SGU Episode 464

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SGU Episode 464
May 31st 2014
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 463                      SGU 465

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

Attributed to Mark Twain

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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 Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, May 28th, 2014, and this is your host, Steven Novella! Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey everybody!

S: Rebecca Watson ...

R: Hello everyone!

S: Jay Novella ...

J: Hey guys!

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Hello, you left out a bunch of stuff.

S: (Laughs)

E: How ya doin'?

S: Good.

E: I channeled Rodney Dangerfield there for about a second.

R: Is that who that was?

S: Yeah...

E: Yeah!

S: So, the meteor shower was a double bust last week.

B: Yeah, terrible .So frustrating!

R: The infamous double-bust.

E: And why was it a double-bust?

R: Like {w|Total Recall}}.

S: (Laughs)

R: Wait, that was a triple-bust.

E: That was something else.

S: The meteor shower itself was just terrible; it just did not live up to the hype, and we didn't get to see a lick of it because we were totally overcast the whole time.

B: That's right.

R: Yeah, it was here too.

B: As we always are.

J: Actually, I actually shook my fist at the sky, I was so pissed.

S: Did you say, "KHA-A-A-N!" when you did?

E: (Laughs) Of course.

J: Next time, I absolutely will. So, guys, I found out a very cool, interesting thing very recently.

E: Mm-hmm.

J: Grand Maester Pycelle from Game of Thrones, that actor, was in frickin' Star Wars! He played Colonel Veers. He played one of the pilots of one of the AT-AT pilots.

S: So that's Empire Strikes Back?

J: Right! I mean, the Star Wars trilogy, and his name is Julian Glover!

S: Wow.

R: Yeah!

E: Huh!

S: Yeah.

J: Come on!

E: Yeah! Yeah.

J: If you're a Star Wars fan, blows your mind!

R: How do you not know that?

S: You're a Star Wars fan, and you're pushing 50, yeah, that really blows your mind.

This Day in Skepticism (1:46)[edit]

R: On this date, May 31st, 1981 was the burning of the Jaffna Public Library in Sri Lanka; and I wanted to talk about this briefly because I think we often talk about the burning of the Library of Alexandria and how devastating that was for the ancient world, but this happened so recently, relatively speaking, and I had actually never even heard about it until recently.

So, as part of the Sri Lankan civil war, and prior to its burning, the Jaffna Library was one of the largest libraries in all of Asia. It had more than 97,000 books and manuscripts, which included a lot of unique palm-leaf manuscripts and original historic documents, and things that were important to the political history of Sri Lanka; newspapers from hundreds of years prior in the local area.

So it was an incredibly important library, and it was destroyed, most likely by government-sponsored para-militias that set fire to it in 1981; and the fires raged from – it was overnight from May 31st to June 1st; and when the fires were done, the entire library was completely destroyed. Over 97,000 volumes of books, and it was, you know, of all of the tragic events that happened in the Sri Lankan civil war, this was one of those events that really captured the grief of the local people because it was a symbolic destruction of their future, and their education, and their interest in learning.

B: Their culture!

R: Yeah, exactly. So, I thought it was an important thing to mention, and for people who might want to find out a little bit more about it, and more about efforts to sort of recapture the culture and the history of that area because we don't often hear about that event, so...

S: Yeah, it's always tragic. I hate to hear about that, and there's the larger phenomenon of just historically important sites being destroyed in times of war because some General decided they were gonna put their artillery depot or whatever in some historical relic.

R: Yeah.

S: So it gets destroyed because it becomes a strategic point. You know, just last year in Syria there was a number of historical buildings and mosques and medieval castles all destroyed because they were being used as military strategic locations.

R: Yeah, and this in particular, is considered a Biblioclasm, which is a new vocabulary word for me, which just refers to the sort of ceremonious destruction of books, or other written material. And I think we all can kind of identify with the kind of power that that symbolism holds.

S: Yeah.

E: Oh yes.

S: Absolutely.

B: Isn't that in the Geneva Convention or something?

R: It should be!

S: It should be! (Chuckles). Look that up, Bob.

R: Someone, make a note!

S: We'll make an addendum to the Geneva Convention.

News Items[edit]

Solar Roadways (05:22)[edit]

S: Alright! Now, I know you guys have all heard about solar-freakin' roadways because we're emailed about it a million times -

J: Yep!

S: ... about it. I wrote about it, I wrote about it also, last week, and a very interesting conversation ensued. So, the quickie here is a couple has started an Indiegogo campaign for their project, which is essentially to replace all of the roads in America with solar panels. So they've developed these hexagonal pavers that have embedded solar panels in them, as well as L.E.D. lights, and they say you can also include a heating element, and even pressure plates, increased functionality; and then you would build the roads out of these haxagonal disks, these hexagonal solar pavers; and the advantages would be, first of all this would generate more electricity than we use, and you could incorporate a new electrical grid infrastructure with the recreated roadways and highways.

And the roads would be programmable, because all the lines and the divisions and everything could be produced by L.E.D. lights, and therefore, you could change two lanes into three lanes, or do whatever you want on the fly. Also, they said that you have pressure plates in there. If an animal walks on the road, it could light up the area around them, so that you could alert drivers to their presence.

They claim that the heating elements would be able to melt snow and ice off the road so they would never have to be ploughed. So, a lot of bold claims. Their Indiegogo video, which is where they say "solar-freakin roadways!" They try to get you all hyped up about how awesome it is; and this is the future; and how high-techy and cool it's going to be.

Yeah, it raises a lot of questions about the technological feasibility of this. I'd point out that the developer is an electrical engineer, and it seems like, sure, yeah, the wiring for the solar panels are fine, but he's not really a road engineer, a structural engineer. And a lot of the questions come from, are these things going to work as roads? Pavement – blacktop - has certain characteristics that make it ideal for roadways, specifically that it's flexible.

Roads can heave, and give, and you need a material that's going to do that. It's going to take, obviously, the weight of whatever you drive on top of it, but also it's going to be able to have some flex to it at different temperatures and whatnot.

So immediately, you have to question, "Are these things going to have the structural integrity that they're going to be suitable for roadways?"

J: Plus, the cost Steve, right?

S: Yeah.

J: Is this the right way to spend the money?

S: Yeah, the cost is the biggest issue. If this were cost effective, and it would function, you know, you could say, "Yeah, sure! It would be cool!" Initially, you'd think, "Wow! This is a really cool idea!" But it's all gonna be about return on investment. And they have a Frequently Asked Question, they have a FAQ, and they do answer pretty much all the questions that we're coming up with. But their answers are not very compelling or convincing in my opinion.

It sounds like they're really just trying to dismiss or deflect a lot of the really good questions rather than really deeply explore whether or not this is an issue, you know what I mean? I get the feeling like I'm getting a sales pitch, not a very carefully-thought-out plan here. So they completely punted the issue of cost, which to me, that's, like, the central issue. What's the return on investment? How long are these things gonna last? How much is it gonna cost to maintain them? How much energy are we actually gonna get out of them? Versus, how much energy is it gonna cost to heat the roads, to light the roads, whatever. How does that compare to what it's replacing?

For example, why don't we put solar panels on every roof of every building in the country first? That seems like that would be a cheaper option, since you don't have to construct them so that you can drive over them!

E: Much less wear and tear, much less.

B: Yeah, and doing that, I did some research on doing that, would actually account for a third of all the energy, all the electrical energy in the United States. That's not as much as they contend the roads will do, but that's still damn impressive, and that's just the low-hanging fruit! I mean, you don't need the robustness on your roof that you would need on a road.

S: Yeah. I don't know if they've actually produced one of these tiles to their specifications that they're claiming they're going to get to. So, they'll have to embed it in some kind of tempered glass.

J: Like the glass we have on our phones? That type of glass?

B: No, I think it'd be even

E: It's a polymer, it's have to be

B: stronger!

E: Yeah.

B: The important thing about that is that they don't know! That product does not exist at all yet! They don't know how much it's gonna cost, and how long it's gonna be before they even develop it. And those are huge, huge unknowns.

S: Right

J: And what about the pavement has friction, you know? You need the right friction on the pavement or whatever the thing is they're gonna be putting down for vehicles to drive on. You don't want it to be too slippery or too bumpy.

B: Well, they've got ridges, they have special ridges that they claim will allow adequate breaking, so that's kind of fine if you trust their testing. But that also attenuates the light to a certain extent, and making these solar cells even less efficient, those ridges.

S: Yeah.

R: I kind of see this as starting its life as a rich person's driveway.

S: Yeah, I agree.

R: You know? And then, we'll see where it goes from there. (Chuckles). If it works, if it's economically feasible, then it could move into the roadway.

S: Yeah. I mean, they're talking about the Interstate highways. It's like, such a leap forward. We have a lot of steps between now and then. And I agree Rebecca, that I could see this being feasible for like, a driveway, where -

B: Even a parking lot.

S: Yeah, or a parking lot, or something like that where you're not gonna have 18-wheelers driving over it. So it could be constructed to be a little bit more efficient; it won't have to be as robust as you would an actual road; and it still could provide some electricity. And even if it could just be heated, and melt the snow, it wouldn't even really have to do it in real time, 'cause it's not like people are gonna be constantly driving over it. But if it snows overnight, and the driveway automatically heats up and melts it by the time you have to leave for work in the morning, that would be nice! So,

R: And it's definitely, in that respect it seems more like something people would pay extra for for the convenience, which I think is important in a thing like this. Like, it would be great if it was cost-effective to the point of actually saving money, but for the most part, when it comes to environmentally-advantageous things, you're talking about a huge, upfront cost that somebody has to foot in the hopes of a long-term gain, which usually means, "Well, I can lose the long-term game if it comes down to it."

S: Yeah, but also, you bring up a bit of a point. It's not just cost effectiveness, it's also energy-effectiveness. How much energy is it gonna take to make these things? What are you gonna make them out of? They're throwing up a lot of claims. "Oh, we'll make them out of recycled materials." Okay, you could say that, but let's see some actual numbers here. What exactly are you making them out of? Where's all that stuff gonna come from? What about when they exhaust the lifespan?

E: What do you do with them?

S: Yeah, what do you do them? Is this gonna be a massive e-waste problem now? I just want to see a detailed analysis about every possible problem that could come up before you even talk about such a massive infrastructure project, like replacing all of our roads. But that's what they're selling on their Indiegogo campaign.

J: Well, it seems that you're gonna find out a lot of these answers, Steve, because of the $1 million goal on their Indiegogo, they're 152% funded, so they have $1.5 million right now. And there's three days to go, so by the time anybody hears this, the Indiegogo would have ended.

Yeah, this is another one I just don't know yet. I just don't know if the company doing this – I don't want to say they're not legitimate. I don't know that. I just want to know if they've really vetted this thing out completely; if their science is there; if the million dollars is gonna actually find its way to answering a lot of these questions, or what their real intent is. We'll soon find out.

S: Yeah, I think at best it's gonna be like the segway. It's not gonna revolutionize transportation, but it'll find a niche somewhere.

R: You know, I'm glad that they've hit their goal, because it's not like, you know, we talked about in the past, some scammy Indiegogo stuff. You know, free energy type of things. This is actually a feasible thing that would be quite exciting if they actually managed to do something with it; and I think that at the end of the day, they will do something with it, even if it's not the highway of the future. I think that it's important for people to see that this is something that the general public is excited about enough to give a million dollars to; and hopefully that will spur more research into creative green-energy type thinking like this.

S: Yeah, I agree. It's not a pseudoscience. There are just practical questions. They're not like scientific questions. And it's really related to cost, maintenance; is it a worthwhile expenditure of money; are there better things we could be doing with our money like putting solar panels on rooftops, ect. So, I agree.

Suspended Animation (15:25)[edit]

S: Alright, Jay, you're gonna tell us about researchers who are planning to investigate so-called {w|suspended animation}}, although I don't really like this use of that word.

J: That's right. The researchers don't want to call it that, I guess because it has a real sci-fi, fake, feel to it, but... The background here is, time is always important when people are suffering from a traumatic injury in a hospital. Steve, you know this better than any of us. In many cases, particularly when it has to do with the heart or the brain, seconds count. And a lot of people die on their way to the hospital, or in the hospital waiting for the surgery team.

So, what the researchers here are trying to do is use some things that we do know for certain; we do know that cold temperatures will lower a body's metabolism. So, what they're doing is leveraging some of that research that's already been done – historical cases – and they're going to be lowering peoples' body temperatures.

So, the FDA has recently approved a ten-person study that includes surgeons at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. And they're attempting to slow down a person's biological processes when they're in dire need of intensive care or surgery. They're doing this by inserting a cannula, Steve?

R: A cannoli? Is it a pastry treat filled with cream?

S: Cannula, cannula.

J: Rebecca, what they do is they suck the cream out of the cannoli, and then they stick it in-

R: That's how-

E: That happened to me once!

J: It's good! It's a cannula! It's a tube designed that they insert into your aorta, and it's to either remove or put a lot of fluid into your body as quickly as possible. They insert it into the aorta, and then the Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation Technique, or ERP will lower a person's temperature down to 10 degrees Celsius, or 15 degrees Fahrenheit. And they're doing this, guys, by flushing all of your blood out of your circulation – out of your circulatory system. And they're just putting in cold saline.

I know that might sound a little gruesome, but they believe – now again, they haven't started any of these trials yet – but they believe that this is gonna be controlled hypothermia, and a person can be maintained at those temperatures for approximately two hours! Now, that might not even sound like a lot of time, because Bob and I are talking about getting frozen for decades. But this slows down a person enough where they could have maybe a two-hour window in total; but let's say that after they've done the initial procedure, and got the person prepped, let's say they pick up an hour, right?

That's an amazing amount of time where they would only have minutes in other circumstances. They have an hour to perform open-heart surgery, or do something that needs to take place immediately. Well now, they can get the surgery team in there, and get the right doctors in place, and actually, not say, take their time, but take the time that they need to do it right. I think that this is a fantastic thing.

Now, after surgery, and during the resuscitation process, a heart-lung bypass machine will be hooked up, and they'll reintroduce blood into the person's circulatory system, and then slowly bring them back up to temperature. And they think that this thing is gonna work. Now keep in mind, 'cause some of the statistics here are interesting. They say that less than one out of ten patients who suffer from severe heart attacks survive, and under cardiac arrest, people have minutes, typically, before they die because you think about your blood flow either significantly drops, or totally stops, and you have minutes! Right Steve? Three to four minutes before you start to get brain-damaged, and then that's it! You're done!

S: Yeah, if you're having no blood flow to the brain, yeah.

J: Right. Now, this effort is being led by Dr. Tishman. He said that the initial human trials will include 10 test subjects, whose condition would be normally fatal. And this is under a circumstance, guys, where the FDA has approved this already. The patients don't need to do pre-approval because under a lot of different criteria, this particular procedure that they're posing means the people would die anyway. So, it just falls under this criteria that the FDA approves of, to test people under emergency conditions in the hospital.

And I fully endorse that as well. If you're gonna die for the betterment of mankind, they're gonna test on you. So, they'll compare these ten test subjects to ten patients who did not receive the EPR, and who would have died anyway. And then they plan on making refinements to the procedure, and to the way that they handle everything; and also to the way that they determine the results; and then they'll do another group of tests, and another group of tests until they get enough data points in the future where they can deem this worthy or not worthy.

S: Yeah! It should be noted though, this isn't the first time that we're studying cooling the body in order to save brain tissue.

R: No! It was in that episode of House.


S: Well, yeah, there's already a protocol in place for post-cardiac arrest patients. So if their heart stops, and then we get your heart back, you still probably had an anoxic ischemic injury to your brain, meaning that during the cardiac arrest, and the later resuscitation, your brain was getting no or suboptimal blood flow, and then it was damaged. And what was discovered, that after you get the person stabilized, from a medical point of view, they do what's called the Arctic Sun Protocol; and they cool your body down – they just do it externally. They don't replace your blood or anything, but they just do it externally, with cooling blankets and ice. They cool your body down to hypothermic temperatures – not freezing, but just very cold.

And they keep you there for a day; and then they warm you up over about 12 hours. And at the other end, patients have better neurological outcomes! So, just by cooling the body down, it allows the brain to begin to heal itself a little bit, and it decreases the amount of damage that gets done.

R: Did you say it's called the "Arctic Sun Protocol?"

S: Yeah.

R: 'Cause that sounds like a declassified government ...

S: Yeah, (chuckles), yeah.

J: I'm happy that they're calling it that, unlike the way we label stars and planets. "3792Z," you know, whatever. Give it something cool!

R: No, it is pretty cool. I like it too.

B: My attitude is what the hell is taking so long to get this thing going? I mean, Steve, you said they've done kind of similar things before! This should have been in the news 10 years ago, what they're doing now. I mean, they've known what a benefit this is, and I think -

R: Bob, they're just warming up to it.

B: Oh-h! I walked right into that one. But, Jay, your research, did you come across any protocols that included things like hydrogen sulfide? Infusing the blood with hydrogen sulfide? You know, it's a deadly gas, it's the rotten egg smell, but in the parts per million, they have been doing studies for years showing that that could have an amazing suspending effect on the body, dropping metabolic activity by 90%, which of course brings your core temperature down really low. So that kind of induces this effect.

S: Yeah Bob, I did just a quick pub-med search, to see what's been published recently with the hydrogen sulfide, and it looks like it's still in the animal research phase. I see some studies with mice that show, as you say, it reduces metabolism, and core temperature, and allows for some neural protection. However, I also see some studies, the most recent one in rats that showed no benefit. So, it sounds like we still need to work things out at the animal research level before this thing is gonna be ready for human trials.

J: To answer your question, Bob, I was curious about the solution. All I could find was that they said it's saline, but with no other mention of any other chemicals. But,

B: Yeah, they would have mentioned it, yeah.

Comb Jellies (23:26)[edit]

S: Well, Bob, why don't you tell us about one of the coolest animals on the planet, Comb Jellies?

B: Yeah, these guys are I think officially on my top 5 list. This was pretty amazing. Researchers claim that genetic analysis of these Comb Jellies shows that their nervous systems may have evolved completely independently from every other animal, making them probably, you could say the most alien species on the planet.

Comb Jellies, they kind of look like ordinary jellyfish – or more properly, jellies – but they are quite different. They do have this mass of jelly on the inside, kind of like a thin shell of cells; and they don't have stingers like a lot of jellyfish; but they are the largest organisms that use cilia for propulsion.

And these cilia on the Comb Jellies are attached to these raised ridges along its body. And those ridges, they kind of look like the teeth of a comb, hence their name, of course. But they belong to the phylum ctenophore, and they were actually grouped with jellies for quite a while because of these similarities.

But the discovery about how truly unique they are started in 2007 with the analysis of a Comb Jelly called a Sea Gooseberry. And after that, the group looked at ten other species, and assessed them genetically as well. So, this was done by a Leonid Moroz; he's a biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville - hey, Gainesville -and his colleagues, and was recently published in Nature. So, check it out if you have a chance.

So, what became pretty clear quickly was that whole suites of critical genes that are shared by pretty much literally every animal, were just not even there. Just like, gone! Nowhere to be found. And this included genes dealing with immunity, development, and neural function. The standout that everyone's talking about, with the genes involved, and building neurons, and the way they communicate. Now, the stem cells and embryos – everyone knows what stem cells are – now, they can become any type of cell, right?

So, what happens is, for regular animals, that specific genes are used to turn those stem cells into neurons. Well, those same genes are shared by all animals, but the Comb Jellies just don't even have them! They've got different sets of genes to create their own types of nerve cells. And we just don't even know what those genetic instructions are, or what they're doing, or much about that at all, yet. I assume that's gonna be a top priority.

But not only that, almost all animals' neurons use different types of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and serotonin; and that's used so nerve cells can communicate, and pretty much anything the brain does involves neurotransmitters. You need them to breathe, and digest, and for your heart to beat, and about a million other things.

Well guess what? Comb Jellies don't use the same complement of neurotransmitters that all other animals use. If you looked at every animal, you would find about ten of the same primary neurotransmitters shared by all of them. These Comb Jellies have just one or two of them, which is really amazing.

So they use an almost completely different neural architecture, and chemical language not found anywhere else in nature. Why is that interesting? Well, nervous systems are one of those complicated marvels of evolution that we believed just evolved once – just once and that was it! And, it proved so useful, obviously, that essentially all other animals use it.

So, Comb Jellies went down a completely unforeseen pathway, and developed their own nervous system. And for something as critical as this, it's pretty extraordinary, and has a lot of people excited. As to what we could do with this, I mean I think we just don't even know what's gonna come out of this, but examining this other pathway that Comb Jellies have gone down, they could potentially point us in new directions for dealing with neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's; and it could also help us figure out things about bio-engineering, and ways to create new neurons.

So, I thought that was really interesting, and I'm pretty sure you're gonna be hearing more about that.

R: So, even sponges have the same -

B: No, they don't have a nervous system.

R: Oh, okay. Alright.

S: Yeah, sponges don't have nervous systems, or neurons, but interestingly, they have a lot of the same genes that we do for certain aspects of the nervous system like the postsynaptic clustering of receptors, for example. And their cells do have the ability to communicate with each other and coordinate certain action, especially in the larval stage. So, it's still unknown whether or not what sponges have are pre-neuronal – is this the earliest beginnings of a nervous system? And of course, they're more similar to us genetically than the nervous systems of the Comb Jellies, which is the point of this news item.

B: Oh yeah! I mean, certain genes are so highly conserved and beneficial that everyone's got 'em, right? Those are the things, if they haven't changed in millions of years, then chances are yeah, they're pretty critical to survival.

R: So, like, jellyfish have dopamine and serotonin.

B: Yeah, pretty much.

R: So, jellyfish can love, right? They don't!


S: But they don't have the complexity.

B: Right.

R: Well, says you; you've never been a deep and abiding relationship with a jellyfish.

S: Yeah, I try to avoid it; believe me.

(Laughter and cross-talk)

S: What about sea anemities?

R: Anemies?

B: I can never say that word!


E: Sea aneminty.

J: Why do they call them sea enemies?

E: My sea all-allalies!

R: Aneminies are my arch nemeses.

(Bob laughs)

E: The aneminies of my anemenies are my friends.

S: I always think of that joke with Franz, like this, who needs aneminy.


R: Is that a joke?

B: Oh my god!

E: That some sort of sick joke?

J: That was the three-second-delay joke for me.

S: Alright guys! We have to take a quick break for our next sponsor this week.

(Sponsor: 29:32 - 31:36)

PETA Autism Pseudoscience (31:36)[edit]

S: Speaking of animals, Rebecca, PETA.

R: I am an animal.

S: PETA is at it again, making -

R: Ugh! Yeah.

S: -pseudo-scientific claims. Oh boy! What did they do this time?

R: What haven't they done? What's the last thing we talked about? I think it was their ad campaign based on small penises I think. So,

E: Yeah, eating chicken will, yeah, stunt your penile growth.

R: It's hard to tell sometimes what is the worst thing that PETA does; and each time you come up with something, it's like they top themselves! And, this isn't actually a new thing; I've seen PETA pushing this agenda in the past, but this is getting a lot of play right now because they have kind of launched a new campaign with at least some web ads and an article – like, a ridiculously stupid article linking dairy consumption and autism.

So, they posted this incredibly scientifically inaccurate article, "Got Autism? Learn About the Link Between Dairy Products and the Disorder." And they proceed to claim that - they do their best to imply that there is a consensus of scientific research that shows that drinking dairy, or consuming dairy in some way can either aggravate autistic behavior or actually cause autism. And of course, neither of those things is true.

Here, I'll read a direct quote, so you can see exactly what I'm talking about. They say, "More research is needed, but scientific studies have shown that many autistic kids improve dramatically when put on a diet free of dairy foods." They also say, "The reason why dairy foods may worsen or even cause autism is being debated." They're just pretending that there is a debate out there with two sides when in fact there is no real scientific evidence to suggest that there is much of any link between dairy products and autism. At best there are a few small and poorly controlled studies that show that maybe autistic children who go dairy-free might have a reduction in autistic behaviors.

But what we find by and large in the literature is that when you blind the parents and the children to whether or not they're consuming dairy, or actually, to be more specific, casein, which is a component of milk, when you blind the parents and their children to whether or not their diets contain casein, it turns out that they probably can't really tell the difference between the children's behavior on casein and without casein.

E: Case in point.

R: Thank you, Evan. (Laughs)

E: No problem.

R: So, instead, we just have a lot of anecdotal evidence, of parents of autistic children who, groping for any sort of way to improve their children's lives, cut out casein from their kids' diets and they think that they see an improvement, and they pass it along. But, unfortunately, yeah, when we control for whether or not the parents know what's happening, what we see again and again and again is that the parents seem to be experiencing the placebo effect. They seem to think that their children's behavior is better if they think that their kids are not on the casein any more.

That said, there aren't very many studies on this, so more studies could be done. But PETA is representing it as though the research has been done, and that there are a few little things to work out, but by and large milk products worsen and maybe even cause autism, which is simply not true.

They also throw in a couple of other psuedo-scientific points like claiming that milk has already been strongly linked to cancer, Crohn's disease, and other serious health problems, which is not true. There have been some studies showing that maybe people with Crohn's disease could benefit from cutting out dairy from their lives, but it's difficult to say whether or not those people were just lactose intolerant for instance, and that's why cutting out dairy helped. Cancer, there is, I think to say that milk has been strongly linked to cancer is pretty ridiculous.

S: So, I reviewed the evidence, for that very specific claim ...

R: Okay, good!

S: let me give you the summary.

R: Go for it!

S: Milk actually decreases the risk of colon and bladder cancer. High calcium diets increase the risk of prostate cancer, and milk is high in calcium. But not specifically dairy or milk. And for everything else, there's just no evidence. It's equivocal, or the jury is still out. So, it's probably a net benefit when it comes to cancer; especially if you're a woman, it's a net benefit. If you're a guy, watch your total calcium intake, but it's probably still a net benefit!

So, it's actually been shown more to be protective, to reduce the risk of cancer than to increase the risk of cancer.

B: They were close!

R: Yeah, I find it interesting too that PETA is pushing this agenda that not just cow's milk is bad for people and causes all these problems, but that casein is the problem. So what they're really arguing against here is breast-feeding, because they're talking about young children who are being diagnosed with autism. They're saying that you shouldn't breast feed because there is casein in human breast milk.

J: Oh wow! And all of a sudden the battle lines are drawn, right?

S: Get Lo Lachy after them!


R: Yeah, the online fights over breast-feeding are ridiculous. If you want to have that fight, go to [], Skepchick's parenting blog; you could have those fights there. Yeah, it's ridiculous and it's insulting, and it's yet another thing to pile on to parents of autistic children.

You know, I don't blame the parents of autistic kids for going on elimination diets, and trying to find out what works for their child, and what seems to help their behavior. I don't blame them at all. But to have an organization like PETA spreading this kind of propaganda with the veneer of scientific respectability when in fact, there is no science to what they're saying. They're completely misrepresenting the scientific research. That only confuses things for parents who are already being flooded with pseudoscience and scams and ...

E: And misinformation about autism!

R: Misinformation, and also sometimes just confusing and conflicting scientific information about the best thing that they can do for their kids. So when even the science is complicated, it makes lives so much more difficult to throw in pseudoscience, to throw in things that have been, if not debunked, at least not proven to exist. At least stick to the science, however complicated and confusing it might be. Don't push your agenda by making up these connections where none exist.

And, on a personal note, I will say that I am friends with loads and loads of skeptical vegans, so this has been all over my social media for the past day; and they all just hate PETA so much (laughs) because -

S: I've heard that, yeah

R: Because there are potential health benefits to going vegetarian, or to going vegan, or to just reducing the amount of red meat in your diet, things like that. Again, the research is complicated, and sometimes difficult to parse, but we can say that well, you know, maybe going vegetarian could help you – vegans have a lower instance of cancer. They have lower incidents of obesity and heart disease. We can't say for sure that it's the vegan diet that's doing that, but we can say things like that.

And it's difficult when there are organizations like PETA that claim to represent vegans going way over the line and saying things like, "Oh! If you go vegan, you will definitely protect yourself against cancer!" You know, "Meat causes cancer! Milk causes cancer!" No! That's not what the researchers shows.

You know, these skeptic vegans are, god love them, they're doing their best to put out the actual facts that we know about the health benefits of reducing the amount of meat in your diet. And PETA does nothing but discredit them and taint everyone's view of vegans and vegetarians. So, it's quite disappointing.

S: Yeah, let me make a couple other points too. So, one is that just like with vaccines and autism, we have to point out that the scientific evidence is strongly pointing in the direction that autism is a set of genetic disorders, and that there's evidence to suggest that the brain changes that occur with autism start in womb, before kids get exposed to anything like milk.

Also, my sympathy here is entirely with the parents of children with autism, 'cause this really does add insult to injury, because now they're being told – and this has been around for decades, actually, this whole notion – and it's not just the casein, it's also gluten. So, a lot of parents are pressured, even for no other reason than by hope, or by guilt, or whatever, to put their children with autism on a gluten-free and casein free diet; and that is no joke! That is really difficult to do that; it's draconian!

It could be expensive; it could be time-consuming; it could be very, very challenging.

E: Detrimental!

S: Yeah, it's just one other – it could also be nutritionally detrimental unless you re-e-ally know what you're doing. So it's one other extra burden to load onto the backs of parents who have this challenge of taking care of children with autism. And the evidence shows that it doesn't do anything! That it's not helpful.

At least we would need more study to show any effect. And again, my take is, yeah, the studies are weak, but the best studies we have so far don't show any effect. It seems to be one of those that when you blind it, the effect goes away; just like sugar and hyper-activity in kids. Same thing, you blind it, and there's no correlation there. So, I've seen parents who had false hope held out to them that they could help their child, and there are no limits to what parents would be willing to do.

I've seen parents reorganize their entire lives around pseudoscientific nonsense because somebody held out hope for them that this was gonna cure their child. It's cruel! It really is cruel in my opinion, and it's very shameful that they would do something like this.

R: Absolutely! And this is something I bang on about quite a bit because the Jenny McCarthy crowd has always promoted this idea of the "Tiger Mom" who fights for her kids no matter what! And she puts forth this idealized version of a mother who is psychic – like, literally psychic – and knows what's wrong with her child, and how to fix it, in the face of what doctors might be telling her, and what the medical research tells her. And that is so damaging to all parents who are saddled with this enormous responsibility of just trying to do the best they can to raise kids with a condition that is still largely shrouded in mystery, in a way; that researchers still trying to work through the basics of it.

And so, what things like this PETA campaign do is that they put this burden on parents, and they force the parents to feel like they must take an action in order to improve their children's lives. And if their kids' lives don't improve, then it's the parents' fault. It's the parents' fault when this scientifically unproven treatment doesn't work, and it's just another thing to feel bad about. And it really, it breaks my heart.

S: Yeah, that's the final insult. Yeah, you only spent six hours a day doing this ridiculous thing instead of eight hours a day. Or you let a little bit of cheese slip into their diet. Whatever.

Planetary Diameters (45:23)[edit]

S: Okay, Evan, one little, quick item here. This is something that we put on our Facebook page, and it's actually a good time to point out that we've tried to become much more active in posting to The Skeptic's Guide Facebook page. So if you haven't gone there, check it out; "like" us; take a look at what we have there. We're putting up at least four items a day. And this is one that we put up that I thought was really fascinating about the planetary diameters.

E: Yeah, this picture depicts the eight planets of our solar system plus the Earth's moon; and all of the planets and the Earth's moon are to scale. The Earth is situated to the far left side of the picture, while the Moon is to the extreme right side of the picture. And this represents to scale the average distance between the Earth and Moon, which is – I'm gonna use miles – 238,555 miles. And in between the Earth and the Moon are the other seven planets of the solar system. And they're arranged end-to-end starting with Mercury, just to the right of the Earth, and then there's Venus and Mars and so forth right up through Neptune.

And what the folks who put this depiction together were able to calculate is that the seven planets fit almost perfectly between the Earth and the Moon, with just under 5000 miles to spare; a tad over 2% of the overall distance we're talking about here. And, this picture, obviously, is up on our Facebook page, as you said Steve, but also, I found it many, many other places around the internet; and that's what happens to cool pictures. They find their way all over the internet.

And here's what's cool about this: It's not that it just makes for a pretty picture to look at; it's cool because it gets people thinking about some bigger and interesting ideas about space, the solar system, and beyond. And some people maybe have never looked at the relative sizes of our solar system's planets before; and maybe some people are wondering what would physically happen if this alignment were to actually suddenly assume – which is an impossible alignment to happen, but it gets them thinking about it. And some people might wonder, "Is this a coincidence, or can we interpret this as something beyond coincidence?" Something else is at hand, perhaps.

S: It's a coincidence.

B: No it's not.

E: (Laughs)

R: It's probably Jesus.

E: It's a co-inky-dink.

B: Now, Evan, the distance between the Earth and the Moon, that was the average distance they used?

E: That was the average, yes. They used the average.

B: So that means there are points in the Moon's orbit where the planets would fit perfectly!

S: Yes, that's correct.

E: That's correct.

S: It's just like the apparent size of the Sun, and the apparent size of the Moon overlap; so there are times when they're exactly the same. I also have to point out, because it's amazing how many comments this very simple demonstration produced, including a lot of people who just flat-out didn't believe it. Really? Then do the measurement yourself.

I did do the measurement myself, and the numbers are correct. However, so somebody else said not only the planets would be bigger – the diameter of the planets would end up being bigger than the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, but then I did a little deeper digging and what I found was that the picture, and the calculation is using the average diameter of the planets. But the planets are bigger around the equator than they are pole-to-pole.

E: They bulge.

S: They bulge, especially Jupiter and Saturn.

B: Oblate spheroids, right?

S: Yeah, Jupiter's spinning pretty fast, right? It's day's ten hours long. Jupiter is much bigger around the equator than it is pole-to-pole. So if you use the biggest diameter, they wouldn't fit. If you use the average diameter, then they do fit.

B: Oh, it's a little bit less special now.

S: That gets to an important point, though, about the coincidence thing, is because there's lots of little choices you're making here, and also, how many different possible types of correlations can you make with the planets of the solar system. You know what I mean? So it seems like an amazing coincidence, but it's partly because you're cherry-picking, and you're making choices about what kind of diameter do you use. Do you include – actually if you include Pluto, it fits a little bit snugger, 'cause Pluto does fit within that remaining distance.

E: Oh yeah, the whole subject of Pluto came up all over the place! It morphed into this Pluto discussion, which was interesting in of itself. And then there was talk about, okay, there's lots of other moons, obviously, in our solar system. Can we fit all of those in there? And what about the dwarf planets? Will that help fill the gap? At what point? Like you said, Steve, you cherry-pick this thing a little bit to death, and you can always find a way to finagle it so that it all kind of fits the idea that you're going for. I think the idea is very cool, in of itself. Like I said, it gets you thinking about a lot of other things.

S: It's still amazing.

E: It is amazing. It is amazing. And try as I might, I spent several hours, could not find anyone yet of the creationist variety who are suggesting that this is the hand of God at work. Not directly. That's not to say they don't have some very interesting ideas about other things about planets and moons and – wow – making it all fit into their 6000 year old universe. You know, boy! They'll do anything!

But no, nothing directly yet. If we do find something, we'll update our listeners on that, but nothing as of ...

S: Yeah. Alright, thank you Evan.

Who's That Noisy (50:46)[edit]

  • Answer to last week:

S: Well, Evan, let's move on to Who's That Noisy!

E: Thank you Steve! I will do that! And I will play for you last week's Who's That Noisy. Here we go!

?: Well, the first phrase I ever calculated my life was the one of insulin. And Patterson was very pleased to see it.

B: Evan, every time I hear that quote, my brain makes me think she says, instead of "insulin," she says "insolence!"


E: That's interesting. But a good point there, Jay, is that insulin is, I think the key to why so many people got this noisy correctly. So, do you guys know who that was? Rebecca, you must know who that was.

R: I don't know who that was; who was that?

E: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin.

R: Oh!

J: Oh! Crow! Crow!

R: I think we talked about her in a This Day in Science.

E: I'm sure we have, because I mean, look. If you're gonna talk about female scientists, she has to make any list you're gonna come up with. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964. And she advanced the technique of X-Ray crystallography, which is a method used to determine the three-dimensional structures of bio-molecules.

R: Awesome.

E: Yeah, Awesome! And in 1967, it got even better. In 1969, she was able to decipher the structure of insulin, and is regarded as one of the pioneer scientists in the field of X-ray crystallography studies of bio-molecules. She is well known. Also, one of her students was Maraget Thatcher.

S: Oh! Interesting.

E: That's an interesting side-note there. Very interesting.

S: So who got it?

E: Oh! Lots of people got it, but as you know, there can be only one any week; this week's winner, David Garcia, who guessed Dorothy Hodgkin. Well done.

R: Well done!

E: Well done! You're in the drawing, end of the year! You might be joining us for the grand prize Science or Fiction early in 2015. We will see how that plays out. But congratulations in the meantime. Okay, you folks ready for this week's?

S: Yep, let's hit it.

E: Okay, here we go. Brand new, hot off the presses. Here we go:

(Bark / Screech / Screech)

R: That was a woman seeing Jay take his pants off for the first time.

J: (Laughs) What's with the second scream though? Like, it's so bad, there's like, a delayed second scream?


J: It's like a horror boomerang.

R: The first one was your shirt, and the second one was your pants.

E: Okay, so, the name of the game this week is, what kind of creature made that noise?, or our forums, Look for the Who's That Noisy subforum on there, and post your answer there. We'll reveal it next week, and we'll talk about that scream. Good luck everyone!

S: Alright, thanks Evan.

Questions and Emails[edit]

Correction #1 (53:36)[edit]

S: So, for our emails this week, we're gonna get caught up on a number of corrections. Some minor errors have crept into our previous podcasts, and we're gonna get up to date on them. So, and I think we're just gonna go in reverse order from the most recent one. So, Jay, last week you were mentioning that Robin Williams will be at the Australia Skeptic's Convention, that we're going to over -

J: Yeah, it's not, Robin Williams is not gonna be there. It's because he's got a comedy show thing he's working on. However, Robyn Williams will be there. And Robyn Williams is not a girl, he's a guy.

S: Yes.

J: And I had about a hundred people in Australia very politely emailed me and said that you've missed on the 50 / 50.

S: Yeah


S: It's true that they were all very polite.


E: At least the ones who deigned to write in. I'm sure there were a lot of people screaming on the other side that didn't write in.

B: Dammit Jay! You screwed that up!

J: If Robyn's listening, Rob, and I'm sorry, I will buy you a beer, or coffee, or some fluid that you like when I see you!

S: But really, it's his fault for having an androgynous name, right? I mean, "Robyn."

E: Pat, Chris ...

R: How dare they.

E: All those.

S: Blame their parents.

Correction #2 (54:58)[edit]

S: Alright, and Evan,

E: What?

S: I don't know how you screwed this one up.

E: Well, I ...

S: The last winner of the Triple Crown, you said was Secretariat, but that's not true. You lied.

E: Well, it had to be an editing error, 'cause I usually don't make errors so simplistic as this one. Yeah.

R: How dare you, Steve.

E: Oh fine, Steve, you beat it out of me! The shame! The shame! I can't deal with this! No. (Rogues laugh) Okay, the last Triple Crown winner in 1978 was the horse Affirmed, and I had said Secretariat, which was actually the 1973 Triple-Crown horse racing winner. So, I was off by a couple of Triple-Crown winner – and two Triple-Crown winners there. Seattle Slew won in 1977, Secretariat was definitely 1973. My excuse, well, a 3 kind of looks like an 8 when you're tired at night. You know, it's kind of like a half of an 8, so maybe that's what happened. Or maybe not! Maybe I just effed up big time. In any case, thank you all for the corrections; I do appreciate it; and yes, I am embarrassed. How's that?

S: Good, good. I'm satisfied. I have satisfaction!

E: (Laughs) That's a good term! (Laughs)

S: That's right.

E: It is!

Correction #3 (56:13)[edit]

S: Now, I got a lot of feedback about my discussion of organic food a few weeks ago. We were talking about the fact – a recent report by scientists who were pointing out the fact that a lot of people promote organic food with claims that, they're not based on science, like, it's not healthier if you look at the research, ect, ect. And this is one of those issues where I think a lot of you have very reasonable, science-oriented people feel an identity with the whole organic food thing, and took exception, I think to spending a news item discussing that there really aren't any advantages to the organic food industry in my opinion.

But, I did make a factual error, although this one is not so easy to nail down. So I mentioned that, roughly speaking, organic food costs about three times as much in the grocery store as regular, conventional food. And somebody took exception to that claim. But it took me a long time, because there's no place you can go that just gives you the answer.

R: What about the grocery store?

(Evan laughs)

S: Well, yeah, but, how many different items are you gonna count up? What grocery store? What are you comparing it to? I actually did do that. I went to Peapod actually, and I looked up as many items as I could where there were comparable items. There were items that were pretty much exactly the same except for one was organic, and one was not organic. I also went to the USDA and they actually have a very convenient table listing the wholsesale prices. This is not retail, this is wholesale prices of produce of both organic and conventional. I will able to just line 'em up, add them all up, and just do a comparison.

And what I came up with, using these various methods is that organic produce was about 2 to 2 and a half times as expensive as the equivalent conventional produce. So, the real figure there is 2 to 2 and a half.

R: As opposed to 3.

S: As opposed to 3, right.

R: Well, I'm so glad that you've gone to all this trouble.

S: Oh my god!

E: Are you feeling as much shame as I did?

S: The 3 times figure, I didn't pull out of my butt; I mean, that was based on an article. It was an interview with a farmer who was saying he plants organic food because he gets charged three times as much for it as conventional food. Then I just took that figure. I didn't vet it as carefully as I did the second round. So, the most conservatively, it's at least twice as expensive, if not a little bit more. But it depends on exactly what you look at.

Email (58:46)[edit]

S: Okay, and now I'm gonna actually read an email. This one goes back even further. I just missed this one, in the feed. And when I was going back, looking for things, corrections, I came across this one. This one comes from Robert Timothy, and he writes:

"Before I make my correction, I must first let you know how much I enjoy both the SGU in general, and your scientific activism outside of the podcast, as someone who is involved in science in the public, you are an inspiration to me and one of the reasons I have chosen to pursue the public understanding of science as both a career and a hobby."

E: Awesome!

S: "You have my thanks." That's the way to begin a correction.

R: Yeah! I normally don't trust men with ...

(Unintelligible cross-talk)

E: At that point we continue to read, actually.

S: Yes, so, "Unfortunately, I must also inform you of a mistake in last week's Science or Fiction," this is now going back about two months. "It is a mistake you could hardly be blamed for, as more than half of the reports I saw regarding this issue also got it wrong in one form or another, and if I were not a practicing archeologist with a keen interest in physical anthropology, I would probably have missed it as well. It regards the story of H. antecessor footprints found in England." You guys remember that item?

E: Um hmm.

R: Faintly.

S: "You stated, as many articles did that this pushed the date of human occupation of northern Europe back about 350,000 years and was the earliest evidence we had of human occupation in the region. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, while these certainly are the oldest footprints in northern Europe, and are very interesting indeed; we found the tools of this specific hominid in this specific place in 2010. We have known for at least three years that H. antecessor was in this part of England at around 1 million years ago. So this discovery, while amazing, did not push back the known human occupation of northern Europe, or even this specific location at all. Again, thanks for all of the work you do. You have inspired me to engage more openly and often with the public in science communication, to start my own science-entertainment-based podcast, and even to get together with my local science museum."

Alright! Well, thank you so much, Robert -

R: Wait! What did he say the name of his podcast?

S: He doesn't say it. He doesn't say the name of his podcast.

B: So, how does that affect the results in Science or Fiction for the -

S: I don't know.

E: I'll take a win.

S: I'll have to go back and take a look. But I always love it when experts who know the information intimately pick up subtle things like that. And I also hate it when science news reports get facts like that incorrect. I always try to read multiple sources, because I never trust a single source; but when multiple sources get it wrong, that's usually when the errors creep in.

E: And the experts chiming in, nothing beats that. It's one of the most rewarding things about doing this show is hearing back from the people who are in their specific field every day, doing that work, and getting it straight from them. It's wonderful.

S: Yep, absolutely. Alright, thanks again Robert.

Science or Fiction (1:03:25)[edit]

Item #1: Neptune’s moon, Triton, is the only body known to have cryovolcanoes. Item #2: Up until the 1850s, astronomers recognized 11 planets in our solar system. Item #3: The body in our solar system with an atmosphere most similar to Earth’s is Saturn’s moon, Titan.

S: Well, guys, let's go on to Science or Fiction.

Voice-over: It's time for "Science or Fiction."

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week, inspired by the planetary diameters and the Earth – Moon distance; I am going to give you three items that are facts about our solar system.

(Bob groans)

E: Far out!

R: Bob, why are you groaning? This has got "Bob" written all over it.

B: It's a generic groan because it means that all the extra research I did for this just went out the window.

S: That's right. Okay, here we go!

Item #1: Neptune's moon, Triton, is the only body known to have cryovolcanoes.

Item #2: Up until the 1850's, astronomers recognized 11 planets in our solar system.

Item #3: The body in our solar system with an atmosphere most similar to Earth's is Saturn's moon, Titan.

Jay! Go first.

J: Righto, so alright. Cryo- wow! A cryovolcano, okay. Uh, I have to admit, I'm not Phil Plait; I've never heard of this. I would imagine that it's something that spews forth a lot of cold stuff, unless it actually shoots out frozen volcanoes themselves, which would be pretty awesome. Okay. And I could see why they say it's on Neptune's moon, Triton. But then the whole point here is that it's the only body known to have those. Interesting, but I am of course not sure about that.

Now, the second one about "until the 1850's, astronomers only recognized 11 planets in the solar system." That's interesting as well. I could totally see that. And then the final one, "The body in our solar system with an atmosphere most similar to Earth's is Saturn's moon, Titan." Hello! Well, how about those Steve, huh?

S: Yeah! I like 'em.

J: Because cryovolcanoes are cool. Well, I'm not saying they don't exist; the question here is do they exist on multiple moon or other planets or whatever. Um, yeah, okay. I could see that being true. I don't think that the third one is correct.

S: The one about Titan's atmosphere?

J: Yeah, Titan's atmosphere.

S: Is that your answer?

J: Yes.

S: Okay ... Rebecca.

R: Cryovolcanoes. You know, doing my SAT probe, latin roots, I'm assuming that means, like, ice volcanoes. And so, I'm wondering if that includes geysers.

S: I'll clarify that for you, because I came across that as well. While the terms may cross a little bit, they do specifically refer to cryovolcanoes, and cryo geysers as separate things. So, for the sake of this question, we'll say that cryovolcanoes does not include cryo geysers.

R: Oh! Okay, well that's interesting, 'cause yeah, I think I remember a Cassini mission finding evidence of ice geysers on a moon of Saturn. So - but I don't know! Maybe a geyser that suggests a volcano because that's still, like, geothermal activity. I don't know. It makes sense to me that astronomers up until the 1850's would recognize 11 planets. I mean, we haven't nailed that crap down, even in the last ten years. We haven't quite figured out what we're calling planets of our solar system. So, 11 is totally understandable.

And Saturn's moon of Titan having an atmosphere most similar to Earth; yeah, sure, why not? "Most similar," we're talking, relatively speaking here. So, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's life happening there. But ...

S: Just, more than anything else.

R: Yeah! More than the other crap in our solar system, (chuckles), so yeah. I like those two ... make sense to me. I'm still gonna go with the cryovolcanoes on the assumption that if we've detected ice geysers on other planetary bodies, on other moons and things, I'm fairly certain that we would have also detected evidence of other cryovolcanic activity in our solar system. So, I'll go with that as the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

B: I know, literally, everything about the solar system except these three things. (Rogues laugh). So, good choosin' there, Steve!

E: Yeah, perfect!

B: Uh, you know...

E: Thread the needle.

B: I could make an argument for 11 planets, I could make an argument for yeah, no, it's less, and oh yeah, it could be 11. And the moon with an atmosphere most like Earth; is it Titan? Or is it Ganymede? It's like, oh shit! I forget ... I forget. Aright? Kill me. But, I think I'm gonna go with the cryovolcanoes, 'cause those two words, "Cryo" and "volcano" are just inimical.

R: Inimical?

B: I don't think they go together! I just don't think you can have a cryovolcano 'cause a volcano kind of means that you've got magma. I could be totally wrong.

E & S: Magma

B: I'm just trying to... I know how a cryo geyser would work, I guess, but not a volcano. It just doesn't seem right that you would even call that a volcano; and how would that work; and it wouldn't be a volcano any more if it was "cryo!" Alright, so for that reason, and I'm probably wrong, I'm gonna say that's fiction.

S: Okay. Evan.

E: Well, Bob brought up a good question. Do cryovolcanoes really exist? And, if they do, is Triton the only one where we've recognized it? I don't know about this one. I guess I have a little more confidence in next ones on "1850's astronomers recognized 11 planets." I knew it was a higher number. I was never quite exactly sure where it was, but 11 sounds about right. In fact, I think at some point it was even more than that. Maybe they whittled it down to 11 at some point. It was 11; it went up to 15, and then back down to a more manageable number.

And then, the last one about Titan. Of the three, this is the one I'm probably the most comfortable with. I think that one's right. Of course, you guys remember reading The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut? I remember when I read that book in college, I actually did a little research on Titan, to find out some things about it, and what we knew. And I think I recall at that time, that yeah, it was, the reason Vonnagut chose Titan, there was something having to do with, he was looking for the place in the solar system where you could be as close to Earth as possible as far as atmosphere and other conditions. So, I think that one's right.

Therefore, Triton cryovolcanoes, I'll say that that one's the fiction.

B: So, were they loud, Evan?

E: Are what loud?

B: You know, the sirens?

E: Oh yes! (Chuckles) Yeah. You could hear them all the way to Enceladus.

B: (Laughs) Nice!

S: So that means that you all agree that up until the 1850's, astronomers recognized 11 planets in our solar system. You all think that one is science; and that one is ... science!

B: Yeah, baby!

R: Hooray!

S: So far, so good.

E: Elevensies!

S: Elevensies. Do you know what they were? Do you know what the extra ones were?

B: Was Ceres one?

E: Vulcan?

S: So, not including Vulcan, because Vulcan was never discovered because it doesn't exist.

E: Right, right. Well, you know...

S: That was a putative planet. It just turned out not to be real.

B: How about, was Ceres?

S: Yes, Ceres was one.

R: Pluto? Was Pluto one?

E: No, Pluto was way later. Oh! Uh, Nibiru! Planet X.

S: Yes, so that was also not real.

E: Not real! I came up with the two not real ones!

S: Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta.

E: Vesta!

S: They were the first four asteroids discovered, but this was before Pluto and Neptune, yeah. Then, what happened was, Ceres was discovered in 1801. It's round. It actually looks like a planet, although ... and they thought it was bigger too, initially. It's while their measurements were off. They thought it was actually was bigger than what we now know Pluto to be. But it's subsequently been downgraded. So, we say "Okay! It's a planet between Mars and Jupiter." And they thought there should be a planet there.

Then they discovered a couple of other ones, the next biggest asteroids in the asteroid belt. And they said, "Well, hey! There must be planets there as well!" But then, in the 1850's, they started discovering a lot of asteroids.

(Rogues laugh)

B: Uh oh!

S: It's like, "Yeah, this is not really gonna work any more." And they came up with the concept and the term "asteroid," because they looked like tiny stars to the telescope. And they realized that these were much smaller planetesimals, or planetoids, and eventually they just called them all "asteroids." So, Ceres and the others got downgraded from planet, to asteroid. But then, of course, in 2006, when Pluto got downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet, Ceres got upgraded from a asteroid to a dwarf planet. Although, it's still kind of referred to as an asteroid and a dwarf planet. I guess because it's in the asteroid belt, they still sort of designate it as an asteroid, even though it's officially a dwarf planet. It's interesting. Yeah.

Alright, let's move on to, I guess we'll go back to number one.

J: Oh, come on.

B: Don't worry.

S: Neptune's moon, Triton, is the only body known to have cryovolcanoes. Everyone but Jay thinks this one is the fiction. Jay, you think this one is science. And this one is ... the fiction.

B: Yeah, baby!

J: The affliction!

S: Although, Bob, you were right for the exactly wrong reason. E: I've been there, Bob.

B: I'll take it anyway!

S: Cryovolcanoes do exist, and the first one was discovered on Triton, but they were subsequently discovered on other icy moons in the solar system as well, including Titan, also has a cryovolcano. I think the difference between a cryovolcano and a cryo geyser is that volcanoes actually have a volcano-like structure to it. It's not just a crack in the ice, this is actually a mountain. And, they have, like, cryomagma. You know what I mean, Bob? They spew out, like, frozen methane, and other stuff too.

B: Ahh! Okay.

S: It's its own version of ... What's interesting, Triton is a really interesting moon. It's surface kind of looks like a cantaloupe. It has that texture to it. If you see a picture of it, you know what I mean. Which sort of implies that the ice on the surface of Triton is melting and refreezing, but they have no idea how that would happen that far out from the sun. So that's a current mystery. We don't know what is the mechanism behind the surface features of Triton.

B: Tidal forces aren't ... I would think they'd be involved, somehow.

S: It's gotta be something, but, from what I read -

B: Clearly.

S: - there's no clear answer at this point in time.

All of this means that the body in our solar system with an atmosphere most similar to Earth's is Saturn's moon, Titan, is, of course, science. Yeah, nothing else really even really comes close.

B: Isn't it really dense, like, crazy dense?

S: Yeah, so the overall mass of the atmosphere of Titan is about 120% that of Earth's; but of course, it's smaller.

B: Whoa!

S: So in one particular location, it has about 7 times the density of the Earth's atmosphere, which, yeah, that's a lot denser, but it's still not that far off, when you consider the other options are like, Mars, which has one hundredth of the atmosphere; or Venus, which is crazy denser than the Earth's. And most other bodies have a wispy atmosphere at best. And, it is mostly nitrogen, right? So it's the only other nitrogen-atmosphere. It's like, 98% nitrogen, and the rest are organics – methane, and things like that. No oxygen, of course.

E: Can't go walking around then.

S: Now, because Titan's gravity is less, it's atmosphere extends much higher-

B: Oh, yeah!

S: -than the Earth's atmosphere does.

B: Wow!

S: And, also, because of the combination of the dense atmosphere, and the light gravity, a human with wings attached to his or her arms could literally fly on Titan.

R: Wow!

S: You could flap your arms, and fly.

B: That's cool.

R: Yeah, super-cool.

J: Now that you say that, I have to do it.

B: You have to go to Titan.

R: Challenge accepted!

S: Yeah, I tried to find obscure facts about the solar system, that I wouldn't necessarily know off the top of my head; although I have heard about cryovolcanoes before. The thing I didn't know though; so I heard about the cryovolcano on Triton; I didn't know if they had been discovered elsewhere, and I found that they had. So, I thought that would be kind of a challenging fiction to make, but, good job guys.

R: It was challenging.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:16:53)[edit]

S: Let's do the quote. Jay, give us a quote this week.

J: This is a quote sent in by a listener named, "David Gerald." David is from the United States. The quote is,

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Anybody have any guesses on who said that?

S: Well that's a-


E: (Laughs)

R: You didn't even give us a chance!

E: Of course he did! He took a couple microseconds.

J: Thanks, Dave, for sending that in. You're a good man.

S: I've heard other permutations of that quote as well.

J: Yep, it's attributed to Mark Twain. Thank you.

S: Alright, well, guys. Don't forget, we have TAM coming up, The Amazing Meeting, in July 11 to 13th. Use the SGU Tam 2014 code if you're registering, there are plenty of opportunities to see the guys from the SGU. Rebecca won't be there, but the four guys will be there. We're having a show on stage, a dinner, which will include a game show, and an auction, and a poker game, and a private get together.

E: And a barber shop quartet.

S: Yeah, we'll work that in somehow.

E: I'll be the baritone.

S: And then we'll be at Dragon Con, and then we're gonna be at Australia and New Zealand, and we have some, as promised, we have some details about our New Zealand trip. So, the New Zealand Skeptic's Annual Conference 2014 will be held in Auckland from Friday, December 5th to Sunday, December 7th at the University of Auckland. The url for the registration is

R: I can't wait! I love my New Zealand skeptic friends.

J: Gonna be ridiculously awesome!

E: Epic!

S: The whole down under tour is gonna be epic.

R: Yeah, of course, I'm looking forward to Australia as well. I got special love in my heart for New Zealand though.

J: We've been trying to come up with a name for the tour. It's a tour that combines the SGU and the incredible talents of George Hrab. But we don't know how to merge the SGU name and the Geo name – the Geologic podcast. If you have any ideas. And we've already thought of SGO.

E: SGeoU?

J: Yeah, but if you have anything that's better than that, or interesting, or whatever, just send it to us.

R: I'm sure that'll go well.

(Rogues laugh)

J: Don't forget Dragon Con!

R: Yep.

S: I mentioned that, yeah.

J: Don't forget TAM!

B: I may have a new costume for Dragon Con.

R: Ahh!

S: "May?" You're gonna tease us with that?

E: Wonder Woman? Or ... What have we got?

B: I'll try my darndest.

S: Alright, guys. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

R: Thank you, Steve.

J: Thank you, brother!

E: Oh-h-h, Steve!

S: And until next week, this is your Skeptic's 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]

  • All planets (except the Earth) would fit between the Earth and the orbit of the Moon
  • A library in Sri Lanka called the "Jaffna library" suffered a similar fate to the Library of Alexandria, but much more recently.


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