SGU Episode 71

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SGU Episode 71
November 29th 2006
SGU 70 SGU 72
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
MC: Mark Crislip
Quote of the Week
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
Bertrand Russell
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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

News Items[edit]

Paranormal Computer Storage (1:05)[edit]


Intelligent Design in the UK (6:53)[edit]


Questions and E-mails (9:42)[edit]

Corrections and Clarifications (10:10)[edit]

Nick Pope is not a former minister of defense, but was just the head of the Ministry of Defence UFO project.

Passing reference was made to that notion that people use only 10% of our brains. This was tongue-in-cheek, but we should have specifically pointed out that this is a myth.

Einstein (14:18)[edit]

Dr. Novella,

I just got around to listening to the Nov 21 podcast. I must disagree with your reasons behind Einstein's Special Relativity theory being one of the great paradigm changing discoveries. I would agree that it was a monumental and paradigm shifting discovery, and that Einstein is arguably the greatest scientist of all time. But your reasoning that only Einstein and his great genius could have given us this theory is flawed. It sounded to me like you used an argument from incredulity instead of historical research. You also got some of your facts incorrect. Many scientists today believe it was only a matter of time before the Special Relativity theory was discovered. Einstein was in the right place at the right time, and without his paper it still would have been discovered within 5 or 10 years. He was not the first person to suggest space and time were variables. By 1905, the French physicist Henri Poincare already published many of the salient points of Special Relativity. Some argue the credit of the discovery should have gone to Poincare; Einstein himself was quoted as saying 'there is no doubt that the Special Theory of Relativity, if we regard its development in retrospect, was ripe for discovery in 1905'.

You said Einstein's theory was 'thinking outside of anything that any human before him had ever conceived'. Please research this history, and if you agree, please say something on the podcast and give some credit where credit is due, most notably to Poincare Lorentz.

-Tom Evans

The Top 10 Ghost Photos (20:01)[edit]

The Skeptics' Guide reviews the best photo evidence of ghosts

Neurolink (35:32)[edit]

Hey there,
I found out about you guys via Rebecca Watsons blog that I found out via both of which are glorious, (of course). Anyhow I will do the adoration thing when I have more time but I just wanted to quickly find out about this thing that my dad wants me to do called 'neurolink'. I am 18 as a side note, so my parents are still a bit bossy. Now I think it sounds a bit dud but what do you think? Here's the link
Thanks oh most inspiring ones!!

Annie Tepstra

Interview with Mark Crislip (39:32)[edit]

  • Host of Quackcast - a biweekly (roughly) podcast on quackery and alternative medicine.

Randi Speaks (58:02)[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: Mentalism

JR: Hello. This is James Randi. As I prepare this to send to you folks, I'm heading off to see Steve Shaw. Now that name may not be familiar to you. You may know him better as Banachek. He's going to be performing his beautiful mentalism act in Boca Raton, somewhat north of me here in Fort Lauderdale. As always, it's going to be a joy to see Steve at work. And I take a certain amount of pride in knowing that I'm responsible, to a limited extent, for his success. He is now, arguably, the most famous and most proficient in the North American continent. His calendar certainly attests to that fact. But, as most of you know, there's something else about Steve that makes him an outstanding performer. He produces all of these wonderful effect of mentalism, and at the conclusion, he tells his audience that everything they've seen is just trickery. Of course, the question here is, does that take away from the performance? I don't think so, nor does Steve. Though, as I'm sure you'll all know, there will be people in Steve's audience who will leave the theater and shrug to themselves, "I wonder why he had to tell us that, because what he's done is obviously the real thing". These are folks for whom no amount of evidence will ever suffice to prove to them that what they've seen is only a series of tricks. Very clever tricks; very, very clever tricks indeed, but tricks. Personally, I have a hard time watching magic shows or mentalism shows, as I'm going to see in another hour or so, because it's difficult to get into the mood of just enjoying the audience reaction and the effects that are produced, rather than try to figure out the trickery. In fact, at a Copperfield show some years ago, here in Fort Lauderdale, I sat with Andrew Harter, who is known as Andrew Mayne in his magician mode. And we would remark to one another, "wow, that was sensational", when, to the rest of the audience, it didn't look as if anything had really happened. We were seeing the moment of truth, you see, and that's what was important to us. Our neighbors in the audience must still think, even to this day, that they sat beside a couple of nuts. Banachek's performance is remarkable in another respect. He has never lost sight of the fact that it's his obligation to tell people in his audience that they have been fooled by a series of tricks. Now that probably arose from the fact that he was one of the two Alpha kids that I sent into a parapsychological laboratory many, many years ago with simple instructions. If you're ever asked that you're doing tricks, say "yes, and James Randi sent us." Of course, as I had predicted to the kids in advance, they would never be asked that question by the parapsychologists. That, in itself, is an interesting fact, that the parapsychologists will not ask that kind of question. And I think that it indicates they want a positive result, regardless of whether or not it's a genuine one. There are some parapsychologists, such as Susan Blackmore and Richard Wiseman, of course, to which this does not apply. Those are genuine researchers who really want to get at the truth. But that's a rather rare commodity in the field of parapsychology. Steve, or Banachek, will tell you any time you want to ask him, it was quite an easy job to fool those parapsychologists, because they were so anxious to have positive results to report. As a matter of fact, during the Alpha experiment, the kids would phone me, right after a session with the parapsychologists, report to me what had happened. And I'd immediately sit down and write a letter saying, "you know, if the kids ever decide to do this"—and I would describe just what had happened—"here's what I suggest you should do." The kids would subsequently report to me that the scientists had come to them with the statement, "just look what this fellow, James Randi, is saying about our competence." And though the kids might expect it, they never got asked the fatal question, "are you doing tricks?" They never heard that inquiry. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction (1:02:49)[edit]

Question #1: Scientists have cracked the ancient code of a 2 thousand year old astronomical calculator, revealing technological sophistication previously unknown to the ancient world. Question #2: A biochemist claims to have finally solved the long mystery of the unique quality of the Strativarius violins. Question #3: Scientists have rediscovered a 500 year old alchemical formula for curing bacterial infections that actually works.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:11:21)[edit]

Last 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.

Answer: Dowsing
Winner: Larry Keim

This Week's puzzle
This person had good motives in mind when he proposed that mans
activities occur in predictable waves. He took stock in this belief, and
in his own bullish way, brought his philosophy to bear. Perhaps he
should have invested more time in his research, for he could have used
some corrections to realize his theory would crash.

Who is this person?

Quote of the Week (1:14:31)[edit]

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.- Bertrand Russell

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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