SGU Episode 369

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SGU Episode 369
11th August 2012

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

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SGU 368                      SGU 370

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century, which we've developed to a very high level, is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.

Malcolm Muggeridge

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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, August 8 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: Yo.

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Hi, everyone.

(all greeting Evan)

This Day in Skepticism (0:27)[edit]

  • August 11, 3114 BCE - In the Gregorian calendar was the universal creation date used by several Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures like the Mayans. That is the start of the calendar that many dummies fear ends on December 20, 2012.

R: Hey, happy birthday to the universe.

S: Happy birthday, universe!

E: Oh, hey! You don't look a day over... 14 billion.

B: I didn't get a card!

S: The universe never sends me a card.

R: We know exactly what day it started. Well, we know what day several Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures like the Mayans started keeping track of the date.

S: Yeah, but seriously... 369 episodes guiding people skeptically to the universe and no card.

B: (laughs)

S: I mean, seriously? But tell me about the Mayans.

R: OK. So, August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar; that was the date when the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar began and it's probably most famous to listeners of this podcast as the calendar that has everybody freaked out because they think it ends on December 20th, 2012. Course, it doesn't actually end in much the same way that your annual calendar ends at December 31st; just picks up again the next day with a new calendar. But that doesn't stop a lot of people from assuming that the Mayans had somehow predicted that the entire universe would end. But that's the day it all started. Today.

S/E: August 11.

R: August 11, 3114 BCE.

J: All right.

E: Yeah.

R: Happy birthday, universe.

S: Jay, did you know that you share a birthday with the universe?

R: Today's Jay's birthday?

S: Today is Jay's birthday.

J: I didn't even make that connection; that's crazy.

E: I'd sing you "Happy Birthday", I don't want to get sued.

J: It doesn't really get any more badass than that. Thank you. OK.

E: Awesome.

R: Happy birthday, Jay and the universe.

E: How old are you, Jay?

B: Happy birthday, Jay.

J: I am... I'm 44, guys. Wow.

S: Ooh, that's the double death in Asian culture. Four, right?

E: Very unlucky.

R: Try not to die today.

E: Very unlucky. Don't sleep in a room with a fan running, OK?

J: So what'd you guys do for my birthday; like what's... what's the surprise this year?

E: Well...

R: We're doing a podcast, turns out.

E: Surprise!

R: Happy birthday.

J: I'm blown away.

R: You know what? As your birthday present, I think you should get two guesses on Science or Fiction.

S: OK. Done.

E: Ahhh, I gotta remember that for my birthday.

J: Wait, wait, wait. You know what really sucks about that, guys? If I bail; if I screw this up—


R: That's exactly why I suggested it.

J: ...totally evil.

B: What an awesome set-up for an epic fail.

S: It sounds like a good present, but it's really not, because yeah. Not only—if you get it right, well, it's 'cause you had two guesses. And if you get it wrong, you're a loser.

R: Exactly.

S: It's a lose-lose.

B: Awesome.

R: So, happy birthday.

E: So there you go, Jay.

News Items[edit]

Dino Mating (3:16)[edit]

J: All right; well, I have something that will cheer me up from Rebecca hurting me on my birthday, and that is... Rebecca, I have a question for you.

R: OK.

J: How did 30-ton animals larger than, say, a four- or five-story building have sex?

R: Very carefully.

B: (laughs)

J: You're actually more right than you know. As an example, let me just illustrate what we're getting at here. A male Tyrannosaurus rex weighed about 5 times and the female was even bigger. So... and some dinosaurs were much bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex; there were some giants out there. Scientists were trying to figure out how they had sex; what positions would they do it and, well, to quote Dr. Sexytime, they did it doggy style.

S: Doggy style.

B: Jay, everyone's got one question. Talking about the T. rexes having sex, you gotta answer the question: how big was it?

J: 12 feet long.

B: 12 feet?

R: Nuh-uh.

J: 12 feet long. Yes!

B: Oh, boy.

S: That's the estimate.

J: Speculate, yep.

R: But he probably said it was 13.


J: Scientists believe that they did it doggy style because of a few different things. One of them—they observed the largest land-based mammals and those those animals have sex from behind and after viewing them doing it, there's reasons why they needed to do it. And it really just boils down to: it's the only way that they can adjust their bodies so they could actually mate.

S: Yeah; I may lack imagination here, but I'm not sure what the other option would be.

R: The other option to doggy style? I'm going to have to have a conversation with Joc.

E: Reverse cowgirl or something?

J: Well, no; there is another option, Steve, because I'm sure either way, they were doing it in the doggy-style position, but there are some scientists that believed that most, if not all dinosaurs had to do it in water, except the smaller jumpy types. The big ones had to do in water to get an assist, and they figured this out—

R: "Get an assist", like basketball? (laughs)

J: (laughs) Some scientists would observe crocodiles. And crocodiles would use their buoyancy to get in position, and you might not know, but crocodiles don't actually insert a penis; they actually just drop seed. So, even still, they do hover over each other, and there is like kind of like a doggy-style position going on. So, just an interesting point here: that is called a cloaca. Steve, you know about cloacas?

B: I've heard of that.

S: Oh yeah.

E: Oh yeah.

J: It's a primitive orifice used for urination, defecation, and copulation. So it was like

E: Three in one. Cool.

J: —not too far away from what we have, especially men.

B: Multi-purpose.

E: Yeah.

J: There is still a lot of scientists that don't agree—it's you know, science jokes—crazy scientists, they really want to get to the truth, so the debate each other about it. But for the most part, the consensus is that they did it doggy style. And another interesting thing I found out was that it's very hard to determine the sex of dinosaurs for a couple of reasons: one, because we can't observe them, so we can't observe behavior. Another big thing is that we just have bones; we don't have any soft tissue and without soft tissue, there's a lot of information that we're missing, so we can only really take a look—

S: Or hard tissue.

B: Oh!

J: You almost got me on that, Steve.

E: There must be some difference in the skeletal structures of the females and males.

B: Like the pelvis.

E: I'm surprised they haven't—

S: If you know the female and the male and then you could—you can find features that can tell you, but if—you know, just from extinct species where we only know them from the skeleton, how would we know? Bob, you say the pelvis, but yeah, in humans there's pelvic differences 'cause our heads are so big. Not necessarily difference for dinosaurs.

J: Well, they—Steve, I did read they found pelvic differences in certain types of dinosaurs. But they really don't 100 percent say that it's fact, because it's—some cases they might have like 12 global samples. And you're like, "OK, sure, there's pelvic differences", but it's not a big enough number to really say for a fact, yeah there's definite difference here and there's a lot of other things they can correlate. So it's all inferred; we really don't have that much information to gain about about the sex of them. I think they've identified a few as male and female here and there, but there just isn't a lot of data.

S: Yeah. So that's interesting; the water assist, though, is interesting. So that means all the largest dinosaur species had to live within walking distance of a large enough body of water to help them mate?

J: That's what they—that's basically what they're saying.

E: How much wetter was the Earth back then? Maybe water was more prevalent; less land.

S: Well, I mean, there's lakes everywhere; that is true—the ocean; unless you're in the desert. And it's also not crazy for animals to migrate far to... can you imagine the great migration to the lakes so that you can have sex?

B: (laughs)

E: I'm there.

R: Sounds like my high school years.

S: We have to talk about the pictures—

E: Oh, these pictures are just—

S: —accompanying the article are priceless.

B: Classic. Classic.

E: These facial expressions they put—they put these human-like expressions on the faces of these dinosaurs.

J: Yeah, they gave them human eyes, and it really makes the images look ridiculously funny. I recommend anyone that's listening to this go to our—go to site, click on the link to the show, and look at these incredibly funny drawings that people came up with.

B: Or just Google "dino porn"; you'll go right to it.

S: Also, this is a good time to bring up the fact that we have started a Skeptics' Guide Instagram account.

B: We did?

S: Follow us on Instagram and we will—we have been, for a couple episodes, been posting pictures relevant to the show on Instagram. So you can kind of follow along with any images that we're using for the show.

E: There you go.

S: So we'll have some dino sex pictures on Instagram.

B: Put black bars everywhere, of course.

R: Hopefully it's legal in the states we broadcast in.

Blowing Up Asteroids (9:02)[edit]

S: All right. Well, Bob, you're going to tell us why Bruce Willis would have failed to save the Earth from armageddon.

B: If you insist. You guys remember the movie Armageddon, right? Pretty cool movie.

R: Sadly, yes.

E: And Pulp Fiction, yeah.

S: I tried to forget it, but yeah.

B: Bruce Willis drills into an asteroid in order to blow it up and prevent an E.L.E., or extinction-level event on Earth... but wait a minute; I'm mixing movies, aren't I? An E.L.E.; that's from Deep Impact. But anyhoo, physics students have taken the asteroid details from the movie—they actually took the specific details from the movie Armageddon and they determined something that you probably already knew: that there's no damn way that we could blow it up and save the Earth the way that it's done in the movie. But still, this is pretty interesting stuff. Now these guys aren't Ph.D. physicists, but I checked all their calculations and they're correct. And that, of course, is a lie. But they are 4th-year masters of physics students at Leicester University, and they've published two articles in the university's somewhat tongue-in-cheek Journal of Special Physics Topics and I just love the names of the papers; they came out with two of them; one of them was, "Could Bruce Willis Save the World" and the other one was, "Could Bruce Willis Predict the End of the World". So what did was they created a formula to determine the total amount of kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, that would be needed to split an asteroid; specifically, the asteroid in the movie; splitting it into two and have both pieces miss the Earth, 'cause... I mean, I didn't specifically really remember that, but the people that were—

S: Yeah.

B: The research I read said that in the movie that they blew the asteroid up and that two pieces just kind of just missed the Earth. I think I kind of forgot about that, but... I thought it just kind of mostly just blew up; I didn't know that it was two big chunks—

S: Yeah. It blew the asteroid up into two big pieces when it was really close to the Earth, like about to hit it.

B: Yeah, which is silly.

S: And the two pieces went to either side, missing the Earth. So it really did have to blow them apart.

B: OK; I kind of forgot that.

S: Yeah, which was the highly unlikely scenario that they were going with.

B: So, if you read the paper, the bottom line is essentially: we don't have a bomb nearly big enough to do the job, as it was done in the movie. In fact, this bomb would have to be a billion times bigger than the biggest bomb ever made.

J: What?

B: Huge, huge; absolutely huge. So what is that bomb, you ask?

S: Big Ivan.

B: Go ahead. Ah, very good. Big Ivan, or Tsar Bomba—I'm not sure how you pronounce it—this is built by the Soviet Union and detonated the day before Halloween in 1961. This was an amazing bomb; it had a yield of 50 megatons, or 50 million tons of TNT, and I didn't know this—Steve, did you know this? This bomb was actually designed to be a hundred megatons, but they purposely gimped for two really important reasons. The first one is that—to reduce the nuclear fallout, which would have been extensive. If this thing went off at 100 megatons, it would have literally spewed more radiation into the atmosphere—like, 25 percent of the total atmosphere[1] that's ever gone into the atmosphere, this bomb would've upped it by 25 percent. I mean, it would've been just huge.

J: Well, how big was it, Bob?

B: 50. 50 megatons.

J: So why would that—why would doubling it make such a difference?

B: Well, they actually made it very efficient and safer by—I think they lined critical pieces of it with lead that actually—that cut the yield in half. But the other interesting thing that they did—the other reason why they didn't do it was that it actually would have destroyed the drop plane. If they dropped the hundred-megaton version, the plane would have actually been just vaporized, and the pilots, I don't think they would have been very happy if they were going to go on a suicide mission. So two very good reasons why they had to do that but it's interesting that it actually could have very easily been 100 megatons. The atmosphere... you know, this thing created an immense disturbance in the atmosphere. This disturbance actually orbited the Earth 3 times. It was this huge thing. I mean, I don't think it caused any problems, but still it lasted three orbits of the earth and I found a really—

J: What kind of disturbance, like a weather disturbance?

B: Well, kind of. I mean, it was an atmospheric disturbance; they really didn't go into too must detail. But it was a disturbance that was detectable and they tracked it and it went around the Earth three times. Somebody who went to ground zero described it as, "the ground surface of the island has been leveled, swept, and licked so that it looks like a skating rink." It was like almost perfectly smooth; they couldn't believe it. Now to put the size of this thing into a little bit of context, the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons, or thousands of tons of TNT. Now Ivan made that look like a total firecracker. So, the point—obviously point now is that the Armageddon asteroid would laugh at Ivan. To split it in two, the students determined that you would need eight hundred trillion terajoules or—here you go, Evan;—800 yottajoules. Very few occasions where you can actually use that word. Tons and tons of energy, and poor little Ivan can only produce 416,000 terajoules. So it was just a tiny amount; not nearly enough that could have split that thing in two. So we would need not a gigaton bomb, but we would need a petaton nuclear weapon, and if you really wanted to crack this asteroid in two. Wikipedia had a great quote describing what a petaton bomb is. They said that this is "usually restricted to astronomical events such as meteor impacts or large science fiction weapons."


E: Sounds like blowing up Alderaan.

S: Yeah, Alderaan.

B: Yeah, right? Actually—actually, no. But not a bad guess. A petaton is equivalent to about a magnitude 12 earthquake, which is interesting, because a 12 earthquake is impossible on the Earth; there's no faults that are big enough to create anything more than a 10, so a 12, as you could imagine, since it's logarithmic, would be immense. Another comparison would be a 60-kilometer meteorite hitting the Earth at 25 kilometers per second. Huge, huge amounts of kinetic energy and here—oh, another one: it would be—a petaton bomb would be about five thousand times more energetic than the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs. So just a huge, huge—as you can imagine. Oh, and this statistic blew me away. It would create a crater—

E: Literally.

B: Yeah. It would create a crater bigger than the United States. 5,000 miles wide, and of course, all life would be wiped out, except maybe bacteria, but I suspect that even they would be completely blown away. I just think the entire surface of the Earth would probably be molten.

S: So when are we building this bomb?

B: (laughs) Yeah, right?

E: And we can't allow a bomb gap like this to exist. Someone else'll build it first.

S: Talking about nuclear explosions, have you guys seen the YouTube video, which is like—which is a map of nuclear explosions on Earth from 1945 to 1998?

B: Yeah, that was cool.

S: It shows where on the Earth the explosion occurred and which country was responsible for it. It's interesting.

E: Hydrogen versus atomic...

J: What was interesting about it; like, were you surprised by what you saw?

S: I was surprised by how many nuclear explosions—bombs have been exploded on the Earth in the last 50 years.

B: Yeah, there's a lot.

S: The US has exploded over a thousand nuclear weapons.

B: That's a lot.

S: We'll have the link[2] to that on the show notes.

B: Needless to say, we won't have a bomb that big for quite a while. I was thinking, "all right; what if we magically had one right now; Bam, here's a petaton bomb." It wouldn't even matter, because it turns out that this asteroid—if we were going to really want to blow this thing up—this asteroid would have to be split, ironically, at the moment our technology would allow was to detect it. So, the moment our best telescope coould determine that this asteroid even existed, we'd have to blow it up right then and there. Otherwise, it would be too close.

J: Bob, this is like a horrible news item. Like, there's nothing good about this.

S: Well, this is not the way that we would deflect an asteroid that was gonna hit the Earth.

B: No, I know. Clearly not. It's not the way to do it. There's so many other ways. My favorite is the gravity tractor idea, where all you gotta do is park a spaceship nearby and let its gravitational pull kind of change its trajectory. But again you have to detect this thing very soon and get there very fast if you want to do it, 'cause it takes a lot of time. And, as usual, the movie was far, far off, but still you know, what do you expect.

S: It was per dramatic effect.

B: Yes.

S: Not scientific accuracy.

Punching for God (17:20)[edit]

S: But speaking of fun; Evan, you're going to tell us about the preacher who punches people for God.

R: Wait, what?


J: No, that can't be true.

R: Weirdest segue ever.

E: This is the one of those things that you really don't believe it when you first hear it; like, it has to be a pun, or The Onion came up with it, or it's an old parody; lost, recently resurfaced. No. This is real. So, meet pastor Todd Bentley of the Fresh Fire Ministries of Florida.

J: When you say "meet", as in like "hello", or meat as in M-E-A-T?

E: I'm about to give you a introduction to him. So, meet, M-E-E-T.

J: Oh, thank you; OK.

E: So here you are. His statistics are impressive: Age 36; about 6'4", 325 pounds; a former Hell's Angel, that's a biker gang; convicted of sexual assault at age 15; discovered fundamental Christianity at age 18 and he claims to have healed dozens of people of their deadly diseases and serious injuries by doing things like, oh, kicking them in the face and punching them in their injured areas and kneeing them in their abdomens.

S: (British accent) Are you sure that's necessary?


S: Yeah, he says yes it is.

E: I'm afraid it is. He preaches in a revivalist style of getting up in front of very large audiences, kind of these... like a concert, almost.

S: And, he's Canadian, so don't blame us for this one.

E: Yeah well, though he resides in Florida, you're right; he is Canadian. So we have to kind of share him with other parts the world.

J: So actually—like, he hits people?

E: Yeah. Well... here, let me tell you a little bit more about it and then I'll get to the—we'll come back to the hitting point in just a minute, because we have to kind of set it up a little bit.

B: Oh really?

E: Because he—the thing about Todd Bentley is he likes to tell stories. Lots of stories. I mean, he comes up with stories that make the Bible look like a scientific journal. That's the kind of stories he tells. But these revivals that he organized and still does on a smaller scale, though were as large as 10,000 people at a time. 10,000 true believers would pack into these tents at a time to see him. In his first 5 weeks of transmitting his show via youstream, he had a million viewers. In 2008 he preached live to audiences totaling over 400,000 people. So this person has influence and reach. He had to leave his ministry for a while after ABC did an exposé on him and he kinda had to retreat to the shadows, shall we say, for a little while. But he's resurfaced recently, and he's going back on a tour and he's trying to bring his tour to the United Kingdom. His method is called "holy inspiration" and.. you know, by punching and kicking and kneeing, and for this reason, many people in the United Kingdom are pressuring their leaders to ban his intended visit to their country later this month. And member of Parliament Malcolm Wicks has officially raised the issue before Parliament, so we're going to see if they're able to kind of keep him out of doing his schtick over in the United Kingdom.

J: But Evan, when you say "punch", let's get to the brass tacks here. Is he really—like, is he hitting people and they're getting hurt?

E: Well, let me play you a quote, Jay, from him directly. This is him directly; I want you to hear it from his own mouth, OK? So here we go:

–The Lord said, "I want you to punch him in the sternum as hard as you can." So anyways, I punched him in that broken sternum. Long story short, he was totally healed of cancer. The broken sternum was healed; the ribs were healed.


–With the punch?

R: Holy shit. That guy should be in jail.

B: Wow.

J: Isn't he crystal clear that he's actually listening to Satan? I mean, come on.

R: He punched someone in a broken sternum and cured him of cancer?

B: Instantly!

E: That's his claim. That is his claim.

J: Well, do you have to have a broken bone that he has to punch to kill you?

R: Yeah it's true. What does the cancer have to do with the sternum and if you didn't have a broken sternum, would he have had his cancer cured?

E: Look, now you're questioning the power of God, and I don't know that that's really wise place to journey off to.

J: Well, his God. Yeah.

E: Well, it look—but the point is, these are stories of his. I could not find anything to correlate—or corroborate his stories.

J: Oh, I see.

E: I'm not sure that he's not really exaggerating, shall we say.

S: So there's no video of him punching people.

E: There is video of him making contact with people, Steve, and kicking them and, you know, what could be called either kicking or punching or kneeing them, but it is in such of light manner, right, that you barely need to touch these people who are in the throes of gyrations of the healing power of the Lord up on stage, in front of these people—I mean, these people are really physically gyrating themselves; you know, that whole shaking occurrence that happens a lot of times with these preachers; they get them all whipped up in a frenzy. And instead of like, laying a hand on your forehead, like we've see Popoff and other do and kind of push them over, he'll kind of give you a little poke in the ribs or he'll kick your shins a little bit if there's something wrong with your leg, you know. But it's a little—believe me, it's a little tiny tap. I train martial arts; I know what it's like to get punched in the head and in the stomach and kick people. He's—from the evidence I've seen, he's not really hurting people at all with these taps.

J: Yeah. But it sound—it's utterly ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous.

E: Jay, I gotta play this clip for you because this is too good. It's a little sample of what his treatment, shall—I guess we have to call it that, for lack of a better term, sounds like. Here's one example of him "treating" one of his... you know, worshipers. Here we go:

–Finish it, Lord!


(yelling Bam! repeatedly)

J: (laughs) Right now!

E: What he's doing in that video, as you see it, he's just waving his hand or karate chopping his hand in the air at the person. He's not at all making contact with them. He's just waving his hand; you know, the healing hand of Christ and all that, in their way.

S: Yeah; didn't he steal that from that chef?

J: Yeah, Molto Mario.

E: Exactly. No, what's his name... Emeril.

R: Emeril.

S: Emeril. Bam! This guy's a walking "Saturday Night Live" skit, right? You can see... the Hell's Angel with the tattoos who punches people as part of the healing service.

E: Guys, it gets better, because in December 2011, he told an audience that he had a hand in bringing 33 people back from the dead.

R: To punch them?

E: Twenty of the cases were—he's claims medically verified. So, you understand what I'm trying—I'm trying to put this into its proper context. This guy is such a big talker and he's so, so deep in his own feces when it comes to all of this. But that's primarily what he is; he is all—he is a show pony and nothing else, at best. And that's an insult to show ponies.

R: You're right, Steve. That was fun!


S: Yeah; I mean, I saw a video of him doing his service, and yeah, you're right, Evan; it is just a show. I mean, he's like a stand-up comedian in his—the way he talks, his demeanor; the way he tells stories. Then he throws a little healing in there. It's a lot of showmanship.

E: Lotta showmanship and a lotta big talking.

Quickie with Bob: Curiosity Update (24:30)[edit]

S: Well, before we go on with our last news item, I want a quickie with Bob.

B: Whoa. So soon?

R: Wow. It's been a while.

J: Yeah. I haven't really done that in a while.

B: (laughs)

E: Like the dinosaurs do.

R: I hope the thrill hasn't gone.

B: No. Well, you tell me. This is your quickie with Bob and thank you, Steve. You're going to have an awesome time. I have to, of course, give a quick update about the newest denizen of Mars, the Curiosity rover.

J: Yeah, baby!

B: Oh my God; I was so happy that that thing just didn't crash onto the surface. 'Cause you know, I trust NASA; they've all... they're brilliant; they did a fantastic job, but this was such an untested, untried maneuver. So complicated; so many different things could've gone wrong. Even if one tiny little thing went wrong, it would've ended in disaster. So I was really nervous. Not as nervous, of course, as all the engineers that worked on it, so I'm sure they're just... are so happy about this. It was just an amazing showcase of technology, hard work, and a little luck, of course. So, for Curiosity, the next couple of years—Earth years—it will use its plethora of scientific instruments in the Gale Crater to determine things like if Mars ever had conditions that are suitable for microbial life. It'll also spend a good deal of its time heading for Mount Sharp, which seems to have had a very watery past; the bottom parts of the mountain could've—they determined from space images that, in the past, it was lots of water down there. But in the short term, it'll spend its first few weeks not doing wheelies, but just hanging out while we go through a battery of diagnostic tests so that we can give it a clean bill of health and so far everything looks good. And it will also, and has already, been sending us very cool pictures of its local environment. So definitely go to the NASA site and check them out and they're also on lots of other sites. So I just wanted to say congratulations, NASA; you guys totally kicked some butt. And this has been your quickie with Bob; I hope it was good for you, too.

S: So guys, did you see the video of the descent?

B: I was I was disappointed with that video. I mean, there's not much—

S: What'd you expect, Bob?!

E: Like, 7 cameras—

S: High-resolution—

R: He wanted HD, like...

E: You want Al Michaels there calling the shots?

B: No. When I jumped out of a plane, there was a guy that jumped with us with a helmet camera on and a camera. So they should've had two probes: One to film it and one to actually do it. I would've been very happy.

J: Bob, they were already a billion dollars over their original billion-dollar budget.

B: (laughs) Yeah, right.

J: So they needed to put in another hundred-million-dollar camera, right? Come on.

B: That's all I'm asking. It would've been so cool to see the whole Seven Minutes of Terror going into the atmosphere. It would've been great. I know it's unrealistic, but it doesn't matter. I can imagine it.

S: You can see the heat shield dropping away and then you see it descending down to the surface and then when the retros kick in, you can see it kick up a lot of dust. It was cool.

J: It was awesome.

S: In an article on the BBC, Curiosity project scientist Jon Grotzinger made this comment. He said, "you would be forgiven for thinking that NASA was trying to pull a fast one and we actually put a rover out on the Mojave Desert and took a picture. A little Los Angeles smog coming in there."

B: Oh boy.

S: Really? You really needed to say that?

B: He really said that?

E: Mars hoax!

B: Oh, my God.

S: He's commenting on the fact that the landscape can look like the desert, you know? Doesn't look that much different that Earth. But did you really have to put it that way?

B: Oh, God. I didn't know that.

S: It's a little poorly chosen, I think, words.

J: Yeah, you know, in the heat of the moment, you know, I can forgive him for it; he doesn't realize that every skeptic in the world is clawing their eyes out at that.

B: But, you know, if you think about it, he's really—it's really not going to change any minds, what he said. If you believe it, you're going to be rational, and you're going to believe it and if you don't believe it, a little bit of extra—one extra bad quote isn't—you know—

S: Yeah, it's not going to change anything. But he could've expressed that without evoking the specter of a NASA conspiracy. You know?

B: Yeah. True.

S: Just given the history, probably was not a good idea.

J: You got idiots like Joe Rogan out there that are going to turn that into something.

S: "Why would he say that? Is he conveying a message?"

Occ the Skeptical Caveman (28:43)[edit]

S: Jay, you're going to tell us about Occ the Skeptical Caveman. Who is this character?

J: Occ the Skeptical Caveman is the pilot episode of a web series that we recently launched a Kickstarter for. So right now we definitely have—the original premise is in the can and that's the pilot episode and we're writing—feverishly writing the next 4 episodes in the hopes that we're going to get funded. Particularly excited about this web series for a number of reasons. One: we did find a way to infuse the skeptical message with good skeptical information in that, but now we can; we came up with a skeptic who's a cave man and he's in a tribe full of morons and he's trying to survive and he's trying to be honest to his intellect while surviving. And it's a ton of fun and it's very challenging shoot.

S: We really want to break in to video production more. We've done, as Jay said, a number videos; we have TrueFellas, Passing Over, the G hunters, and now Occ the Skeptical Caveman. And making videos is ten times more difficult than making—doing audio; more, actually; to produce a 5-6 minutes skit for YouTube takes a month with a lot of equipment, a lot of people. The good news is over the years we have to put together a crew of actors and technical people; people who could do all the different aspects of putting a video together; the filming and the lighting, et cetera. So we have the people; we have put a writing team together; George Hrab joined our writing team and we just need your support, you know, to fund these video productions. And more than that, we have a goal for the Kickstarter campaign is $17,000, but that's enough—that's what we need to do this web series, but if we could fully fund it, then SGU Video Productions can do a lot more as well. We have lots of other video ideas as well; I've written a number of episodes for more of a skeptical lecture series that I'd like to do for YouTube. I think YouTube is a really great venue for outreach; you know, we're all about bringing more people into the skeptical movement. We get emails still every week from people who say that—and think about this: if you're listening to this show, what did—how many of you out there didn't know the skeptical movement existed until you stumbled upon us on iTunes. Or maybe even started listening to us and weren't skeptical and then eventually was... won over to the skeptical worldview. We get emails with those stories every week. The podcast has been great skeptical outreach, but we need to break into other venues to try to keep growing—keep growing our movement. Our mission is to make the world more critical thinking scientifically literate and skeptical place. And we absolutely need the support of our listeners to do that. There are multiple movements and organizations arrayed against us on every topic you can imagine that are ridiculously well funded. I mean, the Discovery Institute is promoting creationism and eroding science education; they have millions of dollars. The anti-vaccine movement has millions of dollars. Everything— every topic that we talk about, there is a well-funded movement out there trying to degrade science or oppose science or promote nonsense and we have a small—vigorous and effective but small skeptical movement that's woefully underfunded; I mean, we operate on a completely shoestring budget trying to fight all of these well-funded organizations. So, every now and then—we don't do it very often, but every now and then we absolutely need to ask you to support what we do so that we can keep getting the message out there.

J: I wanted to talk a little bit more about why we chose video and why we think that this is going to be really effective for outreach, and part of it is: that when you're on YouTube, you surf YouTube in a way that you really can't surf podcasts. You know, you see a two-minute or 30-second or a five-minute clip on YouTube, and every time you click to a video, you see a new list of videos show up in the right-hand column. And you do that thing where you just play a series of videos and you're randomly—kind of randomly getting to a next group of videos; every time you click, that right bar changes, and we're hoping that people will find our videos that way and obviously we're going to do some other things, too, to advertise the video and get more people to see it. But, like Steve was saying, the kind of outreach that we do—the kind of activism we do here at the Skeptics' Guide is we try to educate people and we try to entertain them at the same time. And the fact is, though, we want to continue broadening our audience; that's the whole point; we don't want to just be preaching to the choir, as we constantly say. We want to bring in new people and we want those people to teach their kids and then, hopefully, with enough of this, we can make a difference. So that's why the YouTube video idea is an imperative for us now. That's our next level of outreach that we want to move to. This is just the beginning; we have a lot of plans and a lot of fantastic ideas that we want to work on, but any little bit that you could do will really give us a strong push to make this happen.

S: The truth is—the sad truth is, it's really hard to break into mainstream TV, or cable or whatever, with a hardcore skeptical message. Not for lack of trying, it's just really hard to do. Once you get up to the upper echelons of producers, they want to do things that are tried and true; they don't want to take a risk with something new like a skeptically themed show. While we're still working on that, unfortunately, it's just not coming to fruition. So in the mean time, we need to produce our own videos, take advantage of the Internet and the medium that we have to get the message out, to expand movement, to educate skeptics and make the world a more critical thinking place. So check out our Kickstarter campaign; the way that works—the way Kickstarter works is we set the minimum we think we need to do the project, and if we meet that minimum, then we get the donations. If we don't make the minimum, unfortunately, we don't anything at all. So we really need your support during this campaign. We've got 3 weeks left to meet our goal. Take a look, also, at the gifts that we give as a thank you for each level of donation, and we've recently added a new thank you to our donors. For those who pledge $25 or more, either have up to this point or do from this point forward, you will be entered into a raffle with the opportunity to win one of three thank yous that you get to choose. 5 people will be selected from among those, again, who donate $25 or more. One of those people to choose between either a guest rogue on the SGU—you get to come on the show for the whole show; we've done this before; it's always been fun; it's always worked out really well—so you get to be a guest rogue, or you could choose a VIP special guest of the SGU at next year's NECSS. That's the skeptical conference that we help run in New York City. Or, you can choose to have a speaking role on an upcoming episode of Occ the Skeptical Caveman; we'll actually give you a named character, and you'll definitely have at least one line and you'll get to hang out with us for the whole weekend while we shoot one of the episodes. The remaining four winners will receive a 16-gigabyte thumb drive with all of our content that we've ever produced on it; all of our podcasts, our videos, gag reels, some premium content. So go to; we'll have the full link in the show notes and take a look at our campaign and the things that you can get for supporting us.

J: Yeah, all you have to do is type in "OCC" and it'll be the first one that comes up.

Who's That Noisy? (36:42)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Vegetable Clarinet

S: It's time, once again, for Who's That Noisy. Evan?

E: Thanks, Dr. Steve. Do you like "Dr. Steve"; does anyone ever call you "Dr. Steve", like any of your patients?

S: Never. No one has ever called me "Dr. Steve".

B: Don't do it again.

E: All right, Dr. Novella, here we go. This week's Who's That Noisy—well, last week's Who's That Noisy. Let's replay it:

(tuneless musical notes on some kind of wind instrument)

E: Oh yeah. Thelonious Monk never sounded better.


S: So, you gave us that that was some kind of instrument, but what kind of instrument was it?

E: Well, that was an instrument which is clarinet, but a special kind of clarinet. This clarinet was carved from a cucumber and then a pepper—a red pepper fitting was put on the end, the very end to give it that tapered end of a clarinet kind of piece to it.

S: I thought it was a cucumber and a green pepper.

E: No, it was a red pepper. Couldn't you tell the difference?

S: Yeah, It had that reddy sound to it.

E: Exactly. There are, apparently—

S: That's amazing that you can get a friggin' cucumber to sound like that.

J: I know, right? How'd they do it, Ev?

E: They just know exactly how to carve the instrument, you know? You just hollow out the center; you put in the flute holes —I guess you'd call them that, for lack of a better term. You know what angles, sort of, things need to be at and how it's carved, and you know, after years or lifetimes of perfecting these kinds of carvings, they're able to get instruments made out of all sorts of vegetables. In fact, there are entire symphonies consisting of vegetable instruments, and you can find them on YouTube.

S: Yeah. You see a carrot clarinet.

E: Carrot clarinet. It's amazing. Just go ahead and take a look; there's a lot of stuff on there. Very cool stuff. And these instruments sound halfway decent. You know, for being vegetables. The first person to guess correctly was Richard Brorson from Malmo, Sweden, who guessed pretty much exactly correctly that it was a clarinet made out of vegetables.

J: How do you know that; like, how do you just know that?

E: I don't know; maybe he's part of a secret underground of orchestra who plays vegetables. I don't know, but that's what he said it sounded like.

J: I really impressed someone could hear that and go, "Yes, that's a cucumber instrument." How?

E: Richard and I exchanged emails this week because I want to inform him that guessed correctly, and he was so excited. He said he's been trying to guess these things for years now, and it's the first time ever that he's had a chance to ring in and give a guess and have it be correct. So well done, Richard; congratulations.

S: Well, what do yo got for this week, Evan?

E: OK, here we go. Here's a voice you may or may not be familiar with, but here it is:

We had been working with a device to collect urine during the flight that really worked pretty well in zero gravity but it really didn't work very well when you're lying on your back with your feet up in the air like you were on the—

B: On the what?

J: I'm fascinated to hear more. What do I gotta do, Ev?

E: Jay, we'll get the answer to that next week when we reveal the answer to Who's that Noisy—

J: I can't wait a week.

E: —and I'll try to maybe play an extra little bit; a continuation of that particular Noisy. Info at theskepticsguide dot org is our email address, so email us your answer or anything else you want to talk about, and is our forum page. So go ahead and sign up there and chat to us there as well. Good luck, everyone!

Questions and Emails[edit]

Kinesio Tape (40:20)[edit]

S: All right. Thanks, Evan. We do have an email this week; this one comes from a listener called Andrew and Andrew writes:

Hi guys, Watching the London Olympics on TV I noticed many athletes, particularly swimmers and divers wearing what looked like some kind of band-aid. After a few minutes on Google I found that it is called "Kinesio tape". It seems it was invented "In the mid-1970s, Dr. Kenzo Kase was already a well-known Japanese practitioner licensed in chiropractic and acupuncture."

E: That surprise you?

It supposedly "Re-educate the neuromuscular system Reduce pain Optimize performance Prevent injury Promote improved circulation and healing" Seems like mostly woo to much of modern sports medicine is science based? Perhaps this could be a topic for discussion. Keep up the good work!

S: So have you guys been watching the Olympics?

E: I have been; yeah, quite a bit.

B: Yeah, I've seen! I just assumed that it was one of those, you know, hot-cold things that you could put on to keep the muscles warm—

S: Nope!

B: —or for injuries, but no way!

S: Pure pseudo-science.

B: Oh, my God.

J: And athletes will do anything to get an edge, or a supposed edge.

E: Oh gosh, yes.

B: You know, I'm not going to watch the Olympics for years after this weekend. That's it; I'm done with it.

S: (chuckles) So yeah, a lot of divers have this—these strips of colored tape going into some funky pattern on their back or their stomach or along their legs.

E: Yeah. It's hitting all their meridian points.

S: It's supposed to, as Andrew said, it's supposed to improve performance, reduce injury, or help you—or help an injury by supporting the muscles or improving the function of the muscles, and there's some elaborate hand-waving explanation for how it's supposed to work. So I actually wrote about it[3] for the JREF, for their on-line blog Swift, and... so did what I usually do, I looked up anything that's been published about it. And of course, there is not much. But there have been some studies actually looking at Kinesio Taping, 'cause it's been around for 40 years, right?

E: But we haven't seen much of it until this Olympics.

R: That's not true; actually, Sam on Skepchick wrote about this exact topic two years ago[4]

S: Yeah, it's been around—

R: It shows up every two years.

E: I've yet to see it until this—I don't know. Maybe I have a blind eye to it, but I've only been seeing it this Olympics.

R: Well, last time they were a bit more covered, because it was the Winter Olympics. So maybe you just notice it now. Although, we also saw it in Beijing and blogged about it on Skepchick as well.

S: I do think it's bigger this year than it has been in the past. I'm definitely seeing it more.

E: Which is unfortunate; it's going the wrong direction—

J: And it's evolved, too; like, they're really... it's more extreme in what their claims are all the different variations of it. The thing I find interesting about it is that the athletes really do feel that they're getting a benefit from it; it has a very strong placebo effect.

S: Well, I don't know about that; I don't know how strong the placebo effect is, to be honest with you, but we'll get to that in a second. Just to quickly review the literature; again, there's not much, but there has been a few studies and there's actually been a couple reviews of those studies. The most recent review, written in 2012, concluded that there was little quality evidence to support the use of Kinesio Tape over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries. It says KT may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, range of motion, and certain injured cohorts were—and force sense error compared to other tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings. So essentially, the good studies that I saw showed no difference or no effect. It's essentially like any taping or bandages, which I find a very common scam in any—for any athletic devices like magnets or whatever, often wrapped or often included in some kind of bandage and essentially you get some benefit over wrapping an injured muscle. It does a little support; it may reduce pain; it may help keep the muscles warm and heat can tend to relax muscles and soft tissue. So essentially, people are reinventing the Ace bandage over and over again but putting some pseudo-science in there and then selling it for a lot more money, when, in fact, you could get all the benefit just from any basic supporting tape or bandage or whatever. So I think this is no different, and what the studies show is that, yep, it's basically not different than any other bandage or tape. There have been—there's always more of the basic physiological studies rather than the performance studies or the clinical studies, for whatever reason, but one that was interesting said, yeah, it does have an effect on muscle performance, but it's hard to tell if it's beneficial or even harmful; it couldn't even say that wasn't harmful to muscle performance. So there's no reason to think that it's any different, honestly, than any other tape, and the elaborate, you know, and really hyped claims that are being made for it are not justified by anything in basic science or clinical research. I always find it interesting, too, that this guy's been doing this for 40 years and hasn't been able to put together one decent study?

B: Yeah. Right.

E: Have someone look at it.

J: It's not—Steve, he's too busy curing; he's too busy helping.

S: I know. It's always the lone guru with this is elaborate method that is based on nothing. You know? But Jay, you brought up the placebo effect, and that always comes up whenever you talk about any sports pseudoscience. You know, there's so many things that we talked about: the Power Balance bands; the little nose strips which don't help either, now the Kinesio Taping. Honestly, there isn't a lot—there is data, of course, from psychological studies show that there is a placebo effect if people think they're going to have improved performance; just the extra confidence, whatever, actually does help—

J: That's what I was talking about.

S: —but I honestly—I'm not aware of any evidence that shows that that has an effect when you are talking about the peak performance in a world competition. People are already pushing up so much against the upper limit of human performance that there really isn't much room left for something like a placebo effect to have a significant effect.

J: I'm just saying that the athletes feel like there's an effect; they psychologically think that there's a benefit even though there isn't.

S: Even when there isn't. Yeah. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they actually get a real benefit in performance, because of their belief that there is one. That's the thing that I don't think is true. And in fact, there's some evidence to suggest that for professional athletes, that again, there's so little room for variance in their performance, otherwise you wouldn't be competing in the Olympics if you can have a significant change in your performance because of something purely psychological like that... that it doesn't make a difference. So like, I think you could, in fact, relate this to the hot hands phenomenon, which again, the consensus is — there's some controversy, but the consensus is that it doesn't really exist. So, for professional basketball players, having made or missed previous baskets doesn't seem to affect their ability—the chance that they'll make the next basket. There doesn't appear to be any measurable psychological effect; any placebo effect; their performance follows pure statistical chance. I think that's for the same reason, that—

J: But what is the "hot hands effect"?

S: Well, the "hot hands" is that there's streakiness in whatever, hitting baseballs or shooting baskets or whatever; that if you—and the thinking is that, well, if you make a basket you're going to be more confident and you'll have a higher chance of making the next one or if you miss a basket, you'll blow your confidence and you'll have a greater chance of missing the next one. So then basketball players will tend to make baskets in a row or be on a cold streak where they'll miss a lot of baskets in a row, but it turns out, if you analyze the statistics, it doesn't exist. Which means the underlying psychological explanation doesn't exist. Which, to me, it's the same as saying that there's a placebo effect wearing a rubber band or, you know, putting tape around your legs. Not maybe, for the average amateur athlete, there may be a measurable psychological effect, but I don't think athletes who are competing in the Olympics are going to have any—are going to be on that medal stand because they put this fake strips of tape down their back.

Name That Logical Fallacy (48:37)[edit]

S: We do have a name that logical fallacy this week. This is a letter—an email that was sent to me by Gale Wallenberg and Gale writes:

Sir, In reading your comments on iridology, I noticed a lot of biased opinions. I have to ask "why does modern medicine concentrate their efforts on treating the symptoms rather than treating the root cause?" I have also noticed that during my lifetime, there seems to be a very high mortality rate from misdiagnosed diseases by those claiming to be using the best diagnosis machines available. Modern medicine is not science-based at all but rather based on greed for money. That is why modern medicine practitioners make such fraudulent claims against alternative medicine. If you would not receive any monetary compensation for what you do as an MD, would you still be doing it? Best regards, Gale Wollenberg

S: One or two bits of questionable logic in there; any jump out at you guys?

E: "I have noticed during my lifetime there seems to be a very high mortality rate", so she's using her own example, right? She's basing it on what she has witnessed, not actually on what the actual statistics are.

S: Yeah, so that's anecdotal and subject to massive confirmation bias. What is that based on, just your casual observation? How much casual obsveration of medical treatment is she talking about here? Just her personal friends and family?

J: Right. We don't know.

S: Cases in which she has a high emotional stake and may not be interpreting what's happening in an unbiased or accurate way. So that's just an appeal to anecdote; I mean, there's no... she doesn't cite any sources. And I actually responded to her and actually challenged her to provide some evidence for all the things that she said and she just came back with—

J: "Oh yeah?"

S: —completely different set of logical fallacies. And didn't really address any of the things that I said. But yeah, so there's the appeal to personal experience over data.

R: Are you sure that she's a she? By the way.

E: Gale?

S: I don't know. G-A-L-E. Maybe not; that is kind of an androgynous name.

B: I love the canard that "oh, doctors only treat symptoms; they don't treat the root cause".

S: Yeah, so what's the fallacy there?

B: That's called the bullshit fallacy.

S: But... you're right, that's BS; it's propaganda. But what—she's committing a specific fallacy in that sentence; what is it? "I have to ask why does modern medicine concentrate their efforts in treating the symptoms rather than treating the root cause."

E: She's making a premise. She's...

S: She's begging the question.

B: Aha, yeah.

S: No, you have to ask if modern medicine focuses too much effort on treating the symptoms. She's assuming that's the case; she's asking why; she's then assuming—begging the question, well do they? Is that actually true of modern medicine? This is this a standard piece of anti-science-based medicine or pro alternative medicine propaganda. "Modern medically only treats or covers up symptoms." Really? What's that based on? Science-based medicine is what's discovered all of the actual causes of diseases and ailments. Prior to science, we didn't know what caused anything. I also find it ironic that, on the one hand, they accuse scientific medicine of being reductionist, which means that we treat the actual mechanisms of causes of diseases, and then they accuse us of not doing that and of only treating symptoms. But it's made up; it's all based upon nothing. Of course we always look for the underlying cause of illness and treat it when we can identify it. It's appropriately denigrating symptomatic management. I mean, what's—so you're saying if you have pain, you don't want me to treat the pain? Or... nausea or whatever?

E: Sounds like to me that she's saying that if you do treat the root cause as opposed to the symptoms, you're putting yourself out of work eventually. 'Cause you'll cure stuff and then you'll have nothing else to do.

S: Yeah, which is nonsense; it's another sort of begging the question.

B: I'd love to have her or him go to the doctor with a migraine and he say, "well, I could treat the symptom but, you know, I don't think you'd like that", or "we can't really treat the root cause, so deal with it."

S: Yeah. I mean, there are some things that we can't cure, but we can manage them and we can treat them symptomatically. But if you can take a migraineur and make them have very few or no migraines, they're still a migraineur, but you've pretty much solved the problem, or at least reduced it significantly. But also, name me a CAM practitioner that treats root—real root causes, not made-up BS. There are none!

J: Yeah, but Steve... People like their pseudo-scientific practitioners better than their doctors—their medical doctors.

S: That' not true. Categorically.

J: I'm kidding when I say that, but the argument—the idea is that they feel better about those methodologies because they think there's a scam involved in modern medicine.

S: OK, so here's—modern medicine is not science-based at all, but rather is based on greed for money. So I think you could pull a couple good logical fallacies out of that one too.

J: Not good at this—

S: So it's an ad hominem, first of all.

B: Oh, I was right with the "ad" piece.

E: (laughs) Yes.

S: But it's also an inconsistency in that—so, modern medicine is greedy when they get paid for their services, but alternative medicine proponents aren't charging for their services? I mean, come on. The real alternative medicine gurus out there are making millions of dollars.

J: They're making more money than anybody.

S: And there's just false assumptions throughout. First of all, she accuses us of making fraudulent claims about alternative medicine. I challenged her to name one; could not do that.

E: Nope.

S: And assumes that our motivations are greed. By the way, this is all apparently in defense of iridology, which in a later email, she says goes back to Biblical times. Really? Actually, we know when iridology was invented—

B: Argument from antiquity!

S: (laughs) Argument from antiquity; thanks, Bob. But iridology, for those who may not know, is a system of diagnosis based upon a single observation; it's a classic pseudoscience. The thinking is that the iris of the eye reflects—is connected magically to all the other parts of the body, and that the iris will change colors when there's illness or disease somewhere.

E: That's a homunculus.

S: Homunculus, yeah; it's 100 percent pure nonsense; there isn't any basic science to support that at all; there isn't any plausibility to it whatsoever, and iridologists cannot diagnose anything. They can't even tell when they're looking at a human eye versus a non-human eye or a glass eye versus a real eye—

B: (laughs) A glass eye!

J/E: A glass eye!

S: They've been fooled every way you can imagine.

J: ...a doll's eyes.

E: Got black eyes, like a doll's eyes.[5]

S: (laughs) They can't... and then if they do a cold reading—that what—iridology's a cold reading: "I see you have kidney problems here. Well, you're going to have kidney problems. You have a susceptibility to kidney disease." So...

B: That's a hit!

S: Yeah, so anything's a hit; it's just a susceptibility. But they can't diagnose a thing! Right? But we're the frauds. Got it, Gale.

E: That's right, Steve. Would you be doing this if you weren't getting any monetary compensation? Come on.

S: Yes, 'cause I would be living in the street like a hobo—

E: Saying, "alms for the poor..."

B: How many people—

S: Why would you challenge it. Would you expect anybody—yes, I want to go through 10 years of schooling, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and then work for free. That's my career choice.

E: That's a good system.

B: Who—is there anybody—granted, there are a few people that love their job so much they would do it for nothing, but what is that, .000001 percent? Come on.

S: Well, that's what we do for the skeptical movement. (laughs)

E: That's for sure.

B: We don't make money; what are you talking about?

S: But we gotta have a day job; we gotta put food on the table; I mean, it's ridiculous. You could say that about anybody. 'Cause all those iridologists are out there donating their time. Yeah.

B: Yeah, right.

Science or Fiction (56:31)[edit]

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious, and I challenge my panel of skeptics to sniff out the fake. Now we have a special theme this week and 4 items. The theme is "etymology"; these are word origins. I'm going to give you four words and the explanation for their origin, and you have to tell me which one is not correct.

J: Oh, awesome, Steve.

S: OK? here we go. Item number one: is claptrap a trick used to "catch" applause from the audience? Word number two: is bogus: a machine used to make counterfeit bills or coins. Word three: is straw man—Refers to men who stood outside courthouses with a straw in their shoe in order to indicate their willingness to be a false witness. And word four: is nuts—from "nuts", the same word, meaning a source of pleasure.

J: Now Steve, one of these is fake?

S: One of these is incorrect. So, Jay, you get to go first and you get to pick two as the fake.

E: Wow.

J: Yeah, but this happens to be one where there's four, so am I still—I'm only getting a 50-50.

S: I know that; that's why I agree to it.

B: (laughs)

E: Happy birthday, 44.

J: All right; well, claptrap, a trick to use to catch applause from the audience—"catch" in quotes. What do you mean "catch", like "garner"?

S: Yeah. Exactly. To trap claps.

J: That's a trick, though; like, a trick.

E: (as Admiral Ackbar) It's a claptrap.

J: I'm not liking this one. It's a trick used to entice people to do applause. All right, sure. There's a sign that they used to turn on that used to say "applause", but you're talking—I have a feeling you're going way back before that.

E: Before signs?

J: It's a trick. Bogus—machine used to make counterfeit bills and coins; I believe this one is correct because of the word "bogie". I know that I have something in the back of my mind that's telling me yes to that one, so that's—I'm going to believe that one's true. The straw man—thinking about hearing this before about the straw-in-the-shoes-type of deal. I think that one's true. "Nuts" meaning of source of pleasure. Seriously, Steve. This one has to be true because you wouldn't just make up nuts, a source of pleasure on a skeptical podcast. Come on. So only one of these is fake is what you're saying?

S: That's correct.

J: All right; I'm going to take the first one, "claptrap" as a fake

E: All right.

J: And I'm going to take "nuts" as the fake.

S: All right. Rebecca?

R: So, with "nuts", you mean...

S: "Nuts" meaning crazy.

R: Crazy. OK. Originally comes from—

S: There's a theme to these four words, you might have noticed.

R: Yeah. That's what tipped me off. OK, my other question is: do you mean did these are potential etymologies or definitive etymologies? Because because with a lot of words, there's some question as to whether or not it's just a folk etymology, or... you know.

S: Yeah, so these are the current best guess or consensus. So they may be definitive or they may be, like, very likely to be true but they're not just a guess or a folk explanation.

R: OK; the one that's wrong, though, is that one you made up out of whole cloth or is that one that has been guessed as a folk thing?

S: Let me say that the one that's wrong is demonstrably wrong.

R: "Demonstrably wrong".

S: It's definitely not the origin of the word. That doesn't mean that there may not be somebody who believes it to be, but it definitely is not correct.

R: Which leads me to believe that it's not made up out of whole cloth; that this is something that has been suggested, so I'm going to go with my gut on this. I will say that, for the others, claptrap, that makes sense. Could be—I could see how it could move into the idea of it being crap as a cheap trick; some easy ploy to get applause making its was over to cheap bit of pseudoscience snake oil. Bogus: yeah, I can believe that, that bogus referred to a machine before it referred to what the machine produced. And "nuts" meaning a source of pleasure? Yeah, I guess I could see how that could also transition into what we now know as crazy from something that—something that makes you giddy, maybe, to something that makes you lose your mind. That makes sense. So that brings us to "straw man", which I do not believe... I don't think that it refers to men who stood outside courthouses with straw in their shoe. However, I do think that that has been a suggested origin for it. I'm going to go with that one.

S: OK. Bob?

B: Man, I don't know. Yeah, claptrap I could see little tricks you could do to force people to clap, like maybe pausing or even start bowing; something to make people think, "oh, I gotta clap now". Yeah, so I can totally see that. Bogus—I have no idea; it just sounds right. Who the hell knows? Straw man? I don't know; something about straw in the shoes kind of rings a bell with something but who knows what it's related to. The one that just jumps out at me is "nuts". I keep thinking about the famous reply in World War II, you know, "surrender!" "Nuts!" doesn't seem to coincide with source of pleasure.

E: A man that eloquent has to be rescued.

B: (laughs) I mean, who knows if I'm even interpreting what the hell that guy meant properly and I still could be and probably am totally wrong but I'm just going to go with "nuts" and say that's fiction.

S: OK. Evan?

E: Yeah. Here we go. Claptrap; I think the key there is "trick" 'cause Rebecca alluded to, so I think that one winds up being right. "Bogus"; I think bogus is correct because I think Jeff Spiccoli in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High made a reference to bogus when there was talking about money in the context, so I think money and bogus there are correct. I think that's a little thing to pull out from there. And straw man. Straw man. So it's either straw man or nuts. I seem to remember something about the straw man story, so I'm leaning towards that one being correct. Yeah, straw in their shoe in order to indicate their willingness to be a false witness. I'm kinda thinking along the same lines of "lobbyist"; you know, people who would hang out in the lobbies of the Washington, D.C. hotels to get political favors from folks.

B: I never thought of that.

E: So I think there's some sort of similar sort of imagery going on there. And that leaves "nuts", and so I'm gonna agree with Bob, and I think nuts is the one that is the fiction in this case.

J: I picked that one too, you know.

E: Oh, yes, and Jay too.

R: Are you kidding? Am I standing alone again?

S: You are.

R: God dammit.

S: So, the one that nobody chose is bogus, a machine used to make counterfeit bills or coins, and that one is... science. That one is science.

B: Yay!

S: I had to use "bogus"; that was kind of an obvious one. It did later refer to the the money or the spurious coin or counterfeit money itself and then broadened to mean anything that's not legitimate but originally referred to the counterfeiter's apparatus from 1833, quoting from the Concord, New Hampshire "Statesmen": "One bogus or machine impressing dies on the coin, with a number of dies, engraving tools, bank bill paper, spurious coin, &c. &c. making in all a large wagon load, was taken into possession by the attorney general of Lower Canada." So yeah, that's interesting. And Jay, you're the only one who thought that "claptrap" might have been the fake; that was one of your two choices; you chose "claptrap" and "nuts". Claptrap, a trick used to catch applause from the audience and that one is... science.

B: Yay, 50-50, 50-50, 50-50.

S: I thought that one was really weird; a claptrap? Really? That's the origin of the word?

J: Yeah, it's weird.

B: Yeah, it is odd.

S: Yeah, so extended—Rebecca, you're exactly right— the sense was extended to cheap or showy language, and then from that to nonsense or rubbish, so that was sort of the pathway that took. Was originally a stage term back in the 1700s. First reference noted in 1730 and then its use in the nonsense or cheap showy language was a reference in 1819 and then later nonsense or rubbish. All right.

J: Cool.

E: All right; here we go.

S: So I guess doesn't matter which one we go to next. We'll go to "straw man"—refers to men who stood outside courthouses with a straw in their show in order to indicate their willingness to be a false witness. Rebecca thinks this one is the fiction. The rest of you think this one is science and this one is... the fiction!. Good job, Rebecca.

B: Nice, nice.

R: Thank you.

S: And Rebecca, you are exactly right; that is a folk etymology for straw man, but it is demonstrably incorrect. People did not put straw in their shoes to indicate they were willing to be a false witness, which kinda would give away that they were willing to be a false witness and kind of obviate the whole points, but—and the origin of "straw man" isn't completely known, but its use as the logical fallacy of setting up an easy target... the logical fallacy "straw man" is essentially arguing against a weak version of your opponent's position that you invent specifically 'cause it's easy for you to knock down. Now, there are some obvious sources for the notion of a straw man: in the military, in training, for example, with weapons, they had literal straw men that you would fight and knock down...

R: Like in Skyrim.

S: Yeah, exactly. Or could refer to a scarecrow. Or just the straw itself, I was reading, was something that was iconically cheap and worthless; straw is just sort of left over; it's everywhere; it's worth nothing. So a man of straw, again, is something that would be very weak or worthless. I came across "clutching at straws" while I was looking that up and that's similar, but that specifically—the original reference—you guys know what the original reference was, "catching" or "clutching at straws"? "Grasping at straws" was initially "catch at a straw" then clutching and now "grasping at straws" is the most common version, but that was originally, probably, specifically referring to a drowning man grasping at straws. 'Cause if your just like—straw is floating in the water—

E: You'll grab anything.

S: And that's the only thing; you're pretty desperate if that's the only thing you have to grab onto. So that's the origin of "straw man". By the way, do you guys know the British term for "straw man"?

E: Maze man.

S: Rebecca, you spent some time in the U.K.; did you come across this?

R: Yeah, I'm tryin to think if I'd heard anything...

B: A fool's mountie.

S: No, it's called an "Aunt Sally".

B: (laughs)

R: I have never heard that.

B: Bob's your uncle!

S: An Aunt Sally is a doll that is—you know, like, the fuzzy dolls in the playground—in the fairground that you have to knock over with a bean bag or a ball? That's an Aunt Sally. So it's something you set up specifically say you can knock it down.

B: Oh, sweet.

S: Which means that "nuts, meaning a source of pleasure" is science and I think the specific reference—Rebecca, you were pretty much on there as well. So, originally meant any source of pleasure in the 1600s. Later references meant to be nuts about something or nuts upon something; to be very fond of that thing that gives you pleasure. And that morphed to be crazy about something and then just being crazy. There's also speculation that the fact that the nut might refer to the head; that the metaphor of a nut in a head may have influenced "nuts" being for something being equated to being crazy for it. But that's just speculation; that's not necessary. So, interesting.

B: I'm really mad at Stephen King.

S: Why?

B: Because he wrote a novella, a short story called "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", which is really cool and he used that "nuts" quote from the World War II, and a character—a character used that. And that's when I was like, "what the hell does that mean?" I remember looking it up years ago and that's why it was so much at the top of my mind. If I never read that damn story, maybe I would've picked "straw man"!

R: You're blaming Stephen King?

B: Yes! I gotta blame somebody.

S: That's a shortened version of the expression "nuts to you", just nuts, which again, I'm also reading about that, is falling out of favor because of the connection to another slang sense of the word "nut"... that's—

B: Nuts to you!

S: —that's a little bit impolite. Right.

E: Right.

S: So good job, Rebecca; you totally nailed it this week.

E: Nailed it.

R: Thank you. Well, you finally picked a theme that falls within my very narrow specialty.

E: You got a 9.9 from the Ukrainian judge; well done, Rebecca.

R: Thank you.

B: Next week, Steve, next week: all quantum mechanics.

S: You got it.

B: Thank You

S: No. But OK, you can keep hoping.

J: My birthday; you could have picked something that I know about, you know?

B: He gave you two choices!

J: It's irrelevant!

R: Yeah, that's right. You had a 50 percent chance of winning this time, Jay.

J: I'm like, really, I'm cursed this year. I can't—

S: That's what it is; it's a curse. Something out of your control that you can't do anything about.

J: That's right. It's not my fault.

E: The gods have cursed you.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:10:52)[edit]

S: Jay, do you have a quote for us on your birthday?

J: I have a quote.

E: (deep voice) And now... Without further delay...

J: This is a quote sent in by a listener name Katelyn Reeve from Tasmania, Australia. Anybody that lives in a place called Tasmania, that's cool.

B: Yeah, right?

J: The quote is:

One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century, which we've developed to a very high level, is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.

J: Malcolm Muggeridge!

S: Muggeridge. That's a cool...

E: Muggeridge.

B: I like that name.

S: Is it "cre-DUL-ity" or "cred-JUL-ity"?


R: I go with "cred-JUL-ity".

E: Well, we pronounce it "cred-JUL-ity", usually, but is it "cre-DUL-ity"?

S: It's spelled "credulity".

E: It is. Huh. I wonder what the etymology of that word is.

R: It's definitely "cred-JUL-ity".

J: All right. "Cred-JUL-ity" it is. For the win. Who was Malcolm Muggeridge?

E: Uh, he's a wizard from Harry Potter.


S: That's what I was gonna say, Evan.

J: He was an English journalist, author, media personality, and Satanist—I mean "satirist".

S: The Merriam-Webster pronunciation guide says "cre-du-li-ty".

B: Whoa.

E: Whoa.

S: They're wrong.

R: Really?

S: They're objectively, demonstrably wrong.

E: Is there an ombudsman we can go to?

B: I think you should take away Rebecca's win with that.

E: Yeah, I agree. Hear hear.

R: Nope. I'm a writer; I can say words however I want. That's the rule.

E: This never happened.

S: You and William Shakespeare.

R: Just how Steve can make up bones. Just cause he's a doctor.

S: Yeah, OK. Is that the rule? The one was really surprised at was "imprimatur". Have you guys ever heard of the word "imprimatur"?

B: Yeah, yeah.

S: It's "im-pri-MA-tur".

E: I have heard people pronounce it that way.

S: I heard it, too; I'm like, "no way; it's not im-pri-MA-tur; it's im-PRIM-a-ture." No, it's im-pri-MA-tur; that's actually correct.

E: Ugh. We just bastardize the language so badly.

S: Good quote, Jay, and happy birthday.

J: Thanks, guys.

B: Happy birthday.

E: Forty-four.

S: There are a lot of birthdays in Stanley Kubrick movies; you ever notice that?

J: Why's that?

S: You know, 'cause it's a whole transformation thing.

R: Probably because he had a sad childhood. Didn't get to celebrate his birthday.

E: Time is always an interesting element in Kubrick movies.

S: Yes.

E: Days of the week.

S: Like in The Shining; there was no time. It was a timeless—

E: Tuesday.

S: Tuesday. Yeah. It was deliberately vague.

E: No reference; that's awesome.


Dragon*Con Private Recording (1:13:36)[edit]

S: All right. Well, Rebecca, how we doing on our Dragon*Con private recording?

R: We do have a few tickets left; they are two-thirds gone as of this recording, so that means that as of the time this goes to air, there might just be a couple. So please, if you want to come, again, it's at Dragon*Con; it's Sunday night; it's a good time; private recording. Not like a public show, because in a private recording we cut loose a bit more; you get to see how an actual episode comes together, which is very different from a public performance.

S: Yes, it's true.

R: So we always have a good time. So yeah, go on to get those.

New T-shirt Available (1:14:16)[edit]

R: And by the way, speaking of, we never announced that we have a brand new T-shirt available at the SGU fighting space dinosaurs.

E: Yeah.

S: This is my favorite T-shirt. It's like a university tee with the SGU big letters with the fighting space dinosaurs underneath it. It's really cool.

R: I've already gotten a lot of compliments on the one I wear around town. Thanks to Chloe Ashton, our artiste, for creating that.

Star Party at Dragon*Con (1:14:45)[edit]

R: And speaking of Dragon*Con, I wanted to also mention that my friend Maria Walters is once again holding the star party, which is the big event they do Thursday night before Dragon*Con in Atlanta to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphona Society in the memory of Jeff Medkeff, an awesome astronomer passed away a few years ago. So you can go get tickets at and Phil Plait will be there; Nicole Gugliucci, Marian Call, and George Hrab.

E: Awesome.

S: Awesome.

R: It's gonna be a good time.

S: All right; well, thanks for joining me this week, everyone.

R: Thank you, Steve.

B: Surely.

E: Doctor.

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

J: It's my birthday.

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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