SGU Episode 66

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SGU Episode 66
October 25th 2006
SGU 65 SGU 67
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
MS: Michael Stebbins
Quote of the Week
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items[edit]

Steven Novella will appear on the History Channel (1:32)[edit]

  • Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil
    Tuesday, October 31 08:00 PM
    Wednesday, November 01 12:00 AM
    Saturday, November 04 05:00 PM

    (This is according to the History Channel website - check your local listings)

    There are two different exorcism documentaries on the History Channel this week. During the show the wrong one was mentioned. This information is the correct show.

Professors debunk ghosts, vampires, and zombies (2:16)[edit]


What killed the Dinosaurs? (8:39)[edit]

  • News Item #2 - More than a meteor killed the dinos

    info on KT boundary and iridium layer:

Questions and E-mails[edit]

Corrections (19:03)[edit]

I am addicted to your podcast. Please keep up the great work. Just a couple of corrections concerning your latest podcast. It is the strong nuclear force, not the weak nuclear force that keeps protons and neutrons bound inside the nucleus. Also, the word 'hieroglyphics' is not a correct word. The word is either 'hieroglyphs' or the phrase
'hieroglyphic writing'.

Thanks again,

Tom Evans

Info on nuclear forces:

American Heritage Dictionary -
hi-er-o-glyph-ic (h r- -gl f k, h r -) also hi-er-o-glyph-i-cal (- -k l)
n. - A hieroglyph.
- Hieroglyphic writing, especially that of the ancient Egyptians. Often used in the plural with a singular or plural verb.
- Something, such as illegible or undecipherable writing, that is felt to resemble a hieroglyph.

Angel or Panic Attack (21:12)[edit]

S: The next e-mail comes from Nathan Daniels in Ohio, and Nathan writes:

Just like everyone else, I must start by saying that I am a big fan of the podcast. So far, I've only listened to 11 of the shows, so if this has already been covered, sorry for the repeat.

Several years ago, my mother had a total abdominal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, and had many problems afterward. She was taking Premarin, Synthroid, Glucophage, and possibly one or two other medications. She was seeing an endocrinologist, and they were having trouble getting all of her hormones and everything in balance after the surgery. She had a few instances of panic attacks. One day, while driving, she felt another panic attack starting. She was afraid she would have to pull over for a while to calm down or have a wreck. Then, she suddenly felt a presence next her. She says she saw a person sitting in the passenger seat, who then spoke to her. He reassured her that everything was fine, and that she did not need to stop driving. She felt a great calm go over her, and she was able to drive home without any other feelings of panic.

My mother did not tell us about this incident for a couple years, because she thought no one would believe her. But eventually, she did tell us, and added that it had to be an angel (she is a Christian).

I have a few theories of my own about what she experienced, but could you use your skepticism and neuroscience background to debunk this mystery?

Well, first of all, thanks for the praise, Nathan, we always appreciate it. Yeah, so, panic attacks are an interesting phenomenon. They actually have a lot in common, symptomatically, with seizures. They're not the same phenomenon as seizures in terms of what's happening on the cellular level, but seizures are more of an electrical phenomenon; panic attacks are a biochemical or neurotransmitter phenomenon. But a lot of the effects of a panic attack are very similar in that you can have a sense of unreality, a sense that you are separated from yourself or that you are separated from reality. You can certainly have hallucinations during a panic attack. So the kind of experiences that your mother had would be consistent with that type of an event, and there wouldn't be any need to appeal to any supernatural or external phenomenon in order to explain it. Often, experiences that we have that are either biochemically or electrically induced do take on the details of and the context of our culture and our beliefs. We don't make up entirely new stuff, just fill in the details from what we already think and believe and know. So, it's actually not that mysterious an episode for somebody to have. These things happen all the time; they're actually well understood to neuroscience and are easily explained.

P: Right. So she didn't actually say what the entity was. He does mention she's a Christian; I assume she thinks it was an angel or Jesus or something.

S: Yeah, she believes it was an angel. Didn't I say that? She did tell us that she thought it was an angel.

P: Oh, I'm sorry. So she did say "angel"?

S: Yes.

P: Yeah. Now, it would have been interesting if suddenly she had seen Muhammad sitting next to her or something.

R: That would have been something.

P: You know, seriously. That would have been interesting. But just filling in from her own experience, like you said, Steve, is really...

S: Right. Nobody has those experiences and meets some religious figure from a religion they've never heard about. You know?

P: Right.

S: It's always whatever they believe is the form that they take.

P: Exactly.

UFO Cult (24:30)[edit]

S: Well, the next e-mail comes from Nikolai Nikola. That's a great name. Nikolai Nikola.

R: That is a good name. I wonder what his middle name is.

S: I don't know.

B: Tesla.

S: (chuckles) He comes from Palestine; I think this is our first one from Palestine.

E: Wow.

S: And he writes:

Unless you've seen it before, this should provide some laughs for you guys.

And he sends a link to a UFO info website. Did you guys have an opportunity to take a look at this beauty?

B: Some of the most out-of-focus pictures I've ever seen in my life.

S: Right.

B: I mean, apparently somebody involved in this website came up with a cool way to take pictures of these de-focused lines of light that looked kinda interesting; like, "how'd they do that?" But every picture is like a variation of these things, these lines of light that are out of focus. And the descriptions are just classic. One of them says that "these are photos taken by the Center. In them, one can see the queen spaceship of the ZXY alien life of the planet [unintelligible].

S: (chuckles)

E: Really?

B: Come on. Who's coming—

E: Are they sure?

S: Interestingly, it is one photograph on the website that actually looks like a metal disc, that's actually reasonably in focus, and the caption under that picture is "this is a terrestrial object."


B: Oh, my God.

S: So they threw in a picture of a hoax—you know, somebody throwing a hubcap up in the air or something—and then discredited that. But of course they endorse all these total blobs of blurry light. You know, some are probably—

P: Look, these photos are all available for anyone who wants them; they're all in the Akashic file. You go grab them out and you can put them on any website you want. UFO site, ghost site, Bigfoot site; they're all the same picture. It doesn't matter. It's the same thing over and over and over. Look, a blurry blob. That's my guy. I mean, that's it; it's the same crap!

B: Yeah, but, it is, Perry; I agree, but some of these scientific explanations are really intriguing, like here's one that showed these lines of light and it said that "the light lines create a field of intracoagulation and make it possible to be suspended in space". Now I thought it was extracoagulation that did that. I didn't know it was intracoagulation.


E: You have to get your gobbledygook straight, Bob. You really do.

B: I was misinformed.

P: You're getting your gluons mixed up with your... (chuckles)

E: With your "gluoffs" or whatevers.

S: This website gets a lot of its information from people—psychics who are basically telepathically communicating with this extraterrestrial alien civilization.

P: And with me, by the way. With the aliens and with me. I hear voices constantly.

R: I'm pretty sure I saw that on an episode of Doctor Who.

S: Yeah. That's a staple. They write on the website, "they simply share bits of the Universal Knowledge"—capitalized—"with Earthlings." Well, thank you; thanks for the Universal Knowledge. How 'bout some useful information?

B: Yeah, how about a cure for cancer, buddy?

P: (laughing) How 'bout your secrets on optics, so we can take clear photographs?

(all laughing)

S: Throw in cold fusion while you're at it. You know, give us something useful.

B: You think they would offer the solution to some mathematical proof that no one's ever solved. Say, "hey, I want to get your attention here. Look at this solution", and then every mathematician in the world will be like, "holy crap; how'd they do that?"

S: Right.

R: Wasn't it Carl Sagan—

E: That's what Carl Sagan wrote; yeah.

B: He got that idea from me.

P/R: (laughing)

E: Yeah, well, what do you expect?

Interview with Michael Stebbins (28:13)[edit]

  • Scientists and Engineers for America

    Author of Sex Drugs and DNA

Randi Speaks (57:09)[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: People in Space

S: And now, Randi Speaks.

JR: Hello. This is James Randi. I was just thinking the other day that my friend Bob Park of the American Physical Society in Washington and I have some differences in our philosophical outlook about space travel and the whole space program. Now this is understandable. Bob is a very experienced physicist. That's what he makes his living doing; writing about the science of physics and, along the way, seriously criticizing the administration for their point of view on science in general. A few times, Bob and I have had the opportunity to discuss with one another whether or not the space program has brought any benefits to mankind. Bob tends to argue "no", and for several good reasons. First, as he rightly points out, we are not really prepared, technologically speaking, to send human beings into space. He points out that not only have we had a number of disasters in this space race, but the equipment that we use barely does the job. Now I can't really argue with that. Certainly the Space Shuttle, which I've seen up close and it is quite an impressive sight, covered in tiles as it is, and subject as we know to those tiles coming loose during the launch and the return of the ship to Earth, is a rather makeshift job. It really barely gets out there and barely gets back. And Bob fears, rightly I believe, that we are in very real danger of having several more disasters before the whole space program comes to an end. My argument is certainly weaker than Bob's, but it's done from the point of view of a romantic, I guess. After all, I am in show business, and I feel about this whole space program as though it's an adventure. It's something that's very important, particularly for young people because it inspires them, I believe, with the glory of science, the joy and excitement of exploration, and the knowledge that there really is something exciting out there to be known. Something to be discovered. After all, when you think about it, the early explorers of the Earth—all the explorers from Spain, from England, from Portugal, from the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, sailed from their home ports with practically the same expectation of success that is enjoyed by the astronauts of today. They certainly didn't know whether or not they would be coming back, and if they did come back, whether they would have anything to show for their efforts.

The space program has taught us a great deal about the rest of the universe. Oh, only a short distance out from Earth, that's true, but what we've learned is enormous. However, I think I'm going to have to go Bob Park's way to a certain extent here. He sees the possibility of continuing exploration of space by means of instruments, not by sending human beings out into this very hostile environment, of course, but sending out what are essentially robots to perform these tasks for us. As very good examples of this, we only have to look at the Mars rovers that are still up there on the Red Planet. They have performed faithfully far beyond their expected life, literally masses of information, photographic detail and other valuable facts about the Martian terrain. And all of this has been done at the loss of a few of the instruments that we sent up there, but with no cost whatsoever in human lives. Now I just heard about another project—I've forgotten the name of it—that NASA is ready to send up. This will be two photo-snapping satellites made to be as identical as possible, which will be sent up at intervals, very carefully timed intervals, so that their cameras can take pictures of the Sun's coronal activity. Since there will be two camera systems up there taking photographs at precisely the same instant, and they'll be spaced sufficiently far apart, the resulting pair of images can be turned into a stereo image. Viewing these images of the Sun's activity by this means we'll get a further beautiful picture of how our solar system works. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction (1:02:15)[edit]

Question #1: Moving and thrashing will make your sink more quickly in quicksand. Question #2: Meteorites tend to be very hot when they hit the ground. Question #3: Chickens can live and walk around after being beheaded.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:08:55)[edit]

Last Week's 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?

Answer: The Hand

New Puzzle

Let's assume that I am not a skeptical person. I have a symptom, and I want to take a homeopathic remedy to cure it. I go to a homeopathic website, type in my symptom, and they suggest I take an elixir with Aconitum Napellus as the active ingredient.

Based on that information, can you guess what symptom I am trying to cure?

Quote of the Week (1:12:20)[edit]

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.-Voltaire

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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