SGU Episode 35

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SGU Episode 35
March 22nd 2006
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 34                      SGU 36

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

P: Perry DeAngelis

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Show Notes
SGU Forum


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, March 22, 2006. This is your host Stephen Novella, President of the New England Skeptical Society. With me today are Perry DeAngelis, ...

P: Yes, how are you all?

S: ... Bob Novella, ...

B: Thanks for joining us, everyone.

S: ... Evan Bernstein, ....

E: Hello, everyone in the world.

S: ... and Jay Novella.

J: Hello, gov'nor.

S: How are you guys doing, tonight?

B: Good, Steve.

P: All right.

J: Pretty good, buddy.

E: It's all right. Hanging in.

News Items[edit]

More on Scientology and South Park (00:48)[edit]

S: I got a couple of the follow-up pieces in the news item section of our show. The first is an update on the South Park and Scientology hubbub.

J: Yeah.

P: Isaac Hayes.

S: As we talked about the last week, Isaac Hayes, who does the voice of Chef, quit the show South Park to protest their religious intolerance, by which he meant the fact that they dared to make fun of his religion, Scientology. Well, apparently, ...

P: Loser!

S: ... the plot thickens. This is actually part of a more coordinated attack, if you will, by Scientology on South Park. Apparently, Tom Cruise has threatened not to do any publicity for the upcoming Mission Impossible 3 movie unless the Comedy Central, the makers of South Park, agree not to re-air the Scientology episode, an episode that made absolutely relentless fun of Tom Cruise and the beliefs of Scientologists.

P: And was accurate.

E: The connection here is that Viacom, I believe, has a stake in both Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures.

S: That's right. Viacom owns both.

B: Guys! Guys. It says that reportedly Tom Cruise objected, but it's also saying that a spokesperson for Cruise denied that he made the threat, so where's this rumor coming from? What's the source?

P: That's a good point.

S: I did note that, that he was not admitting that that's what happened. The article did not cite a specific source, but I think the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, ...

B: Maybe they ...

S: ... are claiming this. They're quoted as saying "So, Scientology, you have won this battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun. Temporarily anazanyzing ..." — what is that?

B: I don't know. What does that mean?

S: " ... the episode will not stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man bodies."

P: Ha, ha, ha.

S: That was their response to ...

P: Something to do with Scientology.

E: Exactly.

J: I was talking to a friend of mine about this, and in order for Matt Stone and Trey Parker to just come up with this whole thing makes absolutely no sense. They wouldn't jeopardize Isaac Hayes on the show, because Chef is one of the most popular characters. There's just no reason for them to make it up. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

P: You mean make up the thing about Cruise?

J: The whole thing. The whole thing. Either it happened or it didn't. Because I just read today that Isaac Hayes — his camp, I think, denies that the whole exchange took place, now.

P: That he didn't quit the show? He quit the show!

J: I'm just telling you what I read.

P: Well, but he quit the show. Stone and Trey, they're talking about it.

E: Yeah, that was widely reported.

P: I mean he quit the show.

S: It is true also that the episode was scheduled to re-air on March 15th, but Comedy Central abruptly pulled it, so something happened.

P: Something happened, yeah. The worst part for me is this nonsense about Isaac Hayes coming up and saying well this is about intolerance and all that. It's such a bunch of crap, and Matt Stone said so. He says "This is 100% having to his faith in Scientology.He has no problem and he's cashed plenty of checks with our show making fun of Christians."

S: Yeah.

E: Yup.

P: That is so true.

J: Here's a quote from Isaac Hayes, I guess a little bit earlier on while he was doing South Park. He said "Hey, let me tell you. I worked years to achieve artistic excellence, and then all of a sudden I get involved in this stupid, crazy, insane cartoon, and now I'm hotter than I've ever been. I love it. I love it."

S: Right.

P: There you go.

E: There you go.

S: Well, we'll keep you updated if anything further develops, but ...

P: He is an absolute hypocritical slime. That is my personal opinion.

S: He is. He is.

B: Well, you know what? I'm hoping that in the future somebody's thinking about grabbing Cruise for a movie, and it just crosses their mind that "Hey, wait a second. If there's just any little Scientology hubbub, he might not even promote our movie, because he's throwing a little hissy fit." Now I doubt that's going to happen, because it's still Tom Cruise. He's still got a lot of draw, and they're still going to use him, but I just hope at some point that it really comes back and bites him in the ass.

S: We could hope, probably in vain.

P: Yeah. We could hope.

J: Tom Cruise is a disgrace.

S: To what? To Hollywood actors?

J: He's a total disgrace.

S: To humanity, maybe?

J: I don't even know where to begin. He's just — I abhor him. I lost any ounce of like that I had for him is totally gone after the past year.

S: Yeah. It's unfortunate that he's a damn fine actor. Very unfortunate.

P: He couldn't save "War of the Worlds."

S: I liked that movie.

J: That movie sucked!

S: Another follow-up.

P: That was not a good movie.

Fraudulent Stem Cell Researcher Fired (05:41)[edit]

S: This from South Korea. The scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who is the stem cell researcher who was disgraced after it came out that he had faked, essentially, large portions of his stem cell research, was finally fired from the National University, ...

E: Finally.

S: ... where he worked.

E: Yeah, finally.

S: When I read the article, I was "he wasn't fired already?". I was kind of shocked that he hadn't already been fired, but I guess they were waiting ...

E: Or resigned, or that he stepped down.

S: He was fired.

J: They had him on some type of leave-of-absence business while they figured out what to do.

S: They also revoked his license to conduct embryonic stem cell research. This is the South Korean government, so that puts a bit of a punctuation at the end of that story.

E: The Raëlians have invited him to do research with their own form of Scientology and cults and whatever.

S: The Raëlians are a UFO cult who a couple years ago claimed to have cloned the first human, and then, essentially, after a completely uncritical media cycle, it basically came out that they lied about this just for the millions of dollars of free publicity that it gave them.

B: They got it.

S: It totally worked.

E: Oh, they did.

S: The media completely bought into it.

B: Yeah, who didn't hear about them back then?

S: Yeah. They're another UFO cult, just like Scientology.

P: Really.

E: There's a lot of them.

B: Quick, guys, back to Dr. Woo-suk Hwang, I guess that's how you pronounce it. I was just flipping through a four- or five-month-old Scientific American, and they have this section "Research Leader of the Year for 2005," and he was like number one: Research Leader of the Year for 2005.

P: Hey, if you're just making stuff up and lying, it's very easy to be spectacular.

S: Yeah, it is.


B: I'm looking at a website right now, and here they officially remove him from that honored position, so.

P: Good, good.

E: Just like they should remove Barry Bonds's home run record, 73, for pumping himself up with steroids.

P: Thank you.

E: But that's a separate subject for another night.

S: That's a different podcast, I think.

J: You know with a name like "You Suck Wang," that guy, I mean, really, he better get it straight.

B: "Woo." It's "Woo."

J: Oh, excuse me, "Woo Suck Want."

E: You have to get it right, Jay.

P: He's out. He's out. Next case. Out.

Endangered Species (8:09)[edit]

S: Next case. The Union of Concerned Scientists — now which it says "citizens and scientists for environmental solutions." I always get a little suspicious when I see — I think this is a legitimate organization, but it sounds like a lot of the front organizations that the Moonies used. They always have these really benign sounding names. This is a legitimate organization. Yeah, "Professors for World Peace."

P: Professors for World Peace is a Moonie organization.

S: Exactly. They have sent a letter, with over 5,700 scientists signing, to the congressmen of the United States basically saying that they are concerned.

P: The salient point of this piece, Steve, is there's this legislation coming up, and they feel that it's really going to weaken the Endangered Species Act, and what it says here is they say "First, the legislation transfers the authority for deciding what is the best available science from scientists to political appointees ..."

S: Right.

P: "... in the Department of the Interior. Second, the legislation requires decisions affecting species to be based on empirical data, effectively eliminating the use of established scientific techniques such as modeling, population surveys, and taxonomic and genetic studies."

B: Wow!

P: It goes on to talk about how it's going to change the areas designated as protected habitat. They're going to change it to something — used to be called "critical habitat" and they're going to replace it with something called "special value habitat".

S: Right.

P: But they say there's no guidelines as to what special value means. No attention to historical habitat or further habitat the species might occupy, and no requirement or guidelines for habitat protection.

S: So basically ...

P: That's sort of their main problems with it.

S: Basically, what we're seeing here are some techniques used by those with a political agenda to take control of this area from scientists. So the first is obvious.

B: Wow!

S: They're just going to take certain decision-making out of the hands of scientists and into the hands of politicians. That strategy is similar, for example, to efforts to pass laws to require the teaching of intelligent design. It's basically the same thing. They're saying "Scientists are not going to decide what science is; politicians are going to decide what science is" in the guise of this law.

P: Isn't it also similar, Steve, in the medical field with HMOs? Is that the same kind of thing?

S: Well ...

P: They took decision-making away from the practitioners?

S: Well, in a way, yeah. They put it in the hands of bean counters, but ...

P: Right.

S: ... there the agenda was to save money. "We're not going to let physicians decide what tests are appropriate to do."

P: So not politicians but accountants.

S: That's right. That's right.

P: Right.

S: Although sometimes it is politicians. For example, chiropractors have been very successful at lobbying state governments to force insurance companies to pay for chiropractic care, again, using a political process to subvert a question which should be scientific.

P: But to the best of our knowledge, that group Hope, which I believe is now defunct, a gullible ghost group, they were trying to get possession covered medically as a medical (unintelligible).

S: He wasn't really lobbying for coverage so much as just trying to present demonic possession as a psychiatric diagnosis.

P: Okay.

S: That was just pseudoscience.

P: Yeah, I know.

E: That's a problem.

P: I think he was trying for coverage, too. But anyway, nothing happened.

S: Getting back to the Concerned Scientists, the other elements of the strategy here — one is to replace a very specifically defined term "critical habitat" with a vaguely defined term: "special value." Again, that gives the politicians wiggle room to essentially do an end run around science. They get to decide what land they want to consider special, and they remove any scientific criteria or any kind of objective criteria for designating special habitat.

B: Well, whose the force behind this? Whose bright idea was this?

S: It doesn't say who the main supporters are, just that it is a bill in the Senate.

P: It would be good to know, though.

J: Well, it's an interesting web site.

S: It's House legislation they're talking about.

J: I took a took at the website. I think it's a good site. If people want to go to it it's

P: It'll be in the notes, of course. Along with the podcast, the link will be there.

S: Right. The other strategy, just to complete the analysis, they want to eliminate or restrict the use of deciding what species are endangered to empirical data. Basically, again, they are trying to decide what qualifies as science, trying to limit the scope of what scientists can do to make it harder for them to prove that a species is endangered. They can't use legitimate techniques like population surveys and modeling. They say no, basically raising the bar on the proof. You need to produce empirical data. Again, that's completely arbitrary. It's not as if mainstream scientists are misusing these other methods. It's just a way of making it harder, essentially, to designate a species as endangered.

E: So they're doing an end-around the scientists instead of listening to them.

S: Yeah. It's basically the broader concept here. It's politicians trying to use these legal mechanisms to do an end-run around a process that should be informed by science, not overwhelmed by politics. This is a problem in our government in a much broader sense, regardless of what end of the particle spectrum you're on. Of course, we have a Republican administration now, so the emphasis recently has been on the right wing abuse of science. In fact, one of our previous guests, Chris Mooney, wrote a book "The Republican War On Science," but both ends of the political spectrum abuse science for their own political agenda. The radical pro-environmentalists are just as likely to distort the facts as the anti-environmentalists, for example. In many areas where it's energy policy, environmental policy, etc., that are driven chiefly by scientific data, they really need to find a process that allows science to be at the forefront of this decision making. Unfortunately they tend to get mired in politics, and politicians are just getting more savvy at manipulating the scientific process, and this is just another example of that.

Noah's Ark (14:52)[edit]

S: Well, finally, in the news this week, Noah's Ark has cropped up again. Now, of course, it doesn't take a Biblical scholar to know the story of Noah's Ark. This is early on in Genesis. The world was covered in a worldwide flood. God spoke to Noah; warned him of this; instructed him to build an Ark; put two of every animal on there. Actually, I think it was all of the — it was two of every predator and seven of all the domesticated herbivores.

B: Really?

S: Yeah.

E: Hm.

S: But, basically, fill the Ark with animals to perpetuate their species; they survived the Flood; the Ark came to rest at the top of a mountain. You know, in modern times, Biblical scholars have interpreted that as Mount Ararat. Actually, I think that even goes back into Medieval times; the thinking that that was Mount Ararat. And, I remember in the 1970s, there was a movie, In Search of Noah's Ark, where they had ...

B: Remember that?

S: Remember that movie?

B: Yeah.

S: So there's a lot of blurry photos of outlines of alleged ships. I remember even at that time, and I was very young at the time, and I was still in my formative ages, it occurred to me that, you know, they were promoting different blurry photographs that were mutually inconsistent. They were mutually exclusive. They looked like two different kinds of ships.

J: Steve, do you remember the Leonard Nimoy show; what was that show?

S: In Search of...

J: "In Search Of." Remember the cheesy program they had on that?

S: Yeah, it was a horrible, horrible show.

J: I used to buy that show hook, line, and sinker when I was a kid.

S: That was pure mystery mongering, that show. It's really terrible.

J: I was so young and stupid, though, I just loved it. I believed every frickin' thing that happened on there.

S: Well now ...

P: If you watch that show now, it makes you sick.

S: It is. I mean, now you're like, "Oh my goodness".

B: Of course, Jay. It was Spock. Come on!

J: Yeah, I know. Hey, come on.

P: It's true.

S: So, they claimed there was this big ship on top of Mount Ararat, but it's in a militarily sensitive area of Turkey, so they've never let expeditions go up there. Well, these days, you don't really need to send an expedition to the top of a mountain. You can just ...

B: Satellite.

S: ... position a satellite over there. Exactly.

E: Right.

S: Have you guys been playing with Google Earth? That is awesome.

J: I love it. What a awesome application.

S: You could view the entire world with a mosaic of satellite images. Of course the first thing everybody does is find their own house, which is funny. It's fun to do that. So anyway, we have pretty high detailed satellite images of pretty much most of the surface of the world. So, some scientists poring over satellite images — and this has been happening for a while now; this is just the latest in this phenomenon — think they see Noah's Ark in these satellite images. The one being promoted now — we'll have it on our web site — it's pretty pathetic. To me, it looks like a natural wind-swept mountain edge, mountain geological feature. It's only "boat-shaped" in the most generic sense, in that it's basically a very elongated kind of oval shape.

J: Steve, that turned out to actually be a mobile home with a Chevy pickup parked out front.

S: Yeah, I think you may be right.

E: Not surprising.

S: So, again, promoters of the possibility that this could be Noah's Ark emphasize the similarities, the fact that this is sort of vaguely hull-shaped. And they are very dismissive of the apparent inconsistencies. For example, it's twice as big as the boat that is described in Genesis, and it's also the wrong shape. It's not more of a box shape that is described and that has been classically interpreted. It is more traditionally oval-shaped, pointy at the "bow and stern". But they say, "but it has the right ratio". So they're impressed by the right ratio, but they're not concerned by the fact that it's twice as big as it's supposed to be and it's the wrong shape. It also doesn't have any features that would distinguish it from a natural geological shape. And looking at it, you know, it looks like a piece of mountain. Have you guys seen this picture?

B: No.

S: I sent it to you.

P: I saw it.

B: You did?

P: I saw it on television; yes, I would agree.

E: I saw it when it came out.

P: I saw it. It looks like nothing.

S: Yeah

P: It's worse than the Face on Mars.

E: Much worse.

S: These guys say — it's the same thing as the Face on Mars or the canals on Mars or whatever.

P: It's just ridiculous.

S: You know, using either planes for fly-over and now, of course, satellite images to try to identify features on the ground is used commonly, but archaeologists and geologists, etc., would tell you that you always need on-the-ground confirmation, because you just can't tell what things are from these birds-eye view two-dimensional images. You just can't tell what they are. So, without on-the-ground confirmation, this is just another splotch on a satellite image.

J: Of course it is. Of course.

S: And it is no different than the Face on Mars or the pyramids of Mars or whatever.

P: It's ridiculous.

J: My question is, why even bring it up? Why make any kind of point out of it until you send somebody there? At this point, who cares that they saw something that might look like a ship.

P: Because a lot of people put a lot of their lives in this sort of faith, Jay. It means a lot to a lot of people.

S: Right. A responsible scientist would do that, Jay, would mount the expedition, would get the higher resolution images or whatever before going public with this. Again, this is really just sensationalism.

J: But Steve, is this ...

P: It hardly matters. It hardly matters in my opinion, too. If you send somebody up there and they don't find anything, they'll just say the Turks moved it; they're protecting it; they're Muslims; they burned it. It doesn't matter.

J: Yeah. What will happen is it'll turn into like, "Oh, here's another shred of proof that it exists", but no one'll ever bother to prove it or disprove it.

S: Yeah, it won't matter to the hard-core true believers, but to the public at large it will marginalize it. It's like with the Face on Mars. It was the same thing. You had the sort of ...

P: The picture should marginalize it. Excuse me. The picture should marginalize it, so...

S: You're correct.

P: Right.

S: But perhaps you may give people too much credit. But it should.

P: (chuckles)

S: But I remember with the face on Mars, the original images were very low resolution.

P: Right.

S: You could really only see half the face.

E: It was in 1977?

S: It was just vaguely reminiscent of a human face.

B: Right.

S: And then we saw the high-resolution images.

B: Right.

E: Nothing like!

B: A joke!

S: It just looked like a natural mountain plateau, like a mesa. Really, you could see in very high detail that there was nothing. It was completely natural. There was nothing about which looked anything like a human face. It was just really the trick of shadows and the particular angle that the previous lower-resolution pictures were taken.

E: And then you go to find David Hoagland, who perpetuated this myth, and then they go to ask him a question about these new photos, and he's nowhere to be found or to comment on them.

B: That's not true. He made comments.

S: His comment was: NASA, after their satellite, their probe, got all the information they could out of that region, dropped an atom bomb on it and blew it up.

E: Oh, is that his explanation?

S: That is what he said.

B: Oh, yeah.

E: That makes more sense than his original theory.

S: He also said, and others tried to dismiss the high-resolution photos by saying "Well, they've been manipulated. They've been photographically enhanced." Well, first of all, that's not true. They haven't been manipulated. They were just processed, because like all cameras, all digital cameras take raw photos, even if you have like an SLR digital camera, it takes pictures in a raw format, and then it has to do some kind of processing to give it color and whatever, and you save it in a format like a JPEG or some kind of more user-friendly format. Well, it was the same thing. They just did sort of the minimal kind of processing that you would do to any digital photo, but it wasn't altered in any way. It was also completely hypocritical, because they were okay with the manipulations that were done with the earlier photographs. The earlier photographs were even more filtered than the newer ones that they were dismissing.

S: Steve, if they hit with a nuke, wouldn't there be a crater there?

S: Whatever, Jay.

J: It's so ridiculous! What did he think? It just took like a brushstroke to it and softened it?

S: After reading Hoagland and listening to this guy I'm convinced that he's diagnosable. I don't think this guy has any real connection to reality.

J: No.

E: Well plus he's been caught in lie after lie about working for NASA and these sorts of things, as well, that NASA consulted him for his expertise when it turns out that never happened. So he's a very shady character, this person.

S: Oh, definitely. I doubt that we'll hear anything more about Noah's Ark, but this is the latest flap. Again, it's just the same thing again — indistinct photo that's vaguely suggestive but not at all compelling. If anything further comes of it we will certainly keep you updated.

Endangered Species Act Defenders (24:22)[edit]

P: Steve, before we move on, I just want to say a quick word about our previous topic about trying to protect science and in the Endangered Species Act and federal research in general. While I could not find in this short time who sponsored the proposed changes to the act, I imagine it was amalgam, the guys that are trying to stop it in the House are Henry Waxman, Democrat from California, Bart Gordon, Democrat from Tennessee. Their bill is called "Restore Scientific Integrity to Federal Research and Policy Making Act," and what I noticed was that in the Senate, the similar bill was written by and is mainly supported by Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois. He's the same guy that is behind the dietary supplement safety act of 2003. He hasn't been able to get that one passed yet, either. I'll tell you, when it comes to science, this guy is always right on the mark.

S: Yeah

P: He's trying to preserve the scientific integrity in federal research in general, and that dietary supplement safety act is essential.

S: It's a good start. It's not enough. It doesn't go far enough, but it's a good start.

P: It's a good start, and he can't even get that passed. He must have a science background, or he's listening to the right people or something.

S: I think he's one of the few scientifically literate people on the Hill.

J: I heard he listens to our podcast.

S: Is that right?

E: Oh, yeah. Yup, yup.

S: Senator Durbin, you've got my support on these issues.

E: I was just inviting him to send us his email, send us an email comment.

P: Yes! Absolutely. We want to hear his comments.

E: As we invite everyone to send us your comments, both good, bad, and indifferent.

S: We're not quite to emails, yet, but we'll get there in a second.

Bigfoot or Bison (26:04)[edit]

S: One final item before we do move onto the emails: I was doing some follow-up research on the Bigfoot episode that we did, and the Bigfoot proponent was claiming that there's research out there with hairs that are convincing, unidentified primate hairs, etc. My research had never uncovered any hairs that were compelling. What I did find was a recent hair analysis. A few months ago in the Yukon, in Canada, there was a Bigfoot sighting, even involving some footprints. A few people thought they saw this large, hairy creature. Later investigation at the site uncovered a tuft of hair.

P: This was a few months ago, Steve?

S: Yeah.

P: Gee, weren't you up in the Yukon a few months ago?

J: You can't prove that.

P: Yeah, right.

E: Sure we can. We got the hair.

S: A DNA analyst agreed to analyze the hair. This was David Coltman, a geneticist. Basically agreed to do DNA analysis on the hair. Fortunately, there was some DNA. Again, hair itself does not contain DNA. You need some of the follicle, what they call the medula, of the hair root, and that contains some DNA. He was able to extract some DNA from that, and the answer is — what do you guys think it was?

J: It absolutely proved Bigfoot's existence, of course.


S: It was a bison. No big surprise.

P: Aaaaahh.

S: Which is very common, actually. Bigfoot hair, in Canada, often turns out to be bison. This is a very common result. But interestingly he discovered something else, too. He said "You know, it was particularly difficult to amplify the DNA from the sample that we had. That suggests that that hair sample ..."

B: It's old.

S: "... was very old, or that it had been treated in some way."

E: Ah, ha.

P: Aaaaaahh.

S: Ah, ha.

B: No way!

S: So he suspects that someone had used bison pelt to make a Bigfoot costume, basically. That is the implication of this. It wasn't just a fresh bison sample. They didn't see a bison walk by and thought it was a big foot. Either way, that is the state of the hair analysis for Bigfoot. There are no validated hair samples. And what Coltman said was, well if we did find hair from a Bigfoot, what we would expect is that it would have a lot of primate features, but wouldn't specifically match a chimp or a gorilla or a person, but it would be — it would look — have clear signs that it belonged to some primate species. Nothing like that has ever been found. There are still a number of hair samples that have no DNA, so they're just hair samples, and believers put these forward as compelling evidence, because, whatever, they look similar to each other and whatever. They make some very handwaving arguments that really don't relate to any gold standard or any solid evidence. But, to date, there's no hair that had amplifiable DNA that did not match a known local animal, like, say, the bison.

J: So, Steve. Is this specifically talking about the hair sample that the guest that you had on was referring to?

S: No. He did not refer to any specific hair samples during the show. He just said sort of generally there are hair samples that could not be matched or whatever. So my later, more detailed research did not reveal that. I did uncover that ones that were put forward that have been DNA analyzed, have been shown to be bison and other known species. This was the most recent one, this one in the Yukon.

Questions and E-mails (29:58)[edit]

S: Well let's move onto emails. Those who listen to the show, last week I noted that we had only one email in the intervening week. It turns out that Bob was holding out on me. Bob's been getting a lot of the email that comes directly off of the website that wasn't sent to me specifically. But he did forward all those emails to me, and we did have on top of that a pulse of emails. So we have about a dozen or so in the last week. We don't have time to read all them. I did pick out a few to read. Maybe we'll get to some of the other ones in later shows.

Cancer Quacks (30:32)[edit]

S: So the first email comes from Australia. This is from a gentleman who signs his name as Yucasan. He says "Dr. Chachoua in Australia has contended that his serum cure for cancer has been refused testing by the establishment. He claims to have been rejected out of hand although his lectures were widespread, and some were given before scientific bodies. Not being an informed biochemist or anything near the medic profession, your answers are solicited. Another question is on spontaneous remission arising from bacterial infections, usually with high fever. Not practiced, but Coley's toxin were once used with recorded results. With lawsuits abounding today it is no wonder bacterial toxins are no longer administered." (That's actually not true; I'll tell about that in a second.) "Also, some remissions were recorded with the accidental use of smallpox vaccine. I'm trying to avoid quackery while looking for effective treatments. Your comments, please." Well, starting with Dr. Chachoua. This guy is clearly in the mold of a group of cancer quacks. What these people do is prey upon people who have either cancer, whether it's incurable or not. Sometimes they may lure people away from treatments that actually have a chance of working. And they basically claim that they know the true underlying cause of cancer, and it is something which is treatable by their particular cocktail or treatment. Ones that are that are well known are Lauren Day, Stanislav Brezinski, Hulda Clark, and this guy Sam Chuachoua.

P: Hm.

S: So these are four of probably the more prominent ones. There's a good article describing the commonalities between these four on the Australian skeptic sites. I link to that from the notes page for this podcast. The Australian Council Against Health Fraud — they have a very good overview article about this. And they point out a few things: the fact that they all claim that they're miraculously effective like either greater than 90%, greater than 99% effective cure is being suppressed by the establishment. And that's the only way to explain how a cure, which is so effective, would not be generally or widely known. It's pure nonsense, and I wrote an article about this that actually was a book chapter in "Science Meets Alternative Medicine" a number of years ago, really describing why in detail that the establishment suppressing a known cure for cancer story is completely illogical and untenable. If there were such a cure, first of all nobody would have the power or the ability to keep it out of every research lab in the world. Somebody would be able to show and prove that it worked. Also, if there were a cure for cancer, that would somehow tell us something intrinsic about the cause and the nature of cancer itself. You just couldn't avoid it with all of the cancer research that's going on. They also commit these your broad, grand conspiracy theories. You would have to involve large numbers of people and institutions and governments over many generations systematically suppressing this scientific knowledge without anyone ever coming out. So it's completely absurd. Also, their arguments for why the pharmaceutical companies would suppress their cures don't make any sense. They said because they would lose money from their drug cures, when, in fact, wouldn't they just market these as cures for cancer? And even if they couldn't get a patent on it, imagine the PR value to the pharmaceutical company that cured cancer. Who would turn that down?

P: Right.

S: Right?

P: Of course.

S: Then they would say they would lose money off their drugs with patents, but you know what? First of all, that argument's absurd, but it's not only absurd, after 20 years it's completely untenable, because the patents on all of their drugs would have run out over that course of time. And why would they be researching new ones while there's this cure for cancer hanging out there? Also, the final thing is, no company's going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars researching a cure for cancer they have no intention of marketing. So, you might say that they haven't done the research, but you can't say they know about it and are suppressing it. It makes absolutely no sense. Anyway, there are other major problems with it as well that I won't go into.

B: Imagine if it was found out "Well, here's the company that cured cancer and then didn't tell anybody!"

S: And hid it from the world.

B: Hello and goodbye! Done. Over and out.

S: Right, right, yeah. It just doesn't make any sense. The article that I referred to also points out the fact that the four cancer quacks that are mentioned all say that "The establishment theory of cancer is wrong. My theory of cancer is correct." But all of their theories are different and mutually exclusive, yet they all support each other. The only thing they have in common is that they're antiestablishment.

P: Yeah.

S: The fact that one person is promoting an infectious theory of cancer, another one is promoting — Burzynski says that people with cancer lack these proteins called antineoplastins, others are saying it's nutritional, this guy says it's an immune deficiency. So they all have these mutually exclusive, different theories of cancer, but they're all happy with each other as long they're antiestablishment. But at least three of them have to be wrong. Right? If any one of them is correct, the other three have to be completely 100% wrong, although I think it's likely that all four of them are completely 100% wrong. The other thing that they have in common is the utter lack of scientific evidence to support their theories, despite the fact that they make tons of money. This one guy, Chachoua, just made $11 million in a lawsuit against ...

J: Cha ching!

S: ... right, against a university, against Mount Sinai. Basically, he claimed that they had a breach of contract. He had a contract with them to do research; they breached their contract; and some gullible jury gave this guy $11 million. So he can't say he doesn't have the money to do the research.

P: Yeah.

S: That theory falls on deaf ears after a while, as well. It's the typical quack clinic pattern: fantastical claim, antiestablishment conspiracy theories, claims that you're too busy curing people and saving lives to actually do the research or publish anything in the scientific literature, and there is a conspiracy against you, anyway. And then you fight politically to subvert the scientific process.

P: General science illiteracy causes these ridiculous jury verdicts.

S: Right. Right.

P: It's outrageous.

S: Like the jury that awarded away a million dollars because an MRI took her psychic powers away.

P: It's outrageous.

J: That's unreal.

P: Steve, I have my own ideas, but you're the doctor here. Why do you think cancer, in particular, is so susceptible to this sort of pseudoscience and quackery.

S: It's the psychology of it. It's such a frightening disease. The more people are frightened, the more they're going to be desperate and flock into the arms of people who are selling false hope. Diseases that we can cure or that are not that bad aren't as susceptible to this. The second half of his question is Coley's toxins. Now this is something that goes back a hundred years. Dr. Coley made a legitimate observation that bacteria produce proteins which cause tumors to die. In fact, he was the first one to identify a substance which later became known as tumor necrosis factor. It is a substance which is secreted by cells in the immune system in response to tumors and infection. It's part of our immune reaction. It's how we kill bad cells. You can produce this with bacterial infections. The problem with this is that as a therapeutic agency, is that it may cause part of a tumor to necrose, but it doesn't get rid of the cancer. Just killing off part of the tumor doesn't really have much of an effect. Also, these toxins are not targeting the cancer. They can kill other cells, as well. So, it's a fairly toxic and ineffective treatment for cancer. The promoters of Coley's toxins say "Oh, yeah, it's just the pharmaceutical industry is suppressing this because they want to sell their drugs." But, again, if it worked, it would've been a legitimate avenue of research, and pharmaceutical industry and cancer research institutes, etc., would have found uses for this. This idea is not totally absurd. It's just the people who are selling Coley's toxins, they're just selling snake oil. What they are selling and what they're promoting is not anything which is scientific. The writer, however, Yucasan, did make that one comment that: "bacterial toxins are no longer administered." Actually, botox is botulinum toxin, is a bacterial toxin, and it has, actually, a very broad and growing range of therapeutic effects, and I inject myself. It has a number of neurological uses for certain movement disorders — dystonia's etc., and it's actually a lot of active research for chronic neuropathic pain. So, I don't think as as a general principle we're adverse to using bacterial toxins. They just have to be used scientifically.

Live Reptile Births (40:09)[edit]

S: The next email comes from a gentleman by the name of Adam Stewart Smith. Adam writes a very long email, again, it will be on our notes page. I can't read the whole thing, but I'll hit some of the highlights. He says "I am a PhD researcher in paleontology at the University College Dublin, Ireland. I specialize in plesiosaurs, a group of extinct prehistoric aquatic reptiles. I'm sure you are aware ..."

P: Nessie's a plesiosaur, by the way. That's confirmed.

S: Yes, he goes on "I'm sure you're aware that plesiosaurs are frequently associate with mythical lake sea monsters, most substantial sightings just as Nessie."

P: There you go. Told ya'.

S: So he says "I'm actually emailing with regard to the science or fiction article of skepticast number 29, February 8, 2006. The theme was animals. I got it wrong, as usual. I was fooled by option three. The statement 'a new species of lizard was discovered in the jungles of New Guinea that gives birth to live young' was actually fictional. In the ensuing discussion there was a brief debate as to the possibility of reptiles giving birth to live young, and how huge the news would be if one were discovered." So he wants to add his two cents, basically, to that part of the discussion. He says "In fact, viviparity has been firmly established in a number of extinct and extant groups of reptiles." So that's giving birth to live young. "Fossil evidence, i.e. gravid mothers, indicates that ichthyosaurs, fishlike marine reptiles, and mosasaurs, marine lizards, both certainly gave birth to live young. No direct evidence is known for plesiosaurs, but their close relatives were recently reported ..." (and he references a Nature article) "... with embryos in the abdominal region. So plesiosaurs were probably also viviparous." He also says there are number of live species — species of living snake families are also known to give birth to live young, like the Boas. So he just wanted to add that there are some living and extinct reptiles. So it wouldn't be that outrageous if a new lizard were discovered that gave birth to live young, since that adaptation has arisen multiple independent times within the class of reptiles.

B: Well, I don't feel so bad now about getting that one wrong.

S: Right. It still was wrong. It didn't happen, and it still would be news, but his point is well taken.

Creationism in the UK (42:26)[edit]

S: Email number three is more of a comment than a question. This comes from David Jones. Davy Jones!

J: Hello, guv'nor.

S: He says "Hi! I'm from the UK, and I listen to the podcast. Excellent stuff, keep it up. By the way, there's a creeping creationism in UK education."

B: Education? Ah.

S: "At least in the US, you managed to get it declared unconstitutional. In the UK, not having a written constitution and a supreme court, we're at the whim of the executive and its short-term political concerns. Do carry on, David Jones." Well, he's right! It's interesting. A lot Americans maybe don't realize this, but there's been a lot of debate recently about the role of the Supreme Court versus the Executive branch and the Legislative branch, all peculiar to our country that in the UK, there's no constitution, and they don't have a supreme court, which can declare laws unconstitutional. They don't have a judicial branch, which oversees their legislative branch. The legislative branch has the final say on what is law, on what is legal, and they can change that just by passing new laws.

J: So I would really like to know — this is very interesting, this letter. David, I'd like to know more about this. Why don't you send us another email and let us know some things that have been passed that have been bothering you or that might be skeptically charged, that we might want to discuss.

S: Yeah. What is the state of the creationism versus evolution battle in the UK? We have obviously reported quite a bit on it, especially in the context of intelligent design in this country over the last year. It's been very active with the Dover trial, etc. Do keep us updated on what's going on in the UK. And maybe we'll ...

J: Steve, he might be an interesting guest at some point, too.

S: Perhaps.

P: Yeah, definitely.

J: Hey, David, have your people call my people, okay?

S: Yeah, we'll do lunch or something.

P: Instead of a potter.

Artist vs. Believer (44:14)[edit]

S: The final email that I'll read this week comes from Raphael. He says "Dear fellow skeptics. I listen to your podcast and find it to be one of the few intelligent podcasts out there." Well thank you. I think there are probably a couple others.

J: Thank you!

S: "My question has to do with my profession. I am an artist, painter, and I find that very often when I engage people in conversation and they find out I am a secular humanist and a skeptic, they ask 'How can you be an artist and not believe?' Why do people assume that artistic talent has anything to do with the supernatural." Well, I guess the answer to that is I don't know. I don't why people would assume that. I guess they think that more rational people would tend to be scientific, and that artistic expressiveness would tend to go along with more of a spirituality or spiritual belief. I don't know if there's any data to back that up.

J: As if humans couldn't come up with unique ideas on their own, right?

S: Yeah. I think that people underestimate the amount of creativity that's involved in science. It is a lot of rigorous, detailed work, but the thing that separates out the brilliant scientist, the successful career scientists from the drudge workers is creativity. It is exactly that creativity, the ability to think of new things in new ways, which is similar, very similar, I think, to artists, who have to think of things in new ways. They just have different talents that they apply that creativity to.

Science or Fiction (45:47)[edit]

S: Let's move on to Science or Fiction.


S: So every week I come up with three science news items. Two of them are genuine, two are science, and one is fiction. One I have made up out of whole cloth. The challenge is to figure out which one is fake. I often have a theme. The theme for this week, Bob, you're going to like this one.

B: Kay.

P: Oh, God!

S: The theme for this week is microbes.

B: Cool!

J: I hate microbes.

P: Nano-sized microbes?

S: Microscopic size microbes.

B: The macroscopic microbes. They're called "macrobes."

J: Now, Steve, you're talking about like bacteria and not like ...

S: Yes. Exactly.

J: Okay, just (unintelligible) Yup.

S: Okay, ready? Item number one — again, two are real; one is fiction. Item number one: newly bioengineered bacteria can make usable gasoline from plastic waste. Item number two: 3.5 billion years ago methane-producing bacteria produced global warming, which was helpful for life's early development. And item number three: computer models predict that earth microbes may have seeded life on Saturn's moon Titan.

J: Wow! Ah, ah hah hah hah.

S: Jay. You spoke first, so why don't you go first.

J: And begin. Okay, so, my gut reaction, when I heard the very first one about the microbes being able to convert plastic into gasoline, although I don't believe it is physically impossible, that's the one I really just don't think is holding any merit right now. "Why?" you ask. It's too good to be true. That's it. That's my gut reaction. I really can't prove or disprove anything, obviously, but that's what I'm going with: number one.

S: The too good to be true hypotheis.

J: The too good to be true. Is there a logical fallacy in that?

P: Personal credulity?

S: Argument from final consequences?

B: No, when you're making an educated guess, you can go off of that. That's a legitimate thing, because you're reaching for anything to go off of.

S: It's a red flag. Something that sounds too good to be true is certainly a red flag.

B: So there you go. But don't forget, don't forget, though, Steve could hope that you do that and trick you that way.

J: I expect him to do that. But I also expect him to expect that I'm going to do that, and then it kind of kicks itself out.

B: Ah, okay. Ha, ha, ha.

S: It's an infinite regression of expectations. Okay, Perry, go ahead.

P: Okay, I'm going to say that number three doesn't sound right to me. I don't — the other two sound plausible. This one sounds the least plausible.

S: Okay.

P: I'm not an astronomer and a biologist, and I don't play one on this podcast. It simply has the patina of the least plausible.

S: All right.

J: But, Steve, in number three, that they have any proof, that they're just speculating, right?

B: Well "computer model.":

S: Computer models predict that Earth microbes may have seeded life on Saturn's moon Titan.

P: I don't trust them computers.

S: All right, Bob. What do you think?

B: Okay, let's see. Microbes — did you say they bioengineered microbes?

S: Yup. Newly bioengineered bacteria can make usable gasoline ...

B: Yeah.

S: ... from plastic waste.

B: That sounds familiar. I think I read something about that. So I'm going to say that's true. That's ringing a big bell for me. The third one, that computer models predict that microbes might have seeded Titan — I recently heard or read something about that as well. But you had a key phrase, here, Steve. Let me clarify. You said "may have seeded" or "could have"?

S: Both would be okay.

B: Okay.

S: Actually, it's "may" and "could." They both apply.

B: Okay. I think I saw something on that recently as well, too. I even remember some sort of graphic simulation of how it could've happened. The second one, though, initially sounded right, but I think methane's wrong. These microbes did induce some sort of global warming, and they were big contributors to the content of our atmosphere as it is today, but I don't think it was methane. Let's see, so I'm going to go with two.

S: Okay, so we got one for one, one for two, and one for three. An even split. Evan, unfortunately, had to step away, so he's dodging this one. So no tiebreaker. Allright, so, where should we start?

J: Which one do you pick, Steve?

B: Forget it.

S: Let's start with number two.

B: Oh, crap!

J: Ah, ha, ha, ha.

S: That one is true. That is science.

B: Was it methane?

S: Yes, it was methane. Both fossil evidence and models show that a lot of bacteria do produce methane as a byproduct, as a waste product.

J: I'm living proof of that.

S: And that's true. Bacterial-produced methane is a major contributor of flatulence, and they do put that into the atmosphere. They are the major contributor of methane in the atmosphere. What they figured out also is that that was an important component of global warming. This, of course — most of global warming is actually good for our planet. It keeps us from being frigid. We would be much less hospitable to life if we didn't have the global warming that we do. The new bit, too, is the 3.5 billion years. They kind of knew that this thing was happening, that bacterial-produced methane was warming the atmosphere early on. But there's now evidence that this is occurring about 700 million years earlier than they had previously estimated ...

B: Wow!

S: ... pushing back further to the dawn of our planet. 3.5 billion years is pretty close to the beginning of life on this planet. The planet itself formed about 4.5 billion years ago. So that one is true. Let's go from there to number one. Who said number one was ...?

J: I did.

S: Jay said that's fiction. Jay, you are correct, this week. That is fiction.

J: Oh, my God! Ding ding ding ding ding ding.

S: Congratulations.

P: That's impossible!

J: (unintelligible) Florida!

B: Jay!

S: This is, however, and I'm not surprised this rang a bell for you, Bob.

B: Ah you bastard!

S: Bacteria do metabolize a lot of organic compounds and a lot of fossil fuels. There are bacteria that can eat gasoline.

B: Right.

S: And in fact, they're using those — and this may have been what rang a bell for you. They're trying to use them to clean up oil spills and stuff.

J: We've been hearing that one for years.

S: Yeah, so there are — and there are also bacteria that eat waste. In fact, there was a new — this is kind of where I got this from — they have bioengineered a bacteria that could eat styrofoam and turn it into a biodegradable waste product. There are also bacteria that can make natural gas, like methane. So you can use it to make some fossil fuels — natural gas — to eat some kinds of waste, to eat gasoline. Plastic is natural.

J: Oil-based.

S: It's oil-based, so it's not unreasonable that bacteria can eat plastic. This may become true one day. I don't know. But I could not find anything that this is actually happened to date. So that was made up.

J: So what do I get?

S: You get a hearty handshake and congratulations, and you get bragging rights for six days.

J: Do I get a laurel and hardy handshake?

P: A laurel and hardy handshake. Jay, you jumped on my line.

J: Sorry, buddy.

S: Number three is very interesting. This is true. Number three is true. What they did was they said "would it be possible for microbes to survive the trip from earth to any of the places in our solar system where it's possible for there to be life — for life to then take a foothold.?" Specifically they looked at Titan, and they looked at Europa. They didn't look at Enceladus, because that information's too new. What they found was that microbes could in fact survive, that the speed at which a meteor from Earth would strike Titan would be slow enough that microbes could survive the trip. On Europa, however, they predict they probably wouldn't survive.

B: Why?

S: That's a good question. The reason is that Europa is close to Jupiter, closer than Titan is to Saturn, and that Jupiter's a lot bigger.

J: Yeah.

S: And the gravity of Jupiter would accelerate the meteor ...

B: Ah.

S: It would hit about twice as fast, and would kill from heat, it said, and the impact would probably kill or destroy any microbes on impact. So, probably could not seed Europa with Earth microbes, but we probably could seed Titan with Earth microbes. The other aspect of this modeling was they looked at, specifically, the debris that was probably kicked up from the Earth by the meteor or commet that hit the Earth 65 million years ago and was probably responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other species at that time — the cretaceous extinction. So the computer models predict that probably about 20 chunks of rock from the Earth would have hit Titan after that impact, and that it would've taken about a million years to make the journey.

J: Hey, Steve.

S: Yes.

J: How about if the exact opposite thing happened?

S: Well, Jay, yeah, that's not new. If you remember going back a number of years, five or six years, scientists found an asteroid in Antarctica, a meteorite in Antarctica, that was from Mars, and they thought they might have seen like fossilized microbes in the meteorite.

J: Hm, hm.

S: And they think maybe life got an early foothold on Mars and then was seeded to the Earth. That claim still remains controversial. Those fossilized microbes could just be air bubbles or some kind of geological formation. It really hasn't been proven or disproven at this point, but never really gained general acceptance upon a peer review. But the theory of panspermia or one planet seeding another remains viable. It's possible that any planet that could have harbored life in the early solar system through planetary impacts could have seeded any or all of the other bodies in the solar system with microbes.

J: Hm, hm.

S: If we go to Titan and we find microbes, and they have DNA, well ...

B: Then we'll know.

S: ... then that probably came from Earth.

B: Yeah

S: So it's interesting, and the seeding could have taken place in more than one time. Mars could have seeded Earth, which than could have later seeded Titan or Mars or whatever in any pattern. It's also possible, and this is where it gets really interesting, that microbes from another solar system could have seeded our solar system. This is where you get the panspermia theory, that life in microbial, dormant form, hiding inside chunks of ice and rock, can be spreading throughout the entire galaxy.

P: I could have relatives on Titan?

S: Very distant relatives, yes.

B: Very distant.

P: Very distant relatives.

S: So Jay wins the prize this week for being skeptical of the gasoline-making bacteria, but the other two things were, in fact, correct.

P: Jay, did you use your telepathic powers to cheat?

J: No, I paid Steve five bucks for the answer about two hours ago.

P: Excellent. Excellent.

S: I'll start the bids for next week's answers.

J: Steve's cheap, you know.

P: Next.

DNA vs. the Mormons (58:23)[edit]

S: I think we have time for one more item before we sign off. Actually, I've been holding onto this for a little while. I just haven't had time to squeak it into the podcast. Bob, you sent me this one.

B: Yeah.

S: The article is called "Bedrock of Faith is Jolted." Why don't you give us a summary of that.

B: This is very interesting. I found this at {}, by William Lobdell. The tagline here: "DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies are being twisted to attack its beliefs." I thought it was a very interesting story of science actually obliterating people's faith in their religion.

S: Hm, hm.

B: It just seems like something that should happen a little more often, but it doesn't. The way human psychology — people will just hold onto their cherised beliefs regardless of what science says. But the idea was — let me give you a little background of the Mormon church, here. According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an angel name Moroni — very interesting name for an angel I thought.

P: Moroni?

B: Mor-own-ee.

P: That's an angel or a mob guy?

S: Mor-own-eye, I think.

B: Oh, that sounds a little more religious — mor-own-eye.

P: It's about time you gotta pay up for the big man upstairs.


B: So this angel led Joseph Smith in 1827 to a divine set of golden plates that were apparently buried near his house in New York.

S: How convenient.

B: Now, what are the odds of a divine set of golden plates near your house, come on, buried in the ground? Pretty amazing! So God essentially provides this guy with also a pair of glasses, also pretty weird, and seer stones that allowed him to translate the reformed Egyptian writings on these plates, and he turned this into the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. In this book they spend a lot of time talking about the tribe of Jews that sailed from Jerusalem and came to the New World in 600 BC and split into two warring factions, and these warring factions obliterated each other. One group remained called the Lamanites. They remained, and they were kind of like the evil victors. For whatever reason, they were the bad victors. The defeated tribes were called the Nephites, who were, of course, "pure," and officially, before 1981, they weren't called pure, they were called "white." The idol-worshiping Lamanites received, apparently, the curse of blackness, turning their skin dark. So there is definitely some bigotry in here.

S: Hm, hm. By the way, just before you go on, Joseph Smith had to give the golden tablets back to the angel Moroni.

B: Aaaahhhh.

S: So he didn't have them as physical evidence for the encounter, only his word for it.

B: Oh, I wanted to go see them in his museum.

P: You don't think you're going to keep them golden tablets, do ya?

B: Well, did he take any pictures of them?

S: No, sadly, this was before modern photography.

B: That's too bad. Well now with modern technology ...

S: He didn't anticipate DNA technology when he made his claims about this lost tribe of Israel.

E: Doh!

J: You know what? I'm going to get drunk, go on a bender, walk into the woods, come back out, and just start a religion.

J: Jay, do you know what? If you had enough charisma and you were just psychotic enough, you could do it.

P: You could do it. Easily, easily.

J: I know. How silly is that thought? Just think about it. All the people that have done that throughout history.

P: Jay, and even if you weren't psychotic and didn't know much charisma, you could still get tax exemption.

S: That's right.

P: That's exactly true.

J: I gotta work on that one.

B: Now this ...

S: So, the bottom line, Bob.

B: Let me continue here. This 175-year-old transcription is regarded as literal and without error. It is pretty much the transcribed word of God, and it's without fault. So missionaries would go to the Pacific Islands, and this would be their main selling point: "You are the lost tribe of Israel. You have a special place. You'll have a special place with God, and you're special." So this was like their prime selling point, and there are millions of followers, literally millions of people became Mormons because they believed that they were this lost tribe of Christ. And now, of course, with modern DNA technology they've examined a lot of these Pacific Islanders, and they've determined that, no, they are not — they're from Asia, they're not from the Middle East, which pretty much in just one fell swoop, just blows that argument right out of the water. They cannot possibly be the lost tribe of Israel, and a lot of people are just having — you could imagine — your whole religion is pretty much torn from under you with just this one test, pretty much. If you think this book is the literal word of God, and it says A, B, and C, and science says "no, there is no A, B, and C", what are you to believe?

P: I haven't noticed the Church of Mormon disbanding.

B: No, oh no. It would take even more than that.

S: Well, officially, their responses is ...

J: "Don't you believe-it!"

S: Officially, the Mormon church says that "nothing in the Mormon scriptures is incompatible with DNA evidence, and that the genetic studies are being twisted to attack the church." Okay. Ignore the man behind the curtain.

J: Ah, of course. That's that evil, old, pesky science, again, getting in the way. You know what is so funny? Do you know what I just love? Science is such a pain in the ass to so many true believers. It is such a thorn in the side of so many people, they just can't stand the fact that there is something out there that is just — you can't argue against it logically, so they just have to be illogical about their response to it on every turn.

P: Faith, in many cases, is illogical at its roots. That's the nature of the creature.

J: It blows my mind.

S: Even theologians admit that faith is fundamentally irrational. Irrational.

P: Right. Correct.

S: But it's a philosophical point you could debate.

P: You have to be willing to accept the irrational.

S: It'll be interesting to watch this unfold. This is a creationism issue again. We don't really care, officially, what faith people have. We're not anti-religious or irreligious per se. This show and our group, we're about science, scientific skepticism, but there are times when religious dogma comes right up against scientific evidence, and when that happens, of course, it is our view that religion should not dictate or make claims about the factual state of nature and the world. That's the purview of science.

P: When religion crosses the line and makes testable claims ...

S: Right.

P: ... we have the right to look at it.

S: Exactly. This turned out to be a testable claim, not when Joseph Smith made it, but now, whether or not the Pacific Islanders were descended from Israelites or not. Now we tested it — they're not. The only conclusion you could possibly make is that portion of the Mormon scripture is simply incorrect. Now, it's up to the Mormons. This is the real test. What do they do? How do they respond to that? Either they just ignore it; they dismiss it somehow; Yhey kind of twist it to fit what they want; or you have to take a somewhat more nuanced, contextual view of the scriptures and say "Well, they're not literal, they're metaphorical in some sections, whatever."

J: What are you saying?

P: Or you reinterpret. You reinterpret. What did it say, they came from Asia? Say, well, maybe they went there but they crossed here first and they came from Israel and they moved here, whatever. You reinterpret.

J: You blur the lines a little.

P: Yeah, that's all.

B: Right here, guys. It says that the church has "subtlety promoted a fresh interpretation of the Book of Mormon intended to reconcile the DNA findings with the scriptures." That just makes sense that they would try to salvage something from this, and try to — but if this is the word of God in there, and now they are trying to like you said, Steve, look at it more content contextually and not as literally, or another interpretation.

S: This has happened over the last three or four hundred years. Religion has been in the slow, steady retreat from science in terms of specific claims. Three or four hundred years ago, this is the Catholic church facing Galileo, right?

B: Right.

P: Yup.

S: It's the same thing. The church had their dogma. Galileo said "well just look through this telescope and you could see." "Well, we don't have to look through the telescope. We know it's true because the authority tells us what's true."

J: Except now, Steve, the church can't get away with killing people and blaspheming scientists and ruining their lives and all that stuff.

P: As we said, a slow steady retreat from religion is also a slow steady retreat from theocracy, except, of course, in the Muslim world.

S: Right, well they're a little behind.

P: (unintelligible)

S: Obviously, it's religion retreating outside of the arena of science is what we advocate, and if religion want's to continue to have an active and positive role in human civilization, they need to find a way to do it without stepping on the toes of science, basically.

P: Hear, hear.

S: Otherwise that conflict will rage, and I believe, based upon the last several centuries of history, that science will win that fight, because science has a distinct advantage in that it has an actual relationship with reality. And over time, that — first of all, it's objective.

J: Very well said.

S: One person could actually objectively confirm the findings of science and debate them with somebody else, whereas faith is dogmatic. You either believe or you don't believe. There's no objectivity to it. So that gives it a power; that gives it a longevity beyond the dogma of any particular religious group. I think that this process will play itself out in the Mormons as well as we're seeing here.

P: Science will win. Reality trumps superstition.

S: It does. Reality in the end trumps all.

P: That's all.

S: There's no avoiding reality, as hard as people try. That's why this podcast is your escape to reality, right?. Reality is what it's all about.

P: And on that note?

S: On that note, we are out of time for the week. Guys, it was a lot of fun. Thanks for joining me.

J: Thanks again, Steve.

B: Yeah.

S: Bob, Perry.

B: Good podcast.

S: Jay, Evan, wherever you are, sorry you had to leave us early.

P: All right.

S: But thanks for joining us. Until next week, this is your Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a production of the New England Skeptical Society. For information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at You can send us questions, comments, and suggestions to 'Theorem' is performed by Kineto and is used with permission.


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