SGU Episode 530

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SGU Episode 530
5th Sep 2015
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 529                      SGU 531

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

Quote of the Week

Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.

Oliver Sacks

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


  • Evan is unavailable due to recording on Sunday
  • Steve's house is getting the floors renovated
  • Steve's daughter got a sexist dress code for her dance. Girls aren't allowed to dress slutty. There is no dress code for guys

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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (5:23)[edit]

Granville Woods
The first African American mechanical and electrical engineer after the civil war. He held over 50 patents including the Multiplex telegraph which allowed communication between moving trains and train stations.

S: But first, Bob, you're gonna tell us about this week's Forgotten Superhero of Science.

B: Yes, this week, I'm going to talk about Granville Woods (1856 to 1910). He was the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer after the civil war. He held over fifty patents, including the multiplex telegraph, which allowed human communication between moving trains and train stations. Ever hear of him?

J: No.

S: No

B: I never did. Now, some sources say that Woods was born to a native American mom, and an African American dad. Some say that both of them were African American. So that's, I'm not sure certain they are on that. It's also not certain how much formal education this guy got. But he clearly was largely self-taught, learning on the job for a lot of the jobs that he had. And he was able to become (we're talking late 1800's) an engineer with multiple rail roads. He was an engineer. And he even became a chief engineer of a British steamer. And he also owned his own company, the Woods Electric Company.

Also, he was a prolific inventor. Many of his inventions were to improve electric railway cars. And he even sold a lot of his inventions to General Electric, Westing House, Bell Telephone Company, really big companies.

Now, his most important invention, which he patented, was the multiplex telegraph, which allowed communication not just from moving train to moving train, but to the train stations, as I mentioned. Now this was really critical for safety, because this would allow everybody to know where the trains were at all times. And he certainly saved lives. He certainly, 'cause there were relatively frequent accidents, because if you don't know where the train in front of you is, or the one behind you, then it just greatly increases the chances of something really bad happening. And this really helped with that. Check this out: Thomas Edison tried to lay claim to this patent, but he lost the court case.

(Steve chuckles)

C: Whoa!

B: He's like, “No, I invented this!” And Granville's like, “I don't think so!” So, after he lost the court case, Edison tried to give him, actually, a good position in the engineering department at the Edison Electric Light Company, which is pretty cool, but Woods refused. I think, from then on, a lot of people referred to him as the “black Edison.”

Now he was buried – this is interesting – he was buried in an unmarked grave. And historian M.A. Harris found out, and he was like, “What the hell? This guy did so much.” So he actually went to the various companies that used his inventions, and got donations from them, and he got a nice head stone. So I thought that was pretty cool.

So, remember Granville Woods; mention him to your friends, perhaps when talking about the Cook and Weedstone system, or maybe demodulation and local oscillators, you know, if it comes up.

S: Yeah

J: I will do it!

News Items[edit]

Reproduction in Psychology (8:12)[edit]

Brain Booster Drug (21:52)[edit]

Defying the Standard Model (34:35)[edit]

Rock Art Pterodactyl Debunked (44:07)[edit]

In Memoriam: Oliver Sacks (50:09)[edit]

Who's That Noisy? (58:13)[edit]

Answer to last week – Sandman DS gun from Logan's Run

Science or Fiction (1:01:59)[edit]

Item #1: Canceled stamp: a shy girl, a wallflower. Item #2: Bluenose: someone who mooches off others in order to feign being wealthy themselves. Item #3: Jorum of skee: a swig of hard liquor Item #4: The term “bimbo” dates back to 1919 and originally referred to a macho or brutish male, and only later came to refer to women.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:20:48)[edit]

Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.

- Oliver Sacks

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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