SGU Episode 374

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SGU Episode 374
15th September 2012
Rhesus.jpg
SGU 373 SGU 375
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
Guests
GH: George Hrab
PP: Phil Plait
Quote of the Week
If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth.
Edward O. Wilson
Links
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


Introduction[edit]

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

This Day in Skepticism (1:52)[edit]

  • September 15, 1929: Birthday of physicist Murray Gell-Mann; Alexander Flemming discovers penicillin in 1928

News Items[edit]

Sun Myung Moon Dies (11:29)[edit]

Company Apologizes for Thalidomide (15:56)[edit]

Super WiFi (26:53)[edit]

Calorie Restriction and Longevity (35:22)[edit]

S: Bob, to move on to another topic, you're going to tell us how your bid for immortality is going.

B: Yeah. Not good.

(laughter)

B: Not good, or you could say it's going great because I'm still alive.

S: So far so good.

B: But yeah, this news item was a bit of a bummer. For years, scientists have found a correlation between severe calorie restriction in certain test animals and longevity, and experiment after experiment kind of bore that out. But recently they did an experiment with monkeys and they saw no correlation between this calorie restriction and their longevity. Now if you're not familiar with calorie restriction, I mean the meaning is kind of obvious but what they did with mice and lab rats is they would cut their calories by say 30%, really bring it down really low, and they all pretty much lived 30 or 40% longer than you would expect, which is pretty amazing and that's not just somebody living to be 85, 95 or 100, that's a major, major increase so everybody got really interested in it. There was also, in 2009 they did an experiment with monkeys that showed that, these are rhesus monkeys, that they recently did, and they showed that these guys also lived longer so it kind of validated this whole thing. So the community got really excited again and this actually led to, there's a small community of people that took these experimental results to heart, and lived their life eating 30% less calories than the rest of us do.

?: And it shows, they're tired all the time, they can't...

S: They're thin, yeah.

B: It's amazingly onerous, I saw interviews with these guys and they look really crazy thin. And one guy said it hurts to sit for a long time because my butt's gone, so it hurts.

R: Could I just point out that the 30% restriction in calories and the 30% increase in lifespan is exactly what Perry said about me, which is that the length of her life will be exactly proportional to the horror of her life.

B: Oh yeah. One of the classic quotes.

J: Because you're vegetarian.

R: Yeah, and that's exactly it. What a horrific life you lead, but it's going to be longer.

(laughter)

J: Well, maybe not.

R: Well yeah. But it's also the old joke about, oh the restaurant's terrible, the food is the worst that I've ever tasted and the portions are so small.

(silence)

R: No, you don't? Nobody? OK.

?: It's funny. We're laughing inside.

GH: We're just so tired.

J: So the end result is they did a study that disproves that calorie restriction could make you live longer.

B: Well yeah, the other thing that I wanted to mention is this is an incredibly onerous thing to do, I couldn't do it, how many people think they could be on the edge of starvation or really hungry every day? I mean it really couldn't be done.

?: OK here's the weird part, I don't want to do it, but I always took comfort knowing that option was out there.

(laughter)

J: Yeah, yeah me too.

?: It was like if I felt like living longer, I guess I could not eat this.

R: See I didn't like it being out there because it make me feel like, oh I'm going to die and it's my fault, I just love food too much.

PP: This is just a choice, if I'm going to live life without ice cream then screw it.

?: But now it's not even a choice, now it's just like...

B: Now you could just eat ice cream all day.

?: So now I get to eat ice cream and to hell with it, I don't care, yeah this is great.

J: But does this study really take away all the other studies, is it good enough to take it that far?

S: Well the question was always, how well would the mouse data extrapolate to humans? And for longevity studies it's really tricky. So doing it in a primate which is obviously a lot closer to humans than mice, and the fact that it's negative, does not bode well for that effect existing in humans.

B: Well what they did was, they took four groups of rhesus monkeys, they took two groups that were young and two groups that were kind of on the older side, and one of each group of course became the controls and they fed one a very low calorie diet and the other one was a normal diet, and there was no difference.

J: So the normal diet ones, did they feed the rhesus pizzas?

PP: Yeah I was thinking they control with M and M and celery monkeys as well.

GH: I see because it's in the name.

J: It's food. It's food.

R: You realise it's spelled different, it's completely different.

J: Oh so is it, what are you saying Reece's monkeys?

(laughter)

B&S: R-H-E-S rhesus.

R: Rhesus.

PP: He's rhesus negative. It's OK.

E: Sounds about the same.

J: Evan you didn't know that's what. It's rhesus! You just heard it, dude. Come on.

R: Surely everybody knows this.

J: No! Nobody knew it! It's bullshit!

PP: They're outside playing on swings and jungle gyms. They're recess monkeys.

J: Recess monkeys.

(laughter)

E: These monkeys have peanut butter on the inside, Jay.

(laughter)

J: Come on!

PP: I've got more.

R: They're slightly set back from the rest of the monkeys.

J: Recessed monkeys.

PP: Not to be confused with the abscess monkeys.

R: They stop breathing and they got them breathing again, they're resuscitated monkeys.

B: All right, let's get back on track people, this is science, all right? So they ran the experiment and there was no difference in longevity which really sucks, but there were some interesting health benefits, but they were weird because they were inconsistent, for example, the male rhesus monkeys did not, their cholesterol was... well let me see what the hell does it say here? Their cholesterol was lower.

J: (laughs)

(laughter)

B: No no.

PP: I'm not eating.

E: They gave up peanut butter, yeah.

GH: Let me check my... here.

(laughter)

B: Alright then Phil, then why...

R: It's a technical term, George. It's a technical term.

GH: Sorry. Sorry.

J: Elvis Presley.

GH: Lower.

R: That doesn't even make sense.

J: It doesn't matter, he got it. My boy over there.

?: But I didn't laugh because I'm trying to audition for team smart now.

(laughter)

J: Don't you understand that Steve kicks everyone off team smart?

B: So as I was saying, the male monkeys had lower cholesterol but the women... the females...

R: The women monkeys?

B: Jay, I did it!

GH: How do we know they're women monkeys?

R: You look up their skirt!

B: The female monkeys did not have lower cholesterol, so that's kind of odd, they all had a lower caloric intake but why were the males different to the females? I don't know, whatever.

E: Well they have a picture book for that, Bob.

S: It's probably hormonal.

PP: I'm thinking it's because we process the food differently, the energy goes different places.

B: Right. Also there was less cancer overall. (bell sound) What was that?

E: That was the bell.

R: I think someone just died.

J: That was the bell.

(lots of talking over each other)

J: But the obvious thing is of course, there's a lot of health benefits to eating healthy, being overweight at a certain point is really bad, having excess fat is like an organ in your body that produces its own chemicals and stuff like that.

R: But that's not even like, that's on the other...

?: Yeah, this is the same balanced diet that both are having, it's just eating less.

GH: Yeah with most American diets you could cut 30% and be totally fine because American diets are so huge.

R: But I mean if you see the people who are on these calorie restricted, I mean they're not even in the same league, it's like Skeletor. It's not like.

B: Hey, but they're not as unhealthy as you might think.

R: I'm not saying that they're unhealthy, I'm saying that they're not even, to even compare them to people who are overweight and their health issues, I feel like you're talking about completely different things.

?: Do you think out there somewhere was just like, screw it, just give me three whoppers, after reading that? Or do you get so invested that even in the face of, obviously the science is far from settled, but when you read something like that do you just decide like, well I still think I'm right.

R: Well you'd have to wouldn't you because otherwise you would have to be like, wow I've just been in pain for the last 10 years.

J: I Want to shoot a video of the one guy who was like, some dude ran out and ate 20 hamburgers when he read that.

?: But that's not human nature man, whenever we find out contrary evidence for what we've spent 10 years working on something, we rationalise it and be all like, well it's not quite, there are other benefits I'm getting and then they stick to it.

B: And there really are. No there are. They've done studies showing that some of these guys, they have hearts that function like they're 20 years younger. There are definite benefits to doing this. Remember, they're not just slashing their diet willy nilly, they're really, they look at this methodically, it's very nutrient dense, they're getting what they need, these people are doing an amazing amount of research, these people that can withstand this kind of rigour in their diet, they're really vetting this and checking it out and of course a lot of them are disappointed, and I'm sure that most of them are thinking, well the science, the jury is still out on this. Because we had this study in 2009 and that was positive, this one's negative and that really is the big mystery, why was one good and one is showing the opposite, so there's a lot more to do. But see, one thing you mentioned Brian that was interesting, was how you wanted that as a backup, it was nice to know, but one of the things that I kind of hung my hat on with this was that there were a lot of pharmaceutical companies that were looking at alternative ways to induce this response, they were kind of somehow trigger the metabolic pathways to give this kind of reaction, this longevity reaction, without going through the diet and that's what I was hoping they'd find, OK here's a drug that can mimic this effect without having to go crazy with your diet, and that's what I was hoping for but now who knows what's going to happen with that. I hope that they're wrong.

PP: Did they look at any compounding factors? Were half of these monkeys sitting on their ass watching television and the other half out biking?

R: Half were out smoking.

(laughter)

PP: They're drinking... yeah.

GH: Half were podcasting.

PP: Great. I suspect that would have a very important effect.

B: Yeah, I assume that they would try to, that they would make sure that their lifestyles were relatively similar except for the diet.

R: Actually I read this article but it was really briefly just today actually and I did see something about how even in the mice studies there were huge differences in different, not species but different sub-species, is that a word?

S: Breeds?

J: Reecy sub-species.

R: Uh, there was a huge difference in different populations of mice on the same diet, and that they suspect that this could be happening in the rhesus monkey study, that they are comparing two different populations.

Special Report (46:08)[edit]

  • Skeptical 12-Step Program with George Hrab

S: So, George and I were chatting earlier and we came up with this idea of ... you guys know all about the twelve-step programs? It's really ridiculous; it's very faith-based and nonsensical. But we're trying to convert people to reason and skepticism. So what if we had a 12-step program for skepticism? To make people more skeptical. We made our own skeptical version of the twelve steps that George is now going—we'll give you the original—

BB: What are we giving up in this situation?

PP: Well, step one: Stop believing nonsense. And you're done. Woo-hoo!

GH: It's—we sort of created an alternate version—so there are these 12 steps, which are... when we were studying, or trying to see what the actual 12 steps are—'cause I knew a couple of them; you know, you have to surrender yourself to a higher power and some stuff like that. It was actually quite surprising how—

B: How many of them. Every other one.

GH: —God-based it actually was—and redundant. And also redundant. Very surprising. So I don't know if I should do—should I do all 12 or just go back and forth—

S: Go back and forth.

GH: So... I'll go between the two. This is the first, original 12 step; Bill W., of course, who developed this whole system. So the first one is "we admitted we are powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable." So that's basically admitting. So in the skeptical first step is "we admitted that our perception, cognition, and memory are flawed, and pseudoscience and gullibility are rampant." OK? Cool. Number two: "we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." OK. First God reference. Fine. So the second skeptical step: "came to accept that the process of thinking critically is more important than any belief." Cool. Nice. Number three: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." Which right there, "God as we understood Him"; that's like a huge assumption, but fine. So.

S: Or Them.

GH: Or Them, yeah. So that's the third one. Third skeptical step: "Acknowledge the utility of methodological naturalism as a way of empirically understanding the world." All right? Little wordy, but—

BB: It's got the same ring to it.

J: It's in there.

S: It's not as punchy

PP: It's got fewer words, but more syllables, I think.

GH: This allows us to sell more T-shirts, which is the key thing.

(laughter)

GH: All right; number four. The original: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." OK. More internal looking. Number four skeptical step: "Made a thorough study of the various mechanisms of self-deception, cognitive biases and logical fallacies." Again, recognizing that we are all susceptible to this at any point with any kind of argument. Number five: "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human beings the exact nature of our wrongs." So this is sort of the apology thing. Fifth skeptical step: "Acknowledged to ourselves, others, and on the Internet, that we are skeptics."

(laughter)

J: Coming out.

GH: Exactly. Later, Jay; later.

(laughter)

GH: I'm sorry.

J: I just announced I'm coming out, right now!

R: Sorry you had to find this way, Courtney.

GH: Number six: "We're entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character." Now think about that. That's one of the twelve steps. We're ready for God to remove the alcoholism.

J: It's not you doing it.

GH: It's like, "wait a minute!" So the skeptical fifth step—

S: Sixth.

GH: I'm sorry; sixth: "We vow to listen to the SGU every week without fail."

(laughter)

E: I like that one.

PP: I didn't—If I can comment here, I didn't realize—I guess I haven't read all these. That's just a transfer of what you're powerless over.

S: Yes. That's exactly right.

PP: Wow.

GH: They're so redundant. Yeah. And like I said.

S: That's a basic—that's the basic concept of the twelve steps is that you're essentially replacing your alcohol addiction with a faith-based addiction.

PP: "Allah"-coholism.

(groaning)

J: And also, it has the idea that you're not capable of kicking alcoholism yourself; that God is what—you letting God into your heart is what is kicking the alcoholism out of your life. It's not you; it actually takes the work away from the people in a way, like, you're not giving themselves the credit for doing the hard work. They are doing the hard work.

GH: Yeah. God will remove all these defects of character.

S: From you. Yeah.

GH: Eugh. So, number seven: "Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings." Again, same deal. So our number seven is: "Listen to Geologic too."

(laughter)

GH: Number eight: "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all." That's actually a really good one.

J: That is a good one.

GH: That's actually like a good one. So our number eight: "Endeavor to examine our premises in logic and correct any misinformation or misconceptions we may have spread." So again, similar idea, actually. Very useful. Number nine, yes? Yes. Number nine: "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." Also good idea. Well, the skeptical ninth step: "Correct errors and false statements on blog posts and within forums, unless doing so would you a dickish troll."

(laughter)

GH: The tenth step: "Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it." Which is actually good advice. Our tenth skeptical step: "Continued to keep all opinions and conclusions tentative and revise them in the face of new ideas or information." That's something that we get criticized for all the times as non-believers or skeptics or whatever; they're like "Oh, you're set in your ways". And sometimes we can be very guilty of that. To be very sort of inured to new information. Potentially. Number eleven; two more to go. This is the original: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." Again, same nonsense. Our eleventh step: "Sought through study and research to improve our critical thinking skills and keep up to date on basic scientific literacy." And finally, the twelfth step—original: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." So that's sort of the proselytizing. Once you are cured, you are required to help others. And our final skeptical twelfth step: "Having become more skeptical ourselves, we will engage in skeptical activism and outreach to help make the world a more skeptical place." Yay.

S: Slightly different.

(applause)

J: What's interesting is the idea that there is somewhat of a process, right? Like, we were riffing off of the original twelve-step program, but I like the idea that it does take steps—there's the realizing in the beginning that our thinking is flawed; learn how to think, and then you go through the process of actually spreading that knowledge to other people, which is important, and as activists, that's what we want to do. But everyone can do that, and we've all at least a portion of that process happen to ourselves, like some people that might not be talking to other people about it, they've identified themselves as a skeptic. And that's a hard place to get to; it takes a while to get there, you know? Most people are not born skeptics; a lot of us come to it in our adult life as we realize a lot of things... aggregate of information; all of a sudden we're like, "oh wow," you start to realize—

GH I think the hardest and coolest question you can ask yourself is: "what am I not being skeptical about?" What is that assumption that I've made in anything; I mean, it could be liking certain kinds of movies or music or tastes or whatever, not even scientific ideas or religious principles—

BB: Your cola preference, man.

GH: Whatever! Yeah, like, "am I a Coke person?" Or is it because at some point, like I was always drinking Coke and that's it. And you can get very emotional and defensive about these positions, but that's a really fun area to dive into and self-examine and realize "oh, OK; that bias that I have that I'm not being skeptical or rational about is just the thing that I'm not rational about." Someone else might have a religious preference or a homeopathy or whatever, whatever nonsense that they're believing in, coming from a very similar place and not understand. And I think it's a nice way—for outreach or to connect, at least. It'd be like, "yeah, we are all susceptible". You know, our heroes—Carl Sagan was susceptible to some bad ideas because of his upbringing, because of his condition, because of his fondness for turtlenecks, whatever!

(laughter)

GH: Like, why would you wear that all the time? Like, I don't understand. I think it's cool to have that be sort of a unifying thing for everybody.

J: You know, while we were reviewing the list later, 'cause Steve was typing it all out—your discussion and he was running these past us. One of the ideas I was reviewing was "how much crap do I have in my head that got in there before my bologne detector was fully formed?" That now comes out, like, we're always throwing around the common knowledge stuff that we have, and every once in a while, I get called out on it. "That's actually bullshit." "Oh, that's wrong?" and then I gotta think, "how did I learn that? Where did that come from?"

GH: And what else?

J: You never know; yeah. And it's just spinning around in there and it's going to come out at some point.

GH: Right.

PP: What use that as a criterion, "before you became skeptical"? You haven't ingested any false information—

J: Oh, no; absolutely. Yeah, and now it's trusting your sources; vetting out the information. You know, when we do news items—we're doing research; we're only taking it from sources that we trust, and even still; we're still questioning them. But you're right; you can hear somebody say something; next thing you know—day cycle turns; you dream about it, whatever, and it becomes common knowledge in your head. So keep your detectors up high.

S: Absolutely.

PP: You know, I've heard that you can take in knowledge and it becomes common knowledge the next thing you know. I've heard that.

S: Must be true.

?: I heard that too.

E: On the Internet.

PP: God, I've had two independent sources of this now.

S: Right. OK.

Science or Fiction (56:11)[edit]

Item #1: A new study has shown that carbon nanotubes can kill some species of aquatic organisms. Item #2: Studies show waste produced by coal plants is more radioactive than waste generated by their nuclear counterparts. Item #3: Studies show that the death of two men suffering from tick bites are the result of having contracted Rinderpest, a virus once thought eradicated over a decade ago.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:16:30)[edit]

If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth.

Edward O. Wilson

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 www.theskepticsguide.org. 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 info@theskepticsguide.org. 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.


References[edit]


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