SGU Episode 473

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SGU Episode 473
August 2nd 2014
SGU 472 SGU 474
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
BN: Bill Nye
Quote of the Week
I hope that every [person] at one point in their life has the opportunity to have something that is at the heart of their being, something so central to their being that if they lose it they won’t feel they’re human anymore, to be proved wrong because that’s the liberation that science provides. The realization that to assume the truth, to assume the answer before you ask the questions leads you nowhere.
Lawrence M. Krauss
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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 Tuesday, July 29th, 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: Steve, did you say it's July 29th?

S: That's correct!

E: As in July 29th, 1964?

S: 1964?

E: 50 years ago, to the day, er...

R: Oh, well, this day in Skepticism, Steve Novella was born!

(Rogues cheer)

J: That's actually relevant too! That's really cool! Happy birthday, brother!

S: Thank you so much.

E: Happy birthday.

S: Yep. I'm 50.

R: How's it feel?

S: The big 5 – 0

J: Holy crap.

S: The Y-5-0

B: Oh mother ....

S: Four bits.

R: How's it feel? Do you feel different?

S: Half a century.

R: Have you bought a sports car?

S: Oh, no, I'm way past my midlife crisis already.

R: Oh, okay.

S: I decided to start a podcast for my midlife crisis.

R: That's sad.

E: Look what that's gotten you.

B: You freak.

This Day in Skepticism (1:11)[edit]

  • August 2, 1880: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was adopted officially by Parliament.

R: Well, you know what, you share a birthday with Greenwich Mean Time! Did you know that, Steve?

S: Is that right?

R: Yah!

B: Awesome!

R: Yeah.

E: (British accent) Greenwich Mean Time, I say.

R: Well, oh, wait. No, you don't, because this was August 2nd, the day this podcast comes out.

B: Psyche!

R: Sorry ...

S: Close.

E: In podcast land, you share, but not in real life.

R: Yeah. Well, there goes my big segue. Anyway, in 1880, on August 2nd, Greenwich Mean Time was adopted by the UK Parliament. Which is, it's always weird to me when I think about time suddenly coming into existence. (Laughs) I mean, obviously, time has always existed, because "always" requires time.

E: Oh!

R: (Laughs) But for a long time, each town would have its own, particular time and there was really no desperate need to make sure that they were all coordinated but once ...

B: Train schedules!

R: Train schedules were one thing, but the reason why Greenwich Mean Time was adopted when it was, was apparently more for naval navigation, and it was only standardized and used across Europe once train transportation increased. And then it wasn't until three years after it was officially adopted that the United States adopted it as well. And that was when telegraph lines first started transmitting time signals to all the cities.

B: Ah-h-h...

R: So, yeah.

B: Cool.

R: And it was adopted worldwide, November 1st, 1884.

J: Cool! Very cool!

R: And then there was time.

S: Yeah, before Greenwich was Greenwich Mean Time, it was zero longitude. So, when sailors – as you said – sailors would set their clocks to Greenwich Time, because then they would estimate their longitude by how far they were from Greenwich, basically. Based upon, "Oh, it's noon! And the sun is two hours past being directly overhead. So I must be two hours past zero longitude."

B: Oh, cool!

J: (British accent) There you have it.

News Items[edit]

Mike Adams Follow Up (3:28)[edit]

S: So, Jay, you're gonna give us a quick follow up on the whole Mike Adams hubbub from last week.

B: Oh my god!

E: Ugh.

S: Things are happening so fast we actually missed some important updates when we recorded the last show.

J: Well, yeah, the quick summary is that Mike wrote a blog post where he compares people that support or are neutral about GMOs to the Nazi regime and, in essence, put out a death threat against anybody that supports GMOs, saying that good people – who are anti-GMO – should kill people who are pro-GMO. And he riddled his blog post with pictures of Hitler, and the Nazi party, and all the terrible things that they did, using that as ...

B: Swastikas.

J: yeah, swastikas, everything, using it as a way to convince his readers that they need to take action. Now, the big thing that he did, also, was that he requested that someone make a website that lists the offending parties, people that support GMO. And Steve, and David Gorski, and a ton of other journalists and news outlets were listed on this website. And then things got stranger.

If that blog post wasn't strange and horrible enough, the update is that now the FBI is really turning up the heat on Mike, and they're investigating him. And some legitimate proof has come down the pike through web forensics that Mike is actually the person who created the listing website. Let me give you the details behind that.

Now keep in mind, he supposedly requested during his blog, in the middle of his blog, for someone to create this website. Wouldn't it be convenient if somebody created this list of people that we can mark as our enemies, the big supporters of GMO, the big offenders. The "people that should be killed," right? Then this website pops up very soon after, and Mike updates his blog saying, "and here's a link to the website that some reader of my blog created."

Turns out, Mike is that reader. It turns out that that website was created a short while before Mike actually posted his blog post calling for these people to be killed.

B: Oh-h-h, nice.

J: It also turns out that the formatting of the website – those two pages, specifically – Mike's page, and the listing page of the supporters of GMO have very similar formats and layout. And not just they're both using Wordpress, but similar in ways that someone looking at the code, and the "forensics" can determine that it's probably the same exact code base. I don't know how else to put this ... (shouting) Busted! Like, yeah, Mike, you got caught with your pants way down!

B: Yeah, but Jay, even more important, what did he say about that website before it was even proven that he was the author?

J: What did he say? Well, what he did was ...

B: How did he ...

J: He did a series of updates on his blog. So, he's littering his blog with these updates. "Update: I didn't actually, these are not my words. I didn't say to kill these people. I'm just quoting some nazi bad guy from 50 years ago."

S: No, no, no, he was quoting the current President of Germany, who was talking about the Wolf's Den assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler.

R: Well, he said he was paraphrasing.

S: Paraphrasing. But then I also heard that the German president didn't actually say that.

R: Yeah, he said, "I was paraphrasing the German government."

S: It's all irrelevant. He constructed a narrative. Monsanto is evil. They're like the nazis. People who are pro-GMO are paid Monsanto collaborators. They are like nazi collaborators. It was morally acceptable – in fact, an imperitive – to kill nazi collaborators. He laid it all out there. Then he makes the Monsantocollaborators website, claims somebody else did it. And then when the heat gets turned up, he has the audacity to claim, "You know what? I'm beginning to think that this Monsantocollaborators website is a false flag operation. That Monsanto created it just to make me look like an idiot."

And then it turns out, as Jay was pointing out, that he made the website! So he's pretty much busted in a flat out lie. And there's no other way to really interpret it in my mind.

J: He didn't have ...

E: What'd he think?

J: Well, Evan, what he thought was ...

E: How could he not think he was not gonna get caught?

J: In his stupor of hatred, he really thought that he was gonna incite people to take some type of action. Now, I can't say – I can only speculate – and this is, of course, all in my opinion. I honestly don't know if Mike actually wanted people like my brother, Steve, and for David Gorski to get killed. I don't know. But he really made it seem crystal clear that that was the message. That truly was the message.

E: And, where's the mainstream media on all of this? You know, I'm seeing a lot of writings from people in skeptical circles, science circles, and so forth, but I've not seen it on ABC. I have not seen it on CNN. I've not seen it in any of those places.

S: Yeah, it would be interesting if it did get wider mainstream coverage, but, we'll see.

E: I mean he gets plenty of coverage in other ways, all in positive ways.

S: Yeah, that's true.

E: On Oprah, and Dr. Oz, and all these ...

S: The best thing is though, that the FBI is investigating. He crossed a line, where now the FBI is looking into this. So, if they could get access to information to not just strongly suggest, but to actually prove that Mike Adams was behind the Monsantocollaborators website, then he is legally busted; then he is totally busted. And, I don't know! I don't know how much the law allows for the FBI ... what actions to take against him.

Either he was deliberately inciting to murder, or this was reckless endangerment. Then, at the very least, his reputation should be in tatters. And that's the one thing that we could most help with, is to make sure everybody remembers ... he should never live this down in my opinion.

E: Never, ever! Well, we're never gonna let people forget it.

R: Indeed.

S: Okay, let's move on. Enough time on this guy.

Battery Advance (9:44)[edit]

S: Bob, you're gonna tell us about (sarcastic excitement) an exciting new advance in battery technology! Finally! Because we've never had this before!

B: (Laughing) Yes, another one! (Evan laughs) So ...

R: It's always 5 to 10 years away, so, has it been 5 to 10 years?

E: Since we last spoke about this one!

B: So, scientists have apparently come very close to what some have called the holy grail of battery technology, and that's the phrase that got me. When I see holy grail ...

E: Oh my gosh!

B: in anything related to science, I perk up. I'm like, "Alright, what the hell is going on here?" Especially battery technology. We need a damn holy grail. So, lithium-ion batteries, they're one of the premier – I'm sure everyone's heard of them – they're one of the premier, most popular batteries for portable, and rechargeable consumer electronics. They've got many, many very good qualities, excellent energy density. They only slowly lose charge when they're not being used. There's no memory effect, which is kind of an often-abused term.

Memory effect was used specifically to apply to nickel cadmium, and nickel-metal hyride batteries. And it had to do with the fact that if you charge one of those batteries before it was fully discharged, then it would slowly decrease the amount of battery life that you would have.

E: Oh-h! Yeah, you remember that? What a pain! Having to cycle your batteries, and stuff? What a pain.

B: Right. So, lithium-ion does not suffer from that at all, although they do suffer, of course, from just general age-related issues that are just so annoying, so much so that it's one of the most common complaints about smartphones. So, battery life is still an issue, and not just for smartphones, obviously. There's so many things, cars especially.

So, for a long time now, scientists have been trying to create a lithium-ion battery that has more lithium, actually in it. So, before I go on, I just got to cover real fast the basic battery components. All batteries need to have three of these things here, these three things.

An electrolyte, which is basically just a source of electrons. An anode, which dispenses the electrons. And a cathode, which receives them. You need those three. You don't have those three, you pretty much don't have a battery.

So, lithium-ion batteries have lithium in the electrolyte, which is good, but the anode is only partially lithium. It's not fully lithium. And an all-lithium anode would be in fact a huge improvement because it would allow for things like, it would be much lighter, it would be much more energy-dense, and those are two of, I would say, the top three or four most desired qualities of these types of batteries.

They've had problems though, with these fully lithiumized anodes – I don't think that's a word. Anodes made of lithium expand much more than any other material, and it causes cracks to form in the anode, releasing ions. And these ions create stringy dendrites, they call 'em, that shorten the battery life. There's chemical reactions between the electrolyte and the anode, and that depletes some of the electrolyte. It shortens the battery life. And, I'm sure you've all heard, of course, of the fire hazards that can happen because of this, because it gets so hot.

So dealing with these exact issues is precisely what the researchers from Stanford University reporting in – what was it – the Journal of Nature and Nanotechnology. Now, they're not quite there yet – how predictable is that – but they do seem to be extremely close. Close enough, I think, that I think it's not premature at all to publish about it, because it is an interesting advance.

So what they did was create a coating for the anode that's made of these super-tiny carbon nanospheres. So, the nanospheres protect the anode, and prevent all these drawbacks that I've just mentioned. The ratio of lithium, the anode pushes out to the amount put in during a charge cycle is at 99%. So, you get that? That's called the Coulombic efficiency. But it needs to be 99.9% before it's really commercially viable.

But this is really such a little difference that I think they should be able to make minor improvements, tweak it, and they'll be able to bring it up to snuff with hopefully not a huge amount of effort 'cause clearly, this fundamental concept is far superior to any of the previous attempts that have been made with a fully lithium anode, so that's really cool.

Clearly, I think this is a really fantastic advance with much promise, but I do have a few problems. First of all, it's battery technology! We hear about advances, like Steve said, all the time! And then bam – nothing! I read article after article that sounds like a fantastic idea. "Wow! This is really gonna change things!" And then, that's like, literally, the last thing I hear about it. And that's generally because there's like, these key battery factors, and one of them or more will invariably fail. Whether it's the scalability, the cost, the recharging cycles; there's always something – a key thing – that is missing that prevents a lot of these things from just really taking off.

Related to that is the fact that they're not quite at their goal yet, right? They're close, but often, going that last yard, or 9/10ths of a percent in this case, that's often the big problem, right? That last little bit is like, "Damn, we can't quite get it." And who knows what kind of problems they could encounter that would prevent them from even going that little bit extra. I don't know enough about battery technology to really say what the stumbling blocks could be, although they are confident. But, big deal, everybody's confident.

And then, finally, like I mentioned earlier, and most annoying to me, was that they described this as a holy grail of battery technology. But, I read a lot of news items on this, and a lot of these reports were saying that the technology could extend the battery life 2 to 3 times!

J: Wow!

S: Yeah, that's nice.

B: That's really nice!

S: It's incremental though.

B: Holy grail? The holy grail is not incremental. That's a great way to say it. And they even said that affordable electric cars with a 300 mile range. Wait, whoa! $25,000 electric car, 300 mile range? Aren't we close to 300 miles now? If it could go 6, 7, 800, now you're talking!

S: Yeah, I think you're right, Bob. This is a potential incremental advance in lithium-ion battery technology – hardly worth the hype that they're giving it. And you're also right ... I mean, I literally see a news item about like this every week. I mean, weekly there is some new press release about some new potential way of eking more out of a lithium-ion battery. Some sound greater than this in potential.

B: (Laughing) Yeah, that's right! Some of them, there's even more problems ...

S: About a year or two ago, I read about using nano-structuring the lithium, and getting ten times the capacity out of it.

B: Right, right.

S: But then there's this little problem with how much can be discharged. So, the discharger is a little on the slow end to be actually useful for anything, but ... or, whatever. As you say, it's always something like that, because there's so many potential fatal deal killers with battery technology, that you have to have all your ducks in a row, or it's just a nice lab experiment.

The other category, that it's like, literally every week, there's an amazing breakthrough, is the solar cell technology. Same thing.

B: Oh yes, yes, exactly.

S: And they're just talking about some incremental advance in one aspect of the many possible things. And, you know, the thing about solar technology is that it is incrementally advancing. Each, every year, we're a little bit better. Okay, but the hype that comes with it now is just incredible.

B: Right, and I've said it before, and I'll say it again: These types of technologies, batteries and solar photovoltaics, or just solar energy in general, these are the types of things that, god, if I had a trillion dollars laying around, this is the stuff that needs a Manhattan Project. Billions ... because these are the things that will impact and help the entire world just in one fell swoop!

E: I don't know. Are they gonna come eventually? The whole time for 9+ years we've been talking about this, it's always been small, incremental stage. Isn't it just the nature of this particular science that this is how it's gonna be, and ...

S: It's the nature of many sciences. But Evan brings up a good point too, Bob. We may never have that one advance that gives us the 10 time improvement, the order of magnitude. It may be we just need the 2 to 3 times advance that's actually really good when you think about it. And you stack a few of those together, and then you're there. You know?

B: Yeah, that's fine. But, hey, we can speed up those incremental advances, can't we?

S: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

B: Right, right?

Ray Comfort's Gravity Gaffe (18:13)[edit]

S: But, Evan, do you think Ray Comfort can wrap his head around advances in battery and solar technology?

B: Nice.

E: Oh, are you kidding? He is Mr. Science. Move over, Bill Nye; get out of the way Neil DeGrasse Tyson; Ray Comfort is here! Evangelical Minister, author, video producer, perhaps best known for the so-called banana falacy, in which he claimed that the perfection of the design of the banana is an example of God's hand in creation. Yes.

B: Too bad we designed the Cavendish banana.

E: (Laughs) Irrelevant! Not in the Bible.

B: Yes.

E: So, on July 26th, he threw this pearl of wisdom before his swine - (Bob laughs) - his Facebook readers. "If the Bible isn't God-inspired, explain why ... how the writer of the Book of Job knew 3000 years ago that, 'The Earth hangs upon nothing.'" And that's Job, chapter 26, verse 7? Is that how that works?

S: Yeah

E: And then he writes, "It wasn't until thousands of years later that science discovered that gravity doesn't exist in space, and that this massive Earth does indeed hang upon nothing." He later went back and revised that a bit to read, that gravity doesn't exist in space as it does on Earth, and that this massive Earth does, indeed, hang upon nothing. So, essentially he kind of said the same thing.

You know what this reminded me? So, remember those old commercials from the 70's for E.F. Hutton? Right?

B: Yeah.

E: When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen. So, I'm gonna borrow that, and say, "When Ray Comfort talks about science, skeptics listen, and then correct him!"

B: Not before laughing.

E: Exactly. You have to laugh at first about this stuff, and then you can get serious. I laughed when I read one Twitterer who put this out there. He said, "First of all, the Earth doesn't hang, for a start. It's not a bloody family portrait." (Laughs) Which, I love that picture about, that's exactly ..."

S: It's a Christmas ornament!

E: (Laughs) Exactly, right?

B: It's! In! Orbit!

E: (Laughs) Yeah, and you can't help yourself. Anywhere you start with this, you're gonna wind up correcting him, so there's really nowhere to go wrong here. So, gravity is a natural phenomenon by which all physical bodies attract each other. It's one of the four fundamental forces of nature along with electromagnetism, and the nuclear strong force, and the weak force! And the phenomenon of gravitation is a consequence of the curvature of spacetime.

But Comfort was under the impression that there's no gravity in space, hence the reason why astronauts appear to float around as they do. But there is gravity throughout the universe, right? The entire visible universe has revealed the wonders of gravity in all of space and time, and there's just boatloads of evidence to support it.

B: Right, the entire structure of the known universe is basically authored by gravity. It's the most far-reaching force there is! It's like, hello!

E: So, obviously, a lot of people chimed in on this, both supporters of his, and people who actually understand science, in making legitimate attempts to correct him. You know, amongst the giggles and things.

So, he went ahead and corrected himself, a few hours later. Basically, here's what he said, "Up until today, I was one of the many who believe there's zero gravity in space. We live and learn. Thanks to the many atheists who kindly corrected me." But then, he actually goes on by also saying, "Sir Isaac Newton is the one -" I'm cutting this short because it's kind of a long post. But he writes, "Sir Isaac Newton is the one who so wisely noted atheism is so senseless. I will therefore try to make it a little clearer for those folks who pretend that God doesn't exist. While there is invisible gravity in space – so much for seeing is believing – this massive Earth hangs on nothing. It has no visible means of support, similar to the no means of support backing Darwinian evolution."

S: He was wrong, but he's still right! Even though he was completely wrong. It's just unbelievable. It's astounding. He is absolutely scientifically illiterate. I think we could state that without fearing contradiction.

E: (Laughs) Very kind.

S: Yeah, he thought there was no gravity in space. You have to have absolutely no effing idea what's going on if you think that. You don't understand the first thing about physics and astronomy, right? And it's fine if somebody's not interested in science, and just doesn't have any idea about things like that, the Sherri Shepherds of the world, but he takes it a step further. In his abject ignorance of science, he uses that as a basis in order to criticize ...

J: To speculate! He's speculating without any ...

S: No, not speculating, Jay! He's saying definitively, "Hey! If the Bible isn't inspired by God, explain this atheists!" But he's talking totally about his own complete, abject, scientific illiteracy.

J: And clearly, he's unmoved, when he finds out what the truth is, like we said. No effect! Sorry! Doesn't care. That's the infuriating part of it. Okay, so, he starts off wrong. Okay, he's wrong. Then a lot of people showed him, "This is what the truth is," and then he finally swallowed that, and then ... doesn't care! Didn't affect him in any way!

S: Because he's not basing his beliefs on facts or logic or evidence or anything. He's cherry picking facts that appear to support his position. And when that's wrong, it doesn't matter! He'll just cherry pick other facts. Like, he went on, "Oh yeah! But gravity's invisible! So much for seeing is believing!" What! It's a total non sequitur. Even just, his interpretation of the Job passage, "The Earth hangs upon nothing." That's meaningless.

E: Right.

S: It doesn't even have any scientific meaning. It was written by somebody who didn't know the first thing about cosmology or physics, or astronomy.

E: I liken him taking the Job quote so far out of context, this is the same way that people who interpret the things Nostradamus "predicted" way back when, and applying that to modern times is, there's no connection whatsoever! They have no idea basically ...

Dinosaur Feathers (24:17)[edit]

S: To finish up the news items, we're going to do just two quick topics on dinosaurs. I love talking about dinosaurs. The first one has to do with how many dinosaurs probably had feathers. This has been a very fascinating story from our childhood. Rebecca, I think even you, when you were a kid, right, dinosaurs had tough, leathery skin, right? You never saw dinosaurs with feathers.

But, of course, since really, Archaeopteryx, over a hundred years ago, the idea was that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Archeopteryx looks pretty much half dinosaur, half bird. Since then, especially since the 1980's, we've discovered a lot of feathered dinosaurs, so it wasn't just this one feathered half dinosaur, there was an entire clade, a group, of dinosaurs like Velociraptors, et cetera, that had feathers of some type, as well as different flying dinosaurs, and other ones that had feathers but couldn't fly, and primitive birds; it's really been fleshed out tremendously.

But the question remains, is how far back in the dinosaur evolutionary history do feathers go? Feathered dinosaurs are mainly found among the Theropods, which are in the branch of dinosaurs called the saurischians – which, ironically means lizard-hipped – whereas the other branch of dinosaurs, the ones that did not give rise to the birds, are the ornithischians, which means bird-hip.

B: Ha!

S: But, in any case...

B: How ironic is that?

S: The theropods are the feathered dinosaurs. So, pretty much, at this point, we can say most theropod dinosaurs probably had feathers at some point in their life, even if it was just downy feathers as young, and they may not have survived until adulthood.

But recently, scientists have discovered what look like primitive feather impressions on the fossil of a neo-ornithischian dinosaur. In other words, from the other main group of dinosaurs. The common ancestor of the ornithischians and the saurichians is basically the common ancestor of all dinosaurs. Now, do you understand the implication of that?

J: No!

E: We have to rename dinosaurs.

S: It means that all dinosaurs may have had feathers, every single dinosaur ...

B: Yes.

S: It may actually go all the way back to the early days of the dinosaurs ...

J: Wow!

S: ... as a clade.

B: That's amazing. Did anybody ever even come close to even predicting this?

S: Yeah, it's incredible.

B: That's fantastic.

S: So, this is one fossil, I have to always say. We hate to .. you don't want to hang your hat on one piece of evidence. So, it would be nice if we could find other fossils. It's possible that these feathery filaments were only exist in a juvenile, and not adults. So, it may be that all dinosaurs had down as chicks, as baby dinosaurs, but not as adults. But still, the idea that a feather-like integumentary adaptation is common to most or all dinosaurs is amazing. So, if this holds up, if this turns out to be the case, that would be fascinating.

B: And also, Steve, weren't some of the feathers ... were unique. I mean, these are feathers they had never seen before.

S: Yeah.

B: Completely, very different structure, whatever. And also, the article, the research I read made a good comparison. They said all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair, which is a nice comparison. But, they also made an interesting point. I mean, you look at an elephant - and an elephant's a mammal - not much hair going on on an elephant. There is some.

So they think for the largest predators, they probably had very, very sparse feathers, if any, really, at all. Which makes sense, because they don't really need them for ...

S: Temperature control.

B: ... temperature control. So, I wouldn't run around thinking that, oh, T-Rexes were running around with feathers everywhere, type of thing. But who knows?

S: But, it does mean that there is this potential for feather-like structures in dinosaurs as an entire clade ...

B: Right.

S: And think about that. So, this is getting back to the whole evidence for evolution thing. If evolution were not true, what are the odds that the group that anatomically birds probably derived from, also had the potential ... the widespread potential to grow feather-like structures? This is exactly the kind of thing you would predict from evolution. And there's absolutely no reason for it without evolution as a unifying theory.

B: Yeah. Steve, I know that these dinosaurs, what they found, these fossils are very special because I think they died in a lake bed, and they were very quickly covered up with a light volcanic silt, or whatever. So, that's why the resolution is so fine. But still, I can't help but thinking, "You know, how many fossils have we dug up, and there was no hint of any type of feather structures on any of the big boys that all these thousands ..."

S: Yeah, for feather impressions, you need the right kind of conditions as you were saying, Bob. So this is, it may be a rare window. So, we just have to hope ... and also, this dinosaur was found outside of China, so it's the first feathered dinosaur found outside of China, which is also important. So, if we find more in various groups, and in various locations around the world. The more we find, the more evidence there is that really, all dinosaurs had some kind of potential for feathers. Or, you know, when we say, "feathers," these could just be monofilaments. They're not necessarily the fully-formed shafted feather that we ...

B: Oh, okay.

J: So you consider it an early feather, then, right?

S: Like a downy feather, oh yeah. Or, it's also probably not on, saying, "early" implies that it later evolved into a bird-like feather, but it probably didn't. You know what I mean? This is in a completely separate branch. These monofilaments probably never became anything that you would think of as a feather. But it's clearly a feather-like appendage, or structure.

Dinosaur Extinction (30:28)[edit]

S: The other dinosaur news item, this is another topic about which I have been fascinated ever since I was a child. And that is, what wiped out the dinosaurs? Now, everybody knows the answer to this, right? What killed off the dinosaurs?

R: Inability to brush their teeth, 'cause of their tiny, tiny arms.

S: (Suppresses laughter) Right, exactly. The Chicxulub crater asteroid from 66 million years ago

R: Yeah, that's what we said.

S: at the K-Pg boundary. So, there's no question that 66 million years ago, a huge meteor – or a bolide, as they call it – whacked into the Earth at Chicxulub ...

B: Oh, wait, Steve. Sorry, Steve. Now, bolide, isn't that a more generic term that can account for asteroids and comets?

S: Yes, because they don't know.

B: Okay, alright.

S: They don't know, it was a bolide. They don't really know it was a meteor.

E: And you didn't call it the K-T boundary, Steve.

S: It's no longer the K-T boundary. Now it's the K-Pg extinction for Paleogene.

J: And why didn't they send me an email when they changed that?

S: I know, right? I didn't get the memo either; I just had to read it. So, anyway, it's actually more of a controversy than I was aware of until maybe a couple of years ago. I started to realize this is actually a little more controversial, that the meteor impact 66 million years ago was pretty much the main cause of the dinosaur extinction.

Now, paleontologists are still debating amongst themselves whether or not dinosaurs as a group were already on the way out. One question is: did the dinosaurs survive past the K-Pg boundary. I think that has been pretty much put to bed, and the answer is no. That no dinosaur survived past the K-Pg boundary. So, clearly, that is the punctuation mark at the end of dinosaurs' time on Earth. But the question is, were they already in decline, and on their way out, and was the asteroid or the bolide just the coup de grâce, that it was the final blow that wiped them out.

B: That's the essence of the controversy right there.

S: That's the controversy, that's it. Was it solely responsible, or was it just one among many factors. The other factors that paleontologists discuss are, 1, there were fluctuating sea levels at that time; 2, there was a fluctuating climate at that time in terms of the temperature of the Earth; and 3, and probably the biggest one, is the volcanism and the Deccan Traps located in India. They were massively volcanically active; poisoning the atmosphere, changing the climate; and that could put a lot of stress on dinosaurs and other large animals at the time.

So, remember at the K-Pg extinction, all large Vertebrate groups, dinosaurs, Pleisiosaurs, mosasaurs, and Pterosaurs went extinct, as did many species of Plankton, tropical invertebrates, and reef dwellers. So, it was a widespread extinction. Mammals, birds, and insects actually did quite well. They did fine.

It definitely wasn't something that was unique to dinosaurs. The reason we're talking about this now is a recent review of all existing evidence, trying to address the specific question of were the dinosaurs in decline prior to the meteor impact. And the answer to that is mostly no. A careful review of the evidence shows that there essentially is no significant scientific evidence to support the conclusion that the dinosaurs were in decline at the time the meteor hit. And, therefore, the meteor probably was the primary, if not the sole, cause of the dinosaur extinction.

B: That's good.

S: Yeah,

B: I like it.

S: What you thought all along turns out to be true, and you can now comfortably ignore this controversy you didn't know about. But, the authors do hold out one tiny little exception.

B: Oh, god, what now?

J: Oh boy!

S: There was a slight decline in the species richness of North American ornithischians, but not therapods. So, there was a regional decline in one type of dinosaurs, mainly plant-eaters, the ornithischians. And they said, "Maybe that made dinosaurs more vulnerable to extinction – to the collapse of their ecosystem."

So, what's interesting is that that one tiny, little speculation is what the media ran with. And the headlines – even on sites that are normally very good, like Nature News, and the BBC – are reporting it as, "The dinosaurs died because of bad luck." One even said that if the meteor had hit several million years earlier or later, the dinosaurs would have survived. That is not what the paper concludes.

B: Wow!

S: The paper concludes there was basically no decline in dinosaurs, and the meteor wiped them out. And then there was this one little, "Yeah, okay, but the ornithischians were a little bit in decline in North America only, and maybe that made them more vulnerable. We see this pattern all the time, this ... half of what caught my interest with this story because I read the headline, I'm like, "Wow! Really? That's pretty unusual." And then I read the paper, it's like, the paper's not saying this!

The main evidence is not what the headlines go for. They pick out some little, tiny, little post script, but that's the thing that has the sexy headline. The dinosaurs died from bad luck!

B: Holy crap!

E: Oh, wow!

B: That's pathetic. Fail!

S: Total fail. Total fail reporting this story. Just the way it gets translated is just unbelievable. And you know, it also shows, you gotta go ... if I just read the press releases, that's the impression I would have walked away with. But you got to go to the original source. You read the paper, and it's like ... I read the whole paper. Because the paper actually is fascinating.

Anyone who's interested in this topic, the controversy over the extinction of the dinosaurs, this paper is an awesome primer. It goes over everything really well. And then in the discussion, it's very clear, that other than this one tiny exception, the evidence does not support any kind of general decline in dinosaurs as a group prior to the impact of the meteor.

Who's That Noisy (36:51)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Dot Matrix Printer

S: Alright, Evan, Who's that Noisy?

E: Yes, last week's Who's the Noisy, you remember this little tune? Remember this? Yeah.

(Scratchy sound playing Eye of the Tiger)

S: Heh, that's awesome.

J: Hey, Evan, can I ask you a question?

E: Yes, sir.

J: When we recorded the show last week, did I guess correctly?

E: Jay, you did guess correctly. You were the first one!

B: Jay, it seems so obvious now. (Laughs)

E: Jay, tell us what that was!

J: Tell us what you've won! That is the old dot matrix printers.

E: Remember those, dot matrix!

J: Yes, so the drum beat is the actual feed of the paper. And then the notes, somebody figured out, I guess, a way to print different things with it, you can get different frequencies out of it.

S: You could watch the whole thing on YouTube

J: Oh, okay. I didn't do that. I didn't cheat.

S: Well, I mean, after Evan confirmed that, yes, it was a dot-matrix printer, I watched the whole thing on YouTube, and you could see what it's printing. You know, it's just dots. It's not text or anything.

B: Really?

S: Yeah.

B: A dot-matrix printer?

S: It does the whole song really well. It's very funny to watch.

B: Oh, wow!

E: It is, and you know, of course, these things are not purposed to create music or stuff. But, hey, give people toys or technology, and they'll do all sorts of things with it that it wasn't supposed to do, though!

S: They have far too much time on their hands.

E: I suppose, so ...

B: I love people like that! I love 'em!

E: And it generated a ton of email, people having enjoyed that, realizing exactly what it was, expressing their own little comments about it, it was really cool to read. I spent a lot of time this week, 'cause there were hundreds of correct answers. But there can only be one winner each week. Rob McDermit, your name was chosen. Congratulations, you are this week's winner.

And I want to send out a thank you to Liam Bond, who's also a listener, who actually sent me the link for this particular noisy, from last week. So, thank you, Liam. I appreciate that.

S: Awesome. And what do you got for this week?

E: Okay, this week, here's a voice you may recognize. You might not, but it's interesting nonetheless. Here we go.

?: (Male voice) I went nuts! I just don't know what happened. I just lost it, and I just became a poor actor in New York. Like being a star student at MIT. I don't know. You tell me. I just ... crazy, I suppose. Swedish ... I don't know how to explain it.

E: And, go ahead and submit your answer. Correct or not, we don't care. We want to hear from you. is our email address. Or you can go ahead and post it on our forums, Look for the sub thread called Who's that Noisy for episode 473. Good luck everyone.

S: Thank you, Evan.

Interview With Bill Nye (41:37)[edit]

S: Alright, well, we recorded a really fun interview with Bill Nye the Science Guy while we were at TAM. So, we're gonna play some of that interview for you now!

(Music plays)

S: We're here at TAM 2014, and it's our distinct pleasure to have with us back again, Bill Nye, the Science Guy! Bill, welcome back to The Skeptic's Guide.

BN: It's so good to be back.

S: So, Bill, I asked you before we started if you wouldn't mind if we asked you about the Ham debate. I'm sure everyone's asking you about that. So, tell us how you feel. How did that go? Would you do it again? What do you think?

BN: Oh, it went great, for me, or us. I don't think I'd do it again because I don't know how much more ground there is to cover. However, I remind us that the audience is not Ken Ham, or Ken Ham's congregation, or ministry, as he calls it. The audience is everybody on the web. So, it's 3 and a half million views. And that's seriously, that's just in the first – what's it been – four months. It'll, I presume, just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Everywhere I go, people watched it! I'm getting my shoes shined today in the McCarran Airport. This guy, through a half dozen people. "Loved the debate, man! Way to go!" What I have not, people I've not dealt with yet are, "I hate you! You suck!" And they're coming. But I haven't met many of them yet.

S: I think that – we all watched the debate, of course – I mean, we ...

J: It was so cool!

S: It was cool!

BN: It's so nice of you guys!

B: It was an event! Come on!

S: I love debates. I mean, personally. A lot of people in our movement are really shy about debates, but I think they're great. So, you did a fabulous job. I think, what you did really well, to be honest with you, was you just stuck to science communicating, and you just told the science end of the spectrum really well. And I think that might have, in the end ... I think some people were worried you weren't addressing Ham's points, but he doesn't really have any points.

BN: I was gonna say, what is it beyond that he's got a book?

S: Yeah.

B: Right, right.

S: Yeah, you're better off just saying, this is the science, and isn't it cool, and let's all really be enthusiastic about science. And maybe that was actually the best approach to go.

BN: Well, I thought the most important thing, as I will say today many times, you may be right, if I'm not right. The most important thing is to keep your cool. Keep my cool. Because these guys say such extraordinary things. It's just ...

S: Easy to lose your head.

BN: Yeah!

E: Bill, how did you prepare for the debate?

BN: Oh, that's a great question. And thank you for asking.


BN: So, first of all, I was overconfident. Then I got to thinking about it, and I was terrified.

(Loud laughter)

B: It's probably healthy.

BN: Then, I went to see Eugenie Scott, and you guys know Josh Rosenau? He's the second in command there.

S: Yeah, yeah.

E: Oh, okay, alright.

BN: He's the head of research he's very good. And they really coached me, along with several other people from National Center for Science Education.

S: 'Genie says hi, by the way. She's here.

BN: Yeah, and I want to see her talk! Or hear her ... Wait, I'll do both. (Rogues laugh) So she really coached me. And then, do you guys know Don Prothero?

E: Oh, absolutely, yes. Good man.

BN: So, I made good. I told him I'd buy him dinner; and I bought him dinner night before last. He really helped out. And Michael Shermer. We met for lunch at Michael's house, and those people really coached me. And then I did some research. I mean I spent a little time. And one thing has led to another, and I'm writing a book. I mean, I've written a book. 89,000 words. And it comes out the first week of November.

J: This is about the whole experience.

BN: It's about, nah, it's just called, "Evolution: The Science of Creation."

B: Ooh! That's a great title!

BN: Yeah, I'll show ya.

E: Nice turn.

BN: In my slide show – it's all about me-e-e. (Rogues laugh) I have the cover, which I got yesterday, Thursday. I got, they sent the latest version of the cover. It's a JPEG.

S: Yeah.

BN: So, this is really exciting, but I mention this for me, for us, we have this whole thing. We're always preaching to the choir. But don't you feel like it's growing?

E: Yes, no question.

S: I don't like the term "preaching to the choir." We're educating people who are interested in science and critical thinking.

BN: And the other thing is, this thing that we all humans are so kooky for, it's a community. That's what TAM's all about, right? Like, you're thinking the same thing I'm thinking? Wow! What a relief, right? As I say, this wouldn't matter except for kids. By kids, I mean students, science students. And that's why it's really important to me. We cannot raise a generation of students who are scientifcally illiterate, and without critical thinking skill, and so I feel that that debate really has done that. Now, a lot of people thought I shouldn't do it.

J: Yeah, a lot of skeptics said it.

E: Because there's reasons why. We've seen historical instances in which the Gish Gallop has been employed by some of these people, and they run roughshod over ...

BN: Let me just ask you guys, because it is all about (whispers) me.

B: We don't deny that! We agree with you with that.

BN: What did I not screw up? I mean, I did it the way I was gonna do it.

S: My take was what I said already. It was one strategy to just ignore him, and just to make the case for science and evolution. That's actually a good strategy, because once you're on the defensive, you lose because he can create misconceptions in seconds that would take you minutes, dozens of minutes, to correct. So just forget him.

So that's one approach. It's kind of like the non-debate debate. The art of fighting without fighting.

B: Yes!

E: Right.

(Rogues laugh)

S: So ... I also totally agree, because I get this question a lot. I'm just in the middle of a debate with a 9/11 Truther. People would be like, "Why are you doing this?" It's like, he's not the audience! I don't care about him. I am talking to people who want information, who are on the fence who will be compelled by this. And I'm gonna teach them some critical thinking and facts!

BN: Or just the doubt's been introduced in their minds. That's the big thing.

S: Alright, the one thing our listeners will be very upset about if we don't bring this up, though. The one criticism that does come up is, "But Ham exploited this to raise money for his ..."

BN: Here's my claim.

S: You tell me.

BN: It's not over yet.

S: Okay.

BN: So, he held an online press conference. I don't know if you guys watched that.

E: I didn't.

BN: And there's no members of the press at a press conference in Answers in Genesis, it's all their own guys.

B: This is afterwards, or before?

BN: Afterwards, weeks later. So, two things. I got a letter saying that the debate did not influence it at all from a Mark Looy, who's second in command at Answers in ... maybe he's actually the head of Answers in Genesis. And saying it had no influence at all. And then they had this press conference saying it was the wind that blew ... but journalists in Kentucky are looking hard into this. They're trying to follow the money. And I have heard two people who've looked at the 990's, you know what I mean?

Now, this is hearsay, you guys, this is the worst form of evidence. But he may – and this is may, not verified yet, they are trying to find out – but he may have leveraged the loan for the Arc Park against the Creation Museum, and you know, his attendance is going down.

B: Oh, yeah.

BN: Because it's generally believed that his attendance is going down because he doesn't have new exhibits. This is in museum talk. So, what I did, you guys, I didn't give money to (inaudible), but I took the money from the debate, and I gave it to a planetary society.

E: Yes.

BN: And I also gave it to the Kentucky Museum of Science, or maybe it's called Kentucky Children's Museum, and the Cincinnati Museum of Science. You know, trying to bracket him. So, it's not ... in other words, I will say, in the short term, you may be right. But in the medium term, I think he's gonna have a lot of trouble.

E: The final reckoning is not in yet.

BN: That's right.

S: Yeah.

BN: It's only June of the first few months, people!


S: That's long though, attention span, for the public.

BN: What'd you say? I'm sorry.

(Bob laughs)

E: Gotcha for a second.

BN: Hilarious!

J: My only critique, is that you could have structured the debate to handle one or two topics, and had a moderator keep people on topic, which ... but I totally agree with Steve. After watching the debate, we were ... definitely more than once, you did such a good job, of just being ...

BN: Love you man!

J: Well, you insulated yourself! You were immune to him just going off on these insane tangents

BN: He was scalping Gish, he was.

E: Oh yeah!

J: He was trying, he tried. But overall, I just had a conversation with people an hour ago about this. What was the net result? I'm not sure. I don't know.

S: It's hard to measure, but ...

J: It is hard to measure.

S: I certainly encounter a lot of people who like, excited about science because I saw you on that debate.

BN: That's so nice!

S: That's a win, right?

BN: I've met several science teachers, and of course, this is a self-selecting group, who use it in class. They say they've played it in class, this spring.

E: Wow!

BN: I know, wow, yeah. That was not the plan. Cool.

B: Have you guys seen ... they had pictures of people holding up these goofy questions. I think they were people that were actually at the event, and they wrote questions, trying to explain, "Hey, Bill! What do you say about this type of thing."[1]

BN: If we're descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys ...

E: Exactly!

B: Right, that's a perfect example!

BN: What purpose do monkeys serve, exactly?

B: So, there was a lot of those pictures, and a lot of websites have been created showing what those people said, and then having somebody else hold another card responding to it, and they were just beautiful lessons on how to deal with ... I know, but it came out of it, and it's just one of the things that I just loved reading and making them look so ridiculous.[2]

BN: To us. But to his followers ...

B: Yes, yeah.

J: Oh yeah. But, so what? Like you said, you didn't convert anyone.

S: They were all gotcha questions. They were gotcha questions that reveal they don't know anything about the science of evolution.

BN: It's troubling, because we're the most technologically advanced society – you could say Japan – Finland is very, actually, New Zealand is very good. But this is where the iPhone's designed, right? And yet, we have these people in our midst that have no understanding of where an iPhone comes from, for example.

J: Or don't even care to question it.

BN: Yeah. So that's why we got ... and the big thing, you guys, for me, the critical issues are climate change and the future of science education, and engineers. So, Ken Ham denies climate change. I mean, that's one of his things. He's doing all he can to indoctrinate young people in that area, Kentucky, mostly.

E: He may see an income stream from going that approach too. A new revenue stream ...

BN: He does.

E: ... yeah, by appealing to the people who deny that climate change is happening.

BN: Well, I'm sure that they're the same people. I mean, if you were scientifically aware, you wouldn't ... I don't think you'd give Answers in Genesis any money, would you?

E: (laughs)

B: Probably not. But speaking of climate change, I saw you on John Oliver's show.

BN: That was big fun.

B: And that was fantastic! I just loved it because none of the people actually stress that point, that you can't have the scientific position here, and then a denier here, when there's ... the false balance is ridiculous. And he just brought, like, what, 97 scientists on.

BN: 96. So I was 97.

B: Okay, but they were all speaking in this cacophony.

BN: I just noticed, you guys, what a great thing it was. It's Mother's Day, alright? And these are actors. "Sure! I'll be an extra on Mother's Day. Sure, okay." (Rogues laugh) Just shows ya, it's a tough business. But everybody was really cool, really gracious, and people were excited to participate. You know, John Oliver's really come into his own.

B: Really!

E: Oh boy.

B: He's been nailing it on his show.

S: Yeah, humor's a great vehicle for exposing nonsense.

BN: Well, this business of irony. There are books written about the nature of laughter, and what you find ironic. And you'll be shocked to learn that what Michael Shermer calls "socially liberal" - is that what he says? Or is it liberal social? Socially liberal people have a much more highly developed sense of irony. And this is from brain scans. I didn't ... not my thing!

E: It's not opinion, it's a fact!

BN: I've been reading this book, "Ha!" about the nature of laughter, and it's really fascinating.

J: So, Bill, tell us about the things that you're doing with the government to help affect change.

BN: The government? Well, just when the White House calls, I show up.

S: You've got the red phone? The hotline?

BN: Well, sort of. You may not know, but there's something called the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Somewhat disclosure – a guy who works there was a grad student under the guy who started the Space Policy Institute. So, he'll call me, or text me. Or he'll have somebody call me or text me. And if the President asks you to come to the White House science fair, you show up, sorry man.

And they said, "Maker Faire", a few weeks ago, and that was cool. These people make kooky stuff in order, or learning the technology, developing the technology that allows us to make things that were not possible to make. You know, I'm a mechanical engineer, and now we're all into additive manufacturing, have you heard this expression?

B: Yes.

BN: There didn't use to be any such thing. There was lost-wax casting.

E: Right

BN: Or was, still is ... and moulding, and stuff. And that's in a sense, additive manufacturing, but not like printing rocket engine nozzles.

B: Yeah, right?

E: I know!

J: I know, tell me about it.

E: Exciting.

J: I can't believe that.

BN: It's cool. It's exciting.

S: How involved are you, at all, as a planetary society, with the Dragon, or other ...

BN: Oh, so Elon Musk was on our board for many years, or a few years, but he had to recuse himself when he got the government contract for commercial crewed space flight. So SpaceX has gotten, this is my memory, but it's right around $500 million, right around half a billion dollars from NASA. And so has Sierra Nevada Space, and another one.

J: The Orion?

BN: The Orion! Yeah, Boeing has also gotten money. So, the Orion, everybody, is a compromise. But that's the nature of politics.

S: What do you think? What's the bottom line? What's your feeling about the Orion? Is that gonna be a useful addition, or is it gonna be a wasteful boondoggle, or somewhere in between?

BN: I'm on camera, right? We are hopeful that it's very successful.

(Evan laughs)

S: (Quiet) Yeah.

BN: No, you guys, you can go to Cape Canaveral, and there is the constellation gantry tower. You know what I mean by this? This thing that holds up a rocket, that was never built because it was underfunded from the get-go, and people presumed, as has happened so often in that past, that once you've got a program started, people will just keep it going no matter what. Space man, this is America. This is what we're gonna do.

But after a while, somebody said, "Wait, you're way off in your budget. You're just too far off." And so Orion's what's left over from that.

J: And it's actually derivative of a few different attempts, right?

BN: Well, everybody, it's fairly popular when you run for President, if you guys go that route, to say we're gonna go to the Moon. It's really popular to say we're gonna go to Mars. But the scale of it, as this guy we work with – we have a lobbyist at the Planetary Society. He says these people in Congress think it's Pepsi or Coke, the Moon or Mars.

No, one's three days, the other is three years. Keeping people alive for three years in deep space with radiation, with no gravity, it's just not so trivial. Not so easy.

E: All kinds of problems.

J: Keeping them from going crazy in a spaceship for three years is a challenge.

BN: So, I didn't write this joke; it was told to me by Congressman Adam Schiff, who, his district used to include JPL, Jet Propulsion Lab. Now it doesn't, that's Judy Chu, but now, it still includes Caltech, so he's in that Pasedena space community.

Alright, so they send this mission to Mars that's auto-return. What's it called, Mars Frontier? Anyway, it's a husband and wife that are of an age where they can no longer have children. So they fly out – and this will be possible in the year 2018. There's an automatic return if you get the trajectory just so, the orbit of Mars will sling you right back to Earth. So, you won't land, you'll just woo-o-o, come back. Take pictures, and I guess it'd be great.

So, in the context of this joke, gentlemen, the spacecraft and everything's going well, but on the way back, suddenly there's no communication. There's no words from the thing. It automatically gets in orbit around the Earth, no communication. They go up with another spacecraft, and look in the window, and both the husband and wife have been dismembered, been torn limb from limb. How is this possible? And then, Adam Schiff says, "Well, you've never been married."

E: Oh my god!

(Rogues laugh)

BN: So, to your point, this is a very serious concern. 400 days with the same people in a room as big as this table. There's some trouble.

E: People are still people.

B: To me, the biggest problem is the radiation that you would encounter. No one has any .. is anyone addressing that?

BN: Yep, well people

B: Is it a deal breaker?

BN: There are people who argue the radiation is not that strong.

B: Really?

BN: But I'm not sure that's true. And so, by the way, changing it back to ... and the Planetary Society, we hope, again, to launch, to fly, this thing called the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment. Did you hear about that? LIFE? So, it's a titanium puck with several microbes that are very well characterized and purified, and properly freeze-dried, and some water bears, the tardigrades.

B: Tardigrades, they're awesome! They're incredible.

E: Good imitation!

J: You're gonna see if they're gonna die?

BN: I can't see under the table? And then we'd send them, we were gonna send them to Phobos and back, the moon of Mars. But, it crashed. It was a Russian rocket. Fobos Grunt, it was called. Grunt is Russian, my understanding, is Russian for soil. Anyway, it was gonna scoop up some Phobos, but it crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

So, we might get a chance to fly that again. And, to your point, we'll see if they can take this radiation. Then, presumably, they'd come back, and we'd light 'em up again, put warm water on them and see what happens. So, like one of the questions ... do you know radiodurans?

B: Radiodurans! Extremophile!

BN: Who doesn't love those?

B: Right? It's my favourite microorganism.

BN: Yeah, way to go.

(Rogues laugh)

BN: So, why does that bacterium have the capability to withstand radiation? This is a cool, evolutionary ...

J: Does it absorb it?

B: No, it blows apart the DNA, and it can reform. It's amazing stuff. Yeah.

J: It reconstitutes its own DNA.

S: It's also partly that it's simplified its DNA as much as possible, so there are fewer opportunities for it being destroyed.

BN: No, but here's the thing. Here's what we love to be charmed by in astrobiology, not quite science fiction, thinking out louding, is maybe Mars was hit by an impactor 3 billion years ago. A living thing got into space on a meteorite before it became a meteorite, and just in 17,000 quick years, in a home in orbit, it made its way to the Earth, and we are all ...

E: So we are all Martians.

B: Panspermia, yeah.

BN: It's just a cool thing to wonder about, and it's a wonderful thing to investigate. We have the capability, this generation of people, to send the right spacecraft there and look into that question more carefully. I mean, if we were to discover evidence of life on Mars, it would change the world!

J: Say it.

E: (Accent) Change the world!

(Rogues laugh)

Science or Fiction (1:03:06)[edit]

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items, or facts, two real, and one fake. Then I ask my expert skeptics to tell me which one they think is the fake. Are you guys ready for this week?

R: We have a theme this week.

E: Oh yeah. As ready as last week.

S: Nah, there's no real theme this week.

R: Ah, okay.

S: No theme. Okay, here we go: Item #1: A recently published analysis indicates that if we continue our current mix of electricity generation, 20-40% of the world will have serious water shortage by 2020, and there will be a global water shortage by 2040. Item #2: Physicists have successfully separated the properties of a particle from the particle itself. So the particle was in one location while its magnetic moment was in another. And Item #3: Researchers have successfully created Cooper pairs, the hallmark of superconductivity in an indium alloy at near room temperature.

R: What?!

(Rogues laugh)

E: You heard him.

R: Why couldn't there have been a theme, and the theme was cheetahs, or sloths?

E: Yeah, cuddly animals or ...

R: Instead, the theme is shit Rebecca doesn't know! Again! I'm getting sick of this, Steve.

E: Things that go meow.

B: I don't mind!

R: Ugh! Bob, go first.

S: Yeah, Bob is going last. Evan, you go first.

R: Ugh!

B: He he hee!

E: Okay. Steve, I'm gonna start with the first one, in which you wrote, "A recently published analysis indicates that blah, blah, blah,"

S: Yes.

E: Exactly!

S: Yada yada

E: If we continue our current mix of electricity generation, okay, I buy that. 20-40% of the world will have serious water shortage! Okay, why is that? By 2020? And there'll be a global water shortage by 2040? I don't know. This smacks of other things we've kind of heard about in the past, in which these sorts of predictions are made, and they don't always turn out to, I think, be as serious as this. That's not to say it's not a serious issue, but these things tend to get I think, overestimated, and maybe a little over hyped. I don't know if that's one of these.

Well, moving on to the second one, "Physicists have successfully separated the properties of a particle from the particle." That's mind boggling, frankly. I don't think there's any other way to put it. Particle was in one location. Its magnetic moment (laughs) was in another. Oh, I've never heard that term, "Magnetic moment," before.

J: I know! I thought that was odd.

B: Where you been?

E: What? Magnetic moment?

R: I'm really glad he said that, because I assumed I was the only person who didn't know.

E: Bob, tell me one time that those words have ever been spoken like that on this show. I can't remember a single time. We've never talked about the magnetic moment of particles, never!

B: You know, I bet I've mentioned it a couple times in the last 470 episodes.

S: Yeah, I bet he has.

E: Some listener will correct me on that if it's out there, but I frankly, I don't remember.

B: Seriously, I forget what we talk about last week, dude. Come on.

E: Okay, this is too wild, I think, to not be true. Why the hell, Steve, would you throw this in here? This is, you're really trying to trip us up here. And how they've done it, who the hell knows? High speed collisions, you know? Whatever.

The last one, researchers have successfully created Cooper pairs. An indium alloy at near room temperature. In an indium alloy at near room temperature. Okay. Indium, huh? So, basically, have we actually hit the gold standard here?

S: The holy grail.

E: Well, I mean, is this some sort of ...

R: Cold fusion?

E: ... what were we talking about. Cold fusion! Thank you. Kind of thing. It's kind of what we're talking about 'cause of the whole room temperature thing. That seems to be very, very ... I'll go with my gut and say that I think the water shortage one is the fiction. I think there's some merit to it, there's something going on. I think that those estimates are too soon though. We may have a serious problem maybe a hundred years from now, but not 5, 8, one generation from now. I think that's an exaggeration. So, that one's fiction.

S: Okay, Jay.

J: Okay, this first one, very smart, Steve. This first one about the water, the water shortage. I've read quite a bit about that. I've heard about it. I think I've seen a TV show about the water shortage claims that are coming, and a lot of this hype about, are we shipping all of our water to China, and everything? I don't know.

I do think though, that there may be some truth in this, but I'm not quite sure that this news item itself is completely true. It seems plausible that we could have water shortages. I just don't know, Steve, the connection here with electricity. I'm a little confused about.

Okay, the second one about the particle being separated from its magnetic moment. I kind of agree with Evan. It's an oddball item, and it seems to be either that they tried to do it, and they couldn't do it. I just don't see a good fake here.

This last one, however, I would think that if this happened, the way that Steve is saying it, that there'd be nothing preventing my browser from exploding in my face with news items coming up about room temperature superconductivity. So I'm gonna say that the third one is the fake.

S: Okay, Rebecca.

R: Yeah, that's where I was leaning. The only one of these that I can even really parse is the one about electricity generation and water shortage. And yeah, I do know that there is a connection between those two. I think that it's because nuclear power plants and coal plants too, maybe, require a lot of water for cooling. That one makes sense to me, and, yeah, global water shortage by 2040, that can mean a lot of things. It's kind of vague, what kind of shortage are we talking about? We obviously already have problems with droughts and stuff in parts of the United States, but also, we fly drinking water from Fiji into our Starbucks. So ...

B: Really?

R: Yeah! Fiji water? Do you not know about Fiji water? Fiji water literally takes the only potable water in Fiji, and leaves the residents to drink sewage water. Fun times. So (Laughs) yeah. Global water shortage, okay, probably something that majorly affects the developing nations more, but yeah.

So, I'm going between the other two. I don't know what a magnetic moment is. I assumed it's something like its position, in space or something. I don't know. Why not? But yeah, the room temperature thing. I was wondering if it was something like cold fusion-esque, and Evan and Jay seem to think so. And so, I think, yeah. If that's what this has to do with, then, yeah, I find that the least believable. So I'm going to go with the Cooper pairs at room temperature being the fiction.

S: A-a-and, Bob.

B: Alright, the water shortage, these numbers seem a little dramatic to me. I always heard it's coming. 20-40%! You know, 6 years, potentially? Seri ... and 2040 ... what is a global water shortage? How extensive? How global would that be? But I don't have huge problems with that.

The second one, yeah, quantum mechanics is crazy! Absolutely, I totally buy this. I mean, you talking about things like entanglement and superposition, yeah, I could totally see this. It's a little surprising to me, but you gotta just learn to roll with quantum mechanics, unless of course, the claims are pseudoscientific. But, so yeah, that one doesn't surprise me. I really, really hope that's true, 'cause that's fantastic.

Yeah, I got a problem with the third one. Cooper pairs, come on. Room temperature? No. We're not there yet. And I have to agree with Jay that this would be all over. This would be huge. That's the holy grail, right there! Room temperature.

S: (Scottish accent) The Grail!

B: (inaudiable) I remember first hearing about high temperature superconductivity back, what Steve, '90's? Early '90's? No, late '80's maybe.

S: Something like that.

B: And I'm thinking, "Oh boy!" You know, and now, twenty-something, thirty years later, it's still mysterious. So, yeah, I'm just not buying that we've got that yet. I mean, I really hope I'm wrong on this one, but I severely doubt it, so that's fiction.

S: Okay, well, you all agree with #2, so let's start there. Physicists have successfully separated the properties of a particle from the particle itself. So, the particle was in one place, while its magnetic moment was in another. You guys all think this one is science ...

R: Sure.

S: and this one is ... So you guys don't know what a magnetic moment is?

R: Well, Bob ... I

J: I know what it is!

E: It's when you look across the room, and you stare at that special person in the eyes, and you have a connection that you can't quite explain.

R: (Singing) This magnetic moment.

S: Yeah, so the magnetic moment of a magnet is a quantity that determines the torque it will experience in an external magnetic field.

B: You are correct, sir!

R: Okay.

S: Yeah, so, it's basically a property of the magnetic, its own magnetism, think about it that way. A bar magnet, an electron, a molecule, and a planet all have magnetic moments. And apparently, so do neutrons. This one is science. And Bob's right. That wacky quantum mechanics can do anything, apparently.

B: Almost.

S: Very cool.

R: Deus ex machina of Science or Fiction.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(Bob laughs)

S: So, what the scientists did was they used a neutron interferometer. Ever hear of that, Bob?

B: Yeah.

S: Yeah, you take a beam of neutrons, you split them into two paths, or the neutrons could basically take one of two ...

J: The two paths, I know.

B: What?

J: You actually described it pretty well, Steve. Now, taking that to the next step though, when you decouple these power converters ...

S: Yeah.

J: and you cross phase them through the actual early, early Java converter type systems.

B: (Snickering) Java ...

J: What you get is a semi crossed paralaxed paralyzation of the comatose cremators.

(Bob laughs)

E: Did you get the power converters at Tosche Station?

B: Technobabble!

S: Right. Now, what really happened was, you could send this beam of neutrons simultaneously down two paths! This is standard quantum mechanics, right?

J: Are you saying there's two paths you can go down, but in the long run, it's not too late to change the road you're on?

S: That's correct, because the neutrons can decide later if they went down Path A, or Path B, right? They go down both simultaneously until they interact with something, then they have to choose the path. That's standard quantum mechanics. But what they were able to do in this experiment was by aligning the magnetic moments of the two streams, and then selecting for one stream, they could select for neutrons that had to go through one path. Does that make sense? They basically filtered out one of the two paths.

So now they have, even though those streams came together again, they could select out the neutrons that chose Path A, and filter out all the neutrons that chose Path B. But at the same time, they could also align the magnetic moment of the neutrons, and they did it differently for the two paths. And what they were able to show was that the neutrons at the other end went down Path A, but their magnetic moment essentially went down Path B. Does that make sense?

E: Uh ...

B: That's sweet as hell, man.

E: Sure!

B: I love quantum mechanics.

S: So, they separated the particle from its own magnetic moment.

R: Okay.

S: Yeah, it's ...

B: I love it!

S: Crazy quantum mechanics. Alright, so that one is science. So, I guess we'll go on to #3. Researchers have successfully created Cooper pairs, the hallmark of superconductivity in an indium alloy at near room temperature. Bob, Jay, and Rebecca think this one is fiction. Evan thinks this one is science. And this one is ... so you guys are all assuming that creating Cooper pairs ...

B: Oh, god.

S: ... is equal to superconductivity.

R: Look, I don't know, Steve.

J: Yeah, I am!

S: What if they were able to create Cooper pairs even though the material itself wasn't superconducting? Bob, you know what Cooper pairs are.

B: Yeah, the electrons get bound together, and they can just slide through, and not be disturbed by any part of the material. It's one of the hallmarks of a special class of superconductivity, but, yeah, technically, you're right. And if it's true, I'm gonna kill you.

(Rogues laugh)

S: Well ...

E: On his birthday?

S: It is technically correct, but this one is the fiction!

R: Hurray!

J: Yeah!

S: So ...

R: Oh my god! I got one right!

(Bob laughs)

S: Cooper pairs are basically superconductivity. But, this is based on a real item. I always get a chuckle when you guys say, "How could Steve think of this?" Well, I'm not making stuff up. I'm always basing it off of some item. I'm just tweaking.

B: He's not that creative!

S: Yeah, I don't have to be that creative, yeah. What this ... the item basically is just physicists understanding a little bit better, the nature of superconductivity. And the hope is that one day, one magical day, they'll use this knowledge in order to be able to finally get the "holy grail," and make room temperature superconductors. But, yeah, they have not created anything. They just were able to, made some further investigations sort of understanding, essentially the quantum glue that holds these Cooper pairs together. That was the breakthrough.

J: Very cool

S: Yeah. But they did use indium; So, I pulled that out of there. Indium, by the way, indium is an element. It is atomic number 49. It is a metal. It's a soft metal with a fairly low melting point. It's chemically similar to gallium and thallium. Indium. Pretty cool.

E: It sounds like two dwarves from Lord of the Rings.

(Jay laughs)

B: Gallium! Thallium!

(Rogues laugh)

S: Right, okay, let's go on to #1. A recently published analysis indicates that if we continue our current mix of electricity generation, 20 to 40% of the world will have serious water shortage by 2020, and there will be a global water shortage by 2040 is ... science. Doesn't mean this is going to come ...

R: Hooray for water scarcity!

S: So, the connection, as Rebecca said, is we need to use a lot of water to cool these power generators. Whether it's nuclear, or coal, or whatever. You can't let them overheat. A lot of power plants don't really track how much water they're using. So the authors are saying this is a problem. We need to more carefully track this.

R: Really? Jeez.

S: Yeah, and what they mean by a water shortage is that you will essentially have to choose between power generation and drinking water, that we won't have enough to do both.

E: Hrmm...

S: By 2040, which doesn't sound that far in the future when you think about it...

E: A generation.

S: Yeah, that the entire world will be experiencing this water shortage if we are meeting our electricity needs at that time with our current mix of power generation. So, what's the solution? Well, they make a number of recommendations. Improve energy efficiency; better research on alternative cooling cycles; researching on how much water power plants use; massive investments in wind and solar, because wind and solar don't use a lot of water; and abandon fossil fuel facilities in all water stressed places, which is, they say, half the planet, because that's what uses the most water to make electricity.

So, yeah, pretty frightening extrapolation, but of course, it's one study, this is their analysis. These are always difficult. There's a lot of moving parts, you know.

E: That's why I thought it wasn't science, you know.

S: Yeah, you know. I just said, it's a published analysis that indicates this. I thought you could believe it or not believe it. But any single analysis like this, like, "We're reaching peak oil!" Any of those, you always got to take them with a grain of salt because, you know, you leave out one factor, and it can change the whole outcome, you know? So, it's very tricky. And I'd like to see that there's a consensus, that multiple independent analyses are overlapping, coming to the same conclusion. So ... but it definitely is one more reason that even if their projections are overly grim, it's one more reason to get off fossil fuels, and to make, as Bob suggests, a massive investment in at least solar energy. So, there you have it. Good job, guys!

J: Thank you!

B: Thank you, except Evan.

R: Thank you!

Announcements: (1:20:33)[edit]

S: Jay, before we get to the quote, I want to point out a couple of things. First of all, I want to give a very sincere thank you to everyone who has donated to our legal defense fund. We are already, we've covered about 60% of the legal expenses that we have made so far. So, we have covered a huge chunk of our legal expenses with the donations.

Obviously, we can't know ahead of time what the ultimate costs are gonna be. I have estimates from my lawyer, and it's a lot. You know, it's probably gonna be somewhere between 60 and 70,000 dollars if the thing goes the distance. So, we do have a ways to go before we got there. But, in just one week, there has been an incredible outpouring of support for the SGU, for our defense against this lawsuit, and of course, people donating to support our defense, and we greatly, greatly appreciate it.

We also wanted to point out that the SGU, always looking to expand our activity, has a new webpage on our SGU homepage, the Science News page. So, if you go to, and you click on the science news banner, you will see that we're putting up about two to three news items per day. We're going to be expanding it, but we're selecting items that are like, the coolest news items of the day. And Evan is doing some reviews of ... Evan has got, you've got two that you're doing. Why don't you describe them really quick for us, Evan.

E: Yeah, thanks, Steve. So, I am doing two reviews, like, you said. One is ... I call it the SGU Cutting Room Floor. So, these are some items that we would have loved to have gotten to on the last episode of the show, but just didn't have the time. There's always more items than we have time for. And then the other one is called the Top 5 Ridiculous Comments of the Week. So, I scour the internet, looking for people making all sorts of ridiculous comments on all sorts of different things, and I try to condense that down to the top 5 each week. So ...

S: Yep, and we're adding some special segments. We have a Weird, Wildlife Wednesday segment that we're putting out. Kate Christian is doing that for us. Kate's really been helpful with all of our social media efforts. So, I'd like to thank her as well for helping us get this going. And send us, if you have any ideas for science news bits you'd like to see on the Science News page, let us know. We're always looking to expand the content that we're putting there.

And, of course, all of this is interfacing with our Facebook page, which we have been extremely active on as well. So, if you haven't checked out our Facebook page recently, check it out. Check out our Science News page. Send us ideas for stuff you'd like to see there.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:14)[edit]

S: Alright, Jay, give us the quote.

J: "I hope that every person at one point in their life has the opportunity to have something that is at the heart of their being, something so central to their being that if they lose it they won’t feel they’re human anymore, to be proved wrong because that’s the liberation that science provides. The realization that to assume the truth, to assume the answer before you ask the questions leads you nowhere." (Shouting) Lawrence M. Krauss!

S: I like that! I like that. It's a very good quote. It is a good, sobering, humbling experience to have something you firmly believe be proven completely and utterly wrong.

J: That was sent in by a listener named, Brendan Shwass, from New Zealand. Brendan, we're fully expecting to meet you in person when we will be in New Zealand, I think, what is that, the first week of December?

S: Yeah. Well, thanks for joining me this week, everyone.

B: Sure, Steve.

R: Thank you, Steve.

B: Happy birthday!

R: Happy birthday!

S: Thank you guys.

R: What a better way to spend your birthday.

J: I love you.

E: Hey, happy birthda-a-ay!

J: You're one of the best people I know, Steve.

S: Thank you, thank you brother. 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]

Before Greenwich got Greenwich Mean Time, it was zero longitude, used by sailors.[3]

All batteries need to have three things in order to work: An electrolite, an anode, and a cathode.[4]

The KT extinction boundary has been renamed the K-Pg boundary.

Humanity is headed for a global water shortage[5]


  1. 22 Questions for Bill Nye
  2. 22 Answers for creationists
  3. Zero Longitude
  4. Battery components
  5. Looming water shortage
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