SGU Episode 452

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SGU Episode 452
8th Mar 2014
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SGU 451 SGU 453
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis

Quote of the Week
Humanity and life are reflected in the stars, and the Universe itself is poetry.
Phil Plait
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

This Day in Skepticism (0:29)[edit]

R: Hey, happy International Women's Day to everyone. Not the day that

S: International

R: we're recording,

S: Women's Day.

R: but yeah, March 8th, the day that this podcast goes out, is International Women's Day.

S: What's it celebrating?

R: Women.


E: International women.

R: International women. Well, it started out as a socialist holiday, as a celebration of working women. And there are a lot of dates that tie into the Bolshevik's rebellion, and the February revolution, and all that good stuff. But eventually, over the years, it has become an internationally celebrated event.

In 1977, the UN invited member states to celebrate the day as an official UN day for women's rights and world peace. So, that has been happening year after year. Back in 2011, in fact, it was the theme that the UN announced for Women's Day was equal access to education, training, and science and technology. And this year, is equality for women is progress for all.

E: Good. You know, that is probably a finger in the eye to places like Saudi Arabia who won't let women do the most basic of things that the rest of the men in the country are able to do, education among them.

R: So, with that in mind, I thought that I would mention that this day in science history was Beatrice Shilling's birthday. Beatrice Shilling was an aeronautical engineer who corrected a serious default in a plane engine during the second world war. Basically, what would happen was German planes had the ability to fly, to manoeuver in combat by flying towards the ground very quickly.

But the British planes couldn't follow them, because the negative g manoeuvers would flood the engine with excess fuel, and cause them to lose power, or completely shut down.

E: Is that like choking the engine is like? 'Cause that

R: Or flooding the engine, I guess?

E: Flooding the engine?

R: Yeah. So yeah, Beatrice, also known as Tilly, Tilly Shilling, Tilly came up with this little, kind of like a little washer. It's just a little disk with a hole in it.

S: A doodad?

R: Yeah, a doodad. And it was really simple,

E: (Chuckles) Doodad!

R: but it solved the problem. And in 1941, she toured around to different fighter bases, installing this little doodad on their engines. And she became immensely popular for that, because she probably saved a lot of lives through it.

S: And then we won the war.


R: Thanks to Tilly. So, yeah, and apparently the doodad became known as Miss Shilling's orifice, or simply the Tilly orifice.


R: She'd quite like. Yeah, so she was a bad ass, and after the war, she started racing motorcycles, and apparently an anecdote goes that she refused to marry the guy who became her eventual husband until he matched her speed around a race course. She had been awarded a gold star for lapping this particular circuit at over a hundred miles per hour, and so she wouldn't marry him until he did the same, which apparently, he did, because they got married. So, yeah, Tilly Shilling. Happy birthday.

S: Gotta be careful there, Rebecca, you're gonna get over fifteen percent.

R: I know! I'm getting to an early head start for the year. I'm stacking them up!

E: This counts as two.

R: Yeah, this was a double.

S: No no, Women's Day is three and a half billion!

R: Oh, right, that's a good point.

E: Oh!

R: I'm gonna have to do quite a bit to make up for this.

News Items[edit]

Countering Anti-Vaccine Fears (4:22)[edit]

Dowsing in CA ()[edit]

Capturing Earth's Energy ()[edit]

Crank Sues NASA ()[edit]

Who's That Noisy? ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Turtle Love

Questions and Emails ()[edit]

Michio Kaku ()[edit]

I have only been listening to the show for six months or so, and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Thank you for making it so great. However, this week's interview with Michio Kaku was very disappointing. I have a decent understanding of several of the topics he was talking about by virtue of being in a neuroscience lab, and he was so far off in characterizing our understanding of the brain. Kaku conflated DBS treatment of Alzheimer's Disease with the Ramirez optogenetics experiment, which are completely different efforts with different goals. Relating to implanting a memory, we are so far off from reaching that point in humans it is ridiculous. The simplest level of this would be activating an existing engram created by the individual, and I don't think we'll even reach that point in humans within my lifetime (for context, I am 23). Kaku goes on to explain bottom-up learning, but I don't think he understands for how long we have been implementing machine learning[1]. He also seems to think that we will 'understand' the brain once we have mapped all the connections, which would fly in the face of long-term potentiation (LTP) or our understanding of Working Memory. His grandiose ideas for using of imaging for understanding psychological diseases are nice, but ignore the sensitivities of such diseases and all that imaging cannot show us. There's more inadequacies, and I am sure as I learn more about the brain, I will be able to identify more. It really seems as though Kaku is far more interested in the science fiction implications of neuroscience than anything else. And that's great — we need to discuss those implications for the future, but we need to do so competently and acknowledging what can or cannot be done. And don't get me wrong, there's fantastic and amazing things happening in neuroscience every day, things like this[1]. But as skeptics, I think we should move one step at a time and constantly challenge and evaluate the evidence brought forward by people like Kaku. Again, I love the show and thank you for everything, Omri

Dealing with Negativity ()[edit]

How do you honestly cope with the Intelligent Design frustration? I ask this because I saw a YouTube video where a simple audience question was asked — what scientific test is used to validate Intelligent Design This was…a VERY straightforward question. Rather than answering it, the person went on to discuss the meaning of 'test' and the validity of science using as much convoluted logic as he could possibly muster. It went on for about 10 minutes and the question was never answered (and yes I know they have no idea how to answer it since there IS no test for ID). I honestly wanted to shout out and say 'answer the FUCKING question please.' I can't see how you guys can take this because there are times where I am mystified Seriously, how can you take it sometimes? Dave Fernandes Rolla MO Dear Steven, Bob, Rebecca, Jay, and Evan, First off I wanted to thank you for all being a sound, reasonable voice in what feels like a largely unreasonable society. My question for you comes from a feeling I got while listening to your recent episode in which you discuss 'The food babe'. I found myself uncomfortable with anger. Almost to the point where I had to take a walk around the building to work off some frustration. I feel like the voices of people like Vani drown out the voices of those people should be listening to. I see people on her blog and youtube praising her for her 'Research,' and citing shallow reasons she makes good arguments (one of which literally being because she's attractive) I can't help but see this and feel overwhelmed. It almost feels pointless to try to work against these people. My question is do you also feel this way from time to time, and how do you deal with it? Thank you for all your hard work -Brian Anderegg United States

Name that Logical Fallacy ()[edit]

As a vegan skeptic, I often find myself in arguments with omnivores who seem to rely almost exclusively on logical fallacies to justify their diets. Examples include: - 'Humans have been eating meat for tens of thousands of years…' (Argument from antiquity) - 'Lions hunt and kill animals. Humans are no different It's natural to eat meat.' (Naturalistic fallacy) One I hear a lot though, is the question of 'Well what would we do with all the animals that already exist? Should we just kill them? Stop them from reproducing?' Of course, this has nothing to do with the question of whether it's ethically acceptable to raise and kill animals for food. It may be an unsolved problem, but it doesn't justify a continuation of that policy. So is this just a red herring? Non-sequitur? The latter also appears a lot, as in 'Harvesting vegetables kills insects!' and 'Vegetables are bad for the environment, too!' Thanks! –Steven Yenzer United States

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: Peppercorns are the dried fruit of the pepper tree, which is native to India and parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Item #2: Black pepper has been used as currency throughout ancient and medieval times, often valued equal to or greater than gold. Item #3: Pepper was used in the mummification process of Ramesses II.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

Humanity and life are reflected in the stars, and the Universe itself is poetry.

Phil Plait

Announcements ()[edit]

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.


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