SGU Episode 690

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SGU Episode 690
6th October 2018
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 689                      SGU 691

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

'Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that the mere fact of our existence should keep us all in a state of contented dazzlement.'

Lewis Thomas American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher

Show Notes
SGU Forum


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 Tuesday, September 25th, 2018, 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: Good evening friends.

S: So guys, for the first time in my memory, I actually, the roads around my house were so flooded, I actually couldn't get by a road. I had to take a detour to get to my house.

B: Whoa.

J: Yeah, flooding doesn't usually happen in Connecticut. Like this is extreme weather summer 2018, man.

S: I know. It's like this is the next, well it's fall right now, but yeah, just like it was raining really hard for a really long time.

E: Sheets of rain.

S: Have you ever seen like when the storm drains, like the water's not going into them, you know what I mean? Like they're so overflowing.

E: Well, it can't keep up.

S: Yeah.

E: It can't keep up with the rate of water movement.

B: Oh, you saw that today? Damn.

E: Yeah, it was happening at my house. Water pouring off the sides of my house because my gutters couldn't hold it.

S: Yeah, same thing.

E: That much.

C: That's crazy. That happens a lot in LA, but it's not because the weather is so extreme. It's because we have no infrastructure to handle rain. Like rain shuts down the city because it never rains.

J: It's the same with Texas. They don't have it. They don't know what to do with it.

E: Las Vegas.

C: Depending on where you are. Yeah. Growing up in Dallas, it was really good. But there were, I think Abilene where Texas Tech is, they don't even have gutters like in the streets.

E: Oh my gosh.

C: I know.

S: Those are called storm drains.

E: Oh my gosh.

C: Or storm drains. Thank you. Yeah.

J: When you pave a big parking lot or you pave the road you're removing the ability for the land underneath the road to absorb rainwater.

C: Yeah. This is the problem in Houston.

E: And what people are going through in North Carolina.

C: Oh yeah.

S: Yeah. But Evan, I saw this picture of Donald Trump personally rescuing kittens and people fromthe flooding in North Carolina.

C: With a MAGA hat, by the way.

S: Yeah.

E: Oh wow. I didn't know he did that.

C: I'm pretty sure that picture was 100% real.

S: Sure. Nothing set up about that one.

J: I didn't see it.

S: They were photoshopped pictures being passed around.

C: Of like two actual rescue workers.

J: Now, can we say, does this have anything to do with global warming or what?

S: Well, I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence. I think we're just going to be seeing more extreme weather events. It's going to be the new normal now to see these kinds of things, you know?

C: Yeah. I think the conventional wisdom at this point is that we can't tie any one particular storm to climate change, but the trend is there for sure.

S: Yeah. There's going to be more wildfires. There's going to be more heat waves. There's going to be more flooding, more tornadoes, just more extreme weather. It's exactly the kind of thing that is predicted by global warming. Just more water dropping because the extra heat is causing more water to evaporate off of the water, off the oceans. So it dumps more when it does rain. And guys, you know what? Today is one week from the launch of our book. This is the last show that comes out before our book launches.

B: And it launches on – this is September 25th and it's launching on October 2nd.

S: October 2nd, yeah.

J: It felt like it was so far away and now it's all of a sudden here we are.

C: I know. We're in that final push of book sales too because the more that we sell before the book hits the stands, the better chance we have of making the bestseller list. And it's like a snowball effect. There's sort of a threshold when you sell a certain number, then more bookstores purchase and it helps us with our deal with our publisher so that we can put out even more books.

B: Right. And we haven't sold one book yet. Please get out here and buy a book.

S: That's true. We have not sold one book.

C: We have pre-sold many. I've been really, I don't know, like humbled and have a warm feeling whenever I see the emails rolling in of people who are like, I bought five books, one for my parents and one for my friends and one for my – it's so sweet.

S: I know. It's awesome. We really appreciate that.

E: They're stocking up for the holidays coming up in a few months. So –

S: Everyone, go to our events page. We have a book talk and book signing on Tuesday, October 2nd at RJ Julia's in Madison, Connecticut. Another one on Thursday the 4th in North Haven, Barnes & Noble. Then we're at Comic-Con on Sunday, October 7th. I have a talk for the Secular Humanists in Norwalk on Monday the 8th. Then we're at The Strand on Tuesday the 9th. And then we're off to QED. So there will be a host – there will be a ton of events there as well. So just check the schedule. We're keeping it updated with all the information you need, where we're going to be over the next few weeks.

J: Steve, will you sign my book for me?

S: I will, Jay. I'll sign your book for you. And if you want us to come to your hometown to talk at your bookstore, let us know. We might be able to set something up. We're also going to be in D.C. at the Smithsonian on November 30th.

E: Yes.

C: Oh my gosh. I'm so excited.

E: The Smithsonian.

What's the Word? (5:12)[edit]

S: Well, Cara, get us started with what's the word.

C: All right. So the word this week was recommended by Brandon Snyder, who is a first-year medical student in Columbus, Ohio. Congrats, Brandon. I know it's not too easy to get into med school. And the word is pathognomonic. So it's spelled P-A-T-H-O-G-N-O-M-O-N-I-C, pathognomonic. And the reason I tell you how it's spelled, A, is because people keep asking, but B, it's often misspelled as M-N-E, like a mnemonic device. That is not the word. It has different roots. So let's dive into this. If something is pathognomonic, it is so characteristic of a disease that it can be used to make a diagnosis. So it's a sign or a symptom that is in many ways kind of tied, like fundamentally tied to the diagnosis. Steve, you probably come across this a lot in neurology. I would love to hear some of your... I have a laundry list of examples that I found, like, let's see, Coplek. I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly, but Coplek spots in the mouth opposite the first and second upper molars are pathognomonic of measles. That's how you diagnose measles. But what kinds of things do you come across in neurology?

S: Well, always the first thing that comes to mind just generally is the targeted rash from Lyme disease.

C: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

S: Because it's a characteristic rash. But if you see that pattern, it's pathognomonic for Lyme because nothing else causes it. So that's the concept is that sign or symptom. It's not just typical of a specific disease. It's diagnostic of it. You only see it with that one disease. So if you have it, you have the disease. Or you can also call it a marker for the disease.

C: And that's called erythema migrans, I think.

S: Erythema migrans.

C: Erythema. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Meaning chronic migrating redness.

S: Yeah. Basically, yeah. Erythema is a type of rash or red rash. It's migrating because you get these like circular rings that move outward. And so that creates like a target concentric rings.

C: But yeah, there's a lot. And some of the things are diagnostic quite readily. Like you can see them on the body, like that rash for Lyme disease. Some of them require taking a sample. Like Hodgkin's lymphoma has these very specific cells, Reed-Sternberg cells. So when you look at it under the microscope and you see it, you're like, that's Hodgkin's lymphoma. Let's talk about where the word came from. Its first usage was in 1625. It's got Greek roots. Pathos means, we all know this.

B: Yeah, it's like extreme sadness.

S: It means disease.

C: Are you looking for melancholy? Yeah. No, it's actually disease.

B: Yeah, melancholy. But okay. But that's weird.

C: I think you're thinking of lacrimose.

B: No.

C: Really?

B: That's like tears, isn't it?

C: Yeah. Tears.

B: Tears.

C: Yeah. And that's the interesting thing, Bob, because when you look at the actual word pathos, which we use obviously in the English language, meaning the quality, a quality that arouses pity or sorrow. One of the roots of that is the same Greek word, but it keeps coming back to this idea of suffering. So that's really, I think, where the root of both sadness and disease come in. But then we've got the second half of the word, mnemonicos, which actually translates roughly to fit to judge from nomon, which is the interpreter. So this probably has something to do with the Necronomicon. You guys remember that? Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. But it really comes down to that root, which is to know. So if something is, of course, a pathic mnemonic, then it helps us know disease. It helps us interpret it and know what it is.

S: That's a good word.

C: Yeah, it really is.

S: That's definitely one you learn your freshman year in medical school.

C: Yeah. So thanks for that recommendation, Brandon.

News Items[edit]

Oldest Animal (9:17)[edit]

S: So guys, have you heard about the oldest animal ever found in the fossil record?

C: Oh my gosh, that's cool. I wrote about this.

E: A thousand years old. As old as the earth.

S: This is a fun science story. First of all, it's a beautiful fossil. If you can imagine an oval-shaped pancake-flat creature with these multiple, multiple folds, like a horizontal stria running across the oval shape. Very, very pretty. And the fossil itself is just so, is magnificently preserved. It's just a great, great, great specimen. This fossil dates back to the pre-Cambrian, right? So before the Cambrian explosion, to the Ediacaran fauna. So this is 571 to 541 million years ago. The Ediacaran fauna is the first multicellular, like true multicellular life on the planet. And they were largely very flat creatures. It's as if multicellular creatures hadn't figured out the whole three-dimensional thing yet. But that's because-

B: So this is a half a billion years ago.

S: Yeah, 571 to 541 million years ago.

B: So what's striking about that to me is that life began single-celled life began very soon after the earth cooled. And it took, and that was like five billion years ago.

S: Three and a half to four. No, Bob, the earth is 4.2 billion years old. Earth, life started 3.8, 3.9, whatever. So yeah, so it's 3.2, 3.3 billion years after single-celled creatures came.

B: Right.

C: Wow.

B: And my point is that you think that, oh life started really early and things got ramping up really quick. No, we had single-celled life for billions of years. And then after all that time we just hit on this awesome idea of multicellularity and, of course, the rest is history. But it's just it's interesting to make that distinction.

S: Yeah. You know, so the notion is they were flat because they hadn't yet evolved the structures necessary to get oxygen and nutrients to deep tissue, right? So there's no deep tissue there. That's why they're flat.

B: No vascularity.

S: Yeah, right. So that's one solution to like, how do you get oxygen to all your cells? Well, you just be really flat. It's one way to do it. But then the Cambrian explosion came by, and that's when all of the modern phyla came into existence and the Ediacaran fauna disappeared at the same time.

C: And is that because of a big change in the atmosphere?

S: No, that had already happened.

C: Oh, okay. So do we know what the cause of the Cambrian explosion was?

S: No, we have no idea. So here are the possibilities before we get to this new fossil and why it's so important to this question. Is the Ediacaran fauna a failed experiment in multicellular life, right? You know, we had sort of these two branches, one leading to the Ediacaran fauna, which died out, and one leading to the Cambrian fauna, which exploded and is still alive today, right? That had the innovation of being able to have depth deep tissue. That's one possibility. Or did the Ediacaran fauna evolve into the Cambrian fauna? Or the third thing is that the Ediacaran fauna is actually not multicellular life like we know it. They were mats of fungi or colony creatures or whatever. That's I think a minority opinion. The real debate was, is this a failed dead end or are we seeing the ancestors to the Cambrian life? The other part of this is the Cambrian explosion itself. So we call it the Cambrian "explosion" because it happened rapidly in geological terms, although this happened over millions of years, tens of millions of years, right? This rapid adaptive radiation of multicellular life starting at around 542 million years ago. Again, right at the end of the Ediacaran 30 million year period. The question is, well, why is it? Why the sudden appearance of so many different, again, geologically speaking, different types of life? And is it because that's when they started to get hard parts and so like the fossil record turns on at that point? Or was there really very, very few ancestors, precursors and they end out of as soon as they hit upon multicellularity, there was this massive adaptive radiation. It's probably some combination of those two things. But the question is, where are the precursors? Where's the buildup, the ancestors to the Cambrian fauna? And you can partly explain away their absence in the fossil record because soft parts don't fossilize. But we do have some, occasionally we'll get a good fossil window, a good fossil find where we will see even older life forms in the fossil record, even without hard parts. Why haven't we found any of those? So if the Ediacaran fauna were the precursors of Cambrian fauna, that would solve sort of two mysteries in one, right? We would know what the Ediacaran fauna were and they are the precursors to the Cambrian fauna. All right. This gets us to this specimen. Every new specimen we find potentially bears on this very interesting question about where did the multicellular life come from and what is it? What are these Ediacaran creatures? This specimen is so well preserved and undisturbed, right, so it's not just that the fossil itself is well preserved. It also means that it's geologically, once it was preserved, it was geologically undisturbed. So what that means is, is that paleontologists can look for molecules from the creature in that sediment and the one that's most important here is cholesterol molecules. So cholesterol molecules are, Cara, ready for this, pathognomonic for the animal kingdom.

E: Hello.

B: Nice.

C: Yes. This is the one that always tricks people when you ask them which of these foods does not have cholesterol and you put in like a low-fat kind of animal and then you put in peanut butter and everybody guesses the low-fat animal.

S: Right. But it's peanut butter. The cholesterol molecules are only found in the animal kingdom. Bacteria, fungi, plants don't have it. And so if there's cholesterol in the sediment, in the fossil matrix itself, more than the surrounding sediments, then that means that that fossil is an animal. And so that's what they found. This Ediacaran creature, the name of the specific genus is Dickinsonia. So Dickinsonia, that's the oval-shaped flat species. So that they found in that fossil, 93% density of cholesterol molecules and only 11% in the surrounding sediments.

E: There you go.

S: So yeah. So there's clearly, it's coming from that fossil. And the paleontologists interpret that as meaning that that's an animal. So this is what they say. Here we show that lipid biomarkers extracted from organically preserved Ediacaran macro fossils unambiguously classify their phylogeny. Meaning unambiguously, that's pretty clear, the phylogeny is the family, is the evolutionary tree, right? So they're basically saying that this is unambiguous evidence that this is an animal, part of the animal kingdom. Although in the abstract, they say that it may be in the animal kingdom. So I'm not sure why they say unambiguously in one statement and may in another statement. I actually emailed the author to try to clarify this, but they didn't respond to me. But if I do get a response, I'll give an update. But the way I see it, though, just looking at this generically, there are three possibilities here, right? So one possibility is that Dickinsonia and maybe Ediacaran fauna in general are the ancestors to the Cambrian, some Cambrian fauna, animals, right? Basically, not just Cambrian fauna, but animals specifically, Cambrian animals. That doesn't mean that necessarily we're in the direct line, right? Because nothing is ever in the direct line. It's always just how much of a side branch is it. It's related to, closely enough related to Cambrian animals that they share this trait, in which case the trait of producing cholesterol molecules will be homologous, right? They both have it because they both came from a common ancestor who had it. So Ediacaran animals and Cambrian animals and all subsequent animals have cholesterol because we all share a common ancestor who produced cholesterol. The other possibility is that the Ediacaran fauna independently evolved the ability to make cholesterol, which means it would be an exception to the only animals make cholesterol rule. I don't see why it would be impossible for another kingdom of life to have hit upon the ability to make cholesterol. You know, it doesn't seem like why that would be unique.

E: Is there an advantage to being able to produce cholesterol?

S: No. It's just part of our biochemistry, you know? So I think that's why the may, right? Because it's highly suggestive that the Dickinsonia was an animal, again, when I say animal in this phylogenetic context, I mean part of the animal kingdom specifically, not just a critter, right? It's part of the animal kingdom.

C: A critter. Aw.

E: Have they tried to falsify it in any way?

S: Well, what? What are you going to do? So you need more specimens, right? You're always waiting for the next specimen. So I think this is why, because there's always these multiple possibilities in paleontology, you find a fossil and the fossil looks like it has some features that make it seem like an ancestor or a transitional fossil, right? You're always trying to decide homologous versus analogous traits, et cetera. You need multiple independent lines of evidence and then you can triangulate to the best match, the best answer for how to draw these lines. And so one fossil is never going to establish that by itself, but this is a very important fossil now. And this perhaps raises that possibility that the Ediacaran fauna are animals to the top of the list. And if that's the case, that means that this specimen becomes the oldest animal. So that's really interesting. That's a really exciting fossil. And hopefully they'll find more, especially once you find a place where these fossils exist, then you don't just find one fossil, you find an assemblage of fossils, right? So hopefully they'll find some more that are really, really well preserved.

E: Did they have this fossil for a while and only recently realized what they had or recently discovered this and figured it out right away?

S: Yeah, this was previously discovered and this was a recent analysis of it. I think it was 2015 when it was discovered. It always takes time. Like whenever, by the time we're hearing about a fossil, they've had it for years. You know what I mean? Because they have to find it. They have to dig it out. They have to assemble it. In this case, it's just like a plate, you know what I mean, that it didn't have to assemble bones or anything. But then they had to do the analysis. They had to do the chemical analysis of this and they may date it whatever. There's all sorts of things that they want to do.

E: And this is the only known sample that we have?

S: No. Of Dickinsonia? No. This is the best. It's not the only one.

E: It's not the only one. Okay.

S: Of this type of creature? No, it's not the only one.

E: Okay.

S: Yeah, there are others. But this is by far, I think, the most exquisite, the best preserved. I love these science stories. I've personally been following this for decades, for 30 years the mystery of what are the Ediacaran fauna, you know? And so this is exciting. But that's the one downside of being into paleontology is that you're often waiting years between new specimens being found. This is a very slow story as it unfolds, you know? And it could be decades. Like, I'm still waiting for another really good specimen of Homo floresiensis to be discovered to really resolve that controversy, even though I think things are heading in the direction that the hobbit was a real species. I don't think we found that specimen that would put all debate to rest, you know? But there's so many different paleontological stories that there's always something happening, right? So like, for example, there was just recently a new bird fossil found in China that is a very interesting piece in the evolution of birds. It's a bird, like, when they had full wings and feathers and flew and they lost their bony tail, but they had yet to evolve their fanned-out tail. So it's right at that point in bird evolution, yeah. So there's always something like that happening.

B: Found in China, right? Found in China, of course.

S: Yeah, because, well, that's where the bird fossils are that's where we have a good, again, window into that time and place where adaptive radiation was happening among early birds. So that's the way, it's always going to be that way. You're going to see a lot of one type of fossils coming out of one region because there's a fossil find that dates to the right time and place, you know?

Mosquito Apocalypse (23:05)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, so I understand that we have completely killed off at least one population of mosquitoes. How did we do it?

B: We did it?

E: Done.

C: We did it.

J: Yeah, what did you call this, Steve? The mosquito apocalypse?

E: Mosquito apocalypse.

J: And I called it the to kill a mosquito, like to kill a mockingbird. It doesn't rhyme. Anyway, on September 24th, 2018, scientists at Imperial College London claimed that for the first time that they successfully were able to use gene editing to kill an entire population of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Of course, the very next sentence that I wanted to say was, this happened in a laboratory. The results of their test were published in Nature Biotechnology, and they used something called a gene drive technology. It increases the likelihood of certain genes being passed down to the next generation. And their experiment was done on a mosquito species called Anopheles gambiae.

C: Anopheles.

J: Anopheles, thank you. Anopheles gambiae.

E: Anopheles gambiae.

J: Gambinos. They tweak a gene called the doublesex. That's one word. And this alters the female mosquitoes so they can't bite or reproduce. Now, think about that. They can't bite anymore, and they can't reproduce. That's like feeding and procreation right there. So within eight generations, there were no females left, and of course, this killed them. This killed out that strain.

S: That'll do it.

C: Yeah.

J: You know, to put things into perspective here, malaria is no joke, right? So a lot of us may not ever have to really deal with it. Malaria is not a big problem in the United States. Malaria is a big problem globally. It's infected more than 200 million people worldwide in 2016, and almost a quarter of those people that got infected died. So think about that. To this day, malaria is one of the most deadly infectious diseases known to man. It's plagued humanity for centuries. We've just been having this repeat problem with malaria, and it's a very, very difficult thing to deal with. When you think about what kills people, and people are like, we want the government to spend millions of dollars a year, hundreds of millions of dollars a year fighting drugs and doing this and doing that. You know, we have things like malaria that are killing way more people than the drug industry. Andrea Crisanti, a professor at Imperial's Department of Life Sciences and the lead author of this study said that the next step will be to test what they developed in a lab that's similar to a tropical environment where these mosquitoes live. Crisanti also said it's going to be five to 10 years before they'll likely test mosquitoes with their gene drive in the wild. When I read the five to 10 years thing, it's always that's our joke. You know, everything is, if it's 10 years away, it's 50 years away. If it's five years away, it's probably a lot longer than five years. But I think what they're doing is they know it works. They're testing it. They're going to be meticulous about the testing to make sure of a lot of different things. So the gene that they targeted specifically, it's called a conserved gene. And what that means is that the gene has been with the line of whatever animal you're talking about for so long in this case, hundreds of millions of years. And it means that it would be effective on many different varieties of insects. So that's pretty cool. So this technology could be used to wipe out other kinds of disease-carrying insects as well. So there's a lot of weight in this technology that they've developed. And as time goes on, modern insecticides these things, we use insecticides so much, and they've become less effective. And in certain cases, they've become remarkably less effective. You know, insects can develop immunities, and it's happening with lots of different worldwide insecticides that we use on crops and everything. I mean, this is a big, a continuous big problem. So this is why many scientists are saying that this is a timely breakthrough, meaning, yeah, we would love to have this technology, it could help a lot. In 2016, malaria cases did not decrease as expected. They went up. And even though there are anti-malaria campaigns that are well-funded, it's still, the diseases are still there. People are still having a huge problem with this. So I think it's important to note that this technology is dangerous, and it could have unpredictable outcomes. Some obvious negative outcomes would be removing a food source for other animals, like who eats the mosquitoes? You know, what happens to these mosquitoes? You know, we know that bats eat a lot of insects, and it's a huge part of the ecosystem. So by removing the mosquito, they could be opening up an opportunity for other animals to fill in the gaps that could be dangerous or wreak havoc in lots of different ways. Also, this could have an impact on agriculture. And also another thing that they said was a disease vector, meaning that if they get rid of this animal, it could spread other diseases through other mechanisms. So this is very complicated with lots of moving parts. You can't just wipe out the mosquitoes because we don't like them. You know, in Connecticut, they're just an annoyance. In a lot of places globally, they kill you.

C: Yes, but there are so many species of mosquito. And Anopheles mosquito is relatively well known to be a malaria disease vector, but it doesn't... I've talked to a lot of mosquito experts about this, and they're like, yeah, we could probably lose Anopheles and be okay.

S: Yeah, I think so too. Also, keep in mind, Jay, that we already have done this. We wiped out malaria-carrying mosquitoes in America.

C: Yeah, that's true.

S: And we were fine.

J: Well, you say we're fine. Look at us now, Steve. America's... We have lots of problems now.

E: We have West Nile virus now, but...

J: Oh, you're talking about diseases. I'm talking about other stuff. You're right. I knew, Cara, I knew you were definitely going to bring that up because we've talked about this on the show before. And I'm not arguing against it, but let the scientists figure out what they need to study in order to say, listen, we can guarantee that this is going to be a safe thing to do. Yeah.

B: You can't take it lightly, no matter what.

C: No, of course not.

B: It's kind of like genocide in a way. So think about it. Be thoughtful.

J: Yeah, absolutely. And every scientist and anybody applying anybody's developed sciences has to treat it with respect. And I think that they're showing that. And I just think it's important to know also here that this research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and they committed almost $100 million U.S. into this specific gene drive technology. And DARPA also invested tens of millions of dollars. Now, I'm not bringing them up like this is no conspiracy, but Bill and Melinda Gates have dedicated themselves to eradicate malaria.

C: Well, just infectious diseases in general, because they have a massive polio eradication effort. And aren't they also doing something with the guinea worm?

J: Yeah, the threadworm, I thought it was. Maybe you're right. Is it the hookworm? Which one is the one that comes out of your foot?

C: It's the guinea worm. Yeah, it's the guinea worm that comes out of your foot, right?

J: Yeah. Yeah, they are. And they really back their efforts and the fact that they're so unbelievably generous with their money in trying to change the world. That's fantastic. We want billionaires to do this. But still, just because somebody's putting up the money and scientists are doing the science doesn't mean that we got to rush it out the door, like, let's do it the right way.

C: Yeah.

J: So there you have it. I really thought that this was an important thing for us to hear about, largely because how impactful it is. I mean, think about 450,000 people dying a year from malaria. That is huge.

E: That's awful.

S: Mm-hmm.

J: It's just awful. Yeah. And again, you used the word awful, Evan. It's a very nasty way to die. I mean, this is not... We really got to tackle this. And I'm backing all these efforts. I wish it didn't take them 10 years to get it out the door.

C: And also, Jay, do you really think that 5 to 10 years is... We make the joke that 5 to 10 years is actually much longer. But like you said, we were just talking... When we first started talking about CRISPR on the show, Gene Drives came up really early. I mean, since I've been on the podcast, this was theoretical. And now it's practical. That's cool.

J: Yeah, that's awesome.

S: No, I do think these things are moving fast, too. The whole CRISPR thing, really fast.

B: Oh, boy. I'm really excited about CRISPR.

J: Yeah. It's the only thing that can save us, in my opinion.

E: That and fusion reactors.

S: Right. All right. Thanks, Jay.

Asteroid Pics (31:28)[edit]

S: So, Bob, I've seen these very pretty pictures of an asteroid. Where'd they come from?

B: Ooh, yeah. These are all over the place. For the first time, we now have pictures from the surface of an asteroid.

E: Neat.

B: Yeah. This is an absolute first. Never happened before. We've had pictures from all sorts of places all over the solar system, but never an asteroid. And asteroids were typically... See that smear over there? It's an asteroid. Now we've got some great telescopes, of course, and technologies advanced, but there's nothing like just being right on the damn thing and taking those pictures. The asteroid is called Ryugu. It's dumpling-shaped and has a diameter of just 900 meters, or just under 3,000 feet. This is tiny, but still substantial. Japan Space Agency JAXA is very proud, very deservedly so. Its Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which was launched in late 2014, arrived at Ryugu just past June 27, 2018, when the asteroid was about 170 million miles from Earth. Not that far away. The journey that the spacecraft took was 2 billion miles, so it seemed to be doing a lot of chasing for much of that time, which seems a little odd, but sometimes that's how things have to go. So Hayabusa2 released a pair of small probes onto the asteroid, and these are the probes that took the pictures and that are all over the news. They are described as cookie-can-sized, and I was trying to think, what's a cookie-can?

C: Cookie-can?

J: We don't have cookie-cans here, right?

B: I think that's a culture thing. Is it smaller than a breadbox? Which is funny, because nobody has a breadbox really anymore, but you kind of know. Well, I know what a loaf of bread, how big that is. So I looked at the size. So we're talking 18-centimeter diameter, 7 centimetres tall, and about two and a half pounds.

E: That's a cookie-can?

B: Apparently, a cookie-can.

J: Think Christmas butter cookies in the big round tub with the lid that you could take off, like a tin.

B: I guess so.

S: They call it a tin.

B: Yeah. It's the can that threw me. The real problem, though, with this is that the rovers are called Rover 1A and Rover 1B, which is obviously an epic fail at naming. I always need to comment on lame names. Come on, people. Call them Rick and Morty or Jack and Sally, anything but 1A and 1B. This is a severe lack of imagination. Some of the other names for the components of this spacecraft and probe are fine, but not the probes. So these sadly named rovers have no wheels because, actually, the gravity is so low on this small asteroid that wheels actually would not be very efficient at all. So what they do is they hop. They hop around.

E: Oh, I see.

B: Yeah. Isn't that cool? Sometimes jumping 50 feet in the air in one hop. I mean, think about it. This thing is just 900 meters across. Not a lot of mass there. I mean, if you were on that right now, you could take a leap and probably put yourself into orbit or completely escape that little tiny gravity well. So yeah. It's a very, very tenuous environment, and it's a very complex procedure to have the spacecraft at a distance, a stable distance from. It's been there for months. It's been there since June, and it had slowly approached it, and then it released the rovers and stuff. So you've got to be very careful with such a low gravity environment. Let's see. So the rovers not only take pictures, but they also measure the surface temperature, which seems a little like it's cold as hell on there. I mean, you get the temperature. I don't think it's going to change that much. And cold as hell. That's pretty oxymoronic, isn't it? So what's going on in the future? So the orbiter still has two more rovers on board, and they will be deployed in the future at some point. And they also have a sensor-packed cube, which will also be delivered to the surface. And of course, I would call that a Borg cube, of course. Seems like a no-brainer, but it'll probably be called Cube One or Cube A or something. The spacecraft itself will land and take a sample, multiple different types of samples of material. Some of them from the regolith on top of the asteroid. Some of it buried deep, the pristine, unsullied by the vacuum of space and radiation. So that will be an important sample as well. And so the spacecraft will depart December, the end of 2019, December 2019, and it's going to return samples to Earth a year later, in December 2020, as the craft itself glides past the Earth after ejecting the samples. It's just going to keep going on, I guess. So congratulations, JAXA, for such a milestone. And I can't wait to see what we learn.

J: Bob, you know what I think is cool about the pictures? When you see the close-up surface, like the regolith there, I mean, it just looks like a picture that could have been taken anywhere on Earth.

B: Right. Exactly. It's amazing.

J: You know, it's like dirt, rocks, stuff we're super familiar with.

E: But with no atmosphere. There's just the black of space behind it. It's amazing that they were able to generate what? Is that sunlight? Is that how we're seeing it? The surface, or is it generating a light source in order to illuminate the surface?

B: I think it's...

C: I bet you it has a light.

B: Maybe not much. These are tiny little cookie can, cookie tin-shaped sized things. I don't think there's much of a light. But yeah, the sun is still, I mean, the sun's 170 million miles away. So like twice the distance the Earth is about. So it's still bright enough. It's still fairly bright, I would say.

E: I mean, that's pretty good detail that you can see. You know, you can see the smaller rocks compared to the large ones.

B: Sure.

E: The shadows being cast. It's a fascinating photo. It's an asteroid selfie, almost, in a way.

B: Yeah, it's beautiful.

S: Yeah, I love seeing pictures of other worlds because, like, there's something strangely familiar about it, and yet it's like, this is a different world. This is not on the Earth, right? Yeah, it's always, always interesting.

Croydon Cat Killer (37:32)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, I understand that British police have cracked this many year long mystery.

E: This dates back to 2014, where British police have been hunting a mystery perpetrator who is believed to have mutilated hundreds of cats across the United Kingdom.

C: Jesus.

E: I know. Reports of cat deaths attributed to the killer were spread across and around London and as far north as Manchester. Oh, boy. However, lacking any tangible suspect, police have now called off the search. This is the case of the Croydon cat killer.

C: Croydon.

E: And this started with Croydon, C-R-O-Y-D-O-N, and it started with two animal rescuers in South London, Burka Rising and Tony Jenkins of South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty, or SNARL for short.

S: Jenkins, eh?

E: And they were horrified when they began receiving reports from pet owners who had found their cats dead and dismembered in their gardens. By 2018, just recently, the number of reported feline victims was more than 400. What was going on here? And of course, the media, as the media is wont to do, made the most of the grisly story. Tabloids warned that the perpetrator would likely soon move on to humans. Veterinary pathologists and the Metropolitan Police were baffled, if not flummoxed. SNARL's initial investigations helped to convince the Met Police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is the RSPCA, to take this case seriously, thus launching a three-year probe that sought to bring the prolific killer to justice. Investigators even worked up a profile of the likely suspect. Age 40, male, problems with women, etc. That was until this week, when the Met Force announced it had dropped the case. Officers are now convinced there's no foul play. The cats were in fact killed in collisions with cars and later scavenged by foxes, and not mutilated by a human being. A spokesperson for the RSPCA said, and I quote, "You will see that our public statements printed in media reports on this issue have been consistent in saying that while we have an open mind, we believe traffic collisions and predation were the most likely cause." And an SGU listener who happens to work for the London Met Police wrote to you, Steve, and made a comment on the matter. And here was his comment. "While I was not part of the investigation when I first read about it back in 2016, I was immediately reminded of cattle mutilations and how those incidents can be explained by natural causes. The associated moral panic, which you, Steve, had previously talked about on the show, was for me another interesting angle to the story." Yes, he refers to cattle mutilation. And I don't know that we've talked about cattle mutilation on the SGU.

S: I'm sure it's come up.

E: It may have.

B: Maybe a decade or so ago.

E: Yeah, a while ago. And I was first made familiar with it, Steve, when you brought it up in a Connecticut Skeptical Society lecture back in 1996.

S: Yeah, this is going on for a long time.

E: This is wild. So real quick tangent. UFO enthusiasts claim that so-called cattle mutilations are evidence that aliens have come to the Earth to experiment on our livestock and leaving the remains behind with evidence of their advanced surgical techniques. When in fact, what was actually discovered is that scavengers were responsible for the mutilations, not UFOs or aliens. And the scavengers were picking away at the soft tissue areas of the livestock, the eyes, the tongue, the mouth, organs, the rectum the easy places to get to. And as far as those claims of advanced surgical techniques, well, when a dead animal dehydrates, it hides their stretches and the stretching can make any cut seem laser straight. So the case is closed, right? Very sad about the pets, but at least people can breathe a collective sigh of relief that there's no animal murderer stalking the towns of England, right? Wrong. Breaking news today. Nearly 20,000 people outraged at the Metropolitan Police's announcement to close the investigation have signed a petition calling on the force to reopen the case. 20,000 people and growing. They're saying things like animals are being killed by blunt forces and clean cut. Surely the animals killing them would have left teeth marks. Another person wrote, don't think for one minute foxes are to blame for these horrendous acts. The families of these poor cats must feel so let down. And another person says the police should continue to investigate and find the humans responsible. Yeah. And maybe if they didn't have actual footage on camera of foxes running away with the bloody carcasses of cats, you might have some sort of point there. But all evidence to the contrary. This is the work of scavengers.

S: Yeah. There's also that fox DNA they found in the puncture holes. So I know this is a typical mass delusion, right? Or a moral panic where once the idea is out there, like, I mean, I'm sure this has been going on everywhere forever, right? I mean, there's always the cats go missing in our neighbourhood all the time. It's the coyotes. It's the foxes. It's whatever. That's where you should, you basically shouldn't have outdoor cats. First of all, they're going to be slaughtering all the birds in your neighbourhood. And they're going to go, they're going to turn up missing. You know, if you live in the woods like we do, right, Cara?

C: Yep.

S: You really shouldn't have an outdoor cat.

C: And if you live in the city like I do, you also shouldn't have an outdoor cat.

S: Yeah, it's true. Because there are more coyotes in cities now than in the country.

C: And we have a thing called a car. And that car tends to hit a lot of cats.

E: A lot of cars in the UK, too.

S: Right. So this is the background. But once the notion gets out that there is a cat killer out there, then all of these background events that people took for granted, suddenly people start noticing them. And they think, oh my cat wasn't killed by a predator. It was killed by the Croydon cat killer. You know, it just sort of takes on a life of its own.

E: It becomes an urban legend.

S: Yeah, it becomes an urban legend. The press gets involved and they screw everything up, right? So what's interesting is how once you have the assumption that something like this is going on, you can weave this intricate tale. And there's so many other historical events like this. You guys remember the Devil's Footprints?

J: Sure.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: Yeah, this is also in England in 1855.

J: Yeah, but that was real, Steve.

S: Yeah, but people noticed these weird prints in the snow. Then people start looking for them. And before you know it, it's like these people saw them over a course of about 100 miles, you know? But it was all just the normal background stuff that's always been there. You know, animals make prints in the snow. And then when the snow melts, they could look different than you think that they should look, bigger, changed in shape, whatever. So it's the same kind of thing.

E: I think what's fascinating is even when the public is presented with evidence to the contrary, they have a tendency, or some of them do, to still believe the falsity.

S: The more interesting story.

E: Right, the more interesting story, the more sensational one. Because I guess it satisfies some sort of need that people have.

J: Of course. I mean, Evan, it's so rooted in our humanity. I mean, we love that type of stuff. I mean, you ever, like you're writing on your computer, and next thing you know, you're fine, like, you're reading those really swanky websites that have, you got to hit the next button every time you want to read the next little doodad.

B: I hate that.

C: Or the listicles.

E: These 20 pictures from history will fascinate you, yeah.

J: But what's funny is, like, I can feel, I don't know if it's my lizard brain or whatever, but there's a part of my brain that really likes that stuff, you know? And then there's an intellectual part of me that despises it, you know? And I have to, I can only do it so much. And then I'm like, whoa, man, I got to stop, like, going down this rabbit hole of pictures, right? But we love it. And we just we know that. We have to embrace that.

C: Well, also, I think it's it's not fun to be wrong. So for a lot of people, if this is the narrative they've come up with, even when it's disproven, if you're really emotionally linked to that narrative, it's going to be very hard to change somebody's mind. Because there's a chance the cops could still be wrong.

E: That's true. And that's especially true, Cara, for people who were victims of these foxes.

C: Absolutely.

E: One woman wrote on that petition, she said, some maniac killed my cat, not a car or a fox. That was her statement.

C: And in a way, it assuages a little bit of guilt, right? Because if my cat died by natural causes, or because a car hit it, or because a fox ate it, maybe I'm somehow at fault. Maybe I wasn't keeping a good enough eye on her. But if a murderer came, nothing I could have done would have prevented that.

S: You're a victim. You go from being guilty to being a victim. Absolutely. Let me close out this item with a quote from the great Sherlock Holmes, who was also a British investigator. You may have heard of him. "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts." That's exactly what's going on here.

Octopuses on Ecstasy ()[edit]

S: All right, Cara, why are octopuses getting wasted on drugs?

C: I love that you said octopuses. I say octopuses too. But apparently when you look up the grammar...

E: Octopi?

S: It's all good.

C: Yeah, some people say that one's okay too. I don't like it. Octopuses are getting wasted, man. Not in nature, just in the lab. But this is a really cool study that was done. It's incomplete. There's a lot of questions that have yet to be answered. But some researchers, Gül Dölen, I think?

B: Ghul?

C: Well, they're umlauts. Yeah, it's G, umlaut, U. Sorry, G, U with an umlaut, L, and then D, O with an umlaut, L-E-N.

E: I think it's Gül Dölen.

C: Gül Dölen, something like that.

S: Her friends call her Nazgul.

C: I don't understand that joke. Give me some MDMA. She is a researcher, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, and she studies social behavior in animals and the neuroscience of that kind of social behavior. And so she's really interested in changes that can occur and ways to maybe induce sociality or sociability, maybe ways to change sociability. And it's been well established at this point that MDMA, which is what? Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a drug that can actually behaviourally induce sociability. MDMA, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, does have that methamphetamine aspect to it. So it is an upper, but at the same time, it does this really interesting thing behaviourally, and the root of it is what's happening in your brain, that makes it sort of special. It makes it the kind of drug that has carried the moniker, not just Molly, that's a more recent one, but when I was doing it, they called it ecstasy. Part of that was this feeling of wanting to be near other people, of wanting to touch other people, of wanting to be close to other people. And for some people, that was sexual, but for many people, it's not. For many people, it's just very affiliative. So maybe people who had a hard time being social would take MDMA at a party and feel much more out of their shell and much more social. So the question that these researchers had was, octopuses aren't very social, are they? I don't know. We don't know. How do you test how social an octopus is? Let's figure this out.

B: Give them ecstasy!

C: Yeah. So they were like, first of all, we need a baseline. We need to know if an octopus is a social animal. It's not well-established. Most people think of octopuses as very independent, non-social animals. But how do we test that experimentally? So they had done previous studies with mice. Mice are social animals, and they were able to make little kind of setups in the lab with cages and put certain mice in different cages and see how much they interact with each other versus interacting with objects. And they were like, let's try that with some octopuses. We have no idea if this is going to work. So what they did is they used California two-spot octopuses, and they had three connected chambers. So think of this as like a mega cage or a mega aquarium. And they put them into the middle of these three connected chambers, and they were just able to explore on their own. Now, one of the chambers had a second octopus, but it was underneath an overturned bucket or basket. And I guess it must have been really bolted down. It didn't say. But octopuses are notoriously amazing escape artists. But from what I gathered, the octopus stayed under the basket, the plant octopus, the second octopus. And then the other chamber had like a toy in it. Let's call it like a hard plastic toy, like a Chewbacca. Actually, they used a Chewbacca figurine, which is great. And so they were like, we'll just put an octopus in here in the middle and let them explore, and we'll time how long they spend on their own, how long they spend around the other octopus, and how long they spend with the toy. And they used other toys, too. They wanted to make it random. And they did find a couple of things that were interesting, like octopuses of either species were more interested in a female octopus than a male octopus. I'm sorry. I said species. Didn't mean that. Octopuses of either gender were more interested in female octopuses over male octopuses. OK, I'm not sure what that means, but whatever. Not really part of the study. They used a male octopus anyway as the plant octopus. And they realized, like, not really into the male octopus. Like what they would often do is go into the chamber that that octopus was in, sort of smash themselves against the wall to be as far away as possible, bring one tentacle over to be like, no, I'm not interested, and then go back. And that was the behavior that they observed. And then they dumped a bunch of ecstasy into the water. Yeah, so they had no idea how to dose ecstasy with an octopus, because how would you know? And apparently, here's a nice quote. At first, they put too much in, and the animals, quote, freaked out and did all these colour changes, end quote.

J: Oh, my God. See, they're like, hey, check this out, man.

C: A little too high there. But then when they added what they think was a more titrated, more appropriate dose, they started to see that the octopuses didn't appear to be stressed. They were more calm. And ta-da, they were more social. And so they were like, what's going on here? This is something we see in humans. It's something we see in mammals. But octopuses, of course, are vastly different. When did we first converge? 800 million years ago is when we had a common ancestor from octopuses.

S: 800 million? It can't be right.

C: That's what it says. We last shared a common ancestor 800 million years ago.

S: That's before the Cambrian explosion. How the hell would we know that?

C: I know. No, that can't be right. Let me look at that.

E: Yeah, 80 million?

C: Probably 80 million. Oh, my goodness. This is Ed Yong. Has anybody marked on this?

S: It's more than 80 million. It's like 500 million is what I would guess.

C: So we converged from our common ancestor with octopuses an incredibly long time ago. And the truth of the matter is we are obviously much more like mice than we are like octopuses, which is why a lot of people kind of talk about octopuses as a sort of "second intelligence evolution". Because we've been talking about them for a while on the show. They are amazing in their problem-solving abilities. But their brains are vastly different from ours, like vastly different. They are shaped really weird. Their binding sites for neurotransmitters are completely different. And here's an interesting thing. Do you guys know how MDMA works in the brain?

J: No.

E: Nope.

B: I do not.

C: OK. So there are some downstream effects. But the main effect has to do with serotonin. So when you take MDMA, you actually do this massive release of serotonin from your serotonergic neurons. You release much more than you would on a regular basis and sort of flood the synapse with serotonin. And then there's a couple interesting downstream effects. The serotonin also binds to these reuptake transporters. And so you have this flood both in the pre- and the post-synaptic cell. And there's also a couple things that happen afterwards having to do with dopamine. That's actually more the cause of the MDMA toxicity and less the cause of the drug effect, the primary effect. And there's also some stuff that happens with some downstream hormones, like oxytocin, for example. But the main effect really does have to do with serotonin. And that's the ecstasy feeling that a lot of people describe. Some people rebound afterwards. Some people get quite depressed. There's some really interesting stuff where they've done studies with animals, not with humans, where they gave them MDMA while they were on SSRIs, antidepressants, or lactose serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and also MAOs, monoamine oxidase inhibitors. And they didn't get high. They didn't have that same effect. They might have had some downstream effects, but they didn't have that same sort of serotogenic rush that we would describe as being the hallmark of MDMA. MDMA famously is also in a lot of clinical trials right now. It's not a Schedule I drug, at least not that I know of. It's in clinical trials for things like post-traumatic stress disorder, marital problems, things like that, as a controlled way to feel close to people again and to kind of open up a little bit. So the interesting thing is that octopuses don't have the same binding sites as we do. They don't even have the same serotonin as we do. They said something like it's a 50% match. Yeah. Oh, their transporter, the SIRT transporter, which is the protein that takes up the serotonin from the synapse into the postsynaptic cell. Does that make sense? So presynaptic cell releases a gush of serotonin, it hangs out in the synapse, but it can't just hang out forever. Like that's not that healthy. And so what ends up happening is either the presynaptic cell takes it back up, that's reuptake, or the postsynaptic cell, this is the actual action, takes it into the cell via a transporter, and that transporter is called SIRT. And they say the octopus's version of SIRT is only 50% similar to ours, but that seems to be enough that MDMA works in octopuses.

S: So Cara, the most recent common ancestor between cephalopods and humans is 560 million years ago.

C: Interesting. I wonder why they published 800, because this was...

S: Exactly where it should be. Thank you.

C: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That does make sense. I'm just wondering why he published the...

S: It's wrong.

C: Yeah, we should write to Ed. Ed, if you're listening.

E: Oh, he's listening.

C: We need to fact check this. Yeah, so it's really interesting that this animal that potentially converged 500 million years ago, that has a completely different brain, that has very different proteins within the brain, would have what we think of as a "similar effect" when taking ecstasy. That said, let's take a step back. Remember, we're looking at this behaviourally. We can't ask the octopuses how they feel. That's a very big red flag. We have no idea if this is a function of being more social, or if it's a function of maybe being more curious, if it's a function of maybe having some sort of attractant present that's very different than what we would consider sociability in that ecstasy bath. Also, one of the main design problems with the study is that they didn't randomize the design, meaning that they looked at all of their behavior first, then they dumped in an ecstasy bath and looked at their behavior after the drug, instead of taking half of them and counterbalancing, which is much more common.

S: They need to follow up with a controlled evaluation, a blinded evaluation.

C: Exactly. They need to do the ecstasy first with some of them, and then see how they react once the ecstasy is out of their systems, because it could just be that this was a learning function, right? Maybe the second go around, they're more interested in the octopus. So there's a lot of things that need to change. But at the same time, the researchers were like, yeah, it's a pilot study. That's why we did it. We want other people to replicate it. We want other people to add their panache, to add their changes, to ask new questions, inform new hypotheses about this. And let's see if this is something that holds water. Hi-yo.

J: She went there.

S: I think the big picture thing not to miss here is that people are just animals. We take MDMA and it screws up our brain. It alters the way our brain functions, which alters how we feel and how we behave. Same thing happens with mice, with closely related animals. I mean, closely meaning mammals, like just that close. And they have the exact same reaction that we do. And then you go as distant as an octopus and you get behavioral changes. It's hard to make the exact analogy with humans, because we don't know what's going on in their octopus brain. But it affects their behavior as well. We are just the bag of chemicals in our brain.

B: Ugly bags of mostly water.

J: Bob, I was just going to say that.

C: What's that from?

S/J: Star Trek.

B: Next Generation.

C: Don't worry about it.

S: The idea that you always come back to the dualism thing, like we're not just our brains. Come on.

C: I know. I know.

S: We bathe our brains in a chemical and it changes how we feel. I mean, think about that. It changes our identity. The most fundamental aspect of our existence is altered by chemicals. We are just freaking chemicals. That's just the way it is.

B: I'm OK with that.

E: Like everything else.

Who's That Noisy? (59:56)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Laser engraver

S: All right, Jay, it's who's that noisy time.

J: Last week, I played this noisy. [plays Noisy] What is going on, guys?

E: Dentist drill.

C: It's a droid.

B: Yeah, a little robody doody.

C: Robody doody.

J: You think it's a droid?

C: It's a droid.

J: It's not a droid.

E: Dentist drill.

J: It is not a dental drill.

B: Tell me it's like a bird mimicking those noises again.

J: So the worst guess we got was from Pavel from Chicago. And he said it's a disco dancing dentist.

E/C: OK.

J: I think he was kind of on the dentist thing that you were on. Benjamin Forbes guessed, Jay, excellent show. I teach physics and model your science or fiction segment in my class when we get the chance. OK, this week's noisy is the motor of R2D2.

C: That's what I said.

J: Incorrect. I know. Isn't that funny?

C: Dang it.

J: Cal. This is Cal. Cal said, yo, Jay, here's my second ever stab at a noisy. Sounds like two animatronic robots getting it on. You can clearly hear one of them. Climaxing towards the end of the clip really puts nuts and bolts into perspective.

C: Gross.

J: What's happening? Amanda Lee said, oh, I'm sure this week's noisy is a pod of dolphins chatting. Spotted dolphins, maybe, or spinners. None of these are correct.

C: That would have been nice.

J: Nobody got it right. No winner this week, guys.

B: Wow.

C: It was hard.

J: Yeah. Well, what is it? This one, this was sent in by a listener named Zach Portelli. And Zach said, we recently got a laser etching machine at work. It does what its name is. It etches steel and aluminium with a laser. We've spent the last two or three weeks trying to really dial it in and get the etching perfect. And we came across this one setting that just sounded like it was playing Space Invaders or something similar.

S: So it is a droid.

E: Yeah, but it's not the droid you're looking for.

C: Oh, no.

J: So one thing in the video he sent me, it was etching, and then they were erasing the etch. I thought that was really cool.

S: How is it doing that?

J: You know, it doesn't erase it, because it's not like it's adding it. It's actually removing material. I guess it just kind of removes everything that it did, if you follow.

S: OK, yeah.

New Noisy (1:02:18)[edit]

J: All right. So anyway, this week, this was a noisy sent in by a listener named Adam Slagle.

C: Slagle.

J: Slagle.

C: Yay.

J: Cara, you did not let you beat me. My only thing I'll say about this noisy before you hear it is that he and his son did this together. Ready?


S: Jay, that sounds like cute squeaks.

J: Cute squeaks? OK. It has a cute squeaky thing to it, sure. So if you think you know what this week's noisy is, or if you heard something really cool this week that you think I absolutely have to hear, then email me at

Announcements (1:03:05)[edit]

J: Become a patron of the show.

S: Is that some of the middle of it?

J: No, we got to, we're almost at the, we almost picked up 50 people this past week. So we need 350 more people. Guys, we're doing it. It's happening.

S: All right.

Questions and Emails (1:03:21)[edit]

S: We have an email this week. We need to leave more time for emails, because there's a lot of fun ones. There's two. I'm going to do one very quickly. One emailer asked us to remind our listeners that it's flu season. Get your flu vaccine. Now's the time to do it. It takes two weeks for the immunity to kick in. The flu vaccine is now available. The flu vaccine will reduce your risk of death, not just for you, but for people around you, especially for kids and old people who are most vulnerable. Get your flu shot. Do it. If you have any questions or concerns about it, talk to your doctor about it. And they can address any issues that you may have, like an egg allergy or concurrent illnesses or something that you think, well, should I get it? If I have this, if I have asthma or whatever, just talk to your doctor. They'll sort it all out for you. I get those questions all the time. If you don't mind being asked, ask us. It's fine. Get your flu shot. Do it now. Okay, let's go on to the other email. This one comes from an anonymous listener who writes, "Recently I've started a course in psychology. And one of the things about this course", or the instructor, I suppose, "I found unusual is that we were forbidden from using certain words and phrases that stigmatizes mental illness in colloquial context, including, but not limited to, crazy, psycho, insane, and nuts in lectures and assignments of the class. I initially didn't pay much attention to this as I happen to not use the mentioned terms in colloquial context in my daily conversation. But apparently this sparked a lot of discussion among other students stating that this is taking things too far. This is censorship, et cetera. When discussions became very active, the instructor of the course gave us articles about usage of above vocabularies and impact the usage has on public views of mental illness, which I will provide links to at the end of this email. This was around the time when I was listening to one of the episodes of SGU, I think it was episode 684, but not sure, where I've noticed Cara using the words crazy and insane and got me wondering what the members of SGU would think of these articles and about whether use of stigmatizing phrases should be actively discouraged or it is indeed taking things too far. Thank you in advance and keep up the good work. Helps me sit through all this commute." And then he sent me the articles.

C: And it's Kevin. His name's Kevin.

S: Yes, thank you, Kevin. And I sent you the article, Cara. I think I sent everybody the article. And I read through the whole article. It was a very long article. But I do think this is interesting. And this is one that I've been thinking about for a while as well, because there's sort of like interesting points on both sides. Before I get to that, though, what was your take on it, Cara?

C: Yeah, this is a tough one that I struggle with quite a bit, right? Because I am a very, let's say, colourful speaker. But I'm also in training to be a psychotherapist. So I am entering into starting to see patients. I am working towards getting my PhD in clinical psychology. My concentration is actually social justice and diversity. And I myself struggle with mental illness. You know, I have clinical depression. I take antidepressants every day. I see a psychotherapist once a week. And the stigma around mental illness is something that matters quite a bit to me. And I speak about it publicly. I've actually given talks on this very subject. I understand the concern around using these words. I understand that words have a lot of power. I also understand that context matters. And I think that when it comes down to it, we have to be really careful. I would never call somebody crazy. I would never call somebody insane or say, you are a psychopath. Except maybe private mixed company or private company to make an extreme point. Psychopath is a little bit of a different one, too, because that one's tough. It has a negative connotation in a major way. But things like crazy, insane, and nuts, you'll hear often on the show. I'll exclaim things like, that's insane.

S: Yeah.

C: I can't believe the octopus can do that.

S: That's crazy.

C: Yeah.

E: That's an interjection, though. That's not a medical.

C: But that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, right? I try. We don't use the word hysterical anymore because the roots of the word hysterical are incredibly sexist. And so I've I never use the word hysterical. I would especially never call a woman hysterical. I might talk about something funny being hysterical, but I would never tell somebody, oh, my God, stop being so hysterical because it's incredibly insulting. And I think that that's where the crazy and insane stuff is coming from. The question I have is about the etymology, and I really haven't done the research on this. Did the diagnosis and the unfair usage come first, or does the word predate its label towards people? And also, should that matter, right? Because we do see that there are certain things like, let's say, symbols. The what we know well, I'll use a very extreme example, the swastika symbol, right? We identify that heavily with Nazis, Nazism in Germany. We don't use the swastika symbol anymore. But there in a lot of Chinese art and ritual, it means something completely different, and it completely predates Nazism. And some people have stopped using it because it's become sullied. Other people still use it in traditional Chinese art because of its deeper meaning there, which is actually a positive meaning. So it's complicated. And it is something that I think to be better safe than sorry, I would like to work on using, throwing those terms around. But I definitely am very careful not to use them in a stigmatizing context. I think that's very important.

S: I think context is important here. The question is, like, how close do you have to be to the origin of a word before current usage necessarily invokes that origin? So, and I think for a while, I thought, ah, historical, who really knows what the roots of hysterical are? But that one kind of got to the point where, yeah, if you're using that, it does carry that connotation of belittling somebody. You can't really get away from it.

C: Well, we know that the diagnostic roots are on one. And the root form of hyster is from the uterus.

S: Yeah, right. Yeah, I know that. But I'm saying, also, there's like the word retarded. Like we would say, oh, that's retarded. But we stopped saying that because that can be very hurtful.

E: Condescending.

S: And I do think it's a little bit too close to a stigmatizing use of that word. Crazy, I think it's at the point where it depends on context. Like advice, I agree. If you say, oh, that's just crazy. Like if you're talking about an idea that's out there, I don't think anyone gets stigmatized or harmed by that, to be honest with you. I think it's isolated enough in terms of its colloquial use that it's not contributing to the stigma. Now, interestingly, the articles that Kevin linked to say nothing about this. They really don't address the core question of, is there any harm or stigma or even just hurt from people colloquially using phrases like, that's crazy. What the articles were about was the ways in which the people with mental illness are actually stigmatized.

C: Yeah, and the words being used as labels for them, derogatory terms, towards people with mental illness.

S: Yeah, but not even that. It was more about people's attitudes towards people with mental illness. For example, people would equate mental illness with being violent or with being homeless, with a lot of negative words. If you have mental illness, then necessarily you have these other negative attributes. That's the stigma. It was not in any way tied to the casual, out-of-context use of these words, like saying, oh, that's just nuts, right? The other thing is, and this is something that does really annoy the hell out of me, is the way mental illness is portrayed in cinema, in movies and TV.

C: Oh my gosh, it's horrible.

S: It's horrible.

C: Oh, the Silver Linings playbook or playlist or whatever that movie was really angered me. That movie, I thought, was – because it was looked at like some sort of – it was like championing people with mental illness. But really, it completely caricatured them and denigrated them.

S: Yeah, so that was like one of these articles was about how is it portrayed in the popular culture. And there's a few themes, right? One theme is that people who have mental illness are childlike. Another one is that they are – they have this like out-of-the-box genius thinking.

C: Oh, like they're all – they all have savant syndrome.

S: Yeah, like they're really hyper-creative and brilliant and like the eccentric scientist who's like so brilliant they're crazy. That's the other sort of stereotype. And then the third one is they're violent. They're dangerous. They're going to – you don't want to be left in a room alone with them. They're going to hurt you. But the childlike one is like that one always gets so under my skin. It's like have you – you've never actually had any direct exposure to anybody with mental illness.

C: Yeah, who has like incredible coping mechanisms and resiliency because they've been dealing with this difficulty their entire lives and come up with a lot of strategies. You're right. I agree with that. I think when it comes down to the main question, I often think about the word stupid because I think stupid is somewhat more parallel to the word crazy, for example, than the word retarded. We've moved away from saying the word retarded because we notice that it has – or like the word gay, right? We don't even – like it used to be when I was growing up, kids would be like, that's so gay.

S: Yeah, us too. That was still –

C: And that's really denigrates people. And so now we might say that's so crazy. And the truth is it may be the case that people are really harmed by that and that we are seeing this shift and that we have to be more mindful of it. Stupid I think is a good example. I have somebody in my life who I'm very, very close to in my family who struggles with some intellectual difficulties. And I remember seeing people call this person stupid and seeing the incredible pain that they experienced as a result of that. And I've had boyfriends call me crazy and it's incredibly harmful.

S: Yeah, if you were directing it at a person for derogatory purposes, absolutely that's stigmatizing and very, very hurtful.

C: But to say like things are stupid, I don't want to lose that capability. So that's really the question.

S: That's where I think it gets silly because so much of our speech is embodied cognition or uses metaphor and you can't purge it.

J: But there's a novelty to those words from the idea. Like if you take away the fact that a lot of these things that we've been saying here could insult people there is a novelty to having a word that fits a niche, saying that I got gypped. It has its own little feel to it. And I feel bad that anybody was insulted ever if I ever said anything where I didn't think the word meant what it actually meant to somebody else. I feel bad about that.

C: Completely. And we can find new words or we can fill in the gaps with other turns of phrase.

J: Yes, that's what I wanted to get at. I wish that we could just swap the word for something else so we could still have those flavours of words, you know what I mean?

C: Oh, and there's so many articles online about this. If you Google words that stigmatize people with mental illness or any phrase, you will find like use these words instead. There are great websites and forums dedicated to helping empower people to be able to not have to change the way that they—it's like, how can we be PC and also lazy? And it's like, here you go. Here's some shortcuts for you.

B: Or engage in neologism. Make up a new word.

C: Yeah, that's fun too.

S: Real horror show. Okay.

Announcements pt.2 (1:15:51)[edit]

J: October 11th, 2018 is the Skeptical Extravaganza of Special Significance. I can guarantee you that the vast majority of the people listening to this show right now have not seen this stage show that we put on. Boy, do I feel sorry for you.

S: But Jay, they have an opportunity to see it coming up in Manchester.

J: That's a man—yeah, so we're going to be in Manchester on October 11th, 2018. We're going to be running the extravaganza show. It's a two-hour stage show. Now, George, how would you describe this? It's not just a panel show.

G: It's not just a panel show. It's kind of a quiz show. It's kind of a science demonstration. It's kind of an improv comedy challenge thing. It's all of those and so much more. We don't even know what it's going to be, because it's always sort of in the moment and just existing in and of itself, and yet it's completely fully organized and fantastic at the same time. It's all you want in a show featuring the rogues from the SGU.

J: And hosted by George Hrab, of course.

G: Well, yeah.

J: So we've done this show, what, six or seven times at this point. We've iterated it every time. This is the version—I've said this before, but we've really gotten it to the point where I feel like it's really starting to hum now. Without revealing anything, we've spent some money and are introducing some new things into the show this time around that I think is going to be really freaking awesome. I'm so looking forward to it. So if you'd like to join us for the Skeptical Extravaganza of Special Significance, you can easily go to the, and you will see an events section at the very top of the page. And all you got to do is look for the skeptical extravaganza, and you'll be brought to our Eventbrite page where you could buy your tickets. We will be hanging out after the show to meet our guests and to also sign books, if you happen to have one. And we'll probably be selling some t-shirts and things like that as well. It's going to be an all-night type of deal.

S: This is, I think, the favorite thing. This is my favorite thing that we do, is the extravaganza.

C: Really?

S: Yeah, it really is. It's a ton of fun.

B: It is. You have no idea what's going to happen. It's unscripted. You have no idea. Anything could happen. We could invent a new element.

S: This is usually a panic attack for Bob, but for some reason, he thrives in this anxiety provoking performance anxiety scenario.

G: Bob is terrified until he walks on stage, and then he just manages to shine somehow every single time.

J: George, doesn't Bob also get just a weird little bit of baseline anger, though? He's snarky as shit on stage.

G: Yeah, I feel like he's mad at me the entire time because I'm asking him questions, like making up words to rhyme and stuff. Oh, it's great. It's perfect. The antagonism that you feel pouring between the two of us, it's a sexual tension as well. But there's an antagonism that's there, which I really-

S: That's always there, though, George.

G: That's always there. That's true. That's true.

J: That's right.

G: Yeah, yeah.

B: There's an undertone. There's an undertone. Why are you making me go on stage and be improvisational? I don't do that. I need to know everything I'm going to say.

G: And then you kick ass.

B: So I hate you right now.

G: And then you just kick ass.

J: It is a little nerve wracking. George doesn't tell us. We know what bits we're going to do, but we don't know what the bits are exactly going to be because they're different every time because it's all improv. So we've done- One of my favorite things that we do is called freeze frame. We have to get the person who doesn't know what the movie is. They have to guess what it is by us standing frozen in some type of concocted scene that we've come up with. That is brilliantly fun, but we have no idea what movie George is going to throw at us or if I'm going to be the person this time that has to guess what it is or what we're going to have to argue about during the throwdowns that we do.

C: I still can't get over how Bob could not do the Shawshank Redemption.

G: Epic.

C: And George dropped so many. He was like, it's time for your redemption, Bob.

G: I'm going to shank you.

B: Thanks for bringing that up Cara, really appreciate it. I took one for the team. Yes.

J: Look, I got that on video, dude. Like it's immortalized.

G: You know what's really nice? We've done this show in California. We've done this show in Australia and in New Zealand. And now in Manchester this time, there's not going to be a language problem. So that's very exciting, I think, because it's...

E: Maybe for Jay.

J: How many continents have we done this freaking show on?

G: Seriously.

J: Oh, my God. Think about that.

C: Do we have to do it in British accent?

S: Is Zealandia a content? Are we going to count that as its own content?

G: Quite.

E: Yes, absolutely.

B: That's what science says. We got to go with the science.

J: Cara, that's up to George. If George wants us to do English accents.

G: French accents. Who knows?

C: I'm going to start practising right now.

E: You know, but the audience, we interact with the audience. The audience gets to participate in some of these events as well. So it's fun for everybody.

J: So this is happening at Stoler Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, Thursday, October 11th, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time. They say it's BST. What is that?

G: British Standard Time.

C: British Standard Time?

J: British Standard Time. There you go. Good job, Evan. So please join us. This is going to be the best one. I can guarantee it because of the new things that we're doing. And George, I'm excited for you to run this.

G: Yeah. And for this show, I'm doing it from the left side of the stage. So it's perfect. Symetric. I don't even know. Yeah.

S: Don't get me started, George. All right. George, I'm really looking forward to seeing you for this trip. And the extravaganza is going to start the whole thing off.

G: That's what's amazing. It's that sort of first night, first full day we're there is we're doing this. So jet lag will not be a part of the delusionary sort of vibe to the show at all, I'm sure. There will be no sort of drunken, sleep-depraved mania happening at all.

C: Sleep-depraved. I love it.

B: Oh, yeah. We'll be depraved.

S: Thanks for joining us, George. And we'll see you in England.

G: We'll see you in England. Oh, my gosh. I'm so excited. Thanks, guys. Talk to you soon. I'm telling her, man. Fantastic.

C: Cheers.

S: Let's move on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: A new study finds that some pathogenic bacteria are able to hibernate in order to evade and survive a course of antibiotics.[6]
Item #2: Researchers find that minimally invasive autopsy is diagnostically superior to traditional full autopsy.[7]
Item #3: A new analysis concludes that Martian moon Phobos not only is a captured asteroid but likely originated in the Kuiper belt.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Phobos
Science Bacteria
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake-a-rooney. And I challenge my panel of expert skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Are you guys ready for this?

J: Yes.

S: Are you guys ready for this week's news items? All right. These are going to be interesting. Here we go. Item number one, a new study finds that some pathogenic bacteria are able to hibernate in order to evade and survive a course of antibiotics. Item number two, researchers find that minimally invasive autopsy is diagnostically superior to traditional full autopsy. And item number three, a new analysis concludes that Martian moon Phobos not only is a captured asteroid but likely originated in the Kuiper belt. Cara, go first.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Aaah! (laughter) That's the sound of confidence. Let's see. So the first one, pathogenic bacteria are able to hibernate in order to evade and survive a course of antibiotics. This one seems like science to me. And the reason I say that is because several years ago, I was lucky enough to visit this place called WIPP, which is an underground disposal salt mine for nuclear waste. And one of the researchers there was telling me that as they were digging out the salt mine, they found bacteria that was like millions of years old, because this was like Permian rock or Permian salt, and that it came back to life. And I'm like, that's crazy. But then you think about, oh, I just said that's crazy. Jesus.

S: Oh, you just said Jesus. Oh.

C: I know.

E: God.

C: It really is bizarre, right? But at the same time, we have tardigrades, and they kind of don't blow our minds as much anymore as they used to. So I'm going to say that the first one is science. So now it's between the next two. Researchers find that minimally invasive autopsy, we're not talking about surgery, we're talking about autopsy, is diagnostically superior to traditional full autopsy. The only reason I could see this being science would be that in traditional autopsy, you remove whole organs and weigh them. And there's probably a lot of like, I don't want to call it trauma or tissue damage, because the person is dead. But there's probably a lot of damage that occurs that maybe you might miss something because you had to cut somewhere, or you're causing postmortem bruising, or you're changing the way the body looks a little bit. And so unless you did a really good exterior examination, maybe some of the cuts and the things that you do in order to be more invasive are actually hiding other diagnostic clues. And then the last one would be Martian moon Phobos. Not only is a captured asteroid, but likely originated at the Kuiper Belt. You would think it originated in the asteroid belt because it's so much closer. Kuiper Belt's pretty far. I do think Phobos is not like round, though. I mean, it's round enough to be considered a moon, but I thought Phobos was a bit like weird.

J: That's no moon.

C: Right? I thought that was something I remembered about Phobos. I'm trying to remember Phobos Grunt. You guys remember Phobos Grunt and all the images? This is so hard. It's six and one half a dozen the other. I'm going to go with my gut. I'm going to say it came from the asteroid belt, not the Kuiper Belt. But it is an asteroid.

S: OK, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Well, this first one about the pathogenic bacteria being able to hibernate. Man, this one is really cool, that they have to have some type of mechanism in them to make them go into stasis somehow, unless the environment just makes them automatically do it. Or are they so simple that they can get semi-desiccated or something and then come back kind of like a tardigrade? Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, remember what we learned way back with Perry, anything to do with bacteria, the answer is yes. Do you remember that, Ev?

E: Oh, yes, I do.

J: Yeah, so that one is science to me. Thank you, Perry. Researchers find that minimally invasive autopsy is diagnostically superior to traditional full autopsy. I mean, I don't understand why this seems so obvious to me that it's wrong, because why would it be superior? Like what part of it is superior? If you're doing a full traditional autopsy, from my understanding, I mean, they're going in and they're checking out a lot of your internal organs. It depends on what happened to you, of course. I'm sure they focus on your brain if you had some type of brain situation. But why would them being minimally invasive be better than being fully invasive? I don't know. That's weird to me.

C: I guess you don't like my answer.

J: I try not to listen, because I-

C: I see that.

S: That explains so much, Jay.

C: Don't worry, Jay.

J: I heard what you said. You said the tissues get damaged and all that, but even still, I mean, when you say minimally, like they're going in and using a thing to do a little sample of the tissue instead of cutting in and ripping stuff out. I guess that does make sense. All right. So a new analysis concludes that the Martian moon Phobos not only is a captured asteroid, but likely originated in the Kuiper belt. Yeah, I see what Cara is saying. It could just be from the asteroid belt. It doesn't have to be from the Kuiper belt. So it's between this one and the autopsy. I'm going to go with Cara. I think that she's correct.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Wow. So bacteria. Yeah, Jay. I like your point about what Perry used to say about bacteria. Can do anything, survive anything. They're resilient as all hell. Only viruses give them a run for their money. So the fact that they might be able to hibernate in order to evade a course of antibiotics, I don't think is outlandish. Maybe it's doing something else other than technically hibernating. So I think that one's a trick. And I think I'll take the shot and say that that one's the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Okay. Yeah, bacteria could do almost anything. That's a no-brainer. That's such a trivial thing. I mean, it's important and scary, but hibernate bacteria, sure. I've got no problem with that at all.

E: I didn't either.

B: The invasive autopsy, this makes sense to me because I think with a traditional full autopsy, I think you can get just so lost in the weeds and detail, so many separate activities and things to do that you could just kind of miss the obvious vast majority of causes of death because you're just so deep into the minutiae of the human body. So I could see how a minimally invasive autopsy can be diagnostically superior. If it's an obscure death, sure, I would see how you would probably need a full autopsy. But for the vast majority, I think minimally invasive kind of makes sense. So I'm okay with that one too. The third one is a little bit more problematic. But the Martian moon, Phobos, you guys were engaging in a false dichotomy. It's not just a capture with a Kuiper belt or asteroid. It also could be from Mars itself, from an impact, like our moon was created. We didn't capture the moon. It was created by an impact from a Mars-sized object. And that always seemed more likely to me. First off, the Kuiper belt is far away, much farther away than the regular asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. So if it's going to capture something, it'll probably be from that asteroid belt. And capturing, I think, is a lot harder than actually just creating your own moon from an impact. Yeah, I think that this one is probably the fiction.

S: All right.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: So Evan is the odd man out this week.

E: Yeah, I know I'm gambling. I'm gambling.

S: But you all agree on number two. So we'll start there. Researchers find that minimally invasive autopsy is diagnostically superior to traditional full autopsy. You all think this one is science. And let me just say, I hated everything all of you said about this.

B: Really?

E: I mentioned the word diagnostically.

S: You're all incorrect on everything you said. No, it's a medical one. So I'm listening to you guys fumble and not really understanding.

J: OK, I admitted that I am not a doctor.

S: I give you props for admitting your ignorance.

E: I'm triggered.

S: This one is, however, science.

C: Yay, so wait, wait, wait.

S: But none of you hit upon the important part.

C: Oh, minimally invasive, minimally.

S: Like Bob's idea that you're going to get distracted by all the information you're getting from the full autopsy, that's utter nonsense.

B: It sounded good in my head.

S: And Cara's idea that you're going to do trauma that's going to obscure diagnostic findings is also an insult to every pathologist ever.

C: I watch a lot of forensic files, and a lot of times those aren't actual pathologists. They're the state-appointed medical examinater.

B: Examinater, examinater, examinater.

E: Write it down, write it down.

C: Fine.

B: I like that one.

E: Sounds like Terminator.

S: A full autopsy, first of all, you do examine the outside of the body, right?

C: Of course.

S: Now I will give you this. There is a difference between a regular autopsy and a forensic autopsy. A forensic autopsy is when you suspect foul play, and you're doing the kind of examination meant to determine criminality, whereas a medical autopsy is you're looking for the cause of death, but you don't suspect that somebody was murdered or whatever. And there are different standards and different procedures for forensic versus a normal autopsy. They're both done by pathologists, but it's their different subspecialties. A traditional full medical autopsy, you examine the corpse completely, and you, in fact, you describe it as you're doing it. We certainly would not cut through anything that was potentially important. And then you remove every organ, you examine them, you weigh them, and then they are later, they're fixed and dissected and then histologically microscopically described. So the amount of detail and information you get from an autopsy is incredible. A minimally invasive autopsy, what they do is they actually scan the body with MRI and or CAT scan.

B: Oh, cool.

S: And then if they see anything, they do like a needle biopsy. Why would you bother doing a minimally invasive autopsy on a dead person when you could do a full autopsy?

C: Because it's pretty obvious what happened.

C: Or it's faster. It's cheaper. I don't know.

S: No, it's more expensive.

C: Oh, maybe. Oh, what if you're using scanners?

S: Well, you are using scanners.

C: Well, you're going to see way more shit that way.

S: Yes, that's correct. The reason why you would do that, however, that's not why we do it. This is the first study to show the superiority of minimally invasive autopsy. The reason is because families don't give you permission to do a full autopsy.

C: Oh, so you can still see stuff without opening them up.

S: Because people get weird about it. And the autopsies are actually decreasing, the number of autopsies that are being done. And this is a shame. It's lost information.

C: That is a shame.

B: Wait, you're not answering the question, though. Why is it diagnostically superior?

C: Because you can see more stuff with like a whole body scan, right?

S: Yes, because the autopsy focuses on the thorax, right, the body cavity.

C: And the brain sometimes, right?

S: And maybe the brain as well. So brain and body cavity. But if you do an MRI scan, you could scan the entire body.

C: So you can see a blood clot in the leg, or you could...

S: Yeah, exactly.

C: Oh, man.

S: So there are two ways in which they evaluated the diagnostic ability of these two techniques. One is, did it identify the cause of death? And two was, how many of the diagnoses that it was known the person had were picked up on the autopsy? And by the first criterion, the two techniques were equal.

B: Really?

S: So the minimally invasive autopsy was able to determine the cause of death at the same percentage as a full autopsy.

J: Wow.

C: Cool.

S: And on the second criterion, the minimally invasive autopsy was superior. It captured more of the diagnoses that were there than the autopsy did. So that's good news because we probably will get permission from families to do minimally invasive autopsies more often than the full autopsy.

C: Absolutely. I mean, I guess we should have already known this because we do it with mummies and we were able to see cause of death. But you know what? I want to just clarify something really quickly. I don't want to take up too much time. But now this does not justify why my answer is not right. But I do want to tell you where I was coming from. I misspoke when I said medical examiner and I meant coroner because in a lot of counties, coroners don't even have medical degrees. So there are people who do these sometimes.

S: This is the coroner. This is a pathologist.

C: Yeah, okay.

S: We do an actual autopsy, yeah. Or you know what you call it in an animal?

C: A necropsy.

S: A necropsy, yeah. Okay.

B: I like that word.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Let's go back to number one. A new study finds that some pathogenic bacteria are able to hibernate in order to evade and survive a course of antibiotics. Evan, you think this one is a fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. The vibe I was getting from you guys on this one, necessarily this is like in a person, right? In an animal. They can't be dehydrated because this is in an organism that's being treated with it.

J: Oh, I didn't think of that. Did not think of that.

C: So they're just going dormant.

S: A course of antibiotics. It has to be in a living organism, right?

C: Yeah, but bacteria can live on surfaces. They're not like viruses. So they could still be exposed in like the herd because there's gene transfer. I guess it doesn't really happen outside of the body. Yeah.

S: This one is science.

B: Sure.

C: Yes.

S: But what's happening is more interesting than what any of you realize because this is... So the bacteria inside a person, right? Inside an animal that's being treated with antibiotics. It somehow detects the threat of the antibiotics and it shuts down its metabolism.

B: Well, of course.

S: And goes dormant. It hibernates. And then when the antibiotics are gone, it comes back to life and reinfects.

B: Well, that's the implication, of course.

S: Yeah, right. I think it was like Jay and Cara said things that maybe...

C: Yeah, we're talking about them in the natural. Like I was talking about bacteria hiding out in the wild.

S: Yeah, outside of a body or like a tardigrade gets dehydrated. Nope, this is just... They said, okay, we're going to stop reproducing until the threat passes. And it's not some species do this. It's some individual bacteria within a species, right?

B: Oh, well, that's good. That's encouraging.

C: But no, but it's not though because it imparts resistance.

B: A whole species doing it.

C: But that's not how resistance works. In resistance, it's always individuals within the species.

S: Exactly. It's actually worse than you think, Bob. Let's say you have E. coli, which is what the study was in. And the E. coli causes an infection. You treat it with antibiotics. And some percentage of them shut down. So you think you're getting better because the antibiotics is working. But there's this subset that go dormant. And then they wait in the wings until the antibiotics are gone. Then they reemerge.

C: Oh, I wonder if this is how C. diff works.

S: Well, C. diff is more that you kill off other bacteria. And C. diff doesn't get killed by the bacteria. And then it's an opportunistic infection.

C: But no matter what people do, it just keeps coming back.

S: Right, right.

B: Well, can't you just do a course of antibiotics and then wait until they wake up and then hit them again real quick?

C: But then what if the signal just makes them hibernate again?

S: But that might work. We don't know. The thing is we just discovered that bacteria could do this with this study. And so now we have to figure out like, oh, dang, those little bastards. What are we going to do about it, right? So we have to maybe use a different antibiotic that doesn't... that works in a different way that they can't evade by shutting down their reproduction.

C: Yeah, maybe have to take dual antibiotics now.

S: Or you may need to take a longer course. Or you may need to take a break and then do it again. I don't know. We have to now follow up on this.

C: That's why I wonder about these kind of like persistent gut problems. A lot of people who have persistent gut bacteria issues, they tend to have to take the same antibiotic like three times in a row or something like that. And that could be why. Wow.

S: Right, right. So this is a very important finding, actually. And this who knows how this is going to pan out in terms of informing how we can best optimize antibiotic treatments. Okay.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All of this means that a new analysis concludes that Martian moon Phobos not only is a captured asteroid but likely originated in the Kuiper Belt is the fiction. Bob, did you read this one?

B: Yeah.

S: Yeah, I figured. Because the study was analysing the material of Phobos and said that it actually has most in common with the crust of Mars. And so-

B: Based on its reflected light, by the way. They don't have a sample. Based on the reflected light.

S: Right. And this is old data that they had for 20 years that they just relooked at.

B: Which is awesome, by the way. I love that.

S: It was understudied. Like it really was underanalyzed, they were saying. So they analysed it. And Phobos and Deimos probably both are the result of an impact with Mars that sent up debris. And these are the surviving bits, the two moons of Mars. So it isn't a home run. So the researchers are not saying, all right, we could now conclude once and for all that these were from Mars itself rather than captured asteroids. So it's not the final nail in the coffin of the captured hypothesis, which is why I threw in the Kuiper Belt thing because that is-

B: Makes it even less likely.

S: That makes it even less likely. If they are captured asteroid, you're correct, Cara. They probably are from the asteroid belt. But being a captured Kuiper Belt object isn't totally out of the question. Evan is also right. Stuff from that gets perturbed gravitationally, whatever. It comes into the inner solar system.

B: Comets don't come from the Kuiper Belt. They come from the Oort Cloud, which is like a light year away.

S: Yeah, but this is not a comet. This is a moon.

C: Interesting.

S: But it's not inconceivable that something from the Kuiper Belt could get bumped into an inner orbit and then get captured by a planet. But as Bob said, it's hard to capture something. And if it's coming in hot from the Kuiper Belt, it's even less likely. I toyed my alternate fake, which I thought was going a bridge too far, was to say that it was a captured extrasolar object. That's interesting, but really, really unlikely. Because talk about booking, right? Like that asteroid that we saw just this year, right? Or was it last year?

B: Yeah, the asteroid from the extragalactic asteroid.

S: Extrasolar. Extrasolar asteroid.

B: Wait, are you sure?

S: You said extragalactic. It was just extrasolar. It was outside of our solar system passing through.

B: Yeah, huh.

S: Yeah, not extragalactic.

C: Yeah, yeah.

S: But that was the first one that was positively identified as an extrasolar visitor. And capturing that would be tough. That would have required a trick shot where it swings around.

E: A bank shot or deflecting off something else.

S: Yeah, one planet and it gets captured by another. Yeah, it would have been really tricky because that was coming in really, really fast.

C: Some sort of combination, like an impact capture.

S: Yeah, something. It hits a moon and then whatever, yeah.

B: Yeah, and if it was going towards the sun, it would actually probably speed up first, right? Because the sun would be pulling it in. Yeah, you'd have to roll 50 20s in a row.

S: You're right, Bob. It'd be very unlikely individually. But since shit like that is happening all the time, it only has to happen once. And then you can have it for millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of years. Who knows? It's interesting to think about those rare events are common in the big universe. That's the bottom line.

E: Right. That's why I gambled.

S: All right. Good job, guys. Evan, this was your week to be the odd man out. That's fine.

E: I knew it was a risk. It was a gamble.

S: I admire your courage. I admire your courage.

C: You did say that.

E: Thank you.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:43:23)[edit]

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that the mere fact of our existence should keep us all in a state of contented dazzlement

 – Lewis Thomas (1913-1993), American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher

S: So, Evan, give us a quote.

E: "Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that the mere fact of our existence should keep us all in a state of contented dazzlement." Yes, written by Louis Thomas. Now, I don't think we've spoken about Louis Thomas before on the show. But he was an American physician, a poet, an etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher. He attended Princeton University and Harvard Med School, became the dean of Yale Medical School and New York University School of Medicine, and president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute. Other than that, he didn't do much. Oh, wait. No, he did. He won annual national book awards in two categories. He won a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for his book, The Medusa and the Snail.

J: Wow.

C: Geez.

E: Which also won a national book award in science. I've not heard of that. I'll have to put that on my list.

C: The National Book Award in Science?

E: The Medusa and the Snail. No, I've heard of the award. I've just not heard of this book before. Or, frankly, Louis Thomas. So...

C: Wait, did he write Life of a Cell?

E: The Lives of a Cell.

C: Oh, my gosh.

E: Of a Biology Watcher.

C: One of my favorite books. I love Louis Thomas.

E: There you go.

C: This is amazing. I'm so happy.

E: You knew him but didn't recognize him.

C: But didn't know I knew him. Probably. But, I mean, I read it in the 90s, and I loved it.

J: Just think about how much of a miracle it is that we coexist with the people that we coexist with. I mean, because it's times two, if you think about it. You have to exist, and then this other person has to exist at the same time you do. Temporally.

B: Yeah, but just think, though. If they didn't exist, you might be with somebody even cooler.

S: Yeah, it all rings a little bit of a lottery fallacy. It's like, yes, of course, anything that happened was incredibly improbable. But something had to happen. Somebody was going to be here. And whoever was here was going to think that it will have been incredibly improbable.

B: My point, exactly.

C: But it gets to be us.

E: That's right.

S: But it gets to be us.

E: We won.

C: Yay.

B: We rock.

S: But the thing is, we didn't exist before we won. So what does that mean? We couldn't lose, right?

C: If a tree falls in the forest, yeah.

S: Because if you lost, that means you never existed. So you couldn't have lost because you don't exist to lose.

C: Oh, Steve.

S: Right? So there are only winners. There are only winners if you count existing as winning.

C: Yes, exactly. If you are not a Nietzsche.

E: There is that.

S: All right, everyone. I want to congratulate you all.

E: Thank you.

S: Because as this show comes out, our book will be launching.

C: Oh, my God. So exciting.

J: I know. It's a free show on the dance floor.

S: Looking forward to spending two weeks with you guys basically celebrating our book.

C: Yeah, it's going to be so fun.

E: It's going to be epic.

J: Steve, you made this happen, brother.

E: Absolutely, Steve.

C: Absolutely.

S: Thank you, guys.

E: Way to captain the ship.

C: Your letters are the big letters.

S: Yes, that's right. Because I did all the freaking work. And I'm totally done with the audio book. So that'll be coming out around the same time. I think they're going to actually put it in a can tomorrow.

C: Awesome.

S: Or even today. They might have been done. I think they were going to do it today.

E: In the cookie can today?

S: In the cookie can. Yeah, it's going right in there with the cookies. All right, guys. Looking forward to seeing you.

B: Yay.

C: You too.

E: Yeah, you too.

J: We'll see you very soon.


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

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description


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