houston atheists are organizing a protest/fundraiser while Ukpabio is in town. So you can go to a Facebook page that is linked in the show notes and get more information.

S: Awesome. That's some good grassroots skepticism.

R: Word up.

S: 'Cause we don't like witch hunters.

E: No.

R: We do not. And, even if you are not an atheist, don't be put off by the fact that it's being organized by Houston Atheists, if you also protest the fact that this woman is encouraging people to track down and murder children and the elderly for being witches, you should join the cause because

E: Right.

R: It's a good one. So.

E: Basically, if you care about other people.

S: Yeah.

R: Yeah.

S: All right. Thanks, Rebecca. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

R: Thank you, Steve.

J: Thanks, Steve!

E: Ho!

S: My pleasure. And 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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