SGU Episode 596

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SGU Episode 596
December 10th 2016
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 595                      SGU 597

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


MK: Marty Klein

Quote of the Week

To change is always seeming fickleness. But not to change with the advance of science is worse; it is persistence in error.

James Dwight Dana, System of Mineralogy 1837, Yale professor

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


  • Bob and Jay are sick. Technobabble on last week's Forgotten Superhero of Science. Rogues make up technobabble.

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

What's the Word (9:58)[edit]

  • Phylogenetic

S: All right, so, Cara, get us started with a real What's the Word.

C: Yes, this is a real word. So let me open this up here. My word this week is phylogenetics. I think this is one of those words that you just see all the time in the literature, and it's sometimes even used as a buzzword. But it's a real thing. And I think a lot of people don't know what it is. They think it kind of roughly relates to genes, and like, “What is phylogeny?” So let's get a clean definition first.

Often, if you look up phylogenetics, which is a noun, or phylogenetic, which is an adjective, it will just push you to “of or relating to phylogeny.” So let's talk a little bit about phylogeny. Phylogeny is the evolutionary history of an organism or of a group of organisms. So it can either be an individual species, or a full taxa, like a bunch of species that are evolutionarily related.

It can also be the history or course of the development of something, and sometimes it can even relate to the evolutionary history of a race, if you're talking about human phylogeny, although that is a bit more antiquated now. Generally speaking, it's used to distinguish organisms, and figure out how they're related to one another.

So actually, it's a field of biology. Phylogenetics is a field that people enter into, and then there's all these different forms of the word. And phylogenetics usually involves utilizing what's called a phylogenetic tree. Have you guys seen a phylogenetic tree?

S: Oh yeah.

E: No, I have not. I haven't.

S: Yes you have, Evan. You probably have.

E: Of course! Of course I have! Silly me!

C: (Laughs) Sometimes you'll hear about cladograms, that might be another way that individual organisms are illustrated, especially if we're talking about paleontological organisms. But when we talk about a phylogenetic tree, it can either be rooted or unrooted. So they're like V's, and the V's branch off of each other.

A rooted phylogenetic tree is a phylogenetic tree where a common ancestor is known and established. And so, things will come off of that common ancestor. An unrooted phylogenetic tree is one where there's a hypothesized common ancestor, but we don't know what it is, or we haven't found it.

You'll also sometimes hear phylogeny described either compared to or contrasted with ontogeny. Have you guys heard that phrase? Phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny?

S: Oh, although it's ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

C: (Laughs) Dang it!

S: I was gonna ask you about that. It's like, earnest tackle?

C: Yeah,

S: Yeah

C: And so,

S: It's not true.

C: I don't know what that means.

S: Yeah

C: It's not true, but the reason that people will say ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny is because, so, phylogeny is the evolutionary history and connections of an organism, meaning a type of organism. So, the common house cat has a phylogeny. Ontogeny is the developmental processes in an actual individual. And so if you're looking at, for example, a human fetus in development,

B: Right

C: you will see certain forms. You might see gills, or a tail. And so a lot of times, early on at least, people would try to compare what happens through the evolutionary history of a species to what happens in utero while the species, while the individual is developing. And you do see some commonalities, which is why that phrase came to be. But the truth of the matter is it really doesn't pan out.

S: Yeah, well, just to clarify, 'cause this comes up so often. Creationists will harp on this, that, I think the notion that was overclaimed about ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, was the notion that during developmental stages, like from an embryo to a mature being, that you pass through the adult forms of ancestors, right, our

C: Yeah

S: evolutionary ancestors. And that is not true. We don't have gill slits when we're an embryo. It's just not true.

C: Yeah

S: What is true, is that development follows an evolutionary path, meaning that when creatures are evolving from one species to the next to the next to the next, that evolutionary change occurs through changes in the pathways that development is taking. And those pathways will reflect the evolutionary history of that organism, right? You don't evolve directly in a straight line to the current species. You take this meandering path that in some way reflects evolutionary history. And sometimes, like, these really ridiculous inefficient things happen because that structure evolved from this other structure, which originally was over here, and now it's over there. We do see that.

So the core claim, that there is evidence for evolution in developmental biology, is true. But the extreme version of that, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, is not true. Meaning we do not pass through adult forms,

C: Yeah, absolutely, and

S: Just to clarify that. Yeah.

C: and it's not point to point.

S: Yeah

C: Like, it's not perfect, you know what I mean?

S: Yeah

C: You'll see some morphological things that kind of help you recognize other evolutionary stages, but you're right. It's not like, “Oh look! There's a full-grown tetrapod leaving the mud,

S: Yeah

C: and a fish turning into a tetrapod. That's exactly what happens to a human, because that happened to us in our evolutionary past.” Like, no.

S: No

C: But we do have tails.

S: Yeah

C: There are things that you see in utero, that's why a baby chicken, and a baby – or, I shouldn't say baby, but an embryonic chicken and embryonic cat, and an embryonic human, at certain stages, are kind of indistinguishable, unless you really know what you're looking for. So it's, you mentioned, is it pronounced hycle?

S: I always said heckle. Ernst Heckle.

C: Okay, yeah, you mentioned Ernst Heinrick Heckle. And he actually is the person who coined the term phylogeny. And that was in 1866. He was a German biologist. And if we break down the term, it's spelled a little bit different in German. It's phylogenie, N-I-E, instead of N-Y. But if you break down all of those roots, it's phylo, as a prefix, comes from the Greek phylon, which means race. So there was that application to how did individual races evolve, 'cause that's where a lot of this came from, at the beginning.

And then geny, the end, right, or genome, or genes, or genus, they all have the same root, is really origin, or birth. But those are Greek roots for that term. And, yeah, that was a specific scientific term. And it's so fun when we look at etymology, when we can actually point to when that word showed up for the first time in the literature. But it's also cool when people invent words that utilize historical roots, so that they make sense later, when you have to remember them in context. That's always helpful.

S: Right

C: Way more helpful than when you have some sort of scientific term, where you're like, “Did that person know nothing about etymology, or Latin, or Greek


C: when they wrote that word?” Like, it's so obscure. So, thank you Heckle.

S: Yeah. Yeah, it's a good word. Good one to have.

C: Yeah, and you see it a lot, you know? It's good to know what it refers to

S: Yeah

C: when you see that,

S: exactly.

C: on the interwebs.

News Items[edit]

High Density Supercapacitors (17:26)[edit]

Adaptation vs Evolution (28:36)[edit]

Instacharge Scam (45:16)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (49:23)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Jet landing on aircraft carrier

(Commercial at 53:07)

Interview with Marty Klein (54:26)[edit]

S: Joining us now is Dr. Marty Klein. Marty, welcome back to The Skeptic's Guide.

MK: Hi, glad to be here.

S: And Dr. Klein is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and certified sex therapist in Palo Alto, California, where you've been doing that for thirty-five years. You're also an award-winning author of seven books about sexuality, including your latest book, His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America's Porn Panic With Honest Talk About Sex, which is the topic of our interview this time. So, tell us a little bit about what motivated you to write this book, and what the book is basically about.

MK: Well, I'm delighted to be here. Thanks for having me. As you said, I've been doing therapy for thirty-five years. It's about thirty-five thousand hours with men, women, and couples. And as you know, about sixteen years ago, when broadband came to America, it brought free, high speed porn into every home.

S: Is that right?

B: Yeah, that was a wonderful day.


MK: Seminal moment.

B: You guys must remember waiting ten minutes to download one stupid picture.

C: I remember that. Not gonna lie. And it would come in bands. You'd be like, “I'm almost there!”

E: One line at a time, yes.

(Cara laughs)

MK: So, that was a long time ago. And what happened immediately after that, I mean, that created a natural experiment for this country. You know, we had the world, we had America before broadband, and America after broadband. Natural experiment. And what I found as a therapist, 'cause I had been doing therapy for nineteen years before this, what happened was immediately after broadband came to America, we started to see a rise in patients complaining either about themselves or about their partner with regard to pornography.

And if you talk to lesbian couples, they hardly have a quarrel about porn. And if you talk to gay male couples, they hardly have a quarrel about porn. And if you talk to the heterosexual couples, men rarely complain about the fact that their female partners are lookin' at too much porn. So the only configuration where you see conflict about porn, generally speaking, is women complaining about men's use of porn. So that's what I started to see in my practice. And that's what everyone now sees in their practice, a lot of women complaining about a lot of men using porn. And that's why I titled the book His Porn, Her Pain.

S: Why do you think there's that asymmetry?

MK: I mean, the fundamental asymmetry is that women tend to not look at visual porn nearly as much as men do. And when men look at visual porn, obviously, it's to masturbate, and there's a lot of women who are uncomfortable with men having that kind of sexual autonomy, particularly if they themselves feel sexually unfulfilled.

There's something else going on here that I talk about in this new book that I don't hear anybody else talking about. And that is that in the old days, there's been an anti-pornography critique in culture for as long as there's been pornography. There's been people upset about pornography for thousands of years, hundreds of years, and historically, the critique of pornography has been about immorality. The critique of pornography has been that looking at porn is bad for the person who looks at porn. It's been driven a lot by the idea that masturbation is sinful, it's been driven by the religious establishment. And that's been true in cultures all over the world for centuries and centuries and centuries. And that was true here in America. When Hue Hepner brought out Playboy, the critique of it was that it was immoral, it was bad for the user.

In the '70's, after Roe V Wade, in the '70's, there was a movement away from the idea that porn was immoral. The idea of immorality lost a lot of traction in the '70's and '80's as a motivator for people. And the idea that what people were doing might be sinful, that lost a lot of traction. What did happen, that changed the historical change in the anti-porn critique was that it wasn't only now gonna be considered bad for the user, but it was a public health issue, it was a public health danger.

And so not only is looking at porn bad for the person who looks at it, it's bad for the consumer's marriage, it's bad for the consumer's family, it's bad for the community, it's bad for women, and so now we have all of these new stakeholders who are jumping on the anti-porn bandwagon. If you're against trafficking, if you're against child molestation, if you're against divorce, if you're against sexual violence, if you're against addiction, all these new stakeholders have come to the table to critique porn, whether they know anything about pornography or not, because now, if you're against any of these things, you are considered to have a legitimate voice at the public policy table.

S: Do you think that they're just sublimating their moral disgust with pornography, and trying to justify that by claiming that there's a health issue? Or you think that it's pseudoscience, that it's more that they're just confused, scientifically about the health risk of porn. Or is it some combination of those two things?

ML: I think it's those two things, and I think each one is serving the other. I think that people who find it objectionable for adults to masturbate, they magically get involved with pseudoscience. People who are afraid of portrayals of female lust, which is what a lot of pornography is, they magically get involved in pseudoscience. Couples where they don't have sex any more, but can't talk about it, it's way easier to quarrel about porn than it is to talk about sex honestly.

So, the pseudoscience, or the junk science, is there for the taking. And the people who seem to be taking it are people who have their various discomforts with sexuality, whether it's the sexuality of men, or the sexuality of women, whether it's non-standard sexuality, like BDSM, the junk science is there for anybody who wants to use it.And people who are uncomfortable with sexuality, people who are afraid of certain kinds of sexuality, they're very glad to jump on that junk science bandwagon.

S: But they're mostly just scapegoating pornography is what you're saying.

MK: Not mostly, entirely.

S: Entirely.

MK: I mean, you know, when people talk about how porn causes sexual violence, there was sexual violence before broadband internet, believe it or not. There was sexual violence before Playboy. And in fact, here's the real data: If you look at the CDC data, if you look at any, any source of actual facts, since the introduction of broadband sixteen years ago, what has actually happened to the rates of sexual violence in the United States? It's gone down. The rate of divorce in the United States has gone down. The rate of teen pregnancy has gone down. The rate of child molestation has gone down.

So all of these claims that pornography leads to these social pathologies, they're completely misinformed. Now, you and I are too scientific to say that that proves that porn causes a reduction in sexual violence, no, but what we do know is that they are very, very highly correlated, both in the United States, and in other countries as well, like Japan, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hong Kong.

C: In your clinical opinion, do you think that there is, or have you seen any scientific evidence to support the assertion that pornography at least feeds into unrealistic expectations during sex, specifically for men?

MK: Absolutely, yes, absolutely yes. Unfortunately, because people don't talk about pornography reasonably, there are people who think that pornography is a documentary. There are people who think that pornography is a shot of real people in real situations, but it's not. Pornography is primarily unusual bodies in unusual circumstances doing unusual things. But because there is such a low level of media literacy in general, and porn literacy in particular, and because are not talking to their kids about this, people look at porn, and they think, “I guess that's how sex is supposed to be.” Or, “I guess that's how sex is.”

That's the biggest problem with all this porn. It's not that it's motivating people to do anti-social things, it's that it's giving people unrealistic expectations, and the average twelve year old should know that Harry Potter is not real. The average twelve year old should know that Star Wars is not real. And the average twelve year old should know that pornography is not real.

S: So, in a way then, it sounds like it's similar to just having very attractive actresses or actors with unrealistically sexy bodies, and that being the standard of beauty in society, and nobody can really keep up with that, and yet their expectations are that they're supposed to. Is that, do you think, analogous?

MK: Well, that's analogous. To tell you the truth, I think that the issue is not so much the bodies that people can't really aspire to, but it's, pornography leaves out so much of the stuff that we value about sex. It leaves out kissing, it leaves out hugging, it leaves out whispering, giggling,

S: I just fast-forward past all of that stuff anyway.


MK: The truth is that pornography is a visual medium, or visual pornography is a visual medium. And most of the things that people enjoy about sex are not visually entertaining. If you watch people hug, you know, after about two seconds, it gets real boring. If you watch people say to each other, “I'm so glad you're here. I miss you so much. This is really great,” that's really boring stuff to watch. So the stuff that's left out of porn simply because it's not visually stimulating, that's the stuff that we would like for twelve year olds to understand is a really big part of sex!

J: Yeah, and you really can't merge the two, 'cause they don't work with each other.

C: It seems like it's much worse that too. I mean, pornography specifically, and this is coming from somebody who watches porn, but pornography is very biased. You know, the vast majority of pornography is from a male perspective, and it can be somewhat, it's male consumer,

E: Right

C: so what you see are themes of like, humiliation towards women,

MK: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no

C: You don't think so? You don't think there are themes of humiliation towards women in porn?

MK: Let's look at it this way,

C: Okay.

MK: It's a consumer product, just like podcasts. And what you find on podcasts is what people want to watch or listen to. What you find in pornography is what people want to watch or listen to. And most people, while they're masturbating, do not want to look at scenes of humiliation. They want to look at scenes of happy people, happy that they're doing what they're doing.

C: No, but they're pretending to be happy doing humiliating things, that's the difference, because most women don't want, like, to get cum on their face. But that's like a common theme in porn.

MK: That's not most porn. What's troubling to me is when people say, “Look at all that demeaning or exploiting stuff in porn.” I say, “Like what?” People say, “Well there's a woman on her knees sucking a guy's penis.” That's not inherently humiliating, you know? I mean, it could be humiliating. Anything could be humiliating. If I was coerced to be on this podcast, that would be humiliating. But it's not inherently humiliating.

J: You can't prove that.

C: I don't know if cum on the face is not inherently humiliating.

J: Well, I know, but Cara, you know, part of it is, like, 'cause we could really

E: Cultural.

C: It is cultural, yeah.

J: get into the weeds here, but a lot of acts that are happening on the screen, people want to do.

C: Men want to do. That's the – it's much more difficult for me if I'm just going through heterosexual porn, to find scenarios that seem to favor the woman, or that seem to be enticing or exciting as a woman to watch. Oftentimes, the woman is more of the

E: Recepticle

C: Yeah, the recepticle, that's the word I'm looking for.

MK: I think there may be selection bias at work here.

S: There are specific female-friendly categories

C: and that's what I have to choose,

J: Yeah

C: because oftentimes, if I'm not looking in those areas, I do tend to see these themes more often. I'm also going to be much more sensitive to it than a man. He may not notice things that feel more, or that appear to be more humiliating towards a woman, than the woman would.

MK: Eh, I don't think that's accurate.

C: Interesting. I don't know. I'd be interested to see some of this research, 'cause I think this might be a fundamental place where it's

MK: Well, look

C: difficult to agree, coming from those two different perspectives.

MK: Well, look, let's talk about spanking, okay?

C: (Chuckling) Okay, let's talk about spanking! Let's do it! (Laughs)

MK: Let's talk about spanking. A lot of people do not want to be spanked during sex. A lot of men don't want to be spanked during sex. A lot of women don't want to be spanked during sex. So far, that's fine. There is some number of millions of people who want to be spanked during sex, and some of them get spanked during sex, or spank someone during sex, and some of them don't.

Then there's an entirely large population of people, they don't necessarily want to be spanked in real life, but they find it really exciting to watch spanking on the screen. And some of those people like to watch somebody spanking somebody else, who does not want to be spanked. Some of those people like to watch somebody who does want to be spanked. But in both cases, it's just a sexual fantasy. And if you want to imagine that somebody, that the character who's being spanked, if you want to imagine that the character who's being spanked is feeling humiliated, you can do that. And either you find that exciting, or you find it a turn off. It doesn't really matter. The idea that we see certain imagery, and we think to ourselves, “That character is feeling humiliated,” that doesn't say anything about real life.

We watch the NFL every week, and we see a quarterback get sacked, and pounded into the ground. We see the look of despair – I don't know if you watched the New York Jets the other day,

(Cara laughs)

MK: The look of despair on the quarterback's face. We know that that guy feels like crap, and we don't care, because he's just a character in entertainment. So, I understand that people who don't want to be humiliated in real life don't want to be humiliated in real life. I don't want anybody to be humiliated in real life who doesn't want to be.

But to watch imagery of people portraying characters where the characters feel humiliated, or don't feel humiliated, I don't think that it matters. I think what matters is that somebody thinks that they're looking at a representation of what all people want. That would be problematic.

C: And that is what happens. That's to me, the concern. It's not about censorship, and it's not about not allowing that kind of pornography to be made, because of course, we need outlets. I'm actually somebody who supports the idea of, and that's a whole other issue, of, you know, that weird, kind of technologically aged down porn, which gets really creepy into sort of therapeutic outlets for individuals who deal with pedophilia, things like that. I'm one of these people who actually thinks those types of fake outlets should exist.

That said, the real issue which we already established is that a lot of people look at porn and go, “Oh, that's what real people are like.” And so, where's the literacy coming into that?

MK: Well, I agree with you. Where is the literacy coming from? I wrote this book in an attempt to increase the porn literacy of parents, of kids, of couples, and of individuals who are concerned that the stuff that they're watching, or the amount that they're watching might not be okay.

C: Yeah

MK: So I think enhancing the literacy is really our task.

C: Yeah

S: Marty, just to clarify, 'cause it seems like what you're saying is that pornography feeds appetites, it feeds fantasies that are distinct from appetites, but there's no evidence that it actually drives specific appetites, or it's driving a behavior, or out of whack beliefs other than this confusing what's happening on the screen with that's how sex is supposed to be. Is that a fair summary of what you're saying?

MK: That's about an eight part question.

(Cara laughs)

MK: So let me start at the end. When I said that there are people who look at porn and think it's a documentary, I did not mean to say that all people think that porn is real, or even that most people think that porn is real. Most adults know that porn is not real. A small number of adults don't know, and too many young people, kids, don't. But the majority of adults, they look at porn, and they know that they're looking at a fantasy. They look at their own bodies, they look at the bodies of the people around them, they know that very few people, when they answer the door to pick up a pizza, they know that most women don't say, “Oh, I got this one, honey. I'll just blow the guy, and that way we don't have to pay to the pizza.” Most adults realize that.

But, for the most part, people understand that there's a difference between fantasy and desire, when the subject is not sex. So, we've all had the fantasy, maybe, of killing somebody. We've all had the fantasy of quitting our jobs and moving to Tahiti. We've all had lots of fantasies about non-sexual things. And everybody knows that just 'cause you have a fantasy of something, doesn't mean that you would do it, even if you had the opportunity.

Well, it turns out, it's the same thing with sex, that people enjoy fantasizing about stuff that they would not do, even if they had the opportunity. So, what pornography does for people is, it's an opportunity to have the pleasure of watching their fantasies enacted on the screen. It doesn't, for the most part, it doesn't make people think, “Oh, now that I've seen it on the screen, I'm gonna go do that.” Or, “Now that I've seen that on the screen, I think I'm the only one in the world who doesn't do that.”

S: Dr. Marty Klein, the book is His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America's Porn Panic with Honest Talk About Sex. Thank you so much. This has really been a fascinating discussion. We really appreciate you comin' on the show.

Science or Fiction (1:13:43)[edit]

Item #1: In a new study over half of subjects tested were made to falsely remember events that never happened. Item #2: Scientists have developed a technique for magnetically pulling bacteria out of blood as a potential treatment for sepsis. Item #3: Researchers have developed what they are calling “super premium” gasoline which has 50% more energy density than regular gasoline.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:31:55)[edit]

'To change is always seeming fickleness. But not to change with the advance of science is worse; it is persistence in error.' James Dwight Dana, System of Mineralogy 1837, Yale professor. submitted by listener Jan McKae from Rochester NY

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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