SGU Episode 554

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SGU Episode 554
February 20th 2016
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SGU 553 SGU 555
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein


Quote of the Week
The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, prove sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind.
David Hume
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Show Notes
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Introduction[edit]

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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (0:47)[edit]

  • Skeptical Quote of the Week: Nikolai Vavilov was a biologist and geneticist who pioneered the concept of seed banks and fought Stalin's genetic pseudoscience in war-torn Russia.

B: And speaking of Kevin Folta, I would like to thank him for suggesting this person. So, for my Superheroes of Science this week, I will be covering Nikolai Vavilov, 1887 to 1943. He was a Russian geneticist, geographer, argonomist, plant breeder, and a few other things. He was ahead of his time with his innovations in genetics and plant breeding, and he's considered the father of modern seed banks.

Now, Vavilov had a dream of using new genetics-based agricultural practices to create enough food to end hunger and famines in the world. He called it a mission for all humanity. But to that end, he traveled the world, essentially, visiting sixty-four countries on five continents. This guy learned fifteen languages in this process.

E: Whoa!

B: Unbelievable!

E: That's impressive.

B: unbelievable. He talked to farmers, which is something scientists really weren't doing at that time. He sent over a quarter million seeds home, creating the first (and today, the oldest) seed bank in the world. He was the first to realize the importance, or among the first to realize the importance of plant diversity. And, as one writer put it, “All of our notions about biological diversity, and needing diversity of foods on our plates to keep us healthy, sprung from his work many decades ago.”

His story is also among the most tragic and sad in biology as well. His student, Lysenko, who you may have heard of, rejected Mendalian genetics, replacing it with rank pseudoscience. This quack biology fit well into Stalin's political ideology. So he put him in charge of all Russian agricultural concerns.

This led to the efforts to discredit Vavilov, ultimately leading to the deaths of many of his researchers, and Vavilov's interrogation. Him being completely discredited, and imprisonment, ultimately, despite his appeals to science. When the Nazi's overran his research facility in 1941, after Vavilov was already in prison, his researchers famously barricaded themselves inside to protect the seed bank, even allowing some of them to starve to death to preserve his work, instead of eating the seeds,

E: Geez

B: or giving them to the populace. Vavilov resorted to discussing science with his cell mates. He even wrote a decent book there, but he was also forced, and resorted to eating frozen cabbage and moldy flour for a year and a half. This amazing scientist, who survived famines while growing up, and only wanted to feed the world, eventually starved in the gulag.

E: Geez

B: Just an amazing story, so tragic. So, remember Nikolai Vavilov. Mention him to your friends, perhaps when discussing the law of homologous series in hereditary variation, or perhaps when you're eating cabbage.

S: Lysenko was one of the most, I think, tragic stories in the history of science. And a great example of something that we talk about a lot,

B: Yep

S: which is what happens when you subvert science and

B: ideology

S: critical thinking to ideology.

B: Yep

S: And that ideology does not have to be religious.

E: Nope

S: It wasn't in this case, yeah.

News Items[edit]

14 Billion Year Memory (4:00)[edit]

3D Printing Body Parts (14:07)[edit]

Eating Mammoth (28:40)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (36:16)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Sublimation

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question #1: David Suzuki (38:31)[edit]

Follow up on quote from last week

(Commercial at 41:21)

Interview With Kevin Folta (42:59)[edit]

  • Backlash against Folta for accepting funds from Monsanto. Also, GMO Banana

(Commercial at 1:09:28)

Science or Fiction (1:10:31)[edit]

Item #1: Scientists report the analysis of a new species, Chororapithecus abyssinicus, from a >40% complete specimen they believe represents the most recent common ancestor between humans and gorillas. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160216143926.htm Item #2: A new app turns smarts phones into a global seismic detection network. Item #3: A recent survey finds that Americans are more likely to have “a great deal of confidence” in scientific leaders than any other community, other than the military.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:22:11)[edit]

'The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, prove sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind.' - David Hume

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 theskepticsguide.org, 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 info@theskepticsguide.org. 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.


References[edit]


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