SGU Episode 70

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SGU Episode 70
November 21st 2006
SGU 69 SGU 71
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
A Hubble Space Telescope photograph of the universe evokes far more awe for creation than light streaming through a stained glass window in a cathedral.
Michael Shermer
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items[edit]

Global Orgasm Day (1:16)[edit]


The Science of Deception (5:03)[edit]


'Aliens could attack at any time' warns former MoD chief (9:44)[edit]


Questions and E-mails[edit]

Wonders of the World (15:10)[edit]

First, I want to compliment the panel on the consistent high quality of your podcast. I've been listening to back episodes so quickly that I'll soon run out, and short of re-listening to your show was wondering what podcast your panelists listen to regularly.

Second, I would like your input on what I think in an interesting question. ABC News Good Morning America has been running a series called the 'New Wonders of the World.' Their list is interesting, but seems a bit tired (the internet and the great migration in Africa were bold choices, but Jerusalem?). Aside from giving Robin Roberts the opportunity to make really asinine statements such as 'The Mayans invented the calendar we use today' they didn't really explore much that is really wondrous and mind-expanding.

I'd like to put to your panel, what do you consider the greatest wonders of the world (and 'world' can be interpreted in its larger context, not just Earth)?

As this is a skeptical show, the wonders should be limited to the physical universe, and those things that - if speculative - have at least a decent chance of being explained by science someday.

To get the ball rolling, to me the greatest wonder of the world is the mystery of consciousness itself. How does the gravitationally-aggregated ash of star explosions organize itself to the point where it can understand what it is made of? It's a controversial question, even among scientists, but one that I do think can be addressed.

How about it, guys? What gives you goosebumps?

Brad Reed
Botkins, Ohio

Randi Speaks (46:54)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic

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

    This week's topic: Courage

JR: Hello, this is James Randi. Our good friend Daniel Dennett in one of his recent books, Breaking the Spell, has expressed himself as usual, very forcibly and very frankly. In quite the same way and in quite the same tone, Richard Dawkins has also done this in his latest book, The God Delusion. Several critics, in reviewing both these books, have said that the authors are, and I quote, insulting and unnecessarily belittling. What these two gentlemen are being accused of, frankly, is calling their shots. They're speaking their minds, as they have a perfect right to do in any book that they write and publish. They're saying what they honestly believe to be true in perfectly plain language. Frankly, I find that refreshing. A recent edition of "South Park", the very popular TV cartoon series, portrayed Richard Dawkins as some sort of strident hateful character. That's not Richard at all. It appears that truth and candor are being mistaken for bad temper and for cruelty. Now, in the day of Jonathan Swift, an author who was one of my very favorites, methods of authors were obviously much more subtle. In Gulliver's Travels, Swift managed to create a suitably fictional country, or series of countries actually, in which he could express himself much more freely, but not being obviously rude. I frankly think, folks, that it's time for us to get realistic. To continue to pussyfoot around and pretend that our feelings and our emotions are somewhat different from the way they actually are is, I think, a big mistake. Frankly, I don't give a damn whether people are offended by what I write or not. I admit that my association with Richard Dawkins and my exposure to his works has made me much bolder than I used to be. I now embrace any opportunity to express myself frankly and strongly. I have always been an atheist and I've always been very proud of it. But inspired by Dawkins, and perhaps by my advanced age as well, I must admit, I now speak much more loudly and openly. I'd like to see more of us doing exactly that. Hopefully, the faith-based administration won't be with us for very long, and we are of course limited by what we can say. In order to be politically correct we have to be very careful. I suggest to you that it's time that we're able to subject the sacred to scrutiny, to criticism, to examination. Now, to some people, that's unthinkable. Religion, they try to tell us, is something you must not question, and you must not ask others to question either. To borrow a phrase from my good friends Penn & Teller, bullshit! Any idea or philosophy should be subject and must be subject to questioning. Why is religion and superstition given a special category? Folks, I can't figure that out at all. It's an idea; it's a way of living; it's a way of thinking. And if it tends to have any impact whatsoever on my life, and the lives of my loved ones, I most certainly have the right to question it. When I give my talks at schools, universities, colleges around the world, almost always the first question that I get asked after my one-and-a-half-hour tirade, is "Mr. Randi, do you believe in God?" Well, I've been at this business for many decades now, and I have what I think is a pretty good answer. I respond by saying "oh, yes. Oh, yes, Minerva is one of my favorite goddesses." From some in the audience that'll get a slight laugh, but from the questioner, I usually see a great deal of flustering, saying, "no, no; I mean God." I respond, "oh, you mean Loki or Thor, do you?" Of course, that generates a discussion on just how many gods there are, and hopefully somebody in my audience will get the message. Yes, it takes a certain amount of nerve, but then I've got that amount of nerve. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction (51:54)[edit]

Question #1: Astrobiologist Paul Davies - We may find life on earth that is the product of a separate origin and evolution. Question #2: Neurobiologist Steven Pinker - We will use a combination of genetic engineering and breeding to 'evolve' dolphins, chimps, and other intelligent animals to a human level of intelligence. Question #3: Biologist Daniel Pauly - We will learn how to read animals minds, and then everyone will become a vegetarian. Question #4: Simon Conway Morris - The brain alone is not the seat of consciousness. Rather, it is an 'antenna' embedded in a hyperdimensional matrix.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:05:11)[edit]

This Week's puzzle
Albert Einstein
John Locke (philosopher)
Herbert Hoover (31st US president)
Robert Boyle (father of modern chemistry)
Gen. George S. Patton

Each of these famous people have had a hand in this pseudoscience.

Name the pseudoscience.

Last Week's puzzle

He began in Lebanon, and ended in Belfast.
He tinkered in clocks, and invented saws.
His consumption almost got the best of him, until he used the healing
power of his own mind.
He would often have new thoughts pertaining to the health of mind,
body, and spirit.
His main friends would go to the park to seek his advice.
He had a great distrust of doctors and the disease theory.
He believed disease was only a disturbance of the mind.
He believed everything in the natural world had an origin in the
spiritual world.
He called himself a doctor, though he had no formal education or
He peddled the wares, to show the world his methods were sound.
He is still revered today, and his theories continue to influence New
Age thinking.

Who was he?

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby

Quote of the Week (1:08:29)[edit]

'A Hubble Space Telescope photograph of the universe evokes far more awe for creation than light streaming through a stained glass window in a cathedral.'-Michael Shermer

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


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