SGU Episode 500

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SGU Episode 500
February 7th 2015
SGU 499 SGU 501
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
G: George Hrab
Quote of the Week
If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not just a palliative for your fears, then you will train yourself to be a good skeptic.
Ann Druyan
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (10:04)[edit]

  • Dr. Charles Drew: Pioneer of Plasma Blood storage and the first large-scale blood banks (also African American)

S: Well let's get started here. Bob, you're going to do a Forgotten Superheroes of Science.

B: This week we're going to cover Charles Richard Drew who was a surgeon, researcher and teacher, but he was also a trailblazing African American who pioneered the processing and preservation of blood plasma and is known as the father of the blood bank. Ever hear of him?

G: Yeah, because of M*A*S*H. They talked about him on MASH.

E: The MASH episode, that's right.

B: No way, of course. That makes perfect sense, excellent.

S: And they got it wrong, but go ahead.

E: Their heart was in the right place.

B: Yes it was. Charles was born June 3rd 1904 in Washington, DC. He was a gifted athlete with medals and scholarships but his primary love was science, biology and as it turns out, blood. During his education and research at Mc. Gill University and then Columbia University, he spent a lot of time working with other on blood and blood transfusion, and we take it for granted now, but at that time it was only very recently discovered that blood actually came in types, ABO, etc. So the biggest problem then wasn't actually mixing incompatible types, that didn't happen that much any more, but making it last. Because whole blood after all spoils after only 7 days. So how do you make it last, how do you get it to people who really need it? So Drew's main focus comes in here, and that was called "banking blood". His doctoral research synthesised all of the cutting-edge knowledge across multiple disciplines to learn what worked and what didn't. What the Russians were doing, what they were doing, what they tried, he was all over, trying to find out what everyone knew. And then he basically designed the entire process that a blood bank would have to do. Acquiring the blood, and finding, and testing, and getting the people together, testing the blood, and then banking it for a large scale effort. So he and his colleagues, and he didn't do this alone, he had lots of colleagues,they set up a test blood bank that ran for a month and it was a big success. And that's really where it all started for him. So then after that his plan was scaled up and he was selected as the medical supervisor for the campaign called "Blood for Britain" during World War 2 to send blood and blood plasma to British soldiers who were in need. And this eventually led to a Red Cross pilot program, and this is where he came up with the idea for the refrigerated blood mobiles and he did a lot of work on dehydrated plasma which was incredibly useful. Plasma is basically the blood without the cells in it, it's just the proteins and things that are outside of the cell walls that are still very useful for treating shock and doing lots of other things, getting blood volume inside of you. So this entire thing was essentially the template for the National Blood Donor Service. Everything that came afterwards had a huge basis on what he was doing here. And this is why people call him the father of blood banks. And unfortunately towards this end in his career, it kind of left him with a bit of a sour note. Drew became very, very upset when an order came down from the Army and the Navy that blood donations from African Americans would be refused, just flat-out refused. No, we are not taking our blood. He argued that it was unscientific because there was not one shred of evidence that race mattered at all when it came to blood and for blood plasma. So eventually other scientists confirmed his position and the blood donations were then accepted from African Americans but they were still segregated so that really did leave a sour taste in his mouth. And I'll end it with a quote from him regarding this which he mentioned in the latter part of his life. He said, "It is fundamentally wrong for any great nation to wilfully discriminate against such a large group of its people... One can say quite truthfully that on the battlefields nobody is very interested in where the plasma comes from when they are hurt... It is unfortunate that such a worthwhile and scientific bit of work should have been hampered by such stupidity."

J: It's awesome to hear someone as intelligent as he was that came up with something so wonderful and also for him to be so socially progressive. I love that.

S: Yeah, we're looking back. 70 years later and of course he was exactly right, and by our current standards that was just ridiculously racist to segregate blood.

B: Oh my god yeah. So read up on Charles Richard Drew, mention him to your friends, perhaps when discussing extracellular matrices containing globulins and fibrinogens and most people should know what he accomplished.

S: So since we brought up MASH, so they perpetuated a myth. So what is true is that Drew was killed in a car accident in 1950, he was only 45 years old, he was driving...

B: He fell asleep.

S: ...home after a late night in the surgical theatre and crashed. Was pinned. Had severe injuries and he died shortly after arriving at the hospital from his injuries. The myth was that he died because he was refused a transfusion because of his colour, but that's not true. That's what was repeated on MASH. That myth but that had no impact. It was true at the time that that would happen, that people, there were hospitals that would only treat white people that would segregate whites and blacks and they wouldn't accept any blacks if they didn't have any black beds.

J: Black beds?

S: Yeah, the segregated the patients.

E: And the sheets.

S: But that did not happen to him, that's the myth. He died because his wounds were fatal and nothing at the time would have saved him.

G: Steve, I don't know if this is appropriate, there's the position now in terms of the Red Cross and blood donation, doesn't take blood from homosexual men. And just it's interesting the parallels here of a viable supply that's not being used because of the whole sort of AIDS concerns and things like that and I think they're trying to change that rule. I'm just wondering what your take is on that, because I know that when you do donate blood, one of the main questions that's asked is have you had any homosexual experiences, and if you say yes you can't donate, and I remember being surprised by that when donating blood, thinking wow that's like a huge pool that isn't being taken advantage of.

S: Restricted a high-risk population may not be the best approach. The reason for it is not discriminatory, the reason for it is an identified high-risk population.

G: Oh sure. I just thought that since they do treat most of the blood anyway, and it is all tested as well, boy it just seems like it's a huge...

S: Well the American Red Cross also put out a statement, this is 2014, about 7 months ago, saying that the current lifetime deferral with men who have had sex with other men should be modified and that donor deferral criteria should be made comparable with criteria for other behaviours with a supposed an increased risk of transmission of transfusion transmitted infections. They're calling to modify the rules.

G: Alright, so they're working on it, well that's good.

S: Yeah.

News Items[edit]

Scientific vs Public Opinion (17:17)[edit]

(Commercial at 35:43)

Ghost Gadgets (37:13)[edit]

(Commercial at 44:26)

Conservapedia Disproves E=MC2 (46:14)[edit]

FDA Cracks Down on Supplements (53:12)[edit]

Gravity Waves Update (58:02)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (1:00:47)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Nosebo

(Commercial at 1:04:10)

The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week (1:05:54)[edit]

S: Alright guys, we have another Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week.

B: Oh, awesome.

S: We're still thinking about the title, but I'm going to use that as my working title. The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week.

E: Oh yes, endless amount of candidates.

S: Always a lot of contenders, when you start paying attention. But I think, hands down in my opinion, the guy who takes the cake this week is Dr. Jack Wolfson.

B: Oh yes. Oh my.

S: Also known as the Paleo Cardiologist.

E: Paleo diet?

G: Arizona guy, right?

S: Yeah, the guy is just a piece of work. So he wrote this rant, I don't know of any way to describe it. Essentially reacting to the backlash against anti-vaxers because of the measles outbreak in Disneyland. So he writes this completely ranting criticism of people who are criticizing anti-vaxers and it's like, oh why are you people so angry, this is what you should be angry about, and then he goes on this long diatribe, like one example is "be angry with pharmaceutical companies for allowing us to believe living the above life can be treated with drugs. Correctly prescribing drugs kills thousands of people per year, the flu kills just about no-one. The vaccine never works." So yeah, his points are all equally factually challenged. He's just making shit up, basically. The flu kills thousands of people a year, thank you. Not no-one. Unfortunately this earned him a round on the media. People were interviewing him as the "other side" of the false balance equiation. But a few more gems came out of that. He was asked specifically if he feels any responsibility for protecting other children. He said, "I'm not going to sacrafice the wellbeing of my child, my child is pure. It is not my responsibility to be protecting their children." He's talking about getting his children vaccinated. His child is pure, Jay.

B: It's a good quote. Pure.

S: Purity of essence. P.O.E.

J: He's saying that because his child has not, what, received any medication whatsoever in its entire life?

S: No toxins, nothing. Nothing impure, Jay.

G: He has not received any toxins, whatsoever, he is pure! My pure child!

S: They said, so what about, there are some children who have leukemia and will get sick and there's one child with leukemia who came down with measles, would you feel bad if like a child with leukemia died because they got measles from an unvaccinated child? And he said, "I could live with myself easily. It's an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die, and I'm not going to put my child at risk to save another child." So the guy is completely unrepentent. And then he said about the girl with lukemia, "as far as I'm concerned, it's very likely that her lukemia is from vaccinations in the first place."

E: There's something wrong with this guy.

B: That's the icing on the cake right there.

S: Yeah.

G: This was so over the top, I thought this was a work. I started just trying to find out if this guy was just like a joke. Because it was so over the top. Then I found his practice and I found his site and found stuff in Arizona and patients of his, and I thought, wow this is the best work ever, and it turns out this guy is...

S: It's for real, yeah.

G: ... for real. It's unbeleivable.

S: And if you want to lose utter faith in humanity, read the comments to his blog post.

J: Yep. I made that mistake.

G: Can I indulge for just one second, can I ask just one thing?

S: Go ahead.

G: Jay and Bob and Evan came down to see the funk band a couple of weeks ago, which was really fun I'm really glad you guys came it was really awesome.

Alisa in Stage 4 Cancer (1:09:35)[edit]

Science or Fiction (1:11:23)[edit]

Item #1: Scientists have discovered an organism that has not evolved detectably in over 2 billion years. Item #2: Step aside graphene – scientists have created a working transistor out of silicene, a one atom thick sheet of silicon. Item #3: A ten year multi-hospital study finds that tracking and reporting surgical outcomes resulted in a 30% decrease in overall surgical complications.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:24:36)[edit]

"If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not just a palliative for your fears, then you will train yourself to be a good skeptic." ― Ann Druyan

Announcements (1:26:19)[edit]

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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