SGU Episode 64

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SGU Episode 64
October 11th 2006
Comet earth2.jpg
SGU 63 SGU 65
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
SV: Stuart Vyse
Quote of the Week
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
Carl Sagan
Download Podcast
Show Notes


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

News Items ()[edit]

Friday 13th (Paraskevidekatriaphobia) (1:03)[edit]


Comet to hit Earth (2:00)[edit]

Score One for Evolution in Michigan (7:40)[edit]


New Science Curriculum in the UK (10:40)[edit]


Questions and E-mails ()[edit]

Corrections (13:24)[edit]

Just a comment on the show from 2 weeks ago, about the loris in the pants. Not to be pedantic, but I want The Skeptics Guide to maintain its biology street cred. Perry, a loris is not a monkey, but belongs in the prosimian group or clade along with the lemurs, pottos, and bushbabies. A clade is an evolutionary branch which includes all members on that branch and only members on that branch. The term 'monkeys' is an artificial grouping, not a clade, usually referring to new world monkeys and old world monkeys as a group and excluding the apes (orangs, chimps, gorillas, gibbons, and humans). The technical term is that the term 'monkeys' represents a paraphyletic grouping. Rebecca might respond that using the example of a loris versus a bird of paradise would be phylogenically like pitting a chimpanzee versus a Komodo dragon (I'm betting against the 'monkey' there!). The loris shares a relatively recent common ancestor with the other primates including chimps just as the Komodo dragon shares a relatively recent ancestor with the birds.

Keep up the good work. Love the show!

Joe Walsh
Cote d'ivoire

Correct, here is a link:

Corrections (21:08)[edit]

As the self-appointed Resident Brazil Specialist, I must correct what was said in this latest podcast about the girl who cried pieces of glass.

She absolutely wasn't brazillian; she wasn't even south american.
With a little googling, I found out her name (Hasnah Mohamed Meselmani), and her nationality: she was Lebanese, and the case took place in 1996.

From the Message Boards

Again, correct: Although the story was original broke on Brazilian television, hence the confusion.

Water Cycle (22:10)[edit]

My children were taught in science that the amount of water on the earth is a constant and has been forever. It may change from being frozen, vapor in the form of clouds, or deep under ground, but there's always the same amount of water (I presume measured by mass of water molecules?).

I wondered when my kids informed me of this, and now I'm wondering again because my mother was at an ecology lecture where she was told the same and it amazed her so that she had to share it with me.

My question: I believe that water vapor is a byproduct of certain combustions - like when hydrogen is burned as a fuel. Isn't this using a chemical reaction to create water molecules where before there were only hydrogen and oxygen. On the other side of the equation, I believe I have heard of separating the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of water molecules to obtain oxygen.

If water is a byproduct of a chemical reaction burning hydrogen, and we can separate water into it's component elements, how can the amount of water on earth remain constant?

Are the ecologists giving us bad information?

Jon Giltner

The Moon and Stars (26:05)[edit]

I'm just flabbergasted and here's why: and here's the link to the folks who are selling land on the moon: Can this really be done? Can anybody really 'own' the moon or is this just some fun conversation piece to share with friends and nobody actually owns part of the moon?

Scott Breitbach

Similar scam - the international star registry:

Name That Logical Fallacy (31:27)[edit]

  • Logical Fallacies
The Creation Science Museum of Canada
Submitted by Manny G. on our forums

'Many types of bacteria swim through water by spinning a rubber-like 'tail' called a flagellum. Because it's rubber-like and because the semi-solid 'hook' holds it at an angle, the flagellum takes on a corkscrew shape, acting like a propeller in the water.

This is like you being able to spin you head around, and around, and around! So how does it do it? Scientists are pushing the limits of modern technology to be able to dissect these bacteria to see just how on earth they spin their tails. It turns out that the bacteria has something that is just like an electric motor built inside of it!
When we take a look inside the bacterial flagellum, we see a stator (the C ring, held in place by the STUDS), a rotor (the M & S rings), the drive shaft (the ROD), the bushing or bearing (the L & P rings), it even has what many have called the 'universal joint', the hook - which is what changes the direction of the rotational force.

But what of the bacterial motor? It is no different than the electric motor! How could it have evolved? If any one of those parts isn't quite evolved, the whole system breaks down, our bacteria can't get around and it dies! If any one of those parts suffers a change in its attempt to 'evolve', it no longer does its original job, the whole motor fails, the bacteria dies!

In modern times we think something is a superior technology if it's smaller, faster, more energy efficient. Well, this motor is so small 8,000,000 of them can fit on the tip of one of your hairs! An electric motor cannot reproduce, or find its own energy, or repair itself! The bacteria can do all of these.

Where there is design, there is a designer.'

Interview with Stuart Vyse (36:15)[edit]

  • Stuart Vyse is a professor of psychology at Connecticut College.

    He is the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, (Oxford University Press, 1997) which has been published in Japanese and German and received the 1999 William James Book Award.

Randi Speaks (1:01:22)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic

    Each week James Randi gives a skeptical commentary in his own unique style.

    This week's topic: Aromatherapy

S: And now, Randi Speaks.

JR: Hello, this is James Randi. Some of our listeners have sent in ideas as to subjects I might address and Karen in Melbourne, Australia has suggested aromatherapy. Karen and the rest of you folks, aromatherapy is just one of the siliest notions I have ever heard of. What they do is they present you with all kinds of oils and aromas that are, admittedly, quite pleasant. These are distributed by various means, leaving them open in evaporating dishes in your living room or plugging them into the wall so that the room is suffused with cinnamon or garlic or whatever you wish. Now, I can easily forgo the garlic; I guess most of us could, but cinnamon is rather attractive to me. It's the claim that's made for aromatherapy that really gets to me, however. It says that this cures diseases and relieves conditions. Well, if you've got a really smelly house, perhaps it does. But let's face the hard facts here. Your olfactory organ—that's your nose, in case you didn't know it—is very sensitive; it'll pick up all kinds of good information about the world around us, but it's simply a myth that diseases and medical conditions can be relieved by means of the olfactory glands. Yes, having a nice aroma in the air might help you to a certain extent, might make you feel better; it might make your environment a little pleasanter. That does not imply—it doesn't mean that any medical cures are on their way. As with most of these things, very simple double-blind tests would determine whether or not there is any medical advantage to be had through aromatherapy. And, as with all of these claims, that sort of test is not involved in the evaluation of such claims. Now don't ask me how, but I was reminded from Karen's request for something about aromatherapy of something else entirely different. I recall that when I was attending grade school in Toronto, Canada, where I was born and almost raised, there existed a pair of schoolyard bullies, who gave all of the kids a very hard time. I pulled a bit of a gag on them that—well, I hope that neither one of them is listening to this, or they might want to seek me out for a certain reprimand, if you know what I mean. These two kids were typical bullies, in that they would literally empty the other kids' pockets out, take their lunch money, if there was any there, and anything valuable they had on them. In those days, as today, there was no point in going to teachers or the principal or anybody else around and complaining about it. You had to handle it yourself, and I did. Now, just a wee bit of history. At that time, and I believe still in Canada, there was a type of chewing gum sold that was called Thrills. I don't know why; it wasn't much of a thrill, I can assure you. Thrills were sort of elongated Chiclets and they were a dark lavender in color. These two bullies were quite partial to them, I was told. And that gave me my approach for a really good joke and some revenge. Working with my friend Gary, I found a way that we could get even very easily. We bought a packet of Feen-A-Mint, which is a very powerful laxative; I believe it used as active ingredient the chemical phenolphthalein. Believe me, it really worked well. Gary discovered that if you very lightly sanded the surface of the Feen-A-Mint chewing gum, which was just about exactly the same size, you could roughen it so that it could be colored. So we mixed together some red and blue drawing ink, to closely approximate the color of the Thrills chewing gum, then used ordinary paraffin to polish up the surface of these Chiclet-like confections. Sure enough, arriving at the schoolyard very early one morning, the two bullies spotted us, went into my pockets and found this packet of apparently Thrills chewing gum. They split the entire box between the two of them and had a huge wad of gum in their mouths that they were chewing away on very happily. Lo and behold, just before school let out that day, the two bullies had to ask to be excused. I won't get into the details, but one of them didn't make it down the hall. This is James Randi. See you next week.

Science or Fiction (1:06:29)[edit]

Question #1: Research indicates that brief internet counseling is effective in the treatment of depression, as effective as traditional psychotherapies. Question #2: Robot gardener - a robot designed at the university of Illinois, will move up and down the rows of a crop field, recognize weeds by sight, and then cut and spray them. Question #3: Sony just announced plans to release a new version of their popular playstation that they claim can be played 'hands free,' with the use of the mind alone.

Quote of the Week (1:15:12)[edit]

'Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.'- Carl Sagan

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.


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