SGU Episode 606

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SGU Episode 606
February 18th 2017
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SGU 605 SGU 607
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
C: Cara Santa Maria

Quote of the Week
Ineffective therapies are always harmful. The greatest danger lies in the risk that a still treatable disease (is) not really being treated at an early stage, by first trying an alternative therapy. In the worst case, this can lead to the death of the patient. This is more common than you might think.
The Association Against Quackery, The Netherlands, established 1881, considered to be the oldest continually running skeptical organization in the world.
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You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

Special Report (0:26)[edit]

  • Lawsuit Update

S: So, good news everyone!

E: O-h-h! I love good news!

S: You like good news?

E: So rare, these days, yes.

C: Yes

S: I won my first of two appeals on the Tobenick case today.

E: Yes!

J: (British accent) Quite well!

B: Ooh! Okay.

C: Yay! So, what does that mean? What does that mean?

S: Okay, so, just for a quick update, a few years ago, I and the SGU and actually, a couple other entities were sued by a physician called Edward Tobenick because of an article that I wrote on Science-Based Medicine, where I said that the treatments that he was giving and advertising were not adequately supported by evidence.

J: How dare you?

S: Yeah, something that I'm wont to do.

B: Were they pure energy entities?

(Evan and Cara laugh)

S: So he sued me. Now, you know, clearly, I was just expressing my professional opinion on Science-Based Medicine, so he had to concoct this theory that my article, my web post on Science-Based Medicine was commercial speech, and that I was interfering with his business, and it was unfair competition, et cetera. He also sued me for straight up libel and everything, but that's a really hard sell, in the US, because that pesky First Amendment, right?

E: (Chuckles) Yeah

C: Huh huh!

S: So, anyway, I won the case in Summary Judgement, which basically means the judge said, "Yeah, you have no chance of winning. As a matter of law - all the facts are in - as a matter of law, you can't possibly win." So, yeah.

J: And that's early on in the case, right? That's a judge, after hearing initial arguments, this wasn't after the whole thing happens. It's just the

S: I would

J: first step.

S: I wouldn't say early on.

(Cara laughs)

S: I mean, it was just like after a year and a half, but it was before

E: Yeah

S: the court case. So, yeah, there was no court case with a jury or anything. It was just motions, and basically trading motions back and forth. It took a while to get to that point. We had to go through discovery, and it was, you know, a huge pain.

Whatever, I actually won two big motions. I won an anti-SLAPP against the California plaintiff, and then I had the rest of the charges dropped based upon Summary Judgement.

So, Tobenick, who's going through multiple lawyers on this case. They just working his way through, I guess, whatever, whoever will keep the case going. He appealed. And then, so that's been in the works for like, a year and a half now, the appeal. And then we asked for fees, based on the

E: Yep!

S: fact that he was taking the case beyond all reason. And we were awarded pretty substantial fees. Not our full cost of the case. About half of what we spent on the case, which was good. And he appealed that as well. He appealed the awarding of fees.

So, today, we got the judgement from the, this is a federal case, right? So this is the Appealate Court for the 11th Circuit. And apparently, there are three judges,

E: Right

S: that decide the case. And the oral arguments were a couple of weeks ago. So this was a pretty quick turnaround for them. I think it was two or three weeks ago, it was oral arguments. And then they came down with a decision.

So, a couple of good things: One, it was unanimous. So there was no dissenting opinion, about any of the judges. And, they sided with me on every single issue. So they didn't walk anything back, there were no caveats. It was just, "Yep, we affirm every one of the decisions of the lower court." They denied every appeal.

B: Awesome! So game over, right?

E: (Sounding uneasy) Well... no, no, no, not yet.

S: Pretty - well, okay. Sort of pretty much.

E: Well ...

C: Can he do anything else?

S: Yeah, he can

E: But he said it's only part one, so ...

C: Yeah

S: Well, yeah. First of all, I think he's probably not gonna fare well on the second appeal given how thoroughly he was slapped down on this one. So ...

C: Is the second appeal for something different?

S: To clarify, there are two appeals. He appealed the Summary Judgement, and the anti-SLAPP decision. So basically, me winning the case.

C: I see.

S: And then, the second appeal was of the awarding of fees. So I won the appeal against the Summary Judgement and anti-SLAPP. So they stand. So I

C: Yeah, so it's quite likely that he'll have to pay

S: Yeah, so it's quite likely he's gonna fail on the fees.

E: Not only fail, but the judges will say

B: I don't know why. Can't you just scale them back?

E: Give you more money!

B: Right!

C: I mean, they could ...

S: Well, we're gonna add on all of the money for the appeals, you know.

E: Sure!

B: Oh, of course!

S: It's automatic for the

J: (New York accent) Include the damages here!

S: anti-SLAPP. But whatever, we're gonna try to get as much as we can back, you know, for the money that we're having to sink into this thing.

C: So for all intents and purposes, in terms of precedent, in terms of

S: Yeah

C: importance of this case, the most meaningful portion is over. Now,

S: Yes

C: it's really just about functionality. Are we gonna be suffering financially because of the case, any more than The Skeptic's Guide, and you personally, Steve, already have?

S: Yeah, so, that's correct. It's an appellate court. They set pretty big precedent. The only place to go above them is the

E: Supreme Court!

S: Supreme Court. So, Tobenick is probably ... he has - I'm not gonna guess what he will do. But I'll tell you a few things he can do. He can ask to have the case heard before the entire 11th Circuit.

B: Well, how many are there?

S: Not sure, but it's more than three, right? So he can say, "I want all the judges to decide." But they can turn him down for that.

E: Right

S: And he can appeal to the Supreme Court.

C: Which is crazy.

E: They take, yeah, I'd think that would be low probability at this point.

S: Yeah, low probability. I suspect low probability that they'll take the case, unless ... there are elements of the case that the Supreme Court may decide to just quickly decide to ... 'cause you know,

C: You said Supreme. Did you mean Appellate?

S: No, no. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court

C: Oh, sorry

S: may decide, yeah. So, the Circuit Courts, right, they set precedent for their circuit. They can disagree with each other, but in the elements of this case, they pretty much are all agreeing with each other. But the Supreme Court, they usually get involved when the Appellate Courts disagree with each other. So then they resolve the dispute. But they also might say, "Okay, we'll just make a decision on this case. That way, we set the precedent for everybody, rather than having to go Circuit by Circuit." You know what I mean?

B: Right

C: Gotcha.

S: So, for example, one question that comes up is, "Does the state anti-SLAPP law apply on a federal case?" And now, several of the districts have ruled that they do. But the Supreme Court might want to set that as universal precedent, rather than going circuit by circuit.

B: Oh! You think that's important enough where they might do that?

S: I don't know. I'm not a legal scholar. But from what I understand, that's a possibility.

B: Okay.

C: Okay.

S: But again, probably not. But again, that's why they would do it, because there are elements of the case for which they want to make a decision,

E: Right

S: and clarify and establish universal precedent.

E: Yeah, they pretty much use you at that point.

C: That would be a decision they would be making.

S: Yeah!

C: There's nothing Tobenick can do.

S: He can ask for it.

C: Can he appeal the appeal?

E: No

S: No

E: Well ...

C: I didn't think so.

E: no, he can't.

C: Yeah

S: Well, except to say, "I'd like to appeal to all, the full judges," which

C: Oh, so he can ask for that?

S: You can ask for it,

C: Gotcha

S: but they can turn him down.

C: Yeah

S: He's not guaranteed it. And then he could try to appeal to the Supreme Court, and they could turn him down. So he has no more guaranteed appeals.

C: And those are his only two real options at this point?

S: That's it. Then he's done done. And then he can sue me over something else, but this case would be done done. And then, in terms of the fees, we're pretty far along on that, but that could be another year, from where we are now.

C: And because the Appellate Court hasn't yet ruled on the fees, whether it's the total amount, or

S: Yeah

C: I'm sure they could change a lot of things, we haven't seen a dime from him yet.

S: Right, right.

J: Nope.

C: So everything's out of pocket, both for you personally, and for the SGU.

S: Yeah

C: It's just such a bummer, 'cause it's one of those things where even when justice works in the American legal

S: It's expensive

E: It'll break you!

C: People get screwed! There's no justice for the poor, you know?

E: It's part of the strategy almost from the beginning. They want to try to force you into a corner, because they know a lot of people can't afford to go through the lengthy legal process, because it does bankrupt lots of people this way.

S: Yeah, so they cave.

C: Absolutely! And that's a manipulation of the justice system! That's not justice.

S: That's why we need anti-SLAPP laws. We need anti-SLAPP laws so that if you do get sued frivolously, as a way of suppressing your free speech, you could shut it down quickly, and get your fees covered,

B: Yes!

S: so you can't be intimidated out of free speech 'cause even if you're right, it'll cost you a ridiculous amount of money to bring this to court.

E: That's right.

C: Absolutely.

E: I mean, geez, think about the heavy hands with endless pockets that could

B: My god!

E: shut anybody up. It's scary!

J: Well, it shows you that corporations have an amazing amount of power just because they have the legal team and the money behind them. And the other thing about this was the emotional strain of this court case. I mean, I know what it did to me. I can only imagine how much harder it must have been for Steve. Like, there was a good six months where I was losing my mind over this. It was so painful to deal with, because the injustice was extraordinary.

C: Yeah, it seems like those few good times when we see these First Amendment cases, like a young teenager is suing their school because they told them they couldn't wear a T-shirt. You know, these basic free speech cases that kind of capture the attention of the media, it seems like more often than not, those people are on the prosecuting side, and they probably have pro bono attorneys. It just seems crazy that a 17-year-old, or a regular shmo could afford to go all the way to the Supreme Court,

B: Yeah

C: unless there was a group like the ACLU who was doing it pro bono because they knew that setting certain precedent would be important for future litigation. It's just, I don't know, it really bums me out, because I have so much faith in this system, because there's so many checks and balances, and that's why, obviously, this political climate has been really scary for a lot of people, 'cause the system itself is being tested. But when you see places where there's such obvious flaws, where such easy abuses can come through, it's disheartening for sure.

S: Let me read you just the one paragraph from the decision, 'cause I think this is sort of the critical legal aspect, is whether or not my article could be considered commercial speech, therefore subject to different regulation than if it was just, you know, private speech. Because we have memberships, and I advertise for my Teaching Company courses on the website, you know. So, Tobenick had this funnel theory, that I was sort of funnelling visitors to the websites into these revenue-generating activity, and therefore every article I published is therefore commercial speech. This is what they said:

"To be sure, neither the placement of the articles next to revenue-generating advertising, nor the ability of the reader to pay for a website subscription would be sufficient in this case to show a liability-causing economic motivation for Dr. Novella's informative articles. Both advertising and subscriptions are typical features of newspapers, whether online or in print. But the Supreme Court has explained to that, if a newspaper's profit were determinative, all aspects of its operation, from the selection of news stories, to the choice of editorial position would be subject to regulation, if it could be established that they were conducted with the view

E: Right

toward increasing sales. Such a basis for regulation clearly would be incompatible with the First Amendment.

Hello! That's what

E: Absolutely!

S: we've been saying from the beginning.

E: Absolutely!

S: 'Cause newspapers sell subscriptions! They have advertisements.

C: Yeah, it's one or the other.

S: Therefore, every article in it would be, therefore, commercial speech, or if you sell a book for profit, the book itself is therefore commercial speech. So the Supreme Court has already decided, no, that's not the case. That would be incompatible with First Amendment free speech if you could so easily transform anything that's even incidentally associated with revenue generation into commercial speech. So his theory was really doomed from the beginning.

C: Yeah

B: Right

S: But he's continuing to pursue it, and that was also a large part of why I was awarded as many fees as I was, because he would not give up that theory, even when it was repeatedly slapped down. It's like

C: Ugh

S: no, here's the law. It's not commercial speech. Stop it. But he wouldn't give it up.

C: So what would be an example of commercial speech? Would that be like if you taught a seminar to the public, and you were really slanderous throughout the seminar about somebody?

S: No

C: 'Cause you could actually prove that it was because you were getting paid for it?

S: Commercial speech has to propose a transaction. It has to primarily be about a commercial transaction, right? So, if I'm expressing my opinions in an opinion piece, the fact that there is commercial activity happening around it is not enough.

C: I can't even think of an example where there is

S: For example, if I had written an article saying, "Don't go see Dr. Tobenick, because he doesn't know what he's doing. Come see me, and get treated for the same thing by me. I'll fix you."

C: Oh, I see.

S: Right?

C: and then you would be directly funnelling them,

S: Exactly

C: to get paid by those people.

S: And Tobenick essentially accused me of doing that, even though it's quite obvious there's nothing like that at all in the articles that I wrote. And I don't even treat the same diseases that he treats. It was really an absurd theory, in my opinion. And that's what it would have taken. I was actually proposing some kind of commercial transaction, which I wasn't.

B: Well, what if you worked for the President, and you were trying to sell the President's daughter's stuff?

S: Yeah

B: in some official

C: You can't do that.

S: Oh yeah, no one would do that, Bob. You can't do that.

C: That's against the law anyway.

J: Yeah

(Cara laughs)

S: All right.

E: Well, there is that.

J: Great news.

S: You know, one more step.

E: Yes, yep.

J: Yep.

S: Couple more steps to go, but one more step.

B: Whew! Goddamn!

J: Yeah, that's the other thing that we don't know, until you get involved in a lawsuit, is it takes years!

S: Yeah

C: Yeah, for like, the simplest thing.

B: And that's just it!

C: Well, congrats, everyone!

B: Yeah

S: Thank you, thank you.

B: That's what makes it hurt so very much, is that this couldn't really be much more cut and dry. Really, it's, from day one, this was obvious, obvious! If there was any nuance or subtlety to it, he could probably double or triple all of this nonsense, just because there was a little bit of nuance to it.

C: I don't think it's about nuance, I really think it's about a lack of precedent. The whole point is trying to get these anti-SLAPP precedents in place.

B: Well, yes.

C: Because they don't exist, it wasn't cut and dry.

S: Well, here's the thing.

C: There has to be somebody that goes through all the bullshit so that the next person doesn't have to go through the bullshit.

S: Here's why it can take a long time: Because if you come up with, as the plaintiff, you come up with a novel theory, the court really wants to indulge you in that, right? They don't want to shoot it down. They want, "Okay, fine. You have your date in court." You have some theory about this should all work? "Go ahead, convince us." And that takes a long time! Then you get discovery. The process takes so long. And before the judge says, "Okay, you've had every chance in the world to explain your theory. I'm not buying it. Wrong." And then he appealed! And there's, you know, boom! Another two years tacked on to the whole process, because he decided to appeal. So that's all it takes, is just, you have some new point you want to make, and boom, you could tie things for years.

B: I don't know. I don't know how much I agree with that, because then

S: Bob, I'm saying that's the way it is. I'm saying that's the way it is. I'm not saying that's the way it should be.

B: Okay, but then what hope could there possibly be for anti-SLAPP everywhere then? If that's the case,

J: Because the anti-SLAPP is doomed! From the beginning!

S: No, no, it's not. Because the anti-SLAPP is a law that specifically cuts through all of that. It says that before you get to do anything, you have to prove you have a case. And if you don't meet that minimal proof, then you lose, and you pay the other guy's fees. Boom.

B: Right

S: That's it.

C: Yeah, because, it's bizarre that we don't have that yet. It's bizarre that it

S: We don't have it at the federal level. There's a number of states that do have it like

E: Right

S: California does have it.

C: Yeah

S: and I used California's anti-SLAPP in order to get that portion of the case shut down a long time ago.

E: Damn right.

S: and there's guaranteed

C: Yeah, 'cause he sued you in so many places.

S: Well, two states, yeah, California and Florida.

C: Oh

S: So California did. Florida at the time didn't, but now it does. But we really need to get one in every state, and then there's the question of should we have a federal anti-SLAPP,

C: Yeah

S: which is interesting. It could convert all of these cases to federal cases, might be a good thing.

C: Well, it might be?

B: But Steve!

S: It could burden the federal courts.

C: Yeah

B: But in the mean time, could we incorporate in one of these anti-SLAPP states?

S: So, the short answer is yes. Some people advise that you do incorporate in a state that has a good anti-SLAPP law, because then it would offer you the protection, and that also provides an incentive for the states to have good anti-SLAPP laws. For example, if Coneecticut had a good anti-SLAPP law, we could say, "Hey! New York Times, incorporate over the border in Connecticut, and you'll be protected by our anti-SLAPP law."

C: Yeah

S: Screw New York! They don't have a good anti-SLAPP law.

C: And then New York would be like, "No! We need their revenue!

S: Yeah

C: That'd be a good sales tac

S: "We'd better pass a good anti-SLAPP law." Yeah, so that's why

E: That's how it works, yep.

S: It's critical. There could be a domino effect, because it's good for business.

C: Yeah

S: Good for citizens, and it's good for business. And how often do you have a law that is both of those things?

C: Both, that's true.

S: Yeah

C: The crazy thing is, I'm just wondering how many people from other countries, maybe not England, because we know that they have notoriously, like crap libel laws and First Amendment protections. They don't call it First Amendment there. At least historically.

S: They don't have a first amendment, yeah.

C: But in other countries who are listening, who are like, "How is this even continuing to go on if the judge already ruled that the lawsuit is frivolous?" We're like, "Yeah, exactly! That's the complicated part of all this."

S: That's the point of an anti-SLAPP,

C: Yeah

S: is that it short-circuits the legal process. It bypasses a lot of the procedures, so that you can get to a much quicker and cheaper resolution. That's the whole point.

B: It's kind of like triage. It's like, "Don't even bother working on this guy. He's dead,

S: Yeah, exactly.

(Cara laughs)

B: He'll be dead in ten minutes anyway."

C: (Laughing) That's horrible! Yeah.

E: Pass me one of them toe tags.

S: Well, that's how triage worked on MASH, right? Remember

C: Yeah!

E: Everything I learned about triage, I learned from MASH.

S: Yeah

C: Just write on their foreheads in lipstick.


S: Yeah

C: Wasn't that, that was Band of Brothers, but yeah.

S: Okay, let's move on to the news items.

News Items[edit]

Monkey Mirror Test (~18:34)[edit]

Immigration and Crime (30:22)[edit]

S: All right, we're gonna talk about immigration and crime. This is obviously a very hot topic political issue, but there is a very specific empirical question at its core, and that's all I really want to talk about. Often, I will become interested in trying to answer one very narrow empirical question. Like, a little while ago, in a discussion, it came up, what was the effect on unemployment of raising the minimum wage? And you might think that there's a really objective answer out there, but honestly, I could not convince myself that I knew what the bottom line answer to that question was. I'm sure that people are gonna email me, and tell me they know the answer. But you're probably cherry-picking.

C: They're probably convincing themselves.

E: And it's always more

S: Yeah

E: complex than you think.

S: And because it's economics, basically, you could talk to a liberal economist and they have one answer. You talk to a conservative economist, they have a different answer. And that's basically where you end up. And it's hard to find an objective answer to that question.

But anyway, this question is, do immigrants commit more crimes than native-born citizens? And I'm gonna restrict this to the United States, 'cause it's a tough enough question without trying to answer it for different countries. And you can break down immigrants into legal and illegal immigrants. Interestingly, I know a lot of people want to use "undocumented" immigrant as sort of the politically correct term, but a lot of the literature just says legal versus illegal 'cause it's a little bit more technically correct. So I'm just gonna use that terminology non-judgmentally. That's just what's in the technical literature.

So, and by the way, what's interesting about this is when I wrote about it and posted on Facebook, so many people thought they had to be so clever by saying, "Well, if they come into the country illegally, then by definition, then they've committed a crime. So it's a hundred percent." It's like, okay, first of all, coming into the country illegally is actually not a criminal offence. It's a civil offence. Did you know that?

C: Mm-mm (Negative)

E: Ah!

S: Yeah, so, in a way, they haven't committed a crime. They've just committed a civil offence, because it's not ... in any case, whatever you think about that

C: But they can be prosecuted, right?

S: No, they just get deported.

C: Oh, you're right

S: Yeah

C: That's just the default. They don't even get

E: Yeah

C: a day in court.

S: Yeah

C: They just get deported.

S: They just get deported. So, anyway, but obviously, we're not counting that, 'cause that's kind of pointless. The whole point is, are they a menace? Are the immigrants here, either legal or illegal, are they in any way a burden or a menace, are they committing more crimes than people who were born here?

C: Yes, do we

E: Right

C: have to protect our borders because it is unsafe for immigrants to come into this country? That's really the question.

S: This is a really hard question to answer. The short answer is, it's really hard. Any sociological question, where you're asking, "What's happening out there in the real world?" Don't expect an easy answer. It's gonna be very difficult.

One thing I was surprised about, when I really dug through the data, is that we don't have ironclad statistics on people in prison. And I'm like, "Why the hell not?"

C: Yeah, we

S: Why wouldn't we know

C: we intake them!

S: Yeah, we intake them!

C: We have their fingerprints!

S: Why wouldn't we know

E: There has to be an inventory, essentially, right? I mean,

C: It's like, the one thing we should have an inventory for.

S: Yeah

E: Yeah, we must!

S: You would think this would be just a database.

E: A central hub of data for it, right.

S: But apparently, a lot of the studies had to basically ask the inmates if they're native-born or not.

E: Oh wow.

S: And it was self-report.

C: That's so dumb.

S: I was shocked. Really? We're going on self report for somebody that obviously went through the court system? How do we not know everything about them? I don't get it. But anyway. I guess they're just not keeping it in a database.

C: Yeah

S: But there are databases, but the databases are imperfect, or it's only certain counties, or it's only federal versus state. And every way you slice it up differently, you get different answers, and they don't agree with each other. And so you

E: It's a quagmire, basically.

S: It's a quagmire. I read through a very good summary from a few years ago that went through basically every single study, what it showed, and what the flaws in the study were. And there wasn't a single study without a significant flaw.

E: Yeah

S: Which means that you need to really triangulate. You need to say, "Okay, well where,

E: What's the overlap?

S: Yeah, where's the overlap?

C: A meta-analysis, yeah.

S: Yeah, where are things pointing? Are they triangulating in any certain direction? So, here's a couple of bottom lines that I found: If you just look at prison populations, you get some mixed data, but it does appear that overall, especially if you, here's one key: If you further break it down by demographic, immigrants commit fewer crimes, or are less represented in the prison population, than native-borns of the same demographics, right?

So, in other words, if you compare the same socioeconomic status, the same race, but native-born versus immigrant, some studies show that the immigrants are way, like an order of magnitude fewer crimes.

E: I wonder if age has anything to do with that?

S: Age,

C: (Inaudible) demographics do.

S: Exactly. The age does, because

E: Yeah

S: there's this huge peak in age around sixteen, eighteen, and then it trails way off. So, yeah, there's also lead time. Maybe they're just not here long enough to

E: That's exactly right.

S: work through the system. So there's all kinds of different controls that you can do as well. So,

C: Is that weighted for population? Like, obviously, to say there are less immigrants in prison than there are

S: Yeah, it's per hundred thousand, yeah. It's, yeah, it's the rate. It's not number of individuals, it's

C: Good, 'cause there's obviously way less immigrants than there are native-born

S: Yeah

C: people in America. Okay.

E: That's right.

C: Just making sure.

S: Yeah, it's like they're X percent of the population, and they're X percent of the prison population. Therefore

C: Yes

S: they're committing, per capita, fewer or more crimes. So, at the end of the day, I would say, we don't really have a definitive answer, but the weight of the evidence seems to be, if anything, towards maybe a little bit fewer crimes. But this really long review, basically their conclusion was, "We can't conclude from the evidence that they're committing more crimes."

E: Right

C: Sure.

S: Right

C: That's a safer thing to safe.

S: Yeah, so they made the negative, "So we can't say they're committing more crimes. We can't really say anything for sure, but there certainly isn't a big signal here that's saying they're committing more crime than the native-born." And some people interpret the data as, "They're probably committing fewer." And then, the responses are interesting, because basically, if you want to believe negative things about immigrants, you can say, "Well, they're just not reporting crimes, because they don't want to get," whatever, they don't want to get deported, or they don't want to be cut off by ...



S: Yeah, they don't want to be caught up by ICE. I can say, "Okay, but they try to control that in the data, and they look at lots of different kinds of crime. So, they can't," you know? But people were so willing to cherry-pick to make the outcome whatever they wanted to for political reasons,

E: Yeah

S: it's very

E: Yeah

S: interesting. Now the thing that triggered my recent deep dive into this was a recent study, which looked at the data in a different way, which is great. The more different ways you can look at the data, the, I think, better answer we can come to. They said, "All right, we're not gonna look at individuals. We're gonna look at cities. We're gonna ask the question, 'Do cities that have more immigrants'" - and most of these studies did not distinguish legal from illegal. It was just, "Were you born in the United States? Or were you not born in the United States?" You know, not really discriminating how you got here.

E: Citizen versus non-citizen?

S: No, just, "Were you born in the US or not born in the US?"

E: Okay

S: Because you could be not born in the US and a

E: Right

S: citizen.

E: I understand, that's why I wanted to clarify that.

S: So yeah, it was not citizenship, it was just where were you born, basically. And then, they said, "All right, do cities that have more immigrants have more or less crime than cities that have fewer immigrants." And the reason they did this was 'cause some people argue, "Well, even if the immigrants themselves are not getting caught for crimes as much as the native-born, maybe 'cause they're not committing as many, or maybe because, whatever, they're hiding better, or under-reporting, but because they are a strain on the city's resources, overall, the conditions will deteriorate, and that will be reflected in more overall crime in the city.

So they looked at a data set for forty years of data, up through 2010. And what they found was a pretty consistent negative correlation, meaning that cities with more immigrants had fewer crimes, it had less crime. So that kind of supports that end of the spectrum. And they said the results were very solid. And it was a huge data set. And they looked at both violent and property crime. So it was not just, they looked at, let's see, violent, property, and also drug-related crimes, and things like that, from 1970 to 2010. So that was interesting.

B: Huh!

S: So, yeah, very interesting. So, again, this is an area that still needs more study. It's amazing - ah, it's not amazing - it's predictable how political it is.

E: Yeah

S: But it is a very empirical question. You think we should be able to answer this question. But because it's sociological, and real-world type of question, it's actually very difficult, but

E: Hard to tie down.

S: But here's the thing: With all the evidence that exists, you cannot say that illegal immigrants are criminals, right? That they're committing more crimes than the native population, that they're importing crime. Right? They actually are no different than the native-born. And by some ways of looking at the data, they actually commit less crimes, you know.

C: And that is typically the political argument for minimizing

S: That's one. It's one. Now, there's one more question that has been addressed in research as well. Another study, which asked a very interesting question: Okay, so, illegal aliens are, it looks like they commit fewer crimes overall than native-borns. Why is that? Is it because we're deporting the criminals? Or is it because they're self-selected? Or there was some other variable? Is it because of lead time or something else?

And what they found was that you cannot explain the decrease because of deportation. So it's not that we're deporting the immigrants who are criminals. And they said that the best interpretation of the data is that they're self-selecting. Obviously, this is not universal. People come here to sell drugs, you know? But a lot of the immigrants who come here are self-selected for wanting to work, and improve their family, and better their life, and they're just not criminals. It's not a random sampling of the population. It's actually a less criminal sampling of the population, 'cause for whatever reason,

B: Imagine that. Imaging that.

S: motivates them to come here. Yeah.

B: What if more people just embraced that possibility, and believed it! Just believed it.

S: Yeah

J: Well, that's the problem, Bob.

E: It's one aspect of it, Bob, too. There are other socioeconomic factors at play, but we're talking about specifically criminality in this particular example.

B: Yeah, but I think if you put out a poll question asking that, most people would say, "No way!" And they wouldn't believe it. They wouldn't believe it.

J: And Bob, it takes a long time to change perception. I mean, think about how many years it takes for peoples' perceptions to change over social issues like this. I mean, think about homosexuality, as an example.

B: Well, I just had to hear and read about this study, and now I believe it. It didn't take me long.

J: Yeah, but that's

C: But you're a skeptic.

J: you, you're a trained skeptic.

C: Yeah

J: And you've trained yourself to be able to change your opinion with evidence. The average person, they're basing their feelings and their thoughts on their emotions, and on what they want.

B: We should get our voices out there and train other people, maybe do a podcast or something.

(Cara laughs)

S: Yeah, so listen,

(Evan laughs)

S: half the reason why I wanted to talk about this: One, it's just an interesting empirical question, and it's a good exercise in how complicated sociological data can be. So if you just forget about all of the political implications, just try to answer that question, it's really interesting. But the other part is, because I wrote about it on my blog, in the comments, if you read through the comments on my blog, on Neurologica, you will be rewarded with a stunning example of motivated reasoning.

E: (Excited) Oh!

(Cara chuckles)

S: Let me direct you

E: No surprise

S: specifically

B: Please do. This should be good.

S: to the comments by Michael Egnore. You guys remember Dr. Egnore.

B: Ohhh!

J: Of course!

E: He likes you, Steve.

S: He is the creationist neurosurgeon who blogs for the Discovery Institute, who, we have been crossing blog swords over the years. And he occasionally shows up in the comments to my blog, which is fine.

E: He likes you.

S: I would show up the comments in his blog, but the Discovery Institute blog has no comments. So,

(Evan snickers)

S: for whatever reason. Anyway, I mean, you have to read them. In my opinion, he just outs himself as a full blown bigot. I mean, it's just amazing. At one point, he's lecturing me about the cultural heritage of Italians. And it's just hilarious!


E: Eh! Pastvasule!

B: Was he dissing Italians?

J: What was he trying to tell ya, Steve?

C: Uh oh! The brothers are getting angry!

S: Yeah, right?

E: you guys should put a hit out on him!

S: A lot of people made the point that - and this has been made in the literatures as well - in some studies are like, what's interesting is that there is this belief that immigrants are criminals more than the native population for 200 years, and it's never been true! In fact, I found a study from 1933 that said, "Nope, they're no more criminal than native-born." In 1933!

But anyway, the question is, why does the belief persist so strongly if it's just not empirically true. And read the comments, and you'll find out. So he has a very interesting narrative, Dr. Egnore. His narrative is that America was just fine when it was all WASPS, right? White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. And WASP culture is American culture.

(Cara gasps)

(Evan sighs)

S: Right? Which he laid it out for us! Like, what is WASP culture? Well, I'll tell you! It's his summary of quote-unquote "WASP culture" is, "A strong work ethic, respect for law, belief in freedom of religion and speech, acceptance of Christian ethics, loyalty to family and country, among other things." To which I responded

E: That's not

S: "Loyalty to family? Are you effing kidding me? That's WASP culture and not Italian culture?" 'Cause he was saying

E: Any of

S: that Italians, after they immigrate, they didn't come with that culture. When they immigrated, they adopted, they assimilated and adopted WASP culture, right?

C: Wait, I just still don't understand the distinction. Okay, White Anglo-Saxon - Italians are white. I'm so confused.

S: Yeah, but we're Catholic, though, man. We're not

E: Yeah, it's the Anglo-Saxon

S: also, if you go south enough, we get pretty brown, you know?

C: No, I agree.

E: You get all Mediterranean on us.

C: So he's making a distinction between Mediteraneans and Europeans, really.

S: Well, see, Western versus Eastern European. So that's why, in one of my comments to my, that sounds like gangs of New York level bigotry right there. I mean, that's old school!


J: Right?

S: That is old-school!

J: It's so old-school,

E: Throwin' rocks at people comin' off the boats!

J: it's actually entertaining

E: Oh gosh!

J: and borderline fascinating, like

S: Right

J: wow! How could you be born within the last fifty to sixty years, and be walkin' around with that attitude?

S: Right

E: 'Cause ...

B: And what about the meat balls?

S: (Cracks up) Right.

J: Oh, forget it, Bob. If he doesn't think we care about each other, he won't get the meat balls.

(Cara laughs)

S: So his point is that we can't allow these Muslims into the country because they just will not assimilate into WASP culture.

C: Oh no

S: They're fundamentally un-American.

E: Yeah, the Jews didn't exactly assimilate into WASP culture either, and you know, they seem to be okay.

C: Did he say anything about black people? Or did he just ignore that whole (inaudible)

S: Nah, I couldn't get anything about him. I tried to egg him on a little bit, but yeah, he had his narrative.

(Cara laughs)

B: Egnore! Egg Egnore!

E: Egnore!

S: Yeah, so, but it was fascinating though. And he basically said he doesn't want legal immigration. He thinks that legal immigration

B: Wow!

S: is a

J: Oh man!

S: quote-unquote

E: That's just ridiculous

S: "scourge." It's a scourge.

C: He knows that America's only like, three hundred years old, right?

S: Yeah, right?

C: Like, in terms of what we consider "modern" society. Obviously, native Americans have been here for a long time.

S: Yeah.

C: But that's what always drives me crazy, when people talk about quote, "real" Americans. And it's like, real Americans ain't any of us!

S: Right

B: (Chuckles) Right

C: If you're a native American, sure. But people just ignore, they really rewrite history to think that this was a land for the taking. Nobody lived on it. And the British are really just the original Americans.

S: Right

E: (Very mild British accent) I say.

C: It's insane!

S: And then the Islamaphobia is just epic in his comments.

J: Yeah, but it's epic everywhere, Steve. I mean it's

S: Yeah

C: Islamaphobia, it's like, acceptable to be as overtly Islamaphobic now as it was during Jim Crow to be overtly racist.

S: Right

C: It's just, it's crazy how, and people can, I don't know, they kind of convince themselves that it's not about race, and it's not about heritage. And you're like, "How could it not be?" I mean, I'm against Islam in the sense that I'm against Christianity. I'm

S: Well, yeah, nobody wants Sharia law in the US.

C: Exactly! For me, it's about

S: Sure

C: religion. It's not about people. It's never about people.

S: So I said, I made the point. I said, "You know, there are moderate Muslims. I happen to know some. I have

C: Absolutely!

S: very good friends and colleagues, for example, who are Muslim. You would never freakin' know it." I mean, other than, if you know them, obviously, you know what their religion is. But other than where they worship, they're just regular people!" I mean, it's ridiculous. And his response to that was, "To the extent that they're moderate, they're not good Muslims. And to the extent that they're

C: Oh, that's - ugh!

S: Yeah, so either

C: It's such a shitty argument.

E: And he makes that determination? He's insane.

S: Yeah. So it's like, they're not real Muslims

J: Absolutely

S: That's the No True Scotsman fallacy, right. They're not

C: Yeah

S: real Muslims. Real Muslims are all these horrible things. And if they're not those horrible things, they're not a real Muslim. So,

J: Well he's

C: Ugh

J: rejecting the information. That's what that is.

S: Oh, rejecting the information? He basically said, "If the studies show that immigrants commit fewer crimes, the study's wrong." Period!

C: Yeah

S: He just flat out rejects it, because he doesn't like the results.

C: And you said this guy is a neurosurgeon.

S: Um hmm

C: People pay him to operate on their brains.

B: Well, Carson operated on brains too.

C: I know! It scares me so much!

S: Being a good surgeon is largely about having technical expertise.

C: Yeah, that's true. I mean, even a physician, we've talked about this

S: Yeah

C: on the show. Many, many physicians are not trained in the sciences.

S: Yeah

C: You can be pre-med in school, and get a minimal education in sort of scientific reasoning, and mostly focus on sort of the A and P aspect of biology,

S: Yeah

C: and not really have a good understanding of the scientific method.

S: Yeah, you could be a technically proficient professional, but not a critical thinker, obviously.

(Commercial at 49:41)

Human Embryo Editing (50:43)[edit]

Mission to Europa ()[edit]

Who's That Noisy ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Tornado Siren

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question #1: Momentum in Sports ()[edit]

Reply to numerous e-mails about hindsight bias and momentum in sports.

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: A new study supports the hypothesis that comprehending a word that relates to motor function involves the relevant part of the motor cortex, and not just language cortex. Item #2: Using MRI scans, researchers have been able to predict which high-risk infants will go on to develop autism with 90% accuracy as young as 3 months of age. Item #3: Engineers have developed brain electrodes that are 1000 times more flexible than previous electrodes, allowing for a stable connection that does not form scar tissue.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

"Ineffective therapies are always harmful. The greatest danger lies in the risk that a still treatable disease (is) not really being treated at an early stage, by first trying an alternative therapy. In the worst case, this can lead to the death of the patient. This is more common than you might think." - The Association Against Quackery, The Netherlands, established 1881, considered to be the oldest continually running skeptical organization in the world.

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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