SGU Episode 411

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SGU Episode 411
1st June 2013
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 410                      SGU 412

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


VD: Vijay Dewan

ST: Scott Thurman

Quote of the Week

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

Karl Popper

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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 Tuesday May 22nd 2013 and this is your host Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Rebecca Watson

R: Hello everyone

S: Jay Novella

J: Hey guys

S: and Evan Bernstein

E: Hey-yo darleen

J: Hey darling, how you doing?

E: That is saying hey there in Gungan, Star Wars Episode 1

R: Gungadin?

J: It sounds like Bill Murray in Caddyshack when he says "agungalagunga"

E: It's close, because it's Jar Jar Binks

S: Really? Jar Jar Binks?

E: According to Wookieepedia, yeah. And that is a fine resource

R: (savoring sounds) Wookieepedia

S: Did you all have a fine vacation yesterday?

R: What vacation?

S: Memorial Day

R: Oh!

J: I've had 10 hamburgers since Friday. 10 hamburgers

(sounds of disgust)

R: Since Friday?

J: Yup

E: You can only eat a few more this week, I tell you. That's a lot of red meat

R: I don't— that's probably not healthy

E: No

J: It's been one big picnic! I mean, I don't feel good about myself but—


J: I love hamburgers, though, man!

S: So yesterday, I got my first picture bald eagle

R: Oh!

S: Yeah, it's very cool, there's a bald eagle nesting in Hamden. Evan and I took the families down there to see the nest. It seems just like right next to the street, right next to the road. And the nest is huge! But we couldn't see anything in the nest, we were hanging out there for about 20 minutes or so, hoping— because we know from reports that there is a baby in the nest, a baby eagle. But we did see one— possibly both of the parents flying around after about 20 minutes, one of the parents showed up and had to fight off an ospreywhich was getting too close to the nest. It sort of chased it away, and then it just perched next to the nest and just stood there like on guard.

R: Isn't an osprey like one of those, like a crane or something?

S: No, an osprey is like a large sea bird that eats fish and so they both sort of— this is next to like a marshy area so that they have that both bald eagles osprey would be in the same sort of niche there

J: How big was the eagle, Steve?

S: It's a huge bird

J: Like, if you were standing up and it was standing next to you on the ground how high up would it come on you?

S: Oh, I'm not sure, maybe 3 feet?

J: Oh wow!

E: And it's a raptor, correct?

S: It's a raptor

J: Yeah, they don't they don't get much more raptor than an eagle

S: They're beautiful, beautiful birds.

E: Oh yes

R: I saw a bald eagle in Alaska that had lost its beak, and they made it a new beak, so it had Like a fake beak on. It was pretty awesome

S: Wow

J: Yeah, I've read about that too

R: It looked sad, because it was still in a cage, but it was cool that they helped out

E: It's like the Tyco Brahe of birds

R: While in Alaska, I also saw an eagle swoop down and grab a fish out of the water and then take it away

J: Did it go "Geeyar" when it swooped down?

R: B-R?

J: "Geeyar"! Don't birds make that noise when they swoop down at you, and they come bite your horsey?

S: That sound that you hear, Jay, that every movie and TV show plays as the sound of a raptor?

J: Yeah

S: Is a red tailed hawk. That's not the sound that eagles make

J: Do you mean this sound?

(typical bird screech used)

S: Yeah, that is a red tailed hawk

R: Steve, can you make the sound of an eagle for us right now?

(dubbed with chirping sound)

This Day in Skepticism (3:41)[edit]

R: Hey! Guess what happened on this day in history — speaking of none of that. On June 1st 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, Robert Woodrow Wilson — good name — discovered the background radiation that was a huge part of the proof for the big bang.

J: Awesome!

S: mm-hmm

R: They were doing radio astronomy using a very sensitive antenna, and they kept getting this interference, and they couldn't figure out what it was. It seemed to be coming from everywhere, they were located in New Jersey so they thought maybe it was coming from New York, but it wasn't, because it was like all around. The examined the antenna, and they found that it was absolutely covered in pigeon droppings. So they cleaned it off and they murdered the pigeons, and they still heard this sound, and so they wrote it up. It turns out, they discovered this amazing proof for cosmic microwave background radiation. I think Stephen Hawking called it the final nail in the coffin for the competing steady state theory.

S: mm-hmm

R: So this ones pretty much nailed it for the big bang

S: And they got the Nobel Prize for Physics for that discovery in 1978

R: They did!

E: Wow, they weren't even initially looking for it.

R: There were other people who were looking for it and it was first&mdash I did it already been on theorized, and so there were a few people looking for it. One of the first people to come up with the idea of it was Ralph Alpher. Which is like one of my favorite scientist names of all time 'cos it sounds like Scooby Doo saying the name of the leader of our gang. (demonstrates)

J: True

R: So, yeah, people had been looking for it, and—

S: How could you look for it and not find it? 'cos it's always there?

R: Well they were hot on its trail, so Alpher had come up with this idea—

S: It's like missing the ground, right?

R: People weren't very interested in it, apparently. Astronomers just weren't that into it, like there was a small group of people that were really fascinated by this and thought that this was something observible that they could find. And so people like Robert Dicke, another great name in astronomy history. Dicke came up with this super sensitive antenna that the guys were actually using when they identified the noise. They were just using it for radio astronomy, but Dicke had created this antenna specifically to find this noise and he was with building his own and working on it when he got a call from New Jersey saying 'hey, we heard this thing, what do you think this is?' and he was like 'well crap, you beat me to it'


R: Yeah, it did it all happen pretty quickly once people started looking for it

S: Yeah, imagine just turning it on and there it is

R: Yeah

S: Just a matter of having a device, so building an antenna that could hear it.

News Items[edit]

Mermaids (7:04)[edit]

S: So Evan, you're going to tell us about another amazing scientific discovery, perhaps just behind that of the cosmic background radiation. And that is Animal Planet's discovery of mermaids

E: That's right it's close, I'd say it's a close second

R: Which also, like background radiation, exist everywhere isotropically

E: You're right Rebecca, you're right! I'm going to touch on that in just a moment. Now, when you think the word mermaid it probably invokes a very specific image in your mind. And the image you see is mostly defined by your age. Ok, so for example, if you say mermaid to a 6 year old girl in kindergarten she's most likely to think of what?

S: The Little Mermaid

E: Right, the cartoon character Ariel

S: Definitely

E: From the movie The Little Mermaid, right? Now say mermaid to a 52 year old housewife and mother of 4, and what will she tell you?

B: The movie—

R: Also the Little Mermaid


J: I was thinking the movie right? From the early 90s was it?

E: That's right. She'll tell you that it's Cher at her acting best in the movie Mermaids

R: I feel she'd identify more with Ariel than with Cher

S: If she had 4 year old kids, yeah

R: I remember watching that movie, by the way, and being profoundly disappointed. I think I was like 10


E: "But where's the mermaids?

J: That movie was epic! The song that she sings in her cave with all her stuff, I mean, that is awesome.

E: See that?

S: That was the revitalization of the Disney animated feature length movie right?

E: But what what about if you say—

S: What about Darryl Hannah's mermaid?

R: I was totally into that too, Splash

E: Splash? Absolutely. But I would say that you ask 45 year old guy who works in corporate America as an IT specialist what will they say? They'll say that it's a level 1 monster with 1D10 hit points and an armor class of 6

B: Ha!

S: Probably

E: But in any case, mer-folk have been a part of the collective human monster manual for thousands of years, right Rebecca? And in various cultures all over the world, in every place.

S: What's the earliest cultural reference to a mermaid?

E: 30,000 years ago

R: Really?

E: Yep, according to the folks at NOAA, in fact. "The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species. Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic period, some 30,000 years ago"

S: That's earlier than I would have thought

R: Yeah

E: Pretty cool, huh?

S: Now finally we have proof that they're actually real

E: Finally, yes. This weekend the TV channel Animal Planet aired a show called Mermaids: The new evidence. And this show set a new record for the Animal Planet: the most watched show in the history— 17 year history of this channel. 3.6 million viewers on the initial showing. But this show, from a few days ago, was actually a follow up to show they did last year, 1 year ago, called Mermaids: The body found which was also quite popular and caused a lot of chatter on the blogospheres and internets, and everything else, as to: do mermaids actually, really exist?

S: My daughter had fun debunking that. She saw that on Animal Planet—

E: As did mine

B: Did they show a body? Like, what did they have?

S: It was Bigfoot-esque evidence

E: Exactly, so Animal Planet gives you this, well I don't, I've seen it with a docudrama, or someone else called speculative science fiction, which is probably the most accurate description of what it is. Because it is — the whole thing, concept and everything — is entirely fiction. Now, the Animal Planet does a very good job of — I wouldn't say hiding that fact, but absolutely treating that little piece of information that is fiction to the barest of minimum ability in which they just put one or two little blurbs in at the end right before the credits roll on these shows, saying 'yeah, there's some fiction in here'. So basically, they really skirt around the whole point of this is that it's entirely a work of fiction, but they don't make any great efforts to let the audience know that. So if you miss just a little bit, then the audience left with making up their own mind.

S: Did you know that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to release an official statement saying that mermaids are not real.


S: Because they were getting so many questions from people after they watched the Animal Planet episode. The original one

R: Wow, that's sad for us as a species

S: Yeah

J: So what did they actually say, Ev?

E: Well the gist of it is that evidence washed up on shore many years ago as the government was testing new sonar devices which was causing massive beaching of whales, right? Which is kind of sad because that probably is a phenomenon that might actually be happening. So you're kind of mixing up your storys here. But they're using that as a background, saying not only did the Whales beach, but also it kicked out something that we don't know exactly what it is but it appears to be have webbed hands and webbed, you know, and a tail, and some kids stumbled upon it and they used their cell phone to record it and they were quickly rushed away by the Navy and government— you know, men in black people, and it was, of course, perhaps the evidence, smoking gun, of a mermaid

J: Ooh

E: But I'll wrap up with this as David Shiffman who's one of the authors from a website called southern fried science on which they specialize in talking about the oceanographic phenomenon and real science that's going on the ocean, someone asked him "what's the problem here? You know, it's good fun, it's good to expand your mind and think about these things. What's wrong here?". So he summed it up like this, he says "why is this a problem? This displays a troubling lack of awareness in reality that is likely not limited to a belief in mermaids".[1] That's exactly correct

S: Right

Angelina Jolie's Double Mastectomy (13:06)[edit]

S: Well let's move on to a more serious news item. I'm sure you've all heard about Angelina Jolie's editorial in the New York Times, where she described her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. So she was diagnosed with a BRCA1 mutation, now that is a gene— BRCA stands for breast cancer, and BRCA1 and 2 are what's known as tumor suppressor genes. They are genes for proteins that regulate DNA, and keep cells reproducing out of control. So there are certain mutations in those proteins that diminish the proteins' to function properly, and people with those mutations are at increased risk of certain kinds of cancer. So she had a particular BRCA1 mutation that increased— she was told it increased her overall lifetime risk of developing breast cancer to 87%, and her risk of ovarian cancer to 50%. That's pretty big, that's pretty high. And her mother died of breast cancer, so this was very real for her. So she decided to have the preventive double mastectomy. So this raises some interesting issues, first, her description of the care that she received is— it's mostly good. She was certainly brave for just coming out and saying she had this done, and it was definitely a science-based decision. The evidence for the risk for the BRCA1 mutations is pretty solid science, and that's probably the one reasonable situation in which getting a prophylactic mastectomy is a justifiable idea. A couple of little concerning things come up, though. She got her care at the Pink Lotus breast center, which as you might imagine from the name, also promotes holistic types of methods. So she also was promoting— not so much, she just mentioned it in the New York Times article, but she says that her holistic regimen— she described elsewhere, but she is taking a bunch of supplements, and homeopathic remedies along with everything else. So unfortunately, there's the woo mixed in with the science-based decision, which is unfortunate.

R: Luckily, it was just a bit of almost lip service

S: Yeah

R: The crux of it at least, like I found it really disappointing too, but at least the crux of it was like 'this is what modern medicine can do!'

S: Right, and let's waste some money on some other nonsense

R: Right

S: Some people have brought up the fact that she's sort of describing her experience as a way of empowering women to not be afraid, and get tested and do what needs to be done and not feel like it makes them less of a woman, and that's all fantastic. But you do have to also realise that she is fabulously wealthy. She can afford to pay for these tests.

R: She talks about that too

S: She mentions herself, yeah, that just the test itself is expensive, and many women don't have that option. It costs like $3,000 to get the genetic screen. But also, the surgeries are expensive, and may not be covered preventively. There are a range of options for reconstructive surgery, and at the high end, the results can be absolutely amazing. So I'm sure she had the absolute high-end of options here, because she can afford to. So I think she does seem to understand that, just from what she wrote in her editorial, but I don't know if she fully appreciates what her advice would mean to the average woman in a similar situation, who doesn't have millions of dollars to explore their options.

R: No, I think she does though. The fact that she does bring up the problem of expense of it, and the fact that low-income women's healthcare just isn't adequate for this sore of thing—

S: Yeah

R: I think the whole reason why she wrote this was— well, maybe not the whole reason, but part of the reason, is to make people realise that this is something that can be done that can save many lives, and could be very important to consider when we're talking about making more healthcare options open to more women.

S: Yeah, I do agree, she's confronting this issue, and she does mention that she wants women to know that they have options. But a lot of people have pointed out that, 'yes, this is all great, but they won't necessarily have all the options that you had'.

R: And I think that's good, and again, I think that's part of her point, and that discussion needs to happen. Like, we need to talk about why wealthy women have access to this stuff, and other women don't.

S: Yeah, absolutely. And David Gorski raised a point as well. So David Gorski who blogs for me over at Science-Based Medicine, he is a breast cancer surgeon, this is what he does. And he wrote a good article about it too on Science-Based Medicine,[2] and on his other blog as well. And he brought up a point that he, as a breast cancer surgeon, is often under a lot of pressure from women to get mastectomies, even when lumpectomies would suffice. That often, women facing breast cancer, act out of fear. It's a very difficult thing to face, facing the 'big C', right? Facing cancer

E: Right

S: He thinks, his impression is that patients are more likely to request a mastectomy than the surgeon is. Patients are pushing for it, even when the surgeon's saying you don't need a full mastectomy, we could probably get away with just a lumpectomy. And also, some women push for a double mastectomy — taking away the other breast prophylactically — when there's really no evidence that it enhances survival.

R: Hmm

S: So his concern was that, while it's great that Angelina Jolie is coming out with her experience here, and raising awareness of the options here, that it may further increase this patient demand for prophylactic, or bilateral mastectom, or more aggressive procedures where it's not really necessary. Because there's really already patients are shifted in that direction more than theey need to be. So that's interesting, the unintended consequence.

R: I was surprised by how many... like, the response to her article, I was surprised by how many people seemed to have never heard of the mutation, or the prophylactic mastectomy. Because that's something that I thought was just common knowledge, but apparently isn't

J: So, to make it crystal clear for our listeners, what should a woman do if she's concerned, and what's a good course of action?

S: Yeah, so if you're concerned, get tested. First of all, just consult with your physician. It's reasonable to get — especially if you have a strong family history — to get tested. Hopefully you have good insurance that can pay for it. The difficult part would be if you're a woman who doesn't have good insurance, who can't really afford to lay down £3,000 in cash to get the genetic testing, what do you do? I don't know, your options are limited at that point. Talk to your physician, see if they have any ideas to offer you. Probably, there's a good case to be made for insurance companies covering this.

R: Yeah, and you might check Planned Parenthood, because I know Planned Parenthood recently launched a huge program, I think last year, to equip more clinics to do more breast cancer screening things, including genetic testing, so...

S: Yeah, absolutely. Now, of course, the cranks come out of the woodwork when any kind of—

E: Oh yeah

S: The worst of which is Mike Adams from Natural News

(general sounds of weariness))

R: Ugh, that guy

S: Yeah, he says— he's so despicable, so he's now accusing Angelina Jolie of unnecessarily mutilating herself, of removing healthy tissue for no reason[3]

R: He sounds loathesome

S: He's loathesome. He chose— he's saying that she chose to have unnecessary surgery, rather than just lead a healthy, anti-cancer lifestyle. Because he claims that even if you have these genetic mutations, you won't get cancer if you lead this quote-unquote healthy anti-cancer lifestyle, and

E: And nutrition, right?

S: —he'll sell you CDs that will tell you how to do that

(exasperated noises)

J: So he's not motivated by anything other than just caring for people, Steve

R: Yeah

S: Right

R: He's the worst of the worst. Because even the lip service she paid to natural remedies wan't enough for him. Like, the way that she did it is the way that I think, if you have somebody in your life who is into alternative medicine, that's the kind of person you want them to be like, is the Angela— Angelina Jolie type, where she has a doctor, and say the doctor is aware of the other quote-unquote natural things you're doing in addition to the actual course of action recommended by your doctor. Like, that is fine, do that. But Mike Adams is pushing this complete BS stuff that's gonna actually murder people—

S: Yeah

R: —like give up the real medicine, and savor this BS I'm gonna sell you.

S: Here is his logic. He writes

With this logic, abortions are cancer prevention, too, because those babies might one day grow up and develop tumors. Better to kill them early and "prevent cancer," right?

E&B: Wow

R: Oh god

E: Sheez

B: That's aggravated anti-intellectualism

S: Yeah, aggravated idiocy

B: Like, he's really trying there to go against science at that point. What a complete jackass

S: He's a complete jackass, yeah. I agree, it's terrible.

Prosopagnosia aside (23:08)[edit]

S: Interestingly, just as an aside here, I noticed, during all of this, this is kind of it's own— this is kind of a Brad-Jolina news item, because Brad Pitt, while all of this was going down, gave an interview in which he described his life-long struggle with prosopagnosia, which is interesting in and of itself. I was wondering if the timing of that was coincidental, or maybe he was just trying to, I don't know, take some heat off of his girlfriend.

R: Well I don't think it's coincidental, because he talks about her decision as well

S: Yeah, so we know someone else who also has what's so-called developmental prosopagnosia.

R: We do?

E: So they tell us

S: If they can be believed, I don't know

R: Yeah, you know, I make a lot of money in the fake prosopagnosia game


B: Yeah, that's the whole goal

E: It is

J: So you first noticed this when? When you were a child?

R: No, because... I didn't know I needed glasses until I randomly mentioned to my mother that I couldn't see something in the distance, and I just didn't realise that that's not how normal people saw, so it's the same kind of thing. I didn't realise I had it until in my 20s, and I stumbled across a website where somebody was describing it. I don't even know how I got to the website, but it was like the choir from heaven, you know? The clouds parting?

E: That moment...

R: Yeah, it was... it was

E: Yep, when you realise "Oh, this is me!"

R: Yep, it was amazing, like, so many... I've bought into this idea that I was just a jerk, I just couldn't be bothered to remember people, even if I really really wanted to. But yeah, it turns out that I'm disfunctional

S: So, just to make sure our listeners know what we're talking about—

R: Oh right

S: Prosopagnosia is the inability, or a deficit in the ability in the ability to recognise faces

R: Yeah, and mine's a deficit, not a complete inability. So if I have met someone a number of times, or if I've just seen them a number of times, like actors and stuff, I can totally recognise them. But, as an example, I lived with a guy for 3 years, we were dating and living together, and he picked me up from work one day, and he had shaved his head and his goatee, and he was sitting in the car outside, and I went to get in the car and I opened the door, and I'm like "Oh my god, I'm so sorry", and I shut the door.


R: And then I stopped, and I turned around, and I'm like "Wait a minute". And then I realised it was my boyfriend, but like I had no idea, because I had just come to remember— because I can't remember faces very well — and apparently someone I'd been living with for several years — you just learn to recognise people by ...

S: Other features

R: Yeah

S: Focusing on other distinctive features

R: The way they dress—

E: Their voice

R: —the way they talk, yeah, things like that

S: Yeah, and that's typical that— I've been doing some reading on it just— there's a couple of research centers that research prosopagnosia, and many people with the— because there's acquired and developmental. Acquired is like from strokes, it's very rare to get brain damage precisely to that part of the brain. So most people have so-called developmental prosopagnosia, and many of them don't realise it until they're adults because, as you say, that's normal for them. This is their life, they don't notice that anything's wrong.

R: Yeah

S: So Brad Pitt was saying that people just think he's a jerk, what you were saying. 'cos they think these all big high and mighty actors, they're too much of a jerk to remember people. So he decided to just tell people that he can't recognise faces, and that you need to give me context, you need to tell me how I know you. But he said that people get even more mad with them when he started being honest with them about the fact that he can't remember them.

R: See, I started doing that aswell after I realised that this is an actual thing, and it has an actual name, an impressive sounding name

J: Yeah

R: I started doing that, and I found the opposite of Brad Pitt, that people are totally cool with it. Like at first they, to me, like it happens most often at conferences, people will come up and introduce themselves to me, and if I suspect that I'm going to meet them again later, I always tell them "look, I'm terrible at faces", and they'll always say like "oh, well that's just because you meet so many people", and I'm like "no, it's this thing, prosopagnosia". And once I explain it, people find it really interesting and— like I've never had anybody think that I'm just like hiding the fact that I'm a jerk

S: Or maybe it's the skeptical versus the Hollywood culture that we're—

(sounds of agreement)

R: Yeah, I don't know

J: Rebecca, if I were your boyfriend, I'd wear the same t-shirt every day so that you'd know it was me


R: I would appreciate that, Jay, I think Adam probably does do things like that, I don't know

S: Jay, that's very nice, but when am I getting my flying car?

Flying Car (27:59)[edit]

J: Well Steve, it's a good question because people have been trying to create a flying car since—

R: God, it’s not question

J: It is, it is! It’s fascinating to talk about this


J: It’s been the big promise from many companies and science fiction for a long time, right? Like think about it—

E: Oh yeah

J: It goes back to 1917, when the first attempt was made by a man named Glenn Curtiss, and this guy happened to be one of the rivals the Wright brothers who was also developing airplanes at the time. So his Curtis Autoplane failed and—

E: Cool

J: —it was only able to come to hop a little—

E: Oh

J: —it couldn't get sustained. And it took another 20 years past that for the next real airworthy flying car to be built in 1937, and that actually could fly. And now tons of failures all along the way moving forward to the 1950s, the car — flying car — was part of that era of Science Fiction, right? You guys can visualize the science fiction graphics and illustrations that people made back then. A flying car was very much a part of all of that, people really did think it was going to be coming soon in the future and it never came. And did a lot of the problems people hit 50 years ago we’re still hitting today. So throughout all these companies trying to develop a flying car without success, there has been some moderate success stories, and there are several companies working on them today, including DARPA, who is trying to develop one right now with the goal of 2015 having a vehicle that would be ready for use. But one of the companies I wanted to talk about today is just a way to start the conversation. This company’s called Terrafugia, and Terrafugia was founded 2006 with the sole purpose of developing a flying car. And they have been fine tuning their first design and it went to a couple of unexpected — I would say emergency — but they did a test, and they realized they had to retool it and re-engineer it to get rid of problems. And it went through 2 rounds of that. So now they’re on their third design, and they're saying that the first delivery will be in either early 2015, or all the way to mid 2016. And that car is called the Transition. And it's based on the idea of a roadworthy car that can easily deploy wings and take off like a normal airplane. And there's different kinds of flying car concepts, there’s the kind with the wings, and maybe the tail section detached, so it looks like more of a real car, or like a small light-looking car that gets an attachment connected on to maybe one or more places. However, Terrafugia‘s cars and their ideas are self-contained, meaning that the wings will fold in and it doesn't need to drop off any components anywhere. So like I said, their car, the Transition, you can't take this thing off in your driveway or you from a long street, you need to go to a real airport with a runway, and you need a pilot's license to fly this. So this is a real airplane that just happens to be street-worthy after the wings fold in. Now this company that I mentioned already, Terrafugia, has already come up with the next model, and it’s called the TF-X, and this is a vertical take-off and landing vehicle, similar to the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey — I thought it was funny earlier in the show Steve, when you mentioned the osprey—

S: Yeah

J: Because you ever see that? It’s a twin rotor helicopter ‘slash’ kinda airplane-y looking thing?

E: That's right, it's like a helicopter when you take off, but then it contorts itself into a jet or airplane

J: Yeah, so it’s like, the 2 engines, if you hold your two hands up next to your head and you point your palms up at the ceiling, imagine those are the blades. And then now bring your hands and point forward, and what happens is that's what the blades go. That’s where the 2 helicopter-like rotators move into position to help propel the vehicle forward. That's a similar design that they're using with the TF-X, except when it gets up to flight-speed, those propellers turn off, and it uses a gas powered internal engine that’s a 300 horsepower combustion engine. It's using two 600 horsepower electric motors, however, to take off and land. Which I think is pretty cool, so the machine itself is somewhat of a hybrid concoction here. Batteries are really heavy, and battery technology today actually isn't up to snuff yet.

S: No, not even close

J: They are developing this model, and they think that their design is going to see fruition, or come to be a reality in 8-12 years, and that's even past the typical 5 year “it's coming, it'll be here in 5 years” that we hear all the time in science in exploratory things. 8-12 years means it could be never

S: Yeah

S: Yeah, it means they have no idea. There’s major technological hurdles here, when they have this CGI animated video of this car taking off and flying around, it would be cool if it worked as what they're showing on that video. But it’s fantasy-land! I mean, they can’t demonstrate that they can produce that kind of thrust that the thrust that something of that size and the size of those motors and the power that they’re going to have in their batteries and gas engine and fuel tank is going to be able to lift the resulting machine. I mean, they won’t necessarily be able to get off the ground. And its range could be negligible, like 10 minutes. The break-down of what they’re showing, it’s not like they have a design, all you have to do is build it. What they have now is a fantasy, and it—

E: It’s a concept

S: Whatever, the numbers don't even add up yet. So it’s like, yeah, if we have some imaginary super-advanced battery technology or maybe even material, superlight materials, or whatever — I don't know what the hell they're thinking

J: Well, Steve it’s not that much fantasy, like, there is definitely future technology that they’re banking on. They’re trying to converge their design with future materials and future battery technology

S: I think it's a fantasy

J: I think it’s a risky venture, it’s risky. But you know Steve, also think about it too, even though people are investing in this company largely because they want a return, I'm sure that 99.999% of the people like absolutely want to see a return on their money. It is an investment in future technology, the technology’s not going to just go by the wayside if the company fails. They can sell off things that they've developed to other companies.

S: I'm not against people with money dumping and investing money into this kind of project. Please, build me my flying car, I absolutely want one. But it’s just that, it’s not like we're on any kind of path to the vehicle that they are showing in the animation. The technology doesn't exist, and there are some real problems with just the numbers, the physics, it doesn't quite add up yet. And also, the other thing about the video is it’s silent, there's no sound. A lot of people are saying there’s an inherent problem with the vertical take-off concept, because you have to use essentially some helicopter-type technology.

E: Yeah

S: You’d have to use blades. We don't have ‘anti-grav’ yet, right? Once you have ‘anti-grav’, then all that’s right.

It's going to be really noisy, and there’s going to be this massive down-draft to get the thing off the ground. And that's a significant practical imitation of where are you going to take off and land?

J: Yeah, I would think that a short runway flying car would be a better option, it uses less fuel

Y: Yeah

J: It’s the difference between the space shuttle taking off vertically, verses a space-plane that can take off like an airplane

S: Yeah, short runway might be better than the vertical take off. I mean, it depends on what you want in a flying car, like the Transition model you were talking about—

R: Cup holders

S: (laughs) Yeah, to me, that’s not a flying car. That’s a plane that can fold up it’s wings and drive. But it’s not really a flying car, because you need a pilot's license, and you need an airport. That’s a plane

E: Yeah, you do

S: In my book, if you need a pilot's license, and an airport, that’s a plane

J: Yep

S: A flying car is something you can take off from your driveway and you don't need a pilot's license to operate it.

R: I feel like you would still need a pilot's license, though. I agree with you about the airport thing, and you know, the runway problem. But I think once there's a viable car that will fly through the air, there are going to have to be laws that restrict its use, and you will need to get a special license to drive it.

E: Oh, absolutely

J: Rebecca, yeah, let's talk about what the company says, and then we can chit chat about all that. So, one thing that they were saying is, in order for this to really work the drivers don't need to be fully piloted, or fully licensed pilots, that they need to be trained, they said its gonna take like 5 hour training. Ultimately what this means is, it’s all computer-driven, like you're pushing buttons

R: Yeah

J: Like, you're going to tell it where you want to go and if there's an emergency, you're going to have to know like, okay it's gonna deploy a ballistic parachute if there's a problem, and there might be a couple of things you have to do under that extreme circumstance. But for the most part, you can’t expect the average person to have any kind of real flying skills, so we’re talking about, you know, Google, the computer-driven car that Google's doing, but for the air.

S: Yeah, that’s actually the easy part, like, we’re already there. Having computers fly the thing so that you don't need a license, that you can just tell it where you want to go? That's the easy part, and they are talking about, you know, there are different levels of operation. Like manual operation, you need a license — flying on instruments, you need a license. But just flying in fully computer operated, automatic mode, a chimpanzee can do it. I mean, that's—

R: Yeah, but can the average American?

S: (laughs) Yeah, but we’re actually already pretty good with the computer technology and the navigation systems. That’s not the hurdle anymore. The hurdle is the same hurdle that we’ve had for a hundred years, it’s just the physics of getting enough to lift with the fuel and everything, it’s just a problem. You know, we just need—

R: I don’t think we are quite there though, just because you're talking like— there’s a huge difference between a driverless car, and driverless plane. There’s an extra dimension, and also there's an existing infrastructure and law system that the cars can adhere to, and—

S: I've heard some people say that flying is actually easier for the computer than driving on the road, there’s a lot less stuff to navigate around and negotiate

R: Not when you're taking off from your driveway, and you're surrounded by power lines and there's other planes, and there’s restricted airspace.

S: But I'm saying I think we're a lot closer to having— that would just be like we could say oh yeah we just develop the software, the systems already exist, computers are already powerful enough. We’ve already worked out most of the basic technology. Just adopting it to a flying car, to me, that's the easiest thing to accomplish—

R: Yeah

S: —out of all the things you have to accomplish to make an actual flying car.

J: One more quick thing too. When you have a vehicle that’s in the air, you need the maintenance to go way up. You can't have it be like an old clunker on the road, you know? You're going to have to— the cost of repair, and all that's going to skyrocket, there’s going to be a ton of man hours that have to go into to that. A lot of people are going to need to be trained to be able to repair these vehicles, and do checks and everything. Just everything gets more complicated.

S: Yeah it's true

J: But it's coming, it's coming. It'll come, I mean, I’m sure within 50 years we'll have something

S: (laughs)

R: 5-10

E: Alright, I might be good for another 50 but…

Who's That Noisy? (39:40)[edit]

S: But Evan, you know what time it is

E: Who’s That Noisy time!

S: Yep

E: We had about the last week for Who’s That Noisy, and I will tell it to you again. Here we go:

A bank teller made a mistake today. The teller switched the dollars and cents when they cashed a check for Mrs. Jones, giving her dollars instead of cents and cents instead of dollars. After buying a newspaper for 5 cents, Mrs. Jones realized that she had remaining exactly twice as much as the original check. So, based on that information, what was the amount of the original check?

E: A lot of people had to dust off some old math skills in order to figure this one out.

S: It’s just algebra

E: Eh, that is really all it is. The correct answer is $31.63 is the correct answer

S: Yes

E: Yeah, lots of ways you could arrive at that answer. Some people created clever spreadsheets, other people wrote on the back of cocktail napkins at the bar. But there were lots of correct answers, there can be only one winner, and that goes to, from the message boards, Mr Pedantic.


S: Mr Pedantic! That’s how you say that word

E: That’s his name: Mr Pedantic

S: That guy again

E: Shows up often

S: Evan, what have you got for this week?

E: Yes, so we're going back to the classic Who’s That Noisy, I'm going to play a sound for you. If you're ready, here we go:

(female voice) So I went to the bookstore the following day after this much involved conversation. And the books fell out on the floor in front of me, and I picked them up, and there are lights all over them. So this is when I learnt about Edgar Cayce, and I learned about a few people I’d never heard of in my life, and—

E: If you would like to give us a guess, the email address for Who’s That Noisy answers is WTN at the skeptics and of course our forums is Give it your best guess, good luck everyone

S: Alrighty, thanks Evan

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question 1: Raw Honey (41:37)[edit]

S: We’re just gonna do one quick email this week. This one come from Adam Dietrich, from the United States, and he writes:

Something I've been hearing about a lot lately (and, living in Portland, that means every day), is that raw honey is of great benefit to the health. Everything from being a cancer cure (obviously bullshit) to a treatment for allergies (somewhat less obvious). While I have heard of its topical antibiotic properties and its use as a cough suppressant and relief for a sore throat, I wasn't sure how much of what is said about honey is actually true. Would the SGU have any insight?

S: Well, for our listeners that are not in the United States, you may not be familiar. Portland Oregon is definitely in the epicenter of holistic woo win the US

E: Yeah, one of ‘em, yeah

S: Not surprising. Yeah, one of them. There was actually just a community in Oregon, was it Portland? I just wrote it down — fluoridated water, the antifluoridationists had their way.

E: Had their win

S: Yeah, unfortunately. So, raw honey! Who knew that all honey wasn’t raw!


E: Organic honey

S: It’s organic raw honey.

E: Must be good for you

S: Sometimes, often, honey manufacturers with heat it up to 70 degrees Celsius to kill off things like bacteria and fungus. But if you are— you want to be one with Mother Earth, you want the fungus and the bacteria, because it’s all natural. In fact, I read an article while researching this item that identified 2 new candida species from raw honey. They’re discovering new species of fungus in raw honey.

J: I looked up some of the things they say it's good for

S: Oh yeah, it’s good for what ails ya

J: Yeah, of course!

R: Everything

J: I'm gonna ignore the simple ones like it's good for sore throats

S: Yeah

J: And laryngitis and things that are, you know, won’t kill you probably. It's good for bladder infections, very, very bad to ignore bladder infection. Upset stomach, or bad stomach pain or bad breath, bad breath could be a significant sign tooth decay, and it could be a precursor to a lot of other bad things

S: Like heart disease

J: Yeah, like, heart disease is an example. They're saying eat raw local honey, because the local bees are going to be in tune with your local situation

(general sounds of weariness)

J: I don't even want to continue on that one.

R: That’s the only one— I use to buy into that, and that made perfect sense to me. I think it makes really good like “folk sense”, whatever you would call that. Like, the idea is that your local bees go out and they pollenate all of the local plants, including the things that are causing your allergies. So, by eating the local honey, you're getting like a little bit what's causing allergies and in the way that people might think that vaccines work, then you vaccinate yourself against allergens. I totally believed that when I was younger.

J: Yeah, there is a little thread that you could consider to be not completely idiotic there. But it’s wrong. Bleeding gums, stomach aches, and migraines. They were saying that you can put it on wounds, like actual wounds.

S: There is a little bit of truth to that, Jay. That honey, it doesn’t have to be raw, just honey — and we talked about this, and Mark Crislip wrote an article about it actually, in Science-Based Medicine.[4] It actually does kill bacteria, it’s an unfriendly environment for bacteria. It is a poor man's kind of topical antiseptic, so you you can rub it into a wound and it will be fine.

J: Yeah, but Steve, what are we, living on that game show, where you’re on an island? Come on

S: Absolutely, I would rather use actual medicine

J: But you go to the pharmacy and get a band aid, and some bacitracin ointment, or some type of antibac— like, don't use honey to put on cuts on your body, that’s ridiculous

E: Well it’s not your first choice

S: Yeah, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but there’s actually some rationale to that, and it can actually work

R: Yeah, like if you’re on a camping trip or something, and you get a scratch

S: But the evidence is weak. The published, peer-reviewed evidence is week, but it’s not implausible. And the allergy one, I’ve been trying to find some published evidence on that too, and I can only find preliminary, small, basically worthless studies. But again it's not completely crazy, ‘cause at least you're getting exposed to pollen, and yeah, that could theoretically affect your allergic reaction. But again, it’s kind of a thin argument on the evidence isn’t there. Everything else is crap. Everything else is just made up holistic nonsense, you know, treating any disease with—

J: Rub a Tootsie roll on your frickin’ wound next time. Get out of here with that!


Interview with Vijay Dewan and Scott Thurman (46:31)[edit]

  • Interview with Vijay Dewan (producer) and Scott Thurman (director) of The Revisionaries.

S: Well let's move on to our interview. Joining us now are Vijay Dewan and Scott Thurman. Thank you, Vijay & Scott, and welcome to the Skeptics’ Guide.

VD: Thanks

ST: Thanks for having me

VD: Thank you, yeah

S: Vijay, you are the producer — one of the producers of the movie The Revisionaries, and Scott, you are the director. This is a movie about Don McLeroy, who we interviewed a couple weeks ago (see interview in episode 408, and email in episode 410), you were kind enough to help set that up with us as well. So tell us about the movie, The Revisionaries, what’s it about, why did you do it?

ST: I guess around 2007 I started becoming interested in evolution education. I had my pulse on the four horsemen of New Atheism, started reading a few of their books and seeing a lot of their stuff online. And I was particularly interested in Dan Dennett, and sort of his philosophy. I was interested in following an educator, I wanted to follow a science teacher teaching about evolution in Texas. But not just the evolution instruction, I wanted a person to talk more candidly out of the classroom about the philosophical implications of evolution, and came across news articles, national news, talking about the State Board of Education at that time. So I decided to do a sort of dull portrait of a teacher, science teacher and the State Board of Education. But as time went by, I got more and more sucked into the politics, the politicisation of education, of science education. And seeing the national news reports and everything, I knew that that particular story would have a bigger audience than my little portrait of a science teacher.

S: mm-hmm

ST: I mean, originally, my idea was to encourage the good, rather than just the good versus the bad. And I sort of went full-sell on that whole thing, leaving any sort of positive, maybe science positive role model in the classroom for someone that might be considered anti-science, like Don McLeroy. As time went by, the Social Studies and History standards came up, and we ended up doing half science, half social studies because, you know, as I was finishing up my thesis film — which was more devoted toward the science end of this, I got a call from one of the guys who would watch the Board of Education, and he said “You know, Scott, the social studies has ended up being more controversial than the science”. And I thought how in the world is that possible? And sure enough, it was. So I continued to follow that, with the helping guidance from Vijay and some of the other producers, and the rest is history.

VD: For me, actually, it was a little bit different of a journey. It was mainly after college, the first book I really read was The Elegant Universe, and from that, that really opened my mind to science and science education. And I got into your podcast, and it was really the early interviews you guys did with Eugenie Scott (episode 79), Steven Schafersman (episode 175), Ken Miller (episode 190), and a bunch of the other people involved with the Texas Board of Education that got me really fired up, and I felt like I really wanted to do something about this. I reached out to a couple of my friends who were into filmmaking, and I didn't even know Scott prior to this film, We saw some videos he put up on YouTube, contacted him, my friend flew out to Texas, and the rest was history.

S: The movie really spends a lot of time with Don McLeroy, and his character and how that drove the whole process. So tell us a little bit about that

VD: So Don, I tell people, is completely different when you read what he's done versus seeing and watching his behaviour. Especially in the context of his personal life. And that was really the reason why I decided to follow him in his everyday routine in the dentist office and church. And greatly surprised by the amount of access he was willing to give to us, and his trust. I’ll say at first, in reading his articles, and what he was doing, I was outraged. I was on a mission to go and find this guy and expose him for what he was doing and show it to the world. And in way, that sort of is, you know, there was a little bit of exposing maybe his underlying beliefs, or what may lie behind his motivation against evolution. But one thing happened in making this project, and that was — and changed everything — and that was that I got to know Don McLeroy for who he was, a really kind uncle, grandpa figure that I often find myself defending after the movie to audiences that you know are very aggressive science advocates, and see the damage that he’s done to science education are infuriated. So I found myself sort of defending him, often, because I felt like maybe I had not done enough to show, on a personal level, how much of a genuinely kind person I think that he is.

And for me, this isn't necessarily a story just about science education, or the political issue or the politicalisation of science education. It’s a story, at its forefront, about characters, specifically about Don McLeroy, about the person Don McLeroy, and his interesting— I’m fascinated by how someone can— I’ve never met anyone who’s tried, seemingly, so hard to understand evolution yet only really see his perspective confirmed in what he reads. So, I mean, the guy really really tries hard to understand these concepts, and maybe to people who study this their whole lives, they laugh it off, and know exactly his sort of motivation, behind what he’s doing. But I firmly believe he genuinely wants to understand, and I'll never forget, he told me when I first met him he read Kenneth Miller’s Only a Theory, and he said that was the closest he came to appreciating and understanding, or at least accepting evolution. And I thought, oh god, I’ve got to talk to Ken Miller about this and see if he can write another book, Only a Theory – Part 2 or something. But I think he can be convinced, and all the while, we played this game, I was trying to convince him, he was trying to convince me, until one day I just let the cameras roll. I was just going to record what he had to say, and let it roll, and let everything come out. And you know, my editor gave the comment, we’ll give him enough rope to hang himself.

Well, Don, to other people, may look like he’s sort of making mistakes, or revealing different motivations behind what he’s trying to do against evolution. But to him, he really does see what he is for who he is. And he’s seen this movie, and for the most part, in terms of the treatment of his character, he really likes it, and appreciates it, and we still talk to this day about the movie, and so with that access that he gave me, I had the added responsibility to treat him fairly. And I have to say I greatly admired the level of access he was giving me, and you know, we wanted to show a portrait of him ‘warts and all’. And he allowed that. And he's gotta be praised for allowing it, and coming out, and not being a politician about it all, and being cagey and saying one thing to one group of people, and hiding, and using codewords with another. I think maybe you could argue he tries to use codewords, and it just doesn’t come out, or he’s not able to do that. But the bottom line is I think he's a very sincere person who's trying to fight science— I mean he’s trying to use scientific arguments, so much as he understands them, and I think he’s genuine. I think there's some slightly ingenuine aspects about him, but I think overall, he’s a great person who's not the best person for the Board of Education.

S: Yeah, I think there’s definitely a couple of lessons here, one is the power of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias, and he is seeing everything through a pretty thick filter. And he thinks because he can come up with an argument against evolution that means there must be a problem with evolution, so in underestimating, which, like most people do, how creative we can be in coming up with explanations. The very fact that he sees The Revisionaries, he sees the documentary and likes the way he's portrayed, if you think about it, if you just try to watch the movie from the filter, from the perspective of a Christian who believe in creationism, and thinks evolution is wrong, well then everything is cast in a different light. You know, all of his antics seem positive instead of negative. The other thing that really comes out, and the point you were making — it surprised you that he was a genuine nice guy. But that is something that we find pretty universally, except for there are true evil con artists out there, but that aside, most of the true believers that we deal with — whatever side of whatever controversy they’re on. Most of them are sincere, regular people. You know, they’re just wrong in some way, there are some major massive flaw in the way that they are approaching the subject matter. But we tend to create these icon, you know, these sort of cardboard notions of people and—

VD: (inaudible)

S: — and it’s just not, these are just real people with— just regular people, you know?

ST: And I felt by highlighting that, by getting past the characature of what so many articles had done with him, I felt that real sort of quality of him as a human being with good and bad traits would ring more true. And in a way, further legitimize the credibility of the portrait so that people, maybe on the other side of the fence, can’t say ‘oh well, he merely made that guy look like a fool’, which they do anyway. But I think there are some people in the middle, politically, that see that fairness, and appreciate it, and will hopefully be more understanding of the scientific principles that they might be against prior to that

S: Yeah

ST: Or at least be aggravated by films that only tend to your caricature, and provide a real circus perspective of these people.

VD: Just coming from my angle, I actually grew up on the Northeast, and I actually, growing up, never met a creationist my life. Everyone I knew believed in evolution. I didn't even really understand that that was the issue until law school at Notre Dame, and I met few people at Notre Dame who are very smart, very nice people who didn’t believe in evolution and it blew my mind. So, coming to this project, and meeting Scott, I really appreciated the fact that he created this three-dimensional picture of who Don was, rather than a caricature of who a lot of people think he is. Because I think a lot of people on our side have that two-dimensional character in their head of who creationists are, and I wanted to be really true to who Don was, and show people the full story.

S: Yeah, Don was a sound-bite, ‘someone's gotta stand up to those experts’, like if that's all you see of him, then that's what you think. You don’t see the full, more complicated person behind that statement. And it’s also, again, a lesson that have to keep bringing up over and over again, is that everyone thinks they’re a hero; everyone is the hero of their own narrative

ST: Right, yeah

S: You know? No one thinks that they’re the villain, and what—

VD: Unless they have a moustache

S: Unless they’re a psychopathic con artist, and they’re out there too, but even then, it probably rationalises out some way as well. But also, we’ve been doing this long enough where we’ve seen it turned around against us, we've been attacked by our ideological opponents who try to caricature us. And you can tell, they don't think that we’re real people, they just see the iconic villain narrative that they’ve made us into. So I think it really is a very important lesson that people, most people are just people

ST: Yeah, I guess. Most people see that and they’re like ‘yeah, who cares? I mean, the science is the science’. And I really, I quote a lot of this, or at least I send the link out to a lot of people often, this moment at a TED talk where Neil deGrasse Tyson sort of confronted Richard Dawkins about how his abrasive tone may shut people away, and Dawkins said, well basically some guy said ‘I don’t give a damn’ you know ‘science is the science’. And I think what was important that Neil deGrasse Tyson had to say was that the communication of science is not only the information, and the facts, but the sensitivity to a person’s beliefs, and if we want to be effective communicators of science, I think the old days of saying ‘no, they’re just going to accept the facts, and everybody’s gonna come around some day. I think we can get to that day a lot faster if we have great communicators of science.

B: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of my favorite science communicators have a phenomenal tone and compassion and just a peacefulness about the way that they talk. It's rare when you get a Eugeni Scott or Carl Sagan come along, and you want to listen to them, you know, I can listen to both of them speak for hours, and I love what they're saying, how they're saying it, and their effect on me.

ST: Typically, I want to respond to the idea of being fair, I think we have to be very careful, and I got pressed on this by a lot of the science community after the film, in that we’re comparing apples and oranges, science and non-science. I wasn’t intending to be fair to the non-scientific perspectives, but rather the character treatment is what I wanted to be fair about.

R: Unfortunately it's not a new problem. I think that's something that has plagued the sort of skeptic community for a very long time. I've heard this exact same story from Jon Ronson, for instance he wrote the book Them: Adventures with Extremists, which is, I think, one of the greatest books skeptic could pick up, because of what he does. For those that aren’t familiar with the book, Jon befriends quote-unquote extremists, people who have very strange beliefs, and take them to the nth level. And he has adventures with them, and he writes about them. And he had a really hard time at first, sort of being accepted amongst skeptics because they would be critical of him for not shouting at these people for not— for befriending them, and I think it's a shame that that's what rhetoric is. These days, it’s hit this point of a very black and white sort of ‘you’re right, they're wrong’ kind of feeling. And so I think it’s important that people like you guys and people like Jon are out there continuing to humanize the quote-unquote other side. Because as long as we ‘other’ them, we’re never— if we can identify with the other side, there's no possible way we can ever change their minds.

VD: Exactly

ST: And I think it’s a matter of strategy, I think everyone has their role. This, I think, goes back to the Dawkins / Neil deGrasse Tyson debate, and Richard Dawkins is really great at solidifying people’s beliefs, and I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is brilliant at bringing people over

R: Yeah

ST: And I think you need both

R: Yeah, definitely

VD: Yeah, and that’s why I tell people there’s the Michael Moore approach, and there’s the Scott Thurman approach

S: So, our listeners can watch The Revisionaries on Netflix if they have it, they can go to your website, and they can get the DVD, and can they stream it directly online?

ST: Yeah, It used to be on PBS, I think that’s no longer available, but it may be in the future, I’m not 100% certain about that

S: Alright, well guys, thank you so much joining us, it was a really great interview

ST&VD: Thanks guys

Rogues: Thanks guys

Science or Fiction (1:04:25)[edit]

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. For this week, we have a theme, last year if you recall there was the top 10 species discovered in 2011. So this year we have a list of the top ten species discovered in 2012.

E: Top 10

R: But it’s May, June! It’s June!

E: It took ‘em a while

S: It just came out

R: What have they been doing the past 6 months?

E: It’s like the academy of (inaudible), you know

S: Looking at species

B: What the hell?

J: Steve, seriously, I’m not doing this

S: Ok, here we go, item #1: the species is Lucihormetica luckae — A new species of cockroach that glows in the dark has been identified, but may already be extinct. Item #2: Chondrocladia lyra — A large harp-shaped carnivorous sponge that feeds on fish and crustaceans has been discovered in the Pacific, and Item #3: Paedophryne amanuensis — The world’s smallest vertebrate has been discovered – a 7mm frog from New Guinea.

J: Right, so what's the deal with this now? What are we trying to do here?

R: Which one’s the top?

S: So 2 of these are real species discovered in the last year and one is not. See how that works?

J: The one ‘not’ doesn't exist at all?

S: Well whatever one of them is fiction, Jay, you gotta figure it out

J: Aw, come on

S: Why don’t you go first

J: Okay, the first one about the glow-in-the-dark cockroach — didn’t they make a glow-in-the-dark cockroach? So there was some wacky weird glow-in-the-dark cockroaches that weren't made in the lab. And this one about the harp shaped sponge that feeds on fish? That's pretty cool. If that's real that would be awesome. Does he play them a song like while he's killing them? And then the 7mm frog, now he's awesome. Okay, I'm going to say that the glow-in-the-dark cockroach is the fake.

S: Okay, Evan?

E: Yes, this is an exercise in guessing, I suppose

S: Unless you're fluent in Latin

E: I'm not, I'm fluent in a Gungan though

S: Ungungan?

E: “Me so skeptic”

S: How long have you been waiting to say that, Evan?

E: Alright, so the cockroach may already be extinct. You think of a cockroach surviving a nuclear catastrophe, and a in glow-in-the-dark cockroach doesn't seem all that crazy an idea. The next one about the harp shaped carnivorous sponge — Spongebob Square-harp — that feeds on fish and crustaceans covered in the Pacific, nothing special about that. The last one is the frog, 7mm, that’s small. Jay, I'm going with you, I'm with you with the cockroach. That one is the fiction

J: Good man

S: and Rebecca

R: Yeah, I like the idea of a carnivorous sponge. I like the idea of any angry, inanimate objects murdering things. So that one, definitely science. And also you were saying the thing about the Latin, alright, lyra means harp, so maybe that one’s true. Smallest vertebrate — Paedophryne, paedo. Yeah, I believe that, I believe that there's a tiny frog that was discovered. So yeah, the cockroach, first of all that wouldn't have been one of the top animals discovered 2012 if its already extinct, that's dumb. That wouldn’t make the top, so that's the first thing that makes me suspicious of that. Although I can believe that if there was a cockroach that glowed in the dark it would go extinct because, you know, cockroach, the whole thing is they come out into your kitchen in the dark, and when you turn on the lights, they all scatter. So if it glowed in the dark, be able to spray it with the bug spray before even turn on the lights, so I get—


E: They check in

R: So I’m gonna go with Jay and Evan though, that that one is BS

J: It’s gonna be epic or horrible, Steve. Give it to us straight

S: Alright, well let’s take these in reverse order then, since you guys all chosen number one. Let’s start with the world's smallest vertebrate has been discovered, a 7mm frog from New Guinea. You guys all think that one is science, and that one is science. It's not every year that you get to discover the smallest vertebrate. The last winner was a cyprinid fish in 2006 was the last title holder of smallest vertebrate. This adult frog averages in length, both males and females, about 7.7mm with a few exceptions. This has been found in association with moist leaf litter in tropical (inaudible) forests, a very narrow niche. There’s a picture of it sitting on a Dime, it's like dwarfed by a dime.

J: Oh, I remember that

E: Okay, now that you mention that I remember a picture of a frog on a Dime

S: Yeah, these are all from over the last year so—

E: Yep

S: —so might have seen these. In fact, one of the other items to the top 10 list was a Science or Fiction earlier this year.

E: Oh

S: I’ll remind you of that in a minute. So let’s go to number two, a large harp shaped carnivorous sponge that feeds on fish and crustaceans has been discovered in the Pacific you guys all think that one is science as well, and that one is the fiction.

R: Nah

J: Aw!

E: Oh!

S: Sorry guys

R: I really like the idea of a carnivorous sponge

E: But the harp and the sponge, and the—

S: So, there is, the species, the Chondrocladia lyra was discovered, it is a harp shaped sponge, very pretty, but it feeds on plankton

R: Boring

S: Doesn’t eat fish and crustaceans. That was the implausible part. Which means, however, that a new species of cockroach that glows in the dark, and has been identified but may already be extinct, is science. This guy was identified, he was described, and officially became a species in the last year, but the is known from a single specimen collected 70 years ago from an area recently heavily impacted by the eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. So they were concerned that it may have already been wiped out, even as they were discovered. Actually, most glow-in-the-dark land based insects are quite rare, most glow-in-the-dark stuff is in the ocean. Everyone knows fireflies, right? So they’re the most common one people know of. Most of them are beetles, most glow-in-the-dark—

R: Glow-worms

E: There’s more beetles than any other insect, so that makes sense

S: Than any living thing, I think. Or different kinds of beetles, than any other kinds of animal

R: (inaudible) fondness for beetles

S: There’s a cave inhabiting fungus mass that glow-in-the-dark. There was a previous species of luminescent cockroach in 1999 that was discovered. But now we have a new one to the list: L. luckae

R: Not very lucky

E: Ha-ha

S: Interestingly, they’re only found in areas that are far from any light pollution, which kinda makes sense. It must be hard for them to live in areas where there’s lots of light pollution, it would screw up their mating calls or whatever. But not for fireflies

R: Good job

S: Yeah, those are cool insects

R: Good job, Steve, you got us

S: The links show that the pictures are all very pretty. And do you guys remember from earlier this year, the lace-wing fly—

R: Yeah

S: The beautiful green lacewing with dark markings that was identified from a Twitter— a Flickr picture.

R: Yep

E: Oh

S: Somebody uploaded the picture to Flickr, and then someone saw it and said ‘hey that's a new species of lacewing fly’. So that also made the top 10 list. Let me go over the other ones really quickly: a teeny tiny itty bitty— these are all, I should say

R: Yellow polka dot bikini?


E: It’s going there

S: A teeny tiny itty bitty violet, Viola lilliputana from ’Lillipution’ a one centimeter tall violet. A new monkey from Africa, only the second one to be discovered in the last 28 years, the lesula monkey has very human looking eyes, very cute. A snake called Sibon noalamina which means ‘no to the mine’ I guess it’s a Spanish phrase for people who are protesting mining operations because its habitat has probably been mostly wiped out by mining operations, so they named it after the social movement. And a—

R: That’s kinda cool

S: A black stain on cave walls due to a fungus

R: Excuse me?

S: A black fungus that is a problem because it's actually threatening Paleolithic art

E: Yeah, that's bad

S: Yeah, like those caves in France with the paleolithic art? There was a white fungus threatening them, and now they wiped out the white fungus and it was replaced by a black fungus. That’s good work, boys.

R: I wonder what would take precedence, what if the new fungus is endangered

S: Yeah

R: What would take precedence, the art or the fungus

S: The art

E: Oh the art. (laughs) Remember the prime directive though

S: And then Eugenia —

E: Eugenie Scott?

S: Not Eugenie Scott, Eugenia, which is a genus of woody, evergreen trees, and they discovered a new species, petrikensis, which has pretty, glossy green leaves and clusters of magenta flowers, very pretty. The beetle, the lacewing fly, and number 10 is a fossil species: a species of hangingfly. Hangingfly, as the name implies, hangs from certain species of ginkgo plants and a— it’s camouflages, so it looks like the leaves, its wings looks like the leaves of the plant, and it hangs there and then eats other insects that come close. So they identified both a fossil hanging fly, and the fossil plant that it was mimicking from about 165 million years ago. Top 10 new species discovered and described in 2012

E: Is that from David Letterman’s show last—

S: You can vote for the 2013 species

E: Oh, you can vote?

S: Yeah, you can submit your vote, your choice, and they’ll be chosen for next year, so keep an eye out for this for this is Science or Fiction next year. Alright, well thanks for playing this week, everyone

R: Thank you, Steve

E: It’s good to play

J: Thanks, Steve

S: I’m sure if Bob were here, he would’ve gotten it.

E: Oh definitely, no doubt about it


J: And we’d be running another 10 minutes, yeah

S: Absolutely

(laughter) I'll explain this week everyone thank you speech to text even sure if I were here you would have gone no doubt about it MIB running another 10 minutes

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:15:20)[edit]

S: Alright, Jay, give us a quote

J: Karl Popper!

J: Forrest Dremas, or Dramus, from Jackson Wyoming sent in this awesome quote. Do you guys know who Karl Popper is?

S: Oh yeah, he’s a philosopher

J: Born 1902, died 1994

S: Very sceptical kinda guy

J: Was an Austrian and British philosopher at the London School of Economics, and he said:

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

J: From (Schwarzenegger impression) Karl Popper, get in the chopper

Announcements (1:15:54)[edit]

S: A couple of quick announcements before we close out: there will be one more round of auditions for Occ, the skeptical caveman, that will be happening on June 13th. So email us at info at the skeptics if you're interested. Or, if you're interested in helping out with this video project in anyway, or if for some reason you want to give us some money, just email us at info at the skeptics and don't forget The Amazing Meeting 2013 is fast approaching, there will be lots of SGU events at TAM this year, of course a live show on the stage, the SGU dinner, SGU poker tournament, Evan and I are each participating in a workshop, and of course all of the usual amazing meeting awesomeness. So go to, this is July 11th thru 14th in Las Vegas. We hope to see a lot of our listeners there. Alright, well, thank you for joining me this week everyone

R: Thank you, Steve

E: Thank you, doctor

J: Thanks, Steve

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

S: 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, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.

Today I Learned...[edit]

  • The sound often used in media as an eagle's cry (e.g. on the Colbert Show) is actually the call of a red-tailed hawk. Eagle's make a chirping sound.
  • On June 1st, 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the background radiation of the Big Bang.
  • Mermaids have been a part of human culture from as long as 30,000 years ago, appearing in late Paleolithic cave paintings (see NOAA)
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2 are breast cancer tumor suppressor genes, regulating DNA, to prevent cells form reproducing out of control. Certain mutations diminish the proteins' to function properly, and people with those mutations are at increased risk of certain kinds of cancer.
  • Brad Pitt & Rebecca Watson have mild prosopagnosia, the impairment of face recognition
  • Honey is an unfriendly environment for bacteria, working as a topical antiseptic.
  • Discovered in 2012:
    • The world's smallest vertebrate is a 7mm frog from New Guinea, Paedophryne amanuensis
    • A new species of cockroach that glows in the dark that may already be extinct: {w|Lucihormetica luckae}}
    • A large harp-shaped carivorous sponge Chondrocladia lyra
    • A new violet,Viola lilliputana, that is 1cm tall


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