SGU Episode 56

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SGU Episode 56
August 15th 2006
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 55                      SGU 57

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

E: Evan Bernstein

P: Perry DeAngelis

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptic Guide to the Universe. This is your host, Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society. Today is Tuesday, August 15th, 2006. Joining me this evening are Rebecca Watson...

R: Hey everybody!

S: Bob Novella...

B: Hey everyone!

S: Evan Bernstein...

E: Hi out there!

S: ...and Perry DeAngelis.

P: Right.

S: How are you all this evening?

P: Very good.

B: Good Steve.

E: Excellent. Fantastic.

S: We have a great interview this week. Ken Fader, a Skeptical Archaeologist. We'll be on in just a moment, but first a couple news items and emails.

News Items[edit]

Attitudes toward Evolution Survey (0:54)[edit]

S: I know you all have seen the survey about attitudes towards evolution that was published recently, where the United States finished almost dead last in terms of support for evolution.

P: How unusual.

S: The United States came out around 40% false, 20% not sure and 40% true.

P: I blame religion.

S: The only country that did worse than us was Turkey.

R: Take that Turkey. Sorry.

S: The Scandinavians that were towards the top, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, were near the top at around 80%.

P: Very fair and bright people.

E: In many ways.

P: Yeah, you know, I mean, what are you going to do? So we're a bunch of backward baboons. I mean, isn't that proof enough?

R: And didn't that survey show that England was kind of creeping up on us too?

S: The UK was near the top. They were around 70%.

R: Their numbers have gotten worse in the past few years.

S: It's a long way to go, though. So they're going to long fall before they get to us.

R: I think we're importing our religion.

E: Is this the first time they've done a survey like this? For instance, 20 years ago, maybe only 30% of the population believed in the truth of evolution and maybe we've increased since then.

S: It's been remarkably steady over the last 30, 40 years.

E: Yeah.

P: So the seaming rise of the religious right hasn't really impacted the number. That's surprising.

S: It hasn't. It actually has not.

P: That's surprising.

S: It's good to know. There's no way we beat out Turkey.

P: That's wonderful.

E: One down, 40 to go.

B: I want to blow this country. It's disgusting.

S: And move to Iceland?

P: Yeah, that's all. Blow this bird and move to Iceland. Why not?

S: No, but this country needs us, right? Where else we're more needed than it is.

B: I could do the podcast from Iceland.

S: We could.

R: Also, they have, they have Bjork.

P: I think that's true. That's true. They do.

Water Tree (2:51)[edit]

S: Other skeptical news this week. You guys heard it. I know you guys have seen the mysterious water spouting tree in San Antonio, Texas.

R: You could ever imagine that a tree could have water in it. (laughter) It's a miracle! Run for your lives.

P: This was only leaking. I said, we were talking about this briefly off air and Rebecca said it was owned by a woman. In fact, she's correct. [inaudible] is the owner of the tree. I, like I said, I've seen it on television. It's squirting like, the best way I could explain is if you were to squirt water through your teeth at a pretty good clip. That's how the water's coming out of the tree.

S: Yeah, the steady stream of water. This is a hundred year old red oak tree. And so far-

P: It's in San Antonio, Texas.

S: -they're not really sure how this is happening. The leading hypotheses so far are that there is some kind of water pressure under the tree, whether it's well or just an underwater spring. And there must be some channel in the tree for whatever reason. And it's pushing the water up through this channel and out a hole on the side of the tree. Of course, the popes are subscribed to the hypothesis that this is miracle water.

E: Miracle water.

R: A perfectly logical hypothesis. Don't dismiss it.

S: Lucille insisted God bless the tree for the water to come out. And I say whatever god makes is good.

E: And did she mention which god?

S: She did not.

E: It's too bad.

P: Poseidon?

R: Let's not go running to science without first considering the possibility that it's magic.

P: Occam's razor would lead you right to the conclusion that it's Jesus.

S: How can you argue with this logic? She says: "Water runs down. It don't run up." So there you go. It must be an miracle.

E: Except in Neil Adams's world.

S: That's almost as profound as no atoms.

P: That's penetrating logic. I must admit. It's hard to get by.

R: Can it also just be a burst water pipe?

S: That was a suggestion too. There might be a burst water pipe underneath there. Something is putting this water under pressure. That's all you need.

P: And they ruled out broken water mains. And a hydrologist who tested the water said he couldn't tell the difference between the water issuing from the tree and the aquifer in the area.

S: Right.

P: Under the underground water base.

S: So it's just the water table.

P: Like you said, there's obviously some kind of pressure under there. Some channel in the tree.

R: Maybe a magical channel. Just putting that out there, not saying it's bad.

S: Obviously, I mean, come on. We all know this isn't god. Obviously it's leprechauns, please. Let's not avoid the obvious conclusion here.

B: I'm convinced.

S: Now-

P: Druids, tree sprites.

Questions and E-mails (5:48)[edit]

S: Your emails keep pouring in. We appreciate it. We have lots of very great and interesting and provocative emails.

R: You know, they're okay, but I'd like to see a few more emails praising me. That's all. Is that too much to ask?

S: You're below your quota.

R: Yeah, I really am. I don't know what's happening in the vast. I went on vacation and when I came back, everybody had just forgotten about me.

S: Yeah, you got to work harder.

R: Ah, work. Works for suckers and you.

Email #1: Abiogenic Origin for Oil (6:17)[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

S: The first email comes from Staphane Verale from Paris, France.

R: Isn't that Stefan?

S: Whatever. (laughter) It's S-T-E-P-H-A-N-E. It looks like Staphane to me. Whatever.

E: It could be Stephanie.

S: Probably not, though.

P: It's got to be anything but Staphane.

S: I don't know. It's French.

P: Du-mas. So what did Stevie have to say?

S: All right, all right, Staphane. (laughter)

P: From now on, you have to send your emails phonetically.

E: Phonetically.

S: If you want us to actually pronounce your name. He writes: "I work in the oil field industry and I thought I have a controversy for you. Have you ever heard of the A-biotic or A-biogenic origin of oil?" And he gives a link. "It seems to be prevalent in some Russian oil field related circles. I do not believe it is sound science but it is intriguing to see it appear everywhere now and then albeit rarely and otherwise informed circles. Is this a topic that is sometimes discussed in the skeptics community?"

P: Oh, yes. We were talking about it last night. I was saying how do oil, I don't even understand what he's talking about.

R: Well, I'm assuming it means oil that just pops up out of nowhere, right?

E: No, oil that is not.

R: A-biogenically.

P: It just leaks out of a tree. What is he talking about?

E: Oil that is not organic.

B: Right, right.

P: Okay. Okay.

S: Bob, straighten this guys out.

B: Well, not surprised he's heard it in Russia, that it's Department of Russia. The way it was first deposited in the 50s by Russian and Ukrainian scientists. Basically, as the name suggests that it's the hypothesis that oil primarily comes from non-biological sources. It's not much support for this theory. The idea of a biogenic hydrocarbons or petroleum is that it is not created by-log from biological organisms that is created naturally from materials that were in the earth billions of years ago that it is cooked up under high temperature and pressure in the mantle, not in the cross but in the much deeper mantle and slowly makes its way up to the surface where we can get at it. The idea is some people say, well, how could that be? There's biological material inside hydrocarbons, inside petroleum. These people say that bacteria, that there's a thriving immense community of bacteria in the mantle of the earth and that these bacteria actually live off this material. Therefore, it makes sense that we would find some of their biological remains in the hydrocarbons, the biogenic origin of oil, which most geologists subscribe to, is organic life is either in the sea floor or in the bogs and swamps, settled to the bottom and then over years it gets buried under sediment and with moderate pressure and heat, you've got hydrocarbon molecules being created and that's pretty much what the geological community believes. It seems all the evidence is pointing to it now, it's important to point out that abiogenic hydrocarbons, it does happen. Scientists do believe that yes, this does happen but it's minimal. The bottom line, I've got a great quote here from geologist Dale Allen Fyfer and he's summed it up very nicely. He said "The theory of organic origin of oil evolved gradually and has been refined through many decades of investigation and observation. It does its superb job of explaining the observed phenomenon and predicting new discoveries and it's consistent with the mechanics of geology. The abiotic hypothesis remains just that a hypothesis which is failed in prediction and so cannot be elevated to a theory. It is completely ignored by the oil industry worldwide and even within Russia and that's the final testament to its failure."

R: I guess that's a big no.

S: Doesn't make predictions, that's the bottom line.

B: So it's not, you really can't even call it a theory. And one of the reasons why this is so controversial is the fact that if the a-biogenic origin of oil is correct, that would mean that the oil reserves of the earth would be immense. We would literally, couldn't possibly use it all in many, many centuries or even thousands of years there would be so much of it.

P: Sounds like cold fusion right do, right?

E: Oh yeah.

R: Yeah. It's amazing how pseudoscience can work its way into any field of study.

B: And not only that, there's also a thriving conspiracy theory around this. As you could imagine, people are saying that they know that this is how it's created and that there's lots of hydrocarbons and petroleum available but of course they don't, they want to artificially inflate the price so they're not admitting it. It's just a huge-

P: I hate they.

S: They are stupid. The conspiracy theorists must believe that all working scientists are these maniacal mad scientists working for evil corporations. That's got to be their view of the scientific community.

R: Whoa, Steve, you're saying they're not? You just destroyed my worldview.

E: Well scientists invented the world mwahahahaha.

S: Alright, let's go on to our next email.

Email #2: Dinosaur Petroglyphs (12:01)[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

S: This one comes from Peggy Hall and Peggy writes: "Do you have any idea what this petroglyph might be depicting?" She gives a link which will of course have on our notes page. "Creationists websites claim it is a dinosaur." Petroglyphs are pictures written or spatially scratched on the surface of stone. These are common in the Americas, they were left behind by many American Indian tribes. Many of them depict animals. Animals that they hunted. There are many that are basically outlines of human hands. Again, believe that people often would sign their work by basically tracing their hands.

P: They're bored and trace their hands on the rock.

S: Or we just do it for fun.

R: I do that all the time.

P: I know.

R: There are a lot of petroglyphs that nobody really knows what they are.

S: That's true. Although the creationist literature and creationists websites are full of references to a few petroglyphs that purport to depict dinosaurs. The one that Peggy sent is probably one that's been around for a long time.

R: It's kind of cute.

S: It's kind of cute. It's basically an oval with a few lines coming off of it. You can imagine that one of the lines is a leg, one is a neck. I guess the other one would have to be a leg that merges with a tail because it really aren't two separate lines. I don't know if that was meant to look like a dinosaur or if it's something else entirely, some more abstract or crude figure. One of the possibilities here is that this petroglyph and maybe some others are genuine. They are ancient and they were made by Native Americans centuries ago. But they're just not depicting dinosaurs. They're just something else. They're vague enough where it doesn't have to be a dinosaur. But there are other petroglyphs that are clearly dinosaurs. They cannot be a misinterpretation of something else. There is sufficient detail that you know this is a picture of a Brontosaurus. Some even have the little triangular spikes along the back of the spine. There's enough detail. They look a little cartoonish. The problem with these as evidence, of course the creationist websites are citing these as proof positive that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. The problems with this line of evidence are twofold. First, you can't date these petroglyphs because the rock is as old as the rock is. There's really no method for saying how long ago these pictures were scratched into them. The carbon dating doesn't apply and the rock's as old as they are. They can't be dated. Second is that all of the petroglyphs allegedly depicting dinosaurs were discovered after dinosaurs were discovered. Only after the pictures of dinosaurs were in the popular consciousness. It's not as if these were discovered a couple hundred years ago when they were in the record as existing as known archaeological findings and then only later were dinosaurs discovered and said, hey this is a dinosaur. So that is a problem for the utility as evidence. Actually is a third reason which is an all archaeologist who studied petroglyphs know and accept this, all petroglyph findings are contaminated by modern fakes. Some obviously so, there never were intended to be hoaxes or to portray themselves as possibly ancient petroglyphs. They're just like people adding their own graffiti or art to the wall of petroglyphs. The public has access to all of these areas. There are none that are where there is the security or whatever is so tight that the public could not get access to them. So the evidence is totally contaminated which means that they're certainly not sufficient of a line of evidence to establish the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs.

P: Totally feeble.

S: Yeah, it is feeble.

P: It really is.

R: I just keep looking at the pictures and they have one of the triceratops. It looks like a cow to me. It definitely looks like a cow. And some of the other ones, I've got one word, peyote.

S: Peyote.

R: You know?

S: So I was thinking lame, that was my way.

R: And they say you draw a lot of crazy stuff.

S: Let's do one more email before we go on to our interview.

Email #3: Acupuncture (16:47)[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, California

S: This one comes from Haig Shahinion from California and Haig writes "In response to the question of which phenomenon that were once denied by skeptics but have since become scientifically verified, I think acupuncture is a perfect example. And one of the very few I could think of. It was ridiculed and placed in the same category as current pseudoscientific practices but has since been accepted by physicians in the scientific community as effective. Now in regards to the theory of why it works, you could say that the chi model is still in the realm of pseudoscience but nonetheless the actual practice seems to work." This was in fact the only submission that we got. Last week we were given the question, 40 years ago what was dismissed by skeptics which has since been scientifically proven to be true. And we couldn't think of anything. And I asked our listeners to send in examples. This was the only example that was set in. And I have to honestly say I disagree with this example of acupuncture.

P: Definitely.

S: Acupuncture is a complex example because saying acupuncture is like saying chiropractic or is like saying almost like saying alternative medicine. It's actually a huge collection of claims. Some of which, most of which, are and remain purely pseudoscientific. The notion that there is life force, chi flowing through the body and you can manipulate it by sticking needles in the nodes where these lines of life force cross which is the theoretical basis of, it's actually a superstitious basis of acupuncture. That's a pre-scientific notion that is purely superstitious and pseudoscientific. The idea that there are any health benefits or positive benefits to acupuncture, it's a little bit more complicated. But it's important to note that there are a great many health claims made for acupuncture and the majority of them are purely pseudoscientific. It's not supported by any evidence or any theoretical basis. Now when you start to talk about symptom relief, the question gets a lot mudier. A lot of people think that acupuncture is effective for pain, nausea, addiction has been claimed. And in fact, if you look at all of the studies that have been published for these symptom claims for acupuncture, still it is not proven. Still it remains mostly negative.

P: Symptom relief is so vague. So many things can relieve your symptoms, not the least of which is time.

R: It's also really, really difficult to do a double blind experiment with acupuncture.

S: Yeah, absolutely.

R: The limits of finding somebody who knows what they're doing but doesn't know enough about what they're doing to know where they're going to put the needles.

S: Well, the placebo was often called sham acupuncture. And actually most of the time in most of the studies, they employ actual acupuncturists who then just put the needles in the wrong place, rather than the "correct place".

R: But of course the problem with that is that then the acupuncturist knows who's going to have a damn treatment.

S: Exactly right, which is, that has yet to be factored out. So it really needs to be triple blinded. But unfortunately they haven't figured out how to do that yet.

R: The dreaded triple blind.

P: But the bottom line is, the thing is still based on chi. It's magical thinking.

S: Well, that's where you get a little bit more complex because it's possible. Let's say that, of course, the whole chi thing is pseudoscience and wrong. But what if you are actually sticking needles into the body?

P: So as you said, at least something's happening. It's not like homeopathy.

S: So it's not impossible that by chance, they hit upon something which has some kind of physiological effect which can be exploited for some symptom relief. Now the prevailing speculative hypothesis to how it could be working is the counter irritation theory. It's basically that you're stimulating one neurological pathway and that's inhibiting other neurological pathways. To give you an everyday example to explain is if you bang your elbow against something hard and it hurts, what do you typically do?

E: You rub it.

S: You rub it. That's your natural instinct. Rubbing it makes it feel better. It deadens the pain. Because you're activating these non-painful sensory pathways and they're inhibiting the painful sensory pathways and it makes the pain less severe. So perhaps acupuncture has that kind of non-specific effect. It's no more effective than rubbing what hurts, basically. So that's certainly that is possible. Whether or not it has a measurable clinically significant effect in chronic pain has really yet to be established. Now proponents always point to the studies that are published that are positive but you have to realize there are hundreds of studies with acupuncture and of course out of any set of hundreds of studies you can pick out the positive ones. If you look at all of the studies actually at the bulk of them are negative and there does seem to be a pretty good correlation where the better design studies have a greater tendency to be negative. Again, there are still, yes, there are a couple of positive studies but none of them without significant flaws. Either they're not properly blinded or there was a huge dropout rate. The data is very weak and it certainly has not risen to the point that it's established scientifically. And even if it turns out that there's some measurable counter irritation effect it does not validate the bulk of the claims that are being made for medical acupuncture. And so there's also a danger in thinking about it as one big thing.

P: But the goal of sticking in those needles according to the acupuncturist is to manipulate the chi. And remember, chi spelled backwards is crap.

E: And there are also 365 of these meridian points on the body supposedly one for each day of the year.

S: Well, that's classic origin of acupuncture but over the intervening centuries the number of points is multiplied to the thousands. So now it's hard to find a place on the body that isn't the acupuncture point. None of the studies really convincingly show that where you stick the needles makes a difference. And whenever the studies are negative the pro acupuncture is say, well, that's because the sham acupuncture was actually accidentally real acupuncture because where they were sticking the needle also works. And there could be a sort of non specific effect to the whole process of getting acupuncture. Often you see the acupuncturist you lay on the table and I've actually spoken to acupuncturists about this and like one of them told me that he actually said, by the time you stick the needles in, actually most of the therapeutic effect it has already occurred. And the patient's in like an incense filled room with pleasant music. They're laying on the table. You actually palpate the points that you're going to insert.

R: You're palpating.

S: Yeah, so you get relaxation, a little bit of gentle massage and and sure, that's going to have some, you're going to feel better when you go through that process and the fact that they're sticking needles and you may be completely incidental to the beneficial effect.

E: Well, I hear you lose a little bit of weight with each acupuncture treatment. You're a little lighter in the wallet. So you leav a little bit lighter.

S: One final little comment about acupuncture while we're on this topic is a lot of people will cite the cases of acupuncture anesthesia and basically people having surgery with nothing but acupuncture. And so far, no one has been able to substantiate any case of that. That in fact, that these are either hoaxes or the anesthesia included a little bit of morphine in the IV fluid, which they should get the time.

P: Oops.

S: There's a great story.

P: Yeah, that's a good story.

S: The great story told by a colleague of mine at Yale who actually went to China to investigate a specific surgeon who claimed he was able to do surgery under acupuncture anesthesia alone. And he was in the operating room observing the procedure. The patient who was behind the sterile blanket to keep the surgical field sterile was saying something. He was saying something in Chinese. He didn't understand. He was saying a single word over and over again. I think it was pong. Pong, pong, over and over again. And the neurologist who's my colleague said to this translator, what is that guy saying? So he leaned closer to the guy so he could hear what he was saying and then said, oh, he's saying pain, pain, pain. So the translator then said something in Chinese to the surgeon. The surgeon then yelled at the patient and the patient shut up. That was acupuncture anesthesia. So which is interesting because it's only in this culture, could something like that exist and that the Asians have a much higher pain threshold than Westerners do. And also their submissiveness to authority like the authority of the surgeon is also much greater. So I think that plays a lot into this cultural phenomenon. But there does not appear to be even a single, substantial case of like, actual pain relief to the degree that you could do surgery without drugs under acupuncture. So that's basically a myth. Well, let's go on to our interview.

Interview with Ken Feder (26:12)[edit]

S: Joining us now is Kenneth Fader. Ken, welcome to the Skeptics Guide.

KF: Great to be here, Steve.

S: Ken is the author of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. He's also the author of many textbooks of archaeology. And you are also a CSICOP fellow, is that correct?

KF: Yeah, I've been a psychopath fellow for a long time now. I've been submitting articles to them and consulting for them for a number of years.

S: That's right. You are the skeptical archaeologist.

KF: I guess so. That's why I get all the nasty emails.

S: So I want to talk to you about a few things, one topic that we haven't addressed before, but we haven't spoken to an archaeologist about. Is the Bosnian pyramid.

KF: Oh, gosh, yeah.

S: What do you know about that?

KF: Well I got a call a couple of months ago from a freelance journalist who was working in Bosnia when this stuff sort of all hit the papers. And so what I know about it is basically what this journalist told me, what's appeared on various internet sites and a recent article in Archaeology Magazine that talks a bit about it. It's pretty depressing stuff because it's the same kind of pseudo-archaeology that people have been voicing on the public for years and years and years. It's the Atlantis story all over again. It's Graham Hancock all over again. It's this notion that something like 10,000 or 11,000 or 12,000 years ago, there was this super-sophisticated civilization that archaeologists, of course, know nothing about. The people out in the trenches, digging the holes, we've never found them. But these other folks find evidence of this super-sophisticated civilization and whether they call it Atlantis or something else. The theme is the same. It's bigger, better, older than anything archaeologists know about. Bigger, better, older than Egypt. And in this case, in the case of the so-called Bosnian pyramid, I mean, the claim is made that this huge pyramidal structure is twice as old as anything in Egypt and I have five, seven, eight times larger than the great pyramid. The only thing lacking in all of these stories, of course, is any physical evidence to back up the claim. Which is sort of typical.

S: Yes. Yeah, typical of pseudoscience in general.

KF: Right. Oh, sure.

S: The pseudo-archaeologist is Osmanagić, I believe, is the guy's name. He does claim to have found some slabs and some evidence. But my interpretation from what I read in the news articles is that he's probably just digging up some legitimate Roman archaeological remains in just interpreting it.

KF: Yeah. Exactly. In fact, that's what's getting a lot of the local real archaeologists all up in arms because apparently it seems that what the guy is doing is there are real archaeological sites on this completely natural mountain. And he's finding those and claiming that those are, that that's actual evidence of the pyramid. This is the equivalent of going into any mountain in Connecticut and finding a foundation on that mountain and claiming that therefore the mountain is artificial and here's the evidence. Well, no, people have been building stuff on mountains for quite some time. And it takes a geologist to determine the age of the mountain and the context of the mountain. And takes an archaeologist to figure out how old the structure is. So the problem here is that this is a mountain and he has found real stuff on that mountain. And making the connection between the two. And in fact, the archaeological materials are on top of the mountain.

S: And he doesn't have the credentials or experience or training to really know what he's doing.

KF: No, nothing. He has nothing whatsoever. And I guess that there are folks who look at this and say, well, it's sort of, it's understandable that in a place that has suffered so greatly over the last couple of decades that people are going to jump at, respond really positively to a claim that there's some great ancient history right here in the middle of our land that nobody's knows about, nobody's heard about that dwarfs other ancient civilizations. It's understandable why people might sort of leave their skepticism behind and accept something like that. In a lot of ways, it's like some of the claims of the Afro-Santras that there's all this evidence of an African presence in the New World long before Columbus and they take this as an important piece of evidence showing the greatness of ancient Africa. Nobody disclaims the great archaeological record of Africa. But you can understand why folks who are who see themselves as an oppressed minority might look at this kind of evidence that the Afro-Centrists present as a way to establish their ancient culture as something that's terrific and wonderful and that the archaeological community just is too skeptical and isn't open to these new ideas. But I mean, the bottom line with all of this stuff is that archaeologists are open to new ideas when there's evidence to back it up. It's like any other science. It's easy to make a claim and it's easy to understand why a claim might be popular with some folks, but that's something quite different from having actual physical evidence to support the age of a site or to support that one culture traveled across an ocean of thousands of years ago. It's all about physical evidence. And in the case of the Bosnian Period, there's no physical evidence to back up this guy's assertion that this, in fact, is an ancient pyramid. It's a hill with some structures on it.

S: Yeah, and if that were a giant pyramid structure, wouldn't it be easy to do some kind of sonography or something to just see it rather than having to dig it up?

KF: Of course, there would be. But here's more of the point, the archaeological response to this is that, look, ancient pyramids don't build themselves. None of these things appear in a vacuum. So when we go to Giza and we see the triad of these enormous pyramids, that's what attracts the tourists, that's what attracts the cable TV shows. But the archaeologists are interested in where are the barracks, where are the dormitories, where is the physical evidence, the infrastructure, the physical evidence of the infrastructure that you'd have to have for a nation to build pyramids. And in Egypt and Giza, we've got exactly that. Mark Laneer, who's a very well-known Egyptologist and Zawi Hawas, who is the director of archaeological research at Giza, these guys have been excavating that infrastructure, finding the barracks, finding the dormitories, finding the marketplaces and the breweries and the bakeries to support the population building pyramids. The thing is, in Bosnia, there is no ancient 10,000-year-old infrastructure for the construction of that pyramid. If that pyramid was built by human beings, they had to live some place. They had to conscript that labor to build those pyramids. They needed the tools to build the pyramids. They needed places to house them. They needed places to bury the people who died during the construction. And none of that is there. The archaeological record would show that definitively as it has in Mezomerica, as it has in Egypt. We don't have any evidence of that. It's a pretty good indication that there wasn't anybody there doing it.

S: Right, and it sounds like a pretty amateurish mistake on the part of Osmanagić. To not even know to ask that question.

KF: Well, a common question that people will ask me about guys like this, about Erich von Däniken, the ancient astronauts. Do you think these guys really believe this stuff or do they have some other agenda? Is there an agenda for making money, for selling books, for nationalistic reasons, or whatever? And it's always hard for me to cipher that out. I'm not sure. Is this guy just doing bad archaeology, or does he not care? He's getting people excited about the past of Bosnia and that's his goal. I don't know.

S: Yeah, that question always comes up with these kind of pseodoscientists. And you never really know for sure, but I certainly have dealt with some in the past that I believe, absolutely believed what they were saying.

KF: Sure, true believers, absolutely.

S: Yeah, there is no belief so obscene or insane that there isn't somebody who will absolutely dedicate their life to it, let alone believe it.

R: I think that if you were just out to make money or something like that, you probably wouldn't have inserted some of his really whacked out opinions like the fact that the people who built it came from Atlantis or things like that. I mean, that's just so out there, there's no way you could have thrown that in in order to make some more money off of it.

KF: Yeah, you're right. And it's hard to know. I mean, I've run into instances in which people really sort of have both going on at the same time. They're not on the one hand, they really believe that the human beings evolved first in England. They really truly believe that. But they know that the archaeological community or the paleoethobiological community won't go out there and do the work necessary to prove that. So they feel it's okay then to plant a fake because that'll get those people interested. And then they'll find the real evidence anyway. So it's sort of this combination that they're willing to perpetrate, fakes only because they think that the implications of their fake are going to be borne out by the archaeological record anyway, but you've got to get the archaeologists interested in the first place. So it's hard to know. I mean, as an archaeologist, my bottom line here is, well, that's an interesting claim, but I don't see the physical evidence supporting the existence of a pyramid building culture in Bosnia, 10 or 11 or 12,000 years ago, that that evidence just doesn't exist. And so at this point, it's the decision has to be made by funding agencies and by the archaeological community in Bosnia, whether or not they want an amateur digging up sites that maybe aren't nearly that old, but that are nevertheless archaeologically significant or important.

E: Does he also run the risk of perhaps doing some damage to this find?

KF: Oh, for sure. I mean, the guy is not doing sort of standard archaeology. He doesn't have the training, he doesn't have the background. And so no matter what you find on the top of that hill, the odds are he's not doing a standard professional archaeologist job of doing the excavating. I saw, that brings to mind another issue regarding Atlantis, there's this group who are looking for Atlantis back on the Bimini Road in the Bahamas. And there was just a show on the sci-fi channel where I was talking head on it, in fact. I mean, these guys claimed that they were finding artifacts and they were bringing them up from the bottom, bringing them up onto the ship, and then they decided that they needed a sample to analyze. And here's this object that this gentleman is claiming to be a very significant archaeological artifact. And he takes a rock hammer to it and smashes off a chunk of it so that he can send it to a lab for analysis. And it's like, every archaeologist in the world, whether they accept anything that this guy is claiming or not, looked at that and they cringed because he's damaging the artifact that he himself is claiming is going to prove his point. Nobody benefits from that. I mean, not the real archaeology or the fake archaeology.

S: Has the archaeological community mounted any kind of counter-attack against Osmanagić in Bosnia? Are there, have any chance of stopping him from destroying whatever genuine finds around that mountain?

KF: Well, basically what we've got is we have now, finally, the professional archaeological community has sort of caught up with this. And so, articles are appearing in archaeology journals. The article in archaeology magazine, that's the first article I've seen. There are a number of websites of local people in Bosnia that archaeologists have put up trying to get the funding agencies, whoever is funding the dig to sort of step back and to halt their funding of it until professional archaeologists and geologists can actually go and look at the site and make sure that damage is not being done. I don't know where it's going to go. I don't know what the laws are in Bosnia. In the United States, the laws are pretty clear. There are specific regulations about the qualifications needed to dig on federal land or where the ex-ration is funded by the local government or the federal government. But it's hard to know. I mean, in the US, on private land, anybody can dig up anything they want as long as the landowner agrees to it. So we'll see what's going to happen.

B: I wonder if there was some way to definitively debunk this claim. Is there some sort of, say, ground penetrating radar that could give you an assessment of exactly what's under there to say, look, there's no pyramid here. Is there anything, does that technology exist?

KF: Ground penetrating radar, in fact, is one of the ways in which we can see beneath the surface without actually disturbing anything. It's a remote sensing, non-destructive archaeology. In some cases, yeah, I mean, that would work really well. I don't know the geology of this mountain. So I can't tell you how close up to the surface the bedrock is. In the ground penetrating radar, printouts that I have seen, they are not, I don't think they're precise enough, for example, to identify the individuals, say, steps leading up to a surface. I'm the best way to do it, of course. There's, we'd be to have archaeologists excavate test bits up and down the mountain and to look at what that surface looks like, to dig trenches. Odds are, they're doing stuff like that, but interpreting everything in terms of their favorite hypothesis, which is, in fact, that it's artificial. What I've seen, the photographs that I've seen, it looks like when they're digging down and they expose rock, they're exposing bedrock, but they're claiming that that bedrock was placed there as part of the surface treatment of the pyramid. I mean, ultimately, folks, I mean Steve, from your experience with other pseudoscientists that ultimately there isn't any evidence that's going to dissuade them from their favorite hypothesis. I mean when James Randi does a magic trick that ostensibly shows that he's psychic and then reveals that it's a trick, there are people who deny it and say, no, you're lying, you actually are performing a psychic feat. So if you got folks who are that in such a state of denial when the person comes out and says, this is a magic trick, I'm fooling you, then you can imagine something that's sort of, that's less definitive, like a test fit on top of a pyramid that no matter what the archaeological or geological community determines, the folks who want it to be a pyramid are going to believe it's a pyramid.

R: But I think it's even more important in a case like this to get the word out that it's not because of the vast amounts of people who picked up on this story when it was originally reported by AP and it was reported as a perfectly normal thing that it was scientific fact when in fact it wasn't. So these weren't just true believers. These are just everyday people who read a news story and said, oh, that's cool, pyramids and Bosnia and then they put down the newspaper and they go away and it's like, well, no, wait a minute, that's not true.

KF: Well the funny thing is that I often joke that the students at my university don't read the paper or they don't watch cable news, but I've actually had three or four students, ex-students who had been in my classes previously, who came up to me during the last semester. So you know, what do you think about that? What about that pyramid in Bosnia? And I have to sit there and say, well remember what we learned in class? Where are the dates? Where are the petrographic analyses of the material that's coming up out of these holes? Where are the artifacts? Where is the infrastructure? And then, these students have a little bit of background, they start, they become more skeptical, they start asking questions.

E: It's just the shame, though, that they don't find, that they find something like that more interesting than the actual real archaeology going on. For me it was always the real archaeology. It was never the myths and the fantastical stories about them that piqued my interest.

KF: Yeah that's killer, isn't it? I mean you look at a place like ancient Egypt, you look at the pyramids, and the fact that human beings were 5,500 years ago, able to marshal their forces conscript this huge workforce to move two and a half million blocks and do it by the sweat of their brow and do it because they were intelligent and clever and inventive. And that's such an incredible, an incredibly important thing to know about our species. That we are capable of that kind of cooperative work. And I've always seen to me that that's a whole lot more interesting than, oh well guys from outer space came down and they built the pyramids. It is incredibly frustrating that too many people find that kind of stuff, the pseudo science, more interesting than the real deal archaeology, which is fascinating. And you know what? Part of that is the fault of archaeologists. And it's like any other science. We tend to talk amongst each other. We talk to other archaeologists. And we tend not to stop that conversation and talk to the people who are desperately interested in archaeology, but don't have the background to assess the claims made in newspapers or on the internet or whatever. And so we become this close group. And we know this stuff isn't true. We talk amongst ourselves. And the people out there are fodder for the pseudo archaeology. So it's not enough to be skeptical, right? We have to explain to people, well this is why we're skeptical. We're not close minded. But we have certain rules of evidence that people have to adhere to. And without the evidence it's like buying a used car from a guy and says, just trust me. Well, you wouldn't buy a used car like that. And you shouldn't buy an idea about the human past that way either.

S: And what you're saying, of course, applies to any science.

KF: Absolutely. Sure.

S: A great need for working scientists to popularize the findings and the methods of their science to the public. And if we don't do that, then we're left with basically the media and the paranormal true believers.

KF: Absolutely.

S: Who are going to sell the fantasy.

KF: Because clearly, I mean, I hate to put this in terms of the market. But clearly there's a market for ideas about the human past. It's something that people find interesting. It's like astronomy. It's like psychology. There are folks out there who are really interested in this. And with this vast marketplace, if the only thing they have in the marketplace are the claims and ideas promulgated by folks who really aren't committed to the scientific method, then whose fault is it when people come up to me in my university campus and say, hey, you're the archaeologist guy. Well, what about this notion that astronauts built the pyramids? Or what about Atlantis? It's our fault if we don't preemptively talk about this stuff.

S: So Ken, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Kennewick Man, because I think that this is a very iconic case now for the interaction between archaeology and federal regulation. And in this country, of course, the rights of native people. And interestingly, by coincidence, I see that there was a new bill proposed in the house that would alter the regulations about this a little bit. Are you familiar with that?

KF: Yeah, just a little bit. I mean, essentially, what happened was when the act that's NAGBRA, the Native American Grays Protection and Repatriation Act, when that was passed, the language was a little bit vague. And the problem about the vague language has sort of had to be. I mean, you've got modern people living people today. And how do you connect them up with folks who left behind physical remains from 1,000 years ago, or 5,000 years ago, or 10,000 years ago? I mean, how many generations back can we go when people can still make a connection, say, a tribal connection? So yeah, this is a member of my tribe. It's really difficult. And the original wording of the legislation, it was vague enough so that virtually any Native American could claim that if bones were found in the area where historically, his or her tribe was located, they could claim a biological or genetic affiliation with that person who left behind the bones and could have something to say about the disposition of bones when they were, when they washed out of a stream, or when they were discovered by an archaeologist, or when they were revealed by construction. And the new wording of the bill is the attempt is to make it a much firmer connection between the living individual today and the bones. To make it much more difficult, in essence, for a modern Native American to say, hey, wait a minute, those are the bones of my ancestors, though those bones belong to my tribe, we get to determine what happens to them. And to make it easier for archaeologists to say, look, these bones are 5,000 years old, there is no way we can make any firm connection between anybody living today and these bones, so therefore, they become archaeological specimens first. And archaeologists, anthropologists, and physical anthropologists, forensic scientists get to take a look at them. I have no idea if that bill will, if that modification to the original bill will pass.

S: Yeah, I hope it does. This is a bill proposed by Representative Doc Hastings. Which is a very common sense clarification of that bill. And it is amended to say that they have to make a more definitive connection to a current tribe. Because this was always an irritating law to me, because as if they own the local tribe, owns everything that we could possibly dig up out of the ground going back indefinitely. And in a way, it was imposing their own tribal religious beliefs on the federal government, which I thought was inappropriate. And at least now, if this proposal goes through, you could say that, well, this only applies to a realistic extension of your tribal history. And when you go far enough back in time, those remains really belong to humanity. I mean, this is the story of mankind. It's not owned by your little tribe. All the people own this information and this knowledge. And you can't repress the knowledge, because of your own personal beliefs. But it also seemed to me, and tell me if you agree with this, that part of the way this bill was used, the Repatriate Nation Act, was to actually quash scientific discovery, because they were afraid that genuine archaeology might come up with evidence that was contradictory to their tribal legends. Did you find that to be the case?

KF: The whole case is extremely complex and difficult. And before I answer your question, one point I want to make is that there is this incredible irony, isn't there, that archaeologists find these bones. And in order to determine, if it is, if this individual was affiliated with a particular tribe, you have to do analysis. But the law precluded analysis. The law began with the assumption that the bones must be Native American. A friend of mine was a federal archaeologist. He was working at an office in Virginia. And they had excavated some skeletons. And there was a bunch of attention with a local Native tribe who showed up at the office with a bunch of TV reporters. And they were demanding the return of the bones. And there was my friend who was completely taken aback, because the excavation had been of an Irish cemetery that dated to the 1800s. And so in fact, Native Americans were, in essence, claiming the bones of Irish settlers of Virginia from 1700s, 1800s, 1900s. It's a little bit bizarre. I think that most of the Native Americans that I've spoken to really have an issue with archaeologists viewing their heritage as something that archaeologists own. And so as a result, virtually anything that archaeologists do pisses them off. There have been some instances in which tribes have made deals with archaeologists where everything the archaeologist digs up. I mean, including a whole lot of stuff that effectively was garbage from 1,000 years ago, that the natives get it back. And they rebury it. And if it's in the ground, it is by definition sacred. I don't know if initially in the discovery with the discovery of Kennewick and the analysis of it if the local tribes were immediately concerned that, gee, what if archaeologists find out this guy is not a typical Indian skeleton, therefore it shows that some other group was here at the same time, or before we were. I don't think they thought that deeply about it. I think it was purely an emotional reaction. It's another aspect of the oppression that the greater culture has foisted on this minority group along with all the other crap we've dumped on them. Now we're digging up their dead bodies of their ancestors. Actually, there's a woman who works now with a Smithsonian. Her name is Dorothy Lippert. And she has a PhD in anthropology. She's a physical anthropologist. And she's a Choctaw Indian. And she's a wonderful person and incredibly smart. And has sort of had to walk that knife edge. Because on the one hand, she's got Native Americans who think that she's a traitor and that she's gone over to the other side. And you have archaeologists who say, well, how can we trust her? She's one of them. She's a native. And she's written some pretty good stuff on her perspective. Her perspective of archaeologists and anthropologists digging up Indian remains. And the phrase she uses is that it's a way for the ancestors to tell us their own story. I like the positive approach here, which is to say, look. I mean, ultimately, we're all after the same thing. We're after a better understanding of what happened in the past. If you look at it as the ancestors telling their story, if you look at it as archaeologists conducting an objective scientific analysis of the physical remains of these folks, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference as long as in the end we end up learning more about people who live in the past.

S: Is that approach going any traction within the Native American community?

KF: It's sort of a yes and no. The yes part comes in where I think there's been a movement among archaeologists to involve Native Americans in archaeological research. The Navajo have their own archaeology program on the reservation. The Peequat here in Connecticut, fund and support the archaeology of their reservation. And things are quite different when the people writing the checks for the research are the Native people. And when they feel involved, when they feel as though they have a say in what's going on, the research tends to get done. Now, granted, in the case of Kennewick, it's sort of a hard call because it's not like he was found on somebody's reservation. It's not like you're going to make any kind of a firm connection between this 9,095 year old skeleton and living people. But it's conceivable that in the case of Kennewick, if local tribes had been notified immediately of what was going on and if they had been involved from the beginning, there's no guarantee that they would have agreed to any kind of analysis. But I think what happened was when they found out that this work was going on without their knowledge, they dug in their heels. And I've said absolutely definitively, this will not happen. And that's when, I mean, this tragedy of this, at this point, decade-long series of legal maneuvers to allow the bones to be investigated.

S: Just for a quick background for our listeners, Kennewick man, as you say, 9,000 plus year old skeletal remains found on the West Coast, right? It was in California?

E: Washington.

KF: No, it was Washington state.

S: It was a federal land. Yeah, it was, well, what it was, there's a couple of teenagers who were drunk and trying to sneak into a boat race who were walking along the river. And they saw this thing and they know what it was. They thought it was a turtle. The guy picked it up and said, oh, look, it's a skull. And the guy looked at it and said, yeah, it is. And they sort of hit it. And they found a couple more bones and they hit it. And they went and watched the boat race. And then they ended up deciding, we better not call the cops. They assumed it was some dead bodies, some recently deceased guy. And the cops showed up and it was immediately declared a crime scene. And they assumed that it was some local dead guy. They brought it a forensic anthropologist, Jim Chatter, who had done a lot of work for the cops. And they brought him in to sort of look around and find that, well, who went missing in the last few years? Who this might be the remains of? And Chatter's brought it back to his lab and looked at it. And the real controversy erupts when Chatter's brings it back to his lab and looks at it and says, sort of looks Caucasoid. And he based that on the shape of the skull. It didn't look like an American Indian. And then the newspapers got it and they said, well, probably with some, the bones look sort of old. It could be a settler, maybe 18th century, and 19th century something like that. And then they got a sample of the bone and they sent it off for radio carbonating. And that's when they got back to shocking news that the bones were over 9,000 years old. And that's when everything sort of hit the fan. Because on the one hand, you've got a skeleton that at least superficially, morphologically, it looks like a European guy. But it's 9,000 years old, which means technically it should look like a Native American guy. And that's when the trouble erupted. The Indians claim, well, in our area, this is where our, this is where our reservations are. It was a number of different tribes, in fact, the Nez Perce and the Umatilla nd the number of other tribes. They claimed ownership of it. Then you had Viking groups claiming ownership of it. And then some Samoan guy in California claimed it was Polynesian. And so you got all these people clamoring to take control of the bones. And the archaeologist said, well, you know what? This is all really interesting. But in order for us to make a determination of who he really is, we have to do the analysis. But that's when the claim was made at NAGBRA precluded. We've prevented them from doing the analysis. By and large, the legal decisions have come out in favor of the archaeological community. And the bones have been and continue to be analyzed.

S: And what's the bottom line with those?

KF: The cool thing about the bottom line here is, the original conclusion that he doesn't look like a typical modern Native American is absolutely true. But you have to understand that if you go virtually anywhere in the world and find a 10,000 year old skull and compare it to the modern people who live in that part of the world, there are going to be a lot of differences. There's been substantial change in a lot of populations over the course of the last 10,000 years. Detailed analysis of the skull shows that it looks more like Southeast Asian Pacific Islander, maybe even Ainu, Japanese, then it looks like a typical Native American or a typical Northeastern Asian. Does that mean, therefore, that the migration of people in New World is maybe a little more complicated than we expected it? It wasn't a one-time movement of Northeast Asians across the Bering Land Bridge, or maybe so. It certainly doesn't mean that Europeans were in Washington State 9,000 years ago. The unfortunate thing is they have attempted to extract DNA from some of the remains. And to date, they have been unsuccessful in doing so. Native Americans express one of five different mitochondrial haplogroups. The mitochondria have their own DNA. And in the New World, there are five groups recognized, A, B, C, D, and X. All five of those now have been found in Asia, in Siberia. Interesting. Will the Kennewick bones, if they ever are able to extract DNA? Will it be one of those DNA types? Or will it be something else entirely? If it's one of those, no matter what his skull happens to look like, he's probably from Asia, but not sort of a stereotypical Native American. If it turns out to be some other DNA haplogroup, well, we're going to have to rethink what the source of early population in the New World was. And that's great. That's how science works. We're not really upset when new data shows that an old formulation turns out not to be true. That's exciting.

S: No, that's exciting. The where the discovery begins. Otherwise, you'd be out of a job if we knew everything. So can we actually, you don't have that much time left. I want to ask you one sort of open-ended question. So in your long career as a skeptical archaeologist, what is the most ridiculous pseudo-archological claim you've ever come across?

KF: Well there are so many. It's sort of hard to come to any kind of conclusion. Ultimately, I think that if I had to come up with one general field or genre of pseudo-archiology, it's the ancient astronaut thing. I mean, it really, especially the notion that human physical evolution was the result of some sort of genetic experiment or interbreeding between extraterrestrial astronauts and Australopithecus or something like that. I tell my students, I call that the horny astronaut hypothesis. I mean, maybe they've watched too much Star Trek and Kirk was sort of a dog, wasn't he? But you got this notion that astronauts, from somewhere deep in outer space, that travel across the galaxy and the galaxy being really big and the speed of life being relatively pokey, they're in what suspended animation for years. They land on Earth, they get out. And the first thing they do is they go cruising for females.

R: That's some serious beer goggles.

KF: There you go. There you go. And they mate with them and produce sort of the next step up in evolution. And I don't know, they leave Earth gets the reputation of being a sort of a party planet? And every couple hundred thousand years, they return, mate with the descendants of the previous interbreeding experiment. And here we are the results of this great genetic experiment.

R: I kind of like the sound of that.

KF: Well, listen whatever floats your boat, I guess. But, I think that's about the funniest. There are probably more that are more bizarre. But that one gained so much currency. I mean, your Erich von Däniken has written, I don't know, a couple of dozen books, sold millions of copies. Some of these books were among the top ten best-seller paperbacks of all time, just a few years ago. And the guy's got a theme park in Switzerland. Ancient astronaut land or whatever, mystery park, mystery park, which by the way, my understanding is that they're going, they're declaring bankruptcy, because not a lot of people got suckered into going.

'R: Nobody wants to go and have sex with Australopithecus? Is that not a popular ride.

S: Well, Ken, it was a pleasure talking with you.

KF: Oh, it was great fun, Steve. Anytime.

S: It was a lot of fun. Yeah, I definitely want to get you back.

KF: For sure. Happy to do it.

S: Back on the show, that is.

R: Cool.

E: Thank you, Ken.

KF: You're welcome. Hey, this was great fun. I hope this is of some use to you. And anytime, Steve.

S: Absolutely. Take care.

KF: All right. Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

S: Kenneth Fader, nice guy. Very, very nice guy.

R: Very cool guy.

S: Spoke with us several times. It's a great lecture. Very animated, very enthusiastic.

E: Yep. And teaches at my alma mater.

S: His students must have a real kick in his class. It must be so much fun.

E: I wish I had taken this one of his classes while I was there. I didn't know about him while I was there. But you know, c'est la vie.

Name That Logical Fallacy (1:03:29)[edit]

  • _Fallacy_Topic_Event_

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

S: Well, let's do a Name That Logical Fallacy this week, because we did get an email specifically requesting that we examine a fallacy. This one comes from Laurel Christich in Oregon, USA. Laurel writes: "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 a fake nails and she never saw them on a rich woman she knew. Several people argued with her, and one person called her argument the toupee fallacy. And she knew a man who insisted he could always spot a toupee, so we 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?"

R: I actually always used to call that the toupee fallacy.

S: Yeah, I call it the breast implant fallacy.

P: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

R: No, that's not true. I can always tell a fake set of boobs.

S: The breast implant fallacy.

B: Steve, what about fallacies of omission like stacking the deck or the other one that might apply is hasty generalization?

S: I actually think that this is circular reasoning. That this is a tautology, because basically the logic goes, I can always spot a fake toupee. I can always spot a toupee, right? How do you know when you spot a toupee because it looks fake? And if you don't, how do you know that that person is not wearing a toupee because it doesn't look like one, right? So in other words, the proof is the premise.

P: Self-affirming.

S: Yeah, the premise is I can always spot a toupee. And the proof of that is he always knows when he sees one. That's a circular reasoning. It's subjective validation. Every time you see somebody wearing a toupee, oh, you can always tell a fake. And they're just not considering the dog that didn't bark, right? They're not considering that if they saw somebody with a toupee that they couldn't distinguish, that would represent negative evidence that would invalidate their conclusion.

R: Seriously, the fake breasts are easy. Come on.

S: Again, but it's the same fallacy. You notice the fake ones. And you don't-

R: Yeah yeah yeah.

P: Are we in a strip club or something?

R: I really do.

E: Yeah, well, that's just it. How do you tell through a blouse?

S: If somebody did have breast implants that you couldn't tell or fake, you wouldn't know.

R: I'd know.

S: Well, let's go on to our science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:06:21)[edit]

Item #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.[3]
Item #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.[4]
Item #3: A new study finds that women's sex drive plummets once they are in a stable relationship.[5]

Answer Item
Fiction Pluto is an ice dwarf
Science Apollo 11 footage lost
Women's sex drive
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Pluto is an ice dwarf
Pluto is an ice dwarf
Pluto is an ice dwarf

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Every week, I come up with three science news items or facts. Two are real, one is fake. Then I challenge my esteemed skeptics to figure out which one is fake. And of course, you can play along. There's no theme for this week. I think that this is going to be a fun one. You guys ready?

R: We're ready.

S: All right. Number one, 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. Item number two, NASA has lost the original footage of the Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon. A search for the lost footage is underway. And item number three, a new study finds that women's sex drive plummets once they are in a stable relationship, while men's sex drives remain stable. Remain the same. Perry, why don't you go first?

Perry's Response[edit]

P: Okay. Let's see here. The second one about the footage? Sure. Things are so screwed up at NASA nowadays. We lose anything over there. The third one could be. Could be. I mean, it's nothing crazy about that. The first one though, there's no way you're going to rename a god, a white dwarf, no way. Pluto, I would strike it out. I think the first one's fake.

S: Okay, Evan?

Evan's Response[edit]

E: I have to agree with Perry, although it just seems so obvious. Something tells me you have to throw in a occur, Paul Steve, which I know you like to do. And that number two is the one of fiction. I'll go with Perry though. I'll say number one's fiction.

S: Okay, Rebecca.

Rebecca's Response[edit]

R: Okay, we'll see, because the panel is ongoing right now. And it's, but I'm not sure exactly what they decided. But I think it was a was allowed to still be a planet, but other undersized objects can also be considered planets or something like that. Like it's a new special kind of planet, I think. And I know number two is true. And number three doesn't.

S: Well, you're not married yet, so you don't know about that.

R: I've been in stable relationships though.

E: Doesn't count.

R: Wait, isn't that what the-

S: It said, women in stable relationships.

B: That's what he said.

E: Oh, is it? Okay, my bad.

R: So, but my, my problem though is like whether or not you're calling an ice dwarf also a planet. I don't know, it's, I think it's a stupid thing because it doesn't really matter anyway. So I'm going to go with number one.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I think we'll have a clean sweep this week. The lost footage, uh, I can't believe they lost that. Oh my god. And what do they just loan it out? Say, hey, yeah, bring it home, have your wife listen to it. How do you lose something like that? The women's sex drive plummeting in a stable relationship. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that that is true. Number one, stripping. They, currently the controversies did like, I think they split 50/50, half wanted, half don't want to. If they, if they strip Pluto, if they actually strip Pluto of planet, but being a planet, then, I don't know, I don't think we could ever say old is only eight planets. And the funny thing is if that, if if Pluto is still a planet, then we run the risk of eventually having 20 or 30 planets as we investigate the Kuiper belt. That is, not today, they have not made that decision unless in the past 10 minutes they made that decision.

S: So it's unanimous. Let's take these in order. Let's start with number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: This was hot off the presses. I was looking this up and-

R: So it was the last 10 minutes?

S: -right before we went to record the show. And-

B: No way, no way.

S: You guys are all correct. That is the fake one. They have not decided yet. They've been locks. They just is such a controversy. They cannot come to a decision.

P: Can't Pluto not a planet anymore. Come on.

S: There are proponents of it. Now what they're really doing with the International Astronomical Union, they want to come up with a standard definition for what is a planet, which does not currently exist. And they want to make sure that you know, all the different countries all everyone agrees what is a planet and what is not a planet. However, and a lot of the press releases do focus around Pluto. Pluto is the one planet that's at risk of being stripped of its designation. There actually is a proposal out there to name Pluto-like-objects, icy dwarfs. However, so far what the astronomers at the union are saying is that they are starting with the position that Pluto was going to remain a planet and they're trying to figure out how to define a planet that in such a way that it includes Pluto.

R: That's nice.

S: But I guess they haven't figured that, Bob is right. It's hard to do that without also bringing in.

E: Sedna.

S: Sedna and Zina and lots of other objects out there and we have 12 planets, but it is true. I mean, I have to admit, I have a purely emotional connection.

P: Absolutely.

S: To Pluto being a planet. When I was a little kid, Pluto was a planet.

P: Fourth grade. I had a name all mine planets. I was on the few kids.

R: And it was Pluto was named by a kid which makes it even sweeter. It was named by like an 11 year old.

S: But it fits the mythology of the solar system.

E: Pluto has a moon, doesn't it?

S: Yeah, the moon Charon.

E: Well, how come they don't tell you that if something has a moon, therefore it's a planet. That should be part of the criteria.

R: Because no, because there are other planets that don't have moons.

B: It could be a binary binary system. It doesn't necessarily have to be a moon.

S: But Pluto is smaller than our own moon. It's this very, very small planet.

P: Remember Gold wrote, bully for Brontosaurus. I say bully for Pluto. Absolutely.

E: I agree.

P: The same thing.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Number two, NASA has lost the original footage to Apollo 11 is true. This has been making the rounds and the news, the media. So I'm not surprised at some of you might have heard this. But it's such a good story. I had to include that. Apparently all of the footage that we remember seeing on television about the Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon. This was basically a TV camera filming a monitor within NASA. It was, it's not original film. It's not original footage. It's not even re-broadcast. It's actually like a TV camera of a monitor of a screen. That's why the image stinks. And I remember thinking even when I was young and these were taking place, we could send, we could land a man on the moon and the footage is that crappy? It always struck me how bad it was. And I guess I figured out, I guess it's because it's really far away or something like that. But actually there's pretty high quality original footage that was taken by the astronauts.

E: You see it nowadays in stills, right? They take segments of it and you see there's still photograph.

S: Now it's true that they could not transmit the high quality footage at the frame rate. They had to actually reduce it to like 10 frames per second. And then they up converted it to 60 frames per second for broadcast. But they still have the original footage still exists. But it's been passed along to so many people at NASA that they basically just lost track of it. And nobody knows where it is. So it's sitting on a shelf somewhere in a box which is labeled and nobody knows what it is or where it is.

P: Get it digitized.

S: Yes, that's the hope. And the reason why this came up is exactly that reason. They want to find it and they want to digitize it and enhance it. And that would really be cool. I would love to see that. Newly digitally remastered original footage of the moon better than we've ever seen before. That would be cool.

E: We just have to be, we do have to be a little patient though. And whatever it was going to be 10 or 12 years, we go back to the moon. They're going to bring all the high definition equipment with them. And we're going to see some pictures then. Forget about the old stuff.

S: That would be great. But still the old stuff is historic.

P: It's historic. I'd like to see it.

B: I think I know why they lost it. I think they lost it on purpose because I think they're afraid that when they digitize it and everybody has it and you can really see it in high definition. That's when you're going to see that it's a set. And it's not real. That's what's a conspiracy.

S: You've got to know that's what the moon landing hoax proponents are saying. Oh yeah, NASA has the footage. Of course they did. It's all part of the big cover up.

R: How convenient.

S: How convenient, yeah.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Number three, a woman's sex drive begins to plummet once she is in a secure relationship is true. That recent research shows this. This is research from Germany. Found this to be true. Written in the journal of Human Nature. Researchers from Hamburg, Eppendorf University interviewed 530 men and women about their relationships found that 60% of 30 year old women wanted sex often at the beginning of relationship. But within four years of the way she felt figure fell do under 50.

R: Eventually you just want to cuddle.

S: And after 20 years and after 20 years it dropped to 20%. That's actually true that the studies show that women just want tenderness. Men remain horny for their lives.

R: And this fits into the maybe it's a bit cliched at this point in time, but it's basically fits into the standard evolutionary model. The notion that women use sex to secure a male, whereas men there's sex drive remains peaked because it's to their evolutionary advantage to spread around a little bit. Actually, if you do computer models of what kind of behavior is maximally Darwinian advantage for men and women, it's actually a little bit advantageous for men to be in a stable relationship to get a little on the side.

R: Oh, how convenient.

S: Hey, I'm just reporting the science.

P: We go where the science leads us.

R: The sad thing is that all that research was done by scientists who will probably never really get to test that out.

S: And all done by men. Seriously, but I'm sure that has nothing to do with the outcome.

R: Poor frustrated men.

P: True.

S: Well, let's we're almost done and we'll give the answer to the skeptical puzzle from last week.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:17:03)[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: Wilhelm Reich, Orgone

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

S: We actually don't have a new skeptical puzzle this week, but we will do some more in the future. We just don't have one for you this week. But last week's puzzle was this. This comes from Evan. He was born in the late 1800s in the Eastern region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after fighting in World War I. 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 he was present in all of nature and was a death-defying entity. He attempted to apply his life force theory to research and medical endeavor such as cancer treatment, although he was largely ignored and often criticized by the mainstream scientific community. So the question was, who was this person and what was the name of his life force? And the answer is...Evan?

E: Wilhelm Reich. Orgone.

S: Orgone. Was this derived from orgasm? It was the sexual life energy.

P: Is he the first Riker?

S: It was the third.

R: Man, way to take something to derive from sexual energy and make it sound like Windex or something? Orgone. It stays out fast.

S: Now interestingly, a lot of listeners got this one correct. This was a Google puzzle. I mean, you can just Google the info and it gets you the answer.

P: It's too much info. That was the problem.

S: There's a lot of info. But one listener did come up with an alternate answer that actually fits a lot of the information. That's a lot of the evidence. Baron, Dr. Carl Ludwig von Reichenbach. February 12th, 1788 to January, 19th, 1869. So a little bit before Wilhelm's time. But he was also a scientist. He discovered kerosene and perifim. So this guy's no joke. And he spent the last part of his life developing a new popular vitalist theory called Odick Force. But this never, of course, gained support. So actually, the life force or life energy nonsense was very popular back then. And remains popular. It's had a resurgence with the whole alternative medicine movement. So a lot of people had their own little pet theories of life energy. In fact like the D.D. Palmer, who founded chiropractic, he had his life energy and ate intelligence. He just given it some name. But it's basically the vital force. It's the same thing. So it's not surprising that there were multiple people at the time who had their little own pet theories of life force. Well, that's our show for this week. Thanks again for joining me, everyone.

R: Thanks Steve.

E: Good show. Thank you, Dr.

P: Right on.

S: Always a pleasure.

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


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