SGU Episode 399

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SGU Episode 399
9th March 2013
SGU 398 SGU 400
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
GH: George Hrab
Quote of the Week
Neither evolution nor creation qualifies as a scientific theory.
Duane Gish
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 March 6, 2013, and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella,

B: Hey, everybody.

S: Jay Novella,

J: 400!

S: Evan Bernstein,

E: Good evening, everyone.

S: And we have a special guest rogue with us this evening, George Hrab. George, welcome back.

GH: This isn't The Price is Right! Jay, you lied to me. (laughter)

E: What else is new?

J: No, but this is our 400th!

S: No, it's not, Jay. Next week is our 400th episode.

GH: 399!

J: 399!

E: 399! And that's a bargain.

S: We're not round number bigots here, anyway. That's all superstitious nonsense.

GH: Roundists. You're all roundists.

S: So, Rebecca's voice is still recovering from whatever infection she had. So she is again not with us this week. But George will be taking her place and speaking in falsetto the entire show.

GH: (starting high pitched, dropping to low) Y-e-e-e-s. I'm so skeptical. (normal voice) It's not a Rebecca impression. It's not a Rebecca impression at all. (laughter) We got that. All right. Good.

J: So we were just talking before the show, like, saying hi to George and everything, and it occurred to me I wanted to ask George this question. George, ever listening, you ever listen to a podcast—

GH: (in a Russian accent) Ever listenink to (unintelligible) Oh, sorry. Go ahead. So, have I ever listened to what?

J: Has this ever happened where you're listening to a show that you've recorded, and somebody says your name in the podcast, and you answer them in real time? Like, it just happened to me two days ago. I was listening to one of our shows, and Steve says "So, Jay," and I actually go "Yeah." I'm like wh-o-o-o-a. He's not in the car with me! I'm not on the phone with him. I'm hearing him in the podcast.

GH: I don't listen to my show 'cause I don't really like my show.

S: Yeah.

GH: But sound effects that I've done before have scared the hell out of me. I'll forget that I inserted an airplane or something, and it'll scare the crap out of me. (laughter) Or like a doorbell sound or something, yeah. But I don't actually, because I'm the only person on my show, for me to respond to myself as if I was actually talking to myself, I think would be indicative of something really scary and awesome.

J: All right, that is a good point.

GH: But, I respond to (two people talking – undecipherable) And if I listen to this show, I'll make sure that every time you say "Hey, George" no matter where I am, I'll say "What? Oh, damn!" (laughter) What? Oh, damn!

E: With a head turn, right?

(two people talking—inaudible – something about Scooby-Doo)

GH: (imitating Scooby) Erh?

B: Scooby snack.

S: Hey George!

GH: Erh?

This Day in Skepticism (2:45)[edit]

March 9, 1851: Hans Christian Ørsted died. Ørsted was a Danish physicist and chemist who discovered current traveling along a wire could deflect a compass needle.

S: Evan is gonna tell us about this day in skepticism.

E: All right. So, March 9, and the year was 1851. Now, we all know who Hans Christian Ørsted was

B: (singing) Hans Christian Ørsted.

J: I have no idea who he is.

E: Well, he was a Danish. Oh, I'm sorry, wait, he was a Danish physicist

S: And delicious.

GH: I sing.

E: Who made a discovery. He discovered that an electric current in a wire causes a nearby magnetized compass needle to deflect, indicating the electric current in a wire induces a magnetic field around it.

B: That is awesome.

J: That is awesome.

B: You could just retire after making that discovery. I'm done. I've made my contribution.

E: A little electro-magnetic theory for you, then?

B: Oh, my god.

GH: Yeah, but how do you monotize that. I mean, that's the problem. What d'ya do with that? What kind of invention could that possibly lead to? (people talking simultaneously)

B: It's just a laboratory curiosity. Nothing to see here.

GH: That's right.

J: It took like a hundred years for them to slap one of those suckers in a bracelet. (laughter)

GH: And then you get the real money.

E: A bracelet made of, perhaps, aluminum. Hey! Speaking of aluminum

S: Yeah, so

E and B: Aluminium.

S: Ørsted also was the first one to produce metallic aluminum. Do you guys know how common—

B: As opposed to rubber aluminum?

S: No, as opposed an aluminum oxide or aluminum silicate. So, aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth's crust. And I know you guys all know that

E: The third most?

B: I used to know that, yes.

S: After oxygen and silicon, which is why there's lots of aluminum oxides and aluminum silicate. And he figured out how to make metallic aluminum. Although it was up to later chemists to figure out how to really industrialize that process. If you recall, we talked about the fact that when aluminum was first available as a metal, it was more expensive than gold.

B: I recall nothing.

S: It was considered a rare and exotic metal and things made out of aluminum were like a status symbol. But then later chemists figured out how to make massive quantities of it, just from dirt, basically, and, you know, from bauxites, specifically.

J: Did these scientists like cash in at that moment? Like, okay, I figured out how to make it, it's everywhere.

E: Let's sell it now.

J: Yeah, did somebody become a trillionaire for like the first three years or what happened?

S: American Aluminum, you know, I think was the company that became very wealthy mass producing aluminum. And the price went from hundreds of dollars an ounce to pennies a pound.

J: Oof.

GH: See, Alcoa shouldn't have waited.

S: Yeah, Alcoa, that's it.

E: Bad investment.

J: Guess I shouldn't have invested in that company early on.

S: Well, you shouldn't have invested in aluminum. The company did quite well, actually. Now, did you also know that Hans Christian Ørsted was a very close friend of Hans Christian Andersen.

B: Seriously?

J: That's what I was gonna say.

GH: No way.

J: Yeah, and I actually don't know exactly who Hans Christian Andersen is or was. What's his deal? Who's that guy?

B: Come on, Jay.

E: He wrote stories.

B: It's Danny Kaye!

E: That's right. Danny Kaye. He wrote Thumbelina,

GH: The Little Mermaid.

J: Did he sing The Little Mermaid?

GH: I think he played the crab in the movie, actually. (laughter) Oh, aluminum.

S: He wrote famous fairy tales. But, so, how did these guys meet? Like at a Hans Christian organization or something?

E: Convention?

B: I know. Famous People Named Hans Christian.

GH: That was a Facebook page, wasn't it? (laughter)

S: Did they get each other's mail, or what happened?

J: My money's on the fact that maybe like half the population is just named Hans Christian something.

S: Maybe.

B: I think it's a coincidence.

E: And March 9, 1851, was the day that we lost Hans Ørsted. Hans Christian Ørsted. So, we mourned Hans Christian Ørsted on this day. But thank you so much for all that electro-magnetism. It is doing us wonders these days.

S: And aluminum. Yep.

E: Yeah, that too.

S: So George, before we go on to news items, what's new with you?

GH: What's new? Goodness. Uh, what isn't? Actually, it's a short list. The newest thing is a number of you rogues were at the 21812 concert that happened last year.

B: Yes! Loved it!

GH: We are furiously, furiously editing and putting together what looks to be just an incredible DVD of that performance, which is audio mixing. I was at Slau's yesterday, as a matter of fact. So the audio mixing is done. A monumental effort, and now the video is being edited, and there's gonna be commentary and a documentary and it's gonna be really, really fantastic. So that is the thing which is occupying the most frontal part of my frontal creative lobe right now, is the 21812 concert.

B: It only took you a year!

J: When's it coming out?

GH: I know, I know, I know, I know. Weeks. Months? Weeks. Well, I guess months are made up of weeks, so I'm not lying in either direction. But, weeks.

S: As long as it's more than one month, right.

GH: Hmm? Right.

News Items[edit]

HIV Cure (7:49)[edit]

Neurologica: HIV Cure "Game Changer"

S: So I have some good news everyone. (laughter)

E: Excellent.

J: What's up?

S: Did you hear about the girl who was cured, cured of HIV?

B: Despite this, or in spite of, the incompetence of her mom, apparently.

S: Her mother appears to be troubled. I don't know if incompetence is her problem or if it's other things, but, so . . . Here's the story. The mother, who was HIV infected, presented for delivery with apparently no prenatal care, and delivered a child, who was positive for HIV within 30 hours of being born. So almost certainly infected in utero. The doctor was consulted, an HIV infectious disease specialist at the time was consulted on the case. Not really sure why, but decided to treat the child earlier than is typically treated. So at 31 hours, the infant was treated with anti-retroviral therapy. And also, she decided to give the infant

B: Extra.

S: Well, not extra, so therapeutic doses as opposed to preventive, or prophylactic doses.

E: What's the difference?

S: It's a higher dose. So a therapeutic dose is meant to treat an existing infection, whereas a preventive dose is meant to prevent an exposure from establishing itself as an infection.

B: You can call that extra, I think.

S: Yeah, so, she gave the higher dose, the therapeutic dose.

B: Extra.

GH: Not the gum, but the actual medicine, right?

S: Yeah, the anti-retroviral therapy. ART.

GH: 'Cause that would be something, if extra gum cured AIDS. That would be, wow.

S: This is Hannah Gay. A pediatric infectious disease specialist. And the child was treated with ART for the first 18 months of life, or thereabouts. At that point she was lost to follow-up, as we say. Stopped being brought back in by the mother for treatment. Now, Dr. Gay diligently tracked down the mother and the child, through the police, in order to bring the child back in for health care. So now, it was like seven or eight months the child has been getting no medication. The mother was going through some kind of life situation. Apparently has a lot of challenges. And not giving the kid their medicine. Not bringing them in to doctor's visits. So Dr. Gay at this point thought, okay, so now we have a two-year-old who has gone six, seven, eight months with no medication therapy. Their viral loads are gonna be off the charts.

B: Right, because typically what happens, Steve, is when you're taking, when you're going through that process, the viruses pretty much just go into hiding, right? They just like say screw it, I'm just gonna hang out and wait til the weather's better and then once you stop it, bam! They come out. And that's what he expected.

S: She, yeah.

B: Dr. Gay, that's what Gay expected.

S: What typically happens is, in an HIV-infected individual, if they're treated with ART, then the viral loads will drop to undetectable levels. But the virus still lives on in the body, in these hidden reservoirs. As you say, they go into hiding. And these reservoirs are isolated from the immune system so that they can persist despite the retroviral therapy, and if you stopped the retroviral therapy, anti-retroviral therapy, then the infection would come back, would rebound. Because of these reservoirs. So, checked out the child, did the viral loads, they were still undetectable. There was no sign of HIV in the child at all. Went back to check everything. So now she things, all right, there's something interesting going on here. She checked a number of things. She got other specialists involved as well. First they confirmed that yes, she was indeed infected with HIV as a newborn. They confirmed that. Two, that the strain of HIV is a wild type strain that's not some mutated strain, it's not a weakened strain. It's a regular strain of HIV. Three, they tested the mother and the child to see if they happened to have a genetic type that makes them resistant to HIV, 'cause there are people out there who are naturally resistant to HIV. And they did not. So they did not have any of the known forms of resistance.

B: Three great tests. So it's like, yeah. It didn't occur to me that they should do that but when I read it I'm like, oh, of course, that's exactly what you would need to do to really be secure in your conclusions.

S: Yeah. Well, plus, I think, at this point that they were planning on publishing. And of course you want to get all your ducks in a row if you do that.

B: Right, right.

S: And in fact they did present this case at a conference and reported all these details. So essentially they discovered that she was infected, it was a normal virus, they're not resistant, and even six, seven months after stopping ART the virus never rebounded. They're calling this a functional cure. A functional cure. Not an outright cure, I think because a couple of, they did really, really sensitive tests for HIV, RNA and DNA and a couple of these tests showed rally miniscule little remnants of RNA or DNA.

B: Yeah, but didn't they describe them as non-functional, or they did not have the ability to reproduce?

S: They are not replication competent.

B: That's what it was.

S: Yeah, they are not replication competent. But I guess it means it's not completely, completely, completely out of the system. But what it does mean is that the virus will not rebound. It is not established. There's no active reservoirs of the virus. And the child will be able to live their life without the need for further ART, or anti-retroviral therapy.

E: Wow. So we're not looking at some state of remission that's currently going on?

S: Well, remission is not an unreasonable term to use. It's a remission without medication, without needing further medication or treatment. Functional cure is the specific term that they used. This is only the second case of any human being who was known to be infected with HIV who then was cured. The first one was a gentleman who got a bone marrow transplant in Germany from a donor who was HIV resistant. And they were apparently cured by that bone marrow transplant. Basically given a new immune system resistant to the HIV. This is now the second case.

J: Does this help the world, Steve? Can we use this information in any way?

B: Well, shit yeah. Look at the children born with AIDS like in Africa. I mean, the United States it's not so much of a huge deal as it is in Africa. But Jay, there's like, the statistic was crazy, it was like thousands of kids per pico-second in Africa.

J: Bob, but my question is: does that case, the second case, of this child, does it actually help scientists figure out how to use that to make some type of cure?

S: So here's the bottom line

GH: We have to weaponize the baby, I think. (laughter)

S: The stats are about 130 children per year develop HIV from their mother in the United States. But it's about a thousand children per day world-wide in developing countries. So that's a lot. That's a thousand kids per day.

GH: Why is that woman having so many children? (laughter) I'm sorry. Sorry.

S: What this suggests is that the standard of care for treating newborns born of infected mothers might be, rather than giving prophylactic doses, but to give, would be to give therapeutic doses earlier, to try to prevent the virus from ever establishing an infection. Which seems to be the case here. The virus never got itself established. Here's the trick, though, is that, I mean, it's gotta be studied, is the case. This is an anecdote, right? It's interesting, but it's one case. And it's hard to extrapolate from that. So this will lead to research looking at this approach to show that it's safe, to show that it's effective. What's going to be tricky, so let's you get a hundred kids, or 200 kids, 100 you give the standard therapy. The other hundred you give this early aggressive therapy. You track 'em over a few years. To really know that the children have been functionally cured, you would want to actually stop their ART. That's gonna be tricky to do.

E: That's tough.

S: Ethically, how are you gonna do that? We're not gonna give you proof in therapy to see how you're doing. So, the best they could hope to do would be to follow a lot of children and then track those whose parents stopped giving them the medication due to non-compliance or whatever. Like in this case. You know, you can't randomly choose people not to get treatment just to see how they do. That's the definition of unethical research. But you may be able to track cases where the children stopped getting their drugs for one reason or another and see how they do. And maybe you can gather enough information from that to say okay, it's reasonable in these cases with these outcomes to reduce the medication, see how they do, maybe wean them off, tracking them carefully. So it's not gonna instantly lead to replicating this exact treatment paradigm, but it will, I think, probably it'll lead to studying this higher, more aggressive, early treatment, which may lead to curing infants who otherwise would have been infected with HIV. But this is using drugs that are already in existence to treat HIV. This is not a new treatment or a new cure. This is not a cure for people in whom infection is already established. You might think that maybe the same applies if you, let's say, get exposed to HIV. Again, instead of getting preventive doses, maybe even as an adult, you would be given therapeutic doses right away.

(inaudible comment by GH)

J: When you say "therapeutic doses" you mean a large, large amount.

S: Well, the doses that are normally given to people with HIV infection, as opposed to preventive doses, which are doses given to people who have been exposed but who are not infected. In order to reduce the risk of the exposure resulting in an infection.

GH: When I read the story, it was amazing. And I remember one of the first things that popped into my head was the idea that the kid at one point was outside of the care of the hospital, whether that was seven months, or whatever it was.

S: Yeah.

GH: And that someone is going to latch onto something the kid did in those seven months and say that that is the actual cure.

B: Ohhhhh, wow.

GH: You what I mean, like Fruit Loops or something. And they're gonna say "Yeah, the fact that she had Fruit Loops!" Forget the hospital. It was the Fruit Loops that cured. Here's proof! Like that was the first, the woo radar warning system that I have installed in my brain, was like, oh man, okay, let no one take advantage of those seven months where the kid was outside of supervised care to claim that that's some kind of secret cure.

B: Oh, yeah. I didn't even think of that.

J: Yeah, I agree.

S: I haven't heard anything about it yet, but that's always a risk. There was a lot of sensational reporting of this story.

GH: Wh-a-a-t?

S: It's fascinating enough as it is. What I always, my radar goes up, we talk about the skeptical radar, my skeptical radar always goes up whenever I see the word "cure" in the headline of any article. Especially when it's connected to AIDS or cancer or the common cold or whatever.

B: Acne.

S: Yeah. There are certain things where it's like, really? You mean, no, we did not cure AIDS, I'm sorry, we did not cure HIV. This is a very interesting case and has implications for research and for treatment. But no, this isn't the discovery of a cure for HIV.

B: Steve, so what if a parent has AIDS. They have a kid, and they're like, I want my kid to get a therapeutic dose asap? What can they do? 'Cause that's what I would do.

S: Yeah. Enter a trial, enter a clinical trial in which that is being done and take your chance that you'll get randomized, getting it.

J: Is it hard to get into a trial?

S: Well, right now, none exists. But I'm sure

E: Yeah, that's just it.

S: It'll take time to get them up and running. I don't know how many and how many people are gonna be introduced. So, probably in the U.S., given that the number is so low, number of kids who get infected this way because of pre-natal care, etc. 'Cause you know, normally what you would do is aggressively treat the mother, get the viral loads down as low as possible so the risk of the so-called vertical transmission from mother to child is minimized. This mother didn't do that, that's probably why the child was infected. So, this is the exact people who are going to end up infected as an infant are the ones that are going to be difficult to recruit, and there aren't that many of them. So it's probably gonna be more, it's gonna be hard to get people into this trial as opposed to people having a hard time getting into such trials. You know what I mean? If you're the kind of parent who is going to seek out that kind of aggressive care, you're probably not the kind of parent who is going to give birth to an infected child in the first place. Does that make sense?

B: Yeah.

GH: Yeah; where's the father through all this, I wonder?

S: No mention in anything.

GH: I wonder what his situation is.

S: Obviously the doctors are being confidential, keeping confidential the personal details. They're just saying she had some life situation that intervened, but we have no idea what that was. But clearly she's troubled.

B: It still won't be an outright cure because if you have the infection, this won't work, but for people who just get it, it will a cure for them. There—

S: Well, remember, she was treated at 30 hours of life.

B: Right.

E: Yeah.

S: How many people don't we even find out that they've been exposed until—

B: That's it.

S: --days later. So, one example would be a health care worker who stabs themself with an HIV-infected needle.

B: Yup. Perfect example.

S: You would be in the clinic in 15 minutes. In fact, I did that to myself once. Not with an HIV

B: Really?

E; Oh, my gosh.

S: Not with an HIV-infected needle. But I stuck myself with a Hep C needle.

J: How'd you do it?

B: Oh, man, I hate when that happens.

GH: Did you lose a bet?

S: No. It was an accident. I did what I wasn't supposed to. I recapped the needle, the needle went right through the cap and into my finger.

E: Geez.

J: And you were right in front of a patient?

S: Yeah.

J: What'd you do?

S: I finished what I was doing. I went to the health services and got two huge needles of gamma globulin injected into my buttocks.

E: Gamma globulin?

J: Wait a second. Wait, wait, wait, wait.

B: One per cheek?

S: Yup.

J: Steve, I have to ask more detail. Did you keep your composure?

S: Of course.

J: Like, did you do "Oh, holy shit!!" Like run out of there.

GH: Like We're all gonna die!!!

J: Give me those ass needles!! (laughter)

E: On panic day? Yeah.

S: Yeah, it was not panic day. Unlike today.

J: Were you embarrassed? Were you shameful, like going to some guy sitting at a desk and you're like "Um…"

S: Yes, I was stupid. Yea. It was dumb. I was a medical student.

J: Did they say anything to you. Like did they make you feel really weird?

S: No. No.

B: Steve's heart rate increased by two beats per minute.

E: Were they messing with you? "Oh, we gotta do a biopsy, and now we're gonna do this. Gotta do that."

S: No. They're my physician now. They acted totally professional.

B: Steve, put this in a little context. Hepatitis C. How bad we talkin'?

S: That's bad. Like a chronic liver infection. It would be very bad. And yes, I got, the treatment for that is gamma globulin, so it like pooled antibodies. And it's a huge dose.

B: Is it a bolus? They call that a bolus?

S: Yes.

J: If they give you enough of that gamma globulin, Steve, can you turn into the Hulk? (laughter)

S: The first injection was very painful. The second injection was ten times as painful. (laughter)

E: Yeah, but ten times!

S: It was so much more painful! And the reason for that probably

GH: It's not supposed to go in your penis. That's the problem. (laughter)

E: We gotta get this in here!

GH: A really long needle.

S: When you get the first injection your body excretes chemicals which sort of prime it for pain, and so then when you get the second injection, it has a huge exaggerated local response to the injection.

B: Thank you, body, isn't that convenient?

E: Well, okay

J: Why's that happening?

E: They should give you both needles at once. One, two, three, jab.

S: Yeah, I don't know what would be worse.

J: That's crazy.

E: Two at once. Two needles at once.

S: But this was, whatever, twenty years ago, so, I know I'm out of the window. And never had a problem from it.

GH: Are you sure?

E: No Hep C.

S: I could definitely imagine the panic of jabbing yourself with an HIV-infected needle. That would be panic time.

J: It just shows you how dangerous health care is. I mean, these professionals—

S: This was also, this was not in the early, early days, but, this was earlier in the whole HIV situation. So, you know, the protocols for preventing these things were not as well established. You know what I mean?

E: They had you rub garlic on the wound. Prayer beads and whatever.

S: The needle that I was using at that time doesn't even exist now, really. Everything is made to prevent this from happening. Anyway, let's move on.

Mars Comet (24:49)[edit]

Newly Discovered Comet May Hit Mars: Watch for Two Others Near Earth

S: Bob, you're gonna tell us about the comet that's going to smack right into Mars.

B: Yeah.

E: Cool.

B: You guys remember I recently mentioned that this would be remembered maybe as the Year of the Asteroid. But not I think it will be, in retrospect, in the future, considered the Year of the Asteroid/Comet. (laughter)

S: Slash comet.

B: Slash comet. The big news in recent days is not only do we have the Pan Stars comet, which will be visible in mid-March 2013

E: Can't wait.

B: And also the Ison comet, which could be awesome. Very bright, in November 2013. But we also have the Sliding Spring, an oddly named comet which could potentially hit the planet Mars in October 2014; not quite this year, but coming up relatively soon. So that is kind of exciting, I think. It's not the Earth, so it's all good. This new comet was discovered January 3 this year, 2013, by famous comet hunter Robert McNaught. He actually has 74 comets on his resume.

E: Wow!

B: So how cool is that?

J: Bob, does he hang them on the wall like a plaque?

B; (laughing) Yeah, right. I would. I would create a little comet for every one that I discovered. And he also discovered asteroids. This guy's very prolific. He gets a gold star.

S: Did he discover that asteroids exist?

B: No. Just discovered asteroids.

E: The game Asteroids."

S: Specific asteroids.

B: Yes. So this is like, apparently this is a new, or virgin, comet. Never having been in our local area of the solar system before. And I think they believe this is because of the eccentricity of its orbit, after it was ejected for the Oort Cloud of billions of comets that are in orbit about a light year, I think, from the Sun.

S: Yup.

B: Billions and billions of these guys and occasionally one will come careening in.

S: (imitating Carl Sagan) Billions and billions.

B: Billions, yes.

E; That's about a Sagan.

GH: A virgin comet has no tail.

B: Okay.

E: (unintelligible) no comets, tell no tales.

B: So, ah, so

S: Tough crowd.

J: George, don't laugh.

E: Yeah, George is grabbing his tie as we speak, right?

S: We're laughing on the inside.

GH: I was all excited. (unintelligible) Zilch. Loser.

B: That's all right. You had some good ones so far, at least. So the big question, in my mind, is is this sucker gonna hit Mars? And the answer is: nobody knows, not yet anyway. Some projections put the comet within 23 to 63,000 miles away from Mars at its closest approach. That's 37 to about 100,000 kilometers away.

E: Hey, Bob. The orbitors we've got; I'm sorry, the orbitor we have, we have one? Or more than one around Mars? Is it gonna be close enough that it's gonna be able to capture this thing for us? Are we gonna get a good view of it?

B: It depends, actually, on various variables. But yeah, they could potentially get a really view of this. Although there are certain things that could make it not as awesome as it could be. Depending the various factors of the approach and things. But, as you know though, as we've talked about this, the estimates of the future positions of these objects are very difficult, 'cause you need to take a nice long look at its orbit so that you can accurately extrapolate, right? And one I wasn't quite aware of , though, is that this is even more problematic with comets, because, think about it; you've got these frozen gases on this comet; they heat up because it's getting closer to the sun, and then they explosively sublimate. They turn from ice to gas very quickly. And so it's like these little geysers that are erupting on the comet, and this, of course, is what creates the tail. That can change the orbit, as you can imagine these little geysers erupting. That could subtly, I mean not a lot, but it can change the orbit of the comet a tiny bit.

S: Like little jets.

B: And, right, and enough, this thing is gonna be so close to Mars as it is, that it could actually make it hit it or even miss it by even a greater distance. So right now, we really won't know until probably the earliest, I think, is late summer. It's when we can confident of what's gonna happen. Chances are, unfortunately, it's not gonna hit. Well, I guess it depends how you look at it. But if it did hit. Whoa. I mean, we're talking megahit. This thing's five to thirty miles across. This thing will be coming in at about, say, 55 kilometers, or 33 miles per second.

GH: Geez.

B: I mean this thing'll be coming in so fast. That is kinetic energy. They're talking, the impact equivalent of a billion megatons, that's a petaton. Equivalent to a one petaton nuke.

S: Bob, you like petatons?

B: I love petatons. They're awesome!

S: You're a petaphile?! (laughter)

B: Yeah, good one. Go for the easy ones, Steve, that was good.

E: See, Bob. There is the horizon. Did you see it coming?

B: That's with a "t" by the way, not a "d." Now, that's millions of times bigger than anything that we've ever detonated. We're talking about a crater that could be hundreds of miles or kilometers across. It would be totally devastating. But that would be cool.

(unintelligible – several people talking at once.)

B: I want this thing to hit Mars so bad. But, and I want one of our rovers to have a safe front-row seat to film this entire thing. But the problem is, I don't think there's, there won't be anywhere safe on the planet. Even if it was on the other side. This thing can be so devastating. It could take out every probe on the planet or in orbit. It won't matter where you are. It could wipe out everything. And that would clearly suck.

S: Would it be worth it, though, to get the video?

B: Think about the time and effort and future science that we would be getting out of these things, all wiped in an hour. Bam! Game over, you're done. But, yeah, the video, the YouTube video that came out of that would be epic. Totally epic.

J: Is that gonna ruin the geologic history of Mars?

B: No. In what way Jay?

E: Not all of it.

S: It's going to hit the last colony of life on Mars. (laughter) Wipe it out. Some bacterial colony.

GH: That group of cells up there is all getting psyched.

S: This little frozen, this little underground pond.

E: (in a little voice) Yay, we can think! Ahhhhhh! Crash.

J: Let me clarify. So we have a petaton object hitting the surface of Mars. Couldn't that breach the, get down in the mantle and actually . . .

S: The Martian crust is a little thicker than Earth's. Mars's crust is 50 kilometers thick on average, while Earth's is 40 kilometers on average. And the mantle is still hot. So, like Earth, Mars has a relatively thin crust. It also has a much thinner atmosphere, only 1/100 the thickness that of Earth. So that's less of a cushion to slow down anything incoming, like a comet. But I don't know if this could carry the punch necessary to crack open the crust down to the mantle.

B: Yeah, and that would be a deep crater, Jay.

J: Couldn't that kick up enough matter into the tiny atmosphere that there is and actually just screw up all of that geologic information?

S: Oh, it'll definitely erase a lot of geological information, no question.

GH: But it could also expose a lot, too.

S: Yeah. I don't know, but, yeah.

GH: I wonder, if it does hit, will this be a, sort of a good selling point for us to come up with some kind of comet deterrence system, asteroid deterrence system. Like, look at Mars! Look at what happened! That could be us!

B: Yeah.

GH: You know, I'm just saying. It'd be nice, right?

B: Absolutely. That's one of the big benefits of the Russian asteroid recently. That people are like, oh, boy, we've gotta really start taking this seriously. If something like that hit Mars and with such a devastating effect, and we filmed it in all of its glory, yeah, that would be, that would spur us even more. So in that regard, I think that will be a great benefit of this thing taking out Mars.

S: So I'm having mixed feelings about (unintelligible) It would be uber-cool in many ways, but I don't want all of NASA's probes to be destroyed. That would suck.

B: In one fell swoop. Which of course, the conspiracy theorists would say, well, yeah, this was manmade. We steered the comet towards Mars to wipe out, so that our probes wouldn't run into the secret…. (overlapping comments)

S: What if the comet hits Cydonia? Like it hits the face on Mars.

B: I was just thinking that, Steve. I was just thinking that! That would be, I really hope that doesn't happen, 'cause that would be too much of a coincidence.

(Many people talking at once – unintelligible)

GH: --put the pieces together. (laughter)

S: Yeah, we're getting there. That's our next item. So, Bob, what I read, though, was that the current estimate is that there's a 0.1 percent chance that the nucleus of the comet will directly hit Mars.

B: Yeah, it's looking unlikely, very unlikely, even right now, before we know the obit.

S: Yeah.

B: But it's not completely ruled out and who knows, these are comets and they are inherently harder to predict than asteroids.

S: But even if it's not a direct hit, though, there's a good chance that the

B: The comea, the coma?

S: Yeah, the coma will pass through Mars. Essentially

GH: Combover?

S: Yeah. It'll coma over, yeah.

GH: If it does hit, though, what happens to all the life force vampires that're in the comet? Are they affected by that, or is that . ..

B: OOOOhhhh. Yeah, I know what you're thinking of, George.

GH: Damn right.

J: My vote is I don't want it to hit.

B: 'Nuf said.

GH: 'Nuf said.

S: Jay votes no. What do you say, Evan?

E: Absolutely yes. This is a once, gosh, not even once in a lifetime chance. Once in a, I don't know, species time chance, for this to happen.

B: Yeah, I wanna see Mars split in two.

S: George, what do you think?

GH: I want it to hit, but I want it to hit like on the far side so we can't see it. Just to really be like Doooohhhhhhh it's so aaaaaaawwwwww. (laughter)

S: Worst case scenario.

GH: Yeah, I want a massive---

(Many people talking at once – unintelligible)

S: --wipes out all our probes so we don't get to see anything.

GH: Yeah, this huge nerd sigh, that just is like "guuuuuhh." Yeah, that's what I want.

B: (laughing) Nerd sigh.

J; Oh, my god.

E: Steve, what do you want? You said no?

S: I'm on the fence. No, I said I'm conflicted, very conflicted.

E: Don't forget, Mars has two moons.

S: Maybe it'll hit one of the moons.

B: Yeah, that'd be cool!

E: How cool would that be?

J: Not cool.

E: Why?

J: It could hit one of the moons and send it towards the Earth and then we're all f'd.

S: No.

B: I'll take that chance.

J: Hey, come on. You never know, Steve.

E: That's what happened in Thundarr the Barbarian. (laughter)

S; Jay, what are the names of the moons of Mars?

J: Yeah, there's, uh, Zero Zero One and Zero Zero Two. (laughter)

E: Alpha and Beta.

B: Deimos and Phobos.

S: Phobos and Deimos, yes.

J: Yeah, the first one, Frankie Gismore (laughter)

E: And the second one is?

J: I love it when we have all guys on the show. (laughter)

Sirius UFO (35:31)[edit]

YouTube: Dr.Steven Greer - Sirius Documentary (Trailer) - New Movie Coming Soon ! 2012

S: Hey, Evan, you're gonna tell us

E: Yes.

S: about the Srius UFO documentary.

B: Seriously.

E: Very serious. We received multiple emails and messages this week about the most recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. Right? That's a podcast, or, it's also a vodcast, but, for those of you not familiar with him, Joe Rogan is an American martial artist, a stand-up comedian, an actor, a writer and color commentator for the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts events. Now. Full disclosure here. I've never seen his stand-up comedy, I've never seen him act. But I've watched him a lot of times doing UFC color, he's very good at it. And now, for the first time ever, I've listened to an entire episode of his podcast. Because he had a fella on, his name is Dr. Steven Greer. And he has put together a documentary film that'll be coming out in April called Sirius. And Joe Rogan spent three hours on his podcast talking with Dr. Steven Greer.

B: Wow. Three hours.

E: Have you guys heard of Steven Greer before?

S: Oh, yeah. He's the head of the Disclosure Project.

E: Yeah. Disclosure Project and other little projects having to do with the world of UFOs. He's huge UFOlogists. He's a prominent believer and conspiracy theorist. So if you haven't heard of him before, consider yourself fortunate. So this is a conspiracy theorist's wet dream. Right? Dr. Greer has stitched together a narrative by which extra-terrestrials, they not only exist, but they are regular visitors to Earth, through space and time. And their physics-altering technologies have been co-opted by the military industrial complex in an effort to suppress the flow of free and clean energy to the people. The masses. Here on Earth.

GH: Booorr-ing!

E: And there's also a, but, George, there's also a shadow government. Did you know that? And it has no borders. It's the very, very powerful, a couple hundred powerful people in corporations around the planet, and they are the puppetmasters pulling the strings of society and technology. You know, they're oil barons and coal tycoons and nuclear-hungry megalomaniacs. And they want to dominate the people of Earth by not giving them access to the alien technology that would give us clean fuel and efficient means of energy. So to top it all off, the coup de grace, the icing on the cake, the smoking gun, the final nail in the coffin.

S: Coup de grace (pronouncing the "s" sound (Evan didn't))

B: We get it.

S: It's coup de gras-s-s

E: Coup (pronouncing the "P") de gra-cey.

S: De gracey. Coup de gracey is acceptable.

E: Dr. Greer has video, photographic and physical evidence of an extra-terrestrial.

S: And he'll show it to you if you pay him.

E: If you pay him. Yes. But if you look at the trailer, he'll show you a little peek of it at the very end of his trailer. It's about six inches long, this little thing. It looks like a little dried-out husk of what would have otherwise been that alien from the infamous alien autopsy video back in the '90s. The one that was, you know, a full-blown hoax.

B: It reminded me of the little alien driving the human body thing in Men in Black. But not as good of a prop, though, because, you know, the movie made a better prop than he did.

GH: A homunculus.

S: It's a homunculus.

J: It's a homunculus, man.

S: So, yeah, the six-inch alien is interesting. We have x-rays of it and some pictures of a skeleton. What's interesting, one thing that I find interesting is that it has every bone a human has in the right place, basically in the right shape. But it's just a little distorted. So the proportions are distorted, but all the bones pretty much are human.

J: You think that that's an actual fetus corpse?

S: I don't know. It could be a hundred percent a fake, just like the alien autopsy. It could be some weird

B: How about a monkey, some weird monkey

S: Primate.

B: Yeah, a primate with no fur or something, a baby one, I don't know. It's either that or it's a complete and utter hoax. It's not just a misidentification and wishful thinking and all that stuff, it's like a clear "I am going to scam people and make all this shit up."

GH: I think the keychain part of it really gives it away, though. I think that's

S: Keychain, yeah.

E: Oh, yes.

B: Yeah.

E: Little "Made in China" tag on it, yeah.

J: Am I missing something here? Like, do a DNA test on the damn thing.

S: So he's claiming to be doing a DNA test.

E: Yup.

S: And claiming to be examining it. But it's all "oh, we need to raise money in order to do the proper science experiments and I have some undisclosed guy in some undisclosed country doing these examinations and it's all. . . So, listening to this guy, 'cause I watched a dozen of his YouTube videos and the trailer to his movie and read some of his articles. You know, he's one of these people where I am not convinced that he's not completely full of it. You know what I mean?

E: Yeah.

S: I'm not convinced that he believes what he's saying. You know, he could believe it somewhat, he could be a total true believer, he could be a total con artist or anywhere in between. It's just, it's hard to say. But he definitely is trying very hard to make a lot of money out of what he's doing. Which doesn't necessarily mean he's wrong. But it gives him a certain vibe. He's doing things, like he has these seminars where he will train you to summon a UFO mentally.

E: Yup. That's right. He knows the secret.

B: Oh, my god, he's going to that level?

S: Yes.

J: So he's saying that he could teach you how to attract a UFO—

S: Yes.

E: That's exactly right. He calls it, and he has a name for it, it's called coherent thought. And you use protocols from, that he describes as close encounters of the

J: Wait, wait. I got it, Evan, I got it.

E: fifth kind. Okay.

J: George.

GH: Yes.

J: Roll play with me, shall you?

GH: All right, hit it.

electronic noises for about 7 seconds. They continue as background to the conversation.

Voice 1: So we have travelled a trillion years, but we will wait in the atmosphere of this planet. We will wait.

Voice 2: Uh, do you think we should maybe like get in touch with the, like, world government, or something?

Voice 1: No. No. No, we will wait. We will sit here and just wait.

Voice 2: 'Cause you know, we've basically spend like pretty much our entire planet's resource to get this ship to this point. You know, it's

Voice 1: You're young; don't be anxious. We will wait.

Voice 2: If there's maybe like a president or like maybe some kind of you know, like a united nations or some organization?

Voice 1: Oh look! The light on the dashboard just turned on! Somebody's summoning us.

Voice 2: Is that an official kind of person that represents like a large number of people that we could then maybe, you know, have a liaison with them, or who is that representing that little dashboard light?

Voice 1: This is . . . um . . . a hippie in a field in North America.

Voice 2: Okay. So we're gonna travel across the known, pretty much, galaxy, to talk to, um, a hippie.

Background noise fades.

J: Does this make sense, guys? I mean, seriously. (laughter)

(Many people talking at once – unintelligible)

E: --Perfect sense.

GH: --our production off Broadway.

S: What happens, Jay, is that he points to lights in the sky and says "That's a UFO."

J: Right.

S: He's probably pointing at satellites.

GH: It turned green, which means we can go.

J: Did anybody think to ask him why are they waiting to just barely show themselves? Like, come on, how could people be this --- fooled?

S: Don't ask that question.

E: Well, Jay, I'm sorry you asked that, because there is kind of an answer to that.

J: What?

E: The aliens are here because they realize we are on the cusp of obtaining technology that can be a threat to them or to other planets . . .

GH: iPhone 6

E: and people on other . . . the iPhone 6, exactly. You know, with all of our nuclear capabilities and mushroom clouds, and these sorts of thing, that's why the aliens have taken an interest.

S: But we've had nuclear weapons for 70 years.

E: Yeah, but it's not, you know, it's only a blip in time because the aliens have been visiting us for millions of years.

J: Guys, guys, we're about to create warp drive.

S: Yeah. Is that from Cochran?

GH: First Contact, there you go.

J: Thank you, of course.

B: That's gotta be it.

(Many people talking at once – unintelligible)

GH: I don't wanna be a statue. (laughter)

S: This guy, the other thing that makes me very suspicious of this guy is that he's doing this "we're right on the cusp, it's happen; governments are gonna start disclosing all the real stuff; they're hiding everything from us. I just need a little bit more money and I'm gonna prove all this." I get the same vibe as the free energy people, which he is a free energy person.

E: Dennis Lee. He is, yes.

S: It's like we're just about to prove the free energy thing and I just need a little bit more investors to give me some more money. We'll get the DNA analysis and free energy thing and all, and everything. It's all a big conspiracy. You know, it's just hard to swallow the whole thing.

GH: Was Joe Rogan at all questioning or skeptical, at all? Or was it just three hours of complete agreement and, like, do you think he completely bought into it? Or did he have him on the show to kind of just, sort of show this is a crazy guy?

E: That's a great question, George. Joe had him on the show, Joe says, because his listeners demanded it.

GH: Ah, okay.

E: Well, not demanded, but heavily requested that this person be on the show. So that gives you an insight as to the audience of the Joe Rogan Show. But, in any case, Joe did a, better than I expected, job of asking him some questions that a good skeptic would have asked. Now here's the problem with Joe, though. And he admits this. He wants to believe that this stuff and other things like it are actually true, and therefore, he will be much, much more relaxed in his level of standards, right. His threshold by which the person has to achieve in order to convince Joe that something is right. But Joe's not a dumb person. He knows some things. And he shows that he knows some things. He knows a little bit about science and physics and so forth. And he does ask some decent questions. But at the same time, he really has, his biases do get the better of him in the end.

GH: I've listened to his show. He's a very smart guy. He's a very funny guy. I liked his stand-up and I've heard a number of his podcasts, too. And on some things he can be very skeptical. His approach is actually really good. And other times he'll sort of begin just a little bit of skepticism and then there's no follow-up like at all. Like one response from a person and he just kind of stops that kind of front. And it's a shame because I bet if he had some kind of epiphany moment, I think there could be a real turnaround for him. Because he is a deductive kind of smart guy. He's not a completely credulous—from what I can tell, anyway, from the limited amount I've listened to.

S: Well what I want to know is why is there a six-inch tall alien that looks more human than any alien has the right to look. That's what I want to know. Why will it have DNA, if it's alien?

J: Because they seeded the Earth, Steve. Come on, there's always a good explanation.

S: Yeah, I know. They always have their hand-waving BS explanation, but it doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

B: Look at Prometheus. They were big and muscular, you know. (laughter)

GH: Don't even start on Prometheus.

E: Prometheus? Oh

S: George, you love that movie.

GH: Love it. Love it! I have it running in a loop in my head all day long. (laughter) Ugggghh! I'm in it for the money.

S: Oh, boy.

E: That's a good line, from that. So, there you go. That's the latest with the, Joe and . . .

Who's That Noisy? (47:08)[edit]

S: All right, so, Evan, it's time for Who's That Noisy?

E: Yup. I'm gonna play for you last week's noisy, and it was up to you the listening audience to guess exactly what this noisy was. Here we go.

Men's voices speaking on some kind of communicators: Person 1: You're looking a little hot and all your calls will be a little early. (Beep) Person 2: Okay. Person 3: And that looks good here.

S: That is, that is a whistlepig. (laughter)

E: No, no, that was . . . no, we can't do that two weeks in a row. Yeah, we can't.

J: We knew it was a NASA beep, communication with somebody in outer space, but we didn't know what mission. What was it?

E: Well, George, what do you think? Have you heard that before somewhere?

GH: That is actually the mission that the band Rush used for the song "Countdown."

E: Um hmmm. That is exactly correct. STS 1. Space Shuttle Columbia.

GH: Right.

E: April 12, 1981. Yup. That was a little part of the communiqué going on between Mission Control and astronauts Young and Crippen in the shuttle itself.

J: Awesome.

GH or J: (singing) Excitement soo grand.

J: (singing) It's the final countdown.

GH: Not that one. No, no, stop it, stop it. No. Wrong hair. Wrong hair. (laughter) More kimonos, less hair.

E: I'm very proud of our audience. So many correct guesses. I was very, very pleased with everyone this past week, so thank you all for playing and submitting your correct guesses. I drew randomly from all the correct guesses and Ross Rawlings, you are the winner this week, because I drew your name. So, well done, Ross.

GH: Ross Rawlings! Fantastic!

E: He is now in the running

George making trumpeting sounds

E: Is that The Dating Game?

GH: Tell him what he's won! Tell him what he's won! (laughter) (trumpeting continues)

E: Welllll, Ross, you are now in the running to join us for an episode of Science or Fiction on an episode of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. We will have the drawing at the beginning of 2014. So congratulations!

(trumpeting finishes up) (laughter)

E: I didn't know you carried a little bugle in your back pocket there, George. That's very handy.

GH: I'm just happy to see you.

E: Logic puzzle this week, ladies and gentlemen. Get your thinking caps on, and try this one: A man from the Ukraine had three sons. The first son was named Rab, and he became a lawyer.

S: Isn't it Rab (pronouncing it "Rob") like Hrab?

E: It's R-A-B.

S: Yeah.

E: How would you pronounce that, George?

GH: I would say Rob.

E: Okay.

GH: If he's Ukrainian. And don't say "The Ukraine," just say "Ukraine."

E: Oh, okay. Sorry 'bout that.

S: A man from The France. (laughter)

GH: Exactly. The France, yeah. Or, The England.

E: A man from The Hague had three sons.

S: Go ahead, Evan. Get it right this time.

E: A man from Ukraine had three sons. The first son was named Rab, and he became a lawyer. The second son was named Ymra, and he became a soldier. The 3rd son became a sailor, so, what was his name?

S: Got it.

E: So, go ahead, give us your answer to that logic puzzle. is the email. Or you can post it on the forums at Tune up your thinking caps. Good luck, everyone.

S: Thanks, Evan.

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question 1: Magnet Hill (50:26)[edit]

S: We have a few questions this week. I don't know if we'll get through all of them, but let's start with this one. This one comes from Jonathan Nonon from New York, and Jonathan writes:

I am a Software Engineer originally from Dominican Republic,

Is it The Dominican Republic?

I have been a listener of the show since 2010, and every week I am looking forward to a new SGU chapter. When I was a kid (I am 28)

He's still a kid.

back in the DR, a journalist made an investigation about a "Magnetic Pole" in one remote corner of the country, Barahona, in the south east of the island. It always puzzled me. The place looks like a hill, however, everything you place in the ground "rolls" in the opposite direction, uphill. All objects, no matter what material they are, the are pulled upwards. You can look at dozens of videos on youtube by searching the string "polo magnetico barahona" [Magnetic Pole Barahona] The common and most simple explanation is that the place is an optical illusion. Is not that I do not believe it, I do not understand it. I have been looking for explanations, but none of them satisfy my curiosity. In my little research, I didn't find any other place where this phenomenon is happening. If you can explain this phenomenon I will appreciate it.

J: This phenomenon was one of the first ones that I debunked on my own. I figured it out by myself and I was really proud of myself. It was a long time ago. Thank you. So, it's known by many names, and there are hundreds of locations around the world that have this thing happening. But first, these are called, they're known by different terms: gravity hill, magnetic hill, spooky mystery hill, mystery spot or gravity road, there's lots of different names, different um, it's funny but

E: Sounds like an episode of Scooby Doo or something, right?

J: Different interpretations of the names that these places get around the world all revolve around that them. Something about a road or a hill being magnetic or spooky.

GH: (in a southern accent) Fried Hill. Chicken Hill. (unintelligible) Spooky Hill.

J: Whistlepig Hill.

GH: Whistlepig Hill. That's about it.

J: So, these places are where the lay of the land produces an optical illusion. The emailer was absolutely correct. Typically, these are roads that have a tiny downhill slope but happen to appear like they're going uphill. A common test that you'll see someone do on YouTube is they'll turn their car off, put it in neutral, and then they take their foot off the gas and the break and everything. No interaction, and the car just starts rolling, it looks like uphill. The illusion is another example that people are easy to fool because of the way our senses work, and we've talked about this on the show before. The way our senses construct reality is happening incredibly fast in our brain. Our brain's constantly trying to make sense of what it sees. Like, what cues do we use to tell spatially how big things are, how far things are, and what their orientation is compared to everything else that we're seeing. And our brain has to make decisions with the information that it has in front of them. And also taking into account or effecting what you're seeing is your bias, your pre-conceived notions of how things are supposed to behave. So in this case, typically when we are outside and trying to orient ourselves, the horizon comes into play, particular in a case like this where there's something going uphill or downhill and we need to know spatially where it is in comparison to where we are. The other big thing is the angle of the trees and the surrounding hills and the land. It can and does happen, like I said there's hundreds of places around the world this is, where it actually looks the opposite of what the land is actually doing, which is weird, I know, but it does happen, and thousands upon millions of people have been fooled over the years at these locations. But that's it. Magicians use the fact that we are susceptible to illusions to fool us all the time. You can go on YouTube and fall prey to illusions that even on a 2D screen. We're that susceptible to them. And that is the explanation, even though we'd like to think that there's something cool going on; you know, there's some type of cosmic thing that's reversing the magnetic forces: nope, sorry, it's just your eyes playing tricks on you.

E: It's not a vortex.

S: The magnetic thing doesn't even make sense because things that are not ferro-magnetic are also affected.

E: Plastic bottles. That's right.

S: It would have to be a gravity phenomenon; there's an anti-gravity field, or something, there. Cyclists, bike riders, know about this phenomenon. You know what they call it?

J: Something slope, or

S: It's called a false flat.

J: False flat. There you go.

S: So when it looks like you're on a level field, but you're actually slightly going uphill, and so it's harder, so if you don't account for that, you may get tuckered out because you think; you're actually pedaling uphill and you don't realize it because the optical illusion looks flat.

GH: My dad, years ago, like when I was kid and we would drive in the Lincoln Tunnel to get into New York City, or the Holland Tunnel. The first third of the tunnel, you're going at a pretty decent angle sort of downwards, but there's no sense of it because you're in this tunnel. He would put the car in neutral and he would sort of say, are we flat right now? What do you think is our position right now? And I would say, Yeah, we're totally flat, like it just feels like all of a sudden we're totally level; and he put the car in neutral, it just rolled down until you get to the bottom, where it flattens out, where the car would then slow, and then it would sort of, you know, you would notice that you're going now uphill on that last part of it. That was the first time as a kid that this perception thing, was like, you don't trust what you're seeing; don't trust what you're feeling, don't trust what you're seeing necessarily.

S: Yeah, I've noticed that in long tunnels as well. You lose your perspective. 'Cause it's all relative. It's hard to know if you're going down or going up.

GH: 'Cause there's no horizon. It's that false horizon. Which is also my favorite Schwartzenegger film.

J: (In an Austrian accent) False horizon.

B: Oh, god.

GH: (In an Austrian accent) This movie everything rolls uphill. (laughter)

Question 2: Tourette (56:27)[edit]

S: All right, one more question. This one comes from Woody. And Woody writes:

I was recently in a discussion about Tourette Syndrome and, to get quickly to the point, minor forms of said syndrome. It was my assertion that minor forms where more akin to compulsion or in more extreme cases OCD, and that Tourette was specifically in the extreme. I remember you touching shortly on this on the SGU and searched your Blogs to see if you had written more in depth, to no avail. I was hoping that you could give me a short rundown on the "mechanics."

Okay, sure, I'll be happy to do that, Woody. Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder first described by a famous French neurologist, Tourette, which involves, essentially, tics. A tic is an involuntary movement of some kind. It could be moving a part of your body, it could be a vocalization, clearing your throat, anything like that is a tic. And it's involuntary in that people do it

B: Involuntarily, (laughter)

S: Yeah, they don't want to do it, but, well, the reason why I'm clarifying is because most people with these tics can suppress them for a short period of time. So it's not involuntary like a seizure is involuntary, where you have no control over it. It's involuntary . . . maybe it's better to think of it that the desire to do the movement's involuntary. But you can temporarily suppress it. But when people try to do that they describe it as like this growing itch, this growing desire to do the tic, and that can only be relieved by executing the tic. Right? So it essentially becomes impossible to suppress it for any length of time.

J: It sounds horrifying.

S: It is, And in its severe form it's very debilitating.

E: Debilitating, yeah.

S: Now he brings up obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, and there is a relationship between OCD and Tourette, but it's not just one of extremity. It's not like extreme cases are OCD and mild cases are Tourette, or the other way around. You can have both Tourette's and OCD, and they do frequently occur together. So does Tourette's and ADHD, attention deficit and hyper-activity disorder. What obsessive-compulsive disorder is, you can think of that as the mental version of a tic. It is an involuntary thought or obsession. So the notion that you have to do things a certain number of times, for example, or that you have to wash your hands, or there are people who have obsessive checking behavior, like they might turn a light switch on and off 20 times. Or I read of a case where somebody had this obsession that they, while driving, that they ran somebody over, and so they kept having to turn around and go back to see if there was a dead body in the street. And they just would get into this endless loop of going back and checking to see if they had run somebody over. They are similar parts of the brain, similar phenomenon, OCD is mental, tics are physical. But they're very similar, phenomenalogically. But you can have very mild Tourette Syndrome. In fact there's a lot of people, you've probably seen them, you know, who have these little tics. You know. That are not that bad and not debilitating in any way, they're just odd. All the way up to people who, their tic is swearing: so-called coprolalia. That's about 10-15% of people with Tourette's will have the coprolalia. They'll, not just clearing the throat or some vocalization, but for whatever reason, their tic is saying something that is socially unacceptable. And it's absolutely culture specific. You know, it's not like people in different cultures say the same thing. The tic is saying something that is a swear word in your culture; that will be socially offensive or inappropriate in the current context.

GH: Was it thought at some point that perhaps Tourette's was misinterpreted as possession?

S: Oh, I'm sure, going back. Going back, absolutely. If you read classic descriptions of people who were thought to be

GH: witches and stuff.

S: possessed by demons, yeah. These were people, probably, with neurological disorders. I'm sure Tourette's is on the list. Seizures. You know, if you had a fit, they didn't think "Oh, he's having an electric discharge in the brain." They would think you're possessed by a demon.

GH: Right.

S: Absolutely.

GH: Do you guys have any OCD stuff? Any of you guys have any kind of little compulsions?

S: I assume by your question that you do.

GH: I don't think I do. I mean, there's, it's just that weird thing of determining what is sort of tradition, in a weird way. Like, everybody has whatever they do. Like when I'm setting up my drums, let's say. It's a certain order that I have to do it. If it doesn't happen in that order, it's okay. I don't feel like the world's gonna collapse, but there is a certain pleasure in knowing, oh, this goes, then this goes, then this goes.

S: It feels right. Yeah. So I had two very mild OCD-type things when I was younger that I basically outgrew.

E: So you think.

S: Yeah, well, they're still present a little bit, but I don't actually do them anymore.

B: Really?

S: I had an even-number bias,

GH: Hm.

S: Where even numbers feel right, and odd numbers don't so

B: Freak.

S: I had bias toward doing things an even number of times. Or I had a completion sort of OCD. Where like if I did something on one side, it felt better if I did it on the other side. Or like if I tapped one finger, I had to tap all of my fingers. But, very little things like that. Very subtle, and just when I was younger. I don't do them anymore as an adult, but I still, sometimes they're like way deep back buried in my head that there's little

GH: Cool.

S: It feels a little right to complete things or to have an even number.

GH: Right, right.

J: I definitely had some as a kid. Like I, the switch thing sparked a memory. I think I used to just keep flipping the light switch for no reason, until I just felt like, okay, I'm done with that. (laughter)

GH: You just wanted to be in a disco, that's all. You were just hoping for the strobe effect.

J: I, spacially, things, I was particular about where things were. I would have like a fear, like something was gonna fall off the nightstand I would keep pushing it more and more into the nightstand until it was ridiculously in the center.

S: That's a good one.

B: But this isn't dramatic, is it?

S: Yeah, sure. Pre-disposition.

B: Oh, boy.

J: I definitely grew out of them, like if anything I wish I was a little more OCD now, 'cause I'd be cleaner and get more stuff done. Steve's like, I'm OCD, I had to complete medical school. (laughter)

S: The thing is, what's interesting is in that anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness, a little bit of that is very practical and adaptive, and beneficial. There's an upside and a downside, and most people are somewhere in the middle. Obviously if you had no anxiety whatsoever, you'd walk out into traffic. Or if you had no, you would have no personal hygiene. Your house would be a mess. You have to be motivated to do stuff by a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of the obsessiveness. But too much and it starts to become counter-productive. There's a bell curve. And what we're really talking about with OCD is people just at one end of the spectrum.

J: It's fascinating to think that there's a healthy amount of OCD, which you just said, in the range of whatever we would say is normal, that isn't obstructive.

S: Healthy.

J: Yeah, healthy.

S: And maybe along with that comes these little quirks that are benign, but that are just interesting quirks in how our brain works.

GH: Most people that are successful, ___________ successful, I mean, Tycho Brahe, when he was sitting, looking at stars night after night after night, that's a compulsion. All the people that, Gregor Mendel on some level was probably obsessive, you know. You have to be, on some level, or whether you're painting or an artists or something, there's some kind of a compulsion and an obsession that can drive stuff, and that's why a lot of those people don't have social skills necessarily, or don't do well outside of the compulsion, and yet they can be special.

S: Think about the entire skeptical movement, is based upon compulsion. Somebody is wrong on the internet. Why do we care so much? Because people believe things that are not reasonable, or that are unscientific.

J: Well, what are we gonna do? Not correct them, Steve. I mean, come on, seriously.

S: I'm just saying, this is a good healthy compulsion. It bothers us emotionally, so we are motivated to do something.

GH: Until it's comments on a Facebook page, correcting some obscure reference which was wrong. I mean, it's like, okay, fine. Yes. Technically, you're correct. I'm sorry that my joke didn't adhere to the 14th Century standards of the ___________ system. The way I was implying at 37 characters in, I'm sorry, you're correct. It's much funnier your way.

J: The words you were saying were correct, George, but totally, you were completely incorrect.

GH: Yes, your version is much funnier. I'm sorry.

S: Yeah, there's a recurring discussion of pedantry, people who are pedantic. A certain amount of being pedantic is good. It means being a good scientist, detail oriented. You could spin it all in a very positive way. You know, you get the facts right. Or you could say you're obsessed with irrelevant details that don't matter. And both could be correct, it's just a matter of degree. Fascinating the way our brains work.

Science or Fiction (1:06:04)[edit]

Voiceover" It's time for Science or Fiction

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts with which I challenge my panel of expert skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week, with four items. I know you guys love this. The theme is: the internet. Four facts about the internet, only three of them are true. Are you all ready?

J: Do it.

E: Uh huh.

S: Okay. Item #1: Greater than 60% of upstream traffic is comprised of torrent files, while Netflix by itself represents 1/3 of peak download traffic. Item #2: benefitted from the popularity of the Yahoo search engine, which listed search results alphabetically. Item #3: North America has the highest internet penetration at 78.6%, while Africa has the lowest at 15.6%. And Item #4: In 1999 Congressman Peter Schnell proposed House Bill 602P allowing the US postal service to charge a 5cent surcharge for each e-mail sent. The bill died in response to public outrage.

GH: Geez.

S: George, you were the first one to utter a noise. Which mean that you get to go first. I know you didn't know the rules, but that's no excuse, so.

GH: (Makes noises indicating consternation) I would totally believe that, in the first one, that Netflix has that much of the share, and the torrent, the torrent and the Netflix percentages, I would think that's correct. Amazon benefitting from the alphabetical listing, I also would think that is correct. I think the percentages seem right between North America and Africa, 78 and 15.6. That seems legit. The thing, the one that stood out to me is the fourth one, that five cent surcharge, because that's been one of those kind of internet myths which has been passed around forever and ever. Even though you said that it wasn't that it didn't pass, to think that Congress, in 1999, seeing as the internet sort of really sort of hit it off in '93, that they would be that far ahead of the curve in thinking of having a five cent surcharge, I think that's the fake one. So I would say the surcharge one is the fake.

S: Okay. Bob?

B: Oh, boy. Yeah. Umm. Yeah, I hear often that torrent just dominates internet traffic so I could buy 60% upstream. I mean even higher wouldn't be too surprising. And Netflix. Man, I have watched Netflix every damn night. I'm not surprised at that. Even that could be higher and I wouldn't be too surprised. Internet penetration, North American 78. Yeah, you know, I'm kind of not sure about that one 'cause I would think that other countries, like Japan, or some other countries would have higher internet penetration than even we do. But I think because you, I don't know, maybe something about using North America instead of the United States kind of is getting my attention. And then the five cent surcharge. So the fact that somebody proposed a bill, ehh, it doesn't concern me or get my attention as much as the Amazon one. I don't think I've ever used Yahoo's search engine. It just makes no sense to me that the search results will be listed alphabetically. To me that's just ridiculous. That can't be right. Because it's just too easy to name yourself then get yourself high on the list. It just seems silly to have your results listed alphabetically. I'm just gonna go for that one. That's gotta be fiction.

S: Okay. Evan?

E: Ummm. Well, the congressman, five cent surcharge for each email sent. I have some recollection of this. I'm not sure if this is a twisting of this somehow, but I'm gonna say that that one's correct. Okay. The highest internet penetration at 78.6%. I suppose so; we're judging the continents here. Therefore, well, Antarctica. I think Antarctica would have the lowest internet penetration, but I guess we're not counting that. So given the remaining continents, I suppose Africa's gonna, I imagine, have the lowest. It's such a big continent. Well, I think that one's correct. Therefore, it's down to Amazon and the popularity of the Yahoo search engine or greater than 60% of upstream traffic. Torrent files. So, it kind of leaves this Yahoo and one, yeah. I don't know. Results alphabetically, seems a little simplistic, so I guess for the same reason Bob, I'll say that one's fiction.

S: Okay. And, Jay.

J: Okay, I'll take them in order. The first about 60% of upstream traffic is Torrent files, that one is absolutely true. The glut of upstream Torrent files is, of course that's true because of how much downloading that's happening. It can track those types of things. And we know what websites people are going to to get the files, and it's hard to track, I would imagine, but I'm sure that there's a way to gauge that, and I do believe that there is a phenomenal amount of file-sharing going on. The second one about Amazon benefitting from Yahoo. Yes, that is true, by the way. And Yahoo definitely used to display their things in alphabetical order.

B: Really? What the hell?

J: That's a hundred percent true.

B: Stupid. (laughter)

GH: Stupid Yahoo. Stupid.

E: That's why it's called Yahoo.

J: The third one about North America having the highest penetration and Africa has the lowest, those numbers seem right to me as well. So, the five cent one is absolutely false. Absolutely false.

S: Okay, so we have a split decision here. But you all agree on the first one, so we'll start there. Greater than 60% of upstream traffic is comprised of Torrent files while Netflix by itself represents one third of peak download traffic. You all think that one is true. And that is . . . science. Not surprising. So obviously it does depend a little bit on what resource you're looking at for who's studying internet traffic and reporting on it. Most of the studies come from companies that sell products and services to ISPs to regulate their traffic. So they may not be the most objective sources, but I tried to find as many sources for this as I could, and I'll have links to this. So, yeah, so, 60%, 61% specifically, so greater than 60% of upstream traffic: just upstream. For total traffic it's actually much less. It's like 20% for the Torrent files. Some list it as peer-to-peer. But I guess most of that is Torrent. Some list it as Torrent traffic. And a recent 2012 study showed that Netflix represent a third, now this is download, rather than upload, and it's during the peak times. So one-third of peak download traffic.

J: Yeah, snow days and after 5:00.

S: Right. And different surveys whacked up internet traffic in different ways, like how much is on web pages versus blogs, versus video. Video is obviously taking off, where web pages kind of peaked and are on the, they're going down. I saw another study; there was so much information about, you know, statistical information on the internet that I could choose from. One study, recent study, showed that more than half of website visits are by robots, rather than people.

B: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

S: Yeah, wasn't surprising.

E: Like, Data?

S: Yeah, and a lot of that is malicious.

J: Yeah. Definitely a lot of it's malicious, and keep in mind that Google has its tentacles out there all the time. Which I think is a good thing, from a data perspective, it's fantastic. But at the same time, you could have software that can show you all the times that your IP address is pinged. And, of course, the more popular your IP address is, like a public website that might have just regular traffic going to it, whatever, it's scary. It's insane. And it's not by human hands. I'm sure the vast minority of it is by humans.

S: Vast minority. I always liked that phrase. All right, let's go on to number 3. North America has the highest internet penetration at 78.6% while Africa has the lowest at 15.6. You all also agree that that one is science, and that one is . . . also science. So far so good.

E: Wow.

S: It's not surprising that Africa is so low. Or that North America is high. I thought that some people might think that Europe, for example, has a higher penetration than North America, but it doesn't. It's lower. Asia's actually quite low. This is broken up by continent, obviously. So whereas Japan may have a high penetration, Asia actually is low. Just above Africa. All right, here we go. Let's go back to number 2. benefitted from the popularity of the Yahoo search engine which listed search results alphabetically. Jay and George think this one is science; Evan and Bob, you think this one is fiction.

J: Georgie!

E: Hold my hand, Bob.

S: And this one

B: Not gonna help.

S: is . . . science!

J: Thank you.

S: All right, Bob and Evan.

E: Give me my hand back, Bob. That didn't help at all.

S: That was surprising.

J: No, it wasn't.

B: Very. I wish I used Yahoo now. 'Cause I went from MetaCrawler right to Google. I think I used Yahoo, literally, three times in my life, search.

S: So, do you guys know what was called before it was

GH: Zingy Zing Zinger.

B: Zamazon.

S: It was called As in abracadabra. But they thought it sounded too much like "cadaver."

E: I agree.

B: Yeah, I know a website that's called Abracadabra. Really cool stuff.

S: And so they changed the name to Amazon. And some references that I found said that they specifically changed their name to something with an "A" to get high on the Yahoo listings. Others that it was just a happy consequence of doing that. Some credited the fact that Yahoo is so dominant now with their early boost from being listed on the first page alphabetically. That's why I just said that they benefitted, not that it's responsible for their popularity. I don't know if you could justify that claim.

J: I love

S: Certainly it didn't hurt, being listed high up in the order alphabetically.

B: Why would Yahoo make a search engine that would list themselves second to last? (laughter) That's all I wanna know.

E: 'Cause they wanted to stick it to (laughter)

GH: Are you guys aware of the Amazon logo? I'm sure you're all aware of this, but when this was first pointed out to me, the smile, 'cause you have the word Amazon, and it looks like a face. Well the smile actually is pointing from A to Z. I just thought that was cool. That's like, you know, they cover everything. A to Z.

S: Yeah, right.

GH: No, no, it's just neat. It's one of those design things. Like you never see it and then when you see it you can't not see it.

S: Yeah.

J: Yeah, it's

B: Oh, shit.

J: logo has an arrow in it.

GH: That's it. Yeah, I love that type of stuff.

B: I just noticed it, George. Awesome.

GH: There you go.

J: One quick interesting fact about Amazon; fact, or whatever. But Amazon was one of the companies that helped write modern shopping software. They came up with the, well, did they come up it, whatever; they made it popular. They made that way of checking out and their processes. They are a phenomenal internet company. They are a phenomenal aggregator of companies' goods.

E: Alligator.

GH: When you first about the concept of Amazon, whenever that was, '94, '95, when you first heard the commercial—I remember being in the car and hearing a commercial for this and the idea that there were like millions of book available somewhere through the internet. Did you guys think that would work?

S: I did. But I was a pretty much, I was an early internet optimist. I have to say.

GH: I remember thinking

J: But, George

B: I don't know what I thought.

J: George, I didn't think their other model of aggregating other people's good was gonna work. I thought that was very strange.

GH: Right. I thought it was a brilliant idea that would never work. I was like that is the coolest idea and people are never gonna wanna use it.

J: Well, we do.

GH: Exactly.

S: Let's go on to number 4. In 1989 Congressman Peter Schnell proposed House Bill 602P allowing the U.S. Postal Service to charge a five cent surcharge for each email. The bill died in response to public outrage. George, you're right. This is an urban myth. It comes up all the time. It's the never-ending "Oh, they're gonna charge for email. The Postal Service is upset that they're losing all of their revenue from regular mail so they're gonna try to make it back by taxing email." It's all nonsense.

GH: Yay.

J: Complete hooey.

GH: Yay.

E: The whole thing?

GH: I never get this right!

J: One hundred percent nonsense.

S: It's a hundred percent. There's also some clues in there.

B: No, there's not.

S: There is. First of all, Peter Schnell never existed. Not that you know every congressman that ever lived, but.

E: I should have Yahoo'd that.

GH: My list of congressman. Hmm.

S: The other thing. This is a little detail, but, house bills are numbered all by the letter "H,"


S: and Senate bills by the letter "S." There's no such thing as a bill, and 602P doesn't make sense.

E: You said to pee.

GH: So clever.

S: Well, I didn’t make that up. This is the spam, right? This is the bill that, you look up House Bill 602P, it's this. But the people who made it up didn't even number it right. They didn't even use a House Bill numbering system.

GH: Sweet.

J: If you take every third letter in that sentence it spells out "Steve is awesome" too.

E: Stupid memory.

S: All right. So, Jay and George, you both won this week. So I have a run-off bonus question.

GH: Ohhh.

J: Okay.

S: Okay? What was the number one trending Google search term for 2012?

GH: Oh, um. Um, um. Gangman style.

S: Very close, number two.

GH: That was number two?

S: yup.

GH: Son of a bitch.

E: That's pretty good, George.

GH: Um.

J: For the fact that I haven't slept in a month and my brain is completely fried, I'm going to say, sadly, was it "Call Me Maybe"?

S: Nope.

E: Nah. Sandy Hook?

S: Number three was Hurricane Sandy. And, despite the fact that this was an election year in the United States, the number one trending Google search term in 2012 was "Whitney Houston."

B: What?

E: Oh, yeah. I recall reading that.

B: Oh, my god.

E: Yup.

B: Did she die or something?

GH: Always Love You.

B; Yeah, I knew that.

S: Right.

GH: Wow. So I get the Science or Fiction right, and I get the close to, this is, guys, you know what, you've just made my—what time is it? (laughter)

E: Made my picosecond.

B: You made my minute.

S: 10:28.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:22:01)[edit]

S: Alright, Jay, what's your quote for this week?

J: My quote for this week is:

Neither evolution nor creation qualifies as a scientific theory.

S: I have a sneaking suspicion I know who said that (he laughs)

J: Who do you think it is, Steve?

S: Was that Duane Galloping Gish?

J: (shouts) Duane Gish. (Back to a normal voice) Why am I quoting him, guys?

GH: I thought it was Whitney Houston.

J: (inaudible) attached to this.


J: (sings) Neither evolution nor creation. (Back to a normal voice) Duane Gish died on 3/5/2013.

S: Yes. And we will talk, next week, 'cause we just discovered it during our actual recording, that he died yesterday. So we will probably discuss it in more detail

GH: Look, there's no proof that he's died. Scientists don't agree that he died. There's a lot of debate about whether or not he's dead. I don't think we should jump … Look, we should be able to teach the fact that he might be alive or that he might be dead, 'cause there's no consensus on this.

S: How can you even define death?

(two people talking at once—inaudible)

S: It's a false dichotomy.

GH: Exactly.


NECSS (1:23:06)[edit]

J: Hey, George, the name of your show is what?

GH: It's called Stimulus Response, is the name of the whole evening. 'Cause it's all science-y.

J: And that's on Friday, April 5th, and then NECSS is on the 6th and 7th and we have activities going on from

S: We have a new event planned. We're gonna have a showdown between Michael Shermer and Massimo Pigliucci over the science of ethics. That's gonna be interesting. They're gonna go mano a mano.

E: Yeah, exactly. A little gunslinger action.

J: Yeah, Steve, I didn't know we locked that in yet, so I'm really, I'm glad to hear that.

S: Yes. Julia Galef is going to moderate. Next week is show 400.

GH: Congratulations, guys. That is really awesome. That is really, really meaningful and fantastic.

S: Thank you.

B: Wow.

GH: And so cool.

S: Thank you , George.

J: Thanks, George.

S: Hey, George, you just passed 300!

GH: I just passed 300, yeah. But that's

S: That's awesome, too.

GH: Yeah, but you guys are 400! 400! (laugher) That's tremendous. Tremendous, guys.

S: Alright, thanks George.

J: Thanks, George.

E: Thanks, everybody.

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

J: Thanks, Dr. Steve.

E: Good to be here. Good week.

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

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


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