SGU Episode 53

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SGU Episode 53
July 26th 2006

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SGU 52                      SGU 54

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

P: Perry DeAngelis

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Show Notes
[ Forum Discussion]


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, July 26th, 2006. This is your host, Stephen Novella, president of the New England Skepical Society. Joining me tonight are Rebecca Watson...

R: Hey everybody.

S: Bob Novella...

B: Good evening everyone.

S: Perry DeAngelis...

P: Guilty by reason of insanity.

S: ...and Jay Novella.

J: Hey guys.

S: How's everybody doing this evening?

R: Beautiful.

J: Pretty good Steve.

B: Not bad.

P: That's a match.

News Items[edit]

Budget Increase for NASA (0:42)[edit]

S: First of the news items, I see that Congress, I think it's just a committee in Congress, has proposed an increase in NASA's budget. Now if you guys remember, when we had Phil Plait down, we talked about the fact that NASA's budget was slashed in order to, other science budget was cut in order to fund the shuttle and the Moon and Mars mission. So President Bush told NASA to go back to the Moon and it go on to Mars, but didn't give him any money to do that. So they had to cannibalize money from the science programs. Well, apparently that message has gotten to Congress and they're going to give them an extra billion dollars basically to fund the shuttle and these missions and hopefully that money will replenish their science budget.

B: I thought the increase in the budget was primarily for the shuttle and for the space station.

S: That's right, but the funds are fungible.

B: Good word.

S: Still it's a billion dollars.

P: Has the decision been made with regards to the shuttle, are they building a new one?

S: They have plans for a new shuttle. They're working on it already.

P: But they're still going to fly this one until the new one's ready?

B: No, I think they're going to retire the shuttle like what, 2010 or something.

S: There's going to be a gap. Their goal is to keep the current shuttle flying until the space station is built. And then probably retired at that point.

P: I mean, that thing is a bucket of bolts.

S: Yeah.

P: You know, it has to go down.

S: It's ancient.

P: It has to be put down.

J: It has gone down a few times, Perry.

B: Yeah. Still the most complex machine ever created.

P: I'm sure. I like that 1970s technology.

R: NASA also just changed their mission statement.

B: Yeah.

S: They did. Yeah, they removed.

J: They snuck that through.

S: They removed the phrase that basically said that NASA's mission is to protect the earth.

R: Now what's going to happen when the aliens come? We're screwed.

J: The raëlians will protect us.

S: No they're on their side.

R: Yeah, seriously. Get with it.

B: But we got to, we got to mention if you read between the lines, though, what does that actually mean?

S: Well, some of the people at NASA are saying it's actually it's not just words because they put they reference the mission statement when they submit proposals for projects as a way of justifying the project. And if that's that's not in the mission statement, it'll be harder for them to get funding for-

R: Projects like global warming?

S: Yeah. Research to document global warming or to investigate it.

P: What was NASA's reasoning? Was it articulated?

S: Yes, they said, well, first of all, that phrase was only in there in 2000 since 2002. So it's not like this is a really long history of having this mission. They said that they changed the mission statement to read to better reflect what they're actually doing now. That was basically their justification.

J: Steve, what happens with this, the International Space Station when the United States doesn't have a fleet for five years or whatever?

S: Yeah, well, we still have rockets and I think that we're going to be depending to some degree on the Soviet fleet of the Russian fleet. But you're right. I don't know what the plan is how we're going to maintain a space station without a shuttle.

P: Remember the big news conference eight or nine years ago about the alleged or possible fossilized microbial life from Mars?

B: Yes.

P: What's happened with that? I don't even hear about it anymore. Did they have they confirmed it?

S: No, it's not confirmed. There are still some scientists who are holding on to that hypothesis. They found an asteroid in Antarctica that was a meteorite rather than from Mars. They were able to by isotope analysis, say, yes, this is a chunk of Mars. And it had little tiny microscopic bubbles in it much smaller than Earth bacteria. And the question was, were these small bubbles essentially fossilized microbial life or was it some natural, mineralogical formation? So far, they haven't really proven it one way or the other.

P: Really? 10 years later. It was a big deal when they had that news conference.

S: I think the data is just not there to really prove it one way or the other.

B: We just need to go to Europa and settle this.

S: Or in this case, to actually put people on Mars.

J: Now get your ass to laws.

Indigo Children (4:53)[edit]

S: Rebecca, you blogged recently about a news report on Good Morning America informing us all about the Template:Indigo children.

R: It's good thing that they're really getting that sort of important news out to the population. Because more Americans get their news from ABC News than any other source I've heard from their advertising. That's what they claim. So more Americans are getting their outrageous pseudoscience from ABC News than any other source as well. Because, yeah, now they're talking about indigo teens, which are basically spoiled brats who want to feel special. Or at least their parents want them to feel special. So their parents are raising them to believe that they have psychic powers because they're special. Some of the traits to look for in indigo kids are if they're highly accomplished and deeply spiritual. If they get along better with adults than with kids, they might be an indigo child. Apparently, blue eyes help too. So I'm pretty sure that I'm an indigo child. That's what I'm getting at.

P: Is this the reemergence of the master race?

R: It kind of looks that way from the guest that ABC had on. And somebody on my blog actually, I think it was a bug girl who blogged for me a few weeks ago, mentioned that there might be kind of a racial component to that because, yeah, like pure-seen blue eyes are described as one of the key physical features of indigo kids.

J: Oh, God.

R: Yeah.

J: This girl, I read the article in this woman, she's 17 now, and she actually said, I see dead people.

S: Yeah, she said the phrase, I see dead people. I see my grandmother who visits me all the time. I have always been visited by spirits. She also said she was treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with medication and she had a bad depression, et cetera. So I think you characterize these kids as spoiled brats. I think some of the other kids who are characterized indigo have the opposite problem. I think they're just losers who are socializing very well.

P: Is that a medical diagnosis?

S: Yeah, if you're a parent of a child who doesn't do well in school maybe that has social problems, maybe has hyperactive disorder or some other similar psychological problems, do you want to believe that your kids, just a loser or do you want to think that they have some deeply spiritual, special gift and they're just misunderstood?

R: Well, Steve, I want to point out though that a spoiled brat is just a loser who's been pumped up by his parents. So I mean, the two things aren't mutually exclusive.

S: Fair enough. But the psychology here is obvious.

R: Obvious to us, but apparently not obvious to the producers at ABC, which is frightening.

S: No, actually, I think the producers of ABC don't care. Having dealt with TV producers, honestly, they do not care.

P: No, don't care.

S: Is this bit going to sell well on TV? This is going to be-

P: That's all. Whatever is going to put eyeballs on screen.

S: Yeah, that's it.

P: That's all they care about.

R: that's actually even sadder.

J: Steve, what does this in the article, what does this statement mean to you? They said, "No rigorous scientific tests have proven the existence of these so-called paranormal gifts. Said psychology professor David Stein."

S: Yeah, that's their token skepticism. Which wasn't on the show, by the way. This is just in the written article, but it wasn't on the-

J: But that sentence doesn't make sense to me. No rigorous scientific tests have proven the existence of these so-called paranormal gifts. So what does that mean?

S: It means there's no scientific evidence that any of this has been this true. This is all, they made it up.

P: Means these claims are sans evidence. That's what it means.

R: Okay, bunk.

P: And I would also like to say that regardless of what my skeptical colleagues on the show might say about me, I am in fact misunderstood.

S: And it's a good thing too.

R: You mean you're not just a depressed asshole? Like Sandy? You are misunderstood?

P: You're not a loser. I am misunderstood. Thank you.

R: Okay.

J: Perry, do you see dead people? Do you see mob people? Who do you see?

S: I see dead people in the morgue.

J: Yeah, in the morgue. They're not talking to me.

Insanity for Andrea Yates (9:17)[edit]

  • Insanity for Andrea Yates
  • [url_from_show_notes _article_title_] [3]

S: Andrea Yates is back in the news this week. This is from Texas, right? The Texas mother who decided one day that she had to murder her five children.

P: I believe they were possessed by demons.

S: Yes, and she was saving them from their demonic possession?

P: Right.

S: Is that the story?

P: By chasing them down through her house one at a time and drowning them.

S: Drowning them. Right. It's a very sad sad story. And the controversy, of course, is whether or not the very legitimacy of the insanity defense because she got off on the insanity defense the second go around.

P: On her retrial, which she deserved in the first trial, the prosecution put on a state witness who lied. So she was deserving of a retrial. And this time the jury found it's just today innocent by reason of insanity.

J: Yeah. But what do they do with you when you're innocent? Okay, she's innocent because she's insane, but she's so insane that she kills children. So what do they do with her?

S: Going to an asylum a psychiatric ward until psychiatry's deemed you safe to go back into the general population.

P: That's correct.

J: It's a lot better to be declared insane and going to a psych ward than it is to say go to prison.

S: And go to the big house?

R: Yeah.

P: It's endlessly better.

S: Oh, yeah.

P: She's been a prisoner since her first trial, what some five years ago or so. And as of this afternoon, she's no longer a part of the Department of Corrections.

S: Right.

P: She's going to a hospital when the people there decide that she's healthy, she'll be released.

J: It's if that's even possible, though, Perry. I mean, she's probably cuckoo for cocoa puffs, right? I mean, this chick is off her rocker.

P: She seemed very sane in the courtroom. During the murders. She was sane enough to wait for her husband to leave and murder the children quickly before her mother arrived.

R: Wait, maybe I'm just not up to date on this enough, but why would a sane person kill her children then? I'm just wondering like, what's the motive? Because clearly you think she's sane, so I'm just wondering why what motive you think she would have?

P: I don't know why exactly she murdered her children. I mean, I really don't. She said there were possessed by demons.

R: Right. See, that to me says, says insane right there.

S: Perry, you don't buy the insanity defense in principle, though, right?

P: I like some states have a verdict known as guilty by reason of insanity. I support that. A finding of guilty by reason of insanity means you go to the mental hospital and when they declare you're sane and when they declare that you are sane, you're not sent to the street, you're sent to prison to finish your sentence. I think that's what should have happened to this woman who took the lives of these five innocent people.

R: Okay, but Texas doesn't have that?

P: No, did not. That's why they had this other finding.

S: Right, but from a practical point of view, that's guilty.

P: Okay.

S: Because there's no, so you disagree with innocent by reason of insanity.

P: I don't like it. I don't like that some doctors can decide you're sane and set you free. Too many cases of people set free and they go on to butcher folks.

J: Yeah, unless she was suffering from something that medication can help. I think once you cross the line of you can kill people and you do it, not out of self-defense or any of those things, she flat out, she killed her kids. There's no coming back from that abyss.

P: And she planned it.

S: The test is not whether or not you premeditated it. The test is, at the time you committed the crime, did you know the difference between right and wrong?

P: She must have. Why did she wait for her husband to leave?

R: Perry you are sane then that you think she was sane when she killed her kids. Regardless of whether or not she's guilty or innocent.

P: I have a huge problem or because with the line of demarcation. Where did this insanity begin and where did it end?

R: She was insane when she killed them though, right?

P: Was she insane when she waited for her husband to leave? Why didn't she just grab the kids in the middle of the night and drown them?

S: Well, we didn't hear all the testimony that jury did.

J: Hey guys, people have killed people in the name of God and for religion for thousands of years. So, does she really stand that far apart from all the other people that have done this?

S: Yeah, having an ideology is different than not knowing the difference between right and wrong because your brain is malfunctioning. Because you think your thinking has become disordered and bizarre and disconnected from reality for whatever reason. Our brains don't always function perfectly. It's possible for the brain function to be impaired to such a degree that you cannot think properly.

J: Temporarily?

S: Sure. Perry, you were in that state yourself. You had a condition where you were temporary delirious.

B: Remember those five kids you killed?

P: I was tied down.

S: Should you hold somebody legally responsible for actions they take when their brain is malfunctioning?

B: Right, but she should be separated from society for the rest of her life.

S: The question then, are you punishing her? You're just protecting society from her?

B: More protection, more protection.

S: Then the test is she should be separated from society as long as she represents any danger. Now you can argue that we should err on the side of making sure that she isn't a danger before letting her free.

J: Are we forgetting the whole point behind this is that she did it because she thought her kids were possessed.

S: What's the relevance of that?

J: Well, I think there's relevance to it, Steve, because people's belief systems actually can influence their behavior like this.

R: But I think if it weren't that, then it would have been she thought that they were-

S: Aliens.

R: -dragons.

S: Or whatever.

P: They came from a very pious background. The husband, he is a whack job.

S: I think there's a difference between and we, there were cases of this as well. Say a mother who is very, very religious, who because of her religious beliefs comes to believe that her child is possessed by demons and then kills them in the process of performing an exorcism. That's manslaughter at the very least. I think they're responsible for their actions. It's having a deeply held, even fanatical or unusual religious belief is not the same thing as being clinically insane, as legally insane as your brain not functioning.

J: Okay. You're right.

R: If anything, she was going to kill her kids and her religious background gave her just tinged that fantasy with her.

S: When people become psychotic, when they start to have delusions, they incorporate their belief systems and their culture into whatever their delusions are. I mean, it's definitely, it's an interesting discussion to have. It's about what the definition should, of legal insanity, should be in what the implications of it are.

P: Again, I ask you, where did the craziness begin and where did it end?

S: Well, Perry, there doesn't have to be a clean demarcation line in order for her to be insane.

P: I have trouble with it in this case.

S: That's the false spectrum logical fallacy where you're saying-

B: U-huu.

R: Wait, sorry, Steve, which fallacy is that? I don't think I've ever heard that one.

S: It's the false spectrum. You're basically saying that because you can't draw a sharp line between two ends of the spectrum that you can't reasonably define those ends of the spectrum.

J: I think that you can be crazy and guilty.

S: Yeah.

P: Right. Guilty by reason of insanity.

J: Yeah, she's guilty. She did it. She's dangerous.

R: Right. She's dangerous and should be put away. Which she is.

J: Lock her up. But the fact of the matter is, this is crazy as I get. I'll never murder somebody. I'll never never pull an insane stunt like that.

R: You don't know that you'd never murder somebody. You can say that right now you're sane enough to say you would never murder someone but who knows. You could crack-

J: Some guy cut me off last week if I didn't kill him I'm not going to kill anybody.

B: I think he could safely say he won't do anything like she did.

S: Unless something happens you're supposed to get the brain tumor in your frontal lobe, which makes you insane.

J: Yeah, that's true. That's true. But you know what, Steve, if it happens to me, if I do something like that, I just are, I'm guilty and I should be blocked away. One way or another.

S: But then you are holding people responsible for actions that they undertake when they were not capable of making a reason decision when their brain was not functioning through no fault of their own.

J: In my opinion, the person is guilty. They did it. They're capable of doing it again and they should be taken out of society.

B: Well, that's the key right there. How capable is she of doing this again? If you could definitively say that she will not do this again, then I think her incarceration should be limited. But if you could say that, well, we really don't know if she could do this again. She's in the clink for the rest of her life.

P: Again, you're going to depend on doctors to decide that.

S: Well, let's move on to emails.


Monkey Eating Eagle (17:46)[edit]

Greetings from Milford, Ohio. We are just a hop, skip and a jump from the soon to be opened Answers In Genesis Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. (And it's about damn time. I want answers! But I digress.) I'm still catching up on your podcasts having discovered them only recently so I am a bit behind you folks but I wanted to respond to the remark by your resident 'birdist', Perry, concerning monkeys and eagles. On your May 10th podcast he threw down the gauntlet to our avian friends by claiming any monkey could kick any bird's ass. Go to the URL below and repent, Perry! Love the show, by the way. Oh, and one more thing; who is the hot sounding Brit babe who introduces the podcast?
–John Burris Milford, Ohio

S: This is what the first email comes from John Burris in Milford, Ohio and John writes: "Greetings from Milford. We are just a hop-skip and a jump from the soon-to-be-opened answers in Genesis creation museum in Northern Kentucky. And it's about damn time. I want answers, but I digress. I'm still catching up on your podcast, haven't discovered them only recently. So I am a bit behind you, folks, but I wanted to respond to the remark by your resident birdist, Perry, concerning monkeys and eagles."

P: Please.

S: "On your May 10th podcast, he threw down the gauntlet to our avian friends by claiming any monkey could kick any bird's ass. Go to the URL below, Perry, and repent." He gives a URL, which will be on our notes page, of course. "Love the show, by the way. Oh, and one more thing. Who is the hot-sounding Brit Babe who introduces the podcast? John."

P: That's me. I introduce the podcast. I do a voice.

S: He takes up, he puts on an accent very well.

P: Welcome to the Skeptics Bloody Guy. Who is a Jay? Who is that woman?

J: The world does not need to know who that incredibly sexy woman is.

P: Okay.

S: But she has no relationship with Jay.

J: Not at all.

S: The link that was provided leads to a web page that talks about the monkey-eating eagle.

P: All right. I went to this alleged web page.

S: Pithecophaga jefferyi. Perry, it's got a Latin name. You can't deny it. It's got a Latin name.

P: I did not read the long-winded article. I did it however, look at the pictures. And I didn't see one picture that bird eating a monkey. It's all nonsense. Nonsense.

S: To be fair, to be fair, it does dine more on flying lemurs than on monkeys. But if you can get a monkey, it'll leave them.

J: Perry, why is that so hard to believe? Have you ever seen a bird that size at a zoo?

P: I saw The Omen. Did you see what those baboons did?

J: I'm not kidding though.

P: Any monkey worth his salt would give any bird a beak flip.

J: No, Perry, I'm telling you-

R: A beak flip?

J: That eagle could come down on that monkey and break his neck before he knew what time it was.

P: Nonsense. Grab him by the beak. He go bam, bam, bam, bam. That's what he would do. He's got a beak flip.

R: Wow. That was the most intellectual argument I've ever heard.

S: The eagles are impressive hunters, and these are very large birds.

B: Perry, don't worry, because even if you're wrong, I mean, there's only 200 of these eagles left. Pretty soon you'll be right by default anyway, because they'll be dead. So.

R: Yeah, I mean, we're like monkeys, and we're killing all them.

J: Perry, you very much stand corrected right now. Just take your lumps and let's move on.

P: I disagree.

R: Perry's never been wrong in his life.

J: Perry, you can't disagree. What do you disagreeing with?

P: I just did.

S: The article also says that the eagle eats deer.

R: Deer?

S: Deer. Bats, snakes, monitor, lizards.

R: I would love to see that. I would love to see an eagle swoop down and grab a deer.

J: Oh, god.

S: And then occasionally pick up domestic pigs.

J: All right. We'll see. Don't come crying to me when some eagle comes down and sticks his talons in your back.

P: Didn't you see King Kong? Grab that bird by the beak, tear it open bwaaach-krack. Come on.

S: But Rodan would kick King Kong's butt though.

B: Rodan.

P: Birds. Please.

S: All right. Well, thanks for the email, John. We appreciate the link.

R: An eagle killed Aeschylus, the Greek playwright.

S: That's right.

R: Dropped a turtle on his head or something? So goes the legend.

P: Ornithologists are all misanthropes.

S: Perry bear with us, because the second email is about birds as well.

Bird flight (21:26)[edit]

Dear Dr. Novella, I am a big fan of the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast. I eagerly await a new podcast each week. I think the addition of Rebecca to your table of 'esteemed skeptics' is a wonderful addition. You mentioned on one podcast (I think the one where Eugenie Scott was a guest) that you attended Johns Hopkins and studied with Pat Shipman. I got my Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Johns Hopkins and knew Pat as well. I graduated in 1982. I appreciated the most recent podcast with Bill Bennetta. Textbook adoption is certainly in a sad state of affairs. I felt I should write because of Bill's comments about Bernoulli's principle and bird flight. I am an ornithologist and teach ornithology regularly here at Colby College. My own research expertise is in the foraging behavior of birds and bird vocalization. I do however follow the literature on bird flight closely. Bill stated that the importance of Bernoulli's principle for bird flight has been debunked for 40-50 years but still appears in textbooks. He argued instead for a mechanism where a flat bird wing pushes down on the air, elevating the bird. I believe Bill's interpretation would be rejected by most ornithologists. Bernoulli's principle is alive and well in our understanding of bird flight. To begin with, airfoils (the shape that best takes advantage of Bernoulli's principle) occur at different scales in birds. The cross-section of a wing is an airfoil, the cross-section of the major flight feathers (the primaries and secondaries) are also airfoils. Finally, the body of a bird with a blunt head and sloping body defines an airfoil. Let's begin with the discuss of dynamic soarers like albatrosses and other tubenoses. These birds travel hundreds of miles a day over the ocean, scarcely flapping a wing. They turn into the nearly omnipresent ocean winds to gain lift via Bernoulli's principle and then turn downwind to glide. If one wishes to argue that albatrosses glide rather than use powered flight, let's consider a bird like a goose. Slow-motion photography of a flying goose reveals that the inner part of the wing (the radius and ulna bearing the secondaries) stays remarkably level through a complete wing stroke. The distal part of the wing (the fused hand bearing the primaries) however pivots strongly, almost parallel to the dorso-ventral axis of the bird at the end of the downward power stroke. The interpretation of this movement is that the distal part of the wing is acting as a propeller. We need to be aware that Bernoulli's principle does not depend on a particular orientation with respect to gravity. As the distal part of the wing is forced downward, Bernoulli's principle results in lower pressure on the anterior side of the distal wing and higher pressure on the trailing edge. The result then is a force parallel to the surface of the earth, namely thrust. As the bird moves forward because of this thrust, air rushes over the relatively stable inner wing. Bernoulli's principle here results in an upward force or lift. So, a bird's wing really consists of two parts, one of which can be rotated by about 90 degrees. Each part is shaped as an airfoil. Because of differences in orientation, the inner wing produces lift to counteract gravity and the outer wing produces thrush to counteract drag. Bill's explanation of bird flight cannot explain the function of the alula feathers at the base of the hand. Those feathers act as an aerodynamic slot, allowing the angle of attack of the airfoil to be greater, thereby maximizing the pressure difference between the upper and lower part of the wing. On take-off, birds use as high an angle of attack as possible to rapidly take-off. To land, birds tilt their wings to an angle of attack at which laminar flow no longer occurs across the top of the wing with the result of rapid loss of lift. In a controlled manner, birds set up a turbulent flow to allow themselves to lower gently to a perch. I can refer you the Wikipedia entry on bird flight that I think is reasonably accurate: You will note that one of the references cited in the Wikipedia article is Dave Alexander's book on animal flight. Dave received his Ph.D. about 20 years from Duke where he worked with Steve Vogel and Vance Tucker. These two scientists are superb biomechanics, certainly among the most eminent in the country. Dave is a leading authority on powered flight. The explanation I present above and described in the Wikipedia entry is also given in Frank Gill's Ornithology textbook. Frank's book has essentially cornered the market. He had experts in particular areas of ornithology review specific chapters. A similar description is given in the first volume of the magnificent Handbook of the Birds of the World, also cited at the end of the Wikipedia articles. I would certainly not argue we have a complete understanding of the mechanics of powered flight at this point. However, when such understanding is achieved, Bernoulli's principle will have the major role in permitting powered flight in birds. Best wishes,
-Herb Wilson

Editor's Note: Here is a good review article on the Bernoulli effect and its contribution to flight. (

S: This one is about bird flight. It comes from Herb Wilson, who is writing a response to last week's interview with Bill Bennetta from the Textbook League. And we and Bill talked about the abuse of science and science textbooks. And one of the examples he gave was stating that the Bernoulli principle is given as the standard explanation for how birds fly. And Bill's point was that this has been debunked. This is nonsense. Birds fly by flapping their wings and other sources of lift. Herb writes: "I appreciate the most recent podcast with Bill Bennetta. Textbook adoption is certainly in a sad state of affairs. I felt I should write because it builds comments about Bernoulli's principle in bird flight. I am an Ornithologist and teach Ornithology regularly here at Colby College."

P: Misanthrope.

S: "My own research expertise is in the foraging behavior of birds and bird vocalization. I do however follow the literature on bird flight closely. Bill stated that the importance of Bernoulli's principle for bird flight has been debunked for forty to fifty years, but still appears in textbooks. I believe Bill's interpretation would be rejected by most Ornithologists. Bernoulli's principle is alive and well in our understanding of bird flight." And then he goes on to describe in some detail some more details about bird flight. Well actually did a little bit more background research and had a couple of emails back and forth with Herb. I think there's a difference between the aerodynamics literature perhaps in the Ornithological literature. It is true. But Bill's dismissal of the Bernoulli effect, I mean it was appropriate but it was a little bit oversimplified. I don't know if he meant to imply that the Bernoulli effect doesn't exist. It does. It does not contribute significantly to lift.

B: I think that's what his point was, I believe.

S: The explanation of the Bernoulli effect basically the notion that there's this equal transit time of wind over across the cam of the wing, that's totally bogus. So Bill was completely right about that. But it is true that the Bernoulli effect does exist and does it contribute to lift both in airplanes and in birds. It's very insignificant though with airplanes. I couldn't find this much immediately on birds but the principle is probably or similar and the Bernoulli effect is not the single strongest effect with bird flight either. But the most important contribution to lift is the fact that the wind is deflected down at the tail end of the wing. So the downward flowing wind is balanced by an upward lift force on the wing or on the plane. There are other sources that lift as well. In insects Bob we talked about this last year about the-

B: Certain things, certain effects are created like vortices are created on the wing tips that [inaudible] stable. And that creates the low pressure areas that help give it lift. That's one of the reasons why people used to say, oh, science says that bumblebees can fly. Well that's what science thought until we discovered these new ideas.

J: Steve, what about the thing that I remember being taught in school where the wind on the top of the wing is moving faster than on the bottom and it creates a vacuum?

S: Yeah, that's the Bernoulli effect, yeah. That's what we're talking about. You weren't here last week but that's exactly what we're talking about. This mischaracterization, the wind does move faster across the top of the wing but it's because there's less pressure. The lower pressure is not caused by the faster move in wing. So the textbook gets that backwards. And again it does produce lift but it's fairly insignificant and the equal transit time has been totally experimentally disproven so that's just flat out wrong. And Bill was also correct in that you can't downplay the role of flapping wings. The bird wings are designed to basically fold up on the upstroke and flatten out on the downstroke so there's asymmetry there and that produces an asymmetrical downward force on the wind and therefore upward force on the bird.

B: I got a question about bird fly. I mean I've seen, just recently I was watching this bird fly overhead and it was pretty close so I had a good idea of what kind of speed the bird was attaining. I mean this up and down, this apparently up and down wing motion was giving it seemed to be a disproportionate amount of forward movement. I mean this thing was booking and it would just seem like it would have to be flapping its wings in the other direction. Up and down you think it would make it go up but not streak across the sky very fast.

S: The Bernoulli effect and other effects do translate the movement of wings into forward thrust. So it may seem deceptive. Just the wind moving along the wing and then flapping the wings actually produces a lot of forward thrust.

P: I think the final thing to say on this intriguing topic is that the Bernoulli effect would certainly have no impact on our monkey bird battle because the first move of the monkey is going to be to tear those wings right off and Bernoulli will be right out the window with the wings. Next case.

R: Thank you Perry.

S: But the real point is that the whole motion of flight-

R: We can move past that Steve.

S: -it's a very complicated and interesting aspect on science. There's still a lot of unanswered questions. There are multiple contributions both to lift and to thrust both in planes and in birds. And the textbooks basically they oversimplify it. They get key details wrong. They completely misrepresent the whole thing. That's all fine and good but it seems it's all seems a little bit sophisticated for a K through 12 science textbook. And maybe the topic shouldn't be dealt with at that level. If you're going to deal with it, I don't think that the sense of the case but I think if you're going to deal with it at least more accurately represent the state of the science about how we know what we know. Which I think is one of my biggest criticisms of science textbooks they just should dryly present facts from authority rather than trying to convey the process of scientific discovery. Flight would be a good topic for that but they completely miss the opportunity to do so.

J: And many other things.

From the boards (27:25)[edit]

I am also convinced and outraged at the low quality of our high school textbooks, and as a high school teacher in Illinois District 214, I have twenty years of personal experience bolstering my outrage. However, Bill Bennetta's obvious contempt for teachers is unfortunate. Perhaps he does not realize how many of us struggle with this problem on a daily basis and agree with many of his points. Here is what my colleagues and I do in response to this problem: we do not use the textbooks. They sit on the shelves in our classrooms and gather dust. Or, better yet, my colleagues in the history department use the textbooks to show students how slanted particular views of history can be. The books are used as bad examples, giving students practice at critical thinking. High school students generally enjoy this sort of irreverence, making for lively classroom discussion. In the English classroom (my own discipline) the problem is not that the textbooks contain faulty information, but that the textbook companies have gone out of their way to avoid offending anyone, which means they have to leave out any references to magic or religion, any comment that may be interpreted as sexist, ageist or racist, any representation of a child eating junk food or showing disrespect to an elder, representations of young people watching too much television or indulging in hours of video game playing....and the list goes on. I once had a friend who worked for a textbook company. She showed me the list of taboo topics her editors forbade; it was ridiculous. The effort to offend no parent leads to vast, heavy compilations of innocuous and dull literature. freshmen literature textbooks sit on the shelf in my classroom gathering dust. My students instead read paperback novels, short stories and plays that I pick out myself, or they read from photocopied material. As for the bleak view that there is nothing anyone can do, this is untrue and self-defeating. I realize that some people may throw up their hands in despair if a phone call to the principal doesn't immediately lead to the dismissal of a textbook, but I can guarantee that principals keep track of these phone conversations, and when a textbook comes up for adoption, parent views are certainly considered. In fact, this is both a good and a bad thing. Fear of offending parents is part of the reason that administrators choose the bad (but seemingly safe) textbooks that we are all complaining about.
–Ms. B

S: A second email also follow up from Bill Bennetta's interview last week. This one I clipped from the boards. This comes from Ms. B who writes: "I am also convinced" this is a part of her post, not the whole thing. "I'm also convinced and outraged at the low quality of our high school textbooks and as a high school teacher in Illinois district 214. I have 20 years of personal experience bolstering my outrage. However, Bill Bennetta's obvious contempt for teachers is unfortunate. Perhaps he does not realize how many of us struggle with this problem on a daily basis. And agree with many of his points. Here's what my colleagues and I do in response to this problem. We don't use the textbooks. They sit on the shelves in our classroom and gather dust or better yet my colleagues in the history department use the textbooks to show students how slanted particular views of history can be. The books are used as bad examples giving students practice at critical thinking. High school students generally enjoy the sort of irreverence making for a lively classroom discussion."

B: Excellent.

J: Excellent.

S: There was a fairly vibrant discussion about Bill on the boards and one of the themes was Bill's obvious contempt for school teachers. Bill was an excellent interview. I certainly appreciate what he's doing. His critical analysis of textbooks is I think very eye-opening, very detailed. He certainly puts a lot of time and energy into it. But he does come off a bit as a curmudgeon. I think he came off that way during the interview. I think he has many years of experience and frustration and in realizing how difficult the textbook industry is and that teachers are essentially, at least the ones that are on committees and making these decisions seem to be complicit in the low quality of textbooks has made him quite cynical towards everyone involved including school teachers. But there are many excellent school teachers out there.

J: I don't think Bill would deny that for a second, Steve.

S: No. No. And he said it, I think part of the interview that didn't make the final cut. There are some excellent school teachers but even if there are, there are minority and they can't influence the textbook companies because they don't have enough of a contingency in and of themselves. But it's interesting to hear that some that the better teachers don't rely on that either they completely don't use the textbooks in which case I wonder what they are using.

J: It's also great that Ms. B is a teacher. She listens to our show, I think I'm not just trying to plug us but I think our show would be a very good way for students to learn critical thinking.

R: Except for the cursing.

S: Except for all the damn cursing.

R: Screw you Steve.

S: Actually a couple of school teachers have contacted us and asked us if they can use one or more episodes of our show in their class as a demonstration of critical thinking. And we said go to hell.

B: No, we said sure, 100 bucks.

S: We're actually happy to contribute in our own little way to the education of the next generation of skeptics. The other discussions about Bill on the boards focused on his apparent insensitivity to issues around sexism and racism. One of our board members actually came to his defense and said that he's actually on another form with Bill and Bill is not a racist, he's not a sexist. What he is is anti-PC meaning political correctness.

P: Here, here.

R: It's a fine line to walk.

S: It can be, I'm somewhat in this area myself. I mean philosophically, I believe in absolute total equality for all humans. I think there's no justification for saying that one person is superior to another for any reason or to say that somebody should not have the opportunity to achieve their full potential that they need to be pigeonholed into somebody else's idea of what their life should be like. In that sense, I'm an egalitarian. But I think that you can take political correctness to a ridiculous extreme. I think this has come up on our podcast before.

J: I think Bill made it very clear what he was getting at. He was talking about that black woman poet. He said that the whole point was that they were putting her in there to have a black woman being the book, had nothing to do, it was more about them accumulating these points to make themselves politically correct.

S: I agree. I think Bill's points were perfectly legitimate and were not inherently racist in their logic or structure. But he does, I think he's just old school. I think it's his generation. He does disdain any attempt at sensitivity as political correctness.

J: The way he spoke and the way that he communicated, and I hope this doesn't offend him in any way if he listens to this, but he reminds me of South Park. He just says it like it is. He didn't edit himself. He wasn't afraid to say they put black people in the book and they talk about this and he was saying it.

S: It was unvarnished.

P: Good for him. I loathe political correctness.

J: I appreciate it.

P: Loathe it.

J: Me too.

R: Well I think that's kind of the problem that there's all this political correctness and then there's the backlash and sometimes the backlash goes too far.

S: Right. I agree with that. The anti-political correctness could be taken too far as well. And there's got to be a happy medium where you make a reasonable attempt at being culturally sensitive without rewriting history.

R: Right. I agree.

J: How politically correct are the other countries in the world? Is this a phenomenon in the United States, in Europe, or what? I'd love to know the answer to that question.

S: I have no idea.

P: My guess would be that political correctness finds a home in the US and that's about it.

S: For our listeners who are out there who are, do not come to the United States, send us an email. Let us know what the state of political correctness is.

P: I'd love to hear it. I'd love to hear that.

E-mail #4 (33:12)[edit]

Wonderful show guys. It's nice to know you're out there somewhere. Firstly, I would love to hear a brief comment from each of your panelists (and yourself of course) as to which of the A-Z of pseudo-sciences they would most like to be true and why. (This is purely for fun.) This is a question which could also be put to many of your interviewee's for a good laugh. Thanks again for your great efforts.

S: The next email comes from Lee who writes: "Wonderful show guys. It's nice to know you're out there somewhere. Firstly, I would love to hear a brief comment from each of your panelists and yourself, of course, as to which of the A to Z of pseudosciences they would most like to be true and why? This is purely for fun. This is a question which could also be put to many of your interviewees for a good laugh. Thanks again for the great efforts, Lee." Who wants to go first with that one?

P: I will. ET craft. I would like to think that there's people from other planets who somehow can get here. That would be the most interesting thing. I think. The most profound discovery in the history of history.

S: That's a good one because it doesn't require any change to our world view in terms of, you don't have to suddenly now think that the universal allows for paranormal activity.

P: Right.

S: And the potential implications of that are huge in terms of-

P: They're endless, endlessly profound. And you're right, Steve, it does not pre-suppose a mystical universe.

S: That's right. Who's next?

R: I'll go. Okay. I was going to go with something that gives me a superpower because just about anything that gives me a superpower would be awesome.

B: Become a Scientologist.

R: See, I considered that. The Scientology Superpowers. I mean, how much fun would that be? But in the end, I decided to go for recycling. I really wish that recycling was an actual, honest to god, good thing to do for the environment. And instead of all the recycling stuff just going into the same bin at the end of the day and not really helping the environment at all. See, but it feels so good to recycle that I just really wish it were true.

J: What a dork.

R: Does that count?

P: Speak for yourself. Rebecca did you see the Bullshit on recycling?

R: Yeah. It was hysterical.

P: What did you think of that episode?

R: I thought it was really funny.

P: It was brutal. It was, I was shot. I mean, recycling sucks.

R: No, it feels, no, it's, see, that's the beauty of recycling is that it's, it's fairly simple to do, but it feels really good. It gives you like that warm feeling. Like, yeah, I'm totally helping the environment right now.

P: For some people.

R: Well, for people who buy into it.

S: But it's false though.

R: I know. That's why I wish you were true. Pay attention. That's what we're talking about. Things we wish were true.

P: That's a good one. I would hate if it were true because then I'd have to start doing it.

S: All right, Bob, what do you think?

B: I think your guys, your responses are kind of lame. Seems pretty obvious to me.

P: What do you do life in the universe? What do you talking about?

R: Recycling?

B: I think, I think, well, I could be both of those. I mean, if we, if I could believe in one, if one was really true, it would have to be hello and afterlife.

R: That's so obvious.

J: Yeah, of course.

B: It's so obvious. It's, it's obviously the best one.

P: [inaudible], it's after life.

B: Come on. If there was proof of an afterlife that would make my day. That would be awesome.

P: Do you want to sit around and stare at god?

B: I don't care what the hell I'm doing. I just want it to end.

R: What if it's an eternity with Perry? Just you and Perry.

B: Well, that would be, that would be hell now, wouldn't it?

P: Just a little human being choked with fear.

B: Choked with fear? I mean, aliens are cool but man.

R: If you'd asked me, I'd rather have recycling than an eternity with Perry.

P: I don't want an eternity with anything.

S: Immortality.

R: See? Could you put up with that for eternity?

J: Perry you are the only person I know that would make an argument against immortality.

R: Now I've heard a lot of people take that tag.

J: I hate that.

P: Forget it.

J: Anyone that doesn't want to live forever does not have a good life to begin with.

P: What are you going to do? I'll never forget. I went to a dear friend, his mother died. Went to the funerals, Catholic. And the preacher was preaching. And he said, he said, don't worry. Your mother's up in heaven. She's sitting by a tree. She's waiting for you to come and soon you'll be with her and spend eternity. And I said to myself, what the hell? I mean you'd go up there. You'd sit by a tree with your mom. And do what? You'd go over the 80 years.

S: For the next 100 trillion.

P: I mean, after like the first thousand years you'd just be sitting there and you, hey, remember that time? Well, yeah, yeah.

B: Perry, your imagination is sorely lacking.

J: It's terrible.

R: Yes, seriously.

J: You're the most boring person on the planet.

P: I'm following what the preacher said.

R: Well, you know what? Can I just say Perry at least gets points for saying that to himself and not out loud to the rest of the funeral goers?

P: I mean, what do you get to go visit other trees?

J: Oh my god, Perry.

P: I'm going to go see your mom too?

J: I'm going to make a suggestion. Crack a book, pal. Try to take up readings.

S: I like the movie with Robin Williams, where you get your own little world in university you could remake anyway you want. That's all right. That's the least more interesting than sitting under a tree reminiscing.

J: So what's yours, Steve?

S: Well, I was going to say alien visitation for the same reasons that Perry did.

J: Yeah, it's fascinating.

S: It's cool, I'm going to give the aliens nanotechnology so they could make us immortal, how's that? So I'll get two for one.

R: [inaudible]

S: I want to fly around a universe and explore stuff and live as long as I want to live and have access to hugely advanced alien technology. That's cool.

R: How about you, Jay?

P: We're a twilight zone to serve man.

S: Right.

P: There you go.

S: Well, we should say benign aliens, right? Not hungry evil aliens.

J: At first blush.

B: Big foot!

J: I mean, it's just think about how awesome entrail reading is, right? And then I thought a aromatherapy, but then if aromatherapy really worked, then my own farts would kill me.

B: Oh my god.

R: So I was about to say you're such a girl. But never mind. You're such a boy.

S: The negative that the aroma anti-therapy.

J: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if if a good smell could heal you and make you feel good, my farts would kill people and it would be, I would be worse than that woman that killed her kids. I'd be killing everybody.

S: We would have to put you in solitary.

R: No, he'd kill himself.

J: I definitely the alien thing, of course, the Bob's comment about there being an afterlife and a spiritual realm, of course but the one that really always got me with In Search of and everything was always the ESP thing. I always thought that one was just off the hook cool. The guy moving salt shakers and that guy making a funny face.

P: So telekinesis. You want to be able to move stuff?

J: The whole mind thing. The whole reading mind.

S: Just lazy. You just don't want to get up and do stuff.

J: Come on. Now, you remember that video that stupid guy makes the funny face and all the fan goes on, the lights are blinking and stuff.

S: But, all right. ESP would be cool, but I wouldn't want ESP if you had to make those stupid faces to use the power.

J: Or it's South Park when they all were like, it was awesome.

B: Plus, I wouldn't want other people reading my mind. Screw that.

R: Yeah, that's a little creepy.

P: Let them. Screw them. If they get inside, they deserve what they get.

R: If I had that kind of power, if I had telekinesis, I'd use it to move aluminum cans into the proper can.

B: Wow.

J: You know what Perry would do? Perry would go to court where they're prosecuting evil people and he would strangle them from afar. Oh, look, they dropped dead. Perry walked out of here. My work is done.

P: Like Vader, baby.

S: Vader? The force is a cool paranormal power. But you have to be a Jedi and have the whole white saber. I mean, you have to have the whole bit going before you.

P: A lot of work. A lot of work to be able to use your force.

S: And there's that whole monastic angle to it. That's not good.

R: Yeah. And you get a load of crap if you go to the dark side.

B: All you need is a huge injection of midichlorians and you're all set.

J: You're all set. The thing is Steve, you know what's hard about this? It is fun to talk about it. I've never actually had this conversation before. But the thing is, I also don't want any of them to be true because I wouldn't want any of these idiots to get any credit at all.

S: Right.

J: These pseudo-scientific fools are just.

P: Jay, we got to go where the truth leads us.

J: I don't know, okay, man.

S: The thing is, if real aliens show up, that would prove that all the fake aliens that are not really here is crap.

B: Yeah, they'd say, yeah, they'd say, yeah, this is the first time we've been here. Why do you ask?

S: You think that there are aliens that look like you, except for bigger heads and smaller mouths. What do you stupid?

R: Go around sticking things up cows' asses.

S: Yeah. That was really funny, probably.

J: Steve, was there any chance in hell that you would have picked chiropractic?

S: No.

B: Oh my god.

S: That's stupid.

R: Would anybody have picked spoon-bending? Anyone? Just the ability to do this?

S: If I want to go with a medical angle, I mean, there's better pseudosciences there. I'd like this to be laying on hands and have people completely healed.

J: Oh, yeah, that is awesome. Yeah, that would be pretty damn cool. You'd be so stinking rich too.

S: Imagine.

'P: You'd be a Zeus.

J: There's out there, I just don't get where people are so into. Who really cares about the Hollow Earth theory?

S: Well, Neil Adams does.

J: Yeah, but just think about it. What do you gain from that? What's even cool about it? It's just stupid.

S: It's just different. It says you know something.

R: What are you talking about? The Hollow Earth is awesome. It's a Hollow Earth full of monsters. Right? Isn't that what the Hollow Earth is full of monsters?

S: But speaking of that, speaking of that-

P: Yeah, that's true.

R: That's pretty awesome.

J: That's pretty cool though. You're right, Rebecca.

P: It is.

Name That Logical Fallacy (43:17)[edit]

  • _Fallacy_Topic_Event_

This statement is from the most recent e-mail from Neal Adams, in our ongoing debate regarding his 'expanding earth' claims:
"I do think the whole of the scientific community is wrong about the assembly of atoms. In fact I, for one have not heard a cogent theory about the assembly of atoms in my life, Except those general statements like Um .... 'In the massive furnaces of gigantic stars fusion processes this Hydrogen into the higher elements of the universe.
They don't exactly say how. They just DO, and I should shut-up!"

S: I do have a Name That Logical Fallacy for this week. Which we haven't done a little while, but we have no guest this week, so we're going to do a Name That Logical Fallacy.

J: Before you do that, Steve, I just wanted to tell everyone, please, I would love to read on the Bulletin Boards, what all of our Bulletin Board friends, what their answer to this question would be.

S: Yeah, absolutely.

J: That'd be a fun discussion on there.

S: So it would, intermittently had a segment where I read something that a pseudoscientist wrote or said, and then we dissected what logical fallacies they're committing. Now, as I said, I believe last week, I'm engaged in this ongoing email conversation or debate with Neil Adams, who we interviewed two episodes ago, who does believe in the Hollow Expanding Earth and with a host of implications from that. And I couldn't resist including a statement from his most recent email to me. I'm still in the process of crafting my response, but here's just one paragraph from the most recent email. He writes: "I do think the whole of the scientific community is wrong about the assembly of atoms. In fact, I, for one, have not heard a cogent theory about the assembly of atoms in my life, except those general statements like, in the massive furnaces of gigantic stars, fusion processes, this hydrogen into the higher elements of the universe. They don't exactly say how they just do, and I should shut up." That's his paragraph.

B: Well, I see three fallacies in there.

S: Go for it.

B: The weakest one is probably inconsistency, applying criteria or rules to one belief or position, but not to others.

S: He does that a lot.

B: Yeah, he seems like he's really scrutinizing these, the standard scientific claims, but he's not vetting his own ideas as much as he's trying these other ones. The other ones that I think are a little stronger argument from personal incredulity is pretty obvious. He can't understand it or imagine the explanation, so therefore it's wrong. Then straw man, I think, is definitely strong here. They don't say exactly how, well, hello from what all I've read, they've got a pretty darn good idea of exactly how those higher elements are created. They don't exactly say how? What's he been reading?

S: Yeah, you're right. I think that's the biggest one. This one runs through his construction of his argument. He argues almost constantly against straw men, but they are straw men because he doesn't know what the standard scientific explanation is. It really does seem like he has a high school textbook understanding of the relevant science, and that's what he's arguing against.

J: We all know how inaccurate those high school facts are.

S: He thinks that's the cutting edge.

P: He's been at this for like 40 years, Steve, hasn't he?

S: Confirmation buys is an amazing thing. He hasn't heard a cogent theory. That doesn't mean one doesn't exist. There is a very well fleshed out theories that with tons of experimental and observational data to support them, we know pretty much exactly how heavier elements are built through fusion. We know how much energy is produced. We know now that they produce neutrinos. Why I wonder these neutrinos are not being produced in the earth if the earth is forming heavier elements? He just doesn't know about any of this. He thinks because he doesn't know about it, it doesn't exist. Therefore he argues against the straw men, which is really based upon his own ignorance of scientific theory. That's the big one. I think you're right. It's a bit of also an argument from ignorance. He's trying to say that it's not known, even if it were not known, it doesn't mean that his theories are right. He is very inconsistent throughout his arguing about applying scientific criteria, referencing authority. He dismisses authority at one point in time, but then we'll cite it to when he thinks it supports another point of his. In my latest response, I actually decided to actually point out every logical fallacy as I go along, which he loves. He just makes his day when I include a logical fallacy in my response.

P: It doesn't even give him pause. The his little theories, a whole hog throw out entire disciplines of science.

S: Doesn't even pause.

P Physics? Forget that nonsense. Biology?

J: What do they know?

P: Geology? My foot.

S: He really does think that he has the insight, genius, vision, and talent to see the truth of things, and that the entire scientific community is a bunch of boobs.

J: The guy can illustrate like nobody's business. Of course he knows what he's talking about.

S: He really thinks that. Alright, let's move on to science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (48:08)[edit]

Theme: Medical myths

Item #1: Cracking one's knuckles can cause arthritis later in life.[4]
Item #2: Sitting in a hot bath for an extended period of time can render a male temporarily infertile.[5]
Item #3: It is possible to contract the flu from the flu vaccine.[6]
Item #4: You should keep someone awake for 24 hours following a serious concussion.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Hot bath
Science Knuckles
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Hot bath

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Every week I come up with science news items or facts. Typically, because we're not going to do what's typical this week. Typically I have two genuine science items and one fictitious. Occasionally I've used an alternate format that I call the myth format, where I present myths and one of them is actually true. That's what I'm going to do this week. The theme is medical myths. So I'm going to give you guys four medical "myths". One of them though is not a myth, it's actually true. Got it?

P: Okay.

S: So three of these are wrong, they're actually myths one is not a myth, it's actually true. So here we go. Number one: Cracking one's knuckles can cause arthritis later in life. Number two: Sitting in a hot bath for an extended period of time can render a male temporarily infertile. Number three: It is possible to contract the flu from the flu vaccine. And number four: You should keep someone awake for 24 hours following a serious concussion. Perry why don't you go first.

Perry's Response[edit]

P: Knuckles and arthritis, possible. Bath and fertility, nah, warm is good. Flu from the vaccine? Yeah, I mean, sometimes people have negative reactions of vaccines. My understanding of vaccines is you give them a small amount of the flu in this case so that they can build resistance to it. I suppose if you were compromised in some way, you could instead just get the flu. What was the last one?

S: You should keep someone awake for 24 hours following a serious concussion.

P: I have no knowledge of that topic. Yeah, I'll go with the flu vaccine, that sounds true. Truest.

S: Bob?

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Let's see, cracking knuckles causing arthritis, that's not true, that is a myth, it's actually somewhat beneficial to crack your knuckles. I believe it's called a synovial fluid.

S: Synovial fluid.

B: Yeah, cracking knuckles is actually somewhat beneficial if you've done an moderation, I believe.

P: Eww.

B: Bath, a hot bath causing someone to be infertile, on the surface that seemed correct, because I know that if it's too hot, say you were underwear that's too tight and it can cause infertility. I think it would require extended periods of time for that to happen, a simple bath, I don't think it's going to do that. 24 hours after serious concussion, I mean I have heard that before, but I'm going to say that that is a myth, because I think, because I'm pretty darn sure a three is true, you can catch the flu from a flu vaccine if it wasn't, if the flu particles weren't completely inert or dead, then I thought I heard of people catching the flu from the vaccine. I know it's a very, very small probability, so I believe that is not a myth.

S: All right, Rebecca?

Rebecca's Response[edit]

R: Oh man. I wasn't really listening to what you guys were saying, because I was trying to think this through, because at first I thought that the concussion thing was true, because I had a concussion when I was a kid, but then I realized that they didn't keep me awake for 24 hours, then we go to sleep, but just kept waking me up every two hours or so. So I do think that's a myth.

P: How did you get a concussion, Rebecca?

R: I was, some kids were chasing me, I was on my skateboard, and I went onto a tennis court at dusk, and I didn't realize that the nets had been dropped down to the ground, and I was really flying, and then I hit one of the nets and I landed on my head. The kids stopped chasing me though, once I stood up and was covered in blood, they all kind of ran away.

J: That's cool.

S: That explains a lot, actually.

R: Hey.

S: Well, did I say that out loud? I'm sorry.

R: Yeah, you did.

S: Give us your answer.

R: Okay. Then the flu thing, I actually think that that is a myth. For some reason, I seem to recall reading that you can't get the flu from the flu shot because it's inactivated or something. So what's that leave me with? The sperm bath and the?

S: The arthritis.

R: And the knuckles? Okay, I'm pretty sure the knuckles thing is a myth, so I'm going to go with the bath thing.

S: All right.

R: That's my final answer.

S: Jay?

Jay's Response[edit]

J: This is really hard, Steve. I mean, I have memories of reading about all of these without going into details on each one. I'm going to take a stab in a dark, and I'm going to say the knuckles one.

S: Okay.

Steve Explains Item #4[edit]

S: So everyone agrees that you should keep some of the weight for 24 hours following a serious concussion is fake. It is indeed a myth, that is a myth. The initial thinking was that you needed to keep them awake to assess their neurological function and that if they fell asleep, that they might slip into a coma, but that's total nonsense. In fact, sleep is a good thing. The sleep will help the brain rest and get better. If you keep somebody awake, you're just going to add sleep deprivation to their trauma. Anyway, you can't just wake somebody up intermittently to assess their neurological function if you need to, but letting those sleepers not going to cause them to go into a coma. That's a complete and total myth.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Jay, I'm sorry to say, but cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis. That is also a myth.

R: Ha-ha.

J: Well, what-

S: There's no downside to cracking your muscles to crack away.

J: Just so you know like four years ago, I dislocated the fingers on my right hand and a horrible biking accident.

B: A horrible low speed biking accident.

J: I was going 3 miles an hour. No, but the doctor actually I went to a bone doctor.

R: That doesn't really stand up to my cool skateboarding story, but go on.

S: Maybe you had gotten a concussion instead you would have gotten this question right.

J: I actually did get a concussion as well, but you don't need to go into the details. The thing is Steve, he did tell me never to crack my knuckles.

S: Yeah, but if you're recovering from an injury you shouldn't be hyper extending your knuckles, right?

J: Well you don't have to get technical.

R: Stop being right all the time, Steve. God.

S: So Rebecca, things that the male infertility is true and Bob and Perry both think the flu vaccine is true.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: The flu vaccine, I'm sorry, guys, is a myth.

R: Ha ha!

S: Rebecca got it right, the flu vaccine is an inactive vaccine. There's no live virus in the flu vaccine.

B: Well, yeah, that's the intention.

R: You can develop like an allergy to it, but you don't actually get the flu.

P: So that's an inactive vaccine, but there are other vaccines that are active vaccines?

S: Yes. There are live virus vaccines. Yeah, not the flu vaccine though. Those are inactive. There's several different kinds of vaccines. You can just take a protein that's off the code of a virus, right? So just you just inject that protein or you can inject a dead virus or you can inject a weakened strain of a live virus. The live virus is probably the biggest stimulation to the immune system. So that's make it give a better result. But it's a live virus. The polio virus was live for a while and you could theoretically get polio from the polio vaccine. But the flu vaccine is a dead, inactivated dead virus. So there is no possibility of getting the flu from the vaccine.

B: No one has ever caught the flu from the flu vaccine?

S: No. Doesn't happen. You can't get a reaction to it, but you can get an immune reaction to it.

J: You can show symptoms.

S: It's not the flu. You don't get an infection.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Which means that number two is not a myth that is actually correct.

R: I win!

S: Now, Bob, I think you didn't listen closely enough because what I said was sitting in a hot bath for an extended period of time can render a male temporarily infertile.

B: Why did you correct me when I said that?

S: Eeh.

R: Because it's funnier when you're wrong.

J: You lose, Bob.

B: Well, I had four in a row Jay, when is this time you had four in a row?

J: Look, don't get, look it. You don't have to get personal.

S: So Bob, you had some of the right information. The reason why the male testicles hang low is to make it cooler, to get it away from our body heat. Even at body heat temperatures, sperm becomes inactivated.

J: Steve, I thought that was for women to touch them.

S: That's just a happy side effect. That's what we call a delightful epiphenomenon, but that is not the primary purpose of it.

P: I saw an episode of the L-word. And the two ladies in there got some sperm from a sperm donor so they could have a kid. And that woman was on their way to the hospital. She was keeping the sperm like between her legs to keep it warm.

S: But between your legs is not going to give you the same temperature as inside the body.

R: If you've ever been between a woman's legs, you might know that.

B: Oh, man.

R: Just saying. You can take that out in post production.

S: The testicles are between your legs too. They need to be warm, just not 98 or 100 degrees.

P: Frankly, I thought I had better familiarity with my testicles.

S: That's why when we develop, actually, the testicles form in the same place as the female ovary does, and then they descend down into the scrotal sac. That's why you guys can get hernias.

R: Don't worry, Jay. It'll happen one day.

S: If they fail to descend, then you're infernal because your sperm is too warm. So if you wear the tight underwear, it's a little harder to do it that way, but if they're really tight up in there, they could make them too hot. If you're sitting in a bath, that's over 100 degrees for a couple hours. You'll probably temporarily kill off your sperm in that may make you temporarily infernal. So congratulations to Rebecca for getting that one correct.

R: Thank you.

P: You got lucky.

R: Oh, yeah, that was pure luck.

P: The blind guess.

S: Let's do the skeptical puzzle.

Skeptical Puzzle (58:14)[edit]

Last Week's puzzle:
If you are floating in a boat on a pond, and you are holding a 20lb cannon ball - if you drop the cannon ball overboard into the pond will the level of the pond rise, fall, or stay the same?
(Contributed by listener John Maddox)

Answer - the level of the pond will fall. The ball displaces its full weight in water when floating on the boat, but once in the pond it only displaces its volume in water. Since it is denser than water, its weight in water is greater than its volume in water.

New Puzzle:
All the electricity was out in Aberdeen. None of the street lights or traffic signals had power. A dark limousine was cruising down the newly paved blacktop, with its headlights off. A young boy dressed totally in black (with no reflectors) stepped out to cross the street. The moon wasn't out and the boy had no flashlight, yet the driver stopped to let the boy cross the street. How did the driver see the boy?

S: Last week's puzzle was a logic puzzle. This was sent in by a listener, John Maddox. The puzzle was, if you are floating in a boat on a pond and you are holding a 20-pound cannonball, if you then drop the cannonball overboard into the pond with a level of the pond, rise, fall, or stay the same? Several people emailed us with the answer and several also answered on the boards. Everyone got the answer correct. Nobody sent an incorrect answer. What will happen is that the level of the pond will drop. The reason is that the cannonball when it's floating in the boat will displace its entire weight in water because the entire cannonball is floating above the water. When you drop it into the water, it will only displace its volume in water, not its weight. Because the cannonball is denser than water, its volume in water is less than and weight than its weight in water. So less of the pond will be displaced and the level of rise will decrease a little bit.

New Puzzle (59:14)[edit]

S: There is a new puzzle for this week, which I'll answer next week. This one is called the electricity problem. And here is the puzzle. All the electricity was out in Aberdeen. None of the street lights or traffic lights had power. A dark limousine was cruising down the newly paved blacktop with its headlights off. A boy dressed totally in black with no reflectors stepped out to cross the street. The moon wasn't out and the boy had no flashlight. Yet the driver stopped to let the boy cross the street. How did the driver see the boy? That's the puzzle. These are referred to as lateral thinking logical puzzles because they involve the introduction of a new element. Or you have to consider something that wasn't mentioned specifically in the puzzle.

B: Well, obviously the driver was a cyborg with infrared vision.

S: That would work.

R: Don't give it away.

B: That was easy.

S: But there's a simpler answer. There's a simpler explanation in the cyborg with infrared vision.

B: OK.

Signoff (1:00:11)[edit]

S: Well, that's our show for this week. Guys, thanks for joining me again.

R: Thanks, Steve.

B: Good episode.

S: It was a pleasure.

S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society. For information on this and other podcasts, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[8]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description



  1. BBC: Nasa spending to support shuttle
  2. ABC News: So-Called Indigo Teen Says She Can Read People
  3. [url_from_show_notes _publication_: _article_title_]
  4. [url_from_SoF_show_notes PUBLICATION: TITLE]
  5. [url_from_SoF_show_notes PUBLICATION: TITLE]
  6. [url_from_SoF_show_notes PUBLICATION: TITLE]
  7. [url_from_SoF_show_notes PUBLICATION: TITLE]
  8. [url_for_TIL publication: title]


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