SGU Episode 373

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SGU Episode 373
8th September 2012
Bob Pirate.jpg
SGU 372 SGU 374
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
BW: Billy West
Quote of the Week
All superstition is much the same whether it be that of astrology, dreams, omen, retributive judgment, or the like, in all of which the deluded believers observe events which are fulfilled, but neglect and pass over their failure, though it be much more common.
Francis Bacon
Novum Organum, 1620
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


BW: Good news everyone! You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your home for this sort of thing.

S: Hello and welcome to Skeptics' Guide to the Universe


S: Today is Saturday September 1st 2012, and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella:

B: Hey Everybody

S: Rebecca Watson:

R: Hello everyone.

S: Jay Novella:

J: Hey guys!

S: And Evan Burnstein:

E: Hello DragonCon

S: How is everyone doing today?

R: Aws...super, We didn't ask you!

J: Super thanks for asking.

R: I love, I love how the audience was like "We're great, Thank you Steve"

This Day in Skepticism (1:05)[edit]

  • September 8, 1966 - First Trek Episode Airs

S: Well Rebecca, tell us about September 8th in history

R: Yes, uh, that's a week from now for those of you who are here at the live show. Those of you who are listening on the podcast it is September 8th. Uh... and today in 1966 the first Star Track (sic) appeared.

B: Wait, did you say "track"? Trek! Trek!

R: So easy, it's so easy.


R: uh yes

J: Not to get too ... pendantic (sic) but was it the cage? or was...

R: Did you say...?

B: Pedantic

J: Pedantic, whatever!

R: You know what a pendant I am but...

S: Pendant.

J: Its amazing what alcohol can make you do about caring. Anyway. um... Was it the cage or was...was...I always con...

S: Regular...Regular Series

R: It was...It was the original series and it was not the pilot with Christopher Pike. was the first regular show of the series.

J: With Captain Kirk

B: Where no man has gone before.

J: The man trap!

B: No! Where no man has gone before.

R: The man trap?! Is that what it was called?

J: I think it was.

R: The man trap!

E: Does anyone know?

J: The second episode was called: she's got big tits.


E: Oh I saw that one.

R: Steve is going to do so much editing of this. You guys don't even know.

S: That one wouldn't make it to air? I thought I would have remembered that one.

R: The man trap...

S: Not a big...Not a big Star Trek showing in the parade today, I was a little disappointed, I mean is the franchise on the wane? What do you guys think?

J: Noo! The wane...

E: Bite your tongue

S: I don't know... I mean they...they rebooted but...uh..

B: Where is that sequel?

S: Yeah, when are we gonna see that second movie

B: Where is that sequel?

R: It's comin'

S: So is Christmas. That doesn't....That doesn't even work, that joke doesn't even work for that.

S: We're going to do some quick quick news items for today:

B: Quick?

News Items[edit]

Blue Moon Lunacy (2:54)[edit]

Bigfoot News (7:31)[edit]

Negative Replication of Psi (12:04)[edit]

Baldness Cure (17:06)[edit]

Little Mass from Higgs (25:15)[edit]

UFO Over Illuminati Castle (31:19)[edit]

Interview with Billy West (34:01)[edit]

  • Talented voice actor Billy West, who does the voices of Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Ren and Stimpy, and others.

S: We're here at Dragon*Con 2012 with famous voice actor Billy West. Billy, welcome to the Skeptics' Guide.

BW: Thank you very much, guys. I've heard of you!

S: That's...(laughing) We've heard of you, too.

BW: My friend Penn Jillette, you know, used to buy me the subscription to the Skeptical Inquirer.

S: I have a column in that journal.

BW: Oh do you? It's still around?

S: Still going strong; absolutely.

BW: Wow. So there is no God.


BW: Or He would have gotten rid of you.


S: That's probably true; yeah, that's a good point. You do the voices of many characters that we love on shows that—

BW: Thank you.

S: —have a very strong, in our opinion, very skeptical scientific undertone. Like, you do Fry and other characters[1] from Futurama, which is a favorite of ours. From other interviews and stuff, we sort of got the notion that maybe you might be skeptically minded yourself and we wanted to talk to you and see if our sense was correct.

BW: I'm sort of skeptical, just because of my childhood; I always had to be super diligent, 'cause I had to learn, like, what the door to the car slammed—what it meant when it pulled up the driveway; my dad was like a Jeckyll & Hyde. So I always had to... I could tell if I was in for hell, a hellish night, by the way the door slammed or the way the key was in the door. I could tell, and I began to... I began to catch information where it's not available. And I began to listen for things that weren't being said. You know what I mean? And that was like—talk about a guide to the universe.

S: Right.

BW: You know what I mean? It helps you to decipher politicians; you can break the code of newscasters and everything by seeing what's not being shown to you. And I think that's probably the backbone of that kind of thinking.

S: Yeah, not taking things at face value, and sort of thinking about what the subtext is, perhaps. What's really going on.

BW: Sure. Now if I knew anything that I just said, I'd be doing good.


J: So, Billy, when they give you scripts that you have to do voice-overs for, do you get to comment on anything, any of the language? You know, how much back-and-forth is there?

BW: I want to honor the writers. 'Cause they're just so damn good; you can't mess around with people like that. By the way, a lot of them were math and physics majors. Harvard University. And they're writing comedy. So how dare me, you know, just go—

E: But Billy, in the end, you are the character, right? So you must have your two cents that you're able to put in and be able to tweak certain things appropriate to the character.

BW: Certain things. I've tried to throw in stuff here and there but they're very good like that, they want you to honor the text and they want you to go with the general idea and realize how hard they worked on it, but sometimes they'll go, "OK, we got what we needed. Any ideas?" And that's a real smart thing to do because sometimes one of us, or myself, will come up with something that they just quite hadn't thought of, and sometimes it'll play and sometimes they'll use it and put it in.

S: Because you're in the mind of the character, you think, as much as the writers?

BW: I think so. I mean, those guys hear them just as loud and clear as I would or John DiMaggio or any of us. I don't know; I get so enthused because it is a concerted effort; it's not like you do any solo missions, you know? It all works together. But we've been together for so long, it's almost like we can hear each other thinking.

E: Oh, sure.

BW: So there's that going for us.

E: Yeah, I hear these guys thinking all the time, too.

J: Right?


E: We're used to it.

BW: What do they say?

J: You can predict people's responses and... you know, do you guys sit around and talk about the characters still, and figure out "how would this character respond to this?" Do you ever have conversations—

BW: I think that's the kind of thing that they expect you to know, no matter what the character is. It's like, you know... you learn all that stuff from acting games and stuff like that, like you have to have conversations with yourself if you're an actor and studying; it's like that's what killed me about Clint Eastwood the other night, you know? He's at the end of his career, and what is he doing? He's doing acting games from when he was 19 years old, talking to a chair. And doing it badly. What are you thinking? A fistful of Alzheimer's.

J: Yeah, I read—

BW: No, no, wait; the good, the bad, and the...

S: Demented.

BW: I don't remember.


J: I read that you had so many characters on one of the shows that you were working on that a lot of times you would be having conversations with yourself.

BW: Yes. An example would be if they were talking to each other. (As Farnsworth) "Good God, Zoidberg. Where have you been?" (As Zoidberg) "I was in dumpster number 7 if you want to get specific about it." (As Fry) "Hey, wait a minute; everybody shut up. I just found something!" (As Zapp Brannigan) "What'd you find, Fry? Your ass?" You know...


BW: And I'd have to... 'cause they don't want to waste any time; they want me to go right through it.

J: Right.

BW: But... I'm so ragged from screaming and yelling, but...

J: They sound great to me. (laughs)

BW: No, it sounds horrible.

J: Do you ever—I have to ask this, 'cause I—I get really punchy around 4 or 5 PM every day; you know, I'm driving home from work—

BW: What time is it?

J: Yeah, we're there. We're there. So a lot of time in the car, I'll just make funny noises and try to make myself laugh. You know, do voices and stuff. Do you do that too; do you find you're in character a lot when you're alone, joking around.

BW: Yeah. I just—I see faces going by and cars and it's like one guy will have this face like... and I'll go (grunts loudly) You know, start making the noise that the face—

E: The noise that you think he's making.

BW: It's like, (nasal whining) (shrieks, high-pitched) I went through a light! I'm gonna get caught! (whistling)

S: So you're just narrating your life, whatever you see.

BW: Whatever I see I just Tourette out.


J: You know, you should just record yourself for a day and then sell it. (laughs)

BW: No, no, that's crazy.

E: Billy West Radio Hour? I could do that; I could listen to that.

BW: I like doing podcasts because there's no more radio. I hate to tell everybody, but there just isn't. All the old, staid rules we got rid of in the 60s and the 70s and the 80s are all back. There's all these squares; these young squares, you know? I'm from the 50s so I still say "square".

S: Yeah.

BW: They're like young geezers. It's like, where did you people come from, Bob Jones University? You know, it's like, "well, here's what we were thinking..." "How old are you?" "Twenty-eight." You know, you're like my Republican dad.

E: A throw-back.

BW: Yeah. A real throw-back, but I don't know how the cycle just ended up there again but I guess it's to be expected.

E: I suppose so. Yeah. I guess that's sort of a natural circular sort of way of—

J: Are you talking about terrestrial radio, or... like, 'cause the podcast universe is—

BW: Terrestrial radio. I have always had a love-hate thing going on with radio because I know how good it can be. And I see how lousy and sucky it is.

J: Yeah.

BW: Yeah. I mean, there's people that laugh at each other all morning long, and it's like... "I went to a restaurant last night; oh, this is crazy, man, you gotta hear this one. The menus were blue. You know, blue is a color that I don't want anywhere near my food." You know, and they're recycling George Carlin stuff from 30 years ago, and it's like (laughs deeply). Then there's the big, dumb announcer guys, you know. "Coming up on the downside of 8:30 ehhhhh".

J: (laughs)

BW: You know, they're mulling it over on the air, you know. It's like, "well, we've got some tickets to give away to the Worcester Centrum ehhhhh".

J: So who is your favorite? Howard Stern? How far back do you want to go?

BW: As far as what? Radio?

J: Yeah.

BW: My God, I came from the Stone Age; I'm trying to remember who was on the radio when I was a kid. Most of the big, dumb announcers, 'cause they used to fracture me. They love the sound of their own voice and they used to get lost in it, you know? Then, years later, another species came along in the evolution of all this and they were wiry and facile and they were called "little dumb announcer".


BW: So we began to roam Madison Avenue and... It's all good, you know; everything comes and goes cyclically. The older I get, you know?

S: Right. The more you see that.

BW: Sure. (fast-talking radio announcement) This is Johnny Ben and the Human Cannon singing What's in You's Gotta Come Out and that's rock and roll's all about and before we (unintelligible) Mr. Roy Orbison, 1961.

S: (chuckles)

BW: (as Zoidberg) Homeopathy. I was afraid to go in because I'm not a "homeopth".

J: Do you—do you still do Stimpy ever? Or are you off Stimpy?

BW: I have. You know, I'll do it for anybody.

J: All I wanna hear—I'm sure you get this all the time—"will you button me, Ren?"

BW: (as Stimpy) Will you button me, Ren? (as Ren) Shut up, you FOOOOOOLL! (unintelligible) kill you!

E: Dynamite.

J: (laughing) Oh, God, that's awesome.

S: Thank you so much. That was awesome.

E: Billy, thank you so much.

BW Thank you, guys. Thank you so much.

J: You're the best, man. Thanks.

BW: You guys are quick on the draw, man...

Science or Fiction (42:56)[edit]

  • Item number one. Scientists have discovered Western Scrub Jays performing a funeral-like behavior when they discover one of their members has died. Item number two. A recent study finds that adults are more likely to accept a supernatural explanation than children. Item number three. Researchers find that the shape of the glass affects how drunk alcohol-drinkers become.

SGU FAQ (55:56)[edit]

  • Frequently asked questions at live events.

S: All right; we'll move on. We're going to do some Q&A in the remaining few minutes that we have, but every time we do a Q&A, we get the same feedback that we get the same questions over and over again. And it's kinda true; of course, people—there's the frequently asked questions and we don't want to answer the same ones over and over again. So we're going to get those out of the way really quickly first. We're just going to go over—these are the top questions we always get; we'll give you the answer very quickly, that way you can ask questions that we don't typically get.

R: You're not making this quick! Just go!

How do I get a person I know to stop using pseudo-science? (56:26)[edit]

S: OK. So, the first one: "how do I get my mom/sister/friend/co-worker/whatever to stop using homeopathy/ear candles/acupuncture/whatever?" Right. "How do I get my person I know to stop using pseudo-science—"

R: Here's what you gotta do: you gotta plant the seed in their brain; you're not gonna win the argument face to face in the argument; you're not gonna win, just give them a little seed of logic. Be nice to them, respect their beliefs, you know. Be nice. And also encourage them to see their doctor if they have some actual illness. Yes, they can go to the homeopath but also go get the chemo. Next.

How do you record the show? (57:04)[edit]

S: Right. Next: "How do you record the show?" Skype, Audacity, we're all in separate locations.

How does Steve do it all? (57:10)[edit]

S: "How does Steve do it all?" Hard work, time management, saint for a wife, I have clones, performance-enhancing drugs, and I take credit for other people's work.

R: Yes.

(laughter and applause)

Are the skeptics winning? (57:27)[edit]

S: All right. "Are we skeptics winning?" Jay, what do you think?

J: No.


J: Oh, sorry.

What podcasts, books, news sites do you recommend? (57:35)[edit]

S: "What podcasts/books/news sites do you recommend?" The SGU is all you need.


R: One-stop shop, everybody.

Why do X-ray astronomers and optical astronomers disagree with regard to the Butcher-Oemler Effect? (57:48)[edit]

S: We'll take care of the details for you; don't worry about it. OK, this is—I get this all the time: "Why do X-ray astronomers and optical astronomers disagree with regard to the Butcher-Olmer[sic] effect—"

J: I get so tired of this question.

R: Stop asking this question. Stop it.

S: Because the magnitude of galaxy harassment is proportional to galaxy cluster R-20 radius.

R: OK? OK?

E: Duh!

B: It's so obvious. Come on.

R: Deal with it.

Is that Rebecca's real hair color? (58:11)[edit]

S: "Is that Rebecca's real hair color?"

R: The answer to that is actually no, I'm bald but I've been taking a lotion thing that I've been rubbing on my head. This is—

S: It's a side effect of the PGD2 receptor—

R: This is the color that pops out of the lotion.

Is that really Bob's naked butt? (58:26)[edit]

S: Yeah. "Was that really Bob's naked butt?"


R: I believe that "hell yeah, woo!" is the actual correct answer, yeah.

S: Hell yeah it was. Yeah, hell yeah, it was is correct.

(laughter and applause)

How do you guys stay so totally awesome? (58:43)[edit]

S: All right. I think we have just one more. "How do you guys stay so totally awesome?"

R: I know! Stop asking us! Jesus!

J: Buy a [deleted] T-shirt. Shit costs us money. Help us.

Live Q&A[edit]

Bigfoot incident (58:58)[edit]

R: OK, questions! Let's do it!

S: Five minutes for Q&A. George Hrab!

GH: Back of the room, Back of the room...

Q1: Can you address the fact that the Bigfoot incident appears to be a cover-up conspiracy?


E: What were the—

R: I can confirm that that was a false flag operation on the part of skeptics. Yes.

Scientific literacy and the paranormal track (59:19)[edit]

Q2: We often associate the geeks and things like Dragon*Con with, I would think, scientific literacy. So what do you think about the fact that there's a paranormal track in direct opposition to everything we have here?

E: I can't stand it.

J: It's-it's—Just like the media, they're doing it for the money; it doesn't matter about credibility; it doesn't matter about truth—

S: They just watch reality television; I mean, it's all paranormal all the time.

E: Sell, sell, sell.

J: I can't really blame them, in a way, because they have to make money at the events, but all I can say is: at my conference, none of that shit happens.

S: Right. And at least we're here; they give us a venue, too, and that's—

R: Yeah, actually, this track started out as the X-track, the X-Files track, which could've easily become a paranormal track but instead it morphed into the skeptic track, so... Round of applause for the skeptic track!


B: Also today—it was interesting today; I was sitting at the table and some people came by and they clearly came from the paranormal track, based on their questions. And I don't know, I think it was helpful to talk to them and give them—let them know what we are—

S: That's good outreach.

B: I think I planted the seed. Who knows what's going to happen.

R: And one thing—my boyfriend went to the ghost hunters panel and he said—this actually was said: "We, uh—obviously, we have seen shadow people."


S: Obviously.

J: Right, George.

How long before we see more Occ? (1:00:36)[edit]

Q3: So how long will it be before we see more Occ?

J: OK. So, the Kickstarter ends on Monday; we already started writing the four episodes. What we put up was the—a pilot, which not necessarily means;&mdashit doesn't mean it's going to make it to the real release of the whole thing, but we're hoping that we're going to get at least one episode out this fall if we can hurry up and get to the shooting phase. I want to shoot all four episodes in October, if it's possible. Probably not gonna happen.

S: One or two by the end of the year.

J: One of the two by the end of the year. Next two as soon as the weather breaks. And thank you for asking.

Homeopath pharmacist (1:01:10)[edit]

  • What to do when your pharmacist recommend homeopathy?

Q4: You had a FAQ on how to deal with a loved one who believes in homeopathy. I'm at the pharmacy the other day, and my pharmacist is trying to sell me on homeopathy. How do you deal with—

R: Punch him in the face.

(laughter and applause)

R: Steve, edit that out.

S: You have to complain to them and then their boss and then the company, and just let them know that this... this affects their credibility; this is unethical; it's taking advantage of their customers and you're angry about it. I mean, I think that does have an effect.

J: And don't give them your business after that.

S: Yeah. Well, you gotta buy drugs somewhere, and they're all selling—

R: Well, that's what the corner's for.

J: Go ahead, George!

GH: All the way in the corner.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (1:01:50)[edit]

  • Is it real?

Q5: OK, I learned about some new issue that I've never heard of before. It's called "multiple chemical sensitivity". It seems to be a great debate about that; I'd be interested to know what a physician thinks about multiple chemical sensitivity.

S: Yeah. So that's been studied quite a bit, and what I can tell you is—so what that is is people who believe they have sensitivities to multiple different things in the environment and they have a long list of non-specific symptoms in response to that, and what I can tell you is when it's studied under blind conditions, it's not reproducible. So there is no convincing evidence, in my opinion, and this is the consensus of opinion, that that's a real entity. I think it's a name that's applied to other things; it's, you know, a garbage-pail diagnosis for people who have vague or non-specific symptoms. Maybe they have some undiagnosed other pathophysiology, and it's one of the diagnoses people get to when they have chronic symptoms that are not being diagnosed. But there is no real good evidence that it exists.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:02:50)[edit]

J: So we're going to end with a quote. And the quote is... and Steve's going to explain this to you after I read it.

S: Don't move it.

J: "All superstition is much the same whether it be that of astrology, dreams, omen, re... retributibive?

R: Good enough.

S: Retributive.

J: Retributive.

?: Well said!

J: Thank you, thank you. I'm practicing.

GH?: Thank you, alcohol.

J: "... or the like, in all of which the deluded believers observe events which are fulfilled, but neglect and pass over their failure, though it be much more common." Steve's going to explain this. And that was written 600 years ago by—

S: Four hundred.

J: —four hundred years ago by FRANCIS BACON!


E: Mmm, bacon.

S: A tasty quote this week. Yeah, so I think a lot of people got it. What that means is that people remember the hits and forget the misses. We've been hearing that—I mean, this is something that we think we made up that observation, right? But four hundred years ago the first guy who was saying, "hey, we should observe things empirically, etc." made this same exact observation. We've been fighting this fight for four hundred years. Little bit more wordy, but it's the exact same observation. People remember the misses—I mean, remember the hits and forget the misses.

J: And wasn't Francis Bacon also the first guy to actually do something scientific?

S: Yeah. He basically wrote the book on, like, science. Yeah.

E: Since the Dark Ages.

R: (chuckling) First person to do something scientific.

S: Well, in post-Middle Ages, yeah.

R: OK.

S: 1620. Cool guy.

(all agreeing)

S: All right, well, that's our show for Dragon*Con. Thank you all for coming!

J: Thanks, guys!

(cheering and applause)

GH: Jay, Steve, Rebecca, and Bob; your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe!

S: George Hrab, everyone.

(cheering and applause)

Voiceover: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at You can also check out our other podcast the SGU 5x5 as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. For questions, suggestions and other feedback please use the contact us form on the website or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode then please help us spread the word by leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune or your portal of choice.


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