SGU Episode 389
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|SGU Episode 389|
|29th December 2012|
|SGU 388||SGU 390|
|S: Steven Novella|
|R: Rebecca Watson|
|B: Bob Novella|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
|Quote of the Week|
|It has become my conviction that things mean pretty much what we want them to mean. We’ll pluck significance from the least consequential happenstance if it suits us and happily ignore the most flagrantly obvious symmetry between separate aspects of our lives if it threatens some cherished prejudice or cosily comforting belief; we are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating.|
- 1 Introduction
- 2 This Day in Skepticism (1:46)
- 3 Best and Worst of 2012 (6:04)
- 4 In Memoriam (55:26)
- 5 Who's That Noisy? (57:53)
- 6 Science or Fiction (1:00:03)
- 7 Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:16:48)
- 8 Announcements (1:17:37)
- 9 References
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 December 19, 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: Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind. How's everyone?
S: Good. This is our 2012 year-end review wrap-up episode where we take a moment to look back at the year in skepticism and the SGU. Did you guys all have a good year?
R: It was all right.
B: Yeah, it was good.
E: It had some ups, you know, more ups than downs, I suppose.
J: Yeah. Significant ups and downs.
S: Jay, you just finished moving into your new house.
J: I did.
E: That's an up.
J: I did and my body is killing me; my god.
E: That's a down.
J: Yeah, we had half of our stuff already packed from our—a year and a half ago, that we couldn't even open 'cause we didn't have the space and we were saving money. We're opening up our wedding presents for the first time right now.
R: It's like second Christmas!
J: Yeah, it is. It's pretty cool. Like, there are things that I own that I had completely forgotten about.
S: I just like throwing out tons of stuff.
S: It's amazing how quickly you accumulate junk in life, you know?
E: Especially with kids.
E: Kids help.
R: You can't throw out kids. (laughter) That's illegal, Evan.
B: One thing I learned, though. Nothing like a divorce, though, to cut down on how much junk you have.
S: Is that right?
B: I've got squat now. (laughter)
R: Ups and downs. Ups and downs.
This Day in Skepticism (1:46)
- December 29, 1790: Thomas Fuller dies.
S: Well, Rebecca, you're gonna tell us about this day in skepticism.
R: Yes. On this day, which is December 29, in 1790, an obituary was posted for Thomas Fuller. Have any of you ever heard of Thomas Fuller before?
S: You mean Negro Tom?
R: Negro Tom, as he was known in his... yeah, in the obituary. Yeah, I had never heard of him before. He sounds really amazing. So, he was a slave who was brought to America when he was only fourteen. And he was born in Africa somewhere between Liberia and Benin. And late in his life it became well known that he was a—this mathematical genius. Apparently he was really good at doing complex mathematics in his head. He apparently couldn't read or write in English, but had self-taught him—self-taught himself? No, that's not right.
S: It's redundant and unnecessary.
R: But, he had—
B: He was self-taught in—
R: He had taught himself a great number of arithmetical operations, riddles and mathematical games and things like that. For instance, some guys came to visit him to test what he could do, and they asked him a few questions to determine whether or not he was in fact a mathematical genius. First they asked him how many seconds there were in a year and a half, which he apparently took about two minutes to answer: 47,304,000. And then they asked how many seconds a man has lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old. And in a minute and a half he came up with the figure 2,210,500,800. And one of the guys who was testing him said, no that's wrong. The actual answer is much smaller. And Fuller replied "Stop, master; you forgot the leap year."
R: When that was added in, then the sums matched.
R: So, yeah, he was a genius and he was often used by abolitionists who were pointing out the fact that slaves were just as intellectually—could be just as intellectually rigorous as white men. And, yeah, so he was an amazing guy. And in his obituary it concluded "Had his opportunity been equal to those of thousands of his fellow men, even a Newton himself need have ashamed to acknowledge him a brother in science." Thomas Fuller.
S: Yeah, very interesting. I also read that it's probable that he learned his mathematical skills while in Africa. He didn't acquire them after being brought to Virginia.
R: Yeah, I mean, he didn't really have much opportunity to acquire them in Virginia.
E: So that means his brain operated in such a way with a strong disposition towards mathematical calculations.
S: Oh, sure, yeah. I mean, almost certainly he was a mathematical prodigy, and there are those people around today.
R: Don't mistake him for necessarily being a sort of idiot savant type, because it doesn't appear that that's the way he was. He seemed to be just a normal guy. Just with an incredible brain for mathematics.
E: Goes to show you don't need the environment. It's the brain that's really the key here.
S: Well, I think math is one of those things that is very hardwired. You know, your ability for math. But that's funny; you bring up the idiot savant thing 'cause a lot of the pro-slavery people at the time dismissed his evidence of intellectual equality among Africans by calling him—dismissing him, as an idiot savant.
S: They could just dismiss the evidence away. It's like "Oh, he's not really intellectually equal to the white man; that's just a trick. It's like a trained monkey. It's just an idiot savant.
R: Yeah. No surprise that they were coming up with any excuse they could.
S: Yeah, right. There was—but you know the Africans were trading with Europeans and the African merchants and traders were able to calculate sums in their head and do the trade. They had mathematics. It existed, so it's not as if he wouldn't have had access to anything like that in Africa. Very interesting.
Best and Worst of 2012 (6:04)
- The Rogues review the last year of the SGU, science, and skepticism
Best Science News Story (6:05)
S: Well, for our year-in-review episode we look back over the best and worst and most interesting and some highlights from the previous year, from 2012. We're gonna start with the most interesting science news items of 2012. We've been collecting votes from some of our listeners, but we also have some of our own. So what do you—do you guys wanna start, or who wants to go first with their pick for the best science news story of 2012?
J: My favorite is the rover landing.
E: Yes, that's what I chose, too.
S: Yup. The Curiosity landing; that's in everyone's list in the top five; a lot of people voted for that. I agree. That was a huge news story. It was a technical—
B: Tour de force.
S: Tour de force. Absolutely. NASA really deserves kudos for that. And it's doing good science.
E: It is. The event itself, watching it unfold live, or as live as it could be, what with the signal delay and so forth. There was a real suspense and it sort of did entice a lot of people. Even people who don't really know or have much of an interest in science. They were glued to their televisions and to their computer monitors to kind of see exactly what was going to happen. What it was gonna reveal. Very, very riveting moment.
B: And the cost of failure just had me on the edge of my seat. 'Cause I was just thinking, "oh, man, this thing is just gonna make a Curiosity crater" like I said. I was very nervous, because imagine one little metric error and bam! It's hundreds of millions of dollars shot. People's careers, literally their careers just cut short because, I'm sure, they had planned on spending so much time gathering and analyzing all this information that's streaming to us now. It was amazing.
R: I think one of the big wins here was the proof that people will still be interested in this stuff even when humans aren't on board. With recent cutbacks, and there's been a huge question on will we ever bother putting people in space, sending them to the moon again, things like that. And a lot of the arguments are, well, we do that to inspire humans. But I found the Mars rover landing to be really inspiring and I think a lot of other people did, too.
J: That was one of the elements to it, that it actually sparked my interest again. The space shuttle going away was very depressing. And I know that the space station's up there, but I hate to admit, it's gotten a little mundane. As ridiculous as that sounds. One other comment I wanted to make was the fact that the landing sequence was so complicated and every step had to work perfectly: the way that they slowed it down, the platform, the arm lowering it down, everything. All of those things somebody dreamed up and we pulled it off and we had never done it before. It was the first time we had done anything like that.
S: But speaking of that, Jay, something else that's on the top of a lot of people's lists was the SpaceX launch. The Dragon capsule. This may mark the real beginning of commercial space flight.
R: True that.
J: Yeah, I mean it is the beginning of commercial space flight, and the fact is it's feasible for companies now to not only afford to do it, but they can, from a technological standpoint they can do it. But now what we have is the beginning of probably a huge growth. Imagine if there were twenty or thirty companies launching and doing different things in outer space.
J: We're gonna have a lot of ships entering low-earth orbit and it's gonna be a daily occurrence. It's gonna be something that we're gonna not even care about anymore, like planes taking off.
S: Yeah, eventually. But I do think that this—we could be entering into a new era of real cooperation between governments and private industry, a new phase of that. Obviously we've always had that to some extent; you know, NASA would contract with companies to make rocket boosters or components of their ships. But now we have a company really taking a much bigger role, designing, building, their own ship and NASA, a big government agency, can farm out, or contract out, actually delivering things into space, delivering goods to the space station now. Perhaps eventually delivering people, back and forth from the space station. So it's shifting that balance a little bit from government to more cooperative between government and private industry. I think that's a good thing, 'cause you can kind of get the best of both worlds then. There are certain things that governments do better because of their size, and there are other things that companies can do better because they are going to be more competitive and more efficient.
B: Yeah, less bureaucracy, red tape and—
B: —more adaptable. But I think you guys missed—you've all missed the boat.
S: Well, I haven't given mine yet, but go ahead. I know what you're gonna say, Bob.
B: All right. Yeah, Curiosity landing and SpaceX, yeah; they're on my top five. But number one, I think it's a no-brainer, sorry. But it's gotta be, it's gotta be Higgs.
S: Yeah, the Higgs.
R: Definitely. That was mine, too.
B: I'm glad that Physics World has been apparently listening to me, because their award, recently, for the 2012 Breakthrough of the Year went to the discovery of Higgs, and went to specifically the CERN ATLAS and CMS teams that were, of course, in charge of the whole thing. Just an amazing—if you just counted the shear number of words that went into this news item, I mean, throughout the year we kept getting hit with it, throughout the year. It wasn't just like in July or September we talked it. It was like an all-year event.
S: It was.
R: And it's still happening.
E: Multi-year, Bob! Come on, it was—
B: Well, yeah, but, this is the year that we knew something big was gonna happen. But—and you're right, Rebecca, to cap it all off, just recently they announced that CERN is now 99.999999999 percent sure that what they found was a Higgs-like boson that the standard theory predicts. And that means that they're approaching seven sigma certainty, which is well above five sigma, which is the gold standard. So it's pretty much a done deal. I mean this is pretty much the Higgs. And it's funny, they still won't really say it, and they're predicting they won't until maybe 2015, really officially say, yes, it's the Higgs boson.
R: And also I saw a recent news item on this that they might have found two different particles, because there's one with a mass of—
R: Yeah, here we go. "There seems to be a Higgs boson with a mass of 123.5 GeV, gigaelectron volts, and another Higgs boson at 126.6 GeV, a statistically significant difference of nearly three GeV."
B: Whoa. I gotta look that one up; I didn't hear that.
R: And so they're trying to figure out if it was a mistake in the data analysis or if there are, in fact, two different particles. The cool thing about this is that this is going to be shaping science for years to come. They're gonna continue getting stuff out of this. They're gonna continue making new discoveries and refining this discovery. So yeah, I agree with Bob. It's either this or dinosaur farts. (laughter) One of the other is the greatest—
B: I knew that was going to happen.
E: They're very close. So what do you think; these researchers will win the Nobel Prize in about 30 or 40 years? Assuming they're still alive.
S: Oh, it won't take that long. Ten, fifteen years. Maybe.
S: Wait until the dust settles. So you guys are all between the Higgs and the Curiosity? Is that what I'm hearing?
R: And dinosaur farts.
S: And dinosaur farts.
B: What've you got, Steve?
S: So before I give you mine I'll give you—so our listeners voted for those: Higgs, Curiosity was the top of everybody's list. SpaceX honorable mention. Some mentioned the Venus transit. Very cool. I agree. That was a lot of fun.
B: That was awesome.
S: Venus transiting the sun. It was amazing. I did what you were supposed—one of the mechanisms for viewing it. It was very simple, just binoculars and a white piece of paper, a white board, and you could see it! You could see the spot of Venus moving across the surface of the sun. It was cool.
R: Yeah, and I think I mentioned when we talked about this before, but it was really awesome to go—I went to the local science museum because I heard that they were setting up telescopes and they had glasses and stuff. And I found, like they had already given away all of the glasses they could and were asking people to recycle them and the place was just flooded with kids and families who were excited to see it. And it was really awesome seeing, kids particularly, but also whole families turning out to get excited about this, and learn something.
S: Yeah, science, astronomy excitement kind of event. Very cool.
S: So, I chose something that I knew wouldn't just be redundant to everybody else's choice. One of the biggest, I think, stealth science news items, and it was really multiple studies, multiple events, not one thing, this year, was the development of the brain-machine interface. And I really think that in 2012 it's all incremental advances, you know. But I do think it was, maybe we're sort of turning a corner in 2012. And this was capped off by a very recent news item. Researchers have developed, taken another advance in implanting electrodes. What they did was they implanted two strips of 96 electrodes each on the motor cortex of a woman who was a tetraplegic, she's paralyzed below the neck, so can't move her arms and legs. And attached it to a sophisticated robot arm that has seven degrees of freedom. Meaning that there's seven different that you can manipulate it. You close and open the grip, you can bend in three dimensions and be positioned in three different dimensions, that's seven different ways it could be moved.
R: She was feeding herself chocolate. It was awesome!
S: Absolutely. It took, on the second day she was able to move the arm, and then she rapidly gained greater and greater control and coordination with the arm. It was a 13-week study. And by the end of the study she was using it with, they said, the researchers said, with more facility than any other previous study, and not quite, but getting to the level of a normal arm.
B: Oh, come on.
J: And then they took it away from her!
S: Well, it was in the lab.
E: It's science, man. That's science.
S: Yeah, I mean, this is it. We're developing a brain-machine interface where we're gonna hook up paralyzed people to robot arms, and virtual arms, whatever, you know, controlling computers, controlling robotics. It works. The technology works. They could learn to just think and move that arm. And all of the basic groundwork is laid for taking it to the next step of the brain-machine-brain interface, where the device also provides sensory feedback. So they've done this in a monkey where they—so some of this research is in monkeys, some is in humans—one of the monkey studies, they had electrodes on the somatosensory cortex, and they had the monkey controlling a virtual arm. And the monkey learned how to distinguish different virtual objects by different sensory feedback. Meaning that the virtual objects had a different texture. They felt different to the monkey. And that was the only way to sort of tell the difference. There's other research that shows that with brain plasticity and by manipulating the sensory feedback, we could make people feel as if they are occupying a virtual, or artificial, limb. Or entire body. One simple experiment is if you have someone sit next to a table where their real arm is underneath the table—
B: Great experiment.
S: —and maybe cover it with a blanket or something so they can't see it, and then you have an artificial arm coming off their shoulder and laying on top of the table, so they're seeing an artificial arm, you know, on top of where their real arm is, and then you scratch the artificial arm, so they could see that happening, while somebody under the table scratches their real arm in the same place. So the brain sees and feels the fake arm being touched. And then suddenly—for many people, that is enough to make them feel as if that is their arm. That the fake arm is their arm.
R: That's not really a recent thing.
S: No, that bit is not recent. But this is—I'm just saying, the groundwork has been laid, you know, over the last decade, to show that it's theoretically possible, by having motor and sensory electrodes on the brain, to have someone not only control a robotic arm, but feel the arm, feel as if they own it and control it, and that they occupy it. And that it could actually even feel natural for them. Now we don't know what the limits of that are. Especially in an adult. We don't know what the limits of plasticity and training and everything will be. But it seems like it could be pretty close to real. You know, like real bionic limb kind of thing. You know, where it feels like it's your own arm.
B: What incredible promise. But Steve, for me though, I keep thinking that the big leap, though, that's gonna be required—I mean, they actually still had to scratch his real arm. I mean that was, to me that's kind of like the weak link in that, because the guy still has an arm that can be scratched. If they could have replicated the feeling of a scratch in somebody who didn't have the arm—
S: Well, Bob, but that was the monkey experiment I told you about, where the monkey was able to tell the quote-unquote "texture" of virtual objects by sensory feedback directly to the somatosensory cortex. So these pieces have not been put together yet but they're all there.
R: And this research has been used to help people who have lost limbs cope with ghost pain, ghost-limb pain, so, yeah, it's all there.
S: Yeah. There's a number of different labs. There's Duke, Brown and Pittsburgh are the three in the U.S. that I've been seeing studies coming out of. So that's good, that there's different centers working on it. And every year, every six months or so, I see another study where they are doing a little bit better. More electrodes, greater control, more functionality, some other piece of the puzzle gets put into place. I just don't see any theoretical barriers anymore to having a robot arm that you feel you own and control, you know, the whole sensation.
J: So how long do you think it'll be, Steve, until we have something that's really close?
R: Five years.
S: Well, I think...we have something now that could actually be useful for people who are paralyzed. Imagine having a robotic arm attached to your wheelchair with electrodes going onto your motor cortex, and you're otherwise completely paralyzed below the neck, but now you can manipulate your environment. You can feed yourself and whatever, you can do stuff. Which is better than not being able to do anything.
B: What is the person going through in order to manipulate it? I mean, what are they actually, do they have to manipulate their alpha waves or think something specific? I mean, is it—will it get to the point, or is there any hint that it could soon get to the point where it's just completely unconscious? Well I guess that shouldn't be a problem, but I'm just wondering, what will it be like in terms of a real arm and this fake arm?
E: You want it to be seamless, Bob, right?
S: No, this is with pure thought. And that's been shown, too. You do not have to physically move something. That study's been done, too, Bob. You don't have to physically move something. It's—you can disconnect the physical movement from the thoughts that are necessary to control the robotic arm.
B: Yeah. I realize that, but my point is what are you thinking?
S: What's the experience like? I don't know. I'd love to talk to these people and find out exactly what they say. But because it's on the motor strip, right? That's what it's reading. It's reading their intent to move something, to move that arm. And the computer is interpreting that and translating that into the movement, and so then they—with the feedback of seeing how the robot arm moves, they learn to control it. And their brain begins to map to it. That's the key, is that the plasticity kicks in to the point where the brain starts to map to the movement, and eventually they just have to think of the movement they want to do. Just like you do, with your own arm. And once you add the sensory feedback, I think it's really gonna take it to another level.
B: Yeah. Well, now, extrapolate that a little bit. Imagine if you could, if the brain is plastic enough, imagine if you could manipulate two fake arms, but imagine if there was like 50 fingers on each arm. On each hand. Imagine if you can do that type of thing and then go beyond, and manipulate things beyond what a normal, a regular person would be able to do.
E: How could you sense 50 fingers, though?
B: Well, how do you sense ten? You can sense ten, I mean, you can manipulate—
E: 'Cause we were born that way, Bob.
S: So that's a really good question, Evan. And I had that question, too. Could you have six arms? And could you—
B: Why not?
E: Doc Octopus.
S: But that was the question, Bob, is the brain plasticity sufficient that it could map to limbs that don't normally exist? To supernumerary limbs. And the answer to that is: yes it can.
S: To things you never had. So that, there's no theoretical reason—
R: I'm gonna get a penis.
S: Oh, you always wanted one, didn't you, Rebecca?
E: Rebecca: ten penises!
S: There's no theoretical limit why your brain couldn't eventually, through plasticity, learn to map to own, to control limbs that you were never born with. Isn't that cool?
J: So it's just what you get yourself used to. At that point.
B: Yeah, oh yeah.
S: Right. And imagine if you do this to kids, where they have even greater plasticity. Then I think the limits are even less in terms of what—
J: Steve, with that thinking, you could have a tentacle!
S: Yeah, you could have tentacles. Sure.
R: Tentacle penis.
R: The Japanese are gonna love me!
S: That's the... The Centaurans on Babylon 5 had prehensile penises.
J: All right. All right. Come on, let's keep going. We've got a lot of ground to cover.
Best SGU Episode of the Year (24:20)
S: All right, I know, you're right. That was a good one. All right, so let's move away from the science news items to some other "best of." We asked our listeners to tell us what they thought was the best episode of the year. Let me just tell you the two that got the most votes, and then we can tell our personal choices. Far and away, I think, our most popular episode this year was the Prometheus review. The Prometheus movie review  where we tore apart the awful science, not to mention the awful writing, in the movie Prometheus.
R: Hey, I finally watched that! I watched it on the airplane.
S: So what'd you think?
R: I thought it was great!
R: I loved it.
B: You're off the show.
E: It's like looking into the future.
R: No, you know what I genuinely did like though, was the abortion scene. I thought that was awesome. Like she ripped that thing out of her. That was great. The rest of it was terrible.
B: At some levels that was very cool, yeah.
R: And the funniest part by far was the woman running away from the thing that was falling down and she couldn't run sideways for some reason. She had to run straight back.
J: Didn't it occur to anybody on the crew that wait, I saw this in Bugs Bunny twenty, thirty years ago?
E: It would have been, what, a couple hundred years ago at that point, so.
B: The bunny's still gonna be around, my friend.
E: That's true.
J: I think the reason why people enjoyed that segment a lot—there was like a lot of things criss-crossed. A lot of awesome variables aligned. One is—
S: It was the perfect storm.
J: Yeah, it was a highly anticipated movie. It was horrible science. So the disappointment factor alone fueled our anger and you know, we all got riled up about this a lot. Like I'm still pissed off about it!
S: It was fun; it's fun to take down movies like that. And it was; the disconnect between the possibility, the hope, and the reality, it was just terrible.
B: We gotta do it again. It's rare to have such a perfect storm for a review like that. But we gotta definitely keep an eye out for that in the future and do another segment.
S: We had a lot of fun with it, too. And we talked about we should do more science movie reviews like that. So we certainly have an eye out for new movies coming out that sort of fit that profile. But if our listeners have any suggestions for even existing movies that they would like to hear us take down—
S: —send us your suggestions. We had fun with it. We'd love to do it.
E: We can do it.
J: And George.
S: —and George, and even Derek made a brief cameo as well. So it was, I think, the combination of those guests was really fun. And we all had a good—it was live, you know; we were all in the same room; we all had a good time. I think people felt the energy of that show.
R: Until I went insane. The show went it went on forever. It was so late. I was so tired.
E: No, it was good. Those shows have an energy about them that none of our other shows that we've done have.
R: Yeah, live shows are the best.
E: It is unique. It's just different.
B: And Jay, talk about no filter. Especially like, the first ten minutes; you were going crazy, Jay, you were really giving everyone their money's worth. It was very funny to sit right next to you and hear you going off totally like that. Like we never do on a live show.
J: Well, me and Brian were going nuts on each other. Remember like the whole "team dumb, team smart"
B: (laughing) Yeah.
J: Yeah. I had a lot of fun. I love doing those private shows. They're definitely some of the best times I think we have, too. A lot of this stuff, it's like hurry, hurry, hurry, get there; it's a lot of work for us. And the only real fun times for us are when we are doing the show, even if we're on a bigger stage. But the small recordings are great because the people are sitting three feet from us; like they're doing it with us.
S: Yeah. They're not an audience. It's more intimate and they add to the energy of those shows.
E: And the immediate feedback, we definitely feed off of that.
S: Yeah, absolutely. One of our listeners said that their vote for the best episode was "any live show." They just like the live shows.
S: But you know, sometimes though, some people give us negative feedback. They don't like the added humor and silliness of the live shows. They like more content. More like the hard science content. So they—it's not everyone's cup of tea. But—
R: Yeah, so don't worry. We're not gonna go to 100% live shows.
S: It's a few times a year; it's a good change of pace.
E: That skeptical twelve-step program was really clever.
S; Thank you.
E: You and George worked that out, I think?
E: Really good. Really good job there.
S: That was fun.
R: I think my favorite show, along these same lines, I think my favorite one to do was the live one at NECSS. The behind-the-scenes one with Randi and Seth Shostak. We were all crammed into that hotel room with thirty of our best friends.
E: All gathered 'round on the floor, sittin' around.
B: Yeah, Rebecca, that's on my list, and just, for two main reasons. One was like sitting, relaxed, I was sitting right next to Randi. Just like hanging out on a couch, talking with everybody. And the other big thing for me was just to hear Seth Shostak say at some point, "I agree with Bob." That just made my entire day!
J: You know what I noticed: the more intelligent the guest, the more they don't like me.
E: That's an illusion, Jay.
R; I think you might be reading into that a little bit.
J: I don't know.
E: They don't like you anyways.
J: My favorite show, sadly, Rebecca wasn't there. The Richard Wiseman live recording was my favorite, maybe of all time.
R: That's certainly been the most divisive, from listener feedback. People either loved that show or hated it. And I think it depends on whether they are okay with the silliness.
E: It got silly. Oh, gosh.
J: Richard is—
E: He's impossible to stop! He's like a juggernaut.
J: He is just incredibly intelligent, but then he can turn on the insanity. That level of funny. And he does it in absolutely awesome dry British delivery.
E: Well, he won the line of the year, I think.
J: Well, I have recordings, if you guys would like to hear some of his better lines.
S: Yeah, go ahead.
RW: I was nearly sued by a gorilla.
S: All right, well, the first news item we're gonna talk about is—
RW: I've got a dead dog in my garden. (laughter) I've got a dead dog in my garden. I moved into this house... (laughter)
S: That was funny. It was the timing of it was perfect, too.
E: The timing was brilliant.
S: And just that British deadpan (In a British accent) "I've got a dead dog in my garden."
J: (laughs) I know, like where does he come up with this stuff? The thing is, he throws out these one-liners, but then he's got these epic stories to back them up.
S: Well, yeah.
J: About the gorilla, like he actually almost got sued by the people who handle Koko the gorilla.
S: Right. (laughs) And he was excited because he just wanted to be able to say he was sued by a gorilla. I absolutely see that.
J: Then he said, "if I lose, of course I'm gonna have to pay him with bananas, right?"
B: You know that when he got that very first notification that he was being sued, the first thing he thought: "This is fantastic. I can now say in all seriousness that I almost got sued by a gorilla." You know he was just totally thinking that. What a line!
J: Do you guys have any other favorite shows?
B: The CSICON live show was a lot of fun, really for one reason. We talked so much about zombies it was awesome.
R: Oh, yeah.
B: Remember we showed everyone—a lot of people as they would look as a zombie and then we talked about who we'd want to partner with during the zombie apocalypse. That was just a high point for me.
J: Yeah, what weapon you'd want and all that.
R: Apparently poor Genie Scott got cornered all weekend from people talking...
B: Thanks to you.
R: Yeah. So. Sorry about that, Genie. She's still my pick, though!
S: She was your pick for your partner in a zombie apocalypse?
R: Yeah, Genie motherf'ing Scott, man. 'Cause she's a cold-blooded killer when it comes down to it.
E: So that's what her middle name is.
E: Okay. Now I know.
Best Guest or Interview (32:36)
S: And what about, then, best guest or interviewee? We already talked about Richard Wiseman, and he did get a lot of votes.
R: Billy West also got a lot of...
J: Oh, yeah.
B: That was number one. That was number one for me. I have a big regret for that. Because of the scene, we sat down and we were waiting for our turn and there was typically one person interviewing him at a time, and they were very tight on time and you could just tell he doesn't suffer fools lightly. I mean, you just can't just wing an interview with him. You've gotta be thoughtful and ask good questions and be interesting. And then we were gonna go on, and Steve and Jay and Evan; we were all gonna interview him. And I bowed because I figured all right, I don't wanna inundate this guy, and upset him with all these guys throwing questions at him. So I sat on the sidelines and watched. And it was the most, it was the best interview, one of the best interviews of the year. I was like a giddy little girl. It was so silly. I was just giggling, it was so awesome. He was just such a fantastic interview. With his voices, and his history, and I just loved it. One of my favorite interviews.
E: My sense was that he enjoyed doing that interview, because it wasn't the typical canned expected interview. He gets asked the same questions over and over and over and over again.
S: No, he liked us.
B: No, he loved us, I could tell.
E: He took to us.
J: You don't have to ask a guy like him to do voices. I mean, he mixes them in. I felt really comfortable talking to him, which was great. He wanted to have a good time, and that's all I need. If somebody wants to enjoy themselves, I can get into it. But the thing that I loved the most about talking to him was I wanted to pick apart his psychology a little bit. The one thing I brought up, which I was really dying to ask him, was "what do you do to entertain yourself, like in the car or whatever"; that whole cool, that moment came out where he revealed that he does entertain himself and do voices in the car. I think a lot of people, like I know George does that, I do that; that's just a way for someone to blow off steam. But when you have some talent behind it—imagine being a fly on the wall in his car.
E: Oh, yeah.
R: Cars don't have walls.
S: A couple of people got chosen because they were outside the box. So, Jan Bellamy, who is a lawyer that we interviewed earlier in the year. She got a few votes because we don't talk about legal issues with actual legal experts that often. So, they appreciated that it was something different.
E: Yeah. Along that line, I thought maybe, beyond Billy West, the interview we did with the fellow who knows a lot about fracking, Gordon, Gordon Maupin.
B: Right. That was interesting, yeah.
E: That was a very informative interview that we conducted.
R: Yeah. I enjoyed that, too.
E: He dispelled some myths and kind of put to rest some things that we might have otherwise had to be concerned about. Very very informative, and also a little bit outside the box, in a certain sense. I enjoyed it very much.
S: Yeah, I agree. I like those interviews where we go outside of the usual skeptical repertoire that we have, and pick on somebody who just has a narrow area of expertise just to talk to us about what they know. I love those kind of interviews, yeah. Joshie Berger got a lot of votes.
B: Of course he did.
S: He's always a hilarious—
R: Perennial favorite.
S: Yup. A lot of energy. He was just on the show a couple weeks ago. We did the "Jewie or Fiction" with Jay, Evan and I.
J: That was a lot of fun.
S: It was a lot of fun. It's funny; we got a few emails about that. And they start by saying "I wanna talk to you about the Joshie Berger bit about Orthodox Jews." And you don't know where— like, there was no indication for like the first paragraph where the emailer was going—
E: Yeah, positive or negative.
S: I'm just waiting, waiting for it to drop. Are they gonna slam us for criticizing a, whatever, a culture or people or whatever. And then they went into the fact that they loved it. And they were like Orthodox Jews, or ex-Orthodox Jews, or—
S: —still in, but skeptical and doubting the supernatural beliefs in their heritage. And they just loved going at it. And they all agreed that Joshie knows his stuff, when it comes to that.
J: You know, Joshie's very intelligent. I'm friends with Joshie and he has a huge bravado, and that's him, and that's exactly who he is and he doesn't hide an inch of himself. But, you know, he used to be a lawyer, guys. Joshie's educated; he's much much more intelligent than he wears on the outside. And you can see it when he does bits like that. He puts himself together very well and he puts his information together very well.
E: Um hm. Speaks three languages, yup.
S: Another interview that got some votes is Bruce Hood. So this is, I agree, I always love interviewing Bruce. It's right in our sweet spot. He's a psychologist whose research interest and his books are about the kind of things that skeptics need to know about. You know, the way our psychology works and how that influences us and biases us. So that's exactly the kind of content—I think I put him up there with Richard Wiseman and other psychologists who are... that's part of the core curriculum of skepticism in my opinion. So I always love doing those interviews.
Funniest Moments (37:58)
S: All right. What do you guys think—funniest moments. We already mentioned "I have a dead dog in my garden," which definitely got a lot of votes. You guys have any other funniest moments from the show?
R: Jay's Thanksgiving Science or Fiction... still makes me giggle.
B: Yeah, his savant episode.
E: Oh, yeah.
J: Yeah, that was awesome. I took an audio clip if you want to hear it, guys.
S: Do you know which president made it an official national holiday?
J: Well, now Steve, is this what it feels like to be you?
J: Abraham Lincoln.
S: Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln, yup.
B: Holy shit.
J: Oh my god! I know a lot about Thanksgiving! (laughter) How did I know that?
E: Skeptics' Guide to Thanksgiving.
S: When and which president solidified the date as the fourth Thursday in November? I'll be impressed if you get this one.
R: Come on, Jay, you can do this.
E: Come on, Jay.
J: Was it FDR?
J: Oh my god! Oh my god! (laughter) I'm serious.
S: It was FDR.
R: Jay's the best at fifth-grade social studies. (laughter)
E: Every day is Thanksgiving.
S: That was funny.
B: That was one of my favorite lines he just said there, too.
R: Jay comes into his own.
J: It felt so good. You know, I think about all the time—I would love to be more intelligent, of course. I'm sure most people think about that. I felt so powerful that night!
E: You were unstoppable.
S: But then you regressed to the mean and the moment was gone.
R: He's been ten percent dumber every day since.
J: I have another favorite moment, favorite little bit that we did. This one revolves around Bob:
B: If you look up in the sky, well you're not gonna see any of these 'cause they're just too dim, but if you could see them— (laughter) —there's lots; there's 70—
S: If you looked up in the sky, the most common star you won't see... (laughter)
S: That was funny.
J: That was awesome.
B Yes, it was.
S: All right, Jay, I have... a similar moment sticks out for me, was on another live show, when you said, in all earnestness, "I'm not trying to be pendantic."
E: —the whole "pendantic"—
S: —one of our favorite memes of the year.
R: The funniest thing of the pendantic thing is when I used it like a week later and then got an email from somebody saying "I think Rebecca means 'pedantic.'"
R: Now I look like the dumb one.
J: Yeah, it's catching.
S: That was the plan, Rebecca. Yeah, somebody was being pedantic about the word "pedantic". But just missed the joke; missed the inside joke. Which we do; we throw out a lot of inside jokes.
E: How could you miss that inside joke? Yeah, it happens.
S: Yeah, but I—people have used that to me since. You know, "pendantic." It's definitely become a meme.
R: I've also heard that a lot.
J: I mispronounce a lot of things, if you haven't noticed.
R: That should be the next supercut, is Jay mispronouncing—all the things Jay mispronounces, including the ones that don't make it to air. That would be hilarious.
S: Jay, one of our listeners sent in a mash-up. These are all quotes from Evan. This is Jason Ferber, who I believe did the mash-up of you from last year.
J: I think he did one of you, Steve, as well, didn't he?
S: Did he? Yeah, I think you're right.
E: So it's my turn to be mashed; I love it.
J; Okay, get ready, Ev.
E (using various appropriate accents): Claire Danes... a blizzard... it would not be difficult, mein führer... If you break a leg, break your other leg... Bully!... flügen is German for fly... you want like dere website to kinda have an accident?... You know who else had a little Tattoo?... They're gettin' it on... so a coordinated disinformation campaign is under way... looks like the scientist said "Look at da bones!"... What are you sinking about?... and therefore, dinosaurs... G-spot... Gimli... a Bigfoot in Texas... There's a new miniature horse species they found called My Little Ponius... alien ship... lotta holes in that report... big sugar... I like that... Get away from me, kid, ya bother me... Griffindor!... Buenos noches, mein führer... wellie, wellie, well, well,... what'd you say? You nicked your testicles?... I be a hot dog... Irishman... I don't know... Jack Sparrow... four-assed monkey... it killed the cat... well, I guess a vampire has to have grain, too...
B: Oh, my god.
J: When did you say "you nicked your testicles"? When was that?
B: What the hell?
R: I don't remember that, either.
E: No, I don't, but I'm kinda happy I said it. 'Cause it's real funny, after the fact.
S: You are the one-liner, Evan.
J: The whole "mein führer" bit. I love that stuff.
E: Keep it going. That's what you're saying?
Most Outrageous Statement or Claim (42:37)
S: Okay. Got a few more categories to get through. Most outrageous illogical statement or pseudoscientific claim of the year.
R: I got one.
E: Go for it.
R: I'm goin' with Akin.
E: Oh, yeah, well.
R: Akin... legitimate rape. Shuttin' that whole thing down.
B: Oh, yeah, that's terrible.
S: That was pretty bad.
R: Not only was it scientifically idiotic, but it got mainstream news going, and it had serious political ramifications, I think.
E: Yup. He lost.
R: He was, yeah. He had been a lock to win his seat, and he lost it. A lot of people think that that was why. So. Good!
S: Not to pick on politics, but my pick was something along similar lines. Do you guys remember what this—who said this? "We oppose the teaching of higher-order thinking skills, critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of outcome-based education, which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the students' fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."
B: Oh, man, I remember that too.
R: Who was that?
S: That was the Texas GOP platform!
R: Ahh. You made us think it was a "who."
E: They retracted it, or they changed it.
S: They tried to wiggle out of it, but they posed "higher-order thinking skills and critical thinking because you don't want to challenge students' fixed beliefs or parental authority."
B: Why did you have to remind me of that? Now I'm pissed off all over again. Oh my god.
J: Why are you alive at that point?
S: That was bad.
B: That's not even one jerk saying that; that's a consensus of opinion of a group of people. Oh my god. Imagine the outliers in that group? What would they have said? (laughter)
S: If that was the middle-of-the-road for the group, yeah, what—
J: They're like, "You're not going far enough. You need a lobotomy!"
R: Well, hello. Westboro Baptist Church guy who was running for a seat.
B: Oh, my god, yes.
E: Anything they say...
R: So, that's your outlier, right there.
B: Yeah, that's true.
R: And yeah, I don't think it's unfair to pick on political stuff in this because... it was an election year here in the U.S., first of all, but also, anytime—you know these are the things that have actual influences on our day-to-day lives and can seriously hurt science and scientific progress and education.
S: Absolutely. I do have a—that was the worst statement; I do have a pick for the pseudo-scientific claim. And that was the Ghost Box. Do you guys remember the Ghost Box?
S: The pareidolia generator? It bounces around different radio frequencies to produce random snippets of noise from different radio stations and you would listen until you hear a phrase, and that's a ghost. That's how you communicate with ghosts.
S: It was a pareidolia generator. Totally ridiculous.
E: Good point, Steve. I'd forgotten about that.
S: That's the point of this show: to remember crazy stuff from the previous year. But there was so many crazy stuff said throughout the year, I don't know how we could pick anything.
E: We talked about the two professional mediums who failed their test to demonstrate their psychic powers under laboratory conditions. A test performed by the Merseyside Skeptics not long ago. And Simon Singh was also part of that testing process, and one of the psychics had this to say:
Skeptics need to realize you cannot see, hear, feel everything as solid matter with the human eye, ear, and body. Psychics and mediums use a whole other part of the brain which is underdeveloped in the average man.
S: Yeah, standard New Age B.S.
J: And what might that be? Keep going. You know, like, okay, you stick your foot in your mouth, now put it in even further.
S: Wiggle your toes now.
E: Psychics and underdeveloped part of the brain. What more can these people say when it comes to this stuff? That stood out to me so I put that on my list.
J: Evan, in a way it kind of sounds like she's saying that "and therefore you're a lesser being."
E: Yes, I think you're right, Jay. I think that is their interpretation, or at least some people's interpretation of that, is that we are not whole, whereas they are.
Jackass of the Year (46:52)
R: The Italian court system. I noticed somebody nominated them as Jackass of the Year in a thread somewhere.
E: Yeah, they make that list, sure.
R: And I agree.
S: So let's move on to Jackass of the Year. Oh, wait. Rebecca already did. (laughter) Yeah, Jackass of the Year. You're reading ahead, Rebecca. So I agree—
R: Oh, wait. I thought that's what we were talking about.
S: No! We're talking about the worst claim or statement. But Jackass of the Year is next.
S: Yeah, so I agree. So they're on the short list and they got a lot of votes; the Italian judicial system that ruled against the scientists for not predicting the earthquake, or for misrepresenting the probability that there would be a major earthquake. That was—they collectively, whoever was involved with that, definitely are on the short list for Jackass of the Year. Not my vote, but I agree they're on the short list. Anybody have any other votes? Evan, you said you had someone?
E: Yeah. We can't forget our dear friend who paid us a visit earlier in the year. And Rebecca, you gave at least one report about her. Our friend, lady apostle, Helen Ukpabio.
R: Um hm.
S: Um hm.
R: She's awful.
S: The witch-hunter. Yeah, she is awful.
E: The witch-hunter. She is dangerous. Dangerous. And she had come to America, to Houston, back in January, early in 2012. And... this woman is just outrageous. Can't stand her. She got my jackass of the year.
S: My pick, which is the correct answer, by the way, is Stanislaw Burzynski.
E: Ooooo. Cancer man.
R: Pretty awful.
S: Yeah, he's, this guy's been selling his antineoplaston therapy for decades. I mean, bilking cancer patients. The two things that he did this year—I mean, he could win any year, but the two reasons why I would put him as number one on my list this year: one, is he sent his goons to intimidate skeptical bloggers who were criticizing him. You guys remember that?
S: And two, he slithered away from the Texas Board of Health, who was investigating him this year. And he managed to slip away yet again. So he's now free to practice his quackery. And exploit more desperate cancer patients. Just terrible. So he's definitely my number one pick for jackass of the year this year.
Skeptic of the Year (49:15)
S: But let's move to a positive note. What about Skeptic of the Year?
J: Well, I have a personal one; that's definitely gonna be Mike Lacelle.
E: um hm.
B: He's the only one I put on my list.
S: He got some votes from our listeners, too. One listener said very eloquently that Mike was an inspiration to a lot of skeptics who maybe would not be able to, like, host their own podcast but who would want to just work behind the scenes and not be out for fame or credit or anything but is happy to just do a lot of work promoting science and skepticism. So, Mike was a real role model, I think, for a lot of people in the skeptical movement and it's great that they realize the kind of guy that he was and how dedicated he was, even though it was all behind the scenes.
J: Yeah. The work that Mike did that he did for us was such a tremendous time-saver and one of the biggest things was that we didn't have to check Mike's work. It was a hundred percent good all the time. It was trusted and he was consistent, and on top of that we just loved him so much. Loved doing—we mentioned on this show that we had a very strong friendship with Mike; you know, he was definitely one of us. Yeah, there's just so much I could say, but I just wanted, I absolutely, for me he is the number one skeptic of this year and I love him; I miss him.
S: I agree. And he's obviously a very personal choice for us. But I will mention a few names that were brought up by our listeners. Sanal Edamaruku.
E: Yeah, he's on my short list, too.
S: —got a lot of... yeah, absolutely. So, this is the Indian skeptic. He was made famous by the tantric killing challenge—
B: killy, killy, killy, killy, killy
S: —where he bravely went on stage and on TV and allowed the tantric guy to try to kill him with his mojo, and of course he survived.
B: Don't forget, Steve, that was, I think, if I remember, that was arguably, one of the biggest skeptical showdowns in history. In terms of sheer numbers... millions...
E: —watched by a lot of people—
B: Some numbers I read—what am I thinking, like a hundred million? It's like a crazy, crazy number of people for hours and hours watching this. Incredible.
S: And this year, for investigating a weeping statue and realizing that it was a leaky pipe.
E: Faulty pipe.
J: It was sewage water.
S: Sewage water. He—for just pointing that out: "there's a leak, over here" (laughter) that he was charged with blasphemy, and... he's on the run!
E: Forced into exile! He's in Finland.
S: Crazy, crazy.
B: Oh my god.
E: If he goes back to India, they're going to arrest him!
S: Can you imagine fleeing your country, fleeing the law, for just pointing out that a weeping statue was a leaky pipe?
J: That's a true commitment to stupidity, right there.
B: I just wanna leave the planet. Don't even wanna be here anymore.
E: With stories like that you do.
B: If it comes to that, it comes to that.
S: But this is where we are needed, Bob, right?
S: It's why the mother ship left us behind. Yeah, so Sanal, just for bravery and fortitude and for what he was put through, tirelessly promoting skepticism in a part of the world where it's actually dangerous to do it. You know, we're comfortably sitting in our dens and living rooms doing this. He's fleeing from the law in order to do it. So he definitely has to be recognized for that.
S: Also, a couple other mentions: Eugenie Scott for expanding the work of the National Center for Science Education to include global warming in addition to evolution. A lot of people liked that initiative. Eugenie's a—she's a great skeptic every year, but she got mentioned this year for that. And Richard Wiseman got mentioned as well. He had a good year. Putting out books and—
E: Hosting conferences.
S: —doing what he does. Yeah, hosting conferences. He remains a tireless promoter of skepticism and professional author. Richard, I really admire him. He gets it done. He really knows what he's doing; he's very thoughtful, very successful, willing to experiment and experiments very successfully and using new media and new ways to promote science and skepticism.
B; Look at the hits on his YouTube videos. They're insane. It's incredible.
E: He always gets millions, yup.
S: He really is one of the good guys.
J: So you guys, we should also mention the Australian skeptics for having the AVN have to change their name and not be spreading misinformation about vaccines. That was one hell of an effort that they put in.
B: That's huge, yup.
S: Yeah, culminating in the AVN perhaps having—being forced to change their name. The Australian Skeptics have been kicking ass for many years, but it had another good year, and again, they're very tireless down there.
J: The thing that I really appreciate is that their government responds!
Tim Farley (54:20)
E: Tim Farley did some really excellent work this year, in regards to his reporting and keeping us all up to date on what was happening with "Mabus," also known as Dennis Markuze, who was arrested multiple times in Montreal. They finally were able to sort of piece together all the parts with great help of the skeptical community and great work by Tim, the police were able to track this guy down. Markuze has been inundating all of us—Rebecca, Steve, all of us—we've received the emails for years now. It's been, I don't know, as long as we've been doing the show, I think. Finally it got to a point where something had to be done about it and they did arrest him, not once but twice, and Tim deserves a lot of credit for that work.
S: Yeah, absolutely.
J: Tim does a lot of stuff like that. He's definitely not a one trick pony. He's got a lot of things going on. He's one hell of a skeptic.
S: He is. I also think he's one of the underrated skeptics, you know, who does a lot of good work, and maybe he's not in a position that gets him a lot of attention, but he deserves more attention than he gets, in my opinion.
In Memoriam (55:26)
- The Rogues remember those we lost over the last year
S: Okay, we're gonna move on. Very quickly we're gonna do our "In Memoriam" for 2012 to list the names of those people in the realm of science and skepticism that died this past year. We already talked, of course, about Mike Lacelle, who died a couple of months ago. We talked about him at the time, and he was a close friend of ours. A great skeptic. The sixth rogue, really. And we still miss him. I still think about him every day. Really is, was sad that he died so young. We also lost this year Paul Kurtz. Philosopher, one of the founding member of modern skeptical movement. Three astronauts died this year: Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, the first woman, first American woman, I should say, into space, and Alan Poindexter, who was a shuttle astronaut, went up on a couple of missions, was killed in an accident. Also Leon Jaroff, we talked about at the time, Time editor, science editor. Was actually very skeptical, wrote a lot of very hard-hitting skeptical editorials and pieces for Time and Discover. So was, again, I don't think he got the recognition among skeptics that he really deserved. Then a few other ones. Joseph Murray, the Nobel prize-winning physician who completed the first successful kidney transplant. And a couple of authors. Maurice Sendak, you guys remember, you guys know who he...
S: Where the Wild Things Are
B: Wild Things, yeah.
E: Yes, Wild Things Are.
S: Ray Bradbury, science fiction author.
E: Ray Bradbury. Sure.
S: And, you guys know who Eugene Polley is?
E: Looking at my bookshelf now.
S: No, you're not gonna, he's not an author. Eugene Polley invented the wireless TV remote control.
B: Oh, boy. Oh my god.
E: Nobody uses those!
S: (laughs) And maybe we should mention that Reverend Sun Myung Moon died this year as well. Not a skeptic, but somebody we know about.
E: Now isn't he supposed to resurrect at some point?
S: No, I think that—
E: Isn't he in good with Jesus or something?
S: —in that mythology, that messiah cult, it's inherited, so his son is now the messiah. I think that's how it works.
E: That's how that works.
E: Very clever.
S: All right. Well, that's our "Best of" segment for the year. We're gonna move through a couple of regular segments. Evan, you're gonna do Who's That Noisy and then we're gonna finish up with the last of the year Science or Fiction.
Who's That Noisy? (57:53)
S: So Evan, first get us updated on last week's Who's That Noisy.
E: All right, Steve. Yeah, so we'll go ahead and we will play for you last week's Who's That Noisy. (a gypsy-style tune played on violin on what sounds like an old scratchy record)
E: A familiar little tune to some of you. Some of you.
E: And Rebecca, once again, you actually got it right. I was very very proud of you. You're showing your inner geekdom. And a bit of your history geekdom, 'cause you had to go back a little ways. You'll notice that being the theme song for the game Tetris, a popular arcade game from the 1980s, and sort of ubiquitous in the sense now that you can play it on just about any game console you can find, and it's a very simple puzzle game, which you make blocks fit together into nice little patterns and make the lines disappear for full lines. This is a duo, one fellow just on the violin, another fellow on accompanying acoutic guitar, and did a really nice rendition of it. You can find it on YouTube; just look up "Tetris acoustic" and it comes right up. You'll hear it. It's a catchy tune. I've had it in my head for days now.
S: Got an earworm?
E: Yeah, a little. We'll announce the winner on next week's show, along with the winner for the "Who's That Noisy" that we're about to play for you now. The brand new, fresh and hot off the presses Who's That Noisy. Here we go.
(A familiar classical tune played on an unusual instrument)
E: All right, so we know that tune.
E: But that's not what we wanna know, no. No, no, we want to know what kind of instrument created that noisy.
B: It did sound unusual.
S: All right, well, that was cool, Evan. Thanks.
S: Well, let's move on to science or fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:00:03)
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, then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Are you guys ready for this Science or Fiction? We have a theme, as you might imagine; it's the last one of the year, and I've switched up the theme a little bit; it's not the same thing I did last year. These are interesting new species that were discovered in 2012.
S: I did this for the 2011 species but not as the year end episode. And there are four items. Are you guys ready?
E: Rebecca is.
S: OK, here we go. Item #1: Biologists have discovered a species of small jellyfish that can float briefly above the surface of the water to evade predators. Item #2: Scientists have discovered a cyanobacterium that creates calcified structures inside its cell. Item #3: An entomologist discovered a new species of lacewing fly from a picture posted on Flickr. And item #4: A new species of primate was discovered - cute and cuddly looking, but with two tongues and highly venomous. Evan, go first.
E: OK. A small jellyfish that can float briefly above the surface of the water to evade predators. Entirely? How? Do they totally disconnect with the water, Steve? Can you tell me that, or do they still keep a little small part of them in the water?
S: I think that's enough information.
E: OK. Well, you know, I've seen jellyfish floating on the surface of the water. I've never really seen them briefly floating above the surface of the water but I wouldn't be surprised if they could somehow capture a pocket of air or something—they're so light in a sense that maybe if they can contort themselves in a certain way they can create a pocket of air and actually, for a moment, ride that little bubble of air. And therefore they're floating above, so I'll say that one is science. The next one is the cyanobacterium, right?
E: That creates calcified structures inside its cell. Oh god, I don't know. I've no clue on that one; I'm totally in the dark. But calcified structures insides its cell, maybe. A new species of lacewing fly from a picture posted on Flickr. OK, I don't see why not; nothing really wrong there, per se, lots of pictures of lots of different things out there and I wouldn't be surprised if somebody, if a specialist, came across it and said "hey, I've never seen this before", went to look it up and realised well, this is brand new. I'd say that one is probably science. The last one, the primate, cute and cuddly looking but with two tongues and highly venomous. Sweet on the outside but in the inside, look out. Two tongues and highly venomous. Sure, OK. I'm going to say the cute and cuddly one is science as well, so that leaves me with the cyanobacterium and I really have to go with that one as fiction because I just really don't have a clue about that one whereas I find the other three somewhat plausible.
S: All right. Jay?
J: The one about the small jellyfish that you're saying they can briefly... now are you saying that they can float above the surface of the water, meaning that they are actually leaving the water?
S: Yes, that's what above means. Not on but above. That's correct.
J: How are they getting out of the water?
E: I gave a scenario where they might. I thought it was plausible.
J: I don't know, man. Right out of the gate, I don't like that one. The second one. Yeah. so why—the second one about the bacterium that's creating calcified structures inside of itself. Why? That sounds crazy. I don't understand why it would do that. I mean, how does it get them out? What's the purpose of that whole thing? That's very strange. I don't know but I just don't know, you know, those bacteria are so weird and there's so many reasons why they've evolved to extremes, so I just don't know, Steve. The third one about the scientist... found a new species from a picture, sure. I completely believe that and I see no reason why—there's so many insects out there that we haven't discovered yet. This one about a primate with two tongues and it's highly venomous. This one reminds me of Galaxy Quest, you guys remember that movie?
S: Oh yeah.
J: The little cute guys and they whip out with those big crazy gorilla teeth and all that stuff. Ah, that was awesome. Anyway, sure, OK. Yeah, it's weird but he's got two tongues and he's highly venomous, fine. I'm going to say that the first one about the flying jellyfish is a fake.
S: OK. Bob.
B: All right. The jellyfish, at first I was like "no f'ing way" but it is a small jellyfish and perhaps it's unusually strong—you know, adept at moving around such that it could actually jump through the water—jump out of the water and kind of stay there very briefly. I can kind of imagine that. I can't imagine that... you say briefly, I can't imagine a half a second or a second above the surface would be terribly helpful in evading predators, but I mean getting out of the water at all is, I'm sure can be some help but I can kind of see that one though I've got a problem with it. The cyanobacteria creating calcified structures. Yeah, I mean, I can see that—I mean they can—isn't that how we discovered them, by those calcified structure that they can build outside the body? I never heard of anything being constructed inside. I'm not sure, like, I agree with Jay; I don't know why they would do that but if they can create it then sure, they can, why not somehow create it and then incorporate it, so I can kind of see that too. Let's see, the new species of lacewing from Flickr. Sure, I mean, this was too easy and I'm afraid this one might actually be it but... So many bugs, so many flies and Flickr images are ubiquitous, so sure, I could totally see that. And then this one, the last one I've got a big problem with. I don't know, something about a primate with two tongues. Not just a split tongue but two tongues, and being... and highly venomous; I've never heard of anything even remotely similar to that in any other primate. That one's really rubbing me the wrong way. I've got to choose between one and two. That can float... not just—not like leaping and... actually hovering for a moment. How are jellies... and it is jelly by the way, not jellyfish as you're well aware.
S: Yes I know.
B: I mean how do they actually get around?
B: Yeah I'm going to bet that this jellyfish is so small that... and so light and maybe the way it's constructed also helps it somehow hover very briefly above the water. Ah, I going to go... I'll go with the primate. The two tongues and highly venomous is just not... I'm just not seeing it. Fiction.
S: OK, and Rebecca.
R: Right, so the primate thing. Bob says he's never heard of anything like that. I don't know about the two tongues thing but I do know that the slow loris excretes a poison from its elbows and is, I believe, or at least was, the only poisonous/venomous primate around. But if the slow loris can leak it from its elbows then I'm sure another primate can be venomous as well. The two tongues thing is weird but I don't think Steve would make this up. I think it's too out there; it's too much like something out of Futurama or Galaxy Quest, as Jay mentions. The lacewing fly on Flickr, I feel like I... I feel like I may have read about this but maybe it turns out to have not been a new species. Maybe it was thought to have been a new species but then when it was investigated it was an existing species. That's the only way I can think of that that might be the fiction. But it might be. Which leaves me with the other two and I'm torn between the jellyfish and the cyanobacterium with calcified structures because that's bizarre. The little jellyfish, though, that's wonderfully bizarre and I hope that it's true. So, because I have no idea one way or the other, I'm going to bet on hope and go for the bacterium being the fiction.
E: Thanks for joining me, Rebeccca.
S: Not a bad spread.
R: No problem.
S: You guys didn't totally cover every choice. So you've got Evan and Rebecca with the cyanobacterium, Bob with the primate and Jay with the jellyfish. Which means you all think that an entomologist discovered a new species of lacewing fly from a picture posted on Flickr. You all think that one is science and that one is... science.
E: Oh, that pause, Steve, that pause; you're giving me a heart attack here.
S: Yeah that was kind of an easy one but it was cool. I had to put it in there. Partly why I went to four items this week. So yeah, there was somebody posted this very nice picture, very technically nice picture, close-up of this lacewing fly and posted it up on Flickr. Wildlife photographer Hock Ping Guek posted the picture of the fly and then an entomologist, Shaun Winterton, spotted the picture and noted that it was an entirely new species and named it...
S: Yeah, Semachrysa jade.
B: He didn't—I thought he'd throw Flickr in the name.
S: Yeah, Flickriaia, that would have been cool, but no.
E: Ah, clever.
S: But, very pretty lacewing fly.
B: His jaw must have dropped when he saw that. "Holy crap, someone posted a image on Flickr of a new species. Woo hoo!"
S: Well that's like, you know, we talked earlier this year about the dinosaur that was discovered sitting in a drawer, you know? (see episode 346: Science or Fiction)
B: Yeah, yeah.
E: Yeah. "Oh, what's that?"
S: Thirty years ago, you know, so there's stuff that's out there, absolutely. Well, let's go to number four: a new species of primate was discovered, cute and cuddly looking but with two tongues and highly venomous. Bob, you think this one is the fiction, everyone else thinks this one is science and this one is... science.
S: Sorry, Bob.
B: Two tongues!
S: Two tongues, that was the kicker for me.
E: Yeah, that's rough.
S: Two tongues, like, that's a perfect one.
B: See, that's the problem. We're too alike. What freaks you out freaks me out and then, bam, done, you're done Bob. Adios.
S: What kind of primate do you think this is?
J: I don't know.
B: Old World.
S: Ah, Rebecca got it. It's a slow loris.
J: What is it?
R: Thank you.
J: And how slow is he?
S: A slow loris is... well, it's a primate in the sub order strepsirrhine. Strepsirrhine. So, a slow loris is a small primate, very cute, big eyes. They are found in South East Asia. This particular primate was thought to be one species and it was discovered this year that it's actually four species. So really they discovered three new species of slow loris and they have two tongues. Now when I first heard that, what do you imagine?
J: One on top of the other, side-by-side, forked; what are we talking about?
R: Oh, I was picturing side-by-side, like a forked tongue that went too far.
S: I imagined side-by-side too but it was one on top of the other.
B: Oh, that's gross.
S: It has an under-tongue.
B: He's constantly...
E: Under tongue?
B: He's constantly tasting himself.
R: He's super popular with the ladies though.
B: Yeah, knew that was coming.
S: And the venom comes from glands under its arm or on its arms, that it licks and then its bite becomes venomous.
E: With which tongue?
S: But getting back to the pedantic thing again, we got nailed, I think, once on the toxic vs. venomous, or poisonous vs. venomous.
B: Oh yeah.
S: Something that's poisonous is deadly if you eat it. Something that's venomous is poison if it bites you, or stings you or whatever.
B: Makes sense.
E: Or spits at you.
S: Or spits at you. So, because this is technically venomous, I guess, and I've heard—in reading about this I've seen both toxic and venomous used, I guess because—
R: Although Komodo dragons can kill you if they bite you and they're not technically venomous.
S: Yeah, they just have bacteria on their teeth.
E: Yeah, it's bacteria.
S: But this is a poison that it secretes—
R: Yeah, I'm just saying that... I'm just being "pendantic", so...
S: I know. This is a poison that it secretes and it injects it into you by biting you, so I guess that makes it venomous.
S: But yeah, they're adorable. They're threatened because people capture them for pets. They would make horrible pets. Don't try to sell a slow loris as a pet, because they are deadly. And they're also—
E: Michael Jackson had one.
S: They're also threatened because they're used... they're captured so that tourists could take pictures with them and see them, you know, but they're not domesticated, they really don't belong in petting zoos or as pets. And now that there are four species—it's good and bad in that they're now much more endangered because now essentially their number are cut... of each species—
S: —is a lot less than if they were one big species. It'll be a lot harder to maintain each of the four species, but that also does make them more endangered, so it may help efforts, you know, to keep them alive. So, very cool. OK, so we're down to—
S: The cyanobacterium or the jellyfish. We'll go to number one: biologists have discovered a species of small jellyfish that can float briefly above the surface of the water to evade predators. Jay, you think this one is the fiction, everyone else thinks this one is science and this one is... the fiction.
R: What? God damn it, Jay.
S: Jay ends on a solo victory. Very nice.
J: Mmm... it's so sweet, like honey, baby.
R: What's a honey baby?
E: Take a bite, Jay.
S: Not honey booboo?
E: That's something else.
S: So, yeah, I made it up, but...
E: Made it up?
S: I threw the "small" in there just to make it semi-plausible but... and I looked to see if... I searched for jellyfish that floated. I tried, you know, multiple search terms, I couldn't find anything, so there may be one out there but there's nothing discovered this year.
E: I hope a marine biologist is listening and calls.
S: Yeah, call me on it, because you know it's hard to prove a negative. I looked for and I couldn't find any jelly that floats above the water. I think if that were discovered this year, I would have seen it on all the sites I went to looking at the cool species discovered in 2012. There was a jellyfish discovered this year—or actually it might have been last year, I think it was actually in 2011—that kind of inspired me to do this. This was a strikingly beautiful but venomous box jelly. I guess there was a naming contest; there were over 300 entries were submitted and they went with the name Tamoya ohboya.
B: Oh God.
S: Tamoya ohboya. And that's—
B: That's terrible.
S: I know. Oh boy is what people yell when they get stung by the jellyfish, that's how they—
R: And then they die.
E: Oh my gosh.
S: Tamoya ohboya. Oh boy!
E: Leave the naming to us instead, please, next time.
S: Which means that scientists have discovered a cyanobacterium that creates calcified structures inside its cell is science; sorry Evan and Rebecca. Yeah, so the news items that caught my eye with this one is that a bacteria with a skeleton, you know?
B: Oh yeah, yeah, ha.
S: With bones inside, it's got... but the calcified structures are not for structural support; they are used as ballast. At least this is the prevailing hypothesis at this point in time. So, they weigh the bacterium down so that it can descend to the soil at the bottom of the lake and get access to it there. So they think they use it to adjust its weight so it can sink to the bottom.
E: What are you sinking?
S: What are you sinking? Yeah. Pretty cool.
E: I suppose so.
S: So, good job, Jay. Good way to end up the year.
R: Well done, Jay.
J: I think I used my reason to figure out the truth there.
S: I think you reasoned your way through it very well. You did.
R: Yeah, I think you did.
E: As opposed to stumbling on it accidentally.
S: Well, it was a tough one; everyone sort of was suspicious of it, but I made it just plausible enough.
B: You had to throw "small" in there, huh?
S: I did, I deliberately threw it in there to make it... to give it that little bit of plausibility, yeah.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:16:48)
S: All right, well, Jay, what's the final skeptical quote of the year?
J: I have a cool quote sent in by Claire Dean from the U.K. This is from an author named Iain Banks, and here's the quote:
It has become my conviction that things mean pretty much what we want them to mean. We'll pluck significance from the least consequential happenstance if it suits us and happily ignore the most flagrantly obvious symmetry between separate aspects of our lives if it threatens some cherished prejudice or cosily comforting belief; we are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating.
J: (shouting from far away) Iain Banks!
E: That was far away.
R: I enjoyed that. Thank you.
J: You're welcome.
E: You actually took a little stroll there, Jay.
J: (chuckling) Yeah, that took a while, right?
J: And don't forget to get your tickets for NECSS. The conference this year is in early April. We have awesome speakers. We've been working on the conference diligently and we're continuing to add new things to it. We're adding a Friday night special activity that's gonna be really cool. Something unique to NECSS. Just go to necss.org, purchase your tickets. You can buy tickets also on workshops, which are happening all day on Friday. You can take a look at the different things that are going on. We're actually putting one together that Steve is gonna be instructing which will be really fun.
S: Yeah. Yeah, I'm gonna do a workshop on how to use podcasting and other media in order to promote some cause or activism. Yeah. I'll give you all the nitty-gritty insider information on how to, technically and creatively, create and run a successful podcast.
J: And Steve, can you pronounce our keynote speaker's last name?
S: Oh yeah.
J: Do it.
S: Mlodinow. (Ma LOD in ohv)
J: Say it again.
S: It again.
J: (laughs) Leonard Mlodinow.
S: Yes, Leonard Mlodinow. He's awesome. And he's like, again, one of those guys that hasn't really been making the rounds at skeptical conferences, but will be awesome. He will have a lot of interesting things to say. I'm really looking forward to seeing him at the conference and hopefully we'll get to interview him for our show while we're there, as well.
R: What does he do?
E: Theoretical physicist.
J: And he's also an author. He's written a couple of books with Stephen Hawking.
S: All right, well, thank you for joining me this week and thanks for joining me this year, guys. I think it was another great year.
B: It sure was.
E: Another great year. Let's have another one coming.
S: Yeah, we look forward to going again in Two Thousand and Thirteen. We did get renewed for another season.
R: Oh, hooray!
E: Thank goodness, yes.
R: Twice the salary!
S: Yeah. (laughter) Yeah, the contract was a real bear, but yeah. We agreed to get paid nothing again.
E: Fringe benefits.
J: "Do you agree to record 52 episodes for free?" "Yes, I do. Thank you."
E: (laughing) Sign here. You're done.
S: All right. Well, thanks again, guys, and, until next week and next year, 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 www.theskepticsguide.org. You can also check out our other podcast the SGU 5x5 as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. For questions, suggestions and other feedback please use the contact us form on the website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed this episode then please help us spread the word by leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune or your portal of choice.
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