SGU Episode 46

From SGUTranscripts
Jump to: navigation, search
  Emblem-pen-orange.png This episode needs:  proof-reading,  links,  'Today I Learned' list,  categories,  segment redirects. How to Contribute

SGU Episode 46
7th June 2006
Phil shuttle.jpg
SGU 45 SGU 47
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
PP: Phil Plait
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items[edit]

The World Survives June 6th, 2006 (00:50)[edit]

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. This is your host Stephen Novella, President of the New England Skeptical Society. Today is Wednesday, June 7, 2006. With me tonight as always are Bob Novella ...

B: Hello, everyone.

S: ... Perry DeAngelis, ...

P: Hey! How is everyone. I'd like to say a special holler out to Luna, my single fan on the forums. I'll be on there shortly, my friend. Don't worry.

S: ... Evan Bernstein, ...

E: Hello, everybody.

S: ... and Rebecca Watson.

R: Hello to all the rest of the listeners who are my fans on the forum.

B: Ohhhhh.

P: Hey.

S: So, well, we survived Y2K.

P: We did.

S: We did. We survived planetary alignments, ...

P: Right.

E: Many times over.

S: ... Armageddon, ...

R: The movie?

E: Armageddon.

S: ... and multiple predictions of comets and asteroids hitting the Earth and destroying everybody.

E: Hale-Bopp, Hale-Bopp.

P: Right.

S: Now, we have survived Satan's day, June 6, 2006.

B: Ooooh. Dun, dun, dun!

R: I thought that this one was much better than June 6, 1906, personally speaking.

S: Oh, yeah.

R: I think this one was better.

S: This had an extra zero in it.

P: Absolutely.

E: Oh, you and your past lives, Rebecca.

R: It's just a little more evil this time around. I felt it.

B: Yeah, a lot of websites I saw, a lot of news items on TV dealing with this whole business of June 6, 2006 or 666. A lot of people going crazy. Just imagine.

P: The Omen was rereleased. That was pretty horrific.

B: That was a great marketing ploy, but ...

P: It sure was. It sure was.

B: I found a great word today. What is "hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia"?

R: Well I'm just to take a stab in the dark and say it's the fear of the number 666.

B: How did you guess?

R: I'm a genius.

B: That is the most bizarre phobia word I've ever come across, but it's nice to know that it actually exists and somebody made that up. There are people that even take that fear to extreme. They won't have anything to do with, say, a fraction like two thirds, which, of course, you know is a repeating decimal .666. So they'll even stay away from anything that has to do with two thirds or even other fractions that result.

P: I'm not sure I see the problem, here.

E: Well, they can't cook meals. They don't know how to measure the ingredients. Two-thirds — "Oh, no! Ahhh!".

B: Can you imagine that. Also, did you know that 50 Protestant churches in the Netherlands had a 24-hour prayer marathon. Also 23 countries had these things, including the United States, Canada, and Britain.

S: That's why we survived! That's it! We owe our survival to their prayers. They kept the evil guys at bay.

B: Yeah, but shouldn't things have gotten worse now considering the recent research they've done on prayer?

R: No, I think we made it through all right because I sacrificed couple of chickens, so.

B: Oh, awesome, awesome!

S: Of course, this stoked the flames of fear of Satanists. They were going to come out and be running wild in the streets, killing babies, and sacrificing people.

E: Is that what I heard last night?

R: Yeah.

E: I thought it was a dog in my garbage can, but, oh well.

P: Same thing.

B: Now, did you know that linking 666 and the antichrist, or the devil, is pretty much not true? It's a misnomer.

R: Wait, is this news to you, that (unintelligible)

B: No.

S: It's not even valid in terms of the book of Revelations, is that what you are saying?

B: Right, exactly. That's what I'm saying. Actually, they believe, most theologians and scholars think that 666 was a code for a Roman Caesar that persecuted the Christians.

R: For Nero.

S: Nero.

B: Well, Nero possibly, but more likely than Nero even is somebody I never even heard of: Domitian. Domitian was another Caeser that they think might of been the one that they were referring to instead of Nero. But, I typically hear Nero or somebody else.

P: You got to go with Nero.

R: Yeah, I think Nero is the prevailing opinion.

P: Yeah.

S: That's because he's more famous. Thing like that always attract the more famous person.

R: No, it's because the numbers translate to the letters. It's like 'N', 'R', whatever.

P: He's just a cool, evil fat guy, that's all. He works better.

E: Played a mean fiddle.

P: Burn, burn the stuff down. He's cool. I'm on the Nero bandwagon.

B: Well, scholars disagree with you.

R: What scholars? I demand evidence.

P: Scholars, schmolars! I'm Nero's man. End of story.

R: If Perry and I are on the same team on something, so it's got to be true.

P: That's all. Thank you. End of story.

S: Argument from authority.

B: If you're on the same team, is truly the apocalypse.

S: That's one of the seven signs, I understand.

R: Probably.

Skepchick infiltrates Christian Scientists (5:00)[edit]

S: Now, Rebecca, you blogged a few days ago about infiltrating a cult. Why don't you tell us about that?

R: I went undercover as a Christian Scientist last week. It was scary.

S: So what happened?

R: Well, what I did was I just decided to go down to — they have a regular Sunday service. The mother church is located in Boston. It's their world headquarters, and for people who don't know, Christian Scientists — not the same as Scientologists. Some people get them mixed up.

S: Right.

R: They're completely different breed of nut. Christian Scientists don't believe in modern medicine.

S: It's worse than that. I don't know if that's where you're headed. They don't believe in reality.

R: Right, right.

S: They think that all of reality is an illusion, so ...

R: Yeah, they're anti-materialists, if you will.

P: They do, however, believe in dentistry. They do!

R: They pick and choose. I think some of them wear eyeglasses.

S: Right.

R: It's, you know, whatever's convenient for them.

S: Your physical health condition is a sign of your lack of faith.

R: Right.

S: If you had perfect faith, then you would be immortal and in perfect health, because, hey, it's all just an illusion, anyway.

R: Exactly.

P: So you went in there and didn't ignite on fire or anything?

R: I didn't, although I was starting to get a little worried as I sat there. It was kind of worrying. I kind of thought that maybe they'd drag me into their basement and try to brainwash me, but nothing like that happened. It was actually a little anti-climactic, because what they do mostly during their service is just they read from the Bible, and they pick very specific passages that can kind-of, sort-of support their weird point of view, and then they read from Mary Baker Eddy's book called Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

S: She was the founder of Christian Science.

R: The founder, yeah, exactly, and she was a big proponent of homeopathy, so she talks a lot about that, and basically about prayer healing you and things like that.

S: And she was immortal, by the way, right up to the point when she died.

R: Right.

E: Doh!

S: Her faith must have wavered just for a moment, and then she died.

R: She probably deserved it.

P: Clearly. When did she do this? When did she start this religion? Anyone know?

S: End of the 19th century.

P: So turn-of-the-century.

R: Yeah.

E: Right about the same time as chiropractic and all the other nonsense that came along. A lot of it.

R: A lot of craziness.

S: Spiritualism was very powerful back then, yup.

R: Yeah. The nice thing was I was invited back, because on the way out of the church, I was actually stuck in a small elevator with the main reverend guy.

S: Hm, hm.

E: The high priest.

R: Yeah, the grand high poobah.

P: The high (unintelligible)

E: The Grand Wizard.

R: His second and third in commands, and they grilled me on — they introduced themselves, and I just said "hi," and they said "What's your name?" and so I made up a name, because I'm paranoid, and they said "Oh, do you live around here?" and I said I live in Boston, yeah, and they said "Where do you work?" And this is like a 15-second elevator ride.

E: Which felt like thirty minutes.

R: Yeah, and I said "Oh, a restaurant, you know," and they start asking me what resaurant, and they want to talk about the restaurant industry, and then they invited me back. They actually invited me backed tonight. They were having some thing where people stand up and tell how they found Jesus, I guess, but unfortunately I couldn't.

P: So they recognized you as a stranger?

R: Apparently.

P: In the whole flock?

R: Apparently.

P: That's impressive.

R: They definitely singled me out. And it was also their annual meeting, which I didn't know when I first went, and so when I walked in they had tables with badges on them and stuff, and I had to sneak through. And so I wasn't sure if they pinpointed me as somebody who didn't belong there because I didn't have the badge on.

P: Oh, definitely. You stank of being of the unclean.

R: Right, and I was carrying medicated lip gloss, and I thought that maybe somebody saw it. I was kind of worried.

S: Frightened your cover, huh?

R: Yeah.

P: They tackled you.

R: I'm probably going to go back.

S: Well, it is good sometimes to study what people really believe. You learn a lot about human psychology and the nature of pseudoscience.

R: It's interesting, if a little scary. So if one day I don't show up for the podcast, you know who to contact.

S: We'll come after you. We'll give you exit counseling. We'll rescue you.

R: I forgot to mention the reason why I went in the first place, actually. They've been in the news here lately because there's been an outbreak of measles, because, of course, they don't believe in the evils of vaccines.

S: Shows lack of faith.

R: Right. So, the faithless among them contracted measles. I think they're up to seven cases now here in Boston.

E: Gross.

P: We've got to go into that church coughing and hacking and blowing our noses, you know? That's what we've got to do.

R: I'm sure I'm a walking petri dish. I took at least a dozen of them.

S: The worst thing about them is that they eschew medicine, of course, but adults have the right to refuse to be treated, even though it may be a ridiculous decision based upon nonsense. They have the right to do that. But, of course, they refuse treatment for their children, and this issue crops up every now and then. Every now and then there is a dramatic case of some child who suffered for days on the couch from an obstruction in the intestines, and then eventually died, and that, in my opinion, that's child-abuse (unintelligible).

E: Criminal.

S: It's criminal neglect, yeah.

R: Yeah, it's not just your opinion. That's just a fact. That's child abuse.

S: That's the way it is. They don't have the right to make the decision for a minor.

R: They're hiding behind the First Amendment, and it's pretty sickening that they can do it.

S: It is. It is.

P: They often go straight to jail when that happens.

S: They have lost those cases. They have not successfully defended themselves on the basis of freedom of religion.

R: Though, oftentimes when those cases come up, it's discovered that the parents who under trial will occasionally have things that happened in their past that nobody even knew about, like past babies that had died because they tend to be a very tight-knit community, and they cover for one another.

S: Right.

P: Most of those wacked-out churches are insular.

R: Right. So we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg, possibly.

Questions and Emails (11:48)[edit]

S: I should say we have an interview this week coming up in a few minutes. We will be interviewing Phil Plait, who is the Bad Astronomer, but first let's do a few of your emails.

Altruism and Evolution (11:59)[edit]

S: The first one comes from Marty Steitz from Minnesota, and Marty writes:

Great show. Absolutely one of my favorite podcasts! My wife eagerly awaits my lobbing the "Science or Fiction" her way after each show. Speaking of the Science or Fiction segment, I have a question about the altruism gene discovery as studied in the multicellular organism Volvox. You defined altrusim as "you do something which sacrifices your own Darwinian fitness in order for your relatives to survive." I was viewing this gene as somehow increasing fitness, such as by increasing the overall percentage of like genes passed on to future generations, since the individuals in a simple multicellular organism are highly related. So while you don't reproduce, your overall fitness is still higher than had you "gone it alone." Otherwise the altruism gene would be selected against, right? An analogous though far more complex situation might be the "altruism" of non-reproducing individuals in social insect species. Please set me straight if I'm looking at this incorrectly.

S: Well, Marty you are correct in what you say, although that's actually what I was talking about. Maybe I wasn't clear that there are actually computer models that show that — and not just in simple organisms, even in primates, in complex organisms with complex behaviors — that if you are altruistic towards your kins, meaning if you take the hit and you die, but you save your cousin from the lion or whatever, that does result in a statistical advantage for having more of your genes represented in future generations, because your siblings and your cousins share a lot of your genes as well. So sacrificing your personal fitness, but meaning that you as an individual may not have offspring, but your kin fitness goes up, and then the net effect of that can be a statistical Darwinian advantage for your genes being passed on to future generations. So that's actually what I was talking about, and he is correct.

Reply to 9/11 Hoax (14:01)[edit]

S: We had a lot of emails replying to our discussion of the 9/11 hoaxes. I wanted to select two representing kind of the spectrum of what we received. The first one comes from Michael Orticelli, who is a longtime listener of our show. How are you doing, Michael? He's been listening almost from the very beginning, I believe.

B: Hey, Mike!

S: Michael writes — he wrote a long email, so I am just going to read part of it.

I'm not sure what to think of you guys standing on one side of the offense of unknowns and firmly stating that anyone on the other side of the set of unknowns are the conspiracy theorists. The fact is when we don't have nearly all the facts in the 9/11 attacks, and there are so many unanswered questions, and so much speculation, it is kind of irresponsible as skeptics to simply state that anyone who believes there may very well be more to these events than meets the eye are the conspiracy theorists.

S: He goes on, and I've actually had a couple of back-and-forths with Michael on this issue. The bottom line of his point is that he's basically making the statement that where there's smoke there's fire. There's too much anomalies. There are too many unanswered questions. There's got to be something going on. He would not endorse any specific conspiracy theory or even say that there was a conspiracy, just to say that there's something unknown here. What I say to that is that there really isn't anything unknown in terms of the basic facts of 9/11. Islamic extremists hijacked four jets, crashed two into the towers, one into the Pentagon, and one crashed in Pennsylvania. Those basic facts have been established beyond doubt, beyond any even sliver of a reasonable doubt. The so-called speculation or unanswered questions are all manufactured. They are manufactured by conspiracy theorists, who basically do anomaly hunting. The anomalies are often quite stupid. And, for example, it may just be one witness who had some detail in their testimony that was different than what other people were saying, and they'll dismiss the hundreds of witnesses who saw a passenger jet hit the Pentagon, and they'll say that this guy saw a missile, and they'll believe that guy. That's manufactured uncertainty. So our position is that if you look at all the evidence, if you read the independent analyses, and, again, I think the Popular Science one is a good one, because that's a science magazine, that the basic facts are not in question.

More on 9/11 (16:29)[edit]

S: The second email comes from Vincent Samartino. Now Vincent is kind of at the other end of the spectrum. He definitely believes that there was a conspiracy. He said, he writes:

I was just listening to your podcast on the subject. You should try and get a person that understands basic physics on your show. All of your hosts are completely clueless of reality.

R: That's actually true.

E: Good point. Good point. Yeah. Excellent point. Can't beat that.

P: I deny reality. I deny physics.

R: I became a Christian Scientist.

S: I had a few emails back-and-forth with him.

B: Did he get specific at all?

S: Oh, yeah. He does. But he's regurgitating all of the standard conspiracy points. He didn't say anything that we hadn't talked about or heard before.

P: I'm shocked!

S: On a follow-up email he writes:

Just so you know, I'm not a Johnny-come-lately to when it comes to the subject of 9/11. You may find my essay on the subject interesting. By all means, input the names into the SSDI in the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund.

S: What that is talking about is that not all of the victims — not all of the passengers on the plane are listed if you look under their Social Security numbers on the Victims Compensation Fund, and he uses such ambiguous, flimsy evidence as that to basically argue that they didn't exist because they're not on this database. We focused a lot on the Pentagon. He basically believes that it was physically impossible to crash a jet into the Pentagon, and that's why he says that we are ignorant of physics.

B: Why?

P: The film footage is all faked?

S: There is no footage that clearly shows a jet crashing into the Pentagon. The released footage we talked about last week just show this white streak followed by an explosion.

P: What?

S: He does believe that it was all fake, though, and I sent him dozens of pictures of plane parts in the Pentagon with the testimony of the people who were there and took the pictures, and he says they're all faked. How does he know they're all faked? Because it was impossible to crash the jet into the Pentagon.

B: Why? What's so impossible about that?

S: He starts with that premise, and that premise proves a conspiracy, and he can dismiss any other piece of evidence no matter how extraordinary it is, because he knows it — he's absolutely certain that it was impossible.

B: Well, is there a force field around the Pentagon? Why can't you fly a plane into the Pentagon?

S: He says because the ground effect ...

P: Who told you about the force field, Bob?

S: ... makes it impossible to fly a plane — he says 6 feet off the ground — that figure is also at the low end of the speculation. It could have been 20 or 30 feet. He says, basically, you couldn't fly a plane that low to the ground, which is stupid. It's just absolutely absurd.

B: Wow!

S: I tried to get him to answer my question: what would happen, then, if you did try to crash a jet into the Pentagon? What would happen? Would you miss the ground? Could you not crash a plane?

R: That's the key to flying. You just fall and miss the ground.

S: He wasn't — the plane wasn't flying 20 feet off the ground. It was crashing into the ground at the Pentagon.

B: Right.

S: It was crashing, not flying.

B: Right.

P: Did he reply to that?

S: Yeah, he just on saying it was impossible. "You can't fly twenty feet off the ground. You don't know physics. Blah, blah, blah." He makes all kinds of arguments from authority. It just got nasty.

R: Steve, it makes sense. You can't fly that low to the ground or you'd crash!

S: Right.

R: Duh! Duh, Steve. Duh.

S: I sent him testimony of pilots who said it would be pretty easy to do what that pilot did. Of course he has counter-testimony, but these are all from this insular group of conspiracy theorists. It was quite a discussion, but I could not nail him down on what he actually think would have actually happened if you tried to do that. This guy is as extreme as you get. Well, he thinks that the entire Congress is in on it, the entire mainstream media is in on it.

E: And we're in on it.

P: Thank God he was around to pierce the veil and let us all know the reality, which is what, exactly? I don't know. They made the plan up?

R: I think somebody on my blog today commented that it's a vast conspiracy, a secret held by thousands of people, and can only be cracked by one, lone nut-ball on the web.

P: One intelligent chimp.

S: It is interesting. This demonstrates the psychology of conspiracy theories very well. He's convinced that he has seen the truth, and that is like being in the presence of God. He feels that he has the truth. That certainty enables him to just wipe away and explain away any apparent anomalies, to pick and choose the evidence that he wants. He knows there was a conspiracy, and it's kind of like being certain that your faith is true. Whenever you're absolutely certain that you're correct, that is the recipe for a closed belief system, and that's what these conspiracy theories are. So we have some more links on our website. There's one excellent testimony from someone who was there picking up body parts with uniforms on them, investigating the wreckage and the Pentagon, people who witnessed it and took pictures immediately after it, at least proving that they were right there. So, but I'm sure we'll hear more about this. In my experience, whenever I write or talk about conspiracy theories, that usually engenders the most vicious, vociferous response. They are, I think, the nuttiest true-believers that we deal with by far, by N order of magnitude.

E: Thank you for listening, Vincent. Keep listening to the podcast.

S: Keep listening.

P: We'd like to hear your dissertation on Kennedy.

S: Well he said, since you bring it up, he said "Conspiracies are possible. JFK, Pearl Harbor. That proves that conspiracies are possible." He also said religion proves that conspiracies are possible, because religion is a big conspiracy. What a non-sequiter.

R: That's like saying macaroni and cheese proves that conspiracy theories are possible. What the hell does that mean?

B: Of course, conspiracies are possible, but the scale that a lot of ...

S: Yes, the scale!

B: The scale is what just blows it out of reality. I really would argue that conspiracies at the scale that would be required are impossible.

S: Yes.

B: I cannot imagine all of Congress keeping a secret like this. It's really just impossible.

S: It's ridiculous.

B: It can't happen.

S: I think that it probably follows — if you plotted the number of people that would have to be involved in a conspiracy, basically how big the conspiracy is, against the probability of the conspiracy collapsing and being revealed, there's probably an exponential relationship there.

P: Maintaining the conspiracy garners the politicians nothing. Exposing the conspiracy would garner them the presidency.

S: Come on! Ted Kennedy?

P: Would be endlessly valuable to them.

S: Oh, yeah. But, Perry, the thing is, he knows it's a conspiracy. He's starting from that premise. So he just says they must have some other agenda, some deeper, darker agenda that we don't even know about.

P: What?!

S: Hey, you don't know how deep this rabbit hole goes, Perry.

E: That's what he said.

S: Black is white, and white is black. We're through the looking glass. That's the thing. Once you step into a world where you think nothing is as it seems, then logic evaporates. You can't argue with these people.

E: Hey, Steve. It's funny you mention that line, because that's from Oliver Stone's JFK.

S: Yes.

E: And, of course, Oliver Stone is coming out with a movie this summer called World Trade Center.

S: Ahhgh!

B: Ahhgh!

E: It will be interesting to see what he does with that movie.

S: Yeah.

E: I haven't read much on it, but I'm going to definitely ...

S: Yeah, we'll see if he takes the conspiracy position.

E: Yeah.

Interview with Phil Plait (24:32)[edit]

S: Joining us now is Dr. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer. Phil, welcome to the Skeptics Guide.

PP: Hey, thanks for having me on.

S: Phil runs the Bad Astronomy website and also has a blog and wrote the book Bad Astronomy. He is an astronomer, who, on the side, debunks pseudoscience in his field of astronomy. He has taken on astrology, believers in a Moon Landing hoax, and Hoagland and the Face on Mars, and many other issues. So, Phil, why don't we start with the Moon Landing hoax. This is — you have a rather long article on that on your website. We were actually just talking about the 9/11 hoaxes, so this kind of plays into that, and why don't you just give us a summary of that.

PP: Well, if I talk about this, Rebecca's not going to make fun of my mom, is she?

S: I don't know. She's wont to do that.

PP: I did listen to the last podcast, and I know how evil and mean and amoral you skeptics are.

R: Ooooh. Oh, not us.

E: Oh, thank you.

S: We just had our high holy day yesterday, so we're especially mean today.

PP: That's true. Yeah! The Moon Landing hoax. Let's see. Oh, golly, where to start? Basically, the idea is that there are folks out there who are — they call themselves skeptics, which makes my cockles of my heart warm.

B: Deniers.

PP: Yeah, deniers.

R: Can we not talk about your cockles. This is a family show. Thanks.

PP: I just know that it really bugs you, Rebecca. So, anyway, these people think that NASA faked the Moon landings. They call themselves skeptics, because they think that skeptics are just people who doubt things, but, in fact, skeptics are people who need evidence to be presented so that they can make a decision over whether something is real or not.

S: Right.

PP: And if you're skeptical about the Moon landings, I'm all for it. But if you're just going to deny that they're real, that's just silly, because all of the evidence — and I do mean all of the evidence — shows that we went, and all the evidence that these people present, these Moon hoax proponents, these hoax believers, whatever you want to call them, all the evidence they have is just basically crap.

S: Hm, hm. Yeah, again, from reading your article, and I've read about this in many other places, it's anomaly hunting, and the anomalies are only anomalies in their own minds. It's based upon their own ignorance.

PP: Yeah, I mean, basically you can pull something out of context ...

S: Hm, hm.

PP: ... and make it look like whatever you want. So if you look at an image of an astronaut standing on the Moon, you can say "Why is this, and why is that?" And it's easy to sow the seeds of doubt into a reader's mind, but, in fact, if you backup a little bit and look at this thing in context, you'll realize that there's a perfectly legitimate reason for the photograph to look like that.

S: They don't really have any answer to those explanations. They just sort of reiterate their initial point.

PP: Oh, well, they have answers, if you want to call them answers, that it was filmed in the desert, it was filmed on a soundstage, that NASA stole the money and ran, that this and that and the other thing. But it's just all crap. There's a ton of things that these guys produce. They say "There are no stars in the pictures. The shadows go the wrong way. The radiation would have killed them. The flag is flapping in the wind." This goes on and on and on, and all of these have really, really simple answers you can find on my website and elsewhere. Like, for example, the stars not showing up is simply because the sun was up. It was daytime on the Moon, and so they took the pictures with a fast shutter speed, and in the hundred and 50th of a second that the film was being exposed, stars don't show up.

S: That's right.

PP: And the stars are no brighter on the Moon than they are on the Earth, people. That's a misconception. They think that the Earth's atmosphere blocks a lot of light, so if you can see a lot of stars on the Earth, then on the Moon you should be able to see even more. But that's not true. In fact, the sky is fairly transparent to visible light. It's lets through like 90% of the light on a clear night. So standing on the Moon, you really wouldn't see any more stars than you would standing on the Earth at a dark sky. And if you go out on a dark night and take a picture for a hundred-and-fiftieth of a second, you're just not going to see any stars. It takes several seconds to see them. So that's one. You know, I could go on and on.

S: What do they say in response to that, then?

PP: Nothing. They actually don't like to talk about that.

B: Oh, yeah?! Oh, yeah?

PP: That's it exactly, or one of them would just claim, again, he says "That's just wrong. You should see thousands of stars." I love that argument.

S: Yeah

PP: "Because I said so" is what they're saying.

S: Right.

E: Right.

B: Hey, Phil!

PP: Yeah.

B: I just came across one of these — I hadn't hadn't seen before — and I loved your answer, especially since it's pretty much not reproducible even with today's technology. Some people claim that the walk — men walking on the Moon, and the rover — if you just kind of speed that up, it will be obvious that it was filmed on Earth. And your answer was very interesting, especially the rover, the effect of the rover and the dust. Could you quickly describe that?

PP: I think the answer I gave was "That's just stupid," and I just left it at that.

B: Yeah, that's what I liked about it.

PP: "You idiot!". No, this has caused a lot of confusion. There's a layer of dust on the surface of the Moon, and this is basically the rocks on the surface have been ground up after millions and billions of years of a meteorite impacts and the solar wind and all this. And it's called regolith. It's an inch or two deep, but it's got a texture like anywhere between gravel and extremely fine like flour, and when the astronauts walk in it, for example, it leaves their footprint behind. Now, if you're in the rover and you spin out a little bit, the wheel kicks up this dust. You get some interesting effects. The gravel, basically, makes this beautiful parabolic arc. It goes up and it goes down, and that is similar to what it do on the Earth. So the interesting effect is that when the rover tire spits up the fine dust, the fine dust also goes up in an arc and falls straight back down, or not straight back down, but it makes this beautiful arc up and down. On the Earth, because we have an atmosphere, the dust billows. The fine powder is supported by the air, and you get this big cloud of billowing dust. But on the Moon, it doesn't do that. The stuff shoots up and shoots straight back down, and so you can see by looking at this video, that it was filmed in a place that had low gravity and no atmosphere. Now, low gravity and no atmosphere: in my mind, the simplest solution is they filmed it on the Moon!

S: Right.

PP: Okay, they didn't film it here, they filmed it on the Moon!

E: Certainly wasn't on the Earth.

PP: Now, this causes so much confusion with people, because people don't understand — and I hope you're all sitting down — a lot of people don't understand that the Moon has gravity. This is an old, old story, and you may have heard about this, that somebody went around taking a survey of people asking them if there was gravity on the Moon. If you let go of a pen on the Moon, would it go up, would it float, or would it fall? And something like half the people said it would float, because they don't understand that the Moon is a large body that has mass and, therefore, has gravity. And then if somebody said it would float, the follow-up question was: well, how did the astronauts stay on the Moon? And people would answer "Well, they wore heavy boots."


PP: Now, people swear this is a true story. I don't know if it's apocryphal or not, but I do a lot of educational work, and I do know for a fact that a lot of people don't understand that there's gravity on the Moon. And so some one these hoax proponents, and you can find this online — say that "Why isn't the dust billowing away? The fact that it's coming back down shows it's on the Earth. If it were on the Moon, it would just be shooting up in the sky and going way." And so this is like — gew! — where do you start? Well first you start by picking up the pieces of your head after it's exploded from listening to something like that. But that's what it's like, and so you have to — you really sometimes have to back way off of the problem to be able to explain to people how this stuff works. Oh, oh, and you said if you speed up the film ...

S: Right.

PP: ... by a factor of two makes it look like astronauts are moving correctly. That is, in fact, not true. If you were to drop a rock on the Moon, it'll fall slower because the Moon has one-sixth the gravity of the Earth. If you speed the film up actually by factor of about two-and-a-half, it'll look like the rock drops at the correct speed, because if you do the math out, the time it takes something to fall goes as the square root of the ratio of the gravity of the Moon to the Earth. The square root of one-sixth is about one over 2.5, so if you speed the film up by two-and-a-half, it falls naturally. So if you speed the film by two-and-a-half, then things that fall, things that have to do with gravity look like they do on the Earth. The problem is, when the astronauts are just moving, waving their arms, or doing whatever they're doing, that is a natural movement that has nothing to do with gravity.

S: Hm, hm.

PP: So if you speed the film up by two-and-a-half, it looks like they're flailing their hands around at two-and-a-half times natural speed.

B: Ah. Awesome.

PP: And so really when you speed the film up, when they're doing things that aren't involving like walking or doing stuff like that, you can see that it looks ridiculous. But these guys don't tell you that, because if they tell you that, they can't sell you their books and videos and all the garbage that they sell.

S: Is that the motive here? It's just self-promotion? Just something to do?

PP: Um ...

B: For some, I would think.

PP: I have had dealings with all four of the big Moon hoax proponents, and this would be Bill Kaysing, the guy who originally came up with this whole idea back in the 1960s. He is now dead. Bart Sibrell, who has a video called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon, and he's the who Buzz Aldrin punched ...


PP: ... if you remember that a couple of years ago.

B: Awesome.

E: Did he? I don't remember that.

PP: David Percy is a guy in England, who has a bulletin board where he discusses these things, and when people would show that his ideas were wrong, suddenly those answers would disappear off the bulletin board. And, last but not least is Ralph René, an American guy who claims he's a genius. He was with Mensa and all this stuff, and he is a curmudgeon and a crank and very much the crackpot. He was on Penn and Teller's TV show, and since this is a family-friendly podcast, I won't give the name. I believe on Penn's radio show he calls it Bulls Hit. So René was on that show, and Penn had quite the fun time making fun of him. And so I've dealt with all four of these guys, and I can honestly say that Ralph René is just a crackpot. He thinks that pi is not equal to 3.1415. He's got all these claims. Bill Kaysing I think was sincere, but I think he was also, uh, (looney sound effect), okay? People say you shouldn't speak ill of the dead.

R: Is that a technical term?

PP: Yes, actually it is. If you talk to a psychologist, they will actually make that noise. People tell me not to speak ill of the dead, and I think, well, you know what, he caused a lot of grief when he was alive, and so if I'm going to make fun of him, I don't care if he's alive or dead.

E: It's not like he can sue you.

PP: And he threatened to, several times. He sent me several letters saying he was going to debate me and sue me and do all this stuff.

B: After he died?

PP: Uh, yes, in fact, John Edward and I have been channeling.

B: All right!

PP: As far as the other two go, I mean, the fact that David Percy had a bulletin board and started execising opinions that disagreed with his lets you know where he's coming from.

S: Hm, hm.

PP: Bart Sibrell I have no clue. This guy makes all these claims. I've debated him on the radio a couple of times. You know, in the end, I don't care if these guys are nuts or if they're lying, and those really are your only two choices. The fact is they're wrong, ...

S: Hm, hm.

PP: ... and the evidence shows that they're wrong, and they leave off the evidence that you need to understand it. They're not going to tell you that speeding up the film makes half the things the astronauts do look stupid. They're not going to tell you that short exposures won't show up stars. They're not going to tell you that they're grossly confusing the different types of radiation when they say that the radiation should have killed the astronauts. Because if they tell you this, there's no reason to listen to them. And maybe they're selling books. Maybe they're selling videos, Maybe they just want the attention.

S: Hm, hm.

PP: Maybe they honestly believe that they have discovered the biggest cover-up in history. It doesn't matter. These guys are wrong, and I aims to show it.

S: Right. Again, the reason why — I mean these guys are just cranks, and they're kind of pathetic. The Moon landing hoax doesn't get that much play in my experience. It's not as big as other ones, like the 9/11 hoax.

PP: Well, no, it's not like 9/11, but before the web, it was out there.

S: Yeah

PP: It didn't get much notoriety.

B: Right.

PP: But with the advent of of the internets, it got very popular. And then when Fox aired that abysmal ....

B: Right.

S: Yeah, yeah.

PP: ... TV show in 2001, it became huge.

E: Oh, yeah. That was ... Yep.

PP: That show came out, and I was able to get an advance copy, and so I was able to have a debunking, a point-by-point debunking of it ready literally right after it aired. So the next day I had my website up for it, and it got picked up by a lot of big venues like CNN and NASA actually pointed to it. And that really jumpstarted my career, and so I'm very conflicted about that Fox show. I owe everything to it, but geez I wish it had never aired. But the thing is, there have been other TV shows about it. It's been covered on Penn and Teller's show. I'm going down, actually, by the times this airs, I'll have already filmed an interview for the pilot for a series of TV shows that's going to air on a cable channel to be named later. Although I know what it is, I'm not going to tell you guys. But the pilot's about the Moon hoax, and they're going to interview Moon hoax people and everything. So it's out there, and, still, it's got some legs, even though it's total and utter crap.

S: Yeah, but the bad thing about these kind of wacky, cranky theories is that it really teaches people aberrant thinking and aberrant science, basically erodes the public's critical thinking capacity.

PP: That's right. All of this stuff is a way for people to stop thinking and just believe what people are telling them. And this is the really pernicious nature of this. It's one of two really evil things about this, and, yes, it is "Listen to me. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." It is "I'm going to tell you a certain number of things, and you're going to believe me, and I'm not going to tell you this last thing, which is going to show you that I'm utterly wrong."

S: Right.

PP: And so people turn off that part of their brain, if they ever had it turned on, which allows them to skeptically view what somebody's telling them. And, oh my gosh! Who would talk like that? You know, politicians, salesman, right? Shyster pseudoscientists, all these guys are going to keep information out of your grasp that you need to understand the situation. And the other evil thing about this is that a lot of these guys are doomsday people. They want to convince you that the world's about to end, and boy, oh boy, if you're going to do it, astronomy is a great way to do it. And they make all these claims that a giant planet's going to destroy the Earth, that an asteroid impact's going to destroy the Earth. Just two weeks ago this guy was claiming that a comet was going to impact in the Atlantic Ocean — ...

S: Hm, hm.

PP: ... this was on May 25th — cause a tsunami, which was going to kill millions of people on the east coast of the United States.

R: How come I didn't see that on the news, Phil?

PP: It was all over the web, actually. It wasn't too hard to find.

R: Wait, so it happened, then?

PP: Okay, you're joking, Rebecca. Okay, this guy says a commet's going to the Earth on May 25th. It doesn't hit the Earth. So then he says "Did I say May 25th? I meant June 5th." And then that didn't happen. Now, if you go to his website — I have a blog entry I'm going to post here. It will already have been posted by the time you guys put this podcast up. He's actually claiming that it was going to hit, and that it did hit, but that it caused a tsunami, but then benevolent aliens came in and stopped it.

R: Oh, thank God!

PP: He's claiming victory. He's claiming victory! At this point I think "why the hell am I bothering to do this?" It's like digging a hole in water. These guys will always find some excuse to say they were right.

S: Sure.

PP: You know: "It was a mass delusion. The government was covering it up. That's just what they want you to think."

E: Anything but "I was wrong." It's never "I was wrong."

PP: Anything but that. That's right.

R: You see, that's just it Phil. You're not doing it for the crackpots like him. You're doing it for all those people who are just sort of checking in. They're on the fence. They're like "What's all that about?"

PP: That's precisely right, and I'll tell you, nothing, nothing gets me angrier, nothing pisses me off more than people using pseudoscience, bad logic, anti-science I'm calling it now, to scare people. When you're scaring somebody because of this, that is just as low and slimy and evil as it gets. And our government's been doing that for a few years now. Not that I'm going to let politics rear its head into this conversation, but the politics of fear are very powerful politics, and nothing cracks open somebody's wallet like scaring them. And if you tell them, you know, "You won't get cancer if you eat this," or "Sure homeopathy will cure that dental problem you have," you scare them into thinking that medicine, the standard medicine's going to kill them, and they'll go to your alternative crap medicine, which will, in fact, kill them or prevent them from getting real medicine which will cure them. Or they will sell their property to you on the east coast because they think a commet's going to hit. Or you can just sell a book, and this really, really, really makes me very angry.

S: Yeah. The other point I wanted to make was — the other reason why it's helpful to talk about these issues, even though the issues themselves are absurd — it's not just to get to those people on the fence, but it's also just to teach people about science and about logic and critical thinking.

PP: Right.

S: And sometimes having a really absurd, extreme example of pseudoscience is a good way to teach about what isn't science.

PP: Ding, ding, ding. That's exactly right, and, in fact, if you look at the difference between someone like me, a scientist, and someone like Bart Sibrell or these other guys like Richard Hoagland or these other people who are promoting garbage, is that I will point you to the other side. I will say "Go look at their arguments," and then come and read my site and see what the counter-arguments are. Do these experiments for yourself. See how you can figure this out, and "Don't believe me" is what I say. I don't want you to just believe me because I have a degree or that I'm a professional astronomer or I'm just so, so good-looking. It's not anything to do with that. I want you to just look at the facts and make up your mind, and if you do, you will see that I am, in fact, right. And so that's the kind of thing that I put up on my site. When I make a mistake, if the mistake is actually relevant to the argument I'm making, then I will admit it. I will actually say "I made a mistake here. I originally said this. Here is the correct answer." You will never, ever, ever hear a pseudo-scientist claim they made a mistake, ever. That is not in their vocabulary.

S: So, Phil, you mentioned Hoagland. This is — is it Richard Hoagland?

PP: Richard C. Hoagland, that's right.

S: Richard C. Hoagland. He is a first-class nut job. I mean, this guy — he's one of the main proponents of the Face on Mars.

PP: He is the proponent of the Face on Mars.

S: Yeah, and a lot of other Mars pseudo-science. Have you had any direct run ins with him?

PP: No, not so much direct, and I wouldn't necessarily call him a nut job. I don't know what his motivations are. I do know that almost everything he's ever said that I've ever heard him say is wrong, and we can get back to that in a minute, because there's a funny story about that. But, yeah, here's a guy who says that this giant rock on Mars is a sculpture of a face. He's very coy about who actually sculpted it, but he says also that there's a city on Mars and there are all these artifacts on Mars. There's a hugh NASA conspiracy going on, and I've got several web pages totally tearing him to shreds. His arguments are just goofy, and it's a classic case of lies, damn lies, and statistics. He manipulates numbers in such a way to make it look like what he's saying is real, but it isn't. It's numerology is what he's doing, and he takes JPEG images, which are compressed images, and blows them up hugely and then says "Look, there's rectangles in them." And it's like, well, "Duh." That's part of the JPEG compression. That's what happens in a computer. So he does garbage like this all the time. He is on George Noorey Coast-to-Coast AM radio show, which is a huge radio show. They have about 10 million listeners every night. Mostly insomniac truck drivers who listen to it with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. I'm pretty sure that most of the people who listen to this show listen to it for its chuckle factor, that the people who get on there talk about Chupacabra and all this stuff.

R: Oh yeah, definitely.

PP: The amount of email I get when I go on, you know, the old adage that 90% of the mail you get is negative. In fact, I get 50% support and 50% calling me a CIA spook. And so the fact that I'm not getting overwhelming negative email from people who listen to Coast-to-Coast shows you that most of their listeners, I think, are listing to this because they think it's funny. And so Hoagland ...

S: Right, the entertainment value.

PP: Exactly. And Hoagland's on — he used to be on fairly often. Now he's on like once a week, shilling his wares and making all these dumb claims, and I'm on every few months. If there's something interesting going on astronomically, I'll go on and debunk it. And George Noory, the host, is just begging me to debate Hoagland on the air, because as one of the biggest science proponents on the show, debating one of the biggest anti-science proponents on the show would make for great radio. On the other hand, you know, I'm not going to stick my hand into a vat of necrotizing fasciitis. I'm just not going to do that. I'm not going to demean myself by debating this guy on the air. The crap he says is — he says some truly awful things. He's not just saying things that are wrong. He compared a couple of nice guys, a couple of scientists to Nazis. I mean, literally, he basically said they were Nazis.

S: Yeah, he really has reality issues. He believes that NASA is a Nazi conspiracy. That, basically, Nazi scientists eventually found their way to the Soviet Union space program and NASA, and they're trying to carry out this long-term plan to take over the world or something. That's the level that we're dealing with.

PP: Well, there are two points I'm going to make here. One is that you don't know that he believes that. He says it.

S: He says that.

PP: He says things like that, but you don't know if he believes it.

S: True.

PP: The second thing is that our space program was started by Nazi scientists. Wernher von Braun ...

R: Yeah, I was going to point that out.

PP: ... and his engineers worked for — now these guys worked for Nazis, because the Nazis were the only game in town.

R: Right.

PP: On the other hand, there was slave labor involved to get the V2 rockets built, and von Braun didn't seem to go to far out of his way to stop this. There's a whole history about this, and I'm not going to judge, because I don't know the history that well. So you can ...

S: No, he's not just saying that there are Nazi scientists in NASA, which, of course, is true.

PP: "Were".

S: He's saying that they're in control of NASA, and that they're using it to pursue their long-term world-dominating ends.

PP: If there were fascist dictators in charge of NASA, NASA would be doing a much better job.

S: Right.

PP: One of the problems with NASA is that it's got too many directions it's trying to go in. If there was somebod running it with an iron fist, you know, it would do better. On the other hand, there are disadvantages with this, such as slave labor and the whole exterminating inferior race parts of it. That's kind of the downside of the Nazis. But, you know, the claims this guy makes — he has all these World Trade Center — the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He makes all these claims about that which are just — they're just stupid, and I debunk those on my website, as well. It's been a long time since we've actually given the name and URL of my website, so I'll say it's on badastronomy, which is [], and I am a hopeless shill, in fact.

S: We will have a link, as always, on our notes page.

PP: Cool!

S: Well, speaking of NASA, you blogged recently — I think it was, in fact, today — about ...

PP: You mean two weeks ago.

S: ... Appeal to Congress to refund NASA scientist

PP: Yes.

S: So there's problems with funding at NASA. Why don't you tell us about that?

PP: No, a problem is when you stub your toe. An epic disaster is when you're five or six billion dollars short in your science budget.

S: It's that bad?

PP: What happened here — this is a complicated situation. But it's explainable. What happened was, NASA was busy throwing away money on the space shuttle and the space station, when — oh, I'm sorry, did I inject a personal opinion there? And our esteemed leader came in and said "We need to go back to the Moon and then go to Mars", and NASA said "We think this is a great idea," and, in fact, I think this is a great idea. But then what Bush did is he said "Okay, you need to do this, but, yeah, I'm not going to give you any extra money." Or "I'm only going to give you a little bit of extra money." And so NASA really was screwed. It was another in a long line of unfunded mandates from the President, and NASA had to do this. And so they started looking into it, and when the current NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, came in he said — and this is a quote — "Not one thin dime will be taken from science to fund the return to the Moon and going on to Mars." And he was telling the absolute truth, because it wasn't one thin dime, it was actually several billion dollars. They had to take money from science, because there was no way they could build a rocket and a program to go back to the Moon without sacrificing to do it. I mean, they have a budget, and there's a fixed amount of money.

S: Yeah.

PP: The problem is — not so much — the problem is that happened in the first place, but NASA made it a lot worse by the way they were doing it. They didn't talk to the science community, or they said to the science community "What's important to you?" And then the science community said "This is. These programs," and then NASA just cut them.

S: Yeah, they ignored their recommendations.

PP: Yeah. Some of the most important projects were just cut, and it was done in kind of a way that was really not a good way. The Dawn Mission, which was a mission to go to two asteroids, was simply just cut, and there was a big European contingent that had built insturments for this thing, and NASA didn't even talk to them first before they canceled it. One mission was canceled, and the principal investigator, the person who had put this mission together, found out about it when somebody told her there was a press conference going on, and the Associate Administrator for NASA said it was canceled. Did not even get a phone call. Got a letter written to her that took like a week to get to her. So she found out through the grapevine, basically, after it was announced. So this was not endearing the NASA administration to scientists, especially after the administration was saying that science wasn't to take a hit. So we scientists are still a little ticked about this, and so I've been blogging about this and saying, you know, NASA can't do this. They're basically cutting off their head to save the rest of the body. It doesn't make any sense, and so — but they're screwed, because they don't have enough money. So, basically, the only thing we can do now is talk to Congress and say "Look, you've got to fund this. This is not cheap, and the science that you're cutting is destroying the next generation of scientists. You're cutting the research funds that are necessary to generate the next generation of scientists, and if you cut this stuff out, there's just — you're going to lose a tremendous amount of your brain trust for the next generation.

S: Hm, hm.

PP: So there are committee meetings going on right now with Congress, and I've written letters, the president of the Association of American Universities, who speaks for sixty universities, wrote a letter to Congress saying "Look, you have to find $6 billion to fund this", and that money is around. There are Katrina cleanup funds which are sitting, not being used, over, I think, $2 billion, which is just sitting there and it's never going to get used, because of the reasons it was put aside. They could use that, for example. They could take $9 billion in cash that they lost in Iraq last year and double the amount of funding that NASA needs. So this money's out there. It's just, you know, Congress needs to find it and fund NASA with it.

S: It's just a matter of priority, right?

PP: Yeah, and NASA is the smallest of the government agencies when you compare it to the military, health and human services, all these. NASA gets the smallest piece of the budgetary pie. When you talk about a $200 million mission that smacked into Mars or something like that, it sounds like a huge amount of money, and it is compared to NASA's budget. But $200 million is what the military spends in like an hour.

E: Yeah.

PP: You have to put this stuff in context. NASA gives us so much. Have your ever downloaded a Hubble picture and used it as your wallpaper? Have you ever picked up a picture from Hubble? Have you ever sat back and read about how we're finding planets orbiting other stars, and they're being confirmed by space-based telescopes. Just that knowledge is probably worth the two or three dollars out of your tax money that you spend in a year out of the tens of thousands you give the government, that NASA is getting. And so NASA is absolutely worth it. It needs to be more tightly controlled on how they're spending their money, but NASA is absolutely worth the money it's getting.

S: Oh, absolutely. It's almost an entire branch of science that is really dependent upon these big projects, these big funds. You can't put telescopes in orbit unless you have a agency like the size of NASA to do it.

PP: At the moment that's true, and I'm hoping that private industry will be able to pick up some of the slack. I mean, NASA hasn't put anybody in orbit in a few years, and there's supposed to be a shuttle launch next month. We'll see. I don't trust the shuttle anymore. I actually never did. But I certainly wouldn't trust something that blows up two out of every hundred and twenty-five launches. That's not ...

S: Yeah.

PP: Especially given the number of issues involved with launching a shuttle.

S: Do you think we should end the shuttle program?

PP: I think it should have ended ten years ago. NASA never put together a project to take over for the shuttle once the shuttle was getting old enough that it should've been replaced. And so now we've got a shuttle which is dangerous and nothing to replace it, and they should have been phasing it out. By the time you lose an orbiter, it's too late to start thinking about what you're going do to replace it, because it takes ten years to build a rocket like that, to design one from scratch, and that's what's going to happen now.

S: Are they starting to do that now?

PP: Well, yeah, there's the crew exploration vehicle. This is part of the return to the Moon and going to Mars, and it's going to be like a shuttle on steroids or something like that. It's going to be a superpowerful rocket that can actually take people to the Moon and let them stay there for longer than the astronauts did back in the Apollo day. And eventually put colonies on the Moon, or at least laboratories.

S: Hm, hm.

PP: And the work has started on this. As a matter fact NASA just announced what centers are going to do what — which research centers — Kennedy and Johnson and Goddard and these different centers around the country — what parts of this they're going to be working on. So, it's moving forward, you know. They want to put a man back on the Moon in about ten years, so we'll see.

S: You are proponent of manned space missions?

PP: Uh, yes. But I will qualify that and say that I think it's important that we explore with people, because that is our destiny. Our destiny is to set foot again on the Moon, to go to Mars, and to eventually colonize the galaxy. I think this is a fine idea. One asteroid impact can wipe out our entire race. Larry Niven, the science fiction author, said "The reason there are no dinosaurs walking around today is because they didn't have a space program. If they had had a space program, they could have blown up the asteroid," right? We can actually totally prevent a global disaster. It's the only global disaster you can prevent. You can't prevent earthquakes; you can't prevent hurricanes; but an asteroid impact you can prevent if you have rockets. You can blow up the asteroids, one, and two, you can put colonies on other planets, and, therefore, preserve the human race. And so I think this is a good idea. I think we've wasted the past ten years just circling the Earth. We should've been pushing a lot harder for better technology and better rockets to get to the Moon. Well, we're finally doing it, and science is getting screwed in the process, unless Congress steps up to the plate. So, you know, when you say I'm for a manned program, yes, I'm for it, if it's funded and done correctly. The problem is NASA's — you know, there's a lot of money in NASA, and politicians love to get their fingers in the pie, and the space shuttle got distributed over many states, and senators got in on it, and Congress got in on it, and the next thing you know you've got an orbiter which does not do what it was meant to do. And the space station's the same way.

E: What about other governments and countries of the Earth participating jointly in efforts to explore space? Is that an option?

PP: Yeah, well, India's got a probe. They're building right now to go to the Moon. China wants to go to the Moon. Russia's going back; they just announced they're going to send a very ambitious probe to the Moon. Partnering with them is not a bad idea, but you have to be really careful, because we partnered with Russia on the space station, and then Russia couldn't deliver on its components. And so the space station wound up costing us even more money than the outrageous amount of money is was already costing. So you've got to be careful when you partner with other countries. On the other hand, you know, China wants to put a man on the Moon. That's pretty good impetus to get us to go again.

S: Now, just to get back to manned missions again. The reason why I bring that up is we had Bob Parks on our show about six months ago.

PP: Yeah, I know Bob.

S: You know him, and his point is that we should be putting our money into robotic missions, and that is just the extra expense of keeping people alive in space is not worth it, and that we can have a virtual presence on these worlds, and that's the way to go.

PP: Bob Park is a very smart guy, but Bob is also dead wrong on this issue. First of all, it's not a waste of money to put men in space. It may be a waste to do it the way NASA is currently doing it with the space station and the shuttle, but putting people back on the Moon is not a waste. There are so many reasons to do it. Like I said, to preserve the human race for one. Another one is just the sheer inspiration of it. Look, I worked with Hubble for ten years. You know, I know what these images do to people, how gorgeous they are. I know how inspiring these Cassini images from Saturn have been. This is high art. This stuff is gorgeous, and it is inspirational to see these rovers on Mars. It is inspirational to do all this stuff, but that stuff is a drop in the bucket compared to seeing somebody walking around on the Moon again. There was nothing like that when we did it back in 1969, and to do it again would inspire an entire new generation of engineers and scientists and explorers, and Bob says we don't have enough money to do this. That's just wrong. We do have enough money to do this. The robotic probes — you could double the robotic probe budget, and it would allow you to do a tremendous amount of things, and it would still be a fraction of what it would cost to put a man in space. But it would still only be a drop in the bucket of the amount of money we could spend on this. We could double NASA's budget with the amount of money that's wasted by Congress every year on other things, and it's just not — I don't think it's that big of a price to pay. Now, of course, it's my own pet project. I know we have people starving. I know that we have other problems in this world. We're a fairly rich nation. We have a lot of money. If we spend this money wisely, we could actually fund public school systems. We could rebuild our roads. We could have a universal health care, and we could have people on the Moon. The money is out there, so I don't buy into this either/or argument: either robots or man. I don't buy into the either/or argument of either we fund social programs or we fund NASA. That's a garbage argument. It's a false dichotomy. We can do both.

S: Yeah, yeah, I agree. I'm definitely a proponent of having people in space. What do you think about — recently I've been reading about a technical problem in that shielding astronauts from radiation in space is a real limitation. What do you think about that?

PP: Everything about going to Mars, technically, can be done. We can recycle air; we can recycle water. It's not easy, you know, but you just have to build a super-huge ship. You could do that if you could just launch piece after piece after piece in orbit and assemble it in orbit. That's a technical problem. There's a physics problem, and that is that the Sun gives off the solar wind, which is a stream of charged particles, neutral particles as well, but it's electrons, protons, neutrons, and these fast protons, when they smack into your DNA, can damage it, and if the Sun happens to belch and give off what's called a coronal mass ejection, which is a tremendous explosion of this stuff, a solar flare, anything else like this, the amount of charged particles that would pass through the human body would give you a lethal dose of radiation.

S: Hm, hm.

PP: In fact, the astronauts on the Moon, had there been a solar flare while they were on the Moon, it would have killed them. I mean dead, and there were contingency plans of what NASA was going to do. Nixon even had a letter written up about what if the astronauts were left on the Moon to die. This is true, and so this is a real problem, especially on a long trip. The trip to the Moon only took a week or so to go there, stay there, and come back. A trip to Mars is six months almost minimum, and they're going to be out in space, and this is dangerous, so how do you shield them? And it's not really well-understood how you can shield them. Water is an excellent radiation shield, but it's very heavy, and it doesn't compress, and so to carry 20 cubic meters of water — that weighs 20 tons. That's a lot. I've not heard of a good solution yet. Now, astronauts on the Moon, when we build colonies there, there are a lot of ways around it. You can build underground, for example.

B: Right.

PP: You can dig, which is actually very difficult to do on the Moon. That's the regolith, the dust on the Moon is very difficult to dig in. But you could build underground, and if you go down more than a couple of meters, that'll help. You could build your domes on the surface of the Moon and then cover them with rubble. There are things like that you can do. So that's preventable, but going to Mars, that's tough news. I don't know how they are going to do it.

S: Well, Phil, we are out of time. We greatly appreciate your being on the show. It was really fun talking to you.

PP: Thanks. I had a lot of fun, too.

S: So keep up the bad astronomy.

PP: Oh, I don't have to keep it up. It's out there on it's own. I'm just, you know, one guy trying to stop an avalanche here.

R: Fight the good fight.

PP: It's the best any of us can do. Thank you very much. I appreciate you having me on.

E: Thank you, Phil.

S: Our pleasure. Take care.

PP: Bye, bye.

S: All right. That was a fun time with Phil Plait. He is a good guy. Good skeptic.

R: Phil's a blast.

E: On the right side of the issues. That's for sure.

S: Got to check out his bad astronomy website. He's got a lot of interesting articles on there. Good blog.

P: Would you say the interview suffered due to my absence?

S: Always.

P: Thank you. Very good. Good host. Excellent host.

S: We have time for Science or Fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:03:36)[edit]

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two are genuine, one is fictitious, and I challenge my panel of esteemed skeptics to figure out which one is fake. Again, two are real; one is fake. Ready?

P: The last time I got one of these right was 1912.

R: Approximately, yeah.

S: You've got to change your tactics, or something.

R: Maybe your tactic should be going with me, because I always win. Go on.

S: All right. I'm going to ask Perry first. Here we go. Number one: this week military surgeons are testing a system for remote mobile robotic tele-surgery. Item number two: a new study suggests that phantom limb pain is psychosomatic. Item number three: drinking caffeine makes us more susceptible to persuasion, according to a new study. So those are: one is robotic surgery, two is phantom limb pain is psychosomatic, and three is caffeine makes us susceptible to persuation.

P: I need to hear one again, please.

S: This week military surgeons are testing a system for remote mobile robotic tele-surgery.

P: Okay.

S: Why don't you go first, Perry?

P: That one sounds reasonable. Psychosomatic limbs: okay, and what was the third one?

S: Drinking caffeine makes us more susceptible to persuasion.

P: Uh, let's see — drinking caffeine is supposed to make you hyper. That one sounds reasonable. And the other one, you know, that phantom limb, that's a cross-wire in the brain, misfiring in the head, isn't it? So that would not be psychosomatic, right? Doctor?

S: You're asking me?

P: If that's accurate, it wouldn't be psychosomatic if it's cross wires in the head, right?

S: You want the definition of psychosomatic?

P: Okay.

S: Psychosomatic means that somatic, or a symptom that you have in your body, but the ultimate source of it is your psychology.

P: Okay, so I think that one is wrong. I think that one's fake.

S: Okay, Evan.

E: I agree with Perry. I think number two is wrong. Number one: surgeons doing mobile robotic tele-surgery. I seem to recall seeing that, reading that, discussing it. One of the companies I work with in my industry in television production, they do live webcasting of surgical procedures on the Internet, and I believe that they've touched base on this in some of their recent shows that they've done. So I'll say that one is true. And, then, it's just really a matter of guessing, I think, between the last two. I think just the caffeine seems just more plausible to me.

S: Alrighty. Bob?

B: The remote tele-surgery, yeah, that's totally plausible. I've been reading about it for years. They're getting more and more advanced with it, and I remember five or six years ago bringing this up to you, Steve, and you were skeptical about it, and that just makes total sense to me, and it seems inevitable. The caffeine and persuasion, yes. I'll just say that that is true, and the phantom limb pain being psychosomatic is false, I believe. I didn't read something specific about that. I did read something about phantom limb pain, though, that said is totally explainable by the way the nerves operate and stuff, so that one is false.

S: All right, so we are three for three. Three people all believe that number two is fake. Rebecca?

R: Uh, yeah, me too, actually. I read the other two articles, I think.

S: That makes it unanimous.

E: Cheater.

R: It's not cheating. It's being educated.

E: How dare you learn on your own time. I mean ...

R: Sorry.

S: So you all agree that the phantom limb pain being psychosomatic is fake.

P: It better be.

S: So let's go to number one first. Number one is true. This week military surgeons are testing a system for remote mobile — this is his military, so the whole point is that so in the field they can send a robot, I guess, somewhere.

P: That's the only different thing about it is that it's mobile, right?

S: It's mobile, right. That's partly why I included that, because it would make it seem a little bit more extreme, but that is, in fact, true. They're testing it on it on a simulated patient. They're not yet at the point where they're testing it on real patients.

P: Good. That's good.

S: And number three is correct. Drinking caffeine makes us more susceptible to persuasions. Subjects in the study who had — they gave them — the group and the control group a drink, one group had caffeine and the control group didn't, and they couldn't tell who had caffein and who didn't. The group who had caffeine — their opinions were more likely to be changed by someone trying to persuade them of something, and the change of opinion was actually fairly persistent. So it didn't just go away again after the caffeine wore off. So caffeine has some effect on our brain that makes us more susceptible to persuasion. Number two is fake. So you guys all got it right.

P: Yaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy.

E: You can take a homeopathic remedy to cure number three of deluded caffeine, and you'll no longer become susceptible to the persuasion.

S: Yeah, if you take caffeine in homeopathic doses?

E: Yup.

S: Actually, you can buy that. That's their sleep aid is homeopathic doses of caffeine.

E: That's right.

S: So phantom limb pain — actually, there was a recent study that showed that the localization of phantom limb pain is actually not even in the brain. It's in the nerves themselves. So the damaged nerves. So Bob actually mentiond that. So Bob was correct.

P: It's at the stump.

S: Yeah, it's coming from the limb itself. It's coming from the nerves that are left behind. They're producing the abnormal signals that are producing the phantom limb pain.

P: 'kay.

S: It's not a brain phenomena.

P: Cool.

S: So I just reversed it to make it fake.

P: We got it right!

S: You guys all did well.

P: The first one I got right.

S: So, Perry, you broke your pattern.

P: I'd like to thank Luna for the psychological uplift. My fan letter in the forums.

R: Your one fan.

P: Thank you. Thank you very much. All right.

Announcements (1:10:11)[edit]

S: Well, that's our show for this week, guys. Thanks again for joining me.

R: Oh, and speaking of, we should mention before we sign off that people should definitely continue to sign up to the forum because it's growing every day.

S: Yes. It is. It's growing. We're on there.

R: Perry could use a few more fans.

P: Absolutely.

S: So we'll see you on the forums, and until next week this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society. For information on this and other podcasts, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


Navi-previous.png Back to top of page Navi-next.png