SGU Episode 532

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SGU Episode 532
September 19th 2015
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 531                      SGU 533

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

You know, there are two things in life I believe a person should hold on to for as long as possible: virginity and skepticism. Surprisingly, I already lost the first thing so I'm going to hold on for the second one as long as possible.

Captain Frank Irving, Sleepy Hollow (TV series)

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


  • Jay's new baby, Olivia

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

Dumbest Thing of the Week (0:43)[edit]

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (3:08)[edit]

  • Hedy Lamarr: was not only a famous actress but also directly involved in the invention of spread spectrum technology that is used not only by the military but by many of today's modern digital conveniences

S: All right, well, Bob, tell us about this week's Forgotten Superhero of Science

B: For this week's Forgotten Superheroes of Science, Hedy Lamarr is remembered as a famous, but not many people know she also independently invented spread spectrum technology that is used not only by the military, but by many of today's modern digital conveniences.

Now, Lararr, many of us have probably heard of her. I certainly recognize the name. She was in about thirty films between the 1930's and 1950's. She starred with such luminaries as Clark Gables, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Judy Garland.

S: Did she ever star with Carrie Granite?

(Quiet chuckling)

B: Carrie Granite ...

S: It's a Flintstones reference, by the way.

B: Yes, we haven't done that in quite a while.

S: Carrie Granite!

(Evan laughs)

B: During her first marriage, she fell in love with applied science when her husband, Friederk Mandell, an Austrian military arms merchant, who actually sold munitions to Musolino, he would bring her to meetings to confer with scientists about military technology, and she just fell in love with it.

Now, later on, during her acting career, when it kinda bored her, because she felt like she wasn't being challenged in her acting. She would invent things like, for example, an improved traffic light, was one thing that she invented.

So, when World War II came around, she was asked to contribute by selling war bonds, and she did that, and she did it very well. But she wanted to do more. For example, she wanted to use her interest in science to help defeat the Nazi's. And when Axis torpedoes started sinking passenger liners, she claims to have said, “I've got to invent something that will put a stop to that.”

S: Did she?

B: Not specifically,


B: but that inspired her to work with composer George Anthiel to counter the jamming of allied torpedoes, because they would broadcast interference using the same frequency that's used to control the torpedo, and it would kind of like, go off on its own. It wouldn't do what it was supposed to do. So, by continually changing the frequency to one of the other eighty-seven or so different frequencies that were available, it would be a fairly impossible to jam, unless you had the specific sequence that was being used. So you knew what frequency to switch to, and when.

So, they patented this frequency hopping idea, as it's called, in 1942, but the US Navy opposed it. Apparently, they thought that it was impractical. But, of course, some people believed that it was also because the inventors, who were entertainers – I mean, what contribution could entertainers make to something like that?

C: Let's not forget, entertainers with vaginas.

B: Well, one of them did. (Cara laughs) I'm not sure George had, I would guess probably not. But the idea was resurrected in the 1950's, with the advent of the transistor. And the navy started using her idea. They even specifically cited Lamarr's patent as the basis for their new technology even though other scientists had developed similar ideas, even before Lamarr. She was not the first one to come up with this idea, but her idea, her independent idea, or invention, definitely had an impact, especially if the navy based their technology on her patent.

So, her idea was a powerful one that eventually inspired modern spread spectrum technology used today in your cellphone, GPS, Bluetooth, wifi network connections, et cetera. It's amazing what you can apply this to.

So, Lamar and Anthio's contributions were recognized, but decades later, when they were inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame 2014. And Hedy Lamarr was also the first female to be given the Bulbi Nass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, which is given to inventors who have made a lasting contribution to society, to science, business, and the arts.

So, interesting, all the more interesting considering that she was mainly known as a very famous actress. And it's pretty cool to think she was so scientifically-minded, especially at that time in history, and made such an interesting contribution. So, remember Hedy Lamarr, mention her to your friends, perhaps when discussing Gaussian frequency shift keying modulation, you know, if it comes up.

S: She was married six times, six husbands.

C: Wow!

E: Like Elizabeth Taylor territory.

S: Yeah, I know. She was born, her first name was Hedwig.

B: Yeah, that was funny, yeah, I thought that was funny.

S: Yeah, Hedwig.

B: Hedwig!

S: Not the owl from Harry Potter?

E: Y-yes

B: Yes

C: Do we know if she was doing some of this work while she was working as an actress? Or did she formally retire before she kind of moved over?

B: No, she was doing movies until the fifties, and this came up in the forties. So, like I said, she, I guess they played, they actually listed some of her typical lines in her movies, and they were pretty vapid. And it said that she wasn't very challenged by any of the acting she was asked to do. So, to prevent from being so bored all the time, she actually started inventing things. So I thought that was really

C: I love that.

B: cool, yeah.

C: So cool.

News Items[edit]

Solar Hydrogen (8:18)[edit]

Homo naledi (21:35)[edit]

(Commercial at 33:14)

Terraforming Mars (34:41)[edit]

Metallic Glass (44:44)[edit]

What's the Word (50:59)[edit]

  • Anosmia

S: All right, Cara, What's the Word?

C: All right! So, of course, last week, the word was stochastic, and this week's word is one that I know Steve knows well, so I want to ask you, Bob and Evan, do you know the word anosmia?

E: Spell that, please?

C: A-N-O-S-M-I-A.

B: Oh, I used to know that word!


B: Oh, it's something about odor.

E: Smelling

B: Something about odor, yeah.

C: Good job, all right. So anosmia is the loss of sense of smell. It's often caused by head injury, infection, or of course, blockage of the nose or nasal passages. We can all induce anosmia right now, if we just plug our noses. But of course, for many people, anosmia's more serious, because, as I said, this can be the result of brain damage.

Now, anosmia comes from the new Latin anosmia, same word, which comes from the Greek “an,” meaning “no, or none;” and “osma,” meaning “smell.” That's also a cognate of the Latin term, “osma,” meaning “odor.”

And of course – I say “of course” - I didn't know this until I looked it up. New Latin is described in etymological parlance as the language that was used in scholarly and scientific works between 1375 and the year 1900.

B: New Latin!

E: Ooh, it's not (inaudible 52:18) okay.

C: New Latin, yes, it stops in 1900, but we definitely do see things written in New Latin in the 1800's, which is when we see the earliest appearance of anosmia in medical texts in English. Now, the earliest reference that I could find was from TS Watson's Diseases of the Nose, which was published in 1875, although we know that it was used as early as 1815. But in Diseases of the Nose, TS Watson says that, quote, “Anosmic individuals should be aware they run great risks in regard to sewer emanations and other poisonous effluvia.”

B: Yeah

C: I'd say that's good advice.

B: Poisonous effluvia!

C: Poisonous effluvia. I've got some associated words here: Normosmia is a normal sense of smell. Anosmia, of course is the complete loss, or sometimes I think it's referred to as partial loss, 'cause you can be anosmic in one nostril. Hyperosmia is increased sensitivity to odors.

B: Ooh!

C: Dysosmia is any defect or impairment in the sense of smell. Hyp-oh-smia, or probably hyp-osmia, diminished sense of smell. Parosmia: A perversion or distortion of the sense of smell, like smelling one odor, but thinking it smells differently. Phantosmia would be phantom smell, smelling something that's not there. And presbyosmia is a decrease in the sense of smell that's associated with aging, similar to presbiopia.

B: Presbiopia, yeah.

C: Yep

B: Nice.

C: So, there you go.

B: Cool, I like

C: That is

B: - I loved all the variations of the word. Cool.

C: Yes, that's a fun neurology term that you will sometimes read in the literature, especially if you read Oliver Sachs, like I do, or other neurology case studies. But you will also sometimes find it in a literary sense, to mean the same thing as “nose-blind.”

S: Yep, and that prefix, that A-N is what tells you that it's the lack of smell. Anosmia, that's like, my favorite version, my favorite neurological term that uses the A-N prefix is anosagnosia.

C: Ooh!

S: You know what that means, Cara?

C: Anosac – is that S-A?

S: Anosagnosia – A-N-O-S-A-G-N-O-S-I-A.

C: Okay,

S: Ano-sagnosia.

C: so I know that anagosia is having a difficulty categorizing or labeling things. I know prosapagnosia

B: Yeah

S: Yeah

C: is having a difficulty recognizing faces.

B: That's a good one.

C: Anosagnosia, what is that?

B: You can't recognize the smell.

S: No.

C: No, it's gotta be something with – it's a classification.

S: Yeah. It's the inability to recognize that you have a neurological deficit.

B: Oh!

C: Ah! Love it!

B: That's ...

C: It's so meta!

S: Yeah


B: That's a messed up disability right there, when you can be just messed up, and you just like, “I'm fine!”

C: Actually,

S: Because the part of your brain that gives you the ability also is what you would need to recognize that you don't have the ability.

Your Questions and E-mails[edit]

Question #1: Fibromyalgia (55:09)[edit]

I was quite taken aback listening to episode 529 with my wife and children, when Fibromyalgia was dismissed as a non existent disease, along with several others. Just to let you know, there was just a scientific study that tentatively identified a scientific diagnostic technique for fibromyalgia. We all have to remember just because something has not been completely defined, that does not make it 'fake' or nonexistent'. (See Higgs Boson). There are also several other newer studies that show oddities in perifial nerve growth and other physical changes. Whether or not it is completely understood, it is a real disease and/or syndrome. Your comments where insensitive and misinformed in my opinion. This was the show I played which is the first, and probably last, that my wife will listen to by your group. She is a skeptic. She has a MS in Chemical Engineering. She has also recently developed and been credibly diagnosed to have Fibromyalgia. Ben Texley Newberg, OR

(Commercial at 1:07:12)

Science or Fiction (1:07:57)[edit]

Item #1: A comparison of nearly a million tweets finds that liberals are more likely to use inclusive words such as “we” and “us” while conservatives are more likely to use profanity. Item #2: A new comparison finds that students taking interactive online learning courses learn 6 times more per unit of study than traditional online lectures. Item #3: A new computer model finds that rocky planets close to red dwarf stars so that the same side of the planet always faces their star may still have conditions habitable for life.

Announcement (1:22:35)[edit]

  • Australian skeptics event

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:30)[edit]

'You know, there are two things in life I believe a person should hold on to for as long as possible: virginity and skepticism. Surprisingly, I already lost the first thing so I'm going to hold on for the second one as long as possible.' - Captain Frank Irving

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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