SGU Episode 61

From SGUTranscripts
Jump to: navigation, search
  Emblem-pen-orange.png This episode needs:  transcription,  links,  'Today I Learned' list,  categories,  segment redirects. How to Contribute

SGU Episode 61
20th September 2012
SGU 60 SGU 62
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
P: Perry DeAngelis
JR: James Randi
Quote of the Week
Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work.
James Randi
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items[edit]

Randi to join Skeptics Guide (0:39)[edit]

  • James Randi will be contributing a weekly segment to the Skeptics Guide called "Randi Speaks"

Men more intelligent than women? (6:29)[edit]

DailyMail: Men are more intelligent than women, claims new study

Ohio State Research: Women Outpace Men in College Degrees

S: One very sensational news item that has been talked about quite a bit I think in the last week is an article published in the Daily Mail that claims that men are more intelligent than women Rebecca, I'm sure...

R: Ugh, you guys are never going to shut up now.

S: (laughs)

P: Goes without saying, yeah.

R: Yeah, I guess if you add them all together then yeah.

S: (laughs) Collectively, collectively.

R: You guys, collectively, are intelligent.

P: Some studies are a waste of money when common sense will lead you to the same conclusion.

R: Uh huh. I couldn't agree more.

P: But I must say, I must say...

R: What must you say, please?

P: When Jay sent out an email about this, gloating, and Rebecca sent it back with numerous corrections, both grammatical and spelling, it was rather embarrassing to the male race.

R: Thank you.


P: I must say, I'm going to have to say, it was really quite a touché. Jay, you dropped the ball.

R: It was really bad, Jay.

B: Wait a second, wait a second. I talked with Jay, he did it on purpose just to boost your self-esteem.

R: Oh, yeah, right, I appreciate that Jay, shucks, thanks, now I'll just get on back in the kitchen.

J: First of all, Rebecca, unless you're making me a drink, I don't want you anywhere near a kitchen.


J: Second of all, I typed fast and furious, I didn't think Ms. Anal Retentive... whatever you want to add onto the end of that, has to say say about how crystal clear my typing is, the fact is that I get my information out there.

R: Yeah, you get your information out there like a third grader.

S: Turning back to the study, "British-born researcher Jean Philippe Rushton who previously created a furore," as the News Daily article goes, "by suggesting intelligence is influenced by race, says the finding could explain why so few women make it to the top in the workplace." And he further claims that the glass ceiling is basically "due to the inferior intelligence of women rather than any discrimination or lack of opportunity."

R: You know, I really don't even see how this needs comment because it's just so absurd, it's so poorly thought out and done that it's, that's my position on this, it is just stupid. It could only have been thought of by a man.

S: Indulge me while I investigate this a little more deeply. Basically he is claiming that his statistics show that men have a 3.65 point higher IQ on average than women. Now the main weakness of this entire approach is that IQ, although, not without any meaning, is a very, very complex concept. The very concept of intelligence is very abstract and complex. It begs the question, "what is intelligence?" It's obviously no one thing, it's many, many things. What exactly are you going to measure as intelligence? We actually can't directly measure any neurological, biological function that is intelligence.

P: What is IQ alleged to be?

S: Yeah, it's basically, you pick some markers of some abilities that you're inferring relate to intelligence, like memory or mathematics or verbal skills or visual-space relationships, you sort of break it down into some specific quantifiable tasks that people can perform, but there are choices that are made in deciding what to measure and how to measure it, and it boils a very complex phenomenon, a very abstract phenomenon in many respects, like how do you quantify creativity? Well, you can't, so you choose the things that you can quantify. We can't boil something that complex down into a single number so...

B: Sure you can, just hook your head up to the Krell machine, see how high it goes, that's how smart you are.

S: Right. (laughs) That's a reference to the Forbidden Planet which...

R: Dorks!

S: We are uber-geeks, OK? But...

R: Yeah, now I know.

S: ...yeah, we don't have the equivalent of the Krell machine where you get one number of overall brain power, we have no such thing. So you end up with like this 3.63 point difference. The average, by definition, by the way, is 100. That really within the noise of the system, it's hard to really make...

B: I think it's a joke.

S: ... yeah it's hard to make any conclusions about function in the real world from that.

B: 3.63 is ludicrous. If he came up with something like 10 or 15 it may be something to think about, but 3.63, I laugh when I read that, you've got to be kidding.

S: Given how fuzzy the whole concept is.

R: Right, I was about to say that if it were a focussed number, if it were something that we could clearly quantify, then a difference of 3.6 might in fact be statistically important, but the fact that it's, the margin of error has got to be so much more than 3.6.

J: Yeah. Steve, how many people were in the test?

B: Three.


S: I don't have the exact number, but the point I'm trying to make is: don't confuse statistical significance and clinical or scientific relevance. Something could be statistically significant but clinically irrelevant. And I think that's the case that we have here. Statistical significance is only about gathering enough numbers. If you have enough individual people, if you have enough data, you can get statistical significance. The question is, "is that much of a difference in what's being measured meaningful in the real world?" And that is what really hasn't been established. Now what you can use these kinds of testing to say compare the difference of something very specific and quantifiable, like you might be able to say some subgroup scored higher on tests of visual-spatial skills than some other group, at least then you're talking about a very clearly defined, specific task, but intelligence is way too fuzzy to talk about in this way, and the conclusions that he reaches from it go well beyond the data that he's using, the idea that differences in academic achievement are due to this 6.3 point difference, that's where it's absurd, where he tries to draw real-world conclusions from this fuzzy data.

R: And where I think he clearly shows his absurd bias, like he was obviously going for something there, and that was...

J: That's a good point, I due agree that there's a bias involved here.

S: It's poor thinking, which makes you suspect that there's a bias, sure. Interesting there's a couple of other issues that came out in the past week along the same lines. There was research also published that shows that women are still consistently outperforming men academically, at least up to the bachelor's level. This is a report from Claudia Buchmann, she's an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University. And what they found basically is that better grades and more incentives explain why women are outpacing men in college degrees, this did not look at post-graduate, or the highest echelons of academic achievement, just at the bachelor level. In 2004, women received 58% of all bachelor's degrees in the United States compared with only 35% in 1960, so in the last 44 years, women have basically outpaced men numerically in achieving academic achievement. And that dovetails with other studies which show that basically women have better academic, school, classroom skills than guys do. They're better organised, they're more motivated, they're less distracted by the kinds of things that boys are distracted by, they mature faster which helps them in school-age. One complexity in that is that maybe eventually guys catch up because women just mature in these respects quicker. But they don't catch up by college-age. Now I further noticed, and this is something that you blog about, Rebecca...

R: Yeah.

S: ...the National Academy of Sciences put together a panel to investigate the question of why there's a difference in the achievement between men and women at the highest levels of academia in science and engineering and mathematics, and their conclusion was that it is not due to any biological difference, that any biological differences between men and women are insignificant and that differences are entirely due to biases within the process of career development and promotion within academia.

R: Right, yeah I mean that's about it. They decided that those, any differences pale in comparison to the incredible difference that's shown to men versus women as they, basically from the beginning of schooling up through their career and professional development.

S: It's a 200 page report, I read like the 20 page executive summary, I didn't plough through all 200 pages yet but I think, I agree with actually most of the findings although I think that I'm not sure why they put the committee together the way that they did because it sort of invites criticism, for example, it was an 18 person panel, there were 17 women and 1 guy. To anybody who might be critical of their finding it sort of stands out, why was this issue disproportionately women?

R: Yeah but Steve, I mean that would be, I think that would be fallacious because you have to look at their results, you have to look at the data that they were looking at, and the results that they found, and not the people.

P: It's still a point of criticism and there's no need.

S: Yeah I agree with that Rebecca, but my point was appearance, and I'm not sure why it ended up that way.

R: Well probably that the people who are most interested in why women aren't getting ahead in science are women who are not getting ahead in science, who struggle to get ahead in science.

S: Yeah, you're probably right, but that exactly makes my point, that you don't want people who are motivated to have certain findings because they feel that this is an issue and many of the women who were on this panel actually were already on record as to what their opinions were. Rather, you want to put together people who have relevant expertise or who are either balanced on both sides of the issue or who have not expressed any prior strong opinions. It seemed to be, it seemed that they were stacking the deck, and that appearance, whether or not it's true or affected the outcome, I think will haunt this panel and this finding.

R: I agree with that. I just don't think that it's a valid criticism, I think it's a...

S: That in and of itself is not a criticism of the findings, but I have to go on because I read through all of their specific findings in their summary, and if you go look at the summary, again we'll link to this, every single point is in the same direction, basically arguing why women have the same ability as men and why their inability or historically why they haven't succeeded as much as men at the highest levels of academia is due to biases against them. When a report like this basically makes, I think they had in their summary there were 8 major points that they made and every single one was completely and strongly in the same direction, I always, that just raises a red flag for me, whatever the topic is. Within any complex or controversial issue there is going to be some mitigating factors or some uncertainties in the data and they really didn't allow for any equivocation which I think, again, just raised a red flag for me. They also didn't address, going in to it I was interested to hear what they were going to say about a couple of points, and they didn't address them, which also makes me a little suspicious. For example, their first finding was "women have the ability and drive to succeed in science and and engineering" which I agree with, but they didn't address, do women have the same interest in engineering as men do, which some prior studies have suggested that statistically or on average that maybe they're just not interested as men are in engineering. So they didn't even address that, and I was curious about that omission. Obviously they thoroughly reviewed the science, on the surface I agree with most of their findings, but I think that they have both the appearance of maybe having gone into this with an agenda, and I think that the way that they put their report together supports the sense that maybe that they had an ideological view going into this process.

R: Well Steve, my only thought on your last point about there not being much study into whether or women are actually interested in science and engineering is that I agree with you in that I am also curious about what a study of that would show, but also that in this case their job was to find out why the women who are interested are being turned away or aren't reaching the upper echelons of academia as opposed to the men who continue on, the women are dropping out, so the women were obviously interested at some point and then they lost out. So I can kind of understand why that wouldn't be a focus of the study, though I agree that, I think it would be interesting to see them address it.

S: Right. It brought up some very interesting points that I had not considered previously, like for example, academics who have a spouse who does not work full time and therefore shoulders a disproportionate amount of the domestic burden actually do better or have more successful careers than academics who have a spouse who works full-time. And 90% of women academics have a husband were only 50% of males have a wife who works full-time, so there's a disparity there that would affect the ability of a woman to succeed in her career that you might not immediately consider, for example. So I thought the report was very good in terms of exploring those kinds of issues.

Pastor accused of rape (19:41)[edit]

Interview with Phil Plait (22:36)[edit]

  • The Bad Astronomer joins us to discuss the new naming of UB313(Xena) as Eris, the whole planet definition hubbub, and other astronomical news. Article about Eris and its moon Dysnomia:

Questions and Emails[edit]

OBE's and Lucid Dreaming (43:25)[edit]

Hi guys.

Love the show.

I have a question concerning out of body experiences. I have had two experiences with OBE's, one was when I was seriously ill with malaria, yes I was having really disturbing hallucinations, but at one point during the illness I had a very tranquil and lucid episode. When I opened my eyes the ceiling was about half a meter from my face, and when I turned around I saw myself lying in the bed beneath me. Obviously this gave me a fright and caused me to go back into my now uncontrollably shivering body. The second case was when while sleeping I sat up in bed and turned around to still see my body there sleeping.

Now I don't believe in a soul or any supernatural occurences, but I was wondering what natural explanation could there be. Possibly lucid dreaming? or am I just nuts? (that another story involving mercury poisoning)

Thanks again for the best podcast on the net.

Oh before I forget monkey's rule!! and Rebecca gets another marriage proposal.

Thanks Hamish Law

South Africa

More 9/11 nonsense (52:36)[edit]

So I've been browsing the web and i've found a theory that I haven't heard before, that israel (or the jews) did the world trade center (9/11). They offer as evidence that not a single jew died in the attack, and a cubic time theory, have you heard this one? And what do you think about it?

Gary Adair


Cubic time theory:

The Denial Industry (58:34)[edit]

Thought this might make an interesting topic for you:

Guardian: The Denial Industry

Dave Machin

Randi Speaks (1:01:58)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic. Each week, beginning with this debut segment, James Randi gives a skeptical commentary in his own unique style. This week's topic: Exorcism

S: Well, now it's time for the first installment of Randi's new segment on our show, which he calls "Randi Speaks".

JR: Hello, this is James Randi speaking. I'm... rather fascinated with the subject of exorcism; I hope that some of you may have an interest in it, too, as the latest thing to take the fancy of the naive. I've just heard through The Hollywood Reporter that CBS has given a pilot commitment to an exorcism-themed drama from the creator of Joan of Arcadia, Barbara Hall and producer Joe Roth. The project, they say, is inspired by the real-life experiences of Bob Larson, an expert on cults, the occult, and supernatural phenomenon. Oh, come on. It continues, "through his ministry, Larson teaches the principles of spiritual freedom and the many ways that demons attack human beings." Well, I needn't go on on that. It's crap from end to end and obviously these people are embracing it. Well, I just did some re-figuring, because my good friend Klaus Larsen in Denmark sent me a note saying that some of my figures were wrong on a recent entry. I just did a piece on Father Amorth, who is the Vatican-approved official exorcist of that prestigious organization. I said there that he had claimed he had done 30,000 exorcisms in his 80-odd years or so. Well, turns out that that's wrong. The Vatican officially claims that he has done 40,000 since 1984, which gives him even more impressive rate of success, if any of them do work, and I've yet to see any evidence of that. That would mean that he'd have to do something like 15 a day, and if you saw the film The Exorcist, you would know that they—they take a long time to do. This is a very busy man, to say the least, or someone, somewhere along the line, is lying. Is that possible? Do you think? It may be. A good comment from a reader of The Hollywood Reporter says, "Oh, my. Where to start on this one? CBS was once known as the Cadillac of television networks." Well, I don't know when that was ever said, but nonetheless: "How they could have somehow missed the dozens of TV, magazine, and newspaper exposés of this con man"—and he's speaking about Bob Larson now—"for the devil is simply more supernatural than anything Larson proposes to have encountered on his incredibly bogus television show, and that it invokes the spirits of Walter Cronkite, William S. Paley, and Edward R. Murrow, hoping that they would forever haunt the halls of CBS." I think that's an excellent idea. Oh, by the way, producer Joe Roth is experienced in this field. We wouldn't want you to think that he doesn't have any expertise; after all, he is the executive producer of the 1990 feature film The Exorcist III, so he obviously knows about these matters. Right? I ask you, if you will, go to Google and look up Bob Larson. I think you'll have quite a revelation there when you see all the scams this man has worked over the years, but CBS doesn't seem to care. Do they? I just hope—sincerely hope—that this isn't the beginning of a whole range of television programs that's gonna be based on exorcism. Otherwise, we're gonna see people vomiting pea soup left and right and all the other charming things that were done in The Exorcist films. Regardless of what CBS eventually does on this—after all, it is only a pilot commitment so far—we can be very sure that the Vatican will continue with its very profitable business of exorcisms. After all, without demons to get rid of, where would their business be? They'd just be selling, oh, rather cheap wine and bread on a Sunday, and not much bread at that, because I've seen what they serve out during the mass. I don't know how else they would make money. Maybe they'd have to get real work and real jobs. We couldn't really expect that now, could we? After all, this is the church, where you're not supposed to really do anything. But you wear funny dresses and funny hats and you walk around and throw water over people in the audience. I don't know; I think I missed my calling. I can wear a funny hat, too, and on occasion, I've proven it. But I don't think people would pay to see me walking around and throwing water on them. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction (1:07:05)[edit]

S: Question number one. The Cassini probe to Saturn has discovered a new ring around Saturn, but more significantly this new ring is rotating in the opposite direction of Saturn's rotation. Question number two. Canadian study shows that women who have breast... And question number three. In a newly published survey, 10% of men who describe themselves as "straight" also reported having sex with a man within the last year.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:14:24)[edit]

Last week's Puzzle:

You meet a woman and ask her if she has any children. She replies, "two." You ask if she has any sons and she says, "yes." So now you know she has exactly two children and at least one of them is a boy. What is the probability that her other child is also a boy, and therefore that she has two sons?

Answer: 1/3 (or maybe 1/2 - see the forums for a lively discussion on this puzzle)

New Puzzle:

To use a marine lock, like those of the Panama Canal, a boat enters the lock and the gates are closed. Water is then allowed to flow into (or out of) the lock to raise (or lower) the boat to a new level. Consider two different boats cycling through the lock: a cruise ship which barely fits into the lock and a kayak. Which requires more water to flow into or out of the lock to cycle the vessel to the new level?

Alden Johnson Port Ludlow, Washington

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:17:04)[edit]

Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work.

B: James Randi!

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


Navi-previous.png Back to top of page Navi-next.png