SGU Episode 59

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SGU Episode 59
September 5th 2006
SGU 58 SGU 60
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis

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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, September 5, 2006. This is your host, Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society. And with me this evening are... Rebecca Watson...

R: Hello, everybody.

S: Perry DeAngelis...

P: Monkeys can beat up birds.

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Hello, my friends of planet Earth.

R: What kind of greeting is that, Perry? Get over it.

P: Well, I was just floating here in the aether and I couldn't think of anything witty to say, so I said that.

R: You're obsessed.

P: (chuckling) Yes.

R: I think you need to get help.

S: Your bird denial is starting to become disturbing, Perry.

P: I'm obsessed with the aether, birds, and monkeys.

R: See, I'm a huge monkey fan, and yet, I have to say you're sounding very birdist. And it's disturbing.

P: It's possible. It's possible. I-I-I won't deny it.

S: So, Jay wanted me to inform everyone that he is on a special skeptical assignment in Mexico this week.

P: Really? What's the nature of the assignment?

S: He will give us a complete report when he gets back.

E: Good.

P: I'll look forward to that.

S: Actually, while he's down there, he also got engaged today. So, congratulations, Jay.

P: Oh, congratulations.

R/E: Congratulations.

E: It's very good news. Very good.

R: I guess that's paranormal right there.

S: Absolutely!

E: Sorry, ladies. He's off the block. You know, keep listening; keep listening. Don't go anywhere.

S: He got engaged to the woman who does the voice-over introducing our show.

P: That's right; that's right.

R: How sweet.

P: That English lass.

S: It's true.

E: We've had some comments about her, I believe.

R: Yeah.

P: Yeah, we have. Not nearly as many, though, as we have had about Rebecca.

S: No.

E: Oh, goodness no.

P: I understand you got a few more marriage proposals this week; is that accurate, Rebecca?

R: (chuckles) I don't know; they don't all go to me. Is it accurate, Steve?

S: I don't know why they're sending them to me, you know?

R: (chuckles) They're sending them to you?

P: If you're gonna propose to Rebecca and you can't even route your e-mails correctly, you're not even in the running! That's ridiculous!

E: Get it straight, people: Steve is not Rebecca's father, OK? You don't have to ask his permission.

S: But I thought—I am going to give you away, though. Right, Rebecca?

R: Oh, yeah, sure.

P: Very good. Very good.

News Items[edit]

Famous Ghost Hunter, Ed Warren, Dies (2:33)[edit]


    NESS article on the Warrens -

Researcher proves telephone telepathy. (16:35)[edit]

  • ESP Researcher Rupert Sheldrake claims to have proven telephone telepathy.

Humans evolved to be superstitious (21:23)[edit]

  • Psychologist claims humans evolved to be superstitious,,2-2342599,00.html

Questions and E-mails (25:45)[edit]

Korean Fan Deaths (25:58)[edit]

Hey everyone,

I'm a big fan of the show, and I recently encountered a topic that you might be interested in discussing on the show.

This summer, I roomed with a visiting student from Korea for summer school. Every night before we went to bed, he would shut off the fan in our room. I thought this was a bit odd, but I ignored it until I learned that his behavior was motivated by a widely believed South Korean urban myth called 'fan death' (more details at Many South Koreans apparently believe that a fan left running overnight can suffocate people by sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

I was astonished to discover that this was why he had been turning off the fan, particularly because he is an engineering student. I managed to convince him that it wasn't true, but I began to wonder how so many people could believe something so patently absurd. Why do you think this is and can you think of any analogous examples of widely believed American myths?

Los Angeles

Homeopathy Double Standard (31:53)[edit]

The link below leads to an article from the UK, about homeopathic remedies and a new law that allows the homeopathy industry to claim efficacy for curing real medical conditions. Ridiculous!,,174-2337904,00.html

By the way, the podcast is outstanding! Definitely one of the better skeptical shows out there. Keep up the great work Dr. Novella and company.

Best regards,
Frank Latendresse
Montreal, Canada

Science in America (36:32)[edit]

In your August 18th podcast, the panel commented on the recent Michigan State University study of nations' attitudes toward evolution. I think the derogatory comments that you made of Americans were unduly negative, e.g. 'I want to blow this country. It's just disgusting.'

In a 2001 NSF survey, Americans actually scored higher than Europeans in seven out of thirteen science questions:

In contradiction to one panel member's conclusion, i.e. that Americans are 'backward baboons,' I would say the NSF quiz shows Americans better understand what matters most to them (genetics, medicine, and technology) instead of what matters most to the MSU investigators (evolution.)

It might be true that Americans' disbelief in evolution is largely a result of the greater role of religion in our society. If that's the case, scientists cannot realistically expect people to reject their faith to accept a theory that has no real consequences -- positive or negative -- on their lives. Unlike Christian Scientists' rejection of modern medicine, the rejection of evolution has no serious ramifications.

While there can be no doubt that scientific literacy in this country is too low, the public would be better served if those who make public education their goal would end their fixation on one polarizing (but relatively unimportant) scientific topic at the expense of other, more important ones. Derogatory comments about the supposed stupidity of an entire nation are equally unhelpful to the cause.

Urbana, Illinois

Is Recycling Bunk? (43:35)[edit]

In a few episodes back, you asked everyone about which fallacy they wish were actually true. Rebecca mentioned that she wished that recycling was. Did I miss something earlier? Is it really bunk, I'm skeptical.

Edward Karoly
Apex, North Carolina

Some articles on recycling:

Famous 'Recycling is Garbage' Times article -

Rebuttal -

Name That Logical Fallacy (54:17)[edit]

  • Logical Fallacies
'Most, if not all, of these adolescents must have acquired HIV from perinatal infection for the following reasons: sexual transmission of HIV depends on an average of 1000 sexual contacts, and only 1 in 250 Americans carries HIV (Table 1). Thus, all positive teenagers would have had to achieve an absurd 1000 contacts with a positive partner, or an even more absurd 250,000 sexual contacts with random Americans to acquire HIV by sexual transmission.'

Submitted by Chris Noble

Science or Fiction (58:36)[edit]

Question #1: A newly published survey of dinosaur fossils indicates that dinosaur species were already largely in decline before they were wiped out by a meteorite collision 65 million years ago. Question #2: Despite the common saying, 'monkey see, monkey do,' imitation has only previously been described in humans and apes. A recent study, however, demonstrates for the first time monkey imitation. Question #3: Ornithologists have discovered that urban members of certain bird species are much more resistant to stress than their rural counterparts.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:06:25)[edit]

New Puzzle:

He says that the power of the mind is like an iceberg, 90% of it lies beneath the surface.
He says that this 90% of the mind's power is the subconscious.
He says the subconscious listens and absorbs experiences - much like a sponge soaks up water.
He says we need only talk to our subconscious to make ourselves happy, relaxed, strong, or whatever else we desire.
He says the absorptive qualities of subconsciousness will make these things come true.
He says the subconscious speaks back to us and that we need to listen to it.
He calls this instinct and intuition.
He says instinct and intuition are psychic gifts.
And he says by listening to these psychic gifts, we use more power of our minds than Albert Einstein ever used his.

Who is this deep thinker?

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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