SGU Episode 6

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SGU Episode 6
7th July 2005

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis

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Show Notes


S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Thursday, July 7th 2005. I'm your host, Steven Novella, President of the New England Skeptical Society. With me tonight are Evan Bernstein...

E: Hi everyone.

S: Perry DeAngelis...

P: Present.

S: and Robert Novella.

B: Here.

News Items[edit]

London train bombing (0:25)[edit]

S: So dominating the news today (not a skeptical topic but worthy of mention) was the massive terrorist attack on the London subway system. The toll stands now at over 40 killed and over 700 injured. Just a massive attack, so of course our thoughts are with the families and victims of that horrible attack.

P: Amen.

Science Magazine's 125 Unanswered Questions (0:48)[edit]

S: I thought we would start today with just talking about Science Magazine; they have their 125th anniversary, and to commemorate that they have compiled 125 science questions that we still do not know and it's an interesting—an interesting read.

P: I actually filled in the answers to those questions and sent them in to Science—

S: Did you?

P: —they'll be in the next issue.

S: They're going to publish them next time?

P: Published in the next issue.

B: Perry, number 7 was wrong by the way.

P: (laugh) That's your opinion.

E: (laugh)

P: Your opinion.

S: So these are mostly big, huge science questions that still do not have an answer, for example, "what controls organ regeneration?" "How does—how do skin cells differentiate into nerve cells when an embryo is developing?"

B: Skin cells? You mean they become skin cells first, then they become nerve cells? Don't they just go from like a stem cell to a nerve cell?

P: Let's ask a—a neurologist. Steve, how do, um, skin cells—

B: You know what I mean?

P: —turn into nerve cells?

S: I don't think they're talking about a fully differentiated skin cell but more of a, a filler cell. The kind that, that would then... like, form scar tissue or cause regeneration in some animals.

P: So this sounds like it's part of the stem cell debate.

S: Yeah, it's definitely along that line. They are talking about, I guess, adult-derived stem cells.

P: That's the B-team of stem cells.

B: Rather specific to me and not more of a general statement.

S: "How are memories stored and retrieved?" Well, we have somewhat of an answer.[1]

B: Yeah, we got a decent idea about that.

S: One is, "are we alone in the universe". Still an unanswered question.

P: I just saw War of the Worlds; I dunno.

S, B, E: (laugh)

B: Perry, what planet did you come from?

P: (laugh) That's a, that's a secret. That was question 126; I didn't quite make it—

B, E: (laugh)

P: —on the list.

S: "What are the limits of conventional computing?"

B: Oh, come on. I've read articles about that.

S, E: (laugh)

S: So, you're not impressed with their—

B: Not, not with a couple of them.

S: —questions?

B: I mean, there are physical limits. Physics places limits on, on uh, on what computers can do. You know the, you know, if you had—if your, if your smallest element was an electron travelling at the speed of light then this is how fast your computer could possibly be, you know, including heat dissipation and all sorts of, well, you know, whatever maybe...

P: It's time for a trivia question. What is Data's (Star Trek Next Gen's) ultimate storage capacity?

B: Oh God, it was like, uh... oo... 600...

P: Come on, Bob.

B: 600 petaflops?


P: That's not what he said.

E: Oh my god...

S: What did he say, Perry?

P: 800 quadrillion bits.

S: 800 quadrillion bits. That's a lot.

P: He announced it on one of the shows.

E: Lots of bits. How many bytes is that?

P: "I have an ultimate storage capacity"—

B: Ya know I remember—I do remember that and I remember calculating what exactly what that was and not being very impressed about it.

P: Really?

S: Yeah.

E: Well it was 1980... 9.

B: Considering...

P: Yeah think about how long ago that show was written.

E: I mean really it was pre, it was pre-internet, that show. Umm... and computers were far less powerful then they...

P: if it was...

B: Still...

P: If it was written today then it would have been considerably higher.

B: Still you would think, you know, they would—they would take today's ultimate and just add, you know, add 4, you know, 4 orders of magnitude.

E: Right. A googolplex to the googolplex power...

B: (laugh)

E: or something like that.

P: That's true, in fact I'm often startled at, at, at, at the density of television writers. I'm really shocked. Most of them impress me as —

E: (laugh).

S: Star Trek was notorious, notorious for technobabble. Scientific, technological sounding, you know, sound bites, but ultimately vacuous.

P: Right.

S: Here's a good one, um, "can the laws of physics be unified?" That is definitely—

E: Ah.

S: —and if so, how? That's a huge unanswered question.

E: It goes from questions like that to questions like this: "What is the structure of water?" I mean that sounds very basic. That sounds like something that scientists should be able to all agree on at this point of our knowledge of science, but...

S: They must, they must be talking about homeopathy.

E: Right. "Researchers continue to tussle over how many bonds each H2O molecule makes with its nearest neighbors."

S: Huh.

E: That's fascinating.

S: Not, not the structure of a single water molecule, but the greater structure; the super structure of water. How they interact with each other.

P: How many bonds? Hmm.

E: How many bonds.

P: Count them. Are they individual?

E: It's either one or two. I don't know.

S: Well, um, while we're perusing this, uh, science trivia, that's a good segue into the next segment of our program which is Science or Fiction.

B: Ooo.

E: Uh, fiction.

B: (laugh) Yes.

P: (laugh)

Science or Fiction (6:04)[edit]

VO: It's time to play Science OR Fiction

S: So the, there are, as, as we do each week I will introduce three science news items. Two are real, one is fake, and my skeptical colleagues will have to sniff out the fake science story. And typically I will make the fake one as plausible as possible but you have to—to know what the false element is to really figure it out.

E: I have a question before we continue.

S: Sure.

E: Did your false statement from last week[2] turn out to be true this week?

S: Not as far as I know.

E: Well, then I guess the streak is officially over then?

S: The streak is over unless something crops up soon, but the... Last week the false one was that chimpanzees have been observed writing, communicating in written symbols; "in written" was the new element. So are you ready for the three items?

B: Yeah.

B: Sure.

S: Okay. Again, I'll list all three and then, uh, I'll give you a chance to comment. Item number one: scientists have created a new form of matter called a superfluid gas. Item number two: scientists discovered the oldest living organism, a conifer, that's an evergreen tree, over 10,000 years old. And item number three: scientists have discovered a fossil of a mammal with a dinosaur in its stomach. So, those are the three items.

B: Well this is kinda weird because I actually think I've read about all three of those. But...

P: (laugh)

E: The third one sounds familiar to me.

S: One must be not, not quite true.

B: After the first two I'm thinking, "Oh, I got this one," then the third one—

S: It's gotta be number three. They all sound plausible, huh?

P: Did you read about one of them in a comic book?

B: (laugh)

P: No. All right, so we got superfluid gas. What is that? I don't know.

S: A new form of matter, called a superfluid gas.

P: Superfluid gas. And we got number three was a dinosaur in the stomach, and number two was the conifer 10,000 years old.

S: 10,000 years old.

E: At least the superfluid gas is not trading at $61 a barrel, I can guarantee that.

S: Probably much more.

P: Don't get me sh-tarted.

E: Yeah.

P: Uh...

E: But, we digress. I'm going to take a stab first. I'm going to say number three is the false one and I don't think—I, I think, and, here's my reason. I think there's uh, Steve, I think what you're doing is using the words, "mammal" and "dinosaur" and there's some kinda play in there; it's not quite exactly the way you phrased it. Something similar but not actually a dinosaur in the stomach of a mammal. So, I kinda think that's why number three I think is false.

S: But I will try not to... be tricky or or to play on words, and the scientific facts are either true or not true. So what we're talking about is that fossil evidence that a mammal had eaten a dinosaur.

E: I'll stay with number three.

S: Okay. Bob? Perry? What's your—

P: Bob is next.

S: Bob, is you gut talking to you?

B: Perry's next.


B: Yeah, my gut's saying, "I have no idea because—all, they all ring a bell with me. So, um, superfluid gas. I've read about the dinosaur and the mammal...

P: Bob you've gotta know about superfluid gas. You're mister physics.

B: (cough) Pardon me. Well I'm actually listing here the states of matter that I am familiar with and I come up with 5, uh 6. We got a gas, we got liquid, you have solid. Everyone knows those.

E: I know those three.

B: Right, you guys know those? And there's, uh, then there's a plasma

P: Oh yeah.

B: —which is basically um... molecules, uh, I mean atoms that have had their electrons ripped from the nucleus. Um... and that's like the atmosphere of the sun is a plasma and is—it is the most common phase of matter in the universe, is plasma. Then you got a Bose-Einstein condensate and a fermionic condensate and I did, I did read about another state that they were talking about and I kinda remember it being something like a superfluid gas.

P: Bo-bo-bo boson condensate?

B: Bose-Einstein condensate.

P: Is that the water that collects on cows in the morning?


B: Exactly. Exactly. Wow.

E: Bovine condensation.

B: I'm surprised you know that one that was good. Um...

P: Uh...

B: It's really a very interesting state of matter but, um... god, superfluid gas. Conifer. The dino I'm most confident about. The conifer, god, I read something about, uh, something tree-related that was extremely old. Wow, Perry you go. I'ma have to mull this over a few more seconds.

P: Eh... have to guess. Mmmm... could a plant survive 10,000 years? I suppose it was frozen solid. Evergreen tree. Be in a cold climate. Be in a new cold climate, old cold climate. That seems possible. I have no idea about the superfluid gas, though, though that's an interesting term for Steve to just have come up with out of the blue. Maybe somebody was working on it or something. All right, I'm-I'm-I'm guessing, I'm gonna go with number one. I think number one is false.

S: Okay. Bob? Gotta gotta make a decision.

B: Yeah.

S: Put your nickel down.

B: I'm gonna, I'm gonna go with the superfluid gas. I think the, um, the name is subtly incorrect. Um... why, why would they have gas as a different state of matter when it can't really be a gas. Um... the conifer, man, I remember maybe it wasn't quite 10,000 years; maybe Steve is exaggerating the age a little, but I remember it was quite quite old. Maybe it's only 5,000 but I'm gonna go with the superfluid gas.

P: So we got two ones...

S: And a three.

P, E: And a three.

S: (laugh) Okay.

B: From that laugh, I uh...

S: So we'll take them in order; we'll start with number one.

P: All right.

S: "MIT physicists create a new form of matter"[3] is the headline. What they did was they supercool a gas and the key is to get the gas to achieve a superfluid state; what they call "high-temperature superfluidity". Now, to them, high temperature...

B: Oh, high temperature.

S: Yeah but high temperature, that was really the breakthrough but, this—the high temperature is 50 billionths of a degree Kelvin. They call that high temperature. 50 nano-Kelvins. But that's higher than anyone has been able to do it before. And the importance is, you know, to—superfluidity is sorta similar to superconductivity. It would be a very, very useful property for materials to have.

B: A superfluid—a superfluid could do very unusual things like like travel up hill things like that.

S: Right.

B: Very bizarre behavior for superfluids.

S: So, they and they are calling it a superfluid gas. It is a gas. It is a fermion gas, Bob; you actually were very very close to that.

P: I said number one wasn't true, right?

E: Yes, that's right.

P: Why did I say that?

S: I don't know.

P: I mean, I specifically said that's not something you'd make up.

S: I guess maybe you gave me more credit in the end.

P: I just—I just got it wrong in my own head; I was stupid. I deserve to get it wrong.

S: Okay.

B: No argument here.

P: All right.

E: Let's move on.

S: Number two: The earth's oldest living inhabitant, called Methuselah, a biblical reference—

B: Yep.

S: —is a bristlecone pine[4]. The oldest single individual that has been recorded is 4,767 years. Very close to your guess of 5,000, Bob.

B: Ah, that why you laughed; I knew it.

S: (laugh) 10,000—I doubled it, 10,000. So that's the oldest living thing. 10,000 is too long. So that that's why that one is wrong.

B: Okay.

S: But there are bristlecone pine—4,767 years is the oldest specific individual. There's many examples of them in California and in Japan, in, you know, two, three, 4,000 years old. And the third one was—this is just you would have to hear it or not and this was a news item: "Dinosaur was Dinner at least Once, Fossil Shows / mammal refused to be a victim and ate a psittacosaur"[5], I think is how you pronounce it. So this is basically like a dog-sized mammal that was around at the time of the dinosaurs eating basically like the biggest mammal at the time, or one of them, eating one of the smallest dinosaurs at the time.

P: What impact would this have on Kansas at all, Steve?

S: (laugh) It was the uh, I-I-I don't believe the fossil was discovered in Kansas. It was discovered—

E: China.

S: in China. In China. Other than that I don't... nothing.

P: You don't think it will have any impact on the intelligent design debate?

S: What, evidence affecting intelligent design theory?

P: Yeah.

S: I doubt it. They're calling this the T. rex of mammals, Repenomamus robustus. This is the first fossil evidence of any animal—of any mammal having having eaten a dinosaur. It's interesting; it's a curiosity because the textbook, ya know, canonical story of—

B: Small rodents running around...

S: —small rodent living in the shadow of the giant dinosaurs and dinosaurs eating mammals.

B: Way to go mammals.

E: It's all in the Bible.

S: So there you have it. So the, uh, first and the third one were correct and the second one was, uh, incorrect because I doubled the age of the oldest living tree from 5,000 approximately to 10,000.

P: Well, I want to disqualify myself this week based on stupidity.

E: We were—we were perfect this week. So we can move on.

S: Interesting. These are obviously designed to be—to be very difficult and it's a test, not only of your knowledge of scientific trivia but also just are you keeping up with the latest stories in the news.

E: And it's also an exercise to show people that no matter what people, it say may sound scientific but it could be far from true.

S: And you know, some things that sound fantastical are—can be true. Ya know like a 5,000 year old tree, that that's pretty out there.

P: Or birds that stay aloft for 10 years.

S: For ten years at a time right. Like the Sooty Tern from last week's example.

P: There ya go.

S: So I will continue to...

E: I still want to see the 10-year video of that thing, but that's another story.

P: It's all good.

S: I'll continue to scour the science news for the most extraordinary stories and this is sort of a fun way to hear about it.

More News Items[edit]

Tom Cruise (16:48)[edit]

S: Something else, speaking of funny items in the news and I'm sure all of you have heard or seen our friend Tom Cruise in the news in the last couple of weeks.

E: Your friend, Tom Cruise, yes.

S: As you may or may not know, Tom Cruise, uh, who is, ya know, a very, very good actor; who is, ya know, box office smash; his movie out right now is War of the Worlds.

B: And as my wife says, "Not bad to look at either."

S: Not bad to look at either. Yeah, I think my wife concurs on that as well. So, we—again, a brilliant actor, but—who also happens to be a Scientologist. Uh, ya know, Scientology is a 50-year-old religion. Um, some people who are not charitable would call it a cult.

P: An actor's mind is a terrible thing to waste.

S: (laugh) Right. Scientology has actually aggressively, ya know, recruited, or proselytized to Hollywood stars, because it wants them as its spokespeople, and, ya know, they've been successful, not only Tom Cruise but...

B: Kirstie Alley.

E: Oh, John Travolta.

S: And others.

P: A few other assorted kooks.

S: Uh, but the Tom Cruise episode brought out one interesting aspect of Scientology that I dunno how many people are aware of and that's that Scientologists are very anti-psychiatry. They maintain that psychiatry, as Tom Cruise said directly, Scientology is a pseu—I mean that psychiatry is a pseudoscience and they deny essentially the entire modern discipline, modern science of mental health.

P: Tom Cruise said there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.

S: Right. There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.

E: The reason that he focuses on that, I believe, is cause the main thrust of all Scientology plays into that whole field. So of course they—they feel that they have to, uh, ya know, support their, ya know, their, uh, mind view, if you will...

S: Right.

E: of how the human mind works, and that's why he has such a problem with it, cause of what they believe.

S: Yeah, I mean, basically they're the Creationists of mental illness. They oppose a specific scientific discipline because their religious faith disagrees with it. So that they, basically, mount a very aggressive, sophisticated campaign against psychiatry the same way that Creationists mount a campaign against evolution. But on the surface the Scientologist's views of mental illness are the idea that all of our psychological problems, all of the baggage that we carry with us, is due to what they call engrams. Engrams are basically memories, subconscious memories, of past trauma, even going back to the womb, and that the only way to get rid of your mental illnesses or your psychological problems and—is to clear yourself of these bad memories, these engrams and their—the goal of Scientologists is to become what they call a "clear", basically cleared of engrams. Of course, ya know, as wacky as that may seem, as contradictory to, ya know, modern neurology, that's actually not the real beliefs that they have, that's only the surface belief. That the Dianetics-level ideas that they have. In reality what they believe is that people are being parasitically infested by the spirits of dead space aliens that were exiled to Earth by an extraterrestrial dictator, called Xenu.

P: Oh Xenu. I-I think.

B: Yeah. So Steve, is it like a possession then? But they don't really see it really like a possession. But it sounds like possession to me.

S: Uhhh... yeah.

P: Pretty much.

S: It's more of, it's more of a psychic parasite. Ya know, I think, is the, is the way they—so, which of course makes it interesting that, ya know, Tom Cruise, who thinks that alien parasites are sucking off our mental health, calls psychiatry a pseudoscience. That is the pot calling the kettle black if ever there were one. But, I mean, it's-it's just ridiculous and it—but interestingly it—the Scientologists do find allies among others who also question the basic tenets of psychiatry, that question the concepts of mental illnesses being due to chemical imbalances in the brain. There is a, actually a psychiatrist who is now pushing 90, the guy's ancient, called Thomas Szasz, who—40-50 years ago he had some legitimate criticisms of the way psychiatry was being practiced, uh, but basically all of his legitimate criticisms have been dealt with over the years and psychiatry is definitely a much more humane... ethical—

P: It's-It's matured. It's matured like all medical science has in the last 50 years.

S: Um, but, ya know, there are, ya know, you did not want to be mentally ill 50 years ago and be institutionalized. I mean, it was—

P: Of course.

S: —you really had no rights. But those issues really have been dealt with and led one sort-of critic of Thomas Szasz to comment that he should just declare victory and move on, I mean, the battle that he was fighting is over. But, he—Thomas Szasz and his disciples have taken sort of criticism of some these sort of questionable ethics of old-school psychiatry to the point of saying that there's no such thing as mental illness and I have engaged in debates and discussions with dozens of people who hold that belief. I don't know if any of them were Scientologists; they might have been, they don't always label themselves as such but some certainly were not, they were psychologists or-or therapists or just interested laypeople who have bought into this very elaborate belief system that I call psychiatry denial, which is just—or just a denial of mental illness. The silliest thing about it is that it really denies the basic fact that the brain is a biological organ, right? It's just like your liver.

P: (laugh)

S: Yeah?

P: It's true.

S: And just like your liver can fail and not function properly and have chemical imbalances and hypo- or hyper- functioning of different aspects of the liver cells, the same is true of your brain. I mean, the only difference is the brain is a lot more complex, which means there could be a lot more subtle imbalances.

P: I can speak from personal experience when I had some complications from surgery in 2000 I got delirium and started—I was not in control of myself. I was in the hospital, I thought aliens had kidnapped me and were whatever, I dunno, trying to do experiments on me, I guess. I pulled my feeding tube out of my nose, violently, swearing at people around me. I mean, I was, my brain was compromised—

S: Your brain was not functioning normally.

P: (laugh) —by the—by the illness, and, ya know, I woke up to find, to find myself tied to the bed.

S: Yet there are those who would deny the very obvious and basic conclusion that your brain was not biologically functioning normally because, ya know, you had a fever and metabolic parameters were out of whack.

P: Right.

S: They would try to interpret that as—in psychological terms, but in psychological terms it's meaningless. Your brain cells were not working. That's what it comes down to, but Tom Cruise says there's no such thing as a chemical imbalance. He was very critical of Brooke Shields who had suffered from postpartum depression and took some antidepressants, which she says helped her a great deal. He made some comment about "well all you need is vitamins and exercise", which is again, just pulling nonsense—

E: Yeah, where have we heard that before?

S: —out of his butt. Anyway, so, I think a lot of the—some of the press focused a lot on just sort of the religious aspects of Scientology or on his sorta extreme views, but, I didn't really anyone make the connection between the really bizarre—

B: Right.

S: —beliefs of Scientology and what was motivating—

P: Nobody knows about it—

S: —Tom Cruise...

P: —'s why, Steve.

S: —right, in his, ya know, denial of behavioral neuroscience, basically. But again, I do think that the parallels between the psychiatry denial of Scientologists and evolution denial of Creationists are very real and very interesting, they're also—they're very telling, and one of the advantages of being what we call—we call ourselves—we're full service skeptics; we really deal all issues across the spectrum. The real advantage to that is that you see the underlying similarities. They all use the same logical fallacies over and over again. The same, sort of, errors in thought. The same strategies of denial. It doesn't really matter what the topic is.

Of course, if you gonna talk intelligently about a specific topic, you do need to know the factual details. You can't speak in a vacuum; what we call arm-chair skepticism, which is just sorta shooting from the hip. You do have to, sort of, know the nitty-gritty details, but the flaws in logic and the mechanisms of deception that people employ are all the same. Whether you're a Scientologist or a Creationists or a—you believe in ghosts or UFOs or Bigfoot, it doesn't matter.

B: Wait, wait, what's wrong with Bigfoot?

P: (laugh)

S: (laugh)

P: UFOs sure, but that Bigfoot.

S: It's a great website. It's a very useful website, I like, I enjoy.

B: Yeah, right?

P: (laugh)

S: Um...

B: (laugh)

Skeptical Website of the Week: Snopes (26:51)[edit]

S: Well, Bob why don't we take this time for you to tell us what the skeptical website of the week is?

B: One of my, one of my favorite skeptical websites is It's not strictly... it is skeptical, it's a little off-beat in that it—in that it discusses urban legends. I mean—

P: How do you spell that, Bob?

B: or urban legends?

P: Snopes.

S: Give us the URL. What is it?

P: Yeah, give us the URL.

B: W-W-W dot S-N-O-P-E-S.

S: Okay.

B: Time Magazine in 2002 and 2003 listed it as one of the 50 best websites, and, like I said, it contains urban legends, lots of internet lore, odd news stories, strange facts and misconceptions.

S: It's a great resource. I go there all—

B: It is. It's a great resource. If you read something; if you get an e-mail or someone tells you about some bizarre story, go to this site and do a search and see if it's a bona fide false urban legend or if there might be some truth to it, or—he's got—he's got dozens of categories from science to religion; Cokelore, as in Coca-Cola, food, and Disney; all these amazing stories that people—a lot of people take for granted—

S: Right.

B: —and don't really think about it, but actually are urban legends.

P: Bob, you say he has, is it a one-man band?

B: Well this is—there is a guy—he's actually a contributor to my skeptical e-mail group, and it's just—he just identifies himself as snopes, but yeah, it's a guy.

S: Don't know his real name?

B: Ya know, I don't. Let's see. Uh... "urban legends by Barbara and David Mikkelson", hmm... I wonder if that's him.

S: Well, there ya go.

P: (laugh)

B: Uhm... must be.

S: Mystery solved. So give us some examples. Give us some examples.

B: Sure. He went to—I went to the science section, of course, and came up with some here. You guys let me know what you think.

S: So, are all of these fake, or there are some real ones, too?

B: There's, he has categories: true, false, then he's got undetermined or ambiguous veracity.

P: Okay.

B: And then he has another one that I actually—I won't cover but he has "entries of indeterminate origin", and I think that actually covers things that are—it's such a vague story that it probably happened to someone somewhere, but it's just not specific enough to tell you whether, yes, this absolutely happened, but it probably did to somebody at some point. But here's a couple, let's see: "consumers need to be cautious that water boiled in a microwave oven can suddenly explode."

P: That sounds ridiculous.

S: Water explode? No, it will boil.

P: (laugh) Yeah, I mean, unless it's in a tightly closed container.

S: Yeah, but I doubt the microwave itself is airtight.

E: Sounds dubious.

S: I mean, yeah, you certainly don't want to boil water inside a sealed container, 'cause once it starts to boil it will explode.

P: Right. Wouldn't want to do that in a microwave or a camp fire.

S: Never heat a closed system.

B: He lists that as true, and I don't think it necessarily needs to be a closed box or a closed system in any way, it's just that—I-I'm not sure, the impression I have is that is that because—I don't know, after you open it reaches some critical heat that causes it to just really explode out of the container.

P: All right, wait a minute; so his website, Bob, says true with no explanation?

E: No, there is an explanation.

B: He might—I've got a link here. I could follow it and see but let me uh, all right, let me click it and see what comes up.

P: Yeah, because it to us it sounds ridiculous.

B: Yeah. Here it is. He's got a—he's got a big—he's got a big page here on on this. "True but rare", that's the status he's got here. "True but rare", and I don't wanna waste time reading this, but that's—so that is...

P: Something I'm going to have to read.

E: He gives an example of a story behind it. He describes the origins of the story. He then cites some articles in which this is mentioned; for instance, from New Scientist, from the How Things Work website, and so forth. So, he does some research, puts it all together in one page and puts it up there for you.

S: But what's exploding?

P: Water exploding?

B: Actually, it involves superheating.

S: Okay.

B: Let's see.

P: So that water's over heating?

S: But superheating involves pressure.

E: I'm here now and it says "takes near perfect conditions to bring this about, thus 'exploding water' is not something the average hot beverage drinker who would otherwise now be eyeing his microwave with trepidation need fear. Odds are you'll go through life without ever viewing this phenomenon first-hand and if you're one of the rare few who does get to see it, you will likely not be harmed by the experience."[6]

P: So it's a very small explosion. Doesn't blow the microwave apart.

B: Oh, okay.

B: No, no. So, what's happening here is that you've got a—you've got water that's actually slightly above the boiling point because of a lack of nucleation sites. Those are sites that gas bubbles form—that form around—

S: Right.

B: —that, uh, that when you boil—when you boil water, before you throw pasta in, the bubbles coming up are created at nucleation sites—

S: Right.

B: —but here's a better example. If you look at—if you pour a glass of champagne and you look and you see these bubbles appearing at a certain point on the glass and then, you know, rising through the liquid and getting bigger and bigger, those are nucleation sites. And rain, even rain, common rain, needs these nucleation sites to start forming around. If we had no impurities in our atmosphere, it would be very difficult for rain to form. So it involves superheating and then all of a sudden, since it's hotter than actually 212 Fahrenheit, all of a sudden mi-, I dunno, maybe, it finds some nucleation sites and bam, it just—

S: Okay.

B: —over-boils. So... that's—

S: So what causes the lack of nucleation sites?

B: Certain glasses he's saying here are—the glass is very—is very well made or something, and that there's not many nucleation sites.

P: Hm.

S: That's interesting.

B: That's enough on this one.

P: That's interesting. It's enough, but it's interesting.

B: Okay...

E: These other ones are great.

B: Here's a good one: "The number of people alive today is greater than the number of people that have ever died." Now that's a very common one; I've heard that over and over and I believed it.

S: I wanna say that's false. Ya know, right, cause there just has to have been more than 6 billion people—

B: Right.

S: —to have ever lived ever.

B: Right and it—and it is false. And here's another great one: "The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the moon."

E: From the moon?

S: It's not visible from the moon.

P: From the moon?

S: It's visible from orbit.

E: But the moon is...

P: The moon is a little far.

E: A quarter million miles away.

S: Yeah, from low-earth orbit it's visible. Like, if you're in the shuttle you can see it, isn't that correct?

B: Yeah this is—this is actually—yeah, actually, this—from the moon is right, is ridiculous, 'cause the moon is—the earth is pretty tiny when you're standing on the moon. But I've also heard another form of this being that it's the only thing you can see from orbit that's man made and that's—and that's also false.

P: How far is the moon? How far is the earth from the moon?

B: Quarter million, quarter million miles.

S: Yeah, quarter million.

P: 239,000 miles.

B: Two light seconds.

P: I'm sure that fluctuates a little.

B: "Hair and fingernails continue to grow after one's death."

S: That is false. That is false.

B: That is false. I believe the skin peels away

S: The skin retracts, yeah, from drying.

B: Alright. "Men think about sex every seven seconds."

E: True. Oh, darn.


B: That's false. That's a very common one that—

S: How long has this show been?


E: How many thoughts? That's false, huh?

B: And... yes. And one of my favorites: "Thanks to the Coriolis effect, toilets flush clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the southern." And that—and that is false as well.

E: We all know that's false.

S: Bob wrote an article about that for our newsletter.

E: That the Coriolis effect is only measurable in very large bodies of water.

B: And over long—

E: Oceans (laugh)

B: —long periods of time.

S: Yeah. It uh it affects hurricanes and, ya know, things like that but not your toilet bowl.

B: Right.

S: Right.

B: Yeah. The toilet bowl is just too small and it goes too fast. Basically, the direction that the water spins around when you flush depends on the direction it was going when it entered and the odd shape of the receptacle and things like that.

S: Right, right.

B: And uh...

S: Well here's another water-related one that I heard: Tell me if—I-I know that Evan knows this one, 'cause we've spoken about it, but if you put hot water in an ice cube tray in the freezer, it will freeze quicker than if you put cold water in the ice cube trays to freeze it to ice.

B: I've heard that.

P: Is that the same question about boiling water? If it's hot to start with or cold to start with? Okay, I don't know, let's see. The water is ... it's moving faster, right, the molecules, if it's hotter...

S: Right.

B: But it's still—if it's hotter, it would take longer to equalize with the with the freezer.

P: That doesn't seem right.

S: Doesn't seem right and I didn't believe when I first heard—I thought that can't be right because hot water has farther to cool down, you know—

P: (laugh)

S: —it's just thermodynamics. There's nothing, you know, special about it.

P: Seems very common sensical.

S: But, it turns out that it's true.

B: What's—what's the physics behind it?

S: Here's why. And then this makes total sense. This is like—you can see why this might be—have been the origin of this old wives tale. The—if you put hot water in the ice cube trays the water will evaporate.

B: Mmm hmmm mmm mmm

S: You end up with smaller ice cubes. If you put cold water in, the cube—the entire cube may take longer to freeze down to the middle but you end up with larger ice cubes.

E: Mmhmmm. Okay.

S: So you can't make more ice faster by putting—

E: Right

S: —in hot water. You actually end up with less ice, which dramatically reduces the volume to surface area and makes it freeze much quicker.

P: Obviously there's less water, okay.

S: Yeah, there's less water.

P: That makes sense.

S: That's the reason. So the thermodynamics have not been violated in our freezers.

P: (laugh)

S: But you have to account for evaporation.

P: Okay.

S: Well that-that's a great website. Again, if you get a e-mail from your friend saying, "Oh, did you ever hear about this kid who needs money for an operation"; all of these things, these chain letters. If—look on that site, and there other sites that are similar, but—this is a—this is an excellent one. It'll take you about 5 minutes to figure out that that e-mail is probably bogus, and with not just speculation but often with real links to reliable information. So before you pass on that chain letter or that seemingly amazing fact or story that you received in e-mail, use the internet for a little bit of research. Often that's what I do and then I just reply and say, "Well, here's a link to which exposes this story to be bogus."

E-mail Scams (37:47)[edit]

S: Ya know, and speaking of...

P: E-mails.

S: —scam e-mails. There are—bogus e-mails are used to spread a lot a lot more than just benign urban legends. They're often used by dedicated con artists. Now there have always been con artists but they have found a very fertile ground on the internet and on e-mail. And it's unfortunately responsible for a great deal of spam. They don't have to have a very sig—ya know, high percentage of hit rates. You can send out spam e-mails basically for free to thousands of thousands of people—

P: Millions.

S: Yeah, you only have to hit one gullible person in thousands to make it pay off. In fact, in Connecticut, the attorney general recently sent out a warning about a specific new scam. This one—this is attorney general Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, warned of a job offer, a bogus job offer, which is—

E: That-that's different.

S: That's a new angle there. They always find new angles. This one, the job is an escrow agent. Escrow is when money is put aside to pay taxes or whatever and what the job entails is that money will be placed into your private bank account in escrow and then you pass the money onto some other company or per—or whatever, and you keep a percentage of it for yourself and that's your fee. So, it sounds like an easy way to sorta make money on the side, to supplement your income. But, of course, they just—all they're looking for is your bank account number, and then once they get that they'll drain it of whatever's in there. Plus they also get other personal information, then you could be in for—

P: You could suffer the horrors of identity theft.

S: Total identity theft where—that can take years to work your way out of that nightmare.

P: Ah yeah.

B: I can't—I can't imagine—I mean, after so much media and so much news attention to these scams, people are giving personal information to strangers. That's ultimately what it is.

S: Right.

B: I mean, I might be other end of the spectrum. I might be a little more paranoid than I need be, I mean I'm getting these popups on my Dell computer that seem, ya know, that seem pretty legitimate to me, but they're asking me, go to this website and do this and I'm skeptical even of those things.

S: Yeah, I don't—

B: Probably, okay, but I don't like anything popping up telling me to do something even if it's apparently for my—say, my McAfee Security System that's asking me to do it, and everything looks legitimate and it's not a normal popup. It looks like a Dell type of popup, I'm still—I still don't want to do it because I don't—I don't wanna be prompted by anything to go on the net—on the internet, and give away information about myself.

S: I agree with you. I don't think you're being too paranoid at all.

P: I agree.

S: You basically, the—if you want to be safe, you shouldn't click on any links; you should always type in the name of the address. If someone sends you an unsolicited link, never click on it.

B: Right.

S: There's one little key though. You can put your mouse over the link—

B: Right. Mmhmm.

S: —and then in the lower-left-hand corner of your web browser, it will show the name the website that you're going to go to and—

B: Right.

S: if that name doesn't match the name of the link that you're clicking on, that is—

B: Red flag.

S: That's a red flag that you're probably going—

P: It's not fool proof but it's a red flag.

S: You're right. It's not fool proof it's a red flag.

B: It's pretty good, but also don't forget, Steve, they don't-they don't just say go to this—http, ya know, backsla—slash slash, and then give you the URL. Usually they'll say go to this link and the words "go to this link" are the hyperlink. And you go over that—now what you do is—just today I got an e-mail apparently from eBay saying that there's been some unusual activity in my account. Please go to this link and fix it.

S: That's always—that's—by the way, that's always a scam.

B: I highlighted... well, yeah, here's—and here's a few ways you can tell. I mean, I highlighted the hyperlink and the link—the domain had nothing to do with eBay, and also...

S: Or goes to just numbers. You just get, you just get the number URL.

B: Right, just get the IP or something. But also it says "dear eBay member". I mean, they would-they would-they would never do that. They would say dear and then your name.

S: Robert Novella, right.

B: Right, they would-they would use your name.

S: Dear <your name here>.

E: (laugh)

B: And those are the two biggest, I mean.

P: And they also, ya know, nowadays they-they make websites look like legitimate websites.

S: It could look exactly—they can exactly duplicate a legitimate site.

P: Exactly. And-and that's another it's just it's horr—And also it's not just scams and identity theft, it's also a way that they send out digital disease. So, that's how viruses are spread. That's another—

S: Hey, I read about one that scared me. They can put—it's kinda like a trojan horse where they—you get a virus and what the-the virus sits on your system and it the next time you type in the URL to go to certain popular websites like eBay, it redirects you to a fake eBay site, so—

B: Woooowww.

S: —imagine that. So you're just—you're not clicking a link; you're not responding to anything, you're just—I'm gonna go to eBay you click on e—, you type in the eBay address and this-this virus redirects you to a fake site, and then you start—and then it starts recording your keystrokes and—

B: That's insidious.

S: —taking your codes. Very insidi—that's why you have to have virus software running. You have to—

B: Absolutely.

S: Don't visit, ya know, dubious websites or websites that don't seem legitimate. And, ya know, you probably got the virus in the first place because you clicked a link you shouldn't have clicked.

P, E: Right.

B: But, Steve, but the URL itself is subtly erroneous, right? I mean-I mean it might be eBays, with an 's', dot com.

S: No, no no, Bob you're typing in the real e—, the real URL that you know of.

B: Yeah, but where are they redirecting you to?

S: It-it-it's hijacking your browser.

P: Right.

S: It's hijacking your computer.

P: And it takes you to a fake page that looks like eBay.

S: Right.

B: And the URL is correct; it looks correct, I mean.

S: It looks correct, yes, right.

B: Wow.

S: It's all behind the scenes in the programming; it's getting redirected. It's nothing that you can see.

B: That's clever.

S: Yeah, very clever. I mean, this threatens internet commerce.

P: Oh, yeah.

S: If you can't be sure—if you can't be trusted that your credit card number is going to be secure, and—there have been examples of companies getting hijacked—

P: Sure.

S: —and hacked and their—thousands and thousands of credit card numbers get stolen, but—this is—this could really hamper commerce, cost the economy billions and billions of dollars. But you ask, Bob, who in this day and age would be dumb enough to give away personal information, and really it does highlight the fact that the only defense against this is education; that people just have to realize what safe internet use is that—and the bottom line is, no matter what the story, never ever give away any personal information, no piece of your Social Security number. Here's one thing: a lot of people don't realize that the first part of your Social Security number, people can figure that out by when and where you were born.

E: That's right. The state you were born in and—

S: —and the year that you were born.

E: And the year, yeah.

S: And if-if you—if they can figure that out about you, which is probably information which is public knowledge, and you give them just the last few digits—the last four digits of your Social Security number, they may be able to get the whole thing. So that seems innocuous.

P: Right.

S: But just, the bottom line is just: doesn't matter what they say on the phone, what they say in e-mail, how you—whatever the offer is, just—it's a scam. That's the bottom line. It's a scam. Don't click it. Don't go there. Don't buy it.

P: Your skeptical toolkit has got to be in order.

S: But, the—unfortunately, the biggest victims of this are the elderly.

E: Oh, sure.

S: Yeah, it's, ya know, our moms and dads especially—people who are—they're just get—because of just normal aging or maybe they're starting to have some neurological problems, they're just—their judgement's not quite there, but they're still at the point where they're living independently, maybe their children or their family knows that they're not as sharp as they used to be, but—or maybe they are sharp but they're just not computer savvy and—how many of us have set our parents up with e-mail and stuff so we can e-mail them pictures of their grandkids and then they're gonna get these spam letters too; these fake e-mails, so it's really the elderly who are either, unfortunately, having some early memory or judgement problems or people who are really just not computer savvy, those are the victims, and they're often times the people who can least afford it. It's just dastardly. I mean, con artists like that really are very infuriating. You have to really just be evil to do that.

P: Insidious.

ParaCon (47:00)[edit]

S: But, speaking of cons, and this is two types of con in one. This is a con as in a convention and a con as in totally bogus. In Stratford, Connecticut, at the Ramada Inn, was the 7th annual ParaCon, or paranormal conference. Perry and I have been to these before. These are always entertaining.

P: (laugh) Yeah.

S: Just walk around listening to people's conversations.

E: Mmhmm.

P: Looking at their feeble little displays.

S: (laugh)

P: I mean seriously.

S: Not to stereotype, but these people are nuts.

P: (laugh)

S: So the para—the paranormal convention covered lots of different topics. Of course, UFOs; one guy was saying that—this guy Rostler, I guess he was one of the agents in—he was the agent in charge of the UFO Investigation Division of the Smoking Gun Research Agency, which held the convention. So the Smoking Gun Research Agency, their hope is to find smoking-gun evidence of the paranormal, whether it's ghosts or aliens or Bigfoot or the Bermuda triangle or whatever. They're still—

P: (laugh)

S: —still hoping. So I guess he was in charge of the convention. He told a reporter that "I've seen things I can't explain..."

P: That's impossible. Yeah.

B: (laugh)

S: So, that's unexplainable.

E: No. Just—they can't explain it. (laugh)

P: This particular Ramada Inn, at 225 Lordship Blvd. in Stratford, right off Exit 30 on I-95 has become a haven—

E: How much do they pay for that ad?

P: —almost constant paranormal conventions at this particular Ramada Inn. It's just—it's a place that these—people have learned to love.

S: Why is that? It just culture or is a—

P: They're there all the time. I dunno. I dunno. I dunno. The right price? Uh, they're willing to host anybody?

B: Maybe—maybe one of the owners or the manager of the hotel is—has an affinity for that stuff.

P: It's-it's possible. It's possible. I guess they pay their bills. Certainly plenty of gullible people going to these conventions spending money.

E: Well, sure.

S: Well, these inns don't care. I mean, they rent out their rooms to whoever.

P: It's true.

S: As long as you're not doing anything illegal. I mean, they don't have any—and they shouldn't really; I mean, it's really not up to them to decide what's legitimate—

P: I agree.

S: —and what's not legitimate. The only time that we actually tried to convince a hotel that they shouldn't host a Dennis conference was when Lee was making the rounds. Now Dennis Lee is a con artist. I mean, this is a guy who was out to rip people off. So he was doing something illegal. And in fact other—like the attorneys general—attorney generals of various states banned him from their states. Basically, declaring him—one attorney declared him a "clear and present danger to the investing public."

P: Yeah, we were thrown out of the hotel.

S: Yeah. That's right.

P: We were thrown out. We were handing out fliers about—about what was going on, and—one of his flunkies came along with a security guard and threw us off the property. That was it.

E: I remember that.

P: Security guard or the motel didn't give a damn.

S: Dennis Lee is a purveyor of basically free energy machines.

E: Well, the price is right.

S: Put an adapter on your car so you could run your car off of water or something. He keeps trying to sell interest in his perpetual motion machines.

E: Well, he's almost got it perfected—

S: Almost.

E: —but he just needs a little more capital to finish the job.

S: He's got a good scam, cause he's not selling the actual machines. He's just selling interest in the company, whatever, that's developing them, and of course it's just around—it's always right around the corner.

E: You're just moments away from making your millions. Yeah.

P: Lot of people working against him, Steve. Lot of giant corporations. If he were to come to the fore with his marvelous machines, ya know, they'd be out they'd be out of business.

S: One of the—one of the attendees of the conference was John Zaffis Jr. Any of you know who this gentleman is?

B: Oh, Warren's nephew.

S: Yep.

P: That's right.

S: He's a nephew of Ed and Lorraine Warren. We've did a very, very long investigation of the claims of Ed and Lorraine Warren since they're in our neck of the woods and again, apparently, their tradition will be carried on by their nephew John Zaffis. So he is a ghost buster; a ghost hunter. He claims that Stratford is a hotbed of hauntings. Of course it is.


P: Hotbed, I tell you.

S: He warns—(laugh) He warns that people often mistake ghosts for demons. Often.

E: Hm mm.

S: He also claims that they often mistake ghosts for gray aliens, so—

P: Amazing.

S: You have a conflict between Ufologists and the ghost busters where—

P: What could this, what could the connection be?

S: (laugh) Yeah, right? What could it be?

E: (laugh)

P: Must be something. Do you think the aliens have an agreement with the ghosts?

S: He tells a story of a quote-unquote "young lady who awakened to find herself surrounded by grays".

B: I hate when that happens.

S: Zaffis said he didn't see anything himself but determined she had actually encountered demons, not grays.

E: Okay.

S: So, of course, a scientist might suggest that she was having a waking dream.

P: What? (laugh) Para-what now? What is that?


P: According to Ed Warren. Tell him about the—

S: Hypnagogic hallucinations.

P: Yeah. Hypnagogic hallucinations and pareidolia and what now? Hypno-who? Guy's been doing studying ghost for 50 years; didn't understand the most basic tenets of the human mind.

E: That's cause science is boring.

P: Physiology.

S: People often wake in the middle of the night or either as they're going to sleep or as their waking up and they have what's called a waking dream. It's kind of a fusion of the sleep and waking states. So they'll hallucinate; they often might be terrified. Some people report feeling pressure on their chest. Um...

P: Being paralyzed.

S: Being paralyzed. Often feel specifically that there's a malevolent presence in the room with them, and of course, if you've been reading the Warrens' or Zaffis' books and you believe in ghosts, you will interpret this experience as a ghost or demon, perhaps sucking away your life energy and hence the paralysis. And if you're a UFO buff, you will see gray aliens; little gray people and perhaps you're paralyzed because they paralyzed you—and sometimes this evolves into an abduction scenario where they float you through walls take you aboard their ship and—

E: Mmhmm.

S: —somehow or another anal probes are always involved.

P: (laugh)

B: Right.

S: Still not exactly sure why.

P: Really it's—. When you get right down to it, it's why I joined the skeptical movement: to make myself immune to anal probes.

S: To anal probes.

P: That really was. That's what—that was the driving force behind my becoming a skeptic. I knew that skeptics were never abducted, possessed or haunted or trodden on by large feet or, ya know, so I...

S: But, ya know, otherwise you might wonder why would there be anything—why would, ya know, UFOs and aliens have anything to do with ghosts and demons and hauntings, that they would share the same conference and that there would be so much crossover in believers, when really the one has nothing to do with the other in terms of underlying claims or principles. But I—of course as skeptics we think they're all related because the underlying psychological and neurological phenomenon are all the same.

P: And level of credulity.

B: Guys, if you want to induce a waking dream tonight, I've done it and it's pretty cool. As you're dozing off—not the moment you hit the bed but after 5 or 10 minutes, you really feel like you're dozing off; just think of your—think of your name. Just keep thinking of your name and—a lot of times when you do that you will hear—you will actually hear your name being spoken just as if someone was, you know, two feet away from you saying your name, but, of course, hopefully, don't be scared now, but hopefully you'll realize that your mind is creating this little tiny mini-waking dream right as you're going to sleep cause that's, I mean, that's one of the times it happens, ya know, as you're dozing off or right after you, right after you wake up and you can induce a little auditory, uh, waking dream, uh, on your own. Every time I've tried it, it works almost every time. It's pretty—

S: Now have any of you had a full-fledged waking dream?

E: I have never.

P: I have not.

B: Well, ya know, three dimensional and in color and all that stuff? I've had little mini-versions of them but I—from talking to you, I know you've had some good ones.

S: I've had—I ask because I have had them many times. All induced by extreme sleep deprivation. I had them quite frequently when I was going through medical school and I would have to stay up for, ya know, 24, 36 hours at a stretch. They almost always happened when I went to bed early in the morning, after being up for 24 hours.

B: Mm hmm.

S: And it's a very unpleasant experience. Uh, ya know you—

B: It's not fun?

S: It's not f—it really isn't. You feel sort of trapped. You're sorta stuck between—you're not really sure if you're awake or not. I mean, that's the one thing—it's kind of like trying to wake up from a nightmare and you think you have, but you really haven't; you really are still in the nightmare. Often associated with really unnatural terror. Just a terror that you wouldn't really experience in your everyday waking life. Just sort of a pure primal neurological terror. And you're paralyzed; so, imagine being scared and paralyzed. I mean, that's really the worst thing about it. You can't move; you can't even turn your head. You can't really make any noise. I can certainly see that—why people would find that to be a profound experience and if they didn't know how to explain it medically, neurologically—

B: Right.

S: —would hypothesize all of sorts of unusual, even paranormal things. It certainly is not an everyday experience.

B: Now, well, it is an every night experience, except that you're—you're actually asleep. People don't realize that your body actually paralyzes itself when you're sleeping, otherwise you would act out—you would act out your dreams. So it's kind of a little safety precaution so that you're not walking out windows and stuff and—

S: Paralysis is normal when during REM sleep; when you dreaming. It's not normal, though, when you're in the sort of pseudo-awake state.

B: Right.

S: And that's what is unusual. Because when you're—when you're truly dreaming, you don't know that your body is paralyzed, because you have freedom of movement in your dream.

B: In the—in the dream.

S: But in the waking state with sleep paralysis, so-called sleep paralysis, you feel that you are paralyzed and it's very—that in and of itself is scary.

P: So this John Zaffis Jr., the nephew of Ed and Lorraine Warren, are sort of—he's sort of picking up their banner and carrying forward.

S: That, apparently.

P: Now that they're sort of passed their prime. I guess the main question then is: will he also leave in his wake the strewn bodies of disgruntled, disillusioned, ex-associates like Ed and Lorraine did?

S: Uh, it's hard to say.

P: It is hard to say.

S: Probably not. I don't think that—I mean, Ed and Lorraine Warren were a phenomenon; I don't know that...

P: That it'll be repeated?

S: —that it'll be repeated, because now there's just so many other groups. At the time they were it. And that—you just can't repeat that.

P: But their body count is extremely high, Steve.

S: Yes. There are—we've personally met dozens of people—

E: Oh yeah.

S: —who at one time or another traveled with the Warrens and now are—yeah, disenchanted with them and often ghost-busting on their own.

E: All of them.

S: I mean, weren't turned off from ghost-busting just from the Warrens.

P: Yeah. It's true. They're all disillusioned. Not disillusioned enough, however, to become skeptics.

S: No. Unfortunately.

P: Not that I recall, no.

S: Here's an interesting—here's a comment from Zaffis. He says, "In case you were wondering demons aren't really as entertaining as in The Exorcist. There's no head spinning around or green pea soup ejections." He actually gets involved in exorcisms, not just investigating demons.

P: Good, good, good.

S: Which is—I-I've seen hours and hours of tape of—sort of—

P: And he's right there boring us to hell.

S: (laugh) —exorcisms. They are boring. Basically, nothing happens.

P: Yeah. They're terrible.

S: Probably, and this is just a guess, probably because there aren't really demons. Demons are not real.

P: Hey, wait a minute now.

E: (laughs)

S: Ya know, I hate to invoke Occam's razor, but that is perhaps a simple explanation. One incredible observation that was made by a true believer after... going through the motions of an exorcism on these poor little kids who are just normal kids with a nutty mother. And, ya know, literally nothing happened. They just sat there, they were—the worst that you could say about them is that these four-, six-, seven-year-old kids who were basically made to sit in a chair for an hour were fidgety, ya know, which is—my daughter would have been behaving worse than these kids did.

P: (laughs)

S: And, the comment was, "Well that's the way it's supposed to go." I mean, the demons, as soon as you walk into the room, referring to the defrocked priest who was doing the exorcism, that you just scared them out the door so that they just fled without a fight. Okay, so...

B: Proof!

S: So if something happens that's proof and if nothing happens, well, that's proof too.

P: (laughs)

B: Win-win.

S: It's a win-win.

P: That's right.

S: Or confirmation bias, ya know.

P: (laughs)

S: To-mae-to, to-mah-to.

P: Whatever it takes.

S: That's—yeah it's a good example of just—if you start with a conclusion and you're basically—will fit all—whatever happens, you'll fit it into the preconceived conclusion that you have. There's no possibility of falsification. No matter what happens or doesn't happen, it's all consistent with a real demon possession and exorcism.

P: Right.

S: So, it becomes unscientific because it's unfalsifiable.

E: Mmhmm.

Conclusion (1:01:00)[edit]

S: Well, that is all the time that we have for this week. Perry, Bob, Evan, thanks for joining me again.

E: Thank you, Steve.

B: My pleasure.

S: And, thank you everyone out there for listening. Until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a production of the New England Skeptical Society. For more information on this and other episodes see our website at

Today I Learned[edit]

  • An ice cube tray filled with hot water will freeze faster than if filled with cold water, because of evaporation.
  • The moon is 239,000 miles from the earth.
  • You can induce a waking dream by imagining your name being called out while dozing off.


  1. Storage of memories
  2. SGU Episode 5: Science or Fiction
  3. MIT News Office: MIT Physicists Create a New Form of Matter
  4. Wikipedia: Methuselah (tree)
  5. SFGate: Dinosaur was Dinner at least Once, Fossil Shows
  6. Can water boiled in a microwave oven suddenly 'explode'?
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