SGU Episode 652

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SGU Episode 652
January 6th 2018
652 protein folding.png

Protein folding

SGU 651                      SGU 653

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument. The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.

Primo Levi, Italian chemist

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Jay's HFMD, Star Wars VIII[edit]

hand, foot, and mouth disease


Jay's daughter

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, January 3rd, 2017, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Hello, hello.

S: Jay is on sick leave this week.

S: His whole family has come down with the Coxsackie virus.

S: Gross.

S: Yeah, that causes hand, foot and mouth disease.

S: They have red blisters in their mouth, on their hands and their feet.

S: It's really itchy.

S: Jay says it's the worst infection he's ever had in his life.

S: He's been totally miserable.

C: And that's because of children, right?

C: That's just like purely because of children.

B: Damn kids.

S: Yeah, his young daughter caught it from a playmate and then it spread throughout the

B: family. I patted that patient zero kid on the head.

C: And it says it spreads via mucus, so you just patted her on the head.

C: Hopefully she didn't have any slobber on her head.

C: Kids are all slobber.

C: I know.

E: Touching handrail or something.

E: That's so gross.

E: They secrete.

E: Slobberfied.

E: They secrete.

E: Ew.

E: No vaccination for this one, huh?

E: Nope, no vaccine, no treatment.

E: Just gotta find it out.

S: It's too bad.

C: 10 days it says it lasts.

C: 10 days of misery.

S: Yeah, but little Angelica Olivia had it just for one day.

B: That's the Christmas miracle.

B: Yeah, it's usually worse in adults.

B: So, happy new year, everyone.

B: Yes.

B: 2018.

B: Oh, guys, I finally saw Star Wars.

B: I'm only like a month behind.

S: Oh, wait.

S: Return of the Jedi.

S: Last Jedi.

S: What'd you think?

S: And?

S: I mean, I don't want to say it's a bad movie, but it's a bad movie.

E: It's a bad movie.

C: Return of the Jedi.

C: What'd you think?

C: And?

C: I mean, I don't want to rehash old wounds.

C: I don't know.

C: I thought it was perfectly fine.

C: I thought it stayed within the canon very well.

C: It didn't ruffle any feathers.

C: It introduced a couple new, interesting, thought-provoking ideas, but it was not in any way innovative or earth-shattering.

C: I thought that the smart thing to do with Star Wars is to play it safe, and I thought it played it very safe.

C: I will say, I really, really like Adam Driver.

C: As much as people do or don't like Kylo Ren's character, he is such a good actor.

B: He sold it.

B: He sold it big time.

C: Yeah, absolutely.

C: He was the best thing about that movie.

C: Absolutely.

C: And if you ever watched Girls on HBO a few years ago, he was the best thing about that show too.

C: I think very few people could have brought the kind of conflict to the character and the kind of nuance and empathy and all of the things that made him an actually interesting, real character.

E: The antagonist of the Star Wars saga entirely has always, in a way, been the central character, I think.

E: Maybe as much as the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, but there's been Darth Vader, there's been Anakin, and now there's Kylo Ren, and I think they all kind of anchor the entire franchise.

E: Right.

S: Yeah, I think so.

S: Which is why the prequels are so horrible.

S: Yeah.

E: Well.

S: All right.

What's the Word? (3:15)[edit]

Results of Predictions for 2017[edit]

S: Well, this is the first episode of the year, so we will be getting to our psychic predictions a little bit later.

S: But first, Cara, you're going to start us off with What's the Word?

C: Absolutely.

C: So the word this week was actually recommended by a listener.

C: I love it when you guys send me email recommendations.

C: And this one was from Daniel Corner in Ottawa.

C: And he said that he found this one while researching water fasts, and the word is hormesis.

C: And of course, it's interesting because he was reading about fasting and coming off of a fast and how quickly people eat food or drink water after a fast and some of the kind of woo and pseudoscience, I think, around those like paleo ideas that we should just be the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors were, as if we really fully understand how they were.

C: Anyway, the word itself is much more, I think, interesting and complicated even than that.

C: So hormesis actually comes from a Greek word.

C: It was first coined, I think, pretty recently, like in the 1940s.

C: And its roots are a little bit removed from how we understand hormesis to work and or not work, because hormesis, of course, is kind of theoretical.

C: And it's an idea of a dose-response relationship where there's a harmful biological effect at a moderate or high dose, but it might actually be somewhat beneficial at a low dose.

C: What it would end up looking like is sort of a J-shaped curve or maybe a U-shaped dose-response curve so that if you get a little bit of it, it's actually good for you.

C: And then if you get more of it, it becomes bad for you.

C: And so we hear a lot about a hormesis hypothesis with things like homeopathy.

C: We hear about it with things like ionizing radiation.

C: And there are even some examples, like I was just looking at the Wikipedia page, where I think people try to say that alcohol is hormetic or exercise is hormetic, because at low doses, it can be protective, but at high doses, it can be really dangerous.

C: And now there's a little bit of evidence to support the idea from a purely toxicological standpoint, especially if we're looking at early responses to toxins that are, and I hate even using the word toxin because I already sound like I'm like helping to pedal woo, but maybe early responses to certain types of compounds that may be beneficial in the sense that it induces an early cell repair mechanism or an early immune response mechanism, maybe an inflammatory mechanism that could actually be protective.

C: But the truth of the matter is, we know after just countless experiments that the idea of homeopathy, right, the idea of taking a tiny bit of something, actually in homeopathy, nothing of something, such a tiny bit that it's not even there, does not protect you from it in high doses.

C: Like it just doesn't work that way.

C: It sounds like a good story.

C: And I think if you have a limited understanding of physiology or biology, it sounds like it could work because in a way that's how we know sort of vaccines to work.

C: I take a tiny bit of something that's been killed, and so it induces a little bit of an immune response.

C: And then I'm now protected against this thing if I encounter it in the wild, because I've developed the appropriate capabilities within my immune system to recognize that threat and to attack it.

C: But hormesis is really a conversation about a chemical response.

C: A lot of the conversations with hormesis have to do with your chemistry.

C: And one of the big ones is ionizing radiation.

C: I see it again and again and again, that there's so many people out there who believe, and there's a little bit of evidence, a tiny bit of evidence, that supports that a low, low, low dose of radiation may be somewhat protective.

C: But of course, our own government agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that there's not enough evidence to support this.

C: So they still follow what's called a linear no-threshold model for radiation, which basically means avoid it at all costs.

C: Even a little bit could be dangerous.

C: And then the more that you get, the worse it's going to be.

C: So just try to avoid it.

C: Whereas in apparently France, they have looked at some of the little bit of evidence that does exist and said, we're going to err on the other side of caution.

C: And we're going to say that there is a hormetic effect.

C: And so we're not going to caution people against low, low, low doses of radiation.

C: So it's kind of interesting.

S: Yeah, I think it's important to recognize that this effect is different for every situation.

C: Yeah, you can't apply it to everything.

S: So yeah, some substances may be toxic all the way down to the lowest detectable dose.

S: So there is no threshold for toxicity.

S: And then other things at very low doses may stress out cells and induce essentially a stress response.

S: And that stress response can be protective at doses that are too low to cause real harm.

C: Yeah, which in the short term can be beneficial.

C: In the long term, who knows?

C: Maybe not.

C: And some, like you were mentioning, some might cause this stress response that could be viewed as beneficial at very low doses.

C: Some toxins don't seem to have a toxic effect until they hit a sort of all or nothing threshold.

C: And we don't want to confuse the idea of hormesis with just like threshold loading, that a lower dose is required before you see any real damage.

C: But sometimes these conversations are so vague.

C: It's like exercise, like that's not, there's no dose response curve for exercise.

C: It's not that simple.

C: So many things are happening in your body when you exercise.

C: And it also depends on how healthy you are ahead of time.

C: If you are morbidly obese and you have a lot of damage to your tissues already, and then you start a massive rapid exercise program at low, quote unquote, doses of exercise, it could be detrimental.

C: Like, there are ways that you have to go about it.

C: And so I don't know, it's definitely not a one size fits all idea.

C: All right.

S: Thanks, Cara.

S: OK, so it's 2018.

S: We're going to do our review of, let's say, the more entertaining psychic predictions for 2017.

S: And we'll see how they did.

S: And then we'll review our own predictions for 2017 and see how we did.

S: So who wants to go first?

B: I'll go first.

Sidney Friedman's (9:35)[edit]

B: I found some punk called Sidney Friedman.

B: So this guy claims a track record of 72%, 72% accuracy.

B: For some years, as high as 77%, but never lower than 62%.

B: And for 20 years, this guy's been doing predictions on big shows, ABC, ABC TV's The View, NBC TV's Today Show, 2020, blah, blah, blah.

B: And so here's a quote.

B: He's like, to a large extent, we make the future.

B: But once in a while, that curtain parts ever so slightly, revealing a glimpse of tomorrow's theater.

B: We all get these hunches, though a variety of techniques explained in my book and seminar by attempt to interpret what many of these impressions truly mean.

B: I just love that parenthetical, explained in my book and seminar.

B: By the way, send me money.

B: So I wish I had more time to actually dive in there and see.

B: 72% is quite a bold statement.

B: But as you know, a lot of these predictions are open-ended or they're very vague.

B: So yeah, that doesn't surprise me that he could claim 72%.

B: But here's a few that he predicted for 2017 that were clearly wrong.

B: He said the White House would propose to Congress some form of tuition-free college.

B: Not even close.

B: Way off on that one.

B: Let's see.

B: Oh, yeah, this one is really funny because, well, let me just read it.

B: He said Chicago has one of the hottest summers on record.

B: So you'd think a very safe prediction, right?

B: Predicting a hot summer?

B: I mean, come on.

B: Every year is hotter than the previous one.

B: But he made this safe prediction and still got it wrong, which is awesome.

B: I love that one.

B: And then a final one that I found.

B: A dangerous, life-threatening nuclear radiation is found leaking in an eastern state of the United States, very likely upper state New York.

B: And I mean, I didn't see any news on life-threatening nuclear radiation leaks in New York, which is one state over.

B: So yeah, so nothing crazy dramatic in terms of predictions from this guy.

B: But still, and that's probably why some of his predictions may be interpreted as correct more often than not, because he doesn't go for the flashy, showy, you know, like, you know, he's doing a high probability.

B: Yeah, which is always a safe move for these people.

B: But that's just the thing.

B: I mean, really, I mean, if you are, if that curtain does part for you and you could see the future, come on, give me something flashy.

B: You want people to believe you and buy that book and your seminar thing?

B: Then give me some of the flashy stuff, which clearly nobody's seeing.

Craig Hamilton Parker's (12:24)[edit]

S: I went for a guy called Craig Hamilton Parker.

S: He had a lot of juicy ones.

S: So he predicted a crash in the euro and Denmark and Italy leaving the EU.

S: Nope, sorry, none of that happened.

S: Oh, that's so random.

S: Hillary Clinton retires from politics after the release of documents.

S: Nope.

S: Nope, that didn't happen.

S: A toxic or biological attack on a school in Europe.

S: Nope.

S: I didn't hear you was so close on this one.

S: North and South Korea will unite into one country as Kim Jong Un.

S: You guys remember?

S: Wow.

C: Wow, these are bold predictions.

S: Here's a funny one.

S: A worldwide flu epidemic.

S: First of all, if it's worldwide, by definition, it's a pandemic.

S: Thank you.

E: Yeah, yeah.

E: Technical.

S: Assassination and kidnap attempt on the Pope at the Vatican.

E: Well, not that we know about.

C: Why would he predict all of these bizarre things that are never going to happen?

B: Because, well, we know why.

B: We know why.

B: Because sure, they're not safe.

B: But you make the predictions and everyone forgets.

B: But if he hit one of those, he'd be golden.

B: He could cruise on that one prediction for a decade.

B: Easy.

B: That's so stupid.

B: So it kind of makes sense.

S: That and they just make the predictions for the entertainment value.

S: They want to see those bizarre predictions and they know that nobody is going to track them.

S: Except us.

S: All right.

S: Who else?

The Psychic Twins' (13:58)[edit]

C: Okay.

C: I've got some predictions from the psychic twins.

C: Have you guys?

C: You know the psychic twins?

C: Yeah.

C: Terry and Linda Janison.

B: Do they have rings that they touch together?

C: They should.

C: Well, they have a store.

C: Let me see what they sell in their store.

C: Twin Hearts, love and soulmate meditation and the Zodiac collection.

C: All right.

C: Well, the psychic twins, they played it safe.

C: They made some pretty easy predictions.

C: Big scandals, more corporate and government corruption will be exposed.

E: Oh, wow.

C: Okay.

C: So specific.

C: I love this one.

C: Wow.

C: Followed by we see big scandals coming out in the entertainment world and reality TV.

C: Are they going to take over the whole Me Too movement now?

C: I hope so.

C: Oh, I think they will because of something that's lower on the page.

C: But let's see.

E: It would be the Me Too, Me Too movement.

C: Yeah, exactly.

C: The Me Too Squared movement.

C: Exciting innovation in technology, inventions, drones, robotics, and medical technology.

B: What?

B: That's just pathetic.

C: I know.

C: It sounds like a bad Google translate, doesn't it?

S: It just sounds like they're like...

S: They're not even trying.

S: They're just like saying stuff is going to happen.

C: And then, oh, I think they might be Trump supporters because it says jobs.

C: We are seeing Trump creating more jobs for the economy and bringing jobs back from overseas.

S: Yeah, they're phoning it in.

C: Yeah.

C: They've got a lot of things under government and politics.

C: The Affordable Care Act will be difficult to replace.

C: Yeah, no shit.

C: Every part of the political process is corrupt.

C: Yeah.

C: But although there is some stuff, there's a whole Trump section here.

C: And they did say Putin will play Trump like a fiddle.

C: We also see Russia will be continuing to undermine American democracy.

C: It's not a normal Republican government.

C: It's a populist conservative alliance.

C: He wants to crush ISIS and take their oil.

C: And he also wants to stay out of wars overseas.

C: I don't know.

S: These are not predictions.

S: That's just an extrapolation.

C: And that's the thing.

C: A lot of these are like that.

C: It's like more scandals in media.

C: It's like, really?

C: Is that really that hard to predict?

C: But at the bottom, there is a silver lining because, of course, all of their stuff is super depressing.

C: They say that there's going to be a bunch of cyber attacks.

C: They say there's going to be racial strife.

C: We see advances and breakthroughs in brain diseases, neuroscience and brain technology, new fertility treatments, advances in various forms of cancer.

C: Like, really?

C: No shit?

C: Because we're funneling millions of dollars into this kind of research.

C: Of course we're losing billions.

B: These are probably the most pathetic I've ever heard because if they hit everyone, everyone, you'd still say, so?

C: So exactly.

C: They also have this great list, you guys, that says deadly terror plots are in the planning stage now in all 50 U.S. states.

C: Attacks and massacres are so common now.

C: We'll list only a few places that we see being in the highest danger.

C: New York City, Washington, D.C., Florida, Texas, Washington State, California, Arizona.

C: It's just, it's a joke.

C: But then at the very end, they say, silver lining, in the coming years, we will see more movement toward togetherness, collaboration, harmony, optimism.

C: I mean, and, okay.

C: And more feminine qualities.

C: They actually say that.

C: More feminine qualities expressed in leadership.

C: More women will be gaining power politically and in corporate culture.

C: Well, of course, because that's the trend we're already seeing.

C: It's like we're already seeing that.

C: I see a lot of food being consumed by mouths.

S: Oh, I see energy.

S: We're producing energy.

S: We're using energy.

E: Smartphone usage will be up.

B: I predict a lot of screwing out there.

Lyndsay Edwards' (17:42)[edit]

S: Okay, Evan, what have you got?

E: All right.

E: So here's somebody named Lindsey Edwards, okay, at

E: Psychic predictions for 2017.

E: It's interesting.

E: What this psychic does is makes like these, a batch set of predictions through the course of the year, like almost in quarters, like the first quarter of the year, second quarter.

E: And you can see how it sort of, his predictions develop as the year unfolds, attuning it to current events.

E: It's quite obvious what he's doing.

E: So I'm just looking at the earliest ones, because those are the ones I consider to be, you know, because we do this on an annual basis, not a quarterly basis.

E: Thank you very much.

E: Here are his early predictions.

E: Donald Trump will be assassinated.

E: Theresa May will step down.

E: Donald Trump sacrifices hostages' lives.

E: Okay, I guess some hostages are taken and he says no to them and they kill them.

E: All that didn't happen.

E: Oh, here's one.

E: The ocean will explode and destroy parts of certain countries.

E: Yes, the ocean will explode and destroy parts of certain countries.

B: Oh my God.

B: Oh my God.

B: That's a great...

B: Uh-huh.

E: Yeah, like it does.

E: London will be bombed from a plane above.

E: Let's see, the Pope.

E: Oh, here we go.

E: The Pope will be targeted.

C: Why is everybody talking about the Pope?

C: I don't know.

E: I don't know.

B: He's generally popular in predictions, I think.

E: He's in good with God, too, I hear.

E: Something like that.

E: Mm-hmm.

E: Huge shoot down in Westminster between multiple terrorists and police.

E: I don't think that happened.

E: Plane crashes into Westminster Abbey.

E: Use of nuclear weapons against ISIS.

E: So okay, you know, he's just shooting the moon here and nothing's even coming close to any of these things.

S: Yeah, so they did terribly, like they do every year.

S: And we also like to point out the big things that they didn't predict, because if anybody out there had a circuit breaker, why weren't they getting any messages about things like, hey, we had a visitor from another solar system, an asteroid from outside our solar system visiting?

S: Hello.

S: Or the Las Vegas shooting.

S: That was a big event.

S: Or the standoff between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

S: People were talking about North Korea, but they didn't see what actually happened.

E: Robert Mugabe, he was the dictator in Zimbabwe for what, 50 years?

E: He stepped down finally?

E: I mean, that's no small news headline.

E: That's significant.

E: Celebrity deaths, including some younger people.

E: Chester Bennington from Lincoln Park, and Sound Gardens' Chris Cornell, and Tom Petty.

E: I don't see any of their names.

E: They always go for the older folks with the death predictions.

E: They rarely go for the middle-aged ones.

Bob's Results (20:32)[edit]

S: Speaking of which, Bob, tell us about your predictions from last year.

B: All right. All over again. I'm glad my memory sucks, because now I'm laughing at my awesome sense of humor.

B: So I predicted that Emma Marano would die.

B: She was the oldest woman on the planet.

B: So, you know, pretty damn safe prediction.

B: And man, I nailed it.

B: 117.

B: I nailed it.

E: She died in April.

B: She was the greatest.

B: April 2017.

E: So I nailed that one.

E: She's gone before her time, you know?

B: I predicted that CRISPR will cure a deadly disease, and I think I got that one too, right?

B: Didn't they do some, was it some in vitro Parkinson's cure?

B: Was it in some fetus?

B: It was actually like in a fetus?

B: What the hell was that?

C: They approved the first human trials with CRISPR this year.

C: And what else did they do with CRISPR?

C: Did they actually cure anything?

C: I don't know if they cured anything this year.

C: I'm not sure.

E: It's a remedy now for a cure, for a disease.

C: They fixed a mutation this year.

C: It's huge, but they didn't actually, and it was cardiac, it was a mutation linked to, sorry, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

C: So they did that in embryos.

C: That's what you were remembering.

C: Yeah, it was important enough.

C: Yeah, it was important.

B: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

B: So in the third one, I said, I went out on a limb with this one.

B: Evidence will surface that the dark flow of the universe is due to interactions with the multiverse.

B: And nope, did not happen.

E: That would have been, oh wow.

E: It just wasn't proven.

E: How cool, Bob.

E: Maybe it did happen.

E: Evidence of the multiverse.

B: We missed it.

B: So I did decent, almost two thirds.

S: Yeah, you got one point for a high probability prediction.

S: Then I'll give you a half a point for the CRISPR prediction.

S: Yeah, that's all right.

S: And then nothing on the dark flow.

Evan's Results (22:20)[edit]

S: Okay, Evan, how did you do?

E: All right, here were mine.

E: I had three as well.

E: My first one was that there was going to be a new spark, a new sort of generation coming forward of JFK conspiracy theorists.

E: What with the release of all them documents and whatnot.

E: Oh yeah, that's right.

E: That happened.

C: Late in the year.

E: Yeah, that happened.

E: It happened.

E: I knew it was going to happen.

E: I don't think I can take credit though for saying that a new generation sort of conspiracy theorists have arisen and are mobilizing and having an impact of any sort.

E: If they are, they were few and far between.

E: They certainly, some of the people who have been following JFK conspiracy theories for a long time came back to talk a lot about it, but I don't think it sparked any new wave.

E: So I'm going to give myself a no on that one.

E: And they've still withheld a good chunk of the information.

E: It was all supposed to come forward, but some of it has been pushed back into now.

E: They held back some of the stuff.

E: Right.

E: The obvious smoking guns.

E: So there was a little outrage of that, but I'm not – again, I'm not going to take credit for that one.

E: I'll say that's a miss.

E: Second, the lost treasure of the San Miguel would be finally, finally discovered.

E: Well ship went down in 1715, the San Miguel.

E: It is considered to be the largest undiscovered treasure out there to be found.

E: Estimated value at least from a few years ago, they said $2 billion in silver, gold and other goodies.

E: It is still, still lost.

E: Treasure.

E: But another ship – well, the ship wasn't – another ship.

E: Gosh, what the heck was the name of it?

E: They discovered a long lost ship as well that they've been looking for.

E: They discovered a cannonball from the ship.

E: So they're on their way to sort of discovering that one.

E: But it wasn't this mega prize $2 billion discovery.

E: So that's a miss.

E: Then my third one had to do with Cicada 3301 and that is this – well, puzzle that has been occurring, has occurred in the past that they put out there for apparently a test of code breakers and people's puzzle solving skills supposedly to be recruited for top secret missions and jobs around the world.

E: Now my prediction was that the Cicada 3301 project would have a new puzzle in 2017 coming out and they did.

E: It did come out.

E: How often does it come out?

E: They came out in 2012, 13 and 14.

E: 15 was skipped and then there was a – like an update to one of the old puzzles or some sort of announcement that came out in 16.

S: Right.

S: So one comes out almost every year.

E: Almost every year.

S: I predicted another one would come out again.

S: Right.

B: And it did, right?

B: And it did.

B: Way to go.

B: Way to go, Evan.

B: It definitely did.

B: So like how complex are these things?

E: I mean, how many solutions were there?

E: They're rabbit holes, Bob.

E: They're absolute rabbit holes.

E: They involve – hang on.

E: Here's the stated purpose, all right?

E: The stated purpose of the puzzles each year has been to recruit highly intelligent individuals through the ultimate – though the ultimate purpose remains unknown.

E: Some have claimed Cicada 3301 is a secret society with the goal of improving cryptography, privacy, and anonymity.

E: Others have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a cult or religion.

E: According to statements made to the winners of the 2012 puzzle, 3301 typically uses non-puzzle-based recruiting methods but created the Cicada puzzles because they were looking for potential members with cryptography and computer security skills.

E: And they do all sorts – types of clues.

E: Here we go.

E: They include clues on the internet, telephone.

E: In fact, part of the puzzle this year was you had to discover a phone number and when you call it, it brings a phone booth out in the Mojave Desert or something like that.

E: They have clues in music, in digital images, bootable Linux CDs, physical paper signs, cryptic books, and many other things.

E: They kind of run the gamut and one leads to another to another.

E: It's almost a take on that movie National Treasure in which one clue leads to another clue leads to another clue leads to another clue.

E: Sort of that.

E: And it seems to in a way never end, at least not for 17 version.

E: They couldn't kind of solve it.

E: In a sense, it's still going on.

E: It's interesting and it really is a thing.

E: Somebody is doing this even though nobody is taking credit for it and there doesn't seem to be any sort of organization willing to come forward and spill the beans about it.

E: It could just be a group of enthusiasts, like a Mason Society of cryptic internet people I don't know.

B: It is interesting.

B: Yeah, the really cool TV series Person of Interest did something similar over the course of an episode or two where they were recruiting people by having almost – clearly now that I see this, it was based on this Cicada 3301 idea.

B: So yeah, interesting.

E: So I'll take a hit for that one and I've got one out of three.

S: Okay.

S: Yeah.

S: So one high probability hit.

S: Not bad.

C: Not bad.

S: So this is Jay's prediction.

S: Oh, okay.

S: So Jay's first prediction was Arctic ice shelf will take a massive hit.

S: It's funny because he started out by saying ice shelf and then we made him commit.

S: If he had just picked Antarctic, yeah, he would have had a big hit there.

S: Was it 11 miles or something?

E: Yeah, ice shelf.

S: A big, huge part of it broke away.

S: Yeah, so Larsen C, right?

S: Yeah.

S: Hit taken to an ice shelf, just picked the wrong one.

S: His second one, he said science funding will take a hit, vague and high probability.

S: And then his third one was Snoop Dogg will take a massive hit.

C: Those were his predictions.

E: Yeah, defying massive hit.

B: So he got two, one high probability.

C: Was that Snoop Dogg?

C: No, the science.

C: Oh, okay.

Cara's Results (28:17)[edit]

C: Let's see.

C: My 2017 – I actually dug up my 2016, which some of them came true in 2017.

C: Yeah, in 2016 I said marijuana would be legalized in more states, but it wouldn't have federal – not appeal, legalization, which did happen in 2016, but also more in 2017.

C: Yeah, 17.

C: Yeah.

C: So 2017, I said the first one, dark matter experiments will make some real progress, including a real detection so that we'll have more concrete evidence of its existence.

C: I don't think that happened.

C: Bob?

C: Yeah, nothing dramatic.

C: Yeah, it didn't really happen.

C: Yeah, so I think that's a nope.

C: I did say there would be more advancement with CRISPR, of course, and I said especially regarding gene drives, which is funny because I feel like gene drives actually didn't top the headlines this year.

C: They sort of fell by the wayside, all this mosquito work, but that was so big at the end of 2016.

C: But they did – we did make some really big impacts with CRISPR.

C: I'm going to take a half credit for that one.

C: And then the last one said we will fight harder than ever to protect science from an adverse adversarial administration.

C: Yeah, thanks.

C: Yeah.

C: Yeah, okay.

Steve's Results (29:27)[edit]

S: All right, here are my predictions for 2017.

S: My first one was direct observational confirmation of Planet 9.

S: That did not come true.

S: Yep, so no.

S: Nope.

E: Nice try.

S: But I will be getting credit for the next two.

S: Oh, really?

S: My second one was the FDA will fail to do its job and properly regulate homeopathic products.

S: So they did finally come out with a proposed revision of their regulation, but they haven't enacted it yet.

S: And whether or not you consider it properly regulating homeopathic products is a matter of opinion.

S: I don't think it goes nearly far enough.

S: So that's at least a partial hit.

S: And then the third one is quantum computing breakthrough.

S: Oh, boy.

S: Yeah.

B: Oh.

B: There's been a break in.

B: I'm in a breakthrough.

S: Okay, let me give you my predictions for 2018.

S: Number one, a new dwarf planet will be discovered.

S: I like to make astronomical predictions.

S: Number two, 2018 will be the warmest year on record.

S: 2017 is shaping up to be number two or number three.

S: That didn't quite make number one, but I think in 2018 we're going to get to number one again.

S: And then number three, a tsunami will hit Hong Kong.

S: So that's my really specific prediction for 2018.

S: Oh.

E: Oh, that's so sad.

E: Oh, boy.

E: I really hope that doesn't happen.

C: It's so funny.

C: I've been spending this whole time.


Rogues' Predictions for 2018[edit]

Steve's Predictions (30:22)[edit]


Cara's Predictions (31:01)[edit]

C: I wrote down on my list last night, number one, something about quantum computing.

C: And I've been spending this whole time looking up other people's quantum computing predictions for 2018, like quantum computing experts, and I don't understand them.

C: So I don't know how to make one myself.

C: Something about qubits.

C: There will be more qubits than ever before.

C: That's going to be my prediction.

C: Sounds biblical to me.

C: I know.

C: I think that, I think Bitcoin is going to hit a record high and then it's going to crash.

C: That's another prediction.

C: The bubble will pop.

C: Record high and then crash.

C: And then my third one, 2018 will be the hottest year on record.

C: I stole it.

C: Yep.

B: I predict that the Halloween asteroid will crash into the moon this late October, early November.

C: No, you don't.

Bob's Predictions (31:53)[edit]

B: So basically, yeah, basically there's this asteroid or possibly a comet remnant that under certain light conditions looks like a skull.

B: It's awesome.

B: It's like so cool.

B: It's actually the wallpaper on my computer right now.

B: This artist's rendering of it.

B: But even the real image that I saw of it, you could clearly see what appear to be like eye sockets and kind of a nose.

B: So it's really creepy and cool.

E: It could be a fossil of a giant hominid in space.

B: Of course, I love it.

B: Yeah, right.

B: So it's big, 640 meters, very dark.

B: It's only a little bit more reflective than charcoal.

B: So this October, November, we're going to have another close call, but it's going to be unfortunately, the prediction is, not my prediction, the astronomical prediction is that it's going to be not within one or two Earth-moon distances, but over 100 Earth-moon distances.

B: But I think there's going to be some anomalous gravitational interaction with some bodies that's going to cause it to go into the moon.

B: So that's my low probability guess for the year.

B: Fast radio bursts, FRBs, those are those anomalous bursts of radio waves, incredibly powerful, over 500 million suns worth of radiation in mere milliseconds.

B: Very mysterious, not sure what's going on there.

B: But we've been getting closer.

B: They've kind of pinpointed one location for repeating FRBs in some small galaxy.

B: So I think in 2018, we'll finally have enough data to say this is what these fast radio bursts are caused by this.

B: Now my next prediction, I don't know what to say about this because it's already come true.

B: I swear to God, I swear to God, I wrote it down.

B: I know, I wrote it down.

B: I wrote it down and I'm sitting here and I had my three predictions and I look on the bottom right of my screen and it says Tabby's Star solved.

B: So the Tabby's Star, that's the yellow white dwarf star that's labeled, what is that, KIC 846 blah blah 285 whatever.

B: That's the one that's been dimming and undimming by extraordinary amounts.

E: They said what is it?

E: A bunch of material is passing in front of it.

B: Right, is it a comet swarm?

B: Is it a Dyson sphere?

B: Aliens?

B: Some wobbly planetary orbit?

B: They're not sure.

B: So my prediction was that this year we would find out.

B: And yes, today it was announced.

B: So I'm calling this one.

B: I had no foreknowledge.

B: I had no foreknowledge.

B: I made the prediction and it was solved and the news came out today.

B: So there.

B: So the deal is basically, it's a, the consensus is that it's a cloud of dust.

B: Two hundred scientists crowdfunded an astronomy project on Kickstarter, which that in and of itself is cool.

B: And they looked at the dimming light in multiple color bands, blue, red and yellow.

B: Kepler had not done that before.

B: And Tyler Ellis, a PhD student at Louisiana State University said, this selective absorption of blue light has to point to dust.

B: Certainly dust is the culprit.

B: So basically what they think is that very small particles of dust appear to be blocking the blue light's shorter wavelengths and allowing the longer wavelength red light out to escape.

B: To escape out to our telescopes.

B: So that's why there's a dearth of blue light coming from, coming from the star because of the dust that's in orbit around it.

B: So there it is.

S: No Dyson's here.

B: No.

B: So yeah.

B: I mean, yeah, we knew.

B: Yeah.

B: How cool would it have been?

B: Sure.

B: But we knew it was just something natural that was just mysterious and we'd eventually figure it out.

B: And this, and sure, this needs to be vetted.

B: And this is just brand new.

B: I mean, just like today it came out as far as I could tell.

B: But I mean, it's pretty funny that this has never happened before.

B: The day that I made the prediction.

B: Sure it came out at 10 a.m. and I made the prediction a few hours ago.

B: So what?

B: So what?

B: I did not know of it.

E: Stop that.

E: Likely excuse.

E: I'll swear on a stack of Bibles.

Evan's Predictions (36:11)[edit]

E: I have two very specific predictions and one more general.

E: Here we go.

E: I'll give a specific first.

E: Mount St. Helens, it will erupt.

E: Oh, damn.

E: Something similar along the lines to what we've had back in 1980.

E: I remember that.

E: So that's not insignificant.

E: Number two, here's my general one.

E: We will have, we will experience a significant impact event.

E: Ooh, that's not that general.

E: Significant impact event.

E: The Earth will.

E: Yes, I'll say the Earth.

E: That'll leave out Bob's prediction of the skull crashing into the moon.

E: And then here's a very, very specific, very specific.

E: It is the World Cup coming up in 2018.

E: It'll be in Russia, Croatia, 40 to 1 odds.

E: They will win the World Cup as an underdog.

E: Ooh.

E: Hmm.

E: There you go.

C: All right.

E: We'll know that one for sure.

S: Yeah.

S: All right.

S: Thanks, guys.

S: Well, we'll keep track of these predictions and we'll see how we do next year.

S: I think overall we do better than the scientists.

E: Yeah, right.

E: I think so.

S: we do next year

News Items[edit]






(laughs) (laughter) (applause) [inaudible]

Protein Folding Breakthrough (37:15)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, start us out with the news items with this protein folding breakthrough that we somehow missed.

B: Yeah, scientific papers published this year reveal that advances in predicting protein folding are allowing us to create designer proteins not found in nature.

B: This could revolutionize medicine, genetic engineering, even nanotechnology.

B: So yeah, Steve, how did we miss this in 2017?

B: If I had an inkling of this, I would have definitely mentioned it on the last show.

B: So let's start with the main scientist behind this advance.

B: That's clearly David Baker, who's the director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington.

B: David has been studying proteins for over a quarter of a century.

B: This past year, he and his colleagues published a series of papers revealing that they've produced thousands of different proteins that folded into their three-dimensional shape just as they had predicted.

B: Let me say that again.

B: They folded into the shapes just as they had predicted they would.

B: And many of these proteins have no analog in nature.

B: These are just brand new proteins that never existed before.

B: Now this is big news.

B: This is really big news because proteins are so obviously important, but they also have amazing possibilities and versatility.

B: Now biological organisms, all of life generally, create proteins by reading a gene.

B: Each gene encodes a specific protein.

B: So that DNA recipe strings together the base units of all proteins, which is what?

B: Amino acids.

B: You line up the amino acids, and that's essentially what a protein is.

B: So one by one, hundreds or even thousands of the 20 different types of amino acids are strung together to form the 20,000 different types of natural amino acids.

B: Now that string doesn't hang around like a spaghetti, though.

B: It curls up in on itself like a string of Christmas lights when you first see them in early December after 11 months in your basement.

B: It's no longer a string.

B: It's all kind of like meshed together into this three-dimensional shape.

B: So each amino acid has an electric charge, though.

B: Imagine each little subunit has its own little electric charge, and that means that the different parts of the amino acid string are attracted to or repelled by other sections of it.

B: So you've got this complex interaction of the string with itself, different parts of itself.

B: But that doesn't really even matter, though, because in a few hundredths of a second, all those little issues are worked out, and it folds into its final complex three-dimensional shape.

B: And this shape is actually—that specific shape is what is required to do the job.

B: So the shape determines what the job is or vice versa.

B: And that job could be as an enzyme.

B: It could be a messenger protein.

B: It could be a structural component like the actin part of a muscle.

B: It could be used for transport or storage, etc., etc.

B: Lots of different jobs.

B: Everything in your body is proteins, essentially.

B: So the fold's the thing, though.

B: Knowing what shape a string of amino acids would fold into is, of course, fiendishly complicated with all these little subunit amino acids kind of interacting in complex ways.

B: Many people have tried to figure it out over a ton of time, unsuccessfully, so much so that it's been called the folding problem.

B: I mean, I've heard about the folding problem for literally for decades, and it just seemed like this incredibly difficult kind of puzzle that computers were helping with but really may never really fully solve for us.

B: So years ago, Baker and a student of his, Kim Simmons, created an ab initio folding program called Rosetta.

B: And to me, this is one of the big milestones in protein folding, in dealing with protein folding.

B: This was the first attempt to actually scan a protein and looking for short stretches of amino acids which folded in known ways, in known patterns.

B: So imagine you're looking at this complex three-dimensional shape, and you scan and you find, oh, look it, here's those 10 amino acids all strung together in a specific order, and we know they fold into this shape.

B: And knowing that, just knowing that tiny little piece predictably probably folds into a specific shape, that information can be used and can be very helpful in determining the final full structure of the program.

B: And that's what Rosetta did, especially in the early years.

B: That's essentially what it did.

B: It took tons of computer resources, as you might imagine, and this led to Rosetta at home, which you may have heard about, and it's very similar to SETI at home, which more of you probably have heard about, essentially using idle computer time of anybody to help do the number crunching.

B: And that helped tremendously.

B: But maybe even more importantly, this kind of evolved into this robust community of a million people worldwide talking about it and working on this, coming up with dozens of Rosetta-like software applications.

B: And Rosetta itself remained free for nonprofits and academics, continually being updated by hundreds of scientists.

B: And I love that they offered it free to those people.

B: If you were in a nonprofit or an academic, but if you were in a company and you wanted to use their software, then you had to pay, I think, something like $35,000 for the software.

B: I mean, if you're going to be making money from this, then sure, they have every right to pay you for that.

B: And that money that they earned from sales went right back into the company and just spurred even more advances.

B: So this is kind of where Rosetta was until relatively recently.

B: It was good for small proteins.

B: If you had a small protein, they could probably do a very good job or a decent job predicting how the chain of amino acids would fold into that small protein.

B: But the big ones, though, were really tough, very difficult to solve.

B: And Baker had even said that, I wasn't sure whether I would even get there.

B: I don't feel that way anymore.

B: So he ended that with, I don't feel that way anymore.

B: So why?

B: What happened?

B: Why is he confident even for these large proteins?

B: This latest advance was actually proposed in the 1990s by computational biologist Chris Sander.

B: Only recently, though, has technology been available to take advantage of his idea, which was essentially to look at—this is really cool.

B: He said that we need to look at co-evolving amino acids.

B: So imagine you've got a string of amino acids and two of them are far apart, but if you look at their genetic history, they've been evolving together for millennia or wherever.

B: So if that's the case, then it's increasingly likely that those two proteins, when they finally fold together, were right next to each other.

B: So you see what I mean?

B: So imagine you've got a string of amino acids, it folds, and you've got two amino acids that are right next to each other.

B: They're touching each other.

B: And they've been that way for, you know, for—could be millions of years.

B: So if you mutate one of those amino acids, chances are that that protein could completely fail and not do its job anymore because those two need to be together.

B: When they're not together, the protein cannot assume that final shape.

B: But if they mutate and co-evolve, then that means that it can continue doing its task of the protein.

B: It may be even a better job than it's ever done before.

B: So that was the key.

B: He predicted that if we could find out where these co-evolving amino acids are, then we could use that information to determine how the protein will ultimately fold.

B: And that's exactly what they did.

B: So once you identify such proteins, Rosetta finally has enough information to predict folding accurate enough for the really large proteins.

B: So they actually—they brought this software with this new update to a protein folding competition.

B: And yes, they exist, using large proteins.

B: And one of the judges actually said either someone solved the protein folding problem or cheated.

B: And they definitely didn't cheat.

B: So that's how far they've come with a lot of these large proteins.

B: So for thousands of years and up until recently, we were limited to using only known proteins, proteins that we've vetted and looked at and has been produced by nature.

B: Or perhaps, you know, maybe we were able to make very slight tweaks to a protein.

B: But otherwise, no major changes to these proteins.

B: It's like—it's kind of like finding fire that's created by lightning, right?

B: You come across this fire, holy crap, look at this.

B: Sure, we could use it and try to maintain it and prevent it from going out.

B: But you still—initially, you don't know anything about creating it from scratch or really truly harnessing it.

B: So that's kind of like where we were with proteins.

B: We identified them.

B: We know exactly how they're created and what they can do.

B: But we can't really create them from scratch or design them the way we want them to be designed.

B: So back in the early days of thousands of years ago, we would use what we—the limited information we knew about.

B: Maybe we didn't even know proteins at all back then.

B: But we used it to make cheese, right?

B: When you're making cheese, you're kind of manipulating natural proteins to get these things that you want, that you want to eat, that are delicious.

B: And nowadays, we may look at spider silk proteins and dream of using it to make super strong and thin fibers and bulletproof vests.

B: But now we are essentially in the era where we can design a protein tool to optimally perform a very specific task and then figure out what string of spaghetti amino acids will fold up to make that exact protein.

B: I'm going to end with an example of what we're going to be seeing in the future.

B: So Baker and his team got together with virologist Ian Wilson of Scripps Research Institute to design a protein to fight the flu.

B: Wilson identified through his research in the lab a pocket on the surface of this virus, of a specific flu virus, and they thought that a protein that fit right in that pocket, you know, a nice fit in that pocket could potentially stop the virus from entering into cells.

B: So Baker got with his team and they used Rosetta to create – now let me say that when you're using Rosetta, you're not going to just like say, this is what I want to do and have the software spit out the exact amino acid chain.

B: It's not that easy.

B: Not yet.

B: Anyway, what they did was they used Rosetta to create a few thousand promising amino acid chains and then they folded all of them digitally to see which one would fit the pocket.

B: And then – so they picked from that group, they picked the handful or so that really looked like they could fit into that pocket that was identified on the virus.

B: And then they used engineered yeast to make the real proteins and they found what they called HB16928.2.3 because it looked like it was a really good fit.

B: So then they had to test it.

B: So they injected mice with a fatal influenza dose.

B: This dose would have killed them without question.

B: This was going to kill them.

B: And they sprayed the experimental protein that they had created into their noses.

B: So what do you think the result was?

C: They lived.

B: Half lived, half died.

B: A hundred percent effective.

B: I was half right.

B: Everyone lived.

B: So, all right.

B: That's – to me, that is amazing.

B: Now, of course, they haven't done human trials yet but this is incredibly promising.

B: So in the future, we're going to see solid attempts, hopefully as good as this, for fighting flu viruses, for doing things like breaking down – oh, no.

B: Actually, they're doing this now.

B: They've created these proteins to fight the flu viruses like I said but also breaking down gluten in food and for detecting trace amounts of opioid drugs.

B: So that's things that they're actually doing right now.

B: But ultimately, they're going to be able to construct these precise molecular tools for a vast range of tasks that I think are just going to revolutionize many areas of medicine, of genetic engineering, nanotechnology to construct these tools that are just going to have – are going to be so useful that I think we're going to be talking a lot about this in the next decade.

E: And no one made any protein folding predictions for 2017.

E: Terrible.

E: I thought about it.

E: I thought about it.

E: Should have.

Nitrite-Free Bacon (49:40)[edit]

S: OK, Evan. Tell us about nitrite-free bacon.

E: I will do that.

E: It's almost a crime though against nature that we're talking about this news item without Jay.

E: I mean I like bacon too but Jay is a baconophile.

E: I mean if he didn't marry Courtney, he would have married a side of bacon.

E: Let's just put it that way from all he has boasted over the years about this.

E: But in any case, got this story from The Guardian online.

E: The headline reads, nitrite-free rashers, which are very thin slices of bacon.

E: Nitrite-free rashers to hit British supermarkets.

E: Yep.

E: Northern Irish food manufacturer Finnebrog says naked bacon – here we go.

E: Naked water, naked bacon.

E: Naked bacon contains no preservatives, E numbers or allergens.

E: That sounds great, right?

E: What's an E number?

E: I don't know.

E: That sounds good.

E: An Irish term for – nothing unnatural I suppose.

E: Free of nitrites, yes, will soon appear on the supermarket shelves.

E: This bacon, naked bacon contains none of them.

E: Nitrites are salts from chemicals or natural sources, very important, which are added to bacon and other processed meats as a preservative agent.

E: They also act as an antimicrobial agent and a color fixative as they like to say.

E: Now, if you remember back in 2015, the World Health Organization concluded that processed meats including bacon, they are carcinogenic.

E: Yeah, we had talked about that on the show.

E: I know.

E: Yep.

E: It could – because it could damage your DNA apparently.

C: Yeah, like raises your risk like 0.5%.

C: 0.00.

E: Yeah, like against the background risk.

E: The scientists at Finnebrog, they developed a new flavoring from natural Mediterranean fruit.

E: Now, note the term natural there.

E: Natural Mediterranean fruit and spice extracts and they applied it to British bacon for the first time.

C: They believe – Wait, fruit bacon?

E: I don't want that.

E: Well, you got to get –

C: I don't either.

E: There are nitrites in fruit as well, not as many as in vegetables, which is where the natural nitrites had come from before.

E: But in any case, they kind of gloss over that.

E: But in any case, they claim nitrite-free and I suppose it's – they're claiming it's the first time anybody can actually claim this.

E: Nitrite-free.

C: Wait, can you – I'm going to show my ignorance here.

C: But can you explain to me what nitrites are and why they're in bacon and why they're

S: bad? So sodium nitrite is a salt.

S: It's a sodium and nitrogen and two oxygens.

S: Nitrate – sodium nitrate is sodium, nitrogen and three oxygens.

S: Nitrates can be converted into nitrates just by reacting with oxygen in the atmosphere.

S: So nitrites turn into nitrates and then nitrates can also be converted back into nitrates in the gut by bacteria, et cetera.

S: So they – often you'll hear like nitrates, nitrates talked about together because basically they convert one into the other back and forth.

E: They use that one specifically they said because it has the antimicrobial – microbial effects.

S: It's a preservative.

S: So where do you think most of the nitrites that you swallow come from?

S: I'm going to guess.

C: Spider legs.

C: I do.

E: It's – OK.

E: So it's a way of preserving meat.

C: Wait, wait, wait.

C: I'm going to guess.

C: It's from – I actually mentioned it a little while ago.

C: Oh, you already did.

C: Damn.

C: Where is it?

E: Vegetables.

E: No.

E: Oh.

E: Your saliva.

E: Yeah.

S: 90 percent of the nitrates that you swallow are made in your saliva.

S: 80 percent of the nitrates that you get from food come from vegetables.

S: That's what I was thinking.

C: Wait, what's wrong with nitrates and why don't people want nitrates in their food?

S: Yeah.

S: So the vast majority of the nitrates, nitrates in your system that you consume do not come from preserved meats.

S: Bacon and red meat and preserved meats, cured meats, whatever, they only contribute about 10 percent of your dietary nitrates, which is not that significant.

S: So it's not really that much of an issue.

S: So the only real potential risk here is if you cook meat that has nitrates in it at very high temperature, then that can convert some of the nitrates into a form that may be carcinogenic.

C: But that's what makes it delicious.

E: Those crispy, black edges.

S: So that's really the only note of caution here.

E: Nitrates are nitrates themselves.

S: OK.

S: Not a big deal.

S: Eating them in meat, insignificant.

S: Just don't cook it at super high heat.

S: In fact, nitrates may be cardioprotective.

S: There may be an overall protective effect from eating nitrates.

S: In terms of the overall risk of cancer, the evidence is mostly negative.

S: It's a little bit mixed.

S: Most of the systematic reviews show either no real increased risk of cancer.

S: There's actually a decreased risk of cancer for gastric cancer.

S: But for a couple, like thyroid cancer, there was one study or a couple of studies that showed there may be something there.

S: But then a later meta-analysis showed that there wasn't a statistically significant risk there.

S: So the bottom line is the risk is probably nonexistent.

S: But we can't rule out a small risk.

S: But at the same time, there's actually a decreased risk with nitrates of gastric cancer.

S: So like most things, overall, I just wouldn't worry about it.

S: If you just eat in moderation, if you just don't eat a pound of bacon a day, you're probably going to be okay.

S: So just like everything, eat in moderation.

S: Maybe avoid cooking meats with nitrates at super high heat and that's it.

S: Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it.

E: Oh, it's so stupid.

E: That's the false fear.

S: Yeah.

S: So the whole thing about nitrate-free bacon, yeah, it's just using scaremongering, fear, in order to sell something that isn't a risk to begin with.

S: Yeah.

C: That's so stupid.

C: Right.

C: So basically, enjoy your spoiled rotten meat.

C: Well, it also seems like the weirdest, the weird thing to be concerned about.

C: Like, yeah, if you eat a ton of pork, you're eating a lot of fat.

C: Like there are other concerns about eating bacon every day, right?

C: Sure, yeah.

E: Or cardiovascular issues or other things.

S: Yeah, this is a good example of a false sense of security.

S: You eat your nitrate-free bacon, you're still getting the fat and the calories.

S: And if you feel like you can overdo it though, because it doesn't have the nitrates, which isn't the really risky part to begin with, you're actually going to be less healthy.

S: That's why all of these food and medical pseudosciences are usually so counterproductive.

E: Yeah, that's probably right.

E: Would you say that this company is engaging in sort of this backhanded health claim?

E: In other words, Steve, they're basically saying, eat our cancer-free bacon because ours is the only cancer-free bacon.

E: And that sales pitch is much harder to sell if it were learned, for example, that the nitrates in bacon don't cause an increase in cancer.

E: So it's very, very sketchy, certainly what they're doing.

E: It's fraud.

E: I can't say it's fraud, but it's a, again, a backhanded health claim is what I'm calling it.

S: Yeah, it's dubious for sure.


Jay's wife

Donkey Hide Snake Oil (56:57)[edit]

S: And now we're going to go from bacon to donkeys.

S: What's the connection there, Cara?

C: Yeah, so this is a sad article that just appeared in the New York Times yesterday.

C: But of course, it's not a new story.

C: It's just coming to light for more and more people.

C: Donkey hide is the key ingredient in a type of gelatin or glue that is a common thousands of year old traditional Chinese remedy.

C: It's called yi jiao or a jiao.

C: I'm not sure how you pronounce the first letter in it, but it's spelled j-i-a-o, e-j-i-a-o.

C: Sometimes it's all one word, sometimes it's two words.

C: And in some different writings, you'll see it starting with an A. So the English name for that would be, like I said, donkey hide glue, donkey hide gelatin.

C: Sometimes you see it called ass hide glue on packaging.

C: Oh my gosh.

C: Yeah, I know.

C: Oh my gosh.

C: I have an Amazon link to some Shandong yi jiao donkey hide glue, gelatin asses glue from the Shandong Fuzhou group.

C: $160, $9.59 shipping.

C: Not eligible for Prime.

C: So you can't get this until January 5th through 10th.

C: Only if you pick expedited.

C: Yeah, it says asses glue on the cover.

C: And here's the thing.

C: So we'll get to why they think yi jiao is important and why it's necessary.

C: Let's talk about the donkey crisis that's happening.

C: This story, it's a really sad, really emotional story that is kind of focusing on one gentleman.

C: His name is Morris Njeru and he is from Nairobi.

C: And his donkeys were stolen and killed.

C: And they were taken to a place called Goldox Kenya Limited, which is a donkey slaughterhouse in Kenya that's owned or partially owned by some Chinese owners.

C: And now this has become such a problem.

C: The Chinese donkey population has depleted to about half of what it used to be because of the high demand for these hides that China is starting to import donkeys from other places in the world.

C: And of course, it's quite cheap to do it from Africa.

C: But this is, I think, a good example of when traditional Chinese medicine has horrific effects not just on ecology and wildlife, because here we're talking about donkeys.

C: And of course, donkeys are domestic animals, but on the economic livelihood of individuals.

C: Because in places like Kenya, people often keep donkeys as beasts of burden.

C: They are their vehicles.

C: They are their tools.

C: For example, the gentleman who this story focuses on is a potter.

C: He works with pottery.

C: I don't know why I said potter.

C: Because I read potter, but it says porter.

C: He is a porter.

C: And so he brings goods around Nairobi using his donkeys.

C: And without his donkeys, his income has plummeted from $30 a day to less than $5 a day.

C: He has to take his child out of school.

C: He can't pay back his loan.

C: These are real outcomes.

C: And so what's happening here is that many, many countries around Africa and even the Middle East have banned the donkey trade because of this issue.

C: They're seeing that the people are speaking out and saying, our donkeys are being stolen.

C: They're going missing.

C: They're being slaughtered.

C: What we used to use them for, there aren't enough available for their use.

C: And so a lot of these countries banned it, like Tanzania and many other countries around there.

C: But because it's still legal in Kenya, you're finding that a lot of neighboring countries are having their donkeys stolen.

C: They're coming across the Kenyan border, and then they're being slaughtered and processed there in Kenya and sent over to China, really to just fulfill that appetite.

C: Also Middle East is cracking down.

C: There are donkeys that come into China from Mexico, from South America, from Kyrgyzstan, from like a lot of places all over the world.

C: And it's all to feed this appetite for what they call ass high gelatin.

C: And the photos are horrific in this article.

C: Of course, if you want to be tapped into emotionally, you'll see these photos of just like piles and piles of bones of the hides stacked, you know, people high, the meat going to waste being dumped out in these communities where it's getting into the water table, all of the bacteria from the rotting flesh of the donkeys, where people who live in close proximity are having a hard time maintaining their livelihood because there's basically like a death pile right near where they live.

C: I dug a little bit about Ejiao or Ejiao because it wasn't really that deep in the article.

C: It was much more about the economics and sort of the horrible things that are happening from it.

C: But donkey skin, I found a lot of websites that are just sales websites trying to sell donkey hide gelatin.

C: Cholichoriacin, gelatinum choriacin is the pharmaceutical name for it.

C: A lot of places that I've seen, they're calling them herbs that tonify blood.

C: What does tonify mean?

E: Tonify your blood?

C: How do you tonify something?

C: What does that even mean?

C: I don't know.

C: It says it enters the kidney, liver, and lung meridians.

E: Oh, here we go.

C: Yep.

C: It's indicated for blood deficiency.

C: Not sure what blood deficiency is.

C: I think that means somebody who's lost blood maybe.

C: Sallow or pale.

C: Yeah, exactly.

C: It nourishes the blood.

C: It helps to stop bleeding.

C: Oh, it nourishes and moistens your yin.

C: In case your yin was dry, you can moisten your yin by taking this.

C: It'll help with your irritability, your insomnia, especially in the aftermath of a warm febrile disease.

C: It moistens the lungs and the large intestines.

C: But it's contraindicated for those with exterior disorders.

C: So don't take this if you have an exterior disorder.

C: Also, don't take it, apparently, if you have a spleen or stomach deficiency.

C: I assume it's because it's vile.

C: Like from the things I read on Amazon, it was like, it stinks.

C: It's putrid.

C: It'll probably make you barf, which is why it's like, don't take it if you have focal distention in the epigastrium.

C: Don't take it if you have diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, or if you have retention of dampness, which apparently is a thing.

C: It's bananas.

C: You can read about it all over the internet.

C: And a lot of these articles, Western articles, are written without irony.

C: How to prepare donkey hide gelatin, how to make tea from donkey hide gelatin.

C: There are forums at the bottom.

C: What if I just use regular gelatin?

C: Can we use simple gelatin powder?

C: I think it's made of pork instead.

C: No, these are two different things.

C: They don't have the same medicinal properties.

C: But then the good news is that I'm seeing over and over and over in the comment section of these different articles, please don't use this product.

C: Donkey populations are being decimated.

C: The animal deaths are really inhumane.

C: It's unacceptable that TCM should be allowed to exploit donkeys, impoverishing rural communities in Africa and South America.

C: You're seeing on Amazon the top multiple ones.

C: Oh, look, another traditional Chinese medicine that doesn't really do anything.

C: Come on, China, it's 2017 and you have med schools like every other civilized country.

C: You should be ashamed to be selling a product which is causing great suffering.

C: And so I just feel like this is one of a litany, just a long stream of examples of times when traditional Chinese medicine has real impact on real people, on their livelihoods, on their health.

C: It's a bummer.

C: Like this article bumps me out.

C: When I was in China, I saw a lot of this all over Hong Kong.

C: There are TCM shops all over.

C: When I was in China, I went to a wet market and there was dog.

C: I saw all sorts of herbs that I don't know what they were made out of.

C: There were a lot of animal carcasses there that were animals that aren't traditionally used in food.

C: I also was talking to a lot of the people that I visited in China.

C: And granted, I was there with a bunch of skeptics.

C: So it was nice.

C: They were able to enlighten me about a lot of these things.

C: But they were saying that when you get sick, not just in China, but also in Hong Kong, and you go to a hospital, but especially in China and where we were in Dongguan, when you go to the hospital, the first thing they ask you is, do you want to see a Western doctor or traditional Chinese doctor?

C: And then it's your choice, which means do you want medicine or do you want Wu?

C: Yeah.

C: And it can cost a lot more than traditional medicine.

C: That's the crazy thing.

C: The cost of donkeys has skyrocketed.

C: So it's affecting the economies in these areas where people rely on what used to be cheap sources of transport.

C: And it's, I mean, look, this bottle on Amazon or this box that I just sent you guys, $160.

C: Think about how much people are getting for their donkeys now.

S: Yeah, it really is a scandal.

S: It really is terrible.

S: And I think China and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners should be absolutely shamed because of their use of endangered species and also animal cruelty and the way in which these markets are served.

S: It really is terrible.

S: Not to mention that the products themselves are a complete scam.

C: Yeah, it's one thing if you're like a small fishing community and this has been your way of life, but that's not the case anymore.

C: We are globalized.

C: The fact that you're having to import donkeys from Kenya is a problem.

C: That's a problem.

S: All right.

S: So there's no Who's That Noisy This Week because Jay is sick, but he will hopefully be back next week and we'll pick that back up.

S: So let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:07:08)[edit]

Item #1: A new study finds that the double rate of Type II diabetes in African Americans compared to whites is entirely due to increased obesity.[4]
Item #2: Researchers find that using prenatal vitamins are associated with a higher risk of having a child diagnosed with autism.[5]
Item #3: Scientists have developed a technique for speed breeding, allowing for crops to grow up to 3 times faster, allowing for 6 crops of wheat per year, for example.[6]

Answer Item
Fiction Prenatal vitamins & autism
Science Speed breeding
T2d rates in usa
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Prenatal vitamins & autism
Prenatal vitamins & autism
T2d rates in usa

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious.

S: Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake.

S: All right.

S: Item number one of the new year.

S: Are you guys all ready?

S: I suppose.

S: Bob is.

S: Item number one.

S: A new study finds that the double rate of type two diabetes in African Americans compared to whites is entirely due to increased obesity.

S: Item number two, researchers find that using prenatal vitamins are associated with a higher risk of having a child diagnosed with autism.

S: And item number three, scientists have developed a technique for speed breeding, allowing for crops to grow up to three times faster, allowing for six crops of wheat per year, for example.

S: All right.

S: So we're going to go in the order that you guys were ranked for 2017.

Cara's Response[edit]

S: So Cara, you go first.

C: OK.

C: A new study finds that the double rate compared to whites is entirely due to increased obesity.

C: So there's nothing genetically different.

C: It has nothing to do with SES or anything like that, except as it is linked with obesity.

C: And obesity is complex, of course, because what we're seeing often is low nutrition, high like high macronutrients, low micronutrients.

C: OK.

C: Hmm.

C: Could be.

C: Could be the case.

C: Of course, type two diabetes is correlated with obesity.

C: It's correlated with sugar intake.

C: Let's see.

C: Researchers find that using prenatal vitamins are associated with a higher risk of having a child diagnosed with autism.

C: Oh, crap.

C: I mean, that shouldn't be true, but it's important if we're starting to find certain links.

C: And maybe there's like maybe taking a ton of folic acid actually does something to the baby's brain.

C: I don't know, because there's a lot of stuff in those prenatals, not just folic acid.

C: Let's see.

C: Scientists have developed a technique for speed breeding.

C: Oh, of crops.

C: People.

C: Let's see.

C: Allowing for crops to grow.

C: Just fast forward.

C: Right.

C: Of to three times faster, allowing for six crops of wheat per year, for example.

C: So I assume that means there's usually only two crops of wheat per year.

C: But that has less to do with their, like there's no gestational period for crops.

C: It has to do with seasons, right?

C: But we could just take care of that in a greenhouse.

C: Yeah, there's a lot we can manipulate to kind of trick these plants into thinking it's a different time of year.

C: We can give them the right water content, the right temperature.

C: We can probably even change some of their endogenous hormones with different sort of exterior signals.

C: So I think that that one's going to be science.

C: I'm struggling between the first two because I feel like it may be the case that there actually is something genetic that's increasing the rate.

C: But I don't know, because so many, you see a lot of times like a higher rate of certain diseases in African-American populations or in Latino populations.

C: And it's always really hard to piece apart, is it because of poverty or is it because of an actual ethnic difference?

C: Because genetically, there's so much more in common than there is difference.

C: So I don't know, I'm going to go ahead and say that the prenatal vitamin one is the fiction because that would mean that it is entirely due to increased obesity in the double the rate of type 2 diabetes.

C: Yeah, so that, right?

C: I'm doing that right, Steve?

C: That's right.

C: Yeah, the prenatal vitamins one is the fiction.

S: Okay, Evan, you're next.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: So reverse order, the technique for speed breeding sounds plausible because you have laboratories set up and controlled environments like Cara mentioned.

E: And sure, you optimize the system and you do some, I don't know if there's a genetic modification or something that goes into this particular wheat or you can control your environment a lot.

E: So I'm not all that surprised that they were able to push this wheat to this kind of yield.

E: So I think that one's going to be science.

E: It's like Cara was having a problem.

E: I'm having the same problem with the other two here.

E: Prenatal vitamins associated with a higher risk of having child diagnosed with autism.

E: Oh my gosh, I so don't want this to be true.

C: I know.

E: Can you imagine?

E: Here comes the next wave of, you know, anti-science people coming along with, but you know, I mean, but if it is happening, it's happening and that's gee whiz.

E: I really hope it's not the case.

E: I mean, I think I'm going to go with this one as the fiction because of my own desires.

E: Not that I want, you know, to see the African American community have, you know, these problems with their, with increased obesity and diabetes.

E: But that's what would be the case if I choose the prenatal vitamins.

E: So, but I think that's where I'm going.

E: I'm gonna have to go with Cara.

E: I'll say that the vitamins are going to be the fiction.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I don't like any of these.

B: Not one.

B: Not even the wheat one?

B: No, three, come on.

B: Three times faster?

B: Six crops?

E: Why the hell?

E: Under ideal circumstances?

E: That's huge.

B: That's, that's fricking huge.

B: And I got to resort to the, like, I would have seen it type of shit.

B: I went through a lot of news items, didn't see any of these, especially that one.

B: But I've got problems with the other ones as well.

B: The prenatal vitamins, yeah, that would just be horrible.

B: And it just doesn't sound right to me.

B: But I also have got a problem with the first one, because, I mean, you have to conclude that if African Americans have a double rate of diabetes, entirely due to increased obesity, that would mean that they would also have double rate of obesity.

B: And I don't think that's true.

B: I don't know.

B: But that doesn't sound right to me.

B: I mean, that's more of a, you know, it's a more of a, you know, low income, sedentary lifestyle type thing.

B: And, you know, nobody's got a stakehold on that.

B: Nobody does that, you know.

B: So that's why I don't like that one.

B: I'll just go with my gut.

B: All right.

B: I'll say the obesity one is fiction.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Okay.

S: So that means you all agree on number three.

S: So we'll start there.

S: Scientists have developed a technique for speed breeding, allowing for crops to grow up to three times faster, allowing for six crops of wheat per year, for example.

S: You all think that one is science.

S: And that one is science.

S: Yes.

E: All right.

B: Wow.

B: That's cool.

B: What's the catch?

S: Yeah.

S: So Cara was correct.

S: This is under highly controlled conditions, like in a greenhouse.

S: So this isn't something that would be useful out in the field.

S: We're not going to be growing our crops this way.

S: But what it would be useful for is cultivating or breeding new crops, new cultivars, right, new varieties.

S: Because the limiting factor, like if you're trying to breed wheat, corn, beans, whatever, and then pick the traits that are desirable, if you only could do that twice a year, that's a really slow process.

S: If they're speeding up their breeding rate three times, even if it's only in small, controlled amounts in greenhouses, that could potentially speed up the process of cultivating and developing new varieties, new cultivars by three times.

S: And that is potentially huge.

C: And if you're basically barred from, not barred, but like the barriers to entry for getting a GM crop on the market are so high, sometimes it's easier to just backward do it with breeding.

S: Yeah, but this technique would also be useful for genetic modification because as part of the process of developing a GM crop, you do need to back breed it with the parent cultivar, the parent species.

S: And so there's a lot of this breeding involved anyway.

S: You don't get around that by doing the genetic modification.

S: So even in developing GM crops, this would speed up the process significantly, and that's a huge advantage.

S: So this could potentially accelerate the ability to get new cultivars to market with desirable traits.

B: I mean, still, like during the apocalypse, you got a warehouse and you could set that up.

B: Oh, yeah.

B: You could set that up and then you would have, in a small warehouse, you could feed a bigger community three times the community.

C: Well, people are already doing it.

C: It's really cool.

C: I just want to say, not to hijack the conversation, but just two seconds.

C: I did a piece for our local show SoCal Connected, maybe last year or the year before, about a really cool company here in LA who basically convert shipping containers into these grows.

C: And they have multiple rows.

C: They fit like acreage of regular land inside of these shipping containers.

C: They're completely sealed and airtight, so there's no water loss.

C: So they can use something like 98% less water than you would need if you're just like watering the dirt.

C: And they can emulate almost any environment.

C: They can grow things that should be growing in sub-Saharan Africa.

C: They can grow things that should...

C: Why?

C: Well, yeah, because it's all indoors.

C: It's all done with a computer.

C: You know, you just change the lighting conditions, you change the heat, you change the moisture.

C: It's not that hard to kind of like mimic Mother Nature if you can get all of the... if you know what all of the measurements are.

C: And it's really cool.

C: And their whole thing is that it's about farm to table in a sense.

C: Like you can actually physically drive this into a food desert and then instead of it going on the truck already picked for a week at a time, it's still in its growth medium.

C: So by the time it gets to the community, it can be fresh picked.

C: Yeah, it's really cool.

C: Holy crap, that's cool.

C: It's really cool.

C: They're just, you know, having a hard time with scaling, which is what we would expect.

C: But if we saw this happening more and more, it could be a real way to feed communities who are kind of cut off from rural farmland.

S: Yeah.

S: Okay, I guess we'll work our way backwards.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Item number two, researchers find that using prenatal vitamins are associated with a higher risk of having a child diagnosed with autism.

S: Evan and Cara, you think this one is the fiction.

S: Bob, you think this one is science.

S: And this one is the fiction.

C: Oh, wait, we got it right.

C: Okay, good.

S: Okay.

S: So actually, the study showed the exact opposite.

S: It showed that women who take prenatal vitamins, probably especially folate, had a reduced incidence of autism.

S: So what does that mean?

S: We don't know what it means.

C: But you don't know, because rich people take vitamins, educated people take vitamins.

C: You know, it's like...

S: Yeah, so it's hard to interpret the results because it's correlational only.

S: It's an observational study.

S: Women weren't randomized to taking folate or prenatal vitamins or not taking it.

S: And so there could be a lot of other factors that are involved.

S: Maybe women who are complying with their prenatal vitamins take care of themselves better in other ways.

S: Maybe they have a higher socioeconomic status.

S: Maybe they're better fed or whatever.

S: There's lots of other things that might correlate with that.

S: So you need to really control for all those other variables as best as you can.

S: We need to study this in multiple ways to see if this is real and if so, what the actual

C: cause is. Yeah, because when you're pregnant and you got a baby growing inside of you, it's a totally different ballgame than just eating for yourself.

S: Yeah, being pregnant is very nutritionally demanding.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Okay, let's go back to number one.

S: A new study finds that the double rate of type 2 diabetes in African Americans compared to whites is entirely due to increased obesity.

S: Of course, that...

S: It's fiction too, right?

B: all science.

C: I think that's...

C: It's good too.

S: This result is a little surprising.

S: So this has been a bit of a mystery.

S: Actually, African Americans overall have twice the rate of type 2 diabetes than African American women have three times the rate of type 2 diabetes as white women.

S: And the question was, what is the cause of this?

S: They knew it was at least partly due to increased obesity rates, but we couldn't rule out that there was a genetic predisposition, something else environmental.

S: And so this was a very, very large study where they looked at a lot of demographic variables.

S: They were able to control for as many variables as possible.

S: Socioeconomic status, obesity, of course, and lots of other things.

S: And the only one that shook out of all the data was obesity.

S: And increased obesity rates completely explained the increased rate of type 2 diabetes in the

C: African American population. But Bob, I think that what you were saying, I would just push back and say it does correlate with poverty and it does correlate with lack of medical care.

C: So I'm not surprised that it's that much higher because we have a massive inequality problem in our country.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

S: But in a way, it's an encouraging finding because this is something that's totally modifiable, right?

S: If it were something inherently genetic, that would be more difficult to deal with.

S: If it's entirely due to obesity, then we know that's the issue we need to address.

S: We need to address the obesity problem in this population.

C: It is, but it's, I mean, I feel like- We can target the problem.

C: We absolutely can.

C: When we know that it's a lifestyle problem, we know how to put, I think, resources into educational efforts.

C: And sometimes simple educational efforts can go a really, really long way.

S: All right.

S: Well, congratulations, Evan and Cara.

S: Thanks.

S: All right.

S: Bob, you're off to a bit of a rocky start.

S: I'm already in the gutter.

S: Oh, no.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:20:24)[edit]

Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument. The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.
– Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, partisan, writer, and Holocaust survivor

E: All right, Evan, you have a quote for us?

E: Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument.

E: The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone.

E: Not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.

E: And that was written by Primo Levi.

E: Or Lev-eye.

E: Primo?

E: Primo Levi.

E: Primo Levi.

E: When was that written?

E: It was the 1950s?

E: But I don't have the exact date on that.

E: However, oh, yeah, Primo Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer, Holocaust survivor, actually an Auschwitz survivor, and wrote a book called, and I had not heard this, The Periodic Table.

E: And he wrote it in 1975, which the Royal Institution of Great Britain named the best science book ever written.

E: Wow.

E: How did I miss that?

E: Periodic Table.

E: Sounds like I have to read that.

E: It's called The Periodic Table.

E: That's exactly what I want to do as well.

E: And I found a lot of other very, very nice quotes from him.

E: So you'll be hearing more from him as the year progresses.

S: Yeah, so that's kind of a generic skeptical notion, a skeptical quote.

S: But hey, if he said it 50, 60 years ago, good for him.

S: Well guys, thank you all for joining me this week.

S: First show of 2018.

S: I think we're off to a good start, although we're missing Jay.

S: Feel better, Jay.

C: Feel better, Jay.

C: Oh, no.

S: Hand, foot, and mouth.

S: And I hope we don't all come down with hand, foot, and mouth disease.

S: That would suck.

S: Yeah, right?

S: I'm like starting to look at my hands now, look for any kind of appearance of a rash.

S: And we're supposed to get walloped tomorrow with a bad winter storm.

C: I know.

C: I just got an alert.

C: I still am on the City University of New York system for some reason.

C: I still get text messages every time campus is closed.

S: Yeah, I think everything's going to be closed.

C: Yeah, good luck, you guys.

S: Yeah, so stay warm, everyone.

S: Stay warm.

Signoff (1:21:37)[edit]

S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

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.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[7]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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