SGU Episode 547

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SGU Episode 547
January 2nd 2016
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 546                      SGU 548

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


  • Rogues watched Star Wars Episode VII

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

Special Report (2:35)[edit]

  • The Rogues review psychic predictions for 2015 and make some predictions of their own.

News Items[edit]

HIV Blood Donations (33:33)[edit]

The Genetics of Intelligence (39:31)[edit]

British Smiles (49:22)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (56:40)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: R2D2 translator

What's the Word (58:23)[edit]

  • Obligate

S: All right, Cara, What's the first Word of 2016?

C: All right, the first word of the year is obligate. Obligate is an adjective. Don't confuse it with the verb obli-gate.

S: Jay is an obligate mouth breather.

C: Ah!

E: Something that happens regularly?

C: Almost

S: Not just regularly, but necessarily.

C: Necessarily.

S: Yeah

C: So, the definition of obligate is, it's restricted to one particularly characteristic mode of life, or it is biologically essential for survival. Obligate is often used in biological science to describe necessity, as opposed to its opposite, facultative, which means optional or discretionary.

For example, an obligate anaerobe cannot survive in the presence of oxygen, whereas a facultative anaerobe prefers an oxygenless environment, but can perform aerobic respiration if it's necessary. So here is some other examples: An obligate parasite cannot reproduce without a host. An obligate carnivore cannot survive without meat. Obligate symbionts have to live together in symbiosis; they cannot survive without one another. Makes sense?

S: Yep

E: Yeah, perfect sense.

B: Very cool word.

C: So this word is based on the verb, “obligate,” which we've all heard, which evolved from the 1500's, meaning, “to bind,” to kind of the 1600's meaning, which was to put under moral obligation. But the original “bind” meaning can actually be traced to its Latin roots.

So you can break it down into “ob,” which means “to;” and “ligare,” which means “bind,” like to ligate or alligant, or al-lie-gant, depending on how you want to pronounce it. So that binding term really comes in in the “ligate” portion of obligate. There ya go!

B: Cool word.

C: You get use, next week.

S: That's a cool word.

C: I like it. It's a great word. And you can use it all the time, like Jay is an obligate mouth-breather.

S: Yeah

J: What?

C: I guess he could technically breathe through his nose.

S: There are like, sometimes, infants are obligate mouth breathers; they can't breathe through the nose.

E: Aw

C: Aw, they're too stuffy?

S: Or, if your nostrils are completely congested, like, you can't get air through them, then you become (at least for a time) and obligate mouth breather.

E: Ooh, I hate that feeling.

C: It is gross. But I love it as opposed to facultative. One of the most fun phrases I learned when I took paleontology back in college was facultative biped. I was so excited when I learned the term “facultative biped,” which would be, of course, a dinosaur that walks on its hind legs, but sometimes crouches down and uses its front legs.

S: Right

C: It's fun.

S: Yeah

C: Facultative

S: Cool word.

C: But an obligate biped is like us, 'cause it's super-weird if we were walkin' around on all fours.

S: Except for that one family in India, right?

C: Oh yeah! That's right.

E: Oh, that's right. Yes

C: With spinobifia, or whatever they had?

S: There's always an exception.

E: Always exceptions, except when there aren't.

S: Except when there aren't. (Cara laughs) Let's go on with Science or Fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:01:17)[edit]

Item #1: The lowest natural temperature ever directly recorded at ground level on Earth is −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F). Item #2: Wok racing, invented in Germany, is a winter sport that involves racing down a hill on a cooking wok, while skijoring is the sport of skiing behind sled dogs or a horse. Item #3: On January 12, 1888 a sudden Great plains blizzard killed over 5,000 people who were caught unprepared, the largest death toll from a blizzard on record.

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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