SGU Episode 65

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SGU Episode 65
October 18th 2006
SGU 64 SGU 66
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
'If I was a religious person, I would consider creationism nothing less than blasphemy. Do its adherents imagine that God is a cosmic hoaxer who has created that whole vast fossil record for the sole purpose of misleading mankind?'
Arthur C. Clarke
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items ()[edit]

Geller's Heir ()[edit]


Will Humans Evolve into Two Species? ()[edit]


Scientists find the elusive Element 118 ()[edit]


    Creationist pamphlet mentioned in this segment:

    During the podcast it was mentioned that the weak nuclear force holds protons and neutrons together. It is the strong nuclear force that does this (and also holds quarks together into protons and neutrons). The weak nuclear force is the enegery of beta-decay.

Questions and E-mails ()[edit]

Rebecca and the 7th Fleet ()[edit]

Happy Birthday Rebecca, From all of your fans in the 7th Fleet.

In your request for forward deployed military listeners, I am part of the 7th fleet stationed in Japan and am often in one interesting place or another. The most interesting place I have been listening to your pod cast is in a submarine near (under) the Indian Ocean. I eagerly await your show as a weekly 'escape to reality'. With any luck I will be at the Amaz!ng Meeting. Thank you for your support.


STG1 Jonathan Edmiston

Moon Robots ()[edit]

Love the podcast!

Now that the Mars Face has been debunked, they're moving on to robots on the moon!

Scott Sitarek
Royal Oak, MI

Vegetarians and Sacred Cows ()[edit]

Hey guys,

A few times in the podcast you've labeled vegetarianism a Sacred Cow and compared it to various pseudo-sciences like homeopathy. This is a mistake of categorization, if nothing else, regardless of your views on meat-eating.

Vegetarianism, in most of its forms, is an ethical claim, not a scientific one. It is not a statement of fact. Homeopathy is demonstrably wrong, but vegetarianism is no more right or wrong then any other ethical claim, from any objective point of view. Arguments for or against either are arrangements of history, emotion, practicality, and so on, but neither,
strictly speaking, can be tested for Rightness in any meaningful way.

The larger issue for the skeptic comes from determining how to apply scientific reasoning skills to build an internally consistent ethical framework that's (at the very least) free from contradiction and logical error. It seems to me that it's easy to build such a framework that includes vegetarianism. Furthermore, it is silly to call any such ethical
framework a Sacred Cow unless you're also willing to view other similarly constructed frameworks in the same way, even if they contain ethical propositions most of us think are obvious.

To the extent that vegetarians make testable claims -- that meat-eaters are less healthy, for example -- they deserve a skeptic's full scrutiny. But even here, although this is a different question from the one I'm writing to discuss, it appears vegetarians are on firm ground, which makes your immediate dismissal of the position even more curious.

Anyway, the show is freaking awesome, of course. Keep up the great work!

[1] Of course, there are philosophers who would disagree with me, but I think they're mostly practicing a sort of religion in which they really, really want it to be true that there are obvious moral precepts set in motion at the Big Bang or other similar nonsense. But even if you don't find my philosophy convincing, we're still not discussing science.

Wayne Burkett

Vitamin Supplements ()[edit]

Dr. Novella (and pals):

A comment on the latest podcast (about putting the chocolate chip cookie in pill form) reminded me of this question I've had.

As both a Doctor and a skeptic, what is your position on taking daily vitamin supplements?

Thanks. And keep up the great work on the enjoyable and informative podcast.

Greenville SC
Neil Shurley

Follow up on the Star Registry ()[edit]

In your discussion of star naming in last week's show, one of your panelists said that he thought it was basically harmless. I wanted to point out two real costs. Though I'm a school psychologist by profession, I also work as an instructor at our local school district's planetarium. Over the years, I've been approached after programs several times by students or members of the public who have purchased star names, or been given them as gifts. In one case, it was a girl of about 8 who received the gift from her parents. Her teacher wanted to know if I could point out 'her' star during the program. In the second case, it was a couple who had lost a child, and the family had purchased a star in the dead child's name as a memorial. They also wanted to see their daughter's star.

In both cases I had to weigh my response against the hopes and wishes of these innocent victims. In both cases, I was honest and told them that the star names they had received were not official, and that since our planetarium only shows the 1500 or so brightest stars, it was likely that their 'stars' were not even displayed in our planetarium sky. I also gave them my opinion that the star naming companies were doing a disservice to the public in taking money to name something for which they had no naming rights, and I briefly explained how star names (or in most cases catalog numbers) were assigned, and how they were not handled by companies taking money from the public.

The costs are in terms of the false hopes and memorials these people are being sold, and also in the money collected by the ISR and other such companies, that will never go to benefit astronomy or science education. Our planetarium is struggling as school district budgets are being cut. I suggest that people wishing to buy a star name consider instead a donation to a local science education facility, like a planetarium or a museum. The ISR is a nefarious profiteering scheme, with a budget to hire lawyers to go after anyone who publicly decries their dishonest practices.

John Rummel
Madison, WI

Dear members of the Skeptics Guide,

First, congratulations on the great job you're doing with your podcast! I really enjoy it and I eagerly await every new episode ... but I guess you get to read this in every other email ;-).

I have a follow-up on the people who sell land on the moon.
I'm about to finish my study in aerospace engineering in Stuttgart, Germany and we had a lecture dealing with space legislation not too long ago. It was held by Dr. Bernhard Schmid-Tedd, Head of Legal and Business Support of the German space agency (DLR), who also advised the UN in space legislation.

Dr. Schmid-Tedd also mentioned Dennis Hope who is selling lunar property alongside with a German called Martin Jrgens who is also selling pieces of the Moon and is claiming that he has the older rights to it. Mr. Jrgens claims that he inherited the moon from one of his ancestors who got it as an award from Prussian King Friedrich II. in 1756. (You see, we got our share of crackpots, too)

You referred to Mr. Hope as a rip-off and a nut-job but then dismissed him - in my opinion - too easy by just saying he does not own the moon. Which is of course correct, but you failed to give reasons.

Those people fool their victims by misinterpreting the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (signed and ratified by 98 nations) which states in Art. II that: outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means. (

The moon-estate guys will tell you, that the people drafting the treaty - thinking only about the cold war at that time - forgot to include companies and ordinary citizens. And therefore, it's perfectly legitimate what they are doing.

Well, here are the points, that were mentioned in the lecture:
- public international law overrides national law, even if the national law is older. The Outer Space Treaty is international law.
- the prohibition of national appropriation (Art. II) includes appropriation by civil law
- Art. IV states that non-governmental actions need approval and and permanent control
- basic property is derived from national jurisdiction
- real estate property rights require national sovereignty
- states have to behave in accordance with the agreement. That implies: They must not allow actions of trespass and take action on sustained violations of public international law by one of its citizens

Which means, that it is not only unethical to sell land on the moon, but also illegal. But as long as the damage is under a certain threshold we won't see anyone punished for ripping of people with a more or less nicely printed peace of worthless paper!

Dr. Novella, you wondered if someone would actually press the claim to his property on the moon. Well, the following anecdote is told at our institute:
Some guy bought just that piece of moon were one of the rovers from the Apollo Program was abandoned. Then he wrote a letter to NASA demanding parking charge for the rover. And NASA came up with the most hilarious of all replies: Well, just get someone to tow away our rover.

So keep up the good work!

With best regards from Esslingen, Germany,

Oliver Zeile

Name That Logical Fallacy ()[edit]

  • Logical Fallacies
Submitted by Manny G. on our forums

4. Population Statistics...World population growth rate in recent times is about 2% per year. Practicable application of growth rate throughout human history would be about half that number. Wars, disease, famine, etc. have wiped out approximately one third of the population on average every 82 years. Starting with eight people, and applying these growth rates since the Flood of Noah's day (about 4500 years ago) would give a total human population at just under six billion people. However, application on an evolutionary time scale runs into major difficulties. Starting with one 'couple' just 41,000 years ago would give us a total population of 2 x 1089. 9 The universe does not have space to hold so many bodies.

9. Design in Living Systems...A living cell is so awesomely complex that its interdependent components stagger the imagination and defy evolutionary explanations. A minimal cell contains over 60,000 proteins of 100 different configurations.16 The chance of this assemblage occurring by chance is 1 in 10 4,478,296.

Randi Speaks (43:42)[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: Homeopathy/Uri Gellar

S: And now, Randi Speaks

JR: Hello. This is James Randi. Earlier this evening I was picking up a prescription at my local pharmacy, and I noticed that they had taped down to the counter something that every customer who came along would just have to notice. It was an extract from the United States Code, section 1001, title 18. And this is a somewhat abbreviated version of it. It says

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, [in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States,] knowingly and willfully—

(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years, or if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism, imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.

And it goes on to say that Subsection (A), which I just read to you, shall apply only to administrative matters including a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services. Now this rather interested me. You know, I just had to wonder whether that law of the United States Code could be made to apply to such things as homeopathic medicines, which were sold right by the counter at the pharmacy that I visited earlier this evening. Certainly they are materially false, fictitious, and/or fraudulent statements or representations being made. That's very obvious. As for those false writings or documents, that's contained in the instructions and the claims being made for the homeopathic compounds. I just think this might be a very interesting thing to pursue, a matter that perhaps some lawyers would like to look into.

On another matter altogether, our present intern, Chris, is re-vamping and rather expanding the JREF library, at great cost to his intellect and his patience, I'm sure. That's quite a job to undertake. Finding a place for one book, which is titled Uri Geller: Magician or Mystic?, written by a Jonathon Margolis. He found folded within the pages a very brief note from Jonathon Margolis which had been sent to me along with the first copy of the book after it was published in England back in 1998. This book, which runs almost 300 pages, is a perfect example of one of those leaning-over-backwards and completely fawning biographical sketches of Geller. Everything Geller says in the book is accepted as being true, and of course we skeptics are looked upon as close-minded and very strange people. In any case, I thought I should relate to you an event that happened with the author in our office. He had come to visit this arch-skeptic in order to have my input on what he was going to publish. Well, that almost happened, but not quite. Certainly what he subsequently reported didn't represent much of the truth of what had actually happened in our library. As an example, when Mr. Margolis took the opportunity of stepping out to the washroom for a moment or two, our good friend Andrew Harter stepped over to where he had his bag on a chair, looked inside and saw some spoons. Andrew extracted a few of the spoons, bent them into curlicues, and carefully placed them back inside the bag. Those spoons were never referred to after that, since Margolis never took them out of the bag. He went on his way back to England and, no doubt, subsequently found the curled-up spoons in that bag. You would think that we had demonstrated to him that a small lack of attention on his part, a small lapse in his careful observation of what he thought we might be doing could have also told him that maybe Geller had fooled him. But then, he was Jonathon Margolis, an author, and not likely to be fooled. Or so he thought. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Question #1: New study suggests that doctors generally do not change their practice even in response to studies published in major medical journals Question #2: New study shows that elderly patients are being undermedicated. Question #3: New study shows that a computer-driven system is better than human physicians at ventilator weaning.

Skeptical Puzzle ()[edit]

New Puzzle:

I have 4 lines
I can supposedly detect witches
I was once described as 'an organ'
I was used by Julius Caesar in his judgments of people
I am said to have regions named for the planets, the moon, and the sun
It is said I can reveal the homosexuality of a person
It is said I help detect illness in children

What am I?

Quote of the Week ()[edit]

'If I was a religious person, I would consider creationism nothing less than blasphemy. Do its adherents imagine that God is a cosmic hoaxer who has created that whole vast fossil record for the sole purpose of misleading mankind?'-Arthur C. Clarke

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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