SGU Episode 377

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SGU Episode 377
8th Oct 2012
SGU 376 SGU 378
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.
Patrick Henry
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Show Notes
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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 October 3rd, 2012, and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella.

B: Hey everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson

R: Hello everyone.

S: Jay Novella

J: Hey guys

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Well-e-well-e-well well. How's everyone?

J: Ha!

R: Super!

B: What language is that?

S: Real khorosho.

E: Real khorosho.

R: What?

E: Borrowed a little Kubrick there, well, Burgess I suppose.

S: Burgess, yeah.

E: Yeah.

S: Little "Clockwork Orange".

E: Yep.

B: That's a good movie.

S: I like any book where you invent a slang just for your own book.

B: (laughter)

E: A glossary, yeah, there's a glossary at the back of that book. Because you need to... Otherwise you can't figure it out. Like what the heck is a lomtick of toast? Right? I mean, how you gonna know that?

S: Starry Devotchka. Well, if you speak Russian, it's a lot easier. 'Coz it actually is Russian.

J: I think that the slang in that book though, in the way that they present it in the movie. It just has, it has like a half not serious feel to it which I like.

S: Yeah.

J: It's almost like they're joking when they're talking their slang.

S: Well, the best one was "khorosho" which is a Russian word they turned into "horror show".

B: Oh cool! That's right!

S: Yeah. That was awesome.

This Day in Skepticism (1:20)[edit]

S: Rebecca, what's special about today?

R: I've got a good one today you guys. Ok. On this day in 1945 the curse of the billy goat was placed on the Chicago Cubs.

J: What's that?

R: And it is a curse that continues to this day. I'm glad you asked. Apparently, on October 5th 1945 the Chicago Cubs were playing the Detroit Tigers. Those are baseball teams you guys.

B: Oh yeah

E: Thank you.

S: Oh ok.

R: In the world series at Wrigley Field and a man named Billy Sianis was in attendance with his pet goat. As one does. And according to some reports the goat smelled so bad that the other fans in the stands demanded that they leave. And so, they were kicked out and Sianis was infuriated and according to his family he sent off an angry telegram to the team owner - Wrigley - and to this day, it remains, quite possibly the greatest possibly legendary telegram ever sent to anyone. And it reads "You are going to read this world series, and you are never going to win another world series again. You are never going to read a world series again because you insulted my goat.


R: So according to the surviving Sianis family, the curse of the Billy Goat can only be cured by the Chicago Cubs showing a sincere fondness for goats. And allowing goats back into Wrigley Field because they genuinely want to. Because the Chicago Cubs genuinely want to, and not just for publicity reasons. The curse of the goat will know.


R: Yeah I mean, they haven't done it yet, and sure enough the Chicago Cubs have not won a world series since then. So...

J: So, do you think that somebody inside the Chicago Cubs organisation is actually thinking "You know - that damn goat curse".

R: Oh no doubt! People are always straight up trying to trying to fix this, like, fans at least are. A couple of years ago there was a dead goat carcass found outside by some memorial statue or something. Didn't work, apparently. So yeah, this is I guess this is big news around Chicago. I don't know why they haven't just let the goats come back into Wrigley Field. 'Coz that sounds like a really fun theme night. First of all.

S: (laughter)

E: Yep.

R: Second of all. Maybe they maybe they fix the curse.

S: Rebecca it's obvious. Because if they did that, and fixed the curse, then they would have no excuse for continuing to lose the world series.

R: Oh I'm sure they could find another excuse Steve.

J: The thing that really disturbs me is like, how bad did that goat smell? Like, what would make that goat smell, how could one animal smell that bad?

S: That's what disturbs you about this story?

R: (laughter) If it was a warm day, goats do not smell good.

J: Moral of the story is wash your goat.

S: That's the take home.

R: Yeah that's a good take home.

J: Thank you.

News Items[edit]

The Physics of Roulette (4:22)[edit]

S: So Bob - you are gonna give us one more way to beat the casino next time we're at TAM in Las Vegas.

B: Ha! Yeah. Maybe 3 ways.

S: I like 3-ways.


J: Somebody was gonna say it.

E: Wow. Newsflash.

B: Well looks like we can use science to all get rich at the casinos. This is pretty interesting. Scientists have published in the American Intitute of Physics Journal "Chaos" research showing that you can increase the odds. You can dramatically increase the odds of winning at roulette. Now you guys know roulette right? I'm sure pretty much everybody knows it's uhh it's derived from the french little wheel, and that little wheel has lots of numbered slots around the perimeter and you spin the wheel and then you send a metal ball around and around with it as well. And then you can just, you can bet what number the ball will land in, or what color - red or black - and there's lots of these little bets that you can do. It's a real easy game. I mean I pretty much encapsulated the whole thing in just a couple of sentences. Now, but real easy at casinos generally means that the odds are shit. They really are they really are not good. With roulette though there's no real choice to make. There's no decision to be made that's based on anything like how good the dealers or the other players hands are like, such as Black Jack or Poker. Each game is a single event. Bam! The ball lands in a slot. Done. That's it. So there's really.

S: There's no skill.

B: There's not a lot of wiggle room. Exactly. And please don't use those stupid electronic boards that are ubiquitous. They tell you what numbers have come up previously. Oh I hate 'em. People always saying "Oh look! Look at the pattern of numbers that came up. You know now that means that blah blah blah blah blah whatever". They're independent events. LIke flipping a coin. One even has no impact on the next. And if the number 34 came up 20 times in a row of roulette. That would be amazing, but that information still would be no help in guiding your betting assuming that it's not rigged. 'Coz uhh that's the first thing I would think if 34 came up 20 times.

R: The only way that a knowledgable player would do better at something like roulette is understanding the odds that go with each bet. Because there are different odds. Some are what look to be 50/50. They aren't. Because of the 0 and 00 but the red/black, the odd/even bets and then you can also bet on 12 numbers. You can bet on 3 numbers, you know. So knowing your odds and the payouts involved can help slightly improve the edge you have. Or I should say, would slightly decrease the edge the casino has!

B: Right right.

S: Yeah.

R: But none of those magical boards ever actually gives you the edge.

B: But it seems now though that you can increase your odds in roulette though I'm pretty sure that you'll never be able to put it in practise it's still very interesting. Michael Small - a statistician - at the University of Western Australia and Chi Kong Tse of Hong Kong Polytech University. They've apparently found that knowing the location of the ball and its relative speed compared to the wheel at the start is very important. Now, when I read that I was like "well no duh" I mean that's the key to maximising predictability in chaotic systems. Knowing the starting conditions as accurately as possible. The same thing applies to weather. The more you know about the current state of the atmosphere the better your prediction's gonna be. Now of course you can't know the starting conditions even in theory, so predictability will still decay over time and you won't be able to predict indefinitely in the future. But so, for their experiment this was pretty cool. For the experiment they recorded in a computer the times when the spinning wheel and ball passed a fixed point on the frame of the roulette table. So they had this device where they were watching the initial spin of the wheel and the ball and they would do these clicks that they used to enter the information into the computer. Now based on that data their relatively simple calculus and classical calculations produced consistant experimental earnings of 20% instead of the expected loss of 2.7%. And that's really really dramatic. Some people might know that the European roulette which is the one they used in the lab. The odds are a little bit better. It's worse for the American roulette because we have that, we throw that extra cursed, extra 0.

S: The double 0, yeah.

B: Right. the double 0. So it makes the odds worse.

E: Yeah but it's green. It's very tempting!

B: Oh yeah. I mean that's a pretty dramatic increase but they found that there were ways to even make it better by of course gathering you know better data. They actually mounted a digital camera above the roulette wheel and use that information and the odds.

R: The European casinos are very lax than the states.

B: (laughter) Yeah.

J: So what was the point of this Bob? And why would the casino let them do it?

B: No well uh they didn't go to a casino and do this, this was all just like, this was all in the lab. No casino would let you, you know, do anything like this. But there was one other thing that they found that increased the odds in the players' favour. If the wheel was slanted, even just a little bit, because that introduces a bias that would let you basically make your predictions even better. So these 3 things that they did can dramatically improve the odds. Now they didn't mention how much the odds went up with the slanted wheel and the camera but they said there was even better than the initial one. Remember though the calculations do not say "the number will be 13". Roulette is far too chaotic for that to work. What it does tell though is which side of the wheel the ball will likely land in. Just knowing that makes betting much easier because remember you can bet in groups of numbers. I mean if you played I'm sure you've seen people spread their chips all over. Like tonnes of numbers can be annoying throwing their chips everywhere. So in 22 trials Small and Tse predicted the correct half 13 times. When I first read that I was like "well so what" I mean that's, you know, that's not that great. But just that slight edge gave them the potential to make an 18% profit which is really immense in roulette.

S: Yeah but that's, the number of samples is too small though. I mean that could easily just be statistical variation. Just fluctuations.

B: Yeah, that's true I thought of that too. I was hoping that they would have done more than just 22 trials.

S: Do a few hundred trials and then I'll be impressed.

B: Oh yeah, yeah do 1000 trials and yeah. So I guess. Yeah I don't know why they only did 22.

E: They ran out of money.


J: But they go through the trouble of setting up all this equipment and writing a piece of software to figure stuff out and they only spin the wheel 22 times? That seems ridiculous!

B: No but don't forget though. That's just 1 suite of trials i think. Because don't forget they also did tests with the camera. They did tests with the tilted wheel. They did lots of different tests.

S: Meh. Even still. They need to do a lot more trials.

J: Come on Bob! Say it. Say it!

B: I agree. It's yeah. The sample seems too small from what I've read.

J: Thank you.

B: But I love that Small through in a caveat in there so people wouldn't go cray thinking that they're gonna go get rich. He said that "roulette's a game of change, even if the odds are in your favour there's still a probability of losing and losing big. In the long run you would come out ahead but you may first need very deep pockets". And that is so true Steve. We've talked about this.

E: Yep.

B: One of the mean reasons the house wins isn't necessarily that the odds are in their favour.

S: That's not true!

B: A key reason is that - What? That's not true?

S: That's not true. That is a fallacy.

B: What, because the odds are in their favour? What you disagree with me?

S: Yeah I'm disagreeing with you! I made that mistake and I was corrected on it. And I had looked it up and there's a lot of experts saying what oyu'reabout to say. That the absorbtion wall on the left side. That if you lose all your money then you lose the opportunity to win it back.

B: Right. Oh I do remember that!

S: But yeah that's not true though because that's just another version of past events not affecting future events. That the moment you're removed from gambling because you lost all your money you were just as likely to win or to lose from that point forward. So it has zero effect on the house. The only thing that determines the house's long term haul is the odds. They need to have a statistical edge over the players.

B: Yeah. That does make sense. That's just one of those things that got stuck in my head that I always thought were true.

S: And there's a lot of people. A lot of mathematicians made that mistake you know they said the wrong answer. I had to keep digging to find the right answer.

R: It's Monty Hall-esque in its ability to...

S: It is. It is.

E: It kind of is!

S: Now Bob, one thing I was thinking of with this. You need computer power right in order to be able to make predictions.

B: Right.

S: But you can place your bets after the croupier has spun the ball.

B: Yes that's key

S: And the wheel. And you can even observe it for quite a while before there's no more bets. Typically the croupier will say "no more bets" pretty soon before the ball drops down into the numbers and starts bouncing around. That one thing theoretically makes this possible but it's just that you'd never be able to have the equipment necessary to pull this off in a casino. And there's no way you could do this by eye. There's just no way.

E: Yeah couldn't visually be able to...

B: Yeah you'd probably have to be a Vulcan or something

J: Unless you had a cool implant.

S: Yeah you'd have to be a Vulcan, a Cyborg or something.

B: Yeah I mean I guess it's conceivable that somebody would have some sort of very simple innocuous interface to a computer that's offsite and that would let them quickly enter the information and get it back. Although that's detectable not fool proof. It seems it's possible to pull it off.

R: You could hav somebody with an iphone sitting at the bar signalling someone at the roulette table. Yeah I mean it's as easy as that really. Depending on how much processing power you need, but I can't imagine...

B: Yeah you could write an App for that. I wonder what the turn-around time is though. If it takes you 20 or 30 seconds to pull this off then that's too much time.

S: It's gotta be in real time.

B: I think it's definitely possible that it could be pulled off, at least over the short term before they become really savvy to this.

Vitamin D and the Common Cold (14:28)[edit]

S: All right, well, the next news item is about another vitamin that doesn't help with common colds.

J: Is this – is this vitamin D we're talking about?

B: Yeah, vitamin D, oh man.

E: Delta.

S: Yeah, so I guess D is after C in the alphabet, right? So –

E: Last time I checked.

S: Yeah,vitamin C doesn't work for common colds and now we're on to vitamin D doesn't work for common colds either.

E: Guess what's next?

S: (chuckles)

J: Washing your hands, that's – there's a vitamin wash. There you go.

S: There are actually very good reasons to suspect that vitamin D supplements may be helpful for a number of respiratory conditions: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD; or asthma, or even upper respiratory infections. Vitamin D classically is important for bone homeostatis and bone health, calcium regulation, but it's been found that it also is an important cofactor in certain aspects of the immune system for certain proteins in the immune system and vitamin D deficiency could impair immune system function. So therefore, it stands to reason that supplementing may be beneficial. The existing research was, however, recently reviewed, and it showed that there is no current evidence that just routinely taking vitamin D decreases the risk of getting a cold or the duration of getting and there was the largest study conducted to date. So this was 161 people in the vitamin D group; 161 in the control group; it was double-blind, placebo-controlled, and they followed subjects for 18 months, over an 18-month period. The vitamin D group had no advantage over the placebo group; both groups got about 3.7 colds per person over that period of time. 3.7 in the vitamin D group; 3.8 in the placebo group, so no statistically significant difference.

E: Steve, what do you think of these numbers: 161 people, 18 months. Are we talking a large enough sample size?

S: That's reasonable; I mean, the rule of thumb is 50 people in each arm is a reasonably powered study for most ef– it depends on the effect size you're looking for, but for a clinically relevant moderate effect size – rule of thumb, 50 people in each group is – is good. So this is 161 in each group; it's not a massive study, but it's perfectly reasonable; large enough, certainly, to have detected a clinically relevant effect. Obviously, you can't rule out a tiny effect; that would be too small to measure with that many people, but that's probably not clinically relevant either. This is probably not the last word on vitamin D and all respiratory effect because there is some reasonable plausibility here. There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that maybe it is helpful with COPD, for example. One big question in all of this research is: Does supplementing vitamin D only with those who are vitamin D deficient or insufficient, or will it also help with people who have a normal level of vitamin D to begin with? Probably, it seems that, if there is a beneficial effect, it's probably limited to those people who are low in vitamin D. Many people, their vitamin D levels do dip in the winter because we have less sunlight exposure and that's also when the flu's going around and kids are in school and passing germs around and people get more colds. Taking a vitamin D supplement to prevent the dip in your vitamin D levels over the winter is not unreasonable. But certainly this study shows that it's not – obviously a panacea; it's not helpful taking – taken routinely. One criticism of this study was that this was conducted in New Zealand and New Zealand gets more sunlight during their winter than maybe other parts of the world, and so the question is: do the results of this study extrapolate to–

E: To the Northern Hemisphere?

S: Yeah, parts of the world, or just farther away from the equator in either direction so that you have less sunlight exposure during the winter. That's, I think, a pretty minor criticism; you know, holding out for an effect. I think if there were any effect they still would've seen something with this size study. If people want to repeat it in higher latitudes, then that would be reasonable, it would seem. Vitamin D's been very interesting in the last ten years; we've discovered a lot more about it, above and beyond the classical view of it. Taking vitamin D supplements does seem to help reduce the incidence and severity of autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis. We've been paying a lot closer – I know we've talked about it before on the show[link needed]; we've been paying a lot closer attention to vitamin D, adjusting the levels that we think are the minimum normal levels and increasing the recommendation for supplementation. I definitely find that – that physicians, primary care doctors, and others who are checking vitamin D levels a lot more often now, it's almost become routine, and then recommending supplements for those whose levels are very low. So that's been a pretty significant change just over the last four or five years, which is interesting, but doesn't prevent the common colds. If you're concerned about it, what I would recommend is just having your levels checked and if it's low, supplement it; if it's not low, don't worry about it. That seems to be the bottom-line recommendation at this point.

Harpooning Satellites (19:42)[edit]

S: All right; well, Jay, you're going to tell us about harpooning satellites. If you have a good arm; good strong arm.

E: Yeah.

J: Yeah, this Dr. Jaime Reed, from a company in Europe called Astrium, is working on something really cool and incredibly important, in my opinion. He's trying to work out a way to de-orbit dead spacecraft and space junk. And as we've talked about on the show many times before[link needed], the problem with space junk is growing every year, and as more and more countries send things up into outer space, of course the amount of debris is significantly increasing. In the United States, we have an agency called the Space Surveillance Network, and they've been tracking orbiting objects since it was founded in 1957. Now they're tracking object that are 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) and up. But there happens to be an estimated 500,000 particles ranging in sizes between 1 and 10 centimeters across. And there's an estimated tens of millions of other particles smaller than 1 centimeter. So you know, the overall number of things that are floating around, moving at very high speeds in orbit is huge. The bigger objects, though, that we're talking about, that Dr. Reed is working on de-orbiting, would include things like whole satellites, upper stages of rockets used to put those satellites up there and debris from fuel tank explosions. So guys, how many objects do you think that are being tracked right now that are in the 10-centimeter or up size?

S: About a hundred?

E: 10 centimeters or larger?

B: I think it's like 50,000.

S: 16,000.

J: Evan?

R: Wait. Steve, you just went from a hundred to 16,000? (chuckles) I know, it was a suspicious jump.

S: Somewhere in there.

E: 100,000.

J: Rebecca.

R: Uhhh... I'm gonna go with 16,000.

J: It's 22,000.

R: (whispered) Yes!

J: Greater than 22,000. So, Dr. Reed said that there are services that are provided, like telecommunications and things like that, that are having a growing necessity that we rely on these things more and more. And as we rely on them more and more, it means we have to put more spacecraft in orbit and that process increases the junk size; the number of objects that are up there and the amount of junk that's up there and it makes the likelihood of accidents more and more as the years roll by. I mean, even since the last time that we talked about this article—I think it was about a year ago or more—there's thousands more objects in orbit now. Dr. Reed's experimenting with a barbed harpoon. And in practice, it would be about 30 centimeters in length, and what they are thinking about doing is they'd mount it on what they call a "chaser satellite"—that's kinda cool—that would slowly fly within 100 meters, say, of the target object; you know, it'd just edge its way up very carefully, trying to match its trajectory and everything. And then they would use a camera on the chaser craft and send pictures back to Earth and then people there would be like, "do we want to de-orbit this one or not; you know, what do we want to do with it?" And if they decide they want to de-orbit it, then... they propose that they would use one of two techniques with the chaser satellite. And that is that they would harpoon it and they would have a connection to it now, and then they would be able to tug the object, and from the article, it seems that—I think they were hoping to jockey it out of orbit; you know, they would tug it in a direction to kind of de-orbit it and nudge it in the right direction. Another idea that they have, which I think is much cooler, is that they would cut that line, but at the of the line attached to the harpoon, they would put a little thruster on the bottom of it, and that would, like, dip down towards the Earth, of course, 'cause gravity's pulling on it, and then the thruster would turn on and then it would just quickly—give a quick yank to that object, and it would de-orbit it that way. Just needs a little nudge to get it moving in the right direction. And then they were saying that these objects would burn up in the atmosphere. The company I mentioned before, Astrium, is the largest space manufacturer in Europe, and they're also researching other possible methods that involves like nets, which we've talked about—I think a Chinese company was working on a big net that they wanted to use.[link needed]

E: Japanese.

J: Or it was Japanese. And then another one was a robotic grappling device. You know, big arm, come out and just grab it, and maybe chuck it; you know, that'd be pretty cool.

S: Then there was that giant Pac-Man they were going to put up there.


E: Waka-waka-waka. Or that space elevator.

J: Remember that—in a James Bond movie, they had the ship that swallows other ships. And then all of a sudden, like, they're communicating with the satellite and then the front of the ship opens up and swallows the satellite, and then they're like, "what happened to our satellite?" Guys remember that?

B: Yeah, I do.

R: I like the grappling hook one because it makes it sound like one of those games where you can win a toy by getting it into the hook.

J: (laughs) Oh, my God. Except you have to pump a ton of, like, quarters, which would turn into, what, that's jet fuel?

R: Right. It's about six billion quarters that you would need for each one.

J: For each try.

B: Jay, I'm sorry, but it's all bullshit.

J: The grappling hook?

B: The whole thing. The fatal flaw is that you have to match the trajectory of the satellite in question. That's the problem. That is what would take so much fuel, it makes the entire proposition untenable. That's the problem. In order to dramatically go to a satellite, change velocity, speed, orbit... fine doing it once, but if you've gotta do it twice, three, four, five times? Forget it. Do you know how much fuel you would need? That's the main problem with the whole idea of going to each satellite and dealing with it. And I don't care how you deal with it. Doesn't matter how you deal with it. Just getting there is the thing they will not overcome in the near future. For a while, because it's all a problem with fuel.

J: OK, Mister Negative.

S: So, to summarize our show so far: you can't predict the outcome of a roulette wheel, vitamin D doesn't work to prevent the common cold, and you can't harpoon satellites.

E: (laughs) Doctor I-Can't-Do-It.

R: Yeah, that was a pretty big buzzkill.

J: That's a good point, though, Bob; I'm not disagreeing with that at all. I think—I'm not gonna say I assume, but I think that somebody thought of that; you know, it's not like they're going to be spending millions of dollars coming up with this harpooning technology, which by the way, they are experimenting in the lab right now. You can see video of it.

B: Yeah, Jay, sure; you could take that technology and apply it to all sorts of things, you know: the automated killing of whales, or lots of things. But they're not going to use it the way they're talking.

J: Well, maybe—

S: Bob, Bob, it's not going to be a way to de-clutter our low-Earth orbit, but it may be a way to target and remove a single satellite.

B: Sure; that's fine, but that's not what the proposal was about.

J: There's one thing—hold on. Dr. Reed said that if they were able to just pull a handful of objects out of Earth orbit every year, over time that would have a significant influence on the amount of things that are up there.

B: Yeah, like centuries.

J: And I think what they're going for here is—

B: I'm just saying I'm shocked that they proposed that, 'cause it's been pretty much debunked for a long time. And even taking a handful out a year; how many are up there? How many thousands?

E: Thousands.

J: But the big one—there's a snowball effect, though, Bob; it's the big ones that are most likely to crash into other objects, and you have one more disaster. There were two things that happened in outer space—just two outer space events that happened in orbit. One of them was China's deliberate destruction

B: Oh, my God; that was horrible.

J: —of that weather satellite in 2007—they shot a missile at it! They blew it up in orbit.

E: Brilliant.

J: And the second one was a real collision; it was a total accident, in 2009, of the Kosmos 2251 and the Iridium 33 satellites. They crashed into each other. Those two events had a big change in... not only in the perception—or the people's perception that track these things—of how dangerous it is, but that actually changed the amount of crap that was floating around out there—

S: Significantly, yeah.

J: Yeah, made it much more dangerous.

B: Yeah, that's the huge concern here. That's the worst-case scenario. You have a catastrophic cascade where one satellite hits another one and explodes that into a million pieces, and then it just keeps going until eventually, you've got no working satellites in orbit and you've got this death storm of debris that prevents anybody or anything from leaving Earth orbit, 'cause you will invariably—

S: It's like WALL-E.

J: So, Bob, like I said, they have—

(multiple voices)

J: —they have other technologies that they're working on; I don't think that they intend on spearing an 11-centimeter object with the harpoon. I think what they're doing—this is for bigger craft, and it would be, you know, a handful a year; you know, if that many. And then—

R: The harpoon itself was pretty small. How big, you say?

E: 30 centimeters?

J: 30 centimeters.

S: You could power it with a rubber band.

E: (chuckles) Twang!

J: Yeah, I saw a video of them experimenting, and I'm telling you that it's small; it looks like a hand-held device. It's not like this big honkin' thing that they're strapping on top of this giant ship.

S: Yeah, but the thing that's bulky is the satellite that's attached to it.

E: Hey, we'll just put one in our Space Shuttle and put... oh. Guess you can't do that.

J: Guys, the point here is there's multiple technologies they're working on; who knows if this one's ever going to make it. They're just gonna—they're seeing what's gonna work and what they're coming up with. I'm sure that they're talking about fuel expenditure and costs to get these things de-orbited.

S: Space Pac-Man.

B: Jay, I wonder—a key question here, Jay, is: how many really big satellites are there? I mean, yeah, we know there's tens of thousands of little ones, but how many big ones are there that need to be de-orbited? And you're right; they do pose the biggest danger. They could potentially consist of millions of little pieces that are then going around, wiping everything else out, so... So that's a key question.

S: The website The Satellite Encyclopedia has an up-to-date list of every satellite in orbit. They list a total of 3,755 satellites in orbit, the most by Russia and the former Soviet Union at 1,459; the U.S. is second at 1,320. So that's most of them between those two right there. And they also list the amount of debris; they give a total of 16,857 satellites and pieces of debris, although they didn't give the size limit. Obviously depends on where you put the size cut-off.

J: Sure. So, let's say they go up and they remove three or four a year; I mean, even pulling a hundred out is going to open up a lot of territory up there and lower the statistical chances of anything horrible happening. And then they get the net; they get—Japan gets out there with the nets, and then they get the robot arms and the what-not; the big bubblegum and things stick to it and it just comes back down. They're working on it, Bob, just sleep better tonight. K?

B: I know; they need to work on it, because I don't want to be stuck on the Earth for centuries.

J: Yeah, we got it; we covered it; we got it, Bob. Don't—

R: Don't worry; you'll be dead by then.

E: Five to ten years, Bob. Five to ten years.

J: That's right.

Bee Brains (30:50)[edit]

S: Alright Rebecca, tell us about scientists studying bee brains.

R: Yes, scientists are studying bee brains, turns out. Bee brain - very good insult you'd think, but no, bee brains are apparently very interesting to scientists who want to make robots that can process sensory information. What these scientists who are at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex, what they're doing in, they're researching how bee brains process sight and sound and they're hoping to apply that to robotics. And right now, a lot of the research into artificial intelligence is being done on human and you know primate simulations of artificial intelligence. And there's not a lot really going on in terms of insect intelligence or in this case honey bee intelligence. What they're hoping to do is make a tiny flying robot that can behave like a bee. This could for instance help pollination, they could do a sort of artificial pollination process. Or it could be bumped up into a larger scale and be used for something like search and rescue. Being able to survey a landscape, process the information, and find what you're looking for That could be very very important in a robot. So, that's what they're doing. They haven't actually made the bee brain yet, the artificial bee brain, unfortunately. It sounds like this research is still kind of early on. Oh, and one other thing that I thought was interesting is that the article mentions that many scientists have started using graphics cards as number crunching engines, because they're cheaper and easier to use than traditional super computers. So, that's what they're planning to use in this research. They're going to put models of bee sensory systems on graphics cards, and hopefully that will be powerful enough to run a bee brain.

J: That's awesome.

R: It's kinda cool. And yeah, it's a nice solution just in case our biologists are unable to save the bees from that whole horrific collapse.

E: Extinction, yeah...

S: Rebecca do you know how many neurons there are in the bee brain - the honey bee brain?

R: I'd say at least seven, eight...

S: At least - yeah.


S: Anyone have a serious guess?

R: I do not.

J: I don't know. 5 million.

E: Number of neurons?

B: How many neurons..?

E: How many neurons are in a human brain?

S: About a hundred billion.

E: Hundred billion. So a bee brain..? A billion?

B: I know it's as big as the little ball at the tip of a pen.

S: Mmmhmm.

B: That transports the ink. I know it's like that's how tiny.

J: A hundred million I say.

B: Five hundred thousand?

E: Probably about a billion.

R: I'd say a billion.

S: Wow you guys are all over the place. 960,000.

R: Wow.

S: Less than a million.

E: Barely a million.

S: Cockroach has about a million. Mouse - 75 million. Human, about a hundred billion.

R: Oh yeah mice are the other that's one of the other common research...

J: So I won!

B: No. What'd you say Steve.. Jay?

J: I said uhh uhh uhh 900 million.

R: You can't even remember what the actual figure was so you can cheat. That is pathetic.


S: 960,000. That's a lot. That's still a lot to model, and you know they have some complicated algorithms in there, sure. That's 10 to the 9th synapses, so that's a lot.

R: I mean they don't have to perfectly recreate it though. THey just have to find the important parts of it.

S: Yeah.

R: The artificial jellyfish that sceintists were making. Science has a benefit over evolution in that they don't have to try and fail and try and fail and have a bunch of parts that don't really do exactly what they want to do. They can pick and choose. So, with that in mind, you know, they don't necessarily have to recreate each and every neuron, they just need to find what's responsible for evaluating the sensors input that the bees get and processing that in some way. Which is still, you know, an enormous problem.

S: It's probably a huge chunk of the bee brain.

R: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

S: By the way, how many neurons are there in a sponge?

R: Ooh.

B: I'm gonna guess none.

S: Yeah, zero, correct.

R: Really?

S: Yeah.

R: Aww. Poor sponge.

J: So what do they do?

S: What about a round worm?

B: Don't you watch Sponge Bob Rebecca? Isn't it obvious?

S: Sponge Bob does have a brain.

R: Uhhh. I don't because I'm an adult.

B: That's right he does. They showed it.

R: But also Steve, do you just, do you have all these at your fingertips all the time? Is this just common neurologist factoids?

J: This is what they do when they're at the hospital Rebecca they hit each other up. <nerd voice>Oh how many brain cells are in a Troglomage.</nerd voice>

S: A Troglodyte? Yeah.


J: Some dude's like sipping coffe, and he's like <nerd voice>oh I believe it's blah blah blah</nerd voice>. You know it's like.

S: C. Elegans the round worm is an animal used in a lot of neurological studies, because it has only 302 neurons. We've mapped the entire C. Elegans or round worm brain.

B: They're awesome, they are so helpful.

S: Yeah.

Who's That Noisy? (36:17)[edit]

S: Evan, it's time for Who's that Noisy.

E: Sure is. I'm going to go ahead and play for you once again last week's Who's That Noisy. Have a listen to this:

I know many GPs who now endorse using homeopathy alongside the conventional medicine that they propose, and we're not saying that homeopathy is instead of life-saving treatment; we're saying that actually it can save money; it can save time, and I think people need to consider that.

S: So who's that loser, Evan?

E: What do you think about that advice?

J: Ridiculous. Terrible advice.

E: Gal's name is Carole Caplin. She was the style advisor to Cherie Blair and a fitness advisor to Tony Blair during their time in office as the—well, Tony was the Prime Minister and Cherie was the wife of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Yeah, so she's on a kick about homeopathy and how it—how you can basically use it for, well, lots of different things including treatment of breast cancer.

S: Oh, so she went from "we're not saying it's good for life-saving things" to "and now we're going to use it for life-saving conditions like breast cancer".

E: But she's apparently well known in British circles and that was taken from a particular interview she did for... the show is called GMTV, which is like a British morning television show. And surprisingly, we had no correct answers. Lots of guesses but no correct answers.

S: Hmm, nice; you stumped everybody—that's tough. That's unusual with one where it's essentially somebody speaking, 'cause you can sort of Google what they say. Usually people get those.

J: What do you got for us this week, Ev?

E: Here's is this week's Who's That Noisy:

(cricket-y sounding noises)

E: Info at or Give us your answer. Good luck, everyone.

Questions and Emails[edit]

WTC-7 on 9/11 (38:18)[edit]

S: All right; well, thanks, Evan. We're going to do one email this week. This email comes from Chris Tucey(?) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chris writes:

With what you know, and maybe a quick reference to the video Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, can you as a panel honestly that there is absolutely nothing interesting or suspicious about the manner in which all of the towers, but specifically World Trade Center Tower 7, came crumbling down? Especially when you consider the explanation or lack thereof for what caused it to do so. As I mentioned, I feel as though I can rely on you for your honesty, knowledge and wisdom. If you are able to say that there is nothing to be worried about here, then I can honestly say that I will drop the issue and probably convince many others to do the same. Best regards.

Yeah, I don't know why he's going to listen to us, but—

R: Yeah. Me neither.

E: (laughs)

R: This topic has been covered and covered and covered and covered by people way more knowledgeable than all of us, including actual scientists—

E: Engineers and scientists.

J: Well, I think he's commenting on the fact that he likes the way that we go about doing research and deciding on what we believe in. Which is nice; I appreciate him saying that.

S: So, there's so many different aspects to 9/11 conspiracy theories that we... we've covered a lot of it, but there's always new things that we haven't covered. And some points came out with this specific website, the Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. So, couple of main points: building number 7 was not one of the two main towers; there was the North Tower and the South Tower, which were buildings 1 and 2 at the World Trade Center. Building number 7 was north of the North Tower, and it was the next tallest building in the cluster and it also collapsed on 9/11. It, of course, was not hit by a plane; it was not hit by one of the jets, like the two towers were. And so that has been the focus of a lot of conspiracy theories about was this the product of a controlled demolition. The Architects and Engineers website makes seven points about building number 7 that says that—that makes it seem as if it were a controlled demolition: the rapid onset of the collapse—not sure why they would expect a slow onset if there was a sudden structural failure; the sound of explosion—they give a link to a single interview where somebody is describing building 7 coming down and said they heard like a thunderclap about a second before the building came down. Again, lots of reasons other than controlled explosions that could cause loud noises while a building is about ready to collapse. The symmetrical implosion; these are kind of like two different points, that it was very symmetrical; it fell straight down. It sort of fell into its own footprint, so it didn't fall over; the debris was very well contained. There was a massive volume of expanding pyroclastic-like clouds. They quote an expert—an alleged demolitions expert who said, yes, it was a controlled demolition. Again, just some guy speaking in German, I think. And, there was foreknowledge of the collapse. The foreknowledge one is funny; you know, they reference news reports of newscasters on 9/11 saying, "Building 7 may have collapsed", or one person said—you know, this is before it collapsed saying that it had collapsed. So the idea that there was a little bit of confusion in the report of the news on 9/11... by their own admission, after poring through a large volume of media reports that day, of news casts that day, they found two people who said that the building collapsed before it actually did. That's because several hours Building 7 collapsed, they were worried that it was going to collapse. This wasn't foreknowledge; this was—the building didn't look right! You know, the building was leaning a little bit and it was bowing and they couldn't fight the fires 'cause they didn't have the water pressure. So they knew they weren't going to be able to fight the fires that were burning inside the building and weakening the infrastructure. And part of the North Tower fell onto Building 7 and took out a huge chunk of it. So, the structure had been weakened, fires were burning, they didn't have the water pressure to fight them, and they were worried that it was going to collapse, and they were right. That's it. But they parlayed that into "they knew that it was going to collapse". So... and here's also—I think this reveals a lot about the conspiracy-mongering approach, which is anomaly hunting for things that seem a little out of place and then presenting them as if they're somehow sinister or curious, but not really putting forth a coherent scenario. So how do the conspiracy theorists think this played itself out? Whoever was pulling off whatever conspiracy they think happened on 9/11 had rigged Building 7 to be demolished for whatever reason. I don't know; some people say that was their operations and control, so they had to cover their tracks. So they picked the next biggest building in the cluster that they had to destroy.

R: There's also, like, an anti-Semitic theory about evil money-grubbing Jews and insurance money that I've seen.

S: Yeah, yeah. So—and then, because they knew—OK, this—"at 5:20, we're going to blow the building. Make sure you tell these two reporters that this is going to happen." You know, or what, like, the whole media was in on it and they just blew their cue? They blew the timing of when they're—'cause they had to tell them ahead of time, "now, in two hours, we're going to blow up this building, and then you can announce that it has collapsed." Why would they do that? Why not just let them report it when it happened?

B: I'm not going to include them in my conspiracy theory in the future.

R: Right; they're on the blacklist.

B: Not reliable.

E: Can't keep a secret.

J: Take the idea of if that was a professional demolition, the amount of time and energy it takes to prepare a building to do that is huge.

S: Yeah.

J: And it's not minor stuff; like, it's not a few explosives here and there; like, there's a lot of gutting of the infrastructure of the building and everything before they can do a controlled demo like that.

S: Yeah, then of course, they say that that's how they know the whole 9/11 had to be planned, 'cause it would've taken weeks to rig that building to be demolished. But you're right, Jay; I mean, that would've been a huge operation to pull off in secret, over, you know, in weeks leading up to 9/11. Same is true, of course, of the two towers—secretly rigging them to be demolished is kind of silly. They also refer to Silverstein, who made the famous quote, that "we decided to pull it", referring to Building 7. They make a lot about that—

R: Referring to the people inside Building 7.

S: Yeah, so he says that he was talking about pulling the firefighters out of Building 7 because they were afraid it was going to collapse and they didn't want any more loss of life. The conspiracy theorists say "pull" is a technical term that demolitions experts use to refer to demolishing a building. And that is half true; it is a technical term that demolition experts use, but they use it to mean to literally pull a building to one side to control its collapse. Not to the demolition of the building. And Building 7 wasn't pulled, and why would Silverstein, who's not a demolition expert, talking to a fire chief, who's not a demolition expert use a technical term—demolitions term, and why would he be giving him that order anyway? Again, it doesn't make any sense; there's no coherent story here. It's just something that sounded anomalous to them, and they made this tenuous and actually not really factually accurate connection to a demolition term. And that's the conspiracy.

R: And Silverstein is, if you'll note the name, he is one of the main people that's charged with being a... you know.

S: Yeah.

R: For having an insurance thing out on the lease, and... I mean, there's just so much anti-Semitism in 9/11 trutherism that it's difficult to really convey how disgusting it all is.

S: Now the contention that experts have not explained how Building 7 fell or the towers is simply not true. They were structurally compromised and the fire was hot enough and did burn long enough to compromise the integrity of the steel so that it was weakened. And then, once any part of that building gives way, it's not really capable of supporting its own weight, and it's going to collapse. It's not like it can partly stand, or that it would fall to the side; that's just silly; that's just ridiculous for a building of that height. They would collapse just as they did, straight down, right into their footprint. That's what would happen. There's really nothing unusual or curious about that at all. And also, we need to point out that there was no controlled demolition; there were no explosions. There's no video or evidence of the kinds of explosions that you see when a building actually gets demolished. Not even close. They're looking at dust coming out of windows and saying, "look, that was an explosion". Well, that was after the collapse started and no, it's not. Or one witness somewhere who said, "I heard a thunderclap". OK, but there's no... with all the cameras and everything running, there's no recording of demolition explosions, visually or auditory, to... there's no evidence for demolition; it's just not there. And it would've been pretty difficult to hide on that day at that time. What collapses here is the conspiracy theory—

B: Ooh, nice.

S: —you know, it collapses under its own weight—thank you. Again, there's just no coherent story there; they're just anomaly hunting and then making those apparent anomalies look sinister just by the way they present them, but—

J: Yeah, another big point—you did make it, but I think we need to expand on it a little bit—is the idea of the amount of people that would had to have been involved with the cover-up, that alone would collapse on its own weight. Like, let's say the entire 9/11 conspiracy was pulled off with a thousand, which I'm just pulling a round number out of the air, but I couldn't imagine that entire event happening with less than that many people involved. It would have to be at least a thousand, if not thousands of people to help orchestrate everything, you know? If you're going to plant explosives in a building and... all of the different things that had to take place; you know, pulling people off of airplanes and killing them and putting corpses on planes; whatever they did; you know, all that stuff needed to take place. It would never, ever be able to remain quiet. Ever. It's humanly impossible; it's just not the way that humans are wired—

S: I mean, this isn't the frickin' A-Team, you know? The government couldn't pull it off, let alone keep it quiet. They couldn't pull it off. What they're proposing is so complicated; when—

E: Implausible.

S: —when has our government been able to pull off anything that sophisticated and have it go off without a hitch? It's just—

E: The moon hoax?

S: —and then cover it up. I mean, it's ridiculous. (chuckles) Right.

R: They couldn't even pull off Watergate, for God sakes.

E: (laughs)

R: Steal a couple of documents. Jesus.

E: Bumbling burglars.

S: Yeah, my favorite example is "they couldn't cover up a blowjob in the Oval Office".

B: Oh, God.

E: Yeah, that is true.

J: True.

S: Um. "But those were false-flag operations to make it seem like they're incompetent, so then they can pull off the real stuff."

J: Of course.

E: That's right.

S: Yeah. The rabbit hole always just goes one level deeper whenever you come up with some kind of reasonable objection to the conspiracy theory.

E: That's right.

J: Thanks for your email!

S: But thanks, Chris. I enjoyed talking about it; it's always fun.

Science or Fiction (50:44)[edit]

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction

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 tell me which one is the fake. However, this week, Bob will be doing the honors of Science or Fiction.

R: Whaaat?

B: Wait... wait... I was supposed to prepare this?

S: That's right.

B: Oh, boy; I gotta wing it. OK. So...

S: Don't you tell that joke every time?

B: Do I? I think I only said it two or three times before. OK! I've got three and I'm ready to go. There is no theme. I'm sure you'll be happy, Rebecca, to hear that.

R: I am, I am.

B: I know how much you don't like themes. OK, number one: Recent research supports the claim that the rise in allergies in the past century is due to excessive cleanliness and hygiene. Number 2: Theoretical physicists claim that quantum mechanics supports the notion that an event can be both a cause and an effect of another event. And number 3: Recent study shows that commonly prescribed beta blockers do not protect against heart attack and stroke. Let's see... Eenie, meenie, mynie, moe... Jay, go first.

J: OK, so the first one about the research that supports the claim that allergies in the past century are due to excessive cleanliness and hygiene. Wow, that's really... if that is true, that is gonna send a lot spinning because of how much of the antibacterial stuff that we use. I've read many times that... we need to exercise our immune systems, so sure; I could see this having something to do with it. OK, so the second one about an event being both a cause and effect of another event. Now of course, we're talking quantum mechanics here. In the macro world, we know that something cannot be the cause and effect. But maybe in the micro world, they can be. So that's another one of those "yeah, OK, I could see it." The fact that I don't know that much about quantum mechanics—I don't know that many people really do know that much about it. But that's an interesting one that I'm on the fence about.

R: The more you think you know, you don't.

E: Einstein didn't even buy it.

J: This last one about beta blockers protecting—saying that they don't protect against heart attack and stroke. I mean, beta blockers lower your blood pressure. Lowering your blood pressure seems to be a very healthy thing, especially for things like heart attacks and strokes. Out of the three, this is the only one that I have a little bit of a red flag going up for, so I'm going to take this one as the fake.

B: OK. Rebecca.

R: Well, crap, because that's the one that I was fairly confident was true. 'Cause I don't know; I feel like there are I don't really know much about beta blockers or heart attacks or strokes. However, I could see how maybe there are other—there could be other causes of those things and beta blockers might help in a small amount but couldn't fully protect against those things. Maybe the effect they have just isn't strong enough. So yeah, I don't know; that one seems believable to me. The rise in allergies due to excessive cleanliness and hygiene; that's something that seems tailor-made for me, because that's something that I really want to believe. Mostly because of my anecdotal evidence, like I was a filthy kid who was always playing out in the woods, in the dirt, in the mud, and I have no allergies, basically. And I like, secretly in my head, blaming other people for their own allergies.

B: (chuckles)

R: So, that said, I feel like this is something that feeds into something that a lot of people think, and that could actually just be... yeah, just be purely anecdotal and not actually have any basis in reality. So, it's a sort of common-sensical sounding thing that I could see you trying to sell as science even though it's actually the fiction. And I feel the opposite way about the notion that an event can be both a cause and an effect of another event. OK, like Jay says: quantum physics, yeah; why not? Why can't that happen? Sure. And "theoretical claim that quantum mechanics supports this notion". Has ever a more wishy-washy statement been said? I mean, they haven't proved; they haven't offered evidence for it; they're just saying. They're just saying that quantum mechanics supports that notion. And why not? It's an idea that first blush seems ridiculous; however, that of course makes it a good choice for the science. So, with those in mind, I'm going to say the allergies one is the fiction.

B: OK. Evan.

E: The allergies one; I suppose what could be happening here though is you have all cleanliness and hygiene; you're cutting down on the bacteria and the things that, well, frankly, we've been exposed to for so long, and then our immune system does something that can't handle it in some way, and allergies result in some fashion. Not sure if that's too convoluted, but kind of think it's something along those lines is going on here. I'm not sure what to make of that; it could be either. Quantum mechanics supporting the notion that an event can be both a cause and effect of another event. Theoretical physicists can claim a lot of things. But, I imagine they don't claim things without actually having something to back it up. OK, I'm leaning towards that one being science. The last one about the beta blockers; I don't know much about beta blockers; you know, heart attack and stroke, maybe a little bit more. I suppose that could be. Why, exactly, I'm not sure, but I guess I'm leaning towards Rebecca; I think the allergies one; there's something amiss here and I'll say that we are missing a little piece of information in this sentence. I'll say that one's the fiction.

B: OK. Bob! I mean, Steve.

S: Yeah, I can go either way on all of these. So, there's two medical ones in here, which actually doesn't help me. Both of these hypotheses are old and... yes, there are—I'm familiar with research supporting both of these. The hygiene hypothesis has been around for a while; there is evidence to support it, but it's not certainly ironclad; it's not a settled question. So I could buy that a new study came out that went one way or the other. Same thing with the beta blockers and their protective effect; it's a complicated question. Depends on how you ask it; how you measure it. I know there's research that shows that beta blockers do not reduce the incidence of heart attacks or prevent heart failure. But it depends on what patient population you're talking about, et cetera, and are you controlling for the effects of high blood pressure, as Jay said. So that's—again, that could go either way; you know, that's plausible either way. The quantum—you know, physicists say quantum mechanics does something weird. It's almost a generically—OK, you could buy that. Obviously, I have a problem with the notion of violating causality.

B: As you should.

S: But the question is, is that really what they're talking about here, or is it not really violating causality because of some quantum weirdness. You know what I mean? So I'm going to go with the quantum mechanics one.

R: Just to make sure Bob doesn't win. Good call.

S: I was leaning that way anyway, but it's a nice... the fact that this would prevent Bob from getting a sweep is a bonus.

E: Motivation.

J: Wow.

R: "From Hell's heart I stab at thee..."[1]

B: (laughs)

J: So, bring us down, Bob. Come on, land this—

B: All right; OK. I'll start with number 3. Let's see; Recent study shows that commonly prescribed beta blockers do not protect against heart attack and stroke. And that one is science! Sorry, Jay.

J: Damn you! Damn you, sir!

B: Researchers report this in the Journal of American Medical Association after studying over 22,000 participants over a median follow-up of 44 months. 22,000; is that enough for you, Steve?

S: That's pretty good.

B: That's good. All right; I thought you'd like that. So beta blockers were once seen as the leading treatment for heart attack patients when this drug was released about thirty years ago. There weren't any statins; no statin drugs to lower cholesterol; there were no stents to hold arteries open. So on their own, they seemed helpful, but now, since most people everywhere, at least in the study that they did, most everyone was already on one of the newer drugs as well. And I think the main thrust was that in these days, with modern statins and stents, beta blockers are pretty much irrelevant. Previous studies years ago seemed to show that beta blockers prevented heart attacks, but most of them apparently were analyses that were done over the short term; there was no real long-term studies with a huge population of people like the 22,000 for this one. In one study, the beta blockers were given to people with no symptoms, but they did have risk factors, but they were asymptomatic. They actually did worse than people not getting the beta blockers. So that was kind of nasty. So beta blockers still of course have a use; they are great right after a heart attack and they're also really good for patients experiencing heart failure. But it looks like if you want to take it as a preventative measure, that it's really not doing... it's not going to help you, and you're just much better off using the modern medicines that are available today. Let's go to... Let's go to two: Theoretical physicists claim that quantum mechanics supports the notion that an event can be both a cause and an effect of another event. Steve, you said that one was fiction, and that one is... science.

R: A-ha.

E: Ohhh...

B: So, yeah, I guess it was naive of me to assume that you would all be aghast at the notion of violation of cause and effect.

R: I'm all right with it.

B: Yeah, I didn't think so. So this one was true; the findings will be published this week in Nature Communications. Now, it's important to know that this phenomenon has not been seen in an experiment; only that it's not inconsistent with quantum mechanics. In everyday life now, events are—obviously they're ordered. One event takes place after another. Event A causes event B, so it's kind of inconceivable to even think of an effect preceding its own cause. Now, so to understand how this is possible in quantum mechanics, you gotta think of the notion of superposition, which is—dare I say, one of the magical aspects of quantum mechanics; it really is.

E: I love it.

B: It really is amazing. Certain quantum systems that can exist in multiple states, like an electron being in any of its possible locations around an atom. It can experience a superposition of states; that means that it's actually in all possible states at the same time. At least until it decoheres, or interacts with the environment, which importantly includes being observed by a scientist. So, in the same way then, the causal order of events in the quantum realm could also be in this superposition of states. Says Ognyan Oreshkov from the University of Brussels—he says that "such a superposition, however, has not been considered in the standard formulation of quantum mechanics since the theory always assumes a definite causal order between events. But if we believe that quantum mechanics governs all phenomena, it is natural to expect that the order of events could also be indefinite". So, they haven't found it, but they found nothing in quantum mechanics that would—that makes you think that it can't happen, and it's pretty much just been assumed that, hey, there's gotta be causality. But there's no real reason to assume that in quantum mechanics. So I assume now they'll be looking around trying to find evidence of this, and it would be truly amazing if they found that. Obviously, it wouldn't trickle up into the macro world, because obviously causality holds sway in our realm, but it would be still an amazing advancement in quantum mechanics nonetheless. So, which means "Recent research supports the claim that the rise in allergies in the past century is due to excessive cleanliness and hygiene" is fiction. Congratulations, Rebecca and Evan.

R: Thank you.

E: Well, thank you, Bob.

B: So, the real title was, "Increase in allergies is not from being too clean, just losing touch with 'old friends'", which is what they call the microbes that we evolved with. Now, reports—this is a report will be out October 3rd, from the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Now, losing touch with microbes we evolved alongside can be a significant factor in the increase we've seen not only in allergies, but also CIDs, chronic inflammatory diseases, like Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, all of which seem to be caused by this impaired regulation of our immune systems. Professor Graham Rook is also the co-author of the report. He developed this whole idea of this "old friends" version of the hypothesis. He said "that the rise in allergies and inflammatory diseases seems at least partly due to gradually losing contact with the range of microbes our immune systems evolved with". Now, this study's been going on for, like, twenty years, ever since, actually, the hygiene hypothesis was first proposed. Professor Sally Bloomfield said that "the underlying idea that microbial exposure is crucial to regulating the immune system is right. But the idea that children who have fewer infections, because of more hygienic homes, are then more likely to develop asthma and other allergies does not hold up." So, our society has changed so much over the generations, and even if you weren't very clean in your house, the germs would have to come in from the outside, right? But so many people live in cities and environments that are new to civilization, that those microbes wouldn't even go into your house to infect you and help regulate your immune system, 'cause they're just not out there anymore. And maybe Rebecca, if you were messing around in the woods, getting dirty and stuff, that would be more similar to the way civilizations have been for centuries and millenia, before modern times, so maybe that is a factor. But it's an interesting proposal, and I was a little surprised, because I had heard for years now that, like Steve was saying, people are just too clean and hygienic, and that's the reason why we're having such a rise in allergies, and it's really—that's not the whole picture, and it looks like a bigger factor might be this whole idea of the "old friends", the microbes that we evolved with just not being around anymore, and it having a deleterious effect on the regulation of our immune systems.

R: Well, good job.

E: Good job, Rebecca. High five and two snaps!

(Slap, two snaps)

B: Oh, my God.

J: Two snaps?

R: Wow, yeah.

B: Oh yeah.

R: Yeah, we went there. We went there.

E: We did not hold back.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:06:34)[edit]

J: Guys, I have an awesome quote for this week.

S: What do you got, Jay?

R: Do you?

J: Yup. This quote was sent in by a listener that only gave his first name, so thank you, Tim. This is a quote by Patrick Henry, so some of you will know who he is, but Patrick Henry was born in 1736, died 1799; he was an attorney, a planter and a politician and became known as an orator during the movement for independence in Virginia, which is in the United States in 1770s. He was one of our founding fathers, and during an incredibly profound speech that he gave in 1775, where he said, "give me liberty or give me death"—which I'm sure a lot of you will recognize that—he said something very interesting. He said,

For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.

I love this quote. And that was a quote spoken by founding father PATRICK HENRY!

S: Yeah, that's a good quote.

E: Very good quote. And I always like when the founding fathers can find their way into our show.

S: Well, thanks for joining me this week, everyone.

R: Sure.

Announcements (1:07:46)[edit]

E: I have one announcement, Steve!

R: You're pregnant?

E: (laughs) Good one, Rebecca. No, but I was the guest on another podcast.

B: Oh, cool; yeah, how'd that go?

R: We don't allow other podcasts here.

E: It was a lot of fun. The podcast is called, well, the Hiyaa!! Martial Arts podcast. Hiyaa!

B: Oh, my God.

E: Talking about martial arts and my involvement with Krav Maga, and we talked a little bit about the history of Krav Maga, the martial art itself and certainly skepticism and science and the overlapping of the two, and where people can be deceived and how other people get deceived in the martial arts. We talked about all those topics and more; you can find them at—

R: How you can karate chop somebody in the throat if they deceive you.

E: Oh gosh; they so deserved it, too.

S: That's the crab style where you gotta walk sideways? Crab Maga?

E: No.

R: Zoidberg style.

E: That's Crab Maga; this is Krav Maga.

S: Oh, oh.

E: You're getting your Zoidberg mixed up in there. Hiyaa is spelled H-I-Y-A-A and then followed by Episode number 17; you'll find me there; I had a blast doing it. Thanks, guys, for having me on.

R: Nice.

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

J: We love you, Steve.

R: Thank you, Steve.

E: Thank you, doctor.

B: Any time.

S: Thanks for covering Science or Fiction this week, Bob.

E: Good job, Bob.

B: Certainly, man.

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

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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