SGU Episode 520

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SGU Episode 520
June 27th 2015
SGU 519 SGU 521
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.
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Show Notes
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You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (0:44)[edit]

  • Vera Rubin: Pioneered studies in galaxy rotation rates that led to the discovery of dark matter.

E: But ...but first ...

S: But first, Bob, Forgotten Superhero of Science this week.

B: This week's Forgotten Superheroes of Science, I'm covering Vera Rubin, who was instrumental in conclusively showing that not only was galactic rotation anomalous, it was also the first solid evidence for the decades-old dark matter hypothesis. Ever hear of her?

J: No

S: Sure

E: Cosmos.

S: Yes, she was in Cosmos.

B: You certainly have! Rubin was born in 1928. She loved astronomy since she was ten years old, and her Dad, even though he was convinced that there wasn't much of a future for her in that field, he still supported her, and he helped build her first telescope, and other activities. Later on, when she applied to Princeton from an astronomy graduate degree, they said “No!” Because they did not accept women in the astronomy program.

E: That's right

B: And they did not until 1975. They didn't accept any women. And wow, Princeton, really?

E: Geez

B: 1975? So, she went to Cornell, nice damn place, where she worked under none other than Richard Feynman, among others. The high point of her career, she started working with Kentford, who was an astronomer, and he had developed an extremely accurate spectrometer. And they were able, together, to examine the stellar Doppler shift with amazing detail. And so much so that they were the very first to realize that stars in other galaxies rotate at the same velocity whether they're close to the center of the galaxy or at the very outskirts.

And if you think about it, that doesn't make much sense at all, because the intense gravitational pull at the center of galaxies would cause orbits to be faster and faster, especially compared to the rarified outer edges of the galaxy. For an example, look at planetary orbits. The Earth goes around the Sun in one year, Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight. So why wouldn't galaxies be the same?

So that was a surprise, but still, if you thought, “Well, maybe that's just a quirk. Let's look at some other galaxies.” So eventually, they started looking at some other galaxies, and every one was the same! So that was clearly a huge finding.

So, Rubin, at that time, remembered reading about a theory by Fritz Zwicky, who in 1933 imagined the universe had a missing mass, or dark matter, as he called it, because fast-moving galaxies were not being thrown out of their clusters, which they should have, given the gravitational field that he could divine from just the light. So his theory was ignored. Not much attention was given to it. And Rubin realized that she now had evidence for this theory, which could not be ignored. Her evidence and her results were very straightforward. There really weren't too many ways to interpret them. And that started getting peoples' attention.

She summed it up very nicely when she said back then, “What you see in a spiral galaxy is not what you get.” And that's clearly the case. And really, the rest, as they say, is history. There's not much more to be said about dark matter. We all know about it, we've all discussed it many, many times. It's been all over the news, ever since then, pretty much. And the evidence for its existence just keeps getting stronger. And all that, in no small part, because of Rubin. So, remember Vera Rubin; mention her to your friends, perhaps when discussing extrapolating rotation curves using bolometric luminosity.

S: Neil deGrasse Tyson did a good job of covering her story in Cosmos, if you recall.

E: Yes

News Items[edit]

Jurassic World Movie Review(4:19)[edit]

Human Breastmilk for Adults (25:15)[edit]

Helicopter Car (29:02)[edit]

Kennewick Man (38:35)[edit]

(Commercial at 45:44)

Sixth Mass Extinction (46:27)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (53:56)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Rhino

Dumbest Thing of the Week (56:48)[edit]

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question #1: IT Rant (1:00:45)[edit]

Love the show, been a long time follower and fan (about a year and a half before Rebecca joined)! But I've got to email you about Steve's IT rant in the last few shows! I work in IT, I'm the first and second point of contact for all IT problems of every Hospital in my state, and I've gotta tell you, nothing worse then coming home to my favourite podcast with you guys ranting about IT! OK, I wrote a big reply to all your points but then deleted it. Look, I have fights EVERY hour with medical staff and let me tell you, Windows isn't the problem. The Ribbon came out in what, 2005? 10 years ago, and your still complaining? How else, can you make a menu with over 100 commands and sub menus in a list? Show me ANY application that is better? PhotoShop? CAD? Pacs? Sure, give me 10 commands and I can make it easy and look pretty. 30% of our medical apps still only run with IE only and still need XP. These apps aren't made by us, and last estimate showed it would cost 20million cash to get it updated. Everyone in medical hates IT – good luck getting 20mil! Bloody iPads – bitched for years about wanting to have iPad's, now I see them flat, stuck in a draw collecting dust. Novelty has worn off, all the work we put in… I saw an iPad being used once in a medical room. The Dr was playing games on it… Windows asks if you want to copy that file because once a week I get medical staff calling, that a very important document has gone missing and its all IT's fault, only to find someone has moved the folder into a sub folder… even AFTER windows asks if your sure you want to move this folder… imagine if it didn't ask, how many calls i'd get. Some of the worst people I've ever dealt with in IT are Dr's and Medical staff. Yes, you have 8 years of training and a Uni degree. But I've been doing this for 25 years and don't deserve to be spoken to like a 16 year old. If you're such an IT guru, why are you calling me for help. Bah… anyway… it just gets my goat, everyone seems to think they are Steve Jobs even if they don't even work in IT and don't understand the reasons behind things. Went on longer then it should, sorry guys, Love you guys! Jase Australia

Science or Fiction (1:10:26)[edit]

Item #1: Although fossil evidence of clear Neanderthals survive only to 35,000 year ago in Europe, recent genetic analysis of early Europeans suggest they were still interbreeding with Neanderthals as late as 25,000 years ago. Item #2: A new study finds that smartphones can interfere with modern pacemakers, causing them to temporarily stop functioning. Item #3: Scientists have discovered a species of mistletoe that is the only plant or animal known lacking key genes that are involved in energy production.

Announcements (1:20:33)[edit]

  • TAM coming up
  • Lawsuit is going well, but expensive. Donations needed. (Turns into a membership drive)

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:33)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, take us home with a quote.

E: All right, here it is:

"Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them."

That quote is attributed to Hypatia.

J: Awesome, Ev.

S: A cool figure from history.

E: Oh yeah, very cool. I mean, she was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, just a brilliant, brilliant woman in the time of Alexander, and the Library of Alexandria. She was the librarian of Alexandria, and

S: And brutally murdered by an ignorant mob.

E: Yeah, just tragic, tragic ending, unfortunately. However, did you know, in doing a little more research on this quote, it is quite possible, and perhaps truthful, that this quote was incorrectly attributed to Hypatia. The statements appear to have been written or published for the first time in a book which came out in 1908 by a gentleman named Albert Hubbard, who had a fascination, frankly, with Hypatia, and wrote a lot about Hypatia, but also had a tendency to, how should we say, embellish, make certain things up.

He made up, for example, such details as her height, her weight, and perhaps some of her quotes that she didn't say. But, in any case, it's a really good quote, I think.

S: Whoever said it ...

E: It was Hypatia's ... it wasn't, but attributed to Hypatia. Perhaps it was Albert Hubbard. In any case, good quote.

S: Thank you Evan.

E: Yep

S: And thank you for joining me this week, guys.

B: Sure, Steve.

J: You got it.

E: Thank you, doc.

S: And until next week, this is your Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

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


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