SGU Episode 470

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SGU Episode 470
July 12th 2014
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 469                      SGU 471

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.

Lewis Thomas

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

This Day in Skepticism ()[edit]

News Items[edit]

Solar Freakin' Rebuttal (4:58)[edit]

S: Do you guys remember the Solar Freakin' Highways?

R: The ones we talked about? Didn't we talk about them?

E: Those hexagonal tiles that you put together?

S: Yeah, they use these little pavers with these embedded solar panels and they planned an Indiegogo campaign to replace all of our highways and roads with solar panels.

E: Yeah, a couple of trillion of those and we're good.

S: They wrote a rebuttal to all of the criticism that they've been getting online. Apparently they were a little stung by the fact that there's an Internet and people are going to discuss their ideas and maybe in unflattering tones.

E: How dare they?

B: Someone's wrong on the Internet!

S: First of all, their Indiegogo campaign concluded and they reached 2.2 million dollars.

J: Wow

R: Wow

S: Raised 2.2 million dollars.

B: What were they shooting for.

S: One million, I think was their goal.

B: So, nice.

S: Good for them. But after reading their article called Clearing the Frickin' Air

B: haha, nice.

S: Now I despise them.

B: Oh, really?

S: Yeah, because it's...

B: Oh, I can't wait to hear this.

R: Oh, no.

S: It's the worst to respond to criticism. It is absolutely the worst. Let me just read you some bits of it.

B: Oh, yeah!

S: So they say:

"Most of the attention has been very positive, but as the campaign became more and more successful (and popular), the naysayers began coming out in force trying to grab some attention. They use non-scientific "facts", misquote and mislead, and sometimes flat out lie. They write unprofessional articles and create deceiving videos to lead people astray. We were told by the Indiegogo staff that this happens to every successful campaign, regardless of the invention.

"Haters are going to hate. Nothing we can do about that. One unscrupulous individual even took our viral Solar Freakin' Roadways video (by volunteer Michael Naphan) without our permission, and has used it to create another video, in which he has embedded deliberately misleading information."

S: And he just keeps going on like that. I mean, it's just like like are you new to the Internet?

R: Whining.

S: Yeah, the worst possible whining.

B: Wait, but he does address the major problems that people with it and deals with them scientifically, right? I mean isn't that what you're supposed to do? Right? Did he attempt?

S: Well let's see what he does.

B: Alright.

S: Well, first of all, a lot of people said a lot of things about the solar highways, including us, we talked about it on the show, and essentially we were saying "good for them, knock yourselves out, probably ultimately an impractical idea", and we named multiple reasons why. But then a lot of people said stupid things about it on the Internet, because, you know, it's the Internet, and that's the baseline. And they picked a lot of the dumbest things that people said about the panels, so they're picking the low hanging fruit but some of the things they said were, I mean. So they're not doing what they should do. They're proposing a major paradigm shift in the way that we build and maintain our road infrastructre as well as our energy infrastructure in this country and they raised over 2 million dollars to get going on that, right? So you'd think they'd be able to handle a little bit of criticism but what they're doing is not what they should be doing which is taking a very self-critical look at the potential limitations and roadblocks and difficulties with this, like really seriously considering the feedback. Instead, they're constructing a defensive, motivated reasoning, best lawyers' case for themselves and really giving short shrift to legitimate criticism. Some of the things they rebut are, the points were not very good, so they're picking, again, the bad points. One of the things is that they picked a stupid place to put solar panels, and one legitimate point is that the project didn't start by asking the question: Where should we put solar panels? It started by asking the question: How can we technically upgrade our roads? What would be the next generation of a high-tech road? Because we're still using the same basic pavement technology we had 100 years ago. So that's how the idea evolved, that's why, it's solar. So OK, I get that. That still doesn't mean it's a good idea. It still doesn't address the concern of, if we're going to build a solar infrastructure, that the roads are not the best way to do it. And they justify themselves in broad brush stroke, vague terms, without ever doing the math to justify their claims. They say that the whole idea is that we're going to build an infrastructure that's going to have a return on investment. OK, show me at least a back-of-the-envelope calculation that tells me that this is going to be a return on investment. And how long is that going to take, and what's going to be the lifespan of these pavers and are they actually going to pay for themselves at some point? Meanwhile they're giving just totally pulled-out-of-their-butts speculation. It's a sales pitch, it's not serious investigation of the claims that they're making. And then they, a lot of their responses are tangential which means they're just grabbing at straws to defend themselves. So they say,"False Claim: Solar Roadways is going to cost $60 trillion dollars"

S: OK, that figure is surely not accurate, I don't think it's based on anything. But then, again, they never address how much it's actually going to cost. They don't say how much it's going to cost.

R: Just: not that.

S: Yeah, just not that. We don't know what it's going to cost, but...

R: Three times, maybe, but not that.

S: And then they try to compare it to asphalt. So they give all these statistics on how much it costs to build and maintain our roads, which has absolutely nothing to do with what they're claiming. So they'll say, for example, that the department of transportation is spending 20 billion dollars annually to build new roadways. Irrelevant. And 16.5 billion annually repairing and preserving the other 99% of the system. OK. That's not a lot, whatever, 40-50 billion dollars a year for the whole country? That's not as much as we should be spending.

E: In a multi-trillion dollar economy.

S: That's nothing. So he's trying to say "oh roads are so expensive" and he says, the false claim is that we can't afford to heat roads and then they just give statistics on how much it costs to remove snow from roads, whatever, we spend 2.3 billion dollars to remove snow and ice and repair damage from snow and ice, and there are accidents from it. OK, but you're not comparing it to anything. You're not telling us how it's going to cost to heat the roads. They're just throwing facts out there as if it makes their points. But I haven't got to the worst one.

J: Uh oh!

B: Heh, Jay.

S: This is the one that made me, really...

B: Dry heave?

J: Very angry, Steve?

E: You don't like Steve when he's very angry.

S: I got a little declempt(?) when I was reading this. So they say, "False Claim: Glass is softer than asphalt". First of all, I don't know who the hell said that. But alright, anyway, let me read it "Not even close. This is called the mohs hardness scale, which is used to define hardness in materials science. It lists materials from the softest to the hardest, 10 being diamond." Then it gives the mohs hardness scale. We've talked about hardness and toughness and tensile strength and all that stuff on the show before. And then they show that glass is actually harder than steel. It's not harder than hardened steel, it's harder than really low-grade steel.

B: It's also much more brittle.

S: Duh. They totally confuse, and this is why, this guy is not a structural engineer, he's an electrical engineer, and he completely botches this. He says glass is harder than steel so don't tell me that glass is softer than asphalt. But the thing is, you don't want your roads to hard. You want them to be pliable. You want them to be soft.

E: Right, because the ground moves.

S: Right, because the ground moves. You want something that's relatively soft, but that's strong. It's not going to break easily, and you definitely don't want it to be brittle. Glass may be hard, but it's really brittle. It shatters. So it's the difference between hardness and strength. And the way they write this article, this guy has absolutely no idea what he's talking about, or he does, and he is just being deliberately deceptive. Either, one is one is worse than the other, neither one is a reasonable defence. Really? Really? You're going to bamboozle us with the glass is harder than steel argument, completely ignoring the fact that we're talking about other properties? The bottom line is that glass doesn't have the physical characteristics that are optimal for a roadway. It's the opposite kind of property that we want. We don't want something hard and brittle, we want something soft and strong. It's the exact opposite. Now he does make the point that it's going to be tempered glass, and tempered glass is strong, it's a lot stronger than glass, and that's the only thing that makes this even semi-reasonable, but even still it doesn't address the real criticism is that tempered glass is actually not, it's too hard, it's not very pliable, and he hasn't demonstrated that this kind of system would be appropriate for roadways that are going to heave and need to give. So completely side-steps the actual criticism with the shenanegans about hardness. Totally disgusting. I was really, reading that, I was like oh my goodness, this is utter nonsense.

R: That's so disappointing, because even though we were critical of them, I was rooting for them. I wanted this project to succeed so any criticism that I had of them would have been the most constructive possible.

S: Right.

J: I totally agree Rebecca, now that we've found out that there's a lot of BS built into this, the whole thing just sucks.

S: Yeah it makes it seem like these are not the people to push this project forward. You need people that are going to really try to pick apart their own project from every angle and really look for the constructive criticism and be mature enough to just look past the immature stuff on the Internet and try to focus on the best criticisms that were levelled at them or just picking the worst or just completely sidestepping the legitimate issues with just deception. It was very disappointing.

R: And you know, this is just a case where this is something where, they're not just going to succeed if they happen to be right, they're still going to need to win over a lot of people, especially a lot of people in government and large industries, in order to make this happen. So if they've got any hopes of doing that then they're going to have to address these issues head on, like nobody's going to listen to it.

S: No. But Rebecca, haters are going to hate, so what are you going to do.

R: Haters do hate.

S: What a way to dismiss criticism.

R: I know.

S: Oh, it's terrible.

R: Don't get me wrong, I like a good hater's going to hate joke, but this is neither the time or the place.

S: It's inappropriate. Very disappointing. Alright, let's move on.

Slower Light (16:58)[edit]

Orion Capsule ()[edit]

UFO Sightings ()[edit]

Facebook Experiment ()[edit]

Who's That Noisy ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week: PC fan error

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question #1: TDDCS ()[edit]

Hi crew,DIY trans dermal direct current stimulation - what gives?It seems that there's a popular movement emerging - people are building their own DIY stim kits, and a few companies are marketing them. However, the way it's presented has multiple characteristics of pseudoscience. I understand there's some serious research underway... but is it really such a good idea to build an at-home kit to send currents through your own head? I feel the obvious answer is hell no. With a side of no, seriously.If only someone knew a neuroscientist who could comment...Love the show, etcGareth in Sydney 'Become a tDCS expert in only a few hours!' - wtf?

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: Researchers find that a mutation in a skin protein not related to pigment has a greater effect on Vitamin D levels than does melanin. Item #2: A new study finds that cats and elephants, and all animals intermediate in size, empty their bladders in the same amount of time, regardless of volume. Item #3: A new study finds that cats and elephants, and all animals intermediate in size, empty their bladders in the same amount of time, regardless of volume.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

'The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.'— Lewis Thomas

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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