SGU Episode 597

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SGU Episode 597
December 17th 2016
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SGU 596                      SGU 598

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel.

John Glenn As quoted in 'Space All systems go for National Space Day' at CNN (4 May 2000); also at John Glenn Friendship 7 Day

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


  • John Glenn death. Mercury program.

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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (3:38)[edit]

  • Barbara Liskov: Born 1938, she was the first woman to get a computer science doctorate in the US and made some early fundamental advances in computer programming and languages.

S: All right, Bob, you're gonna start us off with Forgotten Superhero of Science.

B: Yes, for this week's Forgotten Superheroes of Science, I'll be talking about Barbara Liskov, born in 1938. She is a computer scientist. She was among the first, if not the first woman to get a computer science doctorate in the United States, and made some fundamental advances in computer programming and languages. Pretty impressive stuff.

Liskov essentially invented data abstration, which is an amazing claim, which is a critical tool for program organization, and you could just go on and on about it. Her program CLU (C-L-U) may not be a household term or name, but it was the first to use data abstraction, and pretty much every major language since then, like JOB has borrowed concepts from CLU. Liskov has many, many awards, very impressive list. She won the John von Nuyman Medal for Fundamental Contributions to Programming Languages, Programming Methodology, and Distributed Systems. And in 2008, she won the Turing award, which is often called the Nobel Prize of Computing. She won for the development programming languages and methodologies that led to the development of (hello) object oriented programming.

So, incredibly impressive career, and she's still goin' strong. So, remember Barbara Liskov; mention her to your friends, perhaps when discussing contravariant type constructors or, perhaps, referential opacity.

C: Yeah!

S: Referential opacity?

B: Yeah, I love that one. Look those terms up! And it's not technobabble.

(Steve laughs)

C: Those are two words that make no sense next to each other to me.

(Cara and Evan laugh)

C: I'd never use those two words together.

News Items[edit]

Trust of Scientists and GMOs (5:22)[edit]

Cryogenic Energy Storage (19:49)[edit]

(Commercial at 37:38)

Deorbiting Space Junk (39:08)[edit]

What's the Word (45:58)[edit]

  • In Situ

S: Cara, What's the Word this week?

C: Ooh! The word this week is an interesting one because it is a word where the etymology, I think, actually defines it best. The word is “in situ.” And I thought it would be an interesting one because, you know, I used this term a lot when I was doing science, and it's a term that many people will come across it. They want to read the source literature, but may not know what it means, 'cause it's very jargony. And there's a lot of other terms that are similar to it, so I wanted to clear all of that up.

First, I'll start with the etymology. It's a Latin term, as it sounds. Was first written in the mid 1700's, and it literally translates to “in its place,” in its position. And we generally think of that as being its original place or its original position. So in sight, in place, in position. So what does that mean when it comes to science or medicine or any of these other fields? It depends on what we're talking about. Oftentimes in science, we use in situ, like, let's say archaeology or paleontology is a good example of that.

If we find an artifact, and we leave it the place where it was found, so we can study all of the context around it, then we're studying that artifact in situ. If we are looking at functional biology, and we want to look at the brain of a mouse, and see how a certain aspect of its brain works. If we want to study it in the living mouse without changing it or pulling it away from where it originally was found, we're studying it in situ.

You see this a lot of times in other fields. You can see it in computer science, you can see it in atmospheric sciences, even in economics, in industry, in law you see the word in situ used. And I'm looking here at an example. “In situ land exchange.” That would be land that is owned where it lies. You see it used in literature. In medicine, Steve, you've probably used this before. Like, a tumor could be an

S: Yeah

C: in situ tumor if it hasn't metastasized,

S: Right

C: it hasn't invaded, it hasn't moved. It's kind of where it originally lied. And so I thought I would bring it up in comparison to some other terms that you'll sometimes see, like in vitro or in vivo, 'cause they also have those Latin roots, and sometimes they're related. When you hear the term in vivo, that means in life, in the living organism. And so, a good example would be, you want to look at electrical activity, so you drop an electrode into the brain of a mouse. You're studying that activity in vivo.

If you want to study it outside of the animal, that's what I used to do when I was doing my research. We made a monolayer neuronal cell networks where we took fetal mouse tissue out of the animal, put them on these plates, and grew them in incubators. That was in vitro experimentation. You might also sometimes hear that referred to as ex vivo, outside

S: Yeah

C: of the living animal.

S: And in vitro literally translates to in glass.

C: Oh, that's fascinating, 'cause yeah, we don't always do in vitro experiments in glass, but many of them are.

S: But that's what it means, yeah.

C: That's fascinating. And then you'll also sometimes hear ex situ, just like you might hear ex vivo. And that simply refers to taking that thing out of its original place in an effort to study it. So especially with, again, going back to archaeology or paleontology, maybe we take something, and we put it in a scanner in order to study it. Well now we're studying it ex situ, because it's no longer in the original place where we found it. So we cannot use context from that original resting location.

Weirdly, when I started to read about it, I noticed that a lot of sites say that the American pronunciation of in situ (see-two) is in sigh-two, which is crazy to me.

J: Ooh, I've heard that. I have heard that.

C: I have heard that.

S: I've heard both.

E: Yeah!

C: Okay, good.

S: Yeah

C: So,

E: Sight

C: if you hear it, yeah, if you hear it referred to in sigh-two, apparently that's an alternative American pronunciation of that, but most European pronunciations, and, from what I've gathered, every professor I've ever heard say it out loud, always said in see-two.

S: Yeah

C: But I love these terms, because these are the types of terms that we often read, but have never heard anyone say. (Laughs) So it's good to hear

E: Yeah, right.

C: it spoken out loud, yeah.

S: Yeah, that's a good one. I like that one.

C: Yeah

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question #1: Premium Gas (50:15)[edit]

How, exactly, does premium gas work?

Question #2: Porn Follow Up (54:28)[edit]

Follow up to last week's interview. I. references: in addition to virtually uniform anecdotal reporting from a wide range of therapists, ~ Ogi Ogas, A Billion Wicked Thoughts (the first third of the book reports on a billion sexual searches; the rest of it speculates about the evolutionary meaning of these, with which i only partially agree). ~ pornhub's periodic release of their consumers' most common search terms, for whom violence, humiliation, pain, torture, etc never even come close to what people are generally looking for. Pornhub is the world's largest professional porn aggregator. ~ data from the owner of, the world's largest amateur porn site. neither the people who post there nor the consumers put violence, etc anywhere near the most popular depictions.

S: Okay, we also got a lot of feedback from last week's show regarding the interview with Marty Klein, on pornography. And it's been kind of, on both sides. A lot of people liked it. A lot of people were disappointed that we didn't push back more against Marty on some of the things that he said. One thing I find interesting, Cara, you tell me what you think about this. So a lot of people said, “Only Cara really questioned what he was saying. And you guys didn't.” Which I thought was a little odd. To me, it struck me as if you're not part of the interview. You weren't part of the SGU. Like, you were just sort of on your own. But, you know,

C: Yeah

S: You're part of the SGU. You're part of the interview. I take into consideration what everyone is saying. I thought you did a fine job,

E: Yeah

S: of bringing up your side, your perspective of pornography, and there was an interesting discussion, and there you go. I thought it was fine.

C: Yeah, I think how I read most of the emails that came in that did kind of make that distinction, like, “Only Cara did this, and the guys didn't.” I don't think they were saying like, “Only Cara, and the SGU didn't.” I think they were saying, “The men didn't.” I think they were trying to make a distinction between

B: Right

C: me being

S: Yeah

C: female, and trying to, in some ways, sort of defend the female position. I think, what the biggest concern was that many people thought that Marty just kind of ploughed through any of my concerns, and sort of either didn't really give them

S: Yeah

C: their due, or minimized what they were, or kind of straw manned me a little bit. When I would say, “Yeah, don't you think that this is maybe a little bit humiliating towards women,” he would be like, “Well, let's talk about spanking.” And I'm like, “Yeah, I'm not talking about spanking.” (Laughs) That's really not, you know, what

E: Yeah, you don't want to get too graphic there.

C: Yeah. (Laughs)

S: So, just, yeah, the point was that you thought that there's a lot of, in standard pornography, there's a lot of scenes that are humiliating towards women.

C: Yeah

S: And Marty's point was that, “Well, most people do not go out of their way to consume pornography that depicts humiliation, by their perspective.” And that what is humiliating is subjective.

C: Yes

S: So, what's interesting is, what I typically do, when I have the opportunity, is I will often watch interviews that, people we're going to interview have done, so I know what they have to say for themselves. I know what questions to ask. So I watched, like, an hour long interview with Marty before we did our interview. So I already knew what he position was. And what's interesting is, looking back, it's like, yeah, I didn't ask him to clarify maybe as much as I would have, 'cause I knew exactly what he was saying, because he had already spelled it out entirely in a very long interview.

C: Gotcha

S: So I knew what he was saying. And I did email Marty after we got the email feedback, just to see how he would respond, to see if he had anything he wanted to clarify, or to add. So let me summarize what his position is, 'cause I think you guys were talking about two different things. Marty is not saying that there isn't pornography that depicts scenes that are humiliating to women. He wasn't saying that. What he's saying is that if you look at the statistics, most men, most people who are consuming pornography are not looking for scenes of humiliation or violence or degredation or spanking or whatever.

Yes, some people do. Yes, it's there. But that's not what people are looking for, mostly. And I did ask him for evidence that, he gave me several references, which I'll include in the notes, one of which is PornHub, which apparently is the largest aggregator of pornography sites on the internet.

E: Is that right, Bob?

S: And they

(Cara laughs)

B: Ha!

S: I looked it up. They publish their search results. Like, this is what people are searching on, every year. You can go to PornHub search results, and you can look at it yourself. And yeah, I mean, no one's looking for rimshot or whatever,

C: Ewgh!

S: the money shot, or the stuff that you would consider humiliating. The other thing I found interesting, Cara, is that I completely agree with you in terms of, which is why, I think again, Marty was saying, yeah, most guys don't want to watch that kind of stuff. The other point is that it's all there, and it's all categorized, and people can find whatever they want. So, there was some interesting discussion about how quote-unquote “difficult” is it to find pornography that does not contain any of that, 'cause it is nicely and conveniently categorized. You

C: Yeah, and I think

S: could avoid it.

C: that was really my concern, that didn't seem like we really were able to get into that much, because he was making the arguments

S: Yeah

C: that the scientific evidence really supports, that porn doesn't breed violence, and most people aren't looking for violence in porn, and if you watch porn, you're not gonna go out and commit more violence. And I don't think anybody was arguing.

S: Yeah, that's

C: Where my

S: where he was coming from, yeah.

C: Exactly. And I think my more nuanced question was, if you're searching for porn, even if you're not directly for searching, like, humiliation porn, you will often encounter humiliating scenes in what is defined more traditionally as just typical porn. And how a man might define a scene of humiliation might be a little different than how a woman might

S: Yeah

C: define it. And so just assuming that watching a certain thing and saying, “Well, I'm not looking for humiliation.” You might still be getting it, and that might still normalize it. And that's really the issue that I

S: Yeah

C: was most concerned about.

E: Hmm

S: And I agree, you will stumble upon it, even if you're not looking for it. I've always chalked that up to, that's just the porn industry culture.

C: Yeah, and I think it's the nature of porn being geared towards men, you know. I think that's a big part of it.

S: Well, see, I don't know. I don't know if that's what it is or not. I don't know if – maybe, I don't know. I don't like any of that, so it's hard for me to say.

C: Yeah

S: It's interesting you said that you watch lesbian porn, 'cause lesbian porn doesn't have any of that. And I think a lot of guys like

C: Has less

S: lesbian porn for the exact same reason. And that is

C: Yeah, I think so.

S: lesbians always the number one choice on search. Yeah, so I looked at it when I looked it up. Lesbian's right there at the top, which is interesting. But, again, I think that it may not be that men want that, and they're gearing it towards men. It could just be that this is what people who make porn videos think people want. You know, it's just a culture.

C: Exactly, which is such a problem.

S: Problem, TV tropes. Yeah.

(Cara laughs)

S: Yeah, so I think it may have something to do more with that, that they think, “You gotta have the money shot!” You know, and even though I don't think

C: Yeah

S: people really want it, is the bottom line. And if you, again, Marty's only point was, if you actually look at the data, people aren't going out of their way to find that sort of stuff. But yeah, you're right. It doesn't mean it's not there.

C: Yeah, and of course, I was probably asking many questions that don't have data to support them. This is such an interesting field of inquiry, because, at least in American culture, it's extremely taboo, and it makes

S: Yeah

C: you wonder, how much data's really out there, and how much of this do we have to make assumptions based on, which can be a little bit dangerous and unscientific. So I was probably asking about nuanced questions that may not have any

S: Yeah

C: data to back them up. And so he wanted to keep sticking with, “Well, what we do know is, porn doesn't make you commit violent crimes.” And it's like, yeah, okay, that's fair.

S: Yeah, somebody complained that he made a correlation-causation argument, but I knew that he wasn't doing that. He was just saying the data doesn't support that the availability, the widespread availability of pornography has not increased divorce or violence or sexual abuse or whatever. It hasn't increased any of these things, because these things have all been decreasing since porn has been widely available.

He wasn't making the other argument, that porn is decreasing those things. He did not make that argument.

E: No, he didn't say that.

C: Yeah

B: He specifically said that.

E: Like, twice.

S: Yeah

B: He's well aware of that trap.

E: Yeah, yep.

S: Yeah

C: (Laughs) Yeah

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, yeah, I mean, you know, I think in retrospect, I always try to do a post mortem on my own interview style. And I think I have to be aware of the fact that just because I know what the person is saying doesn't mean I shouldn't be attuned to the need for clarification, especially when there was

C: Yeah

S: an apparent disagreement about what was goin' on.

C: It's a topic we don't generally cover on the show, and it's a topic that makes people wriggle a little bit. And so I think that there was also a little bit of feedback that I noticed in emails, just that the guys, meaning the four of you, not me, were a little quieter than usual (laughs) during the discussion. It sort of let me get out in front of some of the things that I was concerned about, and talk about them. But I don't think that should be a knock against you guys.

S: Yeah, when we're interviewing somebody, I just think I think of us collectively. As long as somebody makes a point, I feel we've made the point.

C: Exactly

S: But, whatever.

C: Yeah,

E: Right

C: I agree. I feel the same way. We don't need to parse it out that way.

B: Yeah, I mean, from my point of view, I mean, just in general, you, Steve and Cara, you guys are, you're fantastic at interviews, but it's hard to match you in a lot of ways, because you just come up with these great comments and questions so fast, and I'm thinking about it, and I'm like, “Oh yeah, I was just gonna say that.” That doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen. So you guys are tough to be in group interviews with.

C: I could see that. Yeah, and it's what I do for a living, you know what I mean? So I probably bring that with me.

B: You just bring so much

C: Yeah

B: to the interview. It's like, “Holy crap!”

S: I know, sometimes I try to pause, let you guys jump in there. But I also feel like I need to keep the interview moving along, you know.

B: Yeah, right.

C: Yeah, for sure.

S: So it's unusual. A lot of shows don't have four or five people interviewing one person. I mean, that's uncommon.

E: That's true.

S: We do the best we can.

C: Yeah

S: I think it's interesting to have all of our voices there. But it is a little hard to manage. It is a little hard to manage at times.

Science or Fiction (1:04:07)[edit]

Item #1: A study of college students finds an inverse relationship between mood and academic achievement, with those reporting more stress and negative emotions performing better than their happy peers. Item #2: A new study finds that most undergraduate students do not improve their problem solving skills after the first semester. Item #3: Researchers find that children who gesture more, or were encouraged to gesture more, are more creative than those who gesture less.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:19:56)[edit]

“The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel.” - As quoted in 'Space All systems go for National Space Day' at CNN (4 May 2000); also at John Glenn Friendship 7 Day

Announcements (1:20:28)[edit]

  • Year end show will be live-streamed on Facebook on Dec 20

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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