SGU Episode 387

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SGU Episode 387
15th December 2012

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

SGU 386 SGU 388
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
JB: Joshie Berger
Quote of the Week
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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 Thursday, December 13, 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: Hey, Happy Hanukkah, guys.

S: Happy Hanukkah.

J: Is it Chonukkah?

E: It is.

J: Evan, I never asked you this before, but, what do you celebrate?

E: It's known as the Festival of Lights, and Jewish people commemorate the miracle of the olive oil that took place back in Jerusalem, in which there was a, basically a large conflict going on with the Jews; what else is new? And they needed eight nights' worth of oil to get through their turmoil and tumult at the time. But there was only enough oil for one night, so they lit the oil, and miraculously it lasted for a whole eight nights, until they could press more oil, which was the whole point of getting to the eighth day. And they were able to save the temple that they were defending and rid the bad guys, if you, you know, if you're on the side of the Jewish people. So, that's the miracle. You know, it's considered a celebration, a festival, it's not really a holiday. It's not Christmas; it's not what Christmas is to Christians and Catholics. This is more just a commemoration.

S: Catholics are Christians, by the way, just so we don't get any emails about that.

R: Well, not if you're Jack Chick. And also, Christmas is celebrated by more than just Christians.

E: Are you saying what do we do here at the household?

J: Yeah, do you do both? What do you do?

E: Yeah, we celebrate both. We do the—

S: Secular thing.

E: —secular version of all of this stuff, right? And—

R: Oh, so it's like a war on Hanukkah, is what you're saying.

E: War on Hanukkah, exactly. Another war.

B: I'm more of a Festivus man myself.

E: Bob, you brought up Festivus, and it all happens around the time of the winter solstice, roughly. So, whereas a lot of people were celebrating that fact, of the seasons, you know, it all kind of, I guess, made sense to a certain degree to have these celebrations based on that.

S: It's all based on pagan celebrations, surviving the darkest day of the year.

E: Right.

B: Happy Saturnalia, everybody.

S: Well, Rebecca, welcome back from Australia. I hear you had a good time.

B: Yeah.

R: Thank you. Yeah, I had a blast. You guys were definitely missed. Several times I—

E: And we missed you too.

R: I was asked where you were. You and George. Everybody wanted to know where you and George were.

S: Yeah.

R: So. I told them that you didn't love them.


R: And that you were at home, celebrating not being in Australia because you hate them, so...


E: That's really nice.

S: You know, we have jobs and kids and stuff.

R: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, hopefully, you can go next time because they'd like to see you.

S: Love to go. Just need a little lead time.

E: A little lead time. We have to plan a long time ahead for these things.

R: Especially the New Zealanders, because they didn't get to see the live show or anything last time.

S: We really want to go to New Zealand, but honestly, it's really the time off. Carving out that much time in our schedule is really challenging.

R: So, yeah, it was... I had a blast. Possibly, my highlight, we went back to Waitomo Caves, where the glowworms are, and it was amazing.

B: Cool.

R: We went spelunking with inner tubes—

E: Wow.

R: And it was awesome.

J: All right, when you say "spelunking," like, how tight was it?

R: It wasn't that bad. There were some parts where, if you were claustrophobic you would have really had a bad time, but for the most part it was pretty easy. The reason why you carry the tubes, for the most part though, is because at one point it opens up and you can float down this underground river, and just like look up and see what looks like a galaxy of glowworms above you.

J: Oooh, wow.

R: It was really amazing.

J: Now is it true that they drop down, and they try to eat your face?

R: Yeah, no, they are carnivorous and they do eat people. They're at the top of their food chain. No. They actually don't have mouths wide enough to eat. The adults. So there's really no worry about that. Glowworms are, as our guide aptly pointed out, they're not worms, but glowmaggots doesn't get any tourists to the area.


S: Glowmaggots.

J: Oh, my god. That's so nasty.

R: Yeah, they're... technically, they're maggots, and they glow, and—

S: They're the larval stage of the species.

R: Yeah.

J: Rebecca, like, when you're floating by, do they look down and go "You look delicious"?


E: Rebecca in Wonderland.

R: No, I don't think so. No, they have—each of them has a tiny thread coming down from it, and it uses that, it uses its light to attract bugs.

J: Humans, yeah, and they float by on rafts.

R: Right. Yeah, but you should never get up and touch them or they'll eat you. They're one of the few species, I think, that eats its parents.

S: Um hmm.

E: Wow.

R: 'Cause the female lays the eggs, and then gets caught in the stickiness, I think, and eventually gets devoured by the larva.

B: Mom and dad—

J: I think those monsters from Half-Life that drop like a tentacle and pull you up and they eat you at the ceiling.

R: Yeah, those are glowworms.

J: Those are pretty much rampant glowworms.

This Day in Skepticism (5:25)[edit]

  • December 15, 1973: The American Psychiatric Association votes 13–0 to remove homosexuality from its official list of psychiatric disorders, the DSM-II.

S: Well, Rebecca, do you have a "This Day in Skepticism" for us?

R: I do. Yes. Today being December 15. Back in 1973, December 15 was the that the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders in the DSM. And back then, it was DSM-II. What they did was, they... there were tons of protests, obviously from gay rights organizations, grass roots activists, you know, protesting the fact that homosexuality was, by 1973, 1974, still considered a disorder, a mental disorder. And so, eventually APA bowed to the pressure and there was also a lot of internal pressure from scientists who objected to that as well. Particularly the people like Alfred Kinsey, I think, was sort of helpful in getting that removed. So, yeah, in 1974 the DSM-II had a 7th printing and homosexuality was removed and sexual orientation disturbance took its place. And sexual orientation disturbance was meant to be for people who were uncomfortable with their orientation and were... would try to change their orientation. I liken it to the people who are in those gay therapy programs where you try to straighten yourself out.

E: Geez.

R: Of course, eventually sexual orientation disturbance was removed as well, because it was pointed out that that's not actually an internal disorder so much as it is outside pressure from society about—

E: Right. Cultural.

R: Yeah, about your orientation.

S: I found the document—the proposal to remove homosexuality from the DSM, penned by Robert Spitzer. Does that name sound familiar to you?

J: It does.

E: It does.

S: I'll tell you what that is in a second. Let me just read you one paragraph that summarizes the debate at the time. This is 1973. You know, almost 40 years ago.

The proponents of the view that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality argue for the elimination of any reference to homosexuality in a manual of psychiatric disorders because it is scientifically incorrect, encourages an adversary relationship between psychiatry and the homosexual community, and is misused by some people outside of our profession who wish to deny civil rights to homosexuals. Those who argue that homosexuality is a pathological disturbance in sexual development assert that to remove homosexuality from the nomenclature would be to give official sanction to this form of deviant sexual development, would be a cowardly act of succumbing to a small but vocal group of activist homosexuals who defensively attempt to prove that they are not sick, and would tend to discourage homosexuals from seeking much-needed treatment.

Isn't that interesting? Now, I also, in this document it lists a number of uncontroversial premises that they say these are things with which anyone can hardly disagree. One of them is that modern methods of treatment enable a significant proportion of homosexuals who wish to change their sexual orientation to do so.

R: And that's not even something that was quickly dropped. I mean, as early as 2001, Spitzer delivered a paper called "Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?"

S: Yeah, so this is the same guy. Thirty years later, right, 2003, he published a paper "Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?"

R: Oh, sorry.

S: But he later retracted his paper.

E: Oooo.

S: And he tried to get the journal to actually retract it completely, but what he said was, the data was there—so the data was some homosexuals, after going through a program to change their orientation, so-called "reparative therapy," that they claimed to have reduced same-sex desire and increased other-sex desire. And he essentially argued in the 2003 paper that there wasn't any evidence of lying or self-deception, so he took that at face value and said they've actually changed their orientation. He then later recanted and said, well, there's really no data to say that their self-report of altered orientation is not self-deception or lying. And so the entire interpretation of his paper was just made up. It wasn't really based on any data. It was just a subjective interpretation. So that pretty much ended, scientifically and within the psychiatric profession, any discussion of reparative therapy being legitimate, and now it's pretty much accepted that it doesn't work. It causes internal conflict to try to change someone's sexual orientation. It's basically a harmful intervention that doesn't work.

E: Leave people alone. For goodness sake, just leave them alone!

News Items[edit]

Creationist Tactics (10:25)[edit]

WhyEvolutionIsTrue: A Marshall McLuhan moment with creationist Paul Nelson

S: Jay, you're gonna tell us about a recent debate with a young-Earth creationist, Paul Nelson.

J: A blogger named Jerry Coyne, who also is a Ph.D. and he's a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, was writing for a blog called "Why Evolution is True". Jerry wrote a blog post about a young-Earth creationist named Paul Nelson, who criticized Jerry for calling to task a biologist named Jim Shapiro. Jim is a biologist that minimizes the importance of natural selection in evolution. So Jerry commented about Jim Shapiro. Paul said, hey, you shouldn't have done that. As a matter of fact there's a lot of people—a lot of other prominent biologists out there that agree with Jim, and you are wrong. So he stated many times that these biologists have frank doubts about selection. And the list of biologists happens to be pretty heavy. Like the list here is Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart and Mark Kirschner. So what Jerry decided to do is, he said, "you know, I know a handful of these guys, and the other ones I think I can get in touch with or get their email addresses. I think I'm gonna send an email to all of them. Tell them what Paul Nelson wrote, and just ask them to clarify what their stance is". And he did that. He did it and it worked great. He actually got a response from all of them; they all said that he could use their responses as much or as little as he wanted to, so he had clearance to quote them and pull from their responses to him. And it turns out that each one of them responded and explained that Nelson's summation of their stance is wrong and that he really didn't even have a clue about what their stance was. So you could say, well, he either is making it up; like, he's lying about it, or he didn't read, he never read it, or he did and he just doesn't get to the point where he can actually parse his way through what they write.

S: Jay, he's a young-Earth creationist. Motivated reasoning; that's their daily bread. So essentially he was saying that natural selection is not important to evolution, and therefore evolution is wrong. Essentially, that's where he's trying to get to. That the whole Darwinian construct of natural selection leading to evolutionary change is wrong and that even biologists—modern day biologists realize that natural selection doesn't work. But he quoted—this is a typical creationist strategy of taking discussions internally about the relative importance of various different mechanisms within evolution, and then trying to interpret that as "evolution isn't true". And Coyne totally called him out on it. He was able to do that because Paul Nelson was quoting out of context living biologists who he could email and ask what your opinion is. And so unequivocally he showed that Nelson was taking them out of context. They are all... yeah, they all believe in evolution; they all believe that natural selection is important to evolution. It's just that there are other mechanisms that are also important. And it's just a discussion, a healthy debate, about the relative contribution of various different elements to the evolutionary process.

R: Henceforth creationists will go back to just quoting dead people like Einstein, and the founding fathers. Yeah.

S: Right. Exactly. Bob, do you remember our encounter with Paul Nelson?

B: No.

S: No, apparently not. We met him at the skeptical conference, the CSI skeptical conference—

B: In California?

S: —we went to in California, about, what is it now? Ten years ago?

B: Oh, yeah.

S: If you recall, so he was actually, they actually had a debate on stage. It was Paul Nelson, some other intelligent design guy . . .

B: Yes! I do remember it. Oh, man.

S: And then afterwards there was a Q and A, and I went toe-to-toe with Paul Nelson for a minute.

B: Kicked his ass.

S: What I remember is that he was a super nice guy. Really friendly. Very nice guy. Very genuine. But totally clueless. Just had that deer-in-the-headlights look. I think I asked him about the fact that, like evolutionary change, there are—it was the gaps. It was the whole god-of-the-gaps thing. And he was saying, yes, but there are still things we can't explain. And I made the point that, yeah, but you're taking a snapshot of what we know today. Right now. If you look at the history of evolution as a scientific discipline, those gaps are ever-shrinking. The things that creationists were talking about 30 years ago have been filled. Now you've just moved on to new gaps. And he had nothing to say. About that. He really just couldn't respond.

R: Shocker.

J: Yeah, from Jerry Coyne's blog, he does put Paul's email that Paul had written him, and Paul seemed like a very nice guy. He was actually trying to engage in legitimate conversation.

S: But he's a young-Earth creationist, (chuckles) is the bottom line.

E: No way around it.

Truth in Education (15:31)[edit]

Neurologica: Truth in Education

S: And Rebecca, there have been other creationist news in the last couple of weeks. The next, I guess, strategy out of the Discovery Institute is truth in education strategy.

R: Yeah, you know, there's always creationist news. There's creationist news every week. It's just that we don't cover it every single week because then it would become... it would just turn into the creation hour—

S: (laughing) That's true.

R: —with the SGU, you know? Because I was thinking about this while I was reading about this latest effort, because there were several things referenced that happened rather recently that we just never got around to mentioning because the creationists are just always pushing, particularly on this issue of trying to get creationism into schools somehow. So, this news story involves Dennis Kruse, who is a senator in Indiana—state senator in Indiana. And Kruse, in the last senate session in last year, he submitted a bill that would have basically forced the teaching of creationism along with evolution in science classrooms. And it actually passed in one house and got knocked down in the other. And at the time, Kruse said that he would live to fight again and that he would resubmit this bill or something like it in 2013. Well, now he is saying that he's not going to reintroduce that bill after all. He's dialed it back a little bit, realizing that that bill wouldn't work. And now he's planning to introduce something called the "Truth in Education" bill. According to Kruse, this would force teachers to come up with alternate sources for any facts that students questioned. So, for instance, just to pick a subject completely at random, let's say a biology teacher is talking about evolution. A student raises her hand and says, "How do you know that that's true?" The teacher would then be forced to explain why evolution is true using other sources. Like most of the things creationists do these days, at first blush you have to wonder what's the big deal with that. But that's their whole point. The creationists are constantly trying to get the thin end of the wedge in any way they can, and this is what they're down to. And quite frankly, it's pathetic. Because, first of all, teachers already to do this all the time. And students already to do this all the time. Students constantly ask how do you know that's so. And teachers constantly come up with the reasons why that is so. Good teachers, at least.

S: Yeah. How we know what—

R: Yeah. I suppose there are a few teachers out there who are like, "screw off," but I think most teachers will go into intimate detail on how we know what we know, because that's interesting. That's how kids learn. But, no, this would put it down in the books so that a teacher legally, I guess, has to come up with many sources for everything they say.

S: My interpretation is a little different.

R: Okay.

S: It's not so much about forcing teachers to defend the truth as providing cover for teachers who want to introduce creationist arguments. 'Cause then they could say, "hey, the law forces me to explore how we know what we know and to use other sources. I'm just following the law."

R: Well, yeah; I was getting to that.

S: Okay, sorry.

R: That's the idea behind a lot of these laws, isn't it, though? It's a way to... they can no longer say teachers have to teach creationism or even teachers can teach creationism. Now it's teachers can say whatever they want in pursuit of this. So in this case, yeah, that's in pursuit of explaining to a kid everything about this topic that they could possibly want to know. So, yes, for teachers who want to talk about creationism, all they need to do is get a student to ask well, how do you know that that's true? Or at least pretend that they saw that question flit across a student's face, I suppose. And then, yeah, they could offer, "well, you know, there are alternative theories and here they are." And presumably, yes, they would be protected by this. But, again, it is really pathetic. I mean, I'm hoping it won't pass. I don't think it will. But I'm kind of glad that this is what creationists are down to now because it's sad.

S: Yeah, but I think it still is having the intended effect of making the teaching of evolution seem controversial when it isn't. And creating a space in which science teachers who want to are able to teach creationism. From what I've read it seems that if you're a science teacher in a state or in a community where belief in creationism is common, you can get away with it. You can do it and no one's gonna challenge you on it, 'cause who's gonna do it? It's all regulated at such a local community.

R: In 2008, Louisiana passed what was known as a truth-in-education bill. So another place where, yeah, evolution is seen as something controversial and, yeah, sure enough, for some reason, this bill is only focused on science and on particularly, quote-unquote, "Darwin's theory". You know, you'd think, though, that if you really just want to give kids the ability to have multiple sources on everything they learn then why restrict it to science? Why not open it up to every discipline?

S: Also, I thought it was interesting that this guy really tried the old-school equal-time approach first. Like, really, where's this guy been? There's already been a Supreme Court case that shot that down. Then, apparently what happened is that the Discovery Institute got their hands on this guy and said no, no; you can't do it this way, do it here. Try this. And they basically handed him the truth-in-education approach.

R: Yeah, because they know what they're doing. They're slick. And they know that this bill passed before so, yeah, here they are doing it again. That's what they do.

S: So, we still have to be vigilant and keep an eye on these shenanigans.

Dawn of Life (22:10)[edit] Researchers propose new way to look at the dawn of life

S: Bob, you're gonna tell us... this is not about evolution, but about the dawn of life itself. Scientists are taking a different approach to this question.

B: Yeah, Steve, this is pretty cool. Two Arizona State University scientists have a completely new take on the best way to discover how life originated. You know, instead of looking at the chemicals and pathways that ordinary matter used to transition into biology, they're looking now at the information flow itself, instead. Kind of like looking at the software of a computer instead of just the hardware. The two researchers are Professor Paul Davies, who's the Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science; and Sara Walker, a NASA post-doctoral fellow at the Beyond Center. They recently published their theory in the December 12 issue of the journal Interface. They gave their article a cool title. It's called, The Algorithmic Origins of Life. How life began has to be one of the most fundamental and important questions that we can ask, isn't it? I mean, imagine if we knew how life began on earth or in space, if that's where life on earth began. Talk about a Nobel Prize. That would be pretty amazing. Kind of on par with finding evidence of life on Mars or maybe even inventing a zero-calorie chocolate peanut butter substitute.

S: (chuckles)

E: Now you're going crazy.

B: But, I don't know about that one. Yeah, it's a little silly. Like I'm saying this is a very... obviously, quite a difficult problem. There's no fossilized remains of how life came about and that's just not gonna happen. They're not gonna find it one day. Those things are just not gonna fossilize.

S: Yeah. Most of what they've been doing so far is just finding plausible chemical pathways.

B: Right. Right. But nothing that's really making big news or that's really getting everyone excited. They've been trying for over a century to really—

S: Well, it seems like the focus recently has been on RNA. 'Cause like the first real life molecule being something akin to a primitive RNA molecule.

E: They're saying we still haven't defined exactly... where it's, you know, amino acids or, is not, by definition, not life?

S: Well, are you saying what's the dividing line between life and non-life?

E: Isn't that kinda like what we're looking for, like that point in which we can, you know...

S: Well, I don't think there is one point. You know, there's a lot of different components that make up life. And it's a continuum. What's the difference between chemistry, complicated chemistry, and biochemistry; you know, living organisms.

B: That's just it. That's one of the problems that the researchers point out. The problems with conventional thinking is that they don't really distinguish between chemistry and biology. And Evan, you brought up amino acids. That reminds me of that famous Miller-Urey experiment. Remember in the '50s—I'm sure a lot of people have heard about this. They basically put together a stew of various chemicals to try to recreate that primordial Campbell's soup that was the earth's oceans billions of years ago. And then they hit it with an electrical charge, to simulate lightning, I guess.

R: Frankenstein-style.

B: Yeah. And they found that simple amino acids were created. That's pretty key structures for life on earth, right? And that was really cool and all, but since then, we really haven't progressed much farther than that in terms of figuring out how those amino acids achieved anything close to the complexity of life. And Sara Walker said recently, "chemical-based approaches have stalled at a very early stage of chemical complexity, very far from anything we could consider alive. They suffer from conceptual shortcomings in that they fail to distinguish between chemistry and biology", just like I said. Now, their new approach is just that. It's an approach; it's really just the bare beginnings of an idea of a hypothesis. They try to look at the problem from a completely different angle. Professor Davies had an interesting quote on this. He said,

This is a manifesto. It's a call to arms, and a way to say that we've got to reorient and redefine this subject and look at it in a different way.

The crux of their idea is that they believe that the information is the key to a potentially powerful new way to look at the origin of life. And this is because one of the hallmarks of life—and I never really looked at it this way—one of the hallmarks is that it can manage—life can manage and manipulate the information moving through itself. And not only that, the researchers contend that inanimate objects also do not have this flow going in two directions. And the example they give for this is like when you put your hand on a hot stove, because of the extreme heat, the information is communicated to your brain that hey, get the hell away from that. And then that information goes back down and the brain moves your hand away, even without voluntary control. Davies had another quote; he said,

To a physicist or chemist life seems like magic matter. It behaves in extraordinary ways that are unmatched in any other complex physical or chemical system. Such lifelike properties include autonomy, adaptability and goal-oriented behavior. The ability to harness chemical reactions to enact a pre-programmed agenda rather than being a slave to those reactions.

Which is one of the big differences between biology and inanimate matter; they compared it to just putting a cookie on that stove. The cookie's not gonna react.

R: It would get delicious. Warm and smelly.

B: Delicious-er, sure. But it's not gonna do much but sit there.

S: It's not gonna crawl away from a hot poker, in other words?

R: Well, you've never seen my mom's cookies. (laughter)

E: Ohh.

R: That's not true; my mother's a saint, and makes amazing cookies. I gotta put that in there.

E: That's right.

B: I believe it. I believe it. As the name of their article implies, they have—they even have a mathematical model that they use, or I suspect that they hope to one day use, to see this transition from regular matter to biological living matter. The cool thing, though, is that you could also use this approach for other milestones in other sciences or in the evolution of life. For example, it could potentially help us learn more about the transition from single cells to multi-cellularity. That was a very big day for life. That was a huge milestone. If it could give us some insight into that, that would be great. And here's another cool angle that I didn't consider: It could also help us find aliens. Chris McKay, who's an astrobiologist at the NASA Ames Research Center; he wasn't involved with the research. He said that their approach potentially lays down a framework that allows us to consider other classes of organic molecules that could be the basis for life.

History of Cheese (28:28)[edit]

BBC: Evidence of world's 'oldest' cheese-making found

S: Do any of you guys know what rennet is? R-E-N-N-E-T?

R: Isn't that the gross stuff that's left over after you kill something, and eat it? It's some kind of meat, isn't it?

S: You're close, but I'll—

B: Isn't it that online forum? On the internet, that... crazy people...

S: Reddit?

B: Oh, Reddit, Reddit.

S: Reddit.

E: Don't tell me it's head cheese or something.

S: No, it's involved in cheese-making. I'll tell you about it in a second.

R: Oh, right.

S: So this is a news item about possibly discovering the oldest evidence of cheese-making, which dates back to 7,500 years ago. Archeologists have found perforated pottery vessels—so it looks like some kind of strainer. But what was it straining?

B: Pasta?

S: You know, there are multiple possibilities.

E: Pasta.

S: Could have been for straining honey, for example. But what researchers who published recently in the Scientific Journal of Nature have found is milk proteins on the pottery, which they say is unambiguous evidence that these perforated pots were used for cheese-making. Which pushes back the oldest evidence for cheese-making in history. The first written record of cheese, reference to cheese, is about five thousand years old. So this obviously is two-and-a-half thousand years older than that. Cheese is one of those things, you know, it's obviously been around for a long time and it's a little complicated, in terms of making cheese. So you wonder how people hit upon this idea. Think about it like baking bread or brewing beer.

E: It was probably an accident.

R: Eating a lobster.

S: It's a multi-step process and you wonder how they came by it.

B: Experimentation.

S: So I was doing some background reading, and you know, I'm fascinated by topics like this, like, well, how do you make cheese? I had some kind of vague notion but I wanted to get more of a detailed understanding. So it seems that there are a couple of critical processes in making cheese. And you could make cheese at home very easily. A lot of people do that. It made me curious about how hard it would be. So first, of course, you start with milk. You can either start with fresh milk that's not pasteurized, or you can pasteurize it; you can heat the milk to kill the bacteria. But then you have to introduce lactic-acid-producing bacteria into the milk. To acidify it a little bit. You could do that by adding yogurt to the milk, 'cause yogurt can have an active culture of the right kind of bacteria. Or now, commercially, you could just buy the bacteria to add to the milk.

R: Crucially, you can also just buy cheese. Just in case anybody wants to skip all these steps.

S: You could.

E: Not as much fun.

S: Then, once you have the active bacterial culture, then the next step is to add the rennet, R-E-N-N-E-T, and rennet is an enzyme—

R: It's funny 'cause the only reason I knew it was some kind of animal by-product was because I've seen cheeses that claim to not use rennet as—

S: That's correct. So it is chymosin. It is an enzyme derived from the stomach of a calf or a kid, a baby goat, before they eat anything other than milk. Adult cows and goats do not make this enzyme. Chymosin. So initially, that was the only source of it. Throughout history. Historians speculate that it's possible that the process of making cheese was accidentally discovered when milk was stored in the stomach of a goat or a calf. Essentially, using it as a skin to store milk, but then, the chymosin was there, and, they had cheese. But then it probably took hundreds of years, maybe even a couple of thousand years to refine the process to know exactly how much rennet to add, when, at what temperature. And then what—so the, what the chymosin does is it converts the milk protein from a soluble to an insoluble form. So then you get the curd. It curdles the milk. So you get the solid curd and the liquid whey, and then you use a strainer, like the strainer that they discovered, to separate the curd from the whey. Previously, cheesemakers would just discard the whey, or maybe they would feed it to animals. But now it's used a lot as a source of milk protein in the manufacture of food products. So cheesemakers will sell their whey off to food production factories. Then the curd is compacted in a cheese press; you know, into the solid form of the cheese. They may also put wax around it so that you can age it without it going bad. Now there were a few significant advantages to making cheese out of milk. One is that cheese is delicious.

E: (laughs)

S: It's one of my favorite foods. The second one is that it has a lot less lactose than regular milk. Thousands of years ago, everyone was pretty much lactose intolerant.

B: What?

R: Yeah, we only evolved that pretty recently.

E: I knew that.

S: Yeah, we evolved not being lactose intolerant after having dairy for hundreds, thousands, of years.

R: And not every culture evolved that ability because they weren't eating or drinking dairy.

S: There wasn't enough selective pressure. But cheese had less lactose, so you could tolerate it. So it was maybe a stepping stone to more hard-core dairy products. And two—or I think I'm onto three—is that it can store for a long time. So milk, obviously, goes bad after a few days.

E: Right.

S: But you can—if you make a wheel of cheese, it'll last for weeks, or months. And if you figure out to cover it in wax, it could last for years. Potentially. So cheese is a good way to store milk as a foodstuff. So there's a huge advantage for an agricultural community to figure out how to do this. And then of course, over the centuries, different cultures learned how to make—how to manipulate all those variables: what culture to add, what bacterial culture, how long, at what temperature, how much rennet, et cetera, in order to make different kinds of cheeses. And they developed their specific recipe. Some of them guard that recipe very carefully. So Rebecca, back to your rennet discussion. So if you traditionally made cheese from rennet isolated from the stomach of a calf, essentially you have to kill a baby cow in order to get the rennet. So if you're a vegetarian who doesn't want to eat baby cows, then you'll... you wouldn't want to eat cheese made with rennet that was harvested from a sacrificed calf. But so there are vegetable sources of rennet, also. Doesn't last—doesn't store as long; the rennet doesn't store as long but it's the same enzyme, chymosin, so it has the same effect. Apparently you can make it from figs, and there are some other plants. You can make if from thistle, was mentioned. And there's a third kind of rennet, and that comes from bacteria that are genetically engineered to crank out chymosin. So it produces an interesting dilemma for certain food purists. If you want to eat cheese, do you want to eat GMO cheese made with GMO rennet? Or cheese made from rennet purified from the stomach of a slaughtered baby calf?

R: GMO. Easy call. Done.

S: I think it's an easy call. GMO, absolutely. Those bacteria—and that essentially, that technology, you know, making that bacteria—and I think also mold, that will crank out the rennet, the chymosin, is rendering obsolete the technology of purifying it from the stomach of a calf or a kid.

R: Doesn't it sound ridiculous, though? It's 2012 and we're aging things in the stomach of a calf?

S: (laughs)

R: Did we cut that calf open to determine the fate of our king? (laughter) It sounds ridiculous.

S: No, GMO bacteria is definitely the way to go. But I should point out that calves aren't slaughtered just for their rennet. These are calves that are killed for veal, and they're just making use of every part of the animal. Go online, of course; there's a whole subculture of homemade cheese-making. Making cheese at home.

E: Homemade cheese-making.

R: You know what they say. Blessed are the cheesemakers.

S: (laughing) Blessed are the cheesemakers, absolutely.

E: Do you think there's an anti-cheese crowd? Like an anti-milk crowd.

R: Well, there are vegans, yeah.

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah, there's that, but... some pretty hard-core people out there against that milk, and I guess there might be some against cheese. Who knows?

R: Yeah, the vegans. (laughter) If you're hard-core against milk, you're hard-core against cheese. They kind of go hand-in-hand.

S: Right.

Quickie with Bob - Ocean Robots (37:29)[edit] Ocean science robot revolution hits symbolic millionth milestone

R: I want a quickie with Bob!

S: What? We haven't had one of those in a while.

B: Oh, yeah. Thank you, Rebecca. I was hoping it would be you tonight.

R: Well, you know, I just randomly decided to bring that up.

E: You were gone for a couple weeks and (overlapping comments)

R: Absence makes the fond grow hearter. (confused silence) What?

B: This is your Quickie With Bob. Today I'm going to talk about ocean robots. Well, they're not really swimming terminators. More like robotic sensors. But we're not talking about a few, though. There are now more than 3,500 robotic sensors deployed into the world's oceans. Right now. Each one cycling vertically every ten days from two kilometers down back up to the surface, taking temperature and salinity readings and reporting their findings in real time to researchers. Isn't that cool? These robotic sensors, collectively called the Argo Array, which reminds me of a Next Generation episode, reached a milestone recently after having created its one millionth ocean observation. Now, to put that into context, in the past century, humans on oceanographic ships have only done about 200,000 similar observations. And the next one million robotic readings should be complete in about eight years, considering we have well over 3,000 of those buggers. Now this data is invaluable to researchers. It's helped to show the critical influence that the ocean has on our global climate and marine ecosystems. Since the program started, Argo data has been featured in almost 1,200 scientific papers—I believe that was, started in 1999. And now, this makes me anticipate even more a future when robotic sensors are orders of magnitude smaller, cheaper and more capable. Imagine each one as intelligent as a super-computer today. Imagine billions of these sensors in our oceans and atmosphere, and even our bodies. The tidal wave, the virtual tidal wave of new scientific data will keep us occupied for generations. I'm so excited now. This has been your Quickie With Bob. I hope it was good for you, too.

R: It was.

S: All right. Well, thanks, Bob.

R: It was good.

News Items Continued[edit]

Vampire Warning (39:31)[edit]

TheWeek: The Serbian village that's warning of a vampire on the loose

S: Evan, you're gonna tell us about a vampire warning.

E: Right. Yes. Important stuff. Not this evolution and teaching in schools and robots under the water and all that stuff.

S: Vampires on the loose!

E: We are on to the real, real important topics

R: Our very lives are at stake.

E: Now. Have any of you ever heard of Sava Savanović?

R: Yes, I have.

E: No, you haven't, because you're not from Serbia.

R: Yes, I have. (laughter)

E: And only people from Serbia know who this is. Okay, Rebecca, who is Sava Savanović?

R: He is a vampire that was terrorizing a small Serbian village, who was locked up in a windmill and recently the windmill burned down or something.

E: (laughs)

S: Wasn't that Frankenstein?

R: And so he doesn't have a home.

E: (laughing) That's pretty—

R: Now he has no home and he's stalking the village, apparently.

E: Pretty close.

R: Because he has no home.

E: Pretty close.

S: Now, Evan. Sava Savanović, is that the Serbian equivalent of Flavor Flav?

E: Yeah, that's—I was thinking that as well. And I'm sure there are other—a couple of—

R: He does wear a giant clock around his neck.

E: Well he has to know what time it is. It's very important for vampires to know that. Sava Savanović, yup. You're right, Rebecca. One of the most famous vampires in Serbian folklore. Not the only one. And he was said to live in an old water mill on this river in the Zarozje village. Which, you know, is somewhere deep in Serbia. A little town, population of about a thousand people. And it was said, or legend has it that he would lure people into his water mill and kill them and drink their blood and take their grain. Because it was a grain mill, and you know, well, I guess a vampire has to have grain, too. And you're right. The water mill; it didn't burn down. But it just collapsed under its own dilapidation, lack of care for it. It was in operation until the late 1950's, but after it closed down, it became a bit of a tourist site for the village, but it went into disrepair and it collapsed just earlier this year. Now it's causing the local residents to believe that the vampire is homeless and looking for a new home. So get this: The municipal authorities of the town have issued a public health warning, advising people to rub garlic on their doors and windows and the mayor of the town reminded people, in addition, to keep holy crosses in every room of their house.

R: Makes sense. Yeah.

E: To keep Sava away.

R: There's nothing scarier than a homeless vampire.

E: Two homeless vampires? Hmmm?

R: Okay. Yeah. Fair enough.

E: Double your pleasure. Okay. So local municipal council member Miodrag Vujetic had this to say: "Five people have recently died, one after another, in our small community. One of them hanging himself. And this is not by accident. It's out of fear of the legend of this vampire." So people are taking it somewhat seriously.

S: Well, hanging yourself is pretty serious.

R: About as serious as you can possibly take a vampire warning.

E: And there are others who are saying this is a publicity stunt, to bring in foreign dollars, from tourists, and they're taking advantage of the fact that the mill collapsed in order to do that. So it's an interesting little combination. I think people really do have a... if not an outward direct fear of it, somewhere in the back of their minds in that village, they're saying, yeah, you know, why not. Let's just be safe. And then there are others who are saying that it's only a custom that they've inherited. People are religious around here. Everybody has a wooden cross and garlic is grown in almost every part of the village, in their gardens and so forth. So, the fact that people happen to have a lot of garlic, you know, is...

R: Maybe it was a conspiracy on the part of the garlic industry. Big garlic.

E: Big garlic! (laughter) Big garlic and big cross.

B: Nice.

E: (laughing) Big cross.

R: I bet sales have skyrocketed.

E: They have. Tourists, actually; it has brought in the tourists as they predicted it would.

S: Yeah, it's kind of like restaurants say, "Oh, yeah, our restaurant's haunted." Or the town that said they had the crashed saucer there. It's a tourist attraction.

Who's That Noisy and Skeptical Puzzle (43:53)[edit]

S: Well, Evan,

E: Doctor.

S: We do have time for "Who's That Noisy" this week.

E: All right. Then let's do that. Let's play for you last week's "Who's That Noisy?" So, tell me who this is.

(man's voice) In science there's a principle called "Occam's Razor", which means that the simplest explanation for any physical phenomenon is most likely the true one.

S: Some guy, talking about Occam's Razor.

E: Occam's Razor.

R: I don't know what he is, but I like him.

E: (laughs)

S: Be careful what you say, Rebecca.

R: Oh.


R: He sounds like a good guy to me. (overlapping comments) —anything else he's ever said.

E: Right. Everything else he says is total crap. No. Dr. Charles Krauthammer. American Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist. He's a political commentator and a physician, of all things. He does have right-of-center leanings in many of his political opinions, but that's not why we chose him for this week is because he does have a good solid appreciation of science and the scientific method. He is an Intelligent Design critic. He is an advocate for the scientific consensus on evolution and also about global warming; he acknowledges that it is a human-made phenomenon. He is a supporter of embryonic stem cell research.

S: It's sad that it's notable that there's a conservative commentator who is on board with the scientific consensus. You know, it has to be pointed out. Even though he's on the right—

E: I know.

S: —he still believes in evolution and global warming.

E: I know. Yeah. Trinoc from the message boards guessed correctly first. We haven't heard his name in a while, so he was about due for a victory. Well done.

R: Good old Trinoc.

S: All right; what've got for this week, Evan?

E: This week we have a puzzle.

B: Oh, excellent.

E: Logic puzzle. 'Cause we had a lot of good responses from the last logic puzzle we ran a couple weeks ago, so I figured we'd bring one back. And I think we're also gonna get a lot of correct answers on this. It'll be fun to see how people work their way through this. Is everyone ready?

S: Oh, yeah.

R: Yes.

E: Okay. There are three boxes. One is labeled "Carrots". Another is labeled "Celery". And the last box is labeled "Carrots and Celery". You know that each box is labeled incorrectly. You may ask me to pick out one vegetable from one box, whichever you choose. By doing that, how can you label all three boxes correctly?

R: Who labeled those boxes? (laughter) Why is that how you even sort your produce? It's ridiculous.

E: Big celery and big carrot are behind this, apparently. They're sponsoring this week's puzzle. All right. So it's pretty straightforward. It is a bit of a noggin scratcher. You're gonna have to think about this and figure out how you're able to—

B: It's just one, one item from one box?

E: That's it. Pick one item from one of the boxes and you can get them all. Write to us and tell us, and let us know your thoughts on this. Or post it on our message boards and our forums. and our email is

S: Thanks, Evan.

Interview with Joshie Berger (47:07)[edit]

S: Well, Evan, Jay and I previously recorded a conversation with our friend Joshie Berger, so let's listen to that conversation now.

Well, we're being joined now by Joshie Berger; Joshie, welcome back to the SGU.

JB: I am so honored to be part of the extended SGU family. Thank you, guys.

S: We wanted to touch base one last time before the world ends in a week or two.

E: Yeah.

JB: Ah, you know what, these Mayan sons-a-bitches; we're finally getting somewhere. Randi keeps getting stronger every year. I don't know what the hell that wizard is doing; every year at TAM he seems to be getting stronger. Finally, (unintelligible) is about to croak; that Sylvia Browne thing, it seems like she's almost hitting her end, and right now the world has to end. Why?! Good times are coming and they're ending for us.


E: Good times were not meant to last.

J: Joshie, come on; it was a good run, man, but everything has to end.

S: Yeah, we had four and a half billion years; that was good.

JB: Yeah, yeah, but you know what? Playstation 4 is about to come out, "Grand Theft Auto 5" is about to come out.

E: Call of Duty 18 or something, right?

S: Hey, but we'll get—we'll get to see The Hobbit before the world ends, so.

JB: I don't even know what that is, but—

E/J: (laughs)

JB: I'm sorry; I'm not a geek like you guys.

E: (laughs)

JB: I've composed a short list of things that I want to educate you guys on, and we're going to do a list, instead of Science and Fiction we're going to do Jewie or Fiction. And I am going to read to you guys four things, then you guys have to decide are these real things that religious Orthodox Jews believe, or is one of them fiction—which one of them is. Did I explain that well, Steve; I think you do a better job.

S: Yeah, you got it. Three of these are things that Orthodox Jews really believe and one is wrong; you made it up, I'm assuming.

JB: All right. The first one: Now, the Bible prohibits work or labor on the Sabbath, as you all know; it's the day of rest. So, religious Jews define work very broadly and a lot of things you're not allowed to do. One of the things you're not allowed to do is to separate the bad from the good, which means you can't filter water; you can't even pick out a shirt if it's the wrong one, you have to pick the right one out when you want to wear something on the Sabbath. This also means you can't pick out the bones from fish; you have to pick out the bones from fish from the bones. It causes a lot of problems. This ultimately led to Jews creating what we now know as gefilte fish, a fish without bones in it.

J: Oh, OK.

JB: Eh, number one. Number two is: Additionally, one of the things prohibited on the Sabbath is carrying anything outdoors, meaning you can't walk out of your house with anything, anything in your pocket: keys; you can't push a baby in a stroller. To circumvent this, Jews, when they live in an area of concentration of lar—Jews put a string around their neighborhoods, so now they trick God into thinking it's one big area and it's no outdoors or indoors, and now they can push strollers across the street, go for meals and they can carry stuff in their pockets.

J: (laughing) Oh my God.

JB: (foreign accent) Hey, do not laugh at my people. (normal voice) Next: The Bible every once in a while gets something right, and it wants to say that you should be nice to animals. Thus, there is the enforcement, the prohibition of telling farmers that they are not allowed to muzzle their ox while they thresh their field. Threshing, if you don't know, and I didn't know until I was in Yeshiva, is separating the wheat from the inedible parts, so the animal steps in it, it gets separated. And it's cruel to allow your animal to be muzzled so he looks at the food and he can't eat while he's working. The Talmud, though, tries to find a loophole in this, to figure out how Jews can muzzle their animals while they're threshing the fields, so they can save some money. So what they do is, is they devise contracts between farmers where the farmers exchange fields while they're plowing, and for no other time, so technically the Bible says you're not allowed to muzzle your ox, but you're muzzling someone else's ox if during this period of time, it's not really your ox and therefore they can get away with it; they save some money and you guys have to pay us rent and we win. Now—

J: I love it. It's like a negotiation, you know; like, how can they outsmart the Bible?

JB: Dude, that's why we never lose at Monopoly. I was born with this game. Next: the Bible prohibits shaving ones face. You wonder oftentimes why Chasidic Jews have beards; the Bible says that you're not allowed to shave certain points of your face. But, the non-extreme religious Jews say that cutting or trimming is allowed; it just says "shaving". Sooo, back in the day, you used to shave, cut with scissors and stuff, but now, with the advent of the electric shaver, which has a two-blade cutting system, which is like two little blades inside, Orthodox Jews can now shave, because technically they consider it, because it's two blades, to be like little mini scissors inside and it's not really shaving, although it shaves you because it's like little scissors cutting it up against your face. And that's why you'll go to court; you'll see your lawyers, and you'll go to your dentist and Dr. Greenberg, whatever, will be shaven because they use electric shavers but they still can't use blades. There you go!

J: That's awesome. That's awesome.

JB: I know. There you go! We're going to start with Steve.

S: Um, I proudly know none of this.

JB: Yes!

J/E: (laughing)

S: Yeah, it seems like always—yeah, getting out of a contract by following the details and not the spirit, you know?

J: Right.

S: So they're all equivalent in that way. I definitely have heard about the not-shaving thing, and also there's something about not cutting or trimming the hair at the temples and that's why they have the long hair—

JB: Correct, peyos.

S: —on both side hanging down. Yeah, so I know that that kind of restriction occurs; are some people getting out of it by saying that electric shavers are tiny scissors? That certain is plausible. The "thou shalt not muzzle your ox" one? Wow, that really is subverting the purpose of a restriction by focusing on a tiny word. That-that's, I think, the most egregious example of subverting God's will, if you will, of these four. The string one is the funniest one; you know, but that's—I'm going to employ that logic was, that's so out there that you probably wouldn't have made it up, and so that one's probably real, and—I like the gefilte fish one; that one just seems right to me for some reason, just separating the good from the bad makes a certain Biblical kind of logic.

E: (laughs) Which means (unintelligible)

JB: So you're going with...

S: So I think I'm going to say that the ox one is the fiction, just because it's the most egregious.

JB: Wow. Very nice. Interesting. We're going to leave Evan for last because he has a little heads-up on you guys genetically. Go ahead, Jay; let's hear you.

J: Yeah, so the first one about not being able to separate the good from the bad, like I—after you do the reveal, Joshie, I'll be curious to hear why that's bad. Like, if this one's true, why would that be bad? Like, you can't even pick what T-shirt you wear? How ridiculous. Like, you know, every single thing we do is a decision.

JB: Yeah.

J: On some level. So that—

JB: See, the problem you're doing, though, is using logic for something that is really illogical.

J: You're right. OK, so this one, I'm not so sure about that one just because of how big of a problem it would be. But we'll get back to that. Now the second one about the string; I love this. I mean, I absolutely—you know, I always like to personify things where I'm like, so at one point in time, some guy, some rabbi was sitting there and he's like, "(Yiddish accent) Vat is this, ve can't do any of these things? Ve can't get outside? We get the string! Get the string!" I love that; I have to believe that's true, because I will be thoroughly disappointed if some awesome rabbi didn't like just be like, "we're going to wrap our neighborhood with a string!" I love it, so that one—

JB: Not to mention that you can cause so much chaos in a Jewish community with the mere implementation of a scissors.

J: Right. I love it. Now the third one about the ox, like OK—me and my neighbor farmer friend both have oxes; I'm going to—

JB: Oxen.

J: —I'm going to pull a fast one on God and I am going to use my neighbor's animals, not mine. Wow, like as if. As if! You know, you die and you go to Heaven, and God's like, "Really? Really?!"

S: (laughing) But isn't that true of all of these ones? Isn't God going to go, "Really, a string?"

E: (laughing)

S: I mean, come on.

J: And then, this last one with the microscopic scissors. "These are not razors; these are scissors!" You know, like, that's epic.

JB: It's like Austin Powers, yeah.

J: I-I wanna go with the separation one, the first one with the gefilte fish, because I just—it's not as entertaining as the others and I don't know; I just think that one's the fake.

JB: All righty. Evan, let's have some Jewie opinion here.

E: I—My DNA is not helping me here, I must admit, so... you know, it's not a bad thing. Here's what I did: I took these in the order of most ridiculous, basically, and I'm taking the least ridiculous one and I'm going to call that one the fiction. The gefilte fish one. I think, in regards to this one, they may have once adhered to this, but they ate—you know, you eat fish so much and after a few years, they're saying "wow, this is a big old pain in the ass and I'm tired of eating these damn fish bones and stuff; let's change this. Let's fix this and get this corrected." So I think that that one, gefilte fish is going to turn out to be the fiction in this game.

JB: Allll righty now. So we got Steve thinking that the fiction one is the ox one, and we got the other two clowns thinking that it's the gefilte fish one. So, let's take the last one, the shaving one first. The shaving one actually is Jewie. And you guys all pretty much side-stepped it. And it is true that—actually one of the most difficult transitions for me when I became secular was learning how to use a blade. It was difficult because I was nervous actually putting up a blade to my face 'cause I always clean-shaved in Yeshiva; I was one of the modern students. And to use a blade—first of all, it was amazing that I went from 20 minutes of shaving my face to 30 seconds of shaving my face. I couldn't believe it; you just go down, down, down, down, and you're done. It was amazing, but that is actually a religious thing that they don't consider two blades because a two-blade system to be technically shaving 'cause the Bible says that you cannot shave your face, and it's not a shaver. We will next take the string one. I'm actually surprised, but it's not surprising; you guys are geeks and you guys don't watch too much TV, but this is—I was nervous to give this one 'cause it's been covered in the media; Jon Stewart spoke about it. It's called an eruv, and it is a string and it's in every Jewish community. In fact, the community I grew up in in Borough Park was one of the last remaining communities to adopt an eruv, a string, 'cause some rabbis said there's too many people living in there, and the string—the prohibition is really for carrying in a public area, so the string technically tries to create one large common indoor sort-of area, but if there's too many people living in an enclosed area, like Manhattan or something, you can't have an enclosed area, 'cause you know, you're not fooling God. "Hey there's too many people! That can't be indoors; that must be outdoors!" But that is actually true. People—I remember when I grew up and there was no eruv; there was no string in my area, and people couldn't carry keys in their pockets, so they couldn't come home unless they had a Shabbos lock, was a combination lock so you can get in without a key. What we would do is, in the Judaica stores, they would sell Shabbos belts, which was a belt special for Sabbath, which you gave them a key from your house and they would make a copy of it and actually make that part of the belt that goes into the loops of your pants that holds your belt up part of your keys, so you actually took your belt off when you got home and you used your key to get into your house; you used your belt to get in. So, yeah. This is—the string is in all communities. Which leads us to the two remaining ones. We got the gefilte fish one and we got the ox one. Let's take the gefilte fish one. This one is... Jewie!

J: Aww! You suck, Steve!

E: Ohh!

JB: Iiiiiiiiis true. This one is true. The Biblical prohibition for doing work on the Sabbath is listed many times in Bible. One of the times it's listed, I believe in Leviticus; it says, "do not do any work on the Sabbath," and the following paragraph, it gives the instructions on work that should be done on the Tabernacle, which was the resting place of God between the time when the Jews left—look at this, you guys should pay me; you're getting a bunch of freakin' Biblical lessons here.

S: Absolutely.

JB: Between the time when the Jews left Egypt and when they came to Israel, they created the Tabernacle, which is some sort of resting place for God, and it was specific instructions how to create it. And the sages taught us—we learnt in Yeshiva that because they placed these two paragraphs next to each other, that all work that was necessary to be done at the Tabernacle is forbidden to be done on the Sabbath. That's why God put them next to each other. Meaning they devised 39 laws that cannot be done on the Sabbath, and one of them was separating. Separating because they either had to pick out impurities from the wool and linen or stones; they had to pick out the bad ones from the good ones. So any picking out of bad things from good things are not allowed. So people really take this to extremes, and like, when I was in Yeshiva, my family really didn't give a shit about these things, but like, I would open up my dresser and I would start to push away the shirts that I did not want to wear, like the colored shirts on the Sabbath to pick out the white ones, and people were like, "what are you doing? You crazy?" I'm like, "what?" They're like, "you can't push away the bad ones. You gotta just pick out the good ones. You can't do that." People take this really seriously. But the bones ones, like almost everyone take seriously. You cannot have a plate of fish and pull the bones and just leave the fish. What they'll either do is pull out the fish and leave the bones there, or what most people do is just take a chunk of it and just try to eat it and just leave it on their tongue and just pull out the bones. Which, obviously with little kids and stuff like that, led to a lot of people dying and stuff. And the Ashkenazi Jews in Europe created gefilte fish as a dish that didn't contain any bones they prepared before the Sabbath for Jews to eat.

Aaaand finally we get to the fiction. While the Bible does every once in a while get it right and try to restrict cruelty to animals, and it does say that a farmer's not allowed to muzzle his ox while threshing the field, the sages in the Talmud do not offer up an opinion on whether it is appropriate or not or whether you're allowed to make that exchange, the options that they put forth is even more ridiculous than the ones presented here. For example, they entertain the thought of: can you have a lion present on your field which will scare the shit out of your animal so it will be too nervous to eat and it'll thresh like a crazy animal while it's doing it, or do you have to shoo the lion away to allow the ox to eat and thus not violate the Biblical prohibition. That's one of the ones they entertain.

S: I'm counting this toward my Science or Fiction record for the year.

JB: Yes, I will allow you to.

S: Thank you.

J: (laughs) Joshie, this is a great idea; I mean, just these items that you picked. If you didn't have previous knowledge, they're all as equally insane.

JB: Yeah, they're all equally insane, and you know what? To me, it's shocking that this is shocking to anyone. I'm like, I guess even though I'm 12 years removed from this idiocy, I'm still at a point where I'm like, really? This is shocking to you guys but I'm trying to see it from your side and see how ridiculous putting a string up and fooling God into thinking, "Ah, yeah, no no no, God, this is one big area. Yo, chill out; let us carry over here." To me, the mere fact that this survives in the year 2012—am I supposed to say two-thousand twelve? I don't give a damn. But—

E: I don't care.

JB: Yeah, I know you guys had a year Nazi on at some point, but to me it's ridiculous that this still goes on. And it goes on today in contemporary society. Not in Bangladesh; it goes on in New York City. Anyways, it was great knowing you guys for the past few years. It really sucks 'cause NECSS was gonna be awesome, and TAM, especially with TAM poker; second time around was gonna be awesome. You know what? Damn you, Mayans; you couldn't predict your own freakin' demise but you got this one right. Screw you guys.

S: All right, Joshie. Take care.

J: Thanks, Joshie.

Science or Fiction (1:04:07)[edit]

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction

S: Each week I come with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake. I challenge my panel of expert skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Got a straight-up three news items this week; no theme. Is everybody ready?

E: Yeah.

R: Yup.

S: All right. Here we go. Item number one. A new study finds that reducing dietary fat from a high fat diet can cause withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and food craving. Item number two. Researchers examining generic pharmaceuticals find that they frequently have significant chemical differences from the their brand-name version. And item number three. A new fossil analysis suggests that large multicellular creatures may have appeared on land prior to evolving in the sea. Rebecca, go first.

R: Reducing dietary fat can cause withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and food craving. That makes sense to me, seeing as I'm literally eating a pint of ice cream as I speak.

E: All right, what flavor is it, Rebecca?

R: It is ginger snap flavor.

E: There's a ginger snap flavor ice cream?

R: It's delicious. Yeah. So, yeah, I've heard before research indicating that food addiction can be a real thing. Psychologically. It can have physical effects. So, yeah, I can believe that. Generic pharmaceuticals frequently have significant chemical differences from their brand-name version. That is crazy talk. I'm not really sure how that can be, because, aren't those things tested? Make sure that they do the same thing. So, that's very suspect to me. A new fossil analysis suggests large multicellular creatures may have appeared on land prior to evolving in the sea. I don't know what that means, because, really, large multicellular creature, I mean, you could be talking about the dolphin, okay? Which was on the land before it went into the sea. So, Steve, can you clear that up?

S: There were large multicellular creatures on land before there were large multicellular creatures in the sea.

R: Before there were any large multicellular creatures in the sea?

S: Correct.

R: All right. Okay, I can believe that. So, that brings us back to the generic pharmaceuticals. "Frequently" and "significant" are the words that I'm having trouble with there, so I'm gonna go ahead and say that that one is the fiction because of those words.

S: All-righty. Jay?

J: Yes. So this one about the dietary fat is absolutely true in my opinion. I think when you remove something like that from your diet, especially if you eat a lot of it, that you would crave it. The second one about the generic pharmaceuticals being significantly different from the brand name version. I think this one is the fake. I think they have to be like similar in a lot of ways or if not identical, just not made by the original manufacturer. I mean, maybe there's very very minor differences, maybe the fillers are different and stuff like that, but I would tend to think that they're almost identical, if not identical to the original manufacture brand name. And of course the last one, because of that I think that one is true as well. So, two is the fake.

S: Okay, Bob.

B: Oh, man. The dietary fat I don't have much of a problem with. Yeah, I could definitely see a high-fat diet causing some issues. The other ones, though, I'm just bopping back and forth. The generic pharmaceutical one. Yeah, Rebecca's right, the words "frequently" and "significant" are problematic. The active ingredient has gotta be dead-on. But the other stuff could be anything; any type of filler, so that could contribute to the chemical differences. So, it depends on what you mean. But I also have a big problem with the large multicellular creatures. First of all, it was my understanding that life appeared in the oceans first, because before the ozone, no life really could exist above the water. Also, what about plants and other animals, what the hell are you gonna eat? The multicellular one, I'm gonna regret this, but I think, I just can't understand how that could be so. So I'm gonna say that one is fiction.

S: Okay, and Evan.

E: Bob, I'm having the same issue you're having. I don't know if it's this pharmaceutical one or the multicellular creature one. I think the dietary fat one is plausible. Certainly, withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and food craving; I don't think there's anything special there. Large multicellular creatures may have appeared on land prior to evolving in the seas. How could that have possibly been? We've heard so much about the soup and the water and it all came out of the water and crawled up onto the... evolved and eventually made its way onto the land. But this is very different. The pharmaceutical one, Steve. Frequently have significant chemical differences. If that were the case, wouldn't a lot of people be having a lot of problems with the generic medicines that they've been taking? Wouldn't we be hearing a lot more about either side effects, or...

B: Good point.

E: A lot of problems that people would be having. I think that would have been more prominent in the media. I'm gonna have to make a choice, and say the pharmaceutical ones is gonna be the fiction. I don't like leaving you alone out there, Bob, but I made my choice.

B: Okay. It's all right.

S: Okay. So you all agree that a new study finds that reducing dietary fat from a high-fat diet can cause withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and food cravings. You all think that one is science. I wish I could tell you that this one is the fiction but it is science.

B: I know you would.

R: Ah hah!

S: But this one is the science. This one was the easy one.

E: In humans or animals?

S: This was a study in mice. Not in humans. And they fed mice a high-fat and a low-fat diet. And then the mice on the high-fat diet did gain some weight, but they didn't become obese. So even before they were obese, they then reduced the amount of fat in their diet and they exhibited signs of anxiety and withdrawal. They also looked at their brains. Specifically at dopamine in the reward center and discovered that the fat has sort of the same effect on their brain as an addictive substance. They, in a way, were addicted to the high levels of fat in their diet and had withdrawal symptoms when it was lowered. This is not the only study to show similar things. Hard to say how this translates to human behavior, but mice are used for a reason for these kinds of studies. It's thought generally to be a reasonable animal model for this sort of thing, but you just never know until you do it in a human trial. It may be that people who are trying to shift from a very high-fat diet to a more healthful diet may need to do it gradually or may need to anticipate these kind of symptoms and—

J: I ordered Twinkies; I admit it.

S: It may take time, it may take a couple of months before your brain adjusts and you can be more comfortable with your more healthful diet.

J: I ordered them on Ebay.

B: Really? Did you get 'em yet?

R: Well, make sure that you wean yourself off them.

S: Are they banana Twinkies?

J: (laughs) No, they're regular ones.

S: Item number two: Researchers examining generic pharmaceuticals find that they frequently have significant chemical differences from their brand-name version. Bob, you think this one is science, the rest of you think this one is the fiction. And this one...

J: Wait, Steve, wait, wait.

E: I hope it's the fiction.

J: This is one of those epic moments. Bob, it could go one way or the other.

E: That's right.

B: Good point.

J: What's it gonna be, Bob?

S: Bob's by himself. Is he gonna be the hero this week, or out by his lonesome?

B: I betcha five bucks, Jay.

J: All right.

S: Really?

R: Got interesting.

E: Five dollars!

J: Five bucks, Bob.

S: All right. And this one is... the fiction! Sorry, Bob.


R: (laughs)

B: (sighs)

S: The frequent and significant chemical differences was pretty extreme. I can see, Bob, how you might think that it's not what the active ingredient, but I actually didn't think of that when I wrote the sentence. But, this was inspired by an actual news item in which reviewers found that generic brands of medications often don't have the proper labeling. The insert—you get that long thing that describes to you all the side effects and everything, and it's often out-of-date or inaccurate. They even found one example of a generic version of a drug that was marketed with the wrong package insert information. Like, for the wrong drug.

R: That's not good.

S: That was one isolated incident. But they did find frequent errors in the labeling information on the generic drugs. But the drugs themselves, they do have to demonstrate bio-equivalency. It's the same active ingredient. They have to demonstrate that it has the same effects. There are differences, though, in the quality of manufacturing and there may be differences in the bio-availability, so the dose may not exactly translate. This does make a difference for some medications. There are sometimes when physicians will write "brand name medically necessary" when whatever condition we're treating would be very intolerant of small differences in the blood level that can result, if you're bouncing around different generic brands, in some of the anti-seizure medication, so for my own specialty this makes a difference. You know, we don't want patients' blood levels to vary at all because we have them right where we want them in terms of seizure control. But generally speaking, generics are fine, and they are bio-equivalent to the brand name. Which means a new fossil analysis suggests that large multicellular creatures may have appeared on land prior to evolving in the sea, and that one, of course, is science. And, of course, Bob, that was surprising to me.

E: This is only a hypothesis, I take it.

S: It's a hypothesis.

E: See, I didn't use the word "theory." Haha.

S: Good job. It's a re-analysis of existing fossils, the Dickinsonia fossils in South Australia. These are beautiful fossils. They are formed, probably, by lichen or other microbial consortia. They're fairly large, multicellular creatures.

B: Consortia?

S: Yeah, they were thought that maybe they were the ancestors of marine invertebrates, but that's probably not the case. What the new analysis does was more of the strata in which the fossils occur, showing that it is more similar to dry land than sea mud. So, which would mean that these fossils were on land. And these date back to 542 to 635 million years ago. So these are Ediacaran-era fossils. Ediacaran fossils. So they pre-date the Cambrian explosion. So these were the first, or the oldest large multicellular fossils. So if they were on land, that would mean that they occurred first on land. So, lots of caveats in there. That's why I say it suggests that this is the case. It clearly is not a firm conclusion. Then there are scientists who dispute these findings, who say that the evidence that these were sea creatures—other lines of evidence imply that these were sea creatures and they basically don't believe this one paper saying that their analysis suggests that it was dry land.

B: I don't believe it either! (laughter)

R: Just because you lost. That's not a valid reason for questioning scientific research.

B: Yes it is.

S: So, it's interesting. It'd be interesting if these Ediacaran creatures did evolve on dry land rather than in the ocean. 'Cause we're so, as you say, Bob, we're so familiar with this image, this notion, of primitive life in the ocean. In the sea. And then only later crawling out onto the dry land. That story is deeply embedded. This is too preliminary to hang your hat on yet, but interesting. We have to keep an eye on this to see where the scientific debate goes.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:16:59)[edit]

S: Well, Jay, do you have a quote for us this week?

J: I do. This quote is from a minor skeptical celebrity, and here's the quote: "DAMN!" Bob Novella, everybody. (laughter)

B: "Minor"? I would say "medium". (laughter)

R: Also, shouldn't it have been a little more whiny? "Dammnn."

B: (laughs)

J: Dammnn.

B: Whiny! I'm not whiny!

E: Could've said "crap!"

R: Oh, crap!

J: All right, now for the real quote from a real scientist. This is a quote sent in by a listener named John Davis. John is from (using a British accent) Yorkshire, in the U.K. The quote is:

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

That was George Bernard Shaw.

S: Oh, cool.

J: Or better know as (shouts) GEORGE BERNARD SHAW!

R: That is how he's best known, actually.

S: All right. Well, thanks, Jay. And thanks everyone for joining me this week.

R: Thank you , Steve.

B: Yeah, whatever.

E: Doctor.

J: Thanks, Steve. Good to have you home, Rebecca.

R: Good to be home.

E: Yeah, welcome home. Stick around for a while.

R: I'm gonna go to bed.

S: 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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