SGU Episode 56

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SGU Episode 56
August 15th 2006
SGU 55 SGU 57
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items ()[edit]

Attitudes toward Evolution Survey ()[edit]


Water Tree ()[edit]


Questions and E-mails ()[edit]

Abiogenic Origin for Oil ()[edit]

I work in the oilfield industry, and I thought of a controversy for you. Have you ever heard of the abiotic or abiogenic origin of oil (see for instance It seems to be prevalent in some Russian oilfield related circles. I do not believe it to be sound science, but it is intriguing to see it appear every now and then, albeit rarely, in otherwise 'informed' circles. Is this a topic that is sometimes discussed in the skeptics' community?

Best regards,

Stephane Virally
Paris, France

Dinosaur Petroglyphs ()[edit]

Do you have any idea what this petroglyph might be depicting? Creationist websites claim it is a dinosaur. See

Thanks very much.
Peggy Hall

Acupuncture ()[edit]

In response to the question of which phenomena that were once denied by skeptics but have since become scientifically verified:

I think acupuncture is a perfect example (and one of a very few I could think of). It was as ridiculed and placed in the same category as current pseudoscientific practices but has since been accepted by physicians and the scientific community as effective. Now in regards to the theory of why it works, you could say the 'chi' model is still in the realm of
pseudoscience, but nonetheless the actual practice seems to work.

Haig Shahinian

Interview with Ken Feder ()[edit]

  • Author: Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology

    Feder obtained his B.A. in anthropology in 1973 from the State University of New York at Stonybrook. He obtained his M.A. in anthropology in 1975 from the University of Connecticut and his Ph.D. from the same institution in 1982. He has taught in the Department of Anthropology at Central Connecticut State University since 1977 where he is now a full professor. His primary research interests focus on the archaeology of the native peoples of New England and in the analysis of public perceptions about the human past. He is the founder and director of the Farmington River Archaeological Project, a long-term investigation of the prehistory of the Farmington River Valley. He is the author and co-author of several books including: Human Antiquity: An Introduction to Physical Anthropology and Archaeology (with Michael Park; now in its fourth edition); Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology (now in its fourth edition); A Village of Outcasts: Historical Archaeology and Documentary Research at the Lighthouse Site; and The Past In Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory (in its third edition). He also is the co-editor of and contributor of two chapters to the most recent (seventh) edition of Field Methods In Archaeology; and he is the editor of Lessons From the Past: An Introductory Reader in Archaeology and co-editor (with David Poirier) of the book, Dangerous Places: Health and Safety in Archaeology. His latest book, Linking to the Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology has just been published by Oxford University Press. When he's not digging in the dirt or writing books, he likes to hang out with his one wife, two kids, and three cats.

    Kennewick Man legal update:

Name That Logical Fallacy ()[edit]

  • Logical Fallacies
First, I want to say I love your podcast and it is my favorite skeptical podcast.

I have an example of what I think is a logical fallacy, but I'm not sure what type it is.

In a discussion of artificial nails, one person in the group insisted that rich women (especially those with 'old money') never get fake nails. The person said she could always spot fake nails and she never saw them on the rich women she knew.

Several people argued with her and one person called her argument the 'toupee fallacy' - she knew a man who insisted he could always spot a toupee, so he always knew whether or not a guy had one. She told him he couldn't know that - he probably could spot an obvious toupee, but how did he know that there weren't people he saw who looked like they had their own hair but were actually wearing a very realistic toupee.

Is this a valid logical fallacy? If so, what category of fallacy is it?

Laurel Kristick
Oregon, USA

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Question #1: At a currently ongoing meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Prague, astronomers have decided to strip Pluto of the title of planet. Henceforth Pluto will be designated an ice dwarf. Question #2: NASA has lost the original footage of the Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon. A search for the lost footage is under way. Question #3: New study finds that women's sex drive plummets once they are in a stable relationship.

Skeptical Puzzle ()[edit]

Last Week's puzzle:

He was born in the late 1800's in the eastern region of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Ukraine). After fighting in WWI he studied medicine in Vienna. By age 21, he began a private practice as an 'analytic psychiatrist' and was considered a pioneer in the study of human sexuality.

During his research, he believed he had discovered a 'unique energetic life force'. He claimed it was present in all of nature, and was a death defying entity. He attempted to apply his 'life force' theory to research in medical endeavors such as cancer treatment, although he was largely ignored and often criticized by the mainstream scientific community - criticism he took as personal attacks.

He immigrated to the United States just as World War II was beginning. His advocacy of the alleged therapeutic benefits of his life force based inventions (such as a life force detector) caused him legal trouble with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He died on at the age of 60 in a US Federal Penitentiary. He was jailed for criminal contempt because he refused to obey an injunction against selling quack medical devices.

Who was he, and what was the name of the life force he claimed to have discovered?

Answer: Wilhem Reich, Orgone

No new puzzle this week, but there will be puzzles in future episodes.

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 'info @'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


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