SGU Episode 523

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SGU Episode 523
July 18th 2015
SGU 522 SGU 524
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
GH: George Hrab
Quote of the Week
Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in their readiness to doubt.
H. L. Mencken
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


  • How Steve uploads the show during conferences

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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (2:00)[edit]

  • Earl Palmer: Earl Palmer was the most recorded session drummers in history and a major influence in the iconic sound of the music which came to be known as rock & roll.

S: We're gonna start as we do, as we have been doing this year, with Bob's Forgotten Superhero of Science.

B: Yeah, for this week's edition of Forgotten Superheroes of Science, I'm gonna talk about Earl Palmer, who was probably the most recorded session drummer in history, and, more importantly, a major influence in the iconic sound of music, which came to be known as rock and roll. Ever hear of him? Geo, don't say anything.


B: I just want to say, I'm so psyched that I'm actually doing this, which is a little bit unusual for me, with George here. It's perfect. So, music and entertainment was part of Palmer's life from the beginning. This guy was a professional tap dancer at five years old – five years old! He was a pro, earning money doing that. And he was also on the black audible circuit, with his mom and aunt. So he definitely was involved, and loved that kind of life. But his passion, though, ultimately, became drumming.

His career kind of took off, say, in the forties and fifties; and this is right when rock and roll was being born. That iconic sound was formed though, lots of different people contributed over the years. But it really wasn't one person. But there's an integral part of that sound, of rock and roll, that was based on what's called a back beat. Have you guys ever heard of a back beat?

S: Sure

J: Of course.

B: Okay


E: I learned it from a Beatles song, actually, yes.

B: I learned it yesterday. This beat is considered a rhythmic foundation of the Rock and Roll sound, essentially, one of its most important elements. It's essentially a four beat measure that stresses the second and fourth beats. Geo, can you demonstrate, please?

(George makes a series of strong and weak beats in a low tone)

B: Perfect.

E: Wow! A whole measure!

B: Couldn't have done it better.

S: Yeah, we take that for granted, but somebody had to invent that at some point.

B: Right. Now, Palmer claimed that he was inspired to use that beat from the one that was used in Dixie land music, for example, which was used intermittently. But that specific beat clearly predates Palmer. It was used in Good Rockin' Tonight, by Winnonie Harris in 1948. And there's also a clear back beat can be heard in Rollin' Pete, by Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner. And that's as far back as '38.

But it was also in a very early jazz, swing, country music. It was in a lot of different places. It was part of the drummer's vocabulary. They certainly knew about that. But the key difference seems to be that these other music genres, while they may have used that back beat, they used it sparingly, and usually at the end of the song. Rock and Roll used it throughout the entire song. And Palmer used it like a master, right at the birth of Rock and Roll.

And use it he certainly did. He worked, like, he was a mad man. For decades, this guy was so prolific and busy. The Musician's Union tracked how much Palmer played for say, a given year, say, 1967. They say he played 450 dates in one year. I mean, that is busy. And he wasn't playing with just some unknown band. This guy recorded and co-created hundreds of hits, and thousands – literally – thousands of rock, R&B, jazz sessions, he was all over the place.

If you actually looked at his resume, it reads like a who's who. He drummed for Little Richards, very early seminal work, Fat's Domino, like in I'm Walking, and the Fat Man. And the Fat Man is often cited as one of the very first Rock and Roll records ever made. There's also Righteous Brothers, You Lost That Loving Feeling. Thousands of, by the Beach Boys, Things, Marvin Gay, Barby Dearin, Willie Nelson, he even did TV themes. The Odd Couple, Mash, Brady. He drummed for that.

Motion Picture sound tracks: The Rose, It's a Mad, Mad World. I mean, the list just goes on and on. Oh, he drummed for producer Phil Spectre, and for Mo Town. And then a few more names: Richie Vallens, Ray Charles, Frank Sonatra, the Monkeys, Bonnie Ray, Johnnie Odis, Neil Young, Elvis Costello. The list just goes on and on. I'm just scratching the surface here. Amazing.

Little Richard wrote in his autobiography that Palmer is probably the greatest session drummer of all time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website said he laid the foundation for Rock and Roll drumming with a solid stick work, and feverish back beat. Other people also expressed sentiments like this one.

”It was Earl Palmer whose drumming transformed rhythm blues into the full tilt thrust of Rock and Roll.”

And then, on top of all that, he reportedly was the first person to use the word “funky” when describing to other musicians that their music should be made more beat driven, and danceable. So, reportedly, one of the first guys to use that in that context. So, remember Earl Palmer; mention him to your friends, perhaps when discussing the groove associated with syncopated accentuations of the off beats in simple four-four rhythms.

S: George, have you heard of this guy before?

GH: Yeah, yeah, he was part of what's called the Wrecking Crew. And the Wrecking Crew is just, a documentary, actually, just came out about this band. And they're very similar to another band of musicians. There was, filmed a couple of years ago, called Standing in the Shadows of Mo Town, that dealt with a Mo Town backing band. They were called The Funk Brothers. And it was like, twelve, fifteen guys that recorded every Mo Town song. Amazing musicians. And the West Coast version of that was The Wrecking Crew. And Earl

B: Yes!

GH: was one of the drummers in The Wrecking Crew.

B: Yes

GH: There was another drummer in that band called Hal Blaine. Now, what's interesting is, you said Earl's the most recorded drummer. There's a number of guys that all claim to be the most recorded drummers. Hal Blaine is another guy, from The Wrecking Crew, who worked with many of the same artists that Earl did. Just because he was sort of The Guy

B: Yeah

GH: on the west coast. There's a guy called Bernard Perdie. I talked about him on my podcast.

S: Oh yeah.

GH: I actually met him.

S: Perdie Shuffle.

GH: The Perdie Shuffle. He is sort of self-proclaimed to be the most recorded drummer. There's another guy John J. R. Robinson. He's the guy that played We Are the World. He played on all of Michael Jackson's records. So there's a couple guys that sort of claim this. I think it's very hard to actually, definitively say who is the most recorded.

But one interesting thing I thought: Hal Blaine had a habit of, he had a rubber stamp he would bring, and he would put it on, he would stamp the music. And it would say Hal Blaine strikes again. So people would know that Hal played drums on that session.

B: Oh-hoh.

GH: And then Bernard Perdie, whenever he was in the studio, he would have these signs set up behind him that said, “That's right, you've hired the hit maker.”


GH: This is kind of like the pure balls of these guys, the macksie of these gentlemen, you have to really appreciate.

E: Wow

GH: But yeah, there's countless artists like Earl Palmer that have been so incredibly influential, and were there at the beginning. And those are the most interesting times to me, as one genre kind of turns into another. Like you said, Bob, that idea of two and four was used throughout jazz. I mean, two and four was usually relegated to the high hat, the two symbols that are controlled by the foot. That would be your two and four, it would be outlined there. And like you said, at the end of the song, you would get a big kind of

B: Yeah

GH: (Rapid clusters of three beats) One two three four, one two three ... But to have it kind of laid down, right from the start, those early guys were doing that. And it was still sort of jazz. It was still rhythm and blues. And then it became Rock and Roll. It's really fascinating.

B: Yeah, George, I also read that it was actually considered poor taste to do that back beat throughout the entire song, before Rock and Roll, of course. It was actually, they knew about it, and had actually thought about it, but no. That's not cool. That's not the way to do it. And it's just how tastes change.

GH: Oh yeah. Even to not do a swing pattern. Like, the swing pattern on the cymbals would be (rapid three beats again). To not do that, but just go (steady, single beats), so it wouldn't be (three beats, with emphasis on the first). It would just be (double beats, with emphasis on the first).

E: Wow

GH: That was like, a big, big no-no. You had to have the swing rhythm, because guys had been playing that swing rhythm for thirty, forty, fifty years at that point. So, yeah, it's amazing how stuff changes.

E: It sounds subtle, but when you describe it like that, it's quite significant.

GH: Oh yeah.

B: Yeah.

GH: That's why I love watching early fifties TV. When Elvis comes on, and then they have the little band that's playing, and you

E: Yes

GH can so tell, like, which drummers are the ones that are sort of still – that's the thing about Ringo, is like, some say that Ringo was sort of the definitive, first, fully Rock and Roll drummer, without a jazz influence, which I kind of like.

B: Ah!

GH: His hands were matched. He had the sticks in both hands. They didn't have the traditional grip. And he was all about that kind of straight rockin' thing, whereas a lot of the other guys were trying to modify their jazz chops to make it sound more rock,

B: Interesting

GH: more R&B. It's interesting. It's really fascinating.

S: And it also sounds like – and this is, I'm sure, still the case, but maybe it was about more back then, where artists, when they got into the studio, they hired professional musicians. It's not like they were there with their band, right? They were just, there was a same

GH: Oh, absolutely.

S: set – professional session musicians that work

B: Exactly!

S: at every record, pretty much.

GH: Yeah, that's why the whole hullaballoo with The Monkeys, which was so bogus. Like, The Monkeys

B: Ohh!

GH: used the Wrecking Crew.

S: Yeah

GH: The Monkeys come in, and they use The Wrecking Crew, and they sang on top of what The Wrecking Crew recorded. And The Wrecking Crew was, they played for Sonatra, they played for The Birds, they played for

B: Yeah

GH: Peter Paul and Mary, they did everybody that was on the west coast. So when this sort of came out that, “Oh! The Monkeys, you know, they're not a real band.” It's like, well, nobody was a real band back then. The Beatles (again, to bring up The Beatles) were one of the first guys where it was like, they sort of said, “We'd rather do this ourselves.” And Ringo was replaced for Love Me Do, with a different guy playing drums.

B: Really.

GH: And it was like, that solidified, like, “We're not gonna do that any more. We're gonna play. We really don't care.” 'Cause that was done in the States, it was done in England. Any place that recorded, yeah, had their regular session guys, that knew how to record, 'cause it really, it's a separate kind of art,

B: Really!

GH: to be – absolutely! Yeah, it's funny

B: Fascinating

GH: how ... there's a huge difference between being able to play live, and being able to play when you know you're being recorded. It's a psychological thing, it's the red light syndrome, we call it, where like, as soon as you press record, I mean, you guys know it when you're, you know, you've been doing this for a while. But when you record your voice, if you know that it's being recorded, there's a certain something different to how you approach it. And some guys can do it, and some guys can't. And it's actually interesting to watch sometimes, as amazing players fall apart when they're being recorded, because it's just, they can't handle that sort of stress of the infinite, or the timelessness of it, like, “This is forever! We are gonna record this, and this is forever!”

Whereas some people in a live setting love live, 'cause it's like, you get that instant feedback, and you never repeat it. It's there in the moment, and gone. And some guys are intimidated by that, you know? And there's very few people that can do both really well. So, yeah, it was all session guys, forever.

J: And The Wrecking Crew, if I'm correct, George, wasn't it just a phenomenally huge collection of musicians?

GH: Yeah, it was like, twelve, depends on how you count, or who's included, but it's like twelve to twenty guys, that basically, from like, 1960 to like, 1975, or somewhere around there, recorded sort of everything for Columbia.

News Items[edit]

Pluto Update (13:37)[edit]

New Zealand Illegalizes “Trolling” (20:48)[edit]

S: So, George, I understand New Zealand just illegalized trolling.

B: What's that about?

S: And I don't mean fishing off the back of your boat. I mean internet trolling.

E: And you don't mean living under bridges?

S: Right.

(Mild laughter)

GH: So, internet trolls can face up to two years' jail time, now. They have a new law, which bans quote, “harmful, digital communications.” Now, what does that mean? What are harmful, digital communications? And they say this can include truthful as well as false information.

S: Wow

E: Oh boy.

GH: Including intimate,

B: That's a hell

GH: visual recordings, such as nude, or semi-nude pictures or videos shared without permission. It's one of these things which kind of sounds like a really good idea,

E: Right

GH: until you start maybe thinking about it. But it was all triggered by a bunch of kids, apparently, were posting photos of women that they had sort of been hunting down, and trying to be intimate with. There was a thing called The Roast Busters scandal. A group of teenage boys from Auckland were accused of sexually assaulting drunk, underage girls, and boasting about the acts on social media. It was embarrassing these women.

E: Great

GH: So, that's a horrible thing that, yes, you should not be allowed to do. But apparently, there's a concern about this, in that, for news reporters, so that something which you could report in a newspaper about, let's say, a politician being indecent with some one, or doing some kind of act which would be embarrassing, if you post it online, might fulfill what they're calling “harmful, digital communication.” So it's raising a couple questions. And they're wondering, how they're necessarily gonna do it.

But if you get convicted of this, two years prison, and a fifty thousand dollar fine. And a business, that's sort of helping facilitate this, could pay two hundred thousand New Zealand dollar fine. So, like, an internet provider might be held responsible if someone posts something nasty, or seen as being harmful.

J: Yeah, the question is, though, who decides that?

E: Yeah, good question, yeah.

GH: Exactly. I guess it's like any kind of indecency thing, or litigious,

S: Defamation

GH: defamation, or lying in public, or whatever. I 'm assuming those, that enters into it. But the thing is, is that, take, for example, these girls, from this thing that happened. I mean, they were drunk. So it's like, there's elements of truth to it. Not to excuse it, of course, but just, it's just a bit of a weird, grey area. We want to not have people – what, I just saw a story about revenge porn.

S: Uh-huh.

GH: Yeah, and how, where someone will take someone within a relationship. When the relationship ends, takes the material from that relationship, that might have been generated in terms of photos or videos or whatever, posts them online, and how it's incredibly difficult to get that stuff taken down, if you are the other person in the relationship. That should obviously be illegal, or not allowed, or at least be somehow, be

B: Yeah

GH: prosecuted

B: Do you know how you get it down? You've gotta send, I'm not sure who you have to send it to, but you have to send the people who would make this decision, you have to send them naked pictures of you, so they can make sure that it's you.

S: Well, yeah, John Oliver talked about this.

GH: Right, yeah.

S: If you claim your body is copyright, and in the application for copyright, you have to include a nude photo of yourself, which is ridiculous.

B: What the hell?

S: So, yeah, I get the idea here. But I think, I get the sense that this was written by a bunch of older, clueless legislators, who ...

GH: Yeah, quite quickly, probably.

S: Yeah,

E: Know nothing about the digital

S: aren't intimate with culture online, and just see it, “Oh, why are people being mean? We've got to stop them from being mean,” you know, kind of stuff. I think that there should be a threshold. I would not use the term “trolling”

GH: Yeah

S: as the threshold, because that is smack dab in the middle of the grey area.

B: Yep. Bullying maybe. You want to just, bullying?

E: Open ended.

S: Bullying, yes, cyber bullying, they use

GH: Or, yeah.

S: that term. I would say, harassment.

B: Okay, that's good.

S: Probably a safer threshold. So clearly, if you are posting naked photos, or whatever, of people, without their permission, there needs to be some remedy to that. That should be illegal. If you are threatening somebody's life, you know what I mean? If you are making threats, that is already illegal, but it should be easier to take action against somebody who is using online social media communication in order to actively harass somebody, or make open threats against them. But just saying “harmful digital communications,” whoa! That is so open-ended.

E: That could be almost anything.

S: And yeah, absolutely, that could have a chilling effect on legitimate journalism. And there is no journalism exception in this law. So, those are I think the two big things that is being criticized. There's no journalism exception, and it's so broad and vague. As is often the case with laws like this, the devil's in the details, right? It's all gonna be determined by the first few cases,

E: Yep

S: and the precedents that are set on how to interpret

B: Yeah

S: this law.

E: Yeah

S: So, we won't really know, until the law gets put into use, and we see how the courts are interpreting it. But, whoa! This is, I think, an inartfully drafted law to borrow

B: Oh my god. It's so

S: someone else's term.

B: naive! It's so naive. They need to spell it out. Clearly, this is just so vague and grey that it's like, have no idea where it's gonna go.

S: Yeah, I mean, think about it, think about harmful, truthful, but hurtful communication communication could apply to pretty much all skeptical activism, right?

GH: Gee whiz. Yeah, or any kind of commentary.

S: Yeah!

GH: Any, you know, any kind of cartoon, even.

S: Satire.

GH: That's, satire, I mean, that's all, there is a stinging nature to satire and political commentary.

S: Yeah

GH: You know, is that harmful?

E: If history plays out, this doesn't bode well for this law.

B: No

E: And there's gonna be problems down the road. The bill passed the New Zealand parliament with an overwhelming one hundred sixteen to five

J: Oof!

E: majority.

B: Whoa! Oh my god!

E: Almost everyone.

GH: How are you gonna vote against it? 'Cause then, when you're trying to get reelected, they'll be able to say, “You voted against the harassment bill.”

S: Yeah

GH: It's like, well, yeah, but it was a crappy bill, you know.

S: Right

B: Do they make even any attempt to distinguish between public and private people, right?

GH: I didn't see anything about it.

S: There are lots of nuances to it, like that Bob. Are you a private person, or a public person? Is the person engaged in the speech engaged in activism, or speech in the public interest, or journalism, or commentary, or satire, whatever. In the US, because we have first amendment free speech rights, there is a vast, which I'm now more familiar with than I ever had to be.


S: There's a vast law dealing with free speech, and how that is protected in all sorts of ways, which is good, although, again, it could still be financially ruinous to defend your free speech. But the legal precedent is there. I'm just not familiar with the laws in New Zealand.

GH: The thing about New Zealand, there's only like, seven computers there, so

S: Yeah, that's true.

(Bob laughs)

S: Yeah,

(Evan laughs)

S: they have terrible broadband. You guys remember we were there?

B: Oh, it was horrible.

E: Ah, it was a bit rough.

S: I guess we're a little spoiled being here. You go to a hotel in the US, either you just get free wi-fi, or you get charged a nominal fee, which is just the cost of your room. You know, you tack on ten bucks, whatever, and you get the wi-fi. In both Australia and New Zealand, we were down there.

B: It's the cap! They put a cap on it.

S: They cap it!

E: Oh yeah, they capped it, and then billed us, what, hundreds of dollars for the over usage?

S: Yeah, it's like, and it's a ridiculously low cap. It's like, “Oh, that was just like, five, whatever, gigabytes or something.”

E: Your daughters watched two episodes of Spongebob or something, and used up all the bandwidth!

S: (Laughs) Yeah, but apparently, 'cause they have to, I guess, connect it with big cables under the ocean, you know, to the rest of the world, 'cause, you know, New Zealand's an island.

B: It was draconian.

S: We were not used to it. It was funny.

New Seralini Study (28:54)[edit]

(Commercial at 39:28)

Biological Age (41:00)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (49:54)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: The Wilhelm Scream

Dumbest Thing of the Week (52:47)[edit]

  • Jim Carrey tweets about vaccines

Your Questions and E-mails[edit]

Question #1: UFO Cube (59:36)[edit]

(Commercial at 1:06:56)

Science or Fiction (1:08:31)[edit]

Item #1: Astronomers have discovered an extremely rare 5 star stellar system. Item #2: Researchers have found that the pattern of connections in the human brain is at near optimal efficiency. Item #3: New research confirms a prior study that humans can distinguish at least 1 trillion odors.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:22:32)[edit]

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in their readiness to doubt. ~ H. L. Mencken

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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