SGU Episode 493

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SGU Episode 493
20th Dec 2014
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 492                      SGU 494

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


GH: George Hrab

Quote of the Week

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

This Day in Skepticism (1:10)[edit]

  • December 20, 1900: William Dubois Duddell invents the first electrical instrument

Special Report (5:12)[edit]

S: So, Bertrand Russell, everyone know who Bertrand Russell was?

J: Oh course.

E: Yeah

R: I just read a great graphic novel called Logicomics, that is a history of Bertrand Russell's life in comic form.

S: Yeah, so apparently, Bertrand Russell had his ten commandments.

GH: Yeah

S: Which were like, ten commandments of reason, as opposed to ten commandments of arbitrary, primitive, sheep-herder rules, or whatever.

(Audience laughs)

R: There's an angry email.

GH: 1951


?: Oh, I resent that!

GH: 1951, Bertrand Russell came up with these ten commandments. I had never heard of these particular ones. And they just caught my eye. And I thought we'd share them. If you'd maybe comment as they go. I don't know if they're in reverse order, or what. But I'm just gonna read them one through ten. So here's number one: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

S: Great word, about that.

GH: I this is number one.

S: I beat you.

B: Got me, beat me.

GH: It might not be number one. Uh, number two: Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light. Good rule. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

Audience: Oh-h-h!

S: That's a good one.

GH: That should be on every teacher's blackboard.

S: Right

GH: You know? Every shit

B: Wow!

GH: teacher you ever had.

B: I like that.

GH: Four: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument, and not by authority. For victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory. I'm not sure why he only mentioned the husband, and not the thing, but whatever.

R: I'm not sure why those were the only two options.

GH: I know, yeah.

R: Maybe you can solve it just by being like, "Let's watch Netflix."

GH: It is 1951, so I guess, yes, some leeway. Number five: Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

J: Yeah!

S: It's good, it's a tricky one, though. I mean

B: Yes

S: just let me pause for a moment on that one. Authority issue always is tricky. Like, the argument from authority, very context-dependent. What we mean by that is that authority itself is no guarantee of being correct. It's not something upon which you should rest any argument. However, there's having respect for appropriate expertise is fine, it's reasonable. The consensus of scientific opinion,

GH: Consensus, yeah.

S: you know. So I think people have a hard time with that one, 'cause you could use that to be a contrarian. You could use that to reject anything you don't like, because everything is ultimately based upon authority.

R: But in a way, that's true of every tenet of skepticism

S: Yeah

R: so to speak, when you take it to its extreme, it becomes hyperskepticism, and useless.

S: Right, everything is context-dependent. It requires judgment, right? There're rules of thumb, but you can't - it's almost kind of hard to codify them as commandments.

GH: Right

J: We could sharpen that one to say more of, just, always have your balogny detector up and running, right? So, with any source of authority, just make sure that you're keeping your intellect and balogny ...

GH: But I think, if you look at the second part of it, it says, "for there are always contrary authorities to be found," I think maybe not so much saying that, you know, don't just blanketly not respect authority, but if you use authority, be aware that someone arguing

S: Yeah

GH: with you will have their own experts.

S: Right

GH: Which, they will have their own opinions.

S: Which we know is true.

J: Yeah

S: Yeah

GH: Yeah, so you need to not just have that argument from authority, but also be able to sort of back it up.

S: Right.

GH: I think the second part of it is

S: Yeah

GH: almost as important. Um, number six: Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious. For if you do, the opinions will suppress you. So, yeah, untasteful things, sometimes, you have to accept them, because of the evidence. Number seven: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric. That's another one that's

S: That's another one.

(George winces)

S: It's kind of hard to boil it down.

GH: (Mocking voice) But Einstein was ... no, they didn't.

S: No, no

(Audience laughs)

S: That's the Galileo gambit,

R: Galileo.

S: So the extreme version of that is the Galileo gambit,

GH: Right

S: which is funny, because it's like we, over the years, we're gonna attract some crank emails, right? There was this one year, leading up to, you remember this? Like, leading up to 2000, there was that guy, this was just before the podcast. This was just

B: Yeah

S: based upon New England Skeptical Society, who would, we get this weekly email from this guy who's like, "I outperform Einstein," and blah blah blah.

R: I outperform Einstein?

B: I think that's a direct quote.

S: And he was making these direct predictions about 2000.

GH: The arc keyboard thing.

S: That was the Y2K thing. And then

GH: Yeah

S: when nothing happened on Y2K, I emailed him back. "So, what happened?"


S: He just didn't respond for some strange reason.

R: Well, he still outperformed Einstein, who had not a thing to say about Y2K.

S: Y2K, that's true.

J: I think the seventh one, which, George, could you read seven again? I have a point to add to that.

GH: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

J: I mean, I can interpret that being very useful. You know, don't, eccentric thinking, out of the box, non-conventional, that's all good stuff. And he is saying that, you know, things that we believe today, that are common knowledge today, at one point were avant guarde, right?

S: Right, but

R: You have to

J: That's essentially what he's saying.

R: understand, Bertrand Russell didn't live during the internet, when every dumb response was just beaten over your head, like the Galileo thing.

B: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

R: Like, that was

S: Yeah, you could see

R: Yeah

S: how this is a little dated. But obviously, the idea there is legitimate, but there's so many other avenues to it. Like we were saying, like don't be eccentric just to be eccentric though, because we do see people who I think are more contrarian than skeptics. They take the eccentric or the out view just because that's the view.

GH: Cynical contrarian.

R: Yeah

S: So the way I sort of summarize that

R: Like people who commute to work on unicycles.

S: (Snickers) Yeah, right.

R: There's no need. No need.

GH: God, there's this guy in Bethlehem.

R: Yeah, there's always one.

GH: No, no. He's got like an uber-unicycle. So it's not just like a unicycle

R: So you can like, order it on the phone and have it

GH: Exactly, I know! It's this, the wheel is like, it's like an old-timey bike, but just -

B: Yeah, sure.

GH: But just the front part!

R: So just the penny part of the penny part.

GH: Just the penny part of the penny part.

J: Right

GH: I don't even want to know, but the thing is like, okay, you don't want to ride your unicycle. It's - literally, the guy is like, his seat is like this. And that's a unicycle. So he is goin' around town, but there is this look of like,

R: Smug

GH: smug pride as he rides around with his ass shaking on his.

J: Does he have a hippie beard?

GH: No, no hippie beard, but he's dressed as if he's cycling Tour de France. So he's got cycling gear.

S: Ah! Yes.

GH: Cycling gear.

J: Cycling gear?

GH: Yes, the helmet, the shoes,

R: Yeah

GH: you know, like

E: You know what he needs?

?: That's awesome!

GH: It's kind of like, and as you pass him, you know, as you're walking


GH: and you pass him on the sidewalk,

R: Like a sheeple.

GH: No no! He gives this look like, "That's right! Here I go! Check it out! That's right!"

J: He's figured it out!

R: Yeah

GH: That's like, I'm gonna go, "Du-u-u-ude!!!" Like Forest Gump, like I'm gonna follow this guy now

J: Yeah

GH: on my own little, crappy, one-wheeled

B: Ha ha!

R: Yeah

GH: piece of shit.

R: That's what we call the urban attention-seeker.

GH: Oh my god! It's like


GH: it's like the guy at a party with an iguana. And every like

R: Yep

GH: (Exasperated voice) All right! Tell me about your iguana!

R: I have a ferret! I've found most my ferrets are rats. But the iguana does come up.

GH: So, ya got a lizard on your shoulder huh? Go ahead, tell me about

R: Tell me about it.

GH: it.

R: Yeah

GH: (Groans). Yeah

J: So, George, you're saying that basically, the unicycle does not get him laid?


R: It might. There's some ...

J: You think there's a unicycle woman out there that is dying to meet the unicycle guy?

R: Jay, I used to work with a guy who was a clown with Barnabum Baily. And he got so much crazy clown fetish tail like ...

J: I thought you were gonna say somethin' else.

? It was like Seltzer bottles, like

R: What did you think I was gonna say?


R: I like the idea that there was a crazier thing than women who are just obsessed with clowns.

J: Like, what's clown foreplay like?


R: He described it to me, and it's not something I could go into.

J: They squeeze his nose?

R: No, 'cause

E: Did you get in the back seat of his tiny little car?


J: Imagine, he picks the date up in that tiny, little car.

S: Yeah

B: Wait,

R: Pick up sixteen dates.


GH: Four play, six-play, sixteen-play, twenty-four-play.

E: They have big feet though, so

J: (Inaudible)

R: Big noses.

S: Did we squeeze every ounce of humor out of the clown sex?


S: I don't know. I'm thinking

R: This show will never end.


E: Or go to air.

E: Number eight. Oh yeah! Right! Duh!

GH: Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement. For, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement.

J: Yeah

R: Yeah, I agree with that. Yes.

GH: That's you know, echo chamber thing.

J: Yeah, have the balls to politely

R: That was a joke I made, about the thing

J: disagree, right? Don't agree for agreement's sake at the water cooler. You know, say if you don't agree, and have a discussion about it.

R: I don't agree with you.

B: And back it up.

S: Yeah

J: Wha?

S: Politely disagree.

J: I'm wrong.

R: I'm not gonna get old.


R: Somebody needs to tell me to stop, 'cause I'm not gonna stop by myself! (Laughs)

GH: Number nine:

J: Did not get me on that!

GH: Tell Rebecca to stop!


R: Even uncle Berty knew.

GH: It's funny how he says find more pleasure in intelligent dissent. Not just seek out, but realize that you learn more about your own position when you argue with someone

S: Yeah

GH: that disagrees with you, especially when they're really good at it.

E: Um hmm

S: I love arguing with people who disagree with me. I do! It's great.

GH: Yeah. So, we're all waiting for the ...

S: That was it.

R: Yup, that's it.

GH: Number nine:

R: Do you know what Steve does with his time?

S: I used to! So, all right,

R: Oh, no.

S: People, you said it. So, people, especially when I lived in Baltimore. Anybody here from Baltimore?

R: Balimore.

S: Balimore? Balimore, Maryland. It's a very special city. And

R: As if you would

GH: Did you forget you were in Australia for a second?

S: I did.

R: Yeah, has anyone seen The Buyer?

S: I forgot, the wire, right.

E: Yeah, okay. They know what Balimore is.

S: I lived in Baltimore, where The Wire was fimed. And people would come around,

R: That's where Steve's from. Can't you see it?

S: They would come around, and they would want to argue with you about creationism on your doorstep. And I would! For like, hours. It was fun! I cut my teeth on door-to-door creationists. <-- Today I learned -->It was fun.

GH: Uh... nine: Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient. For it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

J: (British accent) Absolutely.

E: That's where Al Gore got the title.

S: Yeah

GH: Scrupulously truthful. I like that.

R: Yep

GH: And finally, number ten: Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise. For only a fool will think that it is happiness.

J: So, could you guys add anything to that list?

S: Yeah, what would be your eleventh commandment?

GH: Don't be a dick.


B: Read my mind.

J: Yeah, that's what I was thinking.

GH: Whatever Bertrand Russell's version of that would be in terms of

S: Yeah, don't take pleasure in being a dick.


S: Take pleasure

J: (Inaudible) dick (inaudible)

GH: Yes, yes. For it reveals how small your genitalia truly is.

E: And nobody wants to know.

R: I think Bertrand Russell would have been down with that.

S: You think so?

R: Yeah, I don't think ...

J: I would have liked to have seen something on the list that, unless I completely missed it, that says take pleasure in sharpening your mind. Like, educate yourself. Keep the pursuit of

R: That's what

GH: I think the discourse one is kind of like that.

R: Yeah, yeah.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GH: You never hear that name much any more, Bertrand. You ever met someone named Bertrand?

B: Never

S: Anyone?

R: Never

GH: Bert?

J: Bert?

R: Usually, it's from Albert, though.

(Inaudible crosstalk)

J: Russell?

GH: Is it just Bert?

B: Yeah

Audience member: Herbert

GH: Herbert, okay.

R: Herbet.

GH: Herbert? Herbert? Has anyone ever met an Adolf?

(Quiet laughter)

J: Yeah! My Dad had a

B: Adolf Kreuger.

J: a plumber that worked for him.

GH: Oh really?

J: His name was Adolf.

GH: Adolf Kreuger.

S: Who was a nazi.


J: No, that was Mason!

S: That was Mason was the nazi. Seriously!

GH: What was his name?

B: Clem.

S: Clem. He was

GH: Clem?

J: Clem Setvier. Yeah.

GH: Clem, the nazi.

S: Clem, the nazi.

J: He, listen to this.

GH: (Singing) Clem Nazi Mason!

J: My Dad was at a card game with his Mason, and with a friend of his who was in World War II. Now, the Mason, Clem, was in World War II on the German side. This is the story.

S: The story is intense.

B: Twenty years later, they're

J: Yeah, playing cards.

B: playing cards together.

J: Yeah, so twenty years later, they're playing cards together, and Clem

GH: (Loud German accent) called Fish!!


J: Clem, like, very absent mindedly was happily recollecting an awesome

B: Battle

J: battle. He was a pilot, and

R: Oh, yeah.

J: he basically was like, describing sinking a boat.

GH: Yeah

J: and the guy that he was telling that to

GH: No

J: happened to be on a boat.

R: Oh my god!

J: That was shot at. Not that it was the same thing.

GH: But yeah, still.

J: This guy got wickedly pissed off, and then mentioned some battle where we kicked the Germans' ass. And then Clem got so pissed off, the dude got up and left.

E: Did he salute before that?

J: No


J: But my Dad described the story as like, wicked, hot, and intense. These two f--king guys were like, ready to go at it.

GH: Now, like, so what. Masonry work? He was doin' masonry work around the house?

J: Nope! He would build chimneys, build stone walls,

GH: Okay, okay. Did he have any idea of, before this card game?

S: Oh, he knew!

B: Yeah,

J: Yeah

GH: They knew.

J: No, they knew. But they never swapped stories before, though.

GH: Yeah

J: Like, that's real. That's too real.

E: And then, did he say, "See you next week?" Yeah

(Mild laughter)

E: Same time?

J: I don't know what happened after that. I'm sure that it didn't just evaporate right away.

R: (Inaudible) happy. Like, why do you hang out with somebody like that? Like

S: The war was over. He's a good mason.

R: Oh, whoa!


S: What?

R: You know ...

S: He was a really good mason!

R: He's the one that murdered an entire group of people, but...

J: There's a difference between ... SS sergeant, you know, and a guy that was in the army.

R: I know, he was a good German. No, I get it.

S: Isn't that the thing that

R: I like how you just said "yeah," after I said that.

GH: Yeah, like, I always am astounded, like, at the end of the war.

S: Yeah

GH: At the end of the war, like, there was a lineation where, okay, German regular soldiers, and American regular soldiers are trying to kill each other. They're trying to kill each other, like, on Tuesday. And then on Wednesday, they're not.

J: Yeah

S: Yeah

GH: Like, how do you deal with that? How do you mentally, like, no wonder these guys were just quiet and miserable for the next fifty years. You know what I mean? Like how do you even approach that thing of like, we are trained to kill these people. Oh, now they're fine.

R: Or you're not even trained. Like, they were children, you know?

S: By the end, yeah.

R: (Inaudible) children.

J: Yeah, the majority of the German people didn't even agree with what the government was doing, the military was doing.

GH: Right

J: So I'm sure a lot of the soldiers were probably not fully into the whole hype of the war.

GH: Right

J: And, you know, but I agree with you. It must have been an incredibly

GH: Yeah

J: emotionally destructive (inaudible)

R: (Inaudible) slaughterhouse at five, like, yeah.

S: Of course.

R: It's like, yeah.

GH: Which then makes me think, then you watch Star Wars, and you think, like, "Okay, some of those storm troopers, you know, they're just doin' it because they're just like ..."

S: Paycheck.

E: It's a gig!

GH: Yeah, you know.

J: You could find videos that illustrate that pretty easily, yeah.

GH: Yeah!

News Items[edit]

DNA Survives Spaceflight (20:44)[edit]

Hong Kong Pillows (26:46)[edit]

(Commercial at 42:25)

Discovering New Particles (44:08)[edit]

Graphene Armor (51:12)[edit]

Survey on Apathy (55:16)[edit]

Skeptical Role Models (1:03:23)[edit]

  • Mr. Rogers, Hawkeye (from MASH), Spock, Starfleet, Carl Sagan (Cosmos), MAD Magazine,

(Commercial at 1:13:14)

Science or Fiction (1:14:30)[edit]

Item #1: Scientist report the discover of spherical multicellular fissils that are 600 million years old and may be the oldest animal fossils. Item #2: In 2003 paleontologists discovered a fossilized frog they named beelzebufo which was 80cm long and completely covered in spiked body armor. Item #3: Scientists have discovered an amber fossil of a 100 million year old spider caught in the act of attacking a wasp.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:36)[edit]

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

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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