SGU Episode 777

From SGUTranscripts
Jump to navigation Jump to search
  Emblem-pen-orange.png This episode needs: proofreading, formatting, links, 'Today I Learned' list, categories, segment redirects.
Please help out by contributing!
How to Contribute

SGU Episode 777
May 30th 2020
SAMPLE icon.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 776                      SGU 778

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

I’m 13, so I don’t want to rush everything ... I’m still trying to figure it out, but I just want to focus on learning right now. That’s what I love to do.

Jack Rico, youngest graduate in Fullerton College history[1]

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, May 27th, 2020, 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, folks.

S: So guys, this show, this show is number 777.

B: Whoa.

J: Cool.

B: It must have some significance.

J: So wait, I always forget, Cara, what was the first numbered show you did with us?

C: I have no idea.

E: Wow. Wow, that is ingrained in your frontal lobe?

S: Five hundred and something, right?

C: It's five something. Yeah. It was like, how many years ago? Four years ago now? Or five years ago?

S: Four.

C: Is this the longest podcasting relationship you've ever had? Well, relationship, yeah, but my podcast has I was doing Talk Nerdy for a year before I joined SGU. So Talk Nerdy, which is weekly, but I take two weeks off in the summer or I'm sorry, in the holiday. So it's 50 episodes a year. I just put out episode 309.

J: Nice.

C: Yeah. So you guys obviously have been doing it for, what is that, 15 years?

S: 15 years, yeah.

E: 15. And we're in our 16th.

C: And I've been doing, I've been doing Talk Nerdy for six years, over six years. And I think I've been with you guys now on the SGU for over five years. Yeah. Amazing.

E: Oh, and according to, angel number seven, the angel number is 777.

S: So I was watching live today, the launch of SpaceX with the first.

J: Me too.

E: Yes, I watched it as well.

B: Me too.

E: Two and a half hours, I turned on the cameras and everything, two and a half hours right before launch. I started watching.

S: Yeah.

E: Saw a lot of cool things.

S: Got to 15 minutes.

E: 15 minutes.

J: It was actually, it was 16 minutes and some odd seconds, but I watched for two hours. I watched for two hours. I'm such a fan boy when it comes to this. There's something about, I remember when I was a kid and I remember being so into the space missions and just thought it was such an awesome thing that was going on that like the adults do it was such a powerful thing that was happening. So here's a bunch of observations I made today. One, the crew arm, which is the walkway that the astronauts and support crew access, the Dragon capsule. It's really cool. It's really cool. They have something in there called the white room, which is the very last place that they stand before they get on to the module. And this was, that name was used before in previous missions where they had to walk the gangplank to get out to the command module.

B: They should play the white out mother in the white room.

J: I found out something else I thought was really cool. They use nitrox to test to make sure the suits are pressurized.

C: What's nitrox?

E: Nitrox?

J: Yeah. So it's a gas that they can detect. And what happens is I guess they fill it. They put it into the suit and if the suit leaks, then a nitrox detector in the capsule will pick it up and they'll know that it came out of the suit. So again, they said today during the two hours that I got to watch this, that the suit's primary function is to protect the crew from depressurization. So like I said, last time I talked about this, that those suits indeed can handle full depressurization, which is really awesome. And another thing is the seats in the Dragon swivel, meaning that they're in the mode where they put the astronauts in the seats, the form fitted seats, and then they swivel them up and back and that's where they gain access to the interface, the touch screen and analogue interface that they have.

E: And they get to hold their cat and pet it in their lap as they swivel.

J: The Dragon capsule was designed from scratch 12 years ago, completely from scratch, meaning that they've used, there was no legacy, nothing in there. There was all brand new material and they've been continuously upgrading it and improving it and making it more functional depending on, is it going to hold equipment? Is it going to hold depressurized equipment? Is it going to hold equipment that needs to be pressurized? So I thought that was really cool. It's a really interesting thing to think about when you go back to the beginning of the space shuttle, we're going back to the 80s.

E: Did anyone feel any anxiety today alongside excitement?

S: Oh yeah.

E: I detected a real, because I'm not normally an anxious person, but I detected some anxiety in me.

C: Right.

E: Well, they're starting to think about, yeah, well, starting to think about, wow, all the things that could possibly really go wrong here. And that started to I kept it in check, but it was definitely present.

S: We lived through Challenger and then Columbia.

J: Well, all right. So first of all, I think the excitement Evan adds to the stress and anxiety adds to the excitement. It kind of turns into like the relief feeling that you get when you know that they got past the most dangerous part, which of course is the takeoff until they get into "outer space". I'm not saying it's not dangerous there, but you know, when they separate from the booster, from the rocket, that's a big deal. That's good. That's when you're no longer strapped to a rocket filled with combustible material. Don't be sad that they scrubbed the mission today.

S: That's a good call.

J: They did a dry test last week and this was a wet test because they filled the ship up, right? So it's a good thing to test. It's just another layer of testing that happened and you know, we got a few more days for the next launch. I have to admit something though. I didn't realize that they don't fill the ship until like 30 minutes before it takes off.

S: Yeah. You don't want the fuel sitting there.

E: It would add-

C: Just sitting there.

E: -add risk.

J: Yeah. I agree. And I guess it would evaporate out too. You know, in some way there'd be some type of evaporation, but yeah, I just didn't realize that they can fill those tanks up that quickly, which they can.

S: So the next launch is scheduled for Saturday, the day the show is airing, 3 22 p.m. Eastern daylight time. But of course that's dependent on the weather as well. But apparently there's another launch window the following day, so the Sunday will be a backup date.

E: Interesting.

C: That's good.

B: Saturday's not looking great weather-wise, I heard.

E: And they have to synchronize this with the position of the space station. Is that correct?

S: That's why. That's why the window.

C: Yeah, that's the window. Yeah. So I was reading online, a friend of mine who's like a big space person was like tweeting a lot and they were saying, remember, it's not just about the weather at launch, it's also the abort weather. So like, was the issue the weather at launch this time or was it, because it didn't seem like the weather was bad.

E: They said that there were tornado, there was a tornado watch at some point in the afternoon.

S: Did you see the map though?

C: At launch location?

S: If you'll see the radar map, there's like, there was lightning strikes all around, you know.

C: Yeah. You don't want that.

E: It was a good no-call.

C: If they are going to abort and they have to dump, like it needs to be safe where they're aborting to us.

S: Yes. Exactly.

C: And think about all those contingencies.

B: There was no way this wasn't going to be canceled today. There were three separate distinct reasons why they canceled it. Any one of them could have done it, but there was three. So yeah, this was going to happen today.

J: What were they, Bob? Other than weather, what was it?

B: But they were like distinctions of the weather, like there was like an anvil cloud within a certain distance. And then there was this and that. I don't remember. I would just heard it, you know.

S: There were three weather criteria.

B: Yeah.

S: By the way, by the way, Cara, your first episode was 524.

C: Wow. And we're 777? So I've done.

S: 254 episodes.

C: That's amazing. 254.

S: So remember that number, 524, Cara.

C: I'm going to write it down in the same spot where I have my psychic predictions.

S: Good. That's where it belongs.

E: That'll be your next tattoo.

C: 524.

E: 524.

J: Well, Evan, I was going to say make a good t-shirt, but yeah, let's ink it on her.

C: Let's tattoo it. Do any of the SGU guys have tattoos? Am I the only tattooed member?

E: I do not.

S: Yeah. Don't you remember on that first episode when I announced to you that you brought diversity to the SGU because you're the only one with tattoos.

E: That's right.

B: That was a great line. I remember that.

E: What episode number was that?

S: 524.

C: 524.

B: It was TAM. Wasn't that the last TAM?

S: It was.

C: Yeah.

E: It was. It was the last TAM.

C: And we had that awkward dinner where I had to pretend like I didn't already know I was joining.

S: Yeah. That was the night before.

E: It was. Cara and I were at the table together kind of like, eh.

C: People kept asking, are you guys going to get a new rogue? Are you going to get a new rogue? And it's like, hmm, I don't know.

E: Yeah, we're working. We'll see how it goes.

COVID-19 Update (9:10)[edit]

S: All right. So let's do the COVID-19 update before we move on to the news items. So two days ago, I started working in the hospital in the ward, it's not just in the clinic.

E: Hospital? What is it?

S: Yeah. It's a building with sick people. That's not important right now. Yeah. So it's a totally different venue, the inpatient service versus outpatient clinics. And I actually have COVID-positive patients on my service. So I'm treating COVID-19.

B: Oh, man.

S: They're not sick with COVID-19, but they're SARS-CoV-2 positive and they have neurological issues. They're just incidentally positive. But it's partly business as usual and it's partly a total nightmare for a couple of reasons. One of the biggest problems is that it's really hard to discharge patients because like half of the rehab places and the places where we would send patients are shut down. It's already challenging sometimes to so-called dispo patients, right, to settle their disposition to find a place for them to go for their rehab or because they might need services, they need supervision, whatever. Now it's like we have patients hanging out for weeks and weeks simply because there's no place to send them.

C: That sucks because then they're just like at greater risk of exposure.

S: I know. I know. And then every time somebody gets a fever, we got to test them. We can't discharge anybody until they have two negative tests, which once they're positive, they need two negative tests 24 hours apart in order to be able to get rid of them. I also have patients who are just waiting to become negative.

C: So do you guys have a COVID delineated ward that you have kind of like segregated? Okay, so it's like a separate ICU for COVID patients.

S: Yeah, it's the floor, but there's also the floor where if you're COVID positive, 100% of patients get tested on admission. If you're COVID positive, you go to the COVID ward. So if you have a patient, even if they have a neurological issue and they're COVID positive, you have to go to the COVID ward with all the patients.

C: Just to keep them all isolated. That's actually smart, though. So you've got basically everything you can think of on the COVID ward, everywhere from like critical like ICU patients all the way down to...

S: No, the ICU patients are in the ICU.

C: Yeah, because that's where you have all those services.

S: It's just floor patients.

C: Gotcha, gotcha.

S: But it's mixed services that are COVID-19 positive.

C: So of course, the patients are less likely to infect other patients, but now all the doctors are at risk because doctors from every specialty are going there.

S: They're going down and use the shield. And now for every patient, COVID-19 or not, you have to glove as well as wash your hands in and out of every patient room. And everyone's wearing a mask, of course. So it's just another layer of protection. During my career, I've lived through multiple ratcheting up of having to take extra precautions because of infectious diseases that spread around the hospital, right? First HIV, then multiple antibiotic resistant bacterial infections, and now COVID-19, and who knows, this may become a permanent status in hospital care.

C: Did you guys have...


C: Did you have any bird flu... Well, HIV is the last pandemic. Did you guys have any like bird flu or swine flu extra precautions during those like kind of mini scares when the epidemics were existing?

S: No, pretty much standard precautions was sufficient for those. It wasn't what we were already doing. Put them in a negative pressure room. And if anyone has anything like that, it's like individual precautions for that room. Like in this room, you have to go in glove and gown. In that room, you need to wear facial protection or you need eye protection. So but now it's more and more universal, you know.

C: Do you find that... And I know that flattening the curve is a whole much more complicated question overall, but one of the central components of flattening the curve was an attempt or is an attempt to not overload the health care systems, right? Of course, we hear the horror stories of New York City and what it was like in the hospitals during the peak of the crisis and even now. But at Yale, are you finding... You're at Yale, right? That's the hospital. At Yale, are you finding that the beds are maxed out? Is it really stressful?

S: It's stressful.

C: Like you're still kind of at the top end of capacity.

S: Yeah. I mean, we're kind of a full hospital, just that baseline. And as I said I saw multiple patients in the ER today that were already admitted to my service, but we just didn't have a room to admit them to. So I'm basically managing them in the emergency room. That's how you know you're like at capacity. And as I said, it's a lot of patients in beds who should be at a rehab facility. So that's...

C: Because you can't clear them out fast enough.

S: Yeah. Can't clear them out. So it's... Yeah. So yeah, it's definitely overwhelming the system. I think we're okay, but it's definitely stressing out our resources. So you could see how easy it is to tip over to completely overwhelming the resources just having to deal with...

C: And what about in PPE? Are you guys good?

S: Yeah, we're good. We're good with PPE. That's not a problem. And again, the testing is available. I think we should be doing more, to be honest with you but we do have enough testing. So today in the United States, we just broke 100,000 dead from COVID-19.

E: Well, we knew that was coming.

S: I know. I mean, you could see it coming, but today's the day that we broke 100,000, so everyone was kind of...

C: So sad. And you guys saw the New York Times, like, the front page with every name listed.

S: Yeah.

C: Beautiful. It's such a sad thing when you're dealing with numbers that high, because they're almost hard to fathom, and it becomes like a hive, like, oh, it's just it's the dead. And you have to sometimes really stop and remind yourself, like, those are 100,000 individual people.

B: I love it. I'm looking at the image right now. I love what they did, because I figured it would just be, oh, here's a list of names. It's not. It's a name. It's the age. And then, like, things like a sign language interpreter, or Solomon, New Jersey, love to figure out how things worked. Just these one little sentence things described. This is like a, not just a name or a number, this is like, this was a person. I love how they added that in there.

C: And there's a lot of protest artwork.

S: Sad milestone today. But there's a couple of interesting studies, so I'm always tracking the COVID-19 news items. A review published that, just saying, here's all the drugs that doctors, off-label drugs that doctors have tried in COVID-19, there's over 100 different ones. None of them are shown to work, 115 different drugs, but it's like, this is a list of drugs that could use further study.

C: Wait, even the R drug, I can never remember what it's called.

S: Remdesivir.

C: Remdesivir.

S: Remdesivir, there was a study published that showed a decrease in the time of sickness with remdesivir. So some encouraging early results, but again, it's not a home run, you know.

C: Yeah, nothing's curing this.

S: No, no, not yet. And of course, the hydroxychloroquine is tanking is the biggest study.

C: It doesn't work, and it also makes you potentially really sick.

E: The vectors on that one are pretty clear.

S: And again, there's no scientific reason why you would pick that one out of the 115 drugs, say this is the one that's going to do it. It's only because it was made into a political target, you know.

C: And isn't it amazing how much when something has some sort of political steam behind it, like it was probably utilized orders of magnitude more just because it was like, "famous" from press briefings.

S: Yeah, just because it was famous, not because of the science. Absolutely. Let's move on.

News Items[edit]

Loners and Swarms (16:48)[edit]

S: Now, we have some interesting news items this week. I think of a good, good diverse group of news items. Cara, you're going to start by telling us about loners and swarms.

C: Yeah. So there's some new research that was recently published about loners in swarm behavior of slime mould. But before I get into that, when we were discussing, Steve and I were discussing doing this story, he was saying it might be good to kind of know the state of the literature on this. And I read a few kind of recent publications, a few blog posts from kind of like really solid science writers and entomologists and things like that to try, because this is something I didn't really know a lot about. Like have you guys read a lot about swarm behavior?

S: Mhm.

E: No.

C: Oh, okay.

E: Oh, Steve's a bird.

C: Steve knows what's up.

E: It would make sense.

J: Insects, birds...

B: Robots.

E: Schools of fish.

C: Robots, insects, birds, fish. So there's different words for it, right? When you say swarm, you're usually referring to insects. When you're talking about birds, you usually say murmuration. When you're talking about fish, you usually talk about schools. But I decided to kind of like look at all of it because I don't really know anything about it. All I know is, and if you are somebody who knows me really well and who has vacationed with me, you would know that I am freaked out by anything that swarms. This is why I do not like snorkeling. And it's kind of like recent in the news too, because we've been reading a lot about these North African locust swarms, right? And West Africa too.

E: And we're going to have cicada swarms too.

C: Cicada swarms, all of it. So the thing to remember though is it's not the same thing that's happening in a bunch of different organisms. There's some central themes, but each organism physiologically, evolutionarily is actually really different. What I've kind of gathered is that historically, individuals thought that there was always some sort of signal from a leader. And then obviously in more modern research, kind of one of the things that's so unique about swarms is that they could never pinpoint who was telling them to do what. They just kind of did it. And they were like, yeah, like how is it that they're just doing this? So then they started to really look into the genetics, look into the physiology and look into the phenotypes of these individuals. And they realized that there are usually signals that are given, and those signals are contingent on environmental pressures. So for a lot of these organisms, it's a function of not having enough food. There's not enough food, they need to find food, so they're going to work together to do it. For some of them, it's about other environmental pressures. For locusts, I read a really cool in-depth kind of thing about how locusts swarm, because pretty well studied species or well studied genus, I guess. And this seems to do with density. So there's kind of this runaway thing that happens when enough of them are close enough together. And you actually find that there are phenotypic shifts within these organisms that are a lot more than just behavioral shifts. So you see all these markers of how the insects actually look. They physically look different when they're moving into this action. So locust nymphs and even full-grown locusts that are isolated are really pale. Their heads are a little bit smaller, and they don't have nearly as many of these little hairs on the outsides of their bodies. And researchers have noted that once they get to critical kind of concentration of these hairs, that's how they actually can detect nearby other locusts. So it's not so much a chemical signal for them, they're thinking that it's actually more of a physical signal in terms of density, like understanding density. When they're reared in very dense conditions, they can actually force these locusts to have all these new features, their colouring changes, the shape of the body changes, and the prevalence of these hairs change. But on top of that, also their behavior changes. They act as a unit instead of acting isolated. So it does seem to be that there's an epigenetic thing going on here where they're coded to be able to do both things. And there's a flip that happens. So where's that flip? Like what is the switch? Well, this new paper that was published, which Steve alluded to, which is all about loners, focuses on amoeboid slime moulds, and they are called Dictyostellium Discoidium. So usually, yeah, they live as solitary amoebas, and they just do their own thing. We remember amoebas from high school, right, with the pseudopods and the single cell protists. And so they will hang out, they eat on their own, they divide on their own, they do everything. But when they have a pressure, which is starvation, basically, when they don't have enough food, they actually coalesce and they make like a mushroom-looking tower. And that's, I think, why people call them slime moulds. And here's the cool thing. The tower has like features, like there's a stalk, and then there's like the head. And so the stalk is actually made of about 20% of the amoebas, and it's sacrificial. So they don't actually get anything out of it, except that they are the scaffolding for the top of the structure. At the very top, they form spores. And so when they go into this spore-like state, they don't need as much food, right? They can actually exist for months without food. And then eventually, they're dispersed, so the hope is that they're going to fly someplace else, just like when we think of mushroom spores, in order to seek out a new environment that has more food. I mean, it's amazing. And we've known about this behavior for a long time. Researchers have always studied individuals in the unit. And they've always wanted to know, oh, how do they know to do this? And how come these choose to be the stalk, even though they're going to die? And these choose to be the spores? And you know, who knows what? It's kind of like with bees, right? There's been a long history of like, how does the queen become the queen? And how do the drones become the drones? And so that's what people have, researchers have historically always been interested in. But they've also always known that there's a certain percentage of organisms that just don't participate. They're the loners, as Steve referenced. They were sort of ignored before. It's like, oh, just some of them don't do it. Why? I don't know. It's not important. Let's look at the ones who do it. And then they started this group, this group who has been publishing historically, usually it's funny when we reference new studies. We're like, oh, a study that was published last month said all of this. And we forget that, no, they've probably published like multiple things leading up to that study. So this group started publishing in 2015, I think, along these, well, probably even earlier, along these lines where they said, I want to look at the loners and try and understand more about the loners. And their most recent article, which was just published this March, so a couple of months ago, realized that it's actually, not only is there consistency in the loners in terms of how many of them there are, it's actually not a fraction. So they thought it was always going to be a fraction, kind of like a coin flip, except like a weighted coin flip. So if an entire population, there's a 20 percent chance that you're going to stay behind, then 20 percent of them are always going to stay behind. And that could be genetically a genetic disposition. But they realized it's actually not a percentage, it's a physical constant number. And so they think that this has to do with some sort of set point. And it's different for different species. But within the species, there's consistency in the number. So they found that some species of this amoeboid slime mould would leave behind 10,000, some species would leave behind 50,000, some would leave behind 100,000. But those species consistently left behind those numbers. And they were like, what?

E: Regardless the size of the number that weren't left behind?

C: Yeah.

E: When comparing?

C: Yeah.

E: Oh, interesting.

C: Yeah. And so they were like, OK, this is really weird. Why could this be? And they think it's because there's an aggregate set point. They think that it's actually a heritable trait. So when these selection pressures are set on them, along with like these other kinds of factors, there are signals that are given off. And we've known this for some time that there are like usually chemical signals when we talk about colonial organisms or aggregate organisms, that once they're near other individuals, they can detect some sort of chemical or physical signal that tells them continue to aggregate. And they think at a certain point that gets cut off and they no longer aggregate. So it's like aggregate first, then cut off and then no longer. Basically, the cells are starving, right? They don't have enough food. They send out signals that say I'm starving. And then when enough cells aggregate and it gets the starvation signal seems to degrade, and then at a certain point, that cell signal just doesn't exist anymore. And that's how these numbers get left behind. And so it's a really interesting idea that these loner cells consistently exist and they consistently exist in particular numbers. And they were like, why? Is this just a byproduct of the fact that enough have aggregated to do their job so we just don't need the rest of them? Or is there something that's actually evolutionarily advantageous to staying behind? And they think that, yeah, it could be the case that they're basically leaving behind the genetic material of a certain amount of the group to maybe be able to regenerate or to be able to exist under the local conditions, because obviously historically those local conditions were good enough for this population to exist. So maybe once a big group of these individuals aggregate and move on, the ones that are left behind can kind of, "repopulate". So they're calling that like hedging bets. And this is kind of a mathematical and physics kind of idea. And it's been applied to a lot of different organisms and they're wondering, can they apply it to larger organisms like locusts, like wildebeest, like things that swarm, like murmurations of birds or schools of fish, because they're they're obviously studying a very simple organism because that's what you do in science. You find model organisms. One of the big things that has helped this group that other groups didn't really have access to is that they figured out how to count them. And apparently it's not easy to count a million amoeboid locusts or sorry, a million amoeboid slime moulds that have all come together to make this stock. But they figured out a way to count them. And that's really changed their understanding of what's going on in this little unit.

S: Yeah, the whole idea of outliers is very interesting. Is it just that there's a certain amount of genetic diversity in any population? So there's by definition going to be outliers? Or is that sort of baked into the strategy of surviving, as you say, hedging your bets? Or sometimes the group does function better if there are those who pursue alternate strategies.

C: Totally. Think of MRSA. You referenced it before you reference bacteria or sorry, antibiotic resistant bacteria. So when you think of a normal curve, right, you think of the main is the mean median mode, whatever those measures of central tendency are. That's 68 percent of the normal curve exists within one standard deviation. Then you go out to like 97 and then I don't know, my numbers might be quite a little wrong, but then 99 point whatever. And then as you go out, it's a teeny and tiny fraction that are in those tails. So those are what we call outliers. But the thing is, they are different and sometimes weird. And that's why they're outliers. But they might have something in them that helps them in case if an environmental pressure comes along, that's also different and weird. So with MRSA these outliers already are resistant to a certain type of antibiotic just naturally. Genetically they're just different. And then all of a sudden they get pummeled by this antibiotic. These guys survive and everybody else dies. And then all of a sudden it becomes the main group. You know, they are able to pass around their DNA enough, they're able to reproduce enough. And now that's the new species. It's really cool.

S: And it might also be not only that it's hedging your bets evolutionarily, but also sometimes just the group dynamics function better when everyone's not pursuing the same strategy. There's there's literature now, for example, like why is a certain relatively stable percentage of all animal populations are homosexual, for example, when that's not in the individual's necessarily reproductive advantage?

C: Because there's a kinship advantage there.

S: Yeah. So there's two things. First of all, homosexual animals do parent children. So that's not an absolute. And second, it does seem to give a kin advantage. Yeah. That if you have a certain percentage who are not pursuing the same strategy but are supporting it, the population in a different way, the overall population is more successful.

C: And you often find that and generally it's the female of the species, but not always that the females of the species are the ones that rear the children. And so often, like during weaning and often you'll find that in certain populations, it's actually more advantageous to just have the female species working together in these kinship groups to help rear children. And it's not uncommon. There have been several species that have been identified where there's a lot of like lesbian activity between the female species, whereas the males are doing the things that the males of the species do. And so they might mate and then not really be involved in child rearing at all. And then there's like variations on that theme all across the board. But that's actually a theme that you see kind of slightly more often than you would think. And it's pretty interesting. It's like, of course, there's an evolutionary advantage to working together, to not just being an individualistic family unit, which I think has historically dominated sort of like American science, because that's how we think of people, because that's culturally like what we do. But then when we start to realize, like, oh, yeah, like the grandmother effect. I was just reading a really interesting book by Angela Saini and she was citing research that showed the mother of the human species now we're talking about. The mother is the most predictive of mortality of children. Right. So if mom is healthy and mom is around, there's a higher rate of thriving of children. The next most predictive is the grandmother, then the father.

S: Wow.

C: Yeah. That it's actually it seems to have a greater effect that a grandmother is able to care for the children than a father care for them. And when we're talking huge, like epidemiological numbers, it's pretty interesting.

S: Yeah. Have you guys ever been walking with other people and then at some point you realize that everyone is following somebody else?

C: Yes.

J: Like, give me a for instance, Steve.

S: Well like three or four people were walking together and everyone assumes that somebody else knows where we're going.

C: Yeah, we do this all the time with the SGU when we're in a new city is and we're walking to a restaurant and then we.

E: Some of us stand in the back and say, I wonder if they really know where they're going.

S: Are we following you? Are you following me? Yeah, right.

E: That didn't happen more than once on our latest Australia trip. No.

C: Remember when we were looking for the car, Jay?

Dinosaur Asteroid Impact (32:25)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, tell us about the impact that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs.

J: All right. Scientists are getting a much more precise idea of why the asteroid that hit the earth 66 million years ago was just so freakishly devastating. This is really scary. If you try to visualize it, this asteroid killed 75 percent of all the species on Earth. And this was scientists have been trying to figure out the absolute details on what happened. But we are sure that that many creatures and plants died. We know that it did. It was devastating. So what happened? So using an on-site crater investigation and, of course, computer simulations, they found that the asteroid went into the crust in an inclination of up to 45 to 60 degrees, which basically is the angle of attack. So 90 degrees would be coming straight down. Now, this means that the asteroid kicked up an incredible amount of debris and had a big impact on the climate. The impact site was under Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and it's a 200 kilometre wide crater. This area has a big amount of sulphur, which is coming from the mineral gypsum. Once the gypsum was placed up or rocketed up into the high atmosphere, it mixed with water vapour and was able to produce a global winter. So all of that material gets kicked up and it just shut the Earth down. It shut the incredible amount of sunlight was now being reflected away from the Earth. And there's a global winter.

B: So that so that damn impact, it was a perfect storm. Right? It was like it came at the perfect angle and it hit the perfect spot in order to do maximal damage.

S: Yeah.

J: Yeah. So that spot was key to it. The angle was needed to have the correct velocity and energy and everything to kick up the material. But that material could have been anything from seawater to dirt that really wouldn't have reacted with the atmosphere. But man, that sulphur reacted like crazy with the atmosphere. So Bob's right. So that particular angle was the perfect storm because it happened to be the most efficient way of rejecting and vaporizing the debris and any variation from that particular angle being shallower shallower or steeper would not have thrown anywhere near as much debris up into the atmosphere. Now, also, if the location did not have so much available sulphur, it wouldn't have had the same effect on the weather. So that particular spot when you think about how just random that is and how many different places it could have hit the earth and its size compared to the earth, it really wasn't that big, compared to the earth. But it was just just the right size to get deep enough and to do the damage that it did. So humans typically don't deal with forces of this magnitude, right? We're not used to, like, talking about rocks that big going at that speed and hitting the earth with that much force. This object was approximately 12 kilometres in diameter. And once it hit the earth, it made a 30 kilometre deep hole, a 30 kilometre deep hole. Of course, the earth reacted, right? The earth don't play that. So the earth had this reaction. So the crust gets hit and there was a rebound effect. And it said that it lasted just a few minutes. But a mountain that was bigger than Mount Everest was created as the the result of that thing hitting the earth. You know, think about it. It was pushing all of that material. And this mountain appears that was incredibly high in the atmosphere. But consequently, it quickly fell away and a crater was left in the wake of what happened because this crater was asymmetrical. And that's pretty much it, guys. That's what happened. And I'm sure that we'll have better simulations in the future or whatever, but nothing, I think, that's going to undo this research. This research was fantastically powerful in the fact that they were because of the simulations, they were able to really say it came in at this 40 to 65 degree angle. And if you ever see a video simulation of this, wow, it's scary. It's really scary seeing something of that size hit the earth. Everything on the earth felt that.

C: Well, and not just that, isn't it quite likely that there was ejecta that, left our atmosphere that actually went into space? I mean, that's insane.

B: That's how the moon was created.

C: Yeah, that's amazing.

J: It is amazing. It's intense.

C: And to know that we were teeming with life at the time, you know what I mean? Like there was so much organic material on this planet, so many living organisms, and a lot of them were shot into space.

S: Well, it wiped out 75 percent of species, but like ninety nine point nine nine nine percent of individual animal creatures were killed.

E: Sure.

C: That's amazing. Right.

B: But our genetic template was still was still there and it's still propagating. Even more fascinating for me was the impact that that hit the earth that created the moon, because that wiped out there could have been life on the earth when it hit. And that would have wiped out everything. This could have been life much more foreign than we would than we could think. You know, it could have been just wiped out and then had to start from scratch. Who knows how exotic it was or who knows how similar it was. Maybe it was surprisingly similar. We will never know. Some people refer to that as Earth Mark one.

J: And keep this in mind, too. If that didn't happen, we wouldn't be here.

B: Yes, I'm so glad it happened.

E: Of course.

J: So we were like basically little mice people, like little mouses that were back then. They survived. They were skulked around and they hid and they were able to find food and muscle through a freaking global winter. And they made it. Those tough little bastards made it so we can be here to have the internet. Thank you.

S: Here's a good question, though. So we're talking about how this was a perfect storm, right? It was a large asteroid coming in quickly, hitting the exact wrong location and hitting it at an angle designed to produce maximal chaos.

B: Well, not designed, but OK.

S: So the question is, is that a coincidence that this was so bad or is it that we know about this because it was so bad? Yeah, I didn't have those features, it wouldn't have caused a mass extinction. We wouldn't wouldn't be anything special.

C: Right. Yeah. You know, it's like, will we ever really know?

J: You never, ever know.

E: I'm glad.

B: Well, I mean, I assume you could you could simulate you could simulate a rock that big hitting the earth at a different angle at a different spot and then say, all right, what what kind of crater would that have left? And would we be able to see any any remains of that so that we can infer that? I mean, that wouldn't be that difficult to figure out.

Backward Time Universe (39:16)[edit]

S: All right. But the question is, Bob, what would it look like if the universe were running backwards?

B: Yeah, saw that coming. Saw that coming. All right, all right. So, yes, Steve's talking about a viral news story that refuses to go away and it makes the claim that scientists have discovered a parallel universe where time goes backwards.

E: I heard about this.

B: Flat out scientists have discovered it. It's like putting it out there.

E: I heard about this tomorrow.

C: Oh, Evan.

B: So, is this true? In a word, no. And that's it. I'm done. Steve, should I flesh this out a little bit more you think?

S: Little bit.

B: Maybe a little bit more. So, OK, so to set the tone, I'll start with a great tweet from the lead author on the research paper, Ibrahim Safa, in response to questions about what he thinks of the so-called news stories that link his research with evidence for a parallel universe, he said, NASA has discovered that y'all should not be getting your news from the New York Post. So the New York Post and the Daily News, a few of them were just like all quoting each other.

E: What? Tabloids?

B: And yeah, and now it's all it's like a lot of you just Google it, you'll be like finding lots of different news items from different outlets. So but it all started because of ANITA, all because of ANITA. ANITA, of course, is a acronym for Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna Experiment. So this is essentially a balloon experiment that lifts detectors in the air to sense neutrinos. That's what this thing's doing. And neutrinos, we've mentioned it many times. I'm going to mention it again. These nearly massless particles, right, produced by energetic events. They generally don't interact with anything. And you've got like probably millions going through every square centimetre of your body right now, right now and right now, every second right now. Here's another million every square, every square meter. So ANITA detects the radio waves that are emitted from the ice. They're pointed down. The detectors are pointing down and it detects the radio waves emitted from the ice when high energy neutrinos smash into them. So you might be thinking, wait, how many neutrinos are going to be smashing into anything? Don't they go through like your whole planet or even light years of lead without really interacting with anything? Because they're just called ghost particles, right? Well, that depends. It depends how much energy the energy they have. If they have enough energy, they are they are going to interact. And that's what ANITA was designed to detect. These very, very energetic neutrinos that that should interact with the ice and then spew out some radio waves that would then be detected by the detectors on the balloon. The thing is, these neutrinos should be coming from space, right? They shouldn't be coming from the earth because how are they going to get through the earth? Because they would almost invariably be detected or they would be they would interact with something in the earth and not make it through. But yet they detected a couple of these buggers. So how could that be? The standard model of physics does not easily account for that. It just does. It shouldn't really happen. There's a fun possibility, though, that this could involve new physics, right? If the standard model of physics of particle physics can't explain it, then maybe potentially there's some new physics in there. But that doesn't mean that it justifies what I call give me a break physics. So the crux of the outrageous claims being tossed around is that if this energetic neutrino could not go through the entire earth and be detected, perhaps it really was traveling backwards in time and only seemed to come through the earth. Because if you had a neutrino that was going from space and hits the earth but doesn't go through it, but you watch that backwards, it's going to look like it's coming out of the earth. So that's so that's kind of what these people are saying. And but it gets worse. The claim further declares that this particle is part of a parallel universe like ours. But many of the laws of physics are reversed, including time. So that's the crux of what these people are saying. You got time going backwards and you've got this parallel universe that kind of somehow intersected with our universe. Now, this whole idea, though, of these parallel universe and the reverse time, it didn't come out of nowhere like a virtual particle. It started with a pretty reasonable new scientist article with a horrible title. And the horrible title of that pretty reasonable article was "We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time". Ah! So in that in that, yes, in that article, they talk about ANITA and the results and the article makes reference to a speculative theory that ANITA could potentially support. They're just kind of like Griffin, like, oh, look, you could use this to support this theory that was released a few couple of years ago. And this could actually support that. And the theory is actually kind of fascinating. It's called CPT Symmetric Universe Theory. And it's interesting. This theory states that at the Big Bang, now you imagine the Big Bang, it wasn't just our universe that was created, what was what the theory claims is that you had a universe anti-universe pair was created, kind of like virtual particles, that come out that come out of nowhere. You've got a particle and antiparticle that arise and then they and then they and then they collide and demolish each other and disappear. So like a universe, an anti-universe being created at the same time. Now, in many ways, according to the theory, this would be an opposite mirror reflection version of our universe. So, for example, anti-matter would dominate instead of matter, the matter that we that we call matter anyway. It also solves some major symmetry issues like CPT symmetry. Look it up. And dark matter. And of course, time would flow backwards, apparently. So this is where those news outlets got this idea of parallel universes and time going in reverse. But this is a very, very speculative out there theory right now. This has got major issues that need to be resolved. The authors had a lot of back and forth with their referees saying, hey, but you got to deal with this and you got to deal with that. So this is not ready for prime time. It's not widely accepted. So to say that scientists have found a parallel universe is really, really kind of silly. And so, of course, this is the classic mistake of bypassing the scientific method and jumping to the to the most sensationalistic option. Like, look, an unknown light in the sky. It must be aliens. Typical. It's like, oh, wait a second. You know, we got a lot of checkboxes to check off before you can go from light in the sky to aliens. Sure, you could potentially get to aliens, but man, you got a lot of steps to do. And most often people, right, they leapfrog right over all the the boring sciencey stuff and they go to the really cool, sexy stuff. So my favorite quote from Safa is a good summation. He said, ANITA's events are definitely interesting, but we're a long ways away from even claiming there's any new physics, let alone an entire universe. It's like, wait a second. You're going to claim there's an entire universe. Yeah, look at this little thing that we found that's kind of mysterious. We're not sure what's happening. I could explain this with an entire universe. Throw in and talk about. Oh, my God.

E: That's very satisfying to a lot of people.

B: But it's awesome. And I kind of hope this theory is true, but you've got some steps to do first. So here's something that I haven't heard anybody say about this. I have a problem with another universe interacting with ours, don't you? I mean, wouldn't we have seen these interactions before? I mean, you think that.

C: Well, I remember asking like a like a Nobel laureate physicist about this.

B: Oh, what do they know.

C: At a talk.

B: What exactly did you ask?

C: Well, I was asking about the bubble universes, like this, the multiverse theory that universes are like bubbles, right? And they are kind of like pushed up against each other. And I said if you could detect it, because he came up with lots of scenarios in which we would never be able to detect it. But he said that probably the best way to detect it, if we could, would be that you would see actual round patterns on the cosmic microwave background radiation, like you'd see physical circles.

B: Yep.

C: And where those bubbles are pushing up against each other.

B: Right. And that's actually yeah. So and there was actually that was in the news a bunch of years ago. I remember they they they speculated that they found some of some of these swirls. I don't think it was ever definitively proven. But yeah, I mean, sure, I can see I could. Yeah, I could see something sort of like that. And to see the cosmic microwave background radiation. I mean, that's you know, that's something that happened billions of years ago. This is not like interacting right now. But my biggest fear, though, is that if you have a universe that interacts with another one, the very last kind of that universe that I would want to interact with is one that's filled with anti-matter. Don't interact with our universe, please, because I don't want to interact with anti-matter because-

E: What happens when matter meets antimatter? Oh, right.

C: Annihilation.

B: But I'm sure I think this is this is really silly. And a lot of people are jumping on this and thinking that giving any credence to this. But I'm happy, though, that there's another possibility that we could have discovered new physics. I mean, that's all I'm waiting. I've been waiting years and years for something beyond the standard model of particle physics about particles and forces. And we really need an extension to that theory because it doesn't cover dark matter and other things. But I still would not bet on this, though. Like, do you remember the OPRA faster than light neutrino experiment from 19 or 2011? They said, look at this. This neutrino is traveling faster than light. We can't figure out why. Turns out one of the major reasons why it was doing that was because a fibre optic cable wasn't attached properly.

E: Human error never accounts for anything.

B: So and so for ANITA, it's the same thing. There are people that are saying that the the the ice structures in the Antarctic, where they were doing this experiment, it's kind of complex. We don't know everything we need to know about about how this ice is potentially interacting with the experiment. It could be some sort of reflection that is unanticipated or a new type of reflection that needs to be discounted. So it could be something I would bet I would just bet money. It's something goofy like that. And not that we need this whole new universe to to to explain this. So only when you really account for all of that, can I do I think that you can seriously consider new physics. And then only then can you really more easily justify the more outlandish stuff like invoking a whole new parallel backwards universe. You got to do your science first before you're leaping to this.

S: And one other thing, Bob, this is an observation which led to speculation about what could explain that observation, which is very different than having a theory that predicts makes predictions about what we will observe. And then that observation confirming the theory. That's not what's happening here. And there's probably an infinite number of wacky things you could pull out of your butt to explain this one observation. This is just one of them. And there's no reason to think that this is the one correct.

B: Arm chair retrospective, like, oh, yeah, maybe that maybe this can support this. They're right. Yeah, if you show me a theory that makes a prediction and then we see that that that, yeah, that's [inaudible].

S: Then come talk to me. Yeah.

Why Beards? (50:23)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, here's a burning question.

E: OK.

S: Why do men have beards?

E: Oh, that is a good question. And a lot of people, including a lot of women I know, would have a lot to say about that, both positive and negative. But the story also has to do with fighting around the world. I found this item at the website, Beards. What are they good for? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you were to ask the biologists Ethan Becerra's, Stephen Nelloway and David Carrier of the University of Utah, they would tell you that they have data supporting the hypothesis that human beards protect vulnerable regions of facial skeleton from damaging strikes.

J: Wow.

E: Yep.

J: Now, Evan, very important biological question here.

E: OK.

J: The fact that I can't really grow a beard, I just don't have like that heft to my beard. Now, does that mean that what, like I'm more of a pacifist?

C: Or that you're more likely to get hammered?

J: Yeah, or that they can come easy to kill. I mean, you've got to help me out here.

E: Yeah, that that's an interesting question, Jay. And the authors of this study actually bring that up to a certain degree in their paper and they make mention of it. And the general answer to you, Jay, is that way back when, when males were competing in a very physical way for mates, among other things, some groups of people had to be more physical than others. So perhaps, perhaps it is speculated that those who did not have to have so much, say, fighting in their existence for procreation purposes or spreading the seed around, as they say, that those groups of males did not have the need as much for beards as others who perhaps did. That's speculation. It's a hypothesis. But there is research, apparently, that goes along those lines. And the authors did talk about that. But that's not really specific. It's a tangent. It's a bit of a tangent to what this one is about, because this actually has to do with does a beard really offer physical protection for a man? And they looked at it in a pretty interesting way. Now, the data was published in the Journal of of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, which is part of the Oxford Academic Journal. Now, I'll pause here for a second, Steve. The word integrative, that word gives me the willies a little bit.

S: Yeah, but it could be used in a legitimate way.

E: But OK, because when we hear about integrative in terms of medical-

S: In medical terms it's bad.

E: Yeah, you have to sort of raise a red flag there. But here, I guess we're going to be OK. Their title of the paper is Impact Protection Potential from Mammalian Hair Testing the Pugilism Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Facial Hair. That sounds interesting. What exactly is the Pugilism Hypothesis? This is actually a subject I believe we have hit on before. Get it? Pugilism Hypothesis.

J: You know sometimes you're funny Ev.

S: But not this day.

J: I didn't say that.

E: Let me be blunt. Let me explain this. The Pugilism Hypothesis suggests that there have been evolutionary pressures for hominids such as great apes and humans to fight using their fists. Basically sums it up. But and we've talked about the actual fist biology of humans and great apes. We have talked about those in previous episodes. But what about the receiving end of those fists? What exactly are people trying to hit with their fists? Well, in the case of males, predominantly when they fight, they go for the face. And prior research suggests that the males go for the face to ugly up their opponents, really. So that potential mating partners might be more likely to choose them. Whoever comes out of a fight less damaged, which is really interesting in and of itself. Perhaps a more contemporary context, it's in a controlled setting, which we have nowadays. Well, boxing or MMA or a mixed martial arts match. I mean, this is where you see this sort of play out in modern terms, because we don't really fight for our mates and stuff anymore. Those days have long have gone for the most part.

C: Some people do.

E: But we do have sport. But that's a little bit different because you're not necessarily going in there to the sport to ugly up your opponent. What you're trying to do is incapacitate them, knock them out in one way or another. But that nice brain that you're trying to send the jolt to is protected by a skull and tissues and other things that make it really hard to physically attack the brain. And that's a good thing. But a shortcut to the brain or through some knockout points. And then you have several of them in your head, including two, which are at the forefront of the human skull, lower jaw, the mandible. Just if you were to basically take your fingers, draw a line straight down from your eyes to where it hits your jaw line. And there you go. You got nice little knockout points right there on you on either side.

J: Isn't that the nerve hole?

E: Yes, it is. Those are. And your jaw also comes out in front of your face. When you're heading, going for the head, you're you're most likely to hit that jaw. So it's right there. Well, they had some interesting highlights from the abstract, which I think explained it pretty well. Because facial hair is one of the most sexually dimorphic features of humans and is often perceived as an indicator of masculinity and social dominance.

C: This was written by men by the way?

E: This is written by, yes, three men.

C: Yes. OK. Good to know. All right. Here we go.

E: Human facial hair has been suggested to play a role in male contest competition. And there are studies for that and research backing that up. Some authors have proposed that the beard may function similar to the long hair of a lion's mane, serving to protect vital areas of the lion's throat and jaw from lethal attacks.

J: And that makes sense.

E: Yeah, it is. And it's consistent with the observation that the mandible on us, which is superficially covered by a beard, is one of the most commonly fractured facial bones in interpersonal violence. So the authors have hypothesized that beards protect the skin and bones of the face when human males fight by absorbing and dispersing that energy, which is a blunt impact to the jaw. And they ran some tests. So what they did is they took they thought it was unethical to actually, have people with beards and not beards hitting each other in the face to see what kind of damage would be done. So instead, they made a a fake skull basically and put some thick hair on it, so sheep's hair and skin. And they did various tests. So they have three sets of them. You had one in which it was very full, another one in which the hairs were plucked out and another one where it was shorn or pretty much shaved, shaved down. And basically what they found, the bottom line is that the total energy absorbed if you had the full beard in this particular experiment. It was 37 percent greater in a bearded face than compared to the other two samples. Total energy absorbed 37 percent grade.

J: That's a lot.

C: Yeah. But they were also using sheep hair.

E: Yeah, there are some problems here. I mean OK among the things. And this was brought up also in the article at Science Alert, the the author who said, yeah, OK, it's not the same as the human face and human beard because the material, first of all, is different. You know, there's a different thickness to the hair, the cushioning of it all. But they the authors acknowledge that. But they also said there were some other features of the hair that also kind of evened out to make it kind of close to to a human comparison. You know, it was kind of close enough for government work, as the old saying goes, at least for this particular one, for this particular set of experiments. Also, the human head is not just this is not just a fixed point thing that like the experiments that they ran. They had the skull, they had the beard on it, shaved or whatever. And they struck a basically dropped a hammer onto it and it didn't move. You know, if you get hit in the chin, your head goes back. You've got it goes in various directions and things. And all that is part of absorbing the energy as well. So this was kind of a very limited scope set of experiments. So how much you can actually glean from this is even they admit. They said, look, this isn't perfect by any stretch. It requires much more, much more testing.

C: Did they look at I mean, this is A, purely speculative hypothesis. Purely speculative. B, there probably is actual data out there from, like you said, fighters.

E: Yes, and there is.

C: There are bearded fighters and non bearded fighters.

E: Absolutely. And then I'm glad that they also referenced that in this paper as one of their points. They said our results appear to conflict with a recent study that demonstrated beards do not provide a performance advantage in mixed martial arts as measured by the number of wins by knockout decisions. So that's a little different as well in that you're using one set of measurements in these professional fighters based on knockouts. But their study did not necessarily indicate if you're going to be knocked out by this blow, just how much damage the face would absorb in cuts or in fractures. So they're kind of different. But you're right, Cara. The study with the MMA fighters was pretty controlled. And they said it was quite compelling. And it involved three hundred ninety five fighters. They found no evidence of a performance advantage provided by the facial hair.

S: It's pretty damning.

C: It's really. And the thing is, like, I think that we have a problem in the sciences, oftentimes when we look at things through an evolutionary lens where we feel like everything has to have a purpose. Like, why does this exist? Oh, it must confer an advantage. And the truth is, mammals are hairy. I think that we lost hair over time and maybe talking about why we're hairless in places could be interesting. But like, couldn't this just be an evolutionary holdover? Just men are hairier.

E: I had the same exact thoughts as well. When you start attributing why things evolved for maybe specific purposes, I think you start getting into areas in which you're going to wind up being disappointed by the actual answers.

C: And we know that we didn't evolve to grow beards. We already had them. We evolved to lose hair in other parts of the body.

B: Well, not so much lose it. It's just it's just I mean, the hair follicles are there. They're just very thin and.

C: No, but you know what I mean?

S: Human beards do represent an exaggerated facial hair. It is. It's not just like we didn't lose the fur on our chin. It's actually it is exaggerated from what mammals would normally have. So but you're right, it is very difficult to reverse engineer evolutionary causes and effects. You end up with just those stories that are probably really [inaudible].

B: Genetic drift is a thing.

S: It could be incidental.

C: Sometimes things are just random.

S: I mean, definitely physiologically, it's because the follicles respond to testosterone. That's why there's it's different between men and women. But that doesn't tell us, again, it may not serve a purpose, right? We don't want to make the adaptationalist fallacy. But whenever there is a sexually dimorphic trait, there is a few possibilities that are generically that biologists will consider. Is it sexual selection? Is it a competition advantage? So for sexual selection of beards, the data is really all over the place. And what it shows is that some women like them. Some women don't. Some women don't care.

E: That's why I said what I said at the very top.

C: Probably also cultural differences.

S: It's probably cultural. Not only that, the more common beards are, the more attractive being clean shaven is. And the less common they are, the more attractive they are.

C: So the grass is greener.

S: Yeah, it's also like a sticking out effect. And there also may be male male competition is not always physical. It could just be kind of an intimidation dominance kind of signal, even if they're not physically competing with each other. So it's complicated, I think, is the bottom line. And the data is kind of all over the place.

C: Yeah, it seems to me like just as silly as if a study was published saying that curly hair conferred some sort of advantage over straight hair because it like, yeah, it absorbed blows better or you know, fill in the blank. It's a bit kind of like shot in the dark to me.

E: And, Steve, when we were talking about the evolution of the clenched fist in a prior episode in this pugilism hypothesis, I believe we arrived at the same kind of conclusions here that you can't backwards engineer this stuff. And a lot of the things we're saying right now, I believe we were also saying then about that. So that gives me some pause here for this entire hypothesis.

S: At best, they could say it's semi plausible because it does absorb some of the blow.

E: Right.

C: Sure. But that might also just be a fluke.

S: That could have falsified it, but it didn't falsify it. I mean, I think it's all you can really say. OK, one more quick news item.

Solving Space Junk (1:04:00)[edit]

S: We've talked about space junk quite a bit on the show because it is a huge looming problem that we don't really have a solution to. So this this paper caught my eye because it kind of takes a different approach. We've been focusing mainly on what technology would we use to get all of that space junk out of orbit before it gets so clogged that you basically we lose the use of some low Earth orbits was just too much junk up there. And they're crashing into each other and destroying everything. This paper takes a more of an economic approach. So first, let me ask you guys, are you aware-

B: Four foot one.

S: Of the term, the tragedy of the commons?

J: Absolutely not.

C: I am, but I don't remember what it means.

E: It sounds bloody Shakespearean.

S: It'll make sense when I explain to you that the tragedy of the commons is actually an observation that was made a few hundred years ago, that basically if you have individuals acting on their individual best interest, but that involves using a public resource that the individuals collectively could destroy the public resource. So, for example, I think the observation was first made it was first made 170 years ago in 1832 by William Foster Lloyd, who noticed that farmland, that grazing land, that public grazing land was being devastated while private grazing land was being maintained. And the question is, why is that happening? Because, well, if you own the land, you rotate your herd and you keep them at a sustainable level because you have a vested interest in maintaining your graze land. But if you are using public land, you have a short term economic advantage to graze all your animals and to grow your herd. Even though long term, it's going to use up that public resource. So that's the tragedy of the commons is that collectively we make poor decisions when we're acting individually. So the author of the new paper says we could apply this to the space junk problem. Right now, there's an incentive for any company or country or whatever to put up a satellite, in fact, to get it up quicker before the orbit gets too overcrowded. There's no incentive because orbital space is essentially a public resource, and individuals are utilizing that public resource for their own short term individual advantage without consideration of the public good.

C: And this is why we need some regulations.

S: Exactly. That's why you always need some kind of regulation. Exactly. Because because individuals are not going to solve the problem with their own individual behavior, the perverse incentive to to not to not be sustainable.

E: If men were angels, no government would be necessary. James Madison.

S: If all of them were angels. Yeah, that's correct. They actually quote that in the article that I'm talking about.

E: Oh, there you go.

S: But they're not right. And it's not just being not being a bad person, not being angels, just that, you all have blinders on. We're making our decisions for our short term advantage, you know. Yeah. So, OK, so they say, OK, how do we reverse the incentive so that people do have an incentive to protect the common good? So one way that is being proposed is this is Akhil Rao and assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College. Said with other authors, he's the lead author. What we should do is charge an annual orbital fee. So if you put up a satellite into orbit, you get charged a fee every year, that satellite uses up that orbital space.

E: Sure, you're renting the space.

S: Basically renting your orbital space. Exactly.

B: Who gets paid?

S: Well, that's a good question. It could be the country that you're launching it from. It could be an international consortium or whatever. That's a detail that would have to be worked out. But some entity would get paid. And presumably that money would be used appropriately, like to to de orbit stuff or whatever.

J: So wait, Steve. So you have something in outer space, right? And something happens in that one object turns into a thousand objects. What happens then?

S: So that would have to be your I thought of that, too. It's not addressed in the paper. But if your satellite crashes, it becomes a thousand different bits of debris that would have to be dealt with in some way. Obviously, you're not going to.

C: It's apparently kind of rare, though, right?

S: Now it is. Now it is. But not so much. And if that's the whole point.

E: The problem is only getting worse.

B: That that could lead to a nightmare scenario where you've got this cascade, this domino effect, where it's it's actually possible that a satellite could hit another satellite, smash it to a lot of pieces. And then that one does it to another one. And then so on and so on. And worst case scenario is you have the entire orbit around the earth covered with useless debris and we cannot launch a rocket for like a few centuries. That's a worst case scenario.

C: Remember, I went to Kazakhstan. To to watch the launch. Yeah, they weren't doing it anymore. I know it's like pretty crazy. But when I was talking to them about space junk they got super defensive and everything. And they were like, oh, like, this is what we do. Blah, blah, blah. It's not as bad as you think. Blah, blah. But one of the things that they were. I know. But one of the things that they really pushed was like, it's so you wouldn't think that it's regulated, but you have to pass so much. You have to get so much approval to exist on an orbital plane, like to get something up into a specific orbit. And that orbit is clear. And most modern satellites, or at least their satellites, were built to de-orbit like they slowly fall back to Earth over time.

E: And that tends to be the modern take on these things. I imagine there these that has to be a design requirement.

S: Well, that's kind of the point. So now you have. So if you're if you're a company or a government and you want to launch a satellite, you have to think twice about the cost benefit of that satellite, because you have to build into the cost the orbital rental fee, basically.

B: It becomes more valuable.

S: It becomes more valuable. In fact, they estimate this would increase the value of the satellite industry from six hundred billion dollars to three trillion dollars.

E: Yeah.

B: By 2040.

E: Sure.

S By 2040. Yeah. And then that's with increasing fees so that by 2040 it'll be two hundred and thirty five thousand dollars per satellite per year.

B: I love this idea. Because you could say, I imagine if we could clean up, you would think like if I had a wish, one one wish, not not a top ten, maybe not even a top hundred. But one of the wishes would be to imagine magically cleaning out all of the debris in orbit. And I would think that would be wonderful. There'd be less debris. There'd be less potential for an accident. But that could actually be worse in some ways, because then people would like rush to fill those empty spaces. And before you know it, we have it's all filled again with stuff. But if you're paying and you have it's actually more expensive and you're creating an orbit that you need to protect and take care of and it's valuable and increasing in value, then that's not going to happen and people will take it more seriously.

E: Yeah, you have to incent. It's incentivizing it.

S: It's also a similar concept to like a carbon tax. Where the commons are the atmosphere.

E: Which is probably coming someday.

S: Yeah, it's your individual. It's during your company's individual short term advantage to just dump CO2 into the atmosphere. But if you had to pay for it, suddenly that changes the incentive.

C: Right. I'm surprised we've waited this long.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I like the general idea, this notion that this is just human behavior. This is what humans are going to do. And not because we're sharing resources and because there's so many of us there's a lot of things you don't also think of as resources like orbital space, but they are. This again, this wisdom is one hundred and seventy whatever plus years old. It's not like this is a new idea. This is kind of a time tested notion.

C: There's always going to be a financial incentive to exploit without paying it back. Right? Like it's you see it in public spaces all the time.

E: Broadcasters can't just broadcast. You have to rent. You have to rent a license. You have to rent certain frequencies.

S: Yeah, it's also called an externalized cost.

C: Yeah, we've talked about it a lot on the show.

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah, you have to do it.

S: Entities should not be allowed to externalize their cost onto others. Another way to look at it is there are situations in which the benefit is concentrated in one or a few individuals, but the cost is spread out over many individuals.

C: And in the US that's common.

S: Yeah, we don't perceive the cost because it's so spread out, but it adds up over time.

E: It sure does.

S: And so we have to make the cost as palpable and individual as the benefits that they balance out, basically. And again, this is not anti free market. It's actually pro free market because you know what the alternative is to this kind of thing?

E: Not having satellites?

S: It's just about government control. Do you want total government control or do you want a free market where you're factoring in the externalized costs and the common use of resources so that there's no perverse incentive to destroy the common resource?

C: Basically, this is consumer protection in a major way. Which is important for the free market. You need consumer protection.

E: And we have it. This is not a foreign concept. It's already built into a lot of things that we enjoy, purchase and spend our money on. So it's not unusual.

B: It's like what I told my daughter who just left college, the gravy train is over.

J: Steve, what if maybe they should also be putting money aside to retire the the spacecraft as well, like whatever it is, like they can't just leave it up there.

S: That's a point.

C: A lot of them, the newer ones, de-orbit.

S: Yeah, you'll want the satellite to de-orbit as soon as you no longer need it, because then you won't be paying for a defunct or a dead satellite, right?

E: Right.

B: Yes.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Who's That Noisy? (1:14:08)[edit]

S: Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.

J: Guys?

E: Noisy?

C: Yes?

J: Last week, I played a noisy.

E: Did it come with a warning?

J: Yes. This one does come with a warning. You're right. Thank you for reminding me, Evan. And here it is.


Yeah. So. What the heck is that?

E: I don't know, but whatever it was, it caught fire and something just put it out.

J: You guys want to take any guesses?

C: Well, it's an alarm.

J: Of some kind. I'll give you that. Sure.

E: Alarm system and triggering a reaction in which something is released.

C: Yeah, it sounds like steam almost.

J: Sure, it does. Sure, it does. Did you guys you guys remember David Cheeseman from last week?

C: Yeah, I remember Cheeseman.

E: Oh, yeah.

J: He sent in a guest. He sent in a guest. He says, hey, this sounds like a missile alarm on board an Ohio class submarine or on an attack submarine with VLS when conducting a missile jettison, not a launch. And then he goes on to explain what the each sounds are and everything. I'm sorry, my friend. You're incorrect, but not completely incorrect. I mean, you got a couple of interesting things in there, like about, we're not talking about a missile. I'll say this is not a missile launch type of thing, but there is an alarm. But you got that right. Another guest, Micah Woodward. Hi, Jay, is this week's noisy what happens when someone presses the big red button to stop the magnet on the MRI?

C: Oh, interesting.

J: Steve, you have you ever done this?

S: No.

J: I'm just checking. That's not the answer. But there has to be a big red button. There has got to be the kind where you could just smash through a little piece of glass and hit the button. Sure, I'll give you that. But I have no idea if that's what the MRI sounds like. But this isn't it. And then we have Brendan Flynn. Brendan wrote, hey, Jay, not Bob. My hopefully educated guess for this week's noisy is aircraft hangar, high expansion fire retardant foam.

C: Interesting.

J: People have used this as a guess before. Apparently, there's some type of alert that happens before the foam comes out. And yeah, that that's pretty damn close as far as it's sounding like something else. This isn't it. But yes, I'm pretty sure that's very close to what that whole process of the retardant foam coming out sounds like. But no, not correct, sir. We do have a winner, though. The winner for last week was Brendan Robinson. And Brendan said, hi, Jay, hope you and the team are all going well. Thank you for your extraordinary performance in a dismal 2020. Hey, man, we're trying our best over here. So he said this week's who's that noisy sounds like a safety system on a train known as a vigilance control system. These systems are designed to stop a train in the event that the train driver or engineer are incapacitated, such as if they suffer a heart attack or fall asleep. They usually activate if the controls haven't been used in a set amount of time, usually around 30 seconds. There will then usually be a visual warning, such as a flashing light that the driver will have to acknowledge by pressing a button to reset. Should the driver not react and reset the system for within a few seconds and alarm sounds and then the driver still fails to react after a few more seconds, the emergency brakes will apply.

C: Cool.

J: So here's here's something really cool about this system. The system, when it's pressurized, is releasing the brake. When the system becomes depressurized, it the brake clamps down. It's the exact opposite of what our intuition would normally tell us that you have to use the system to to apply the brake. That's not the case.

C: So it's like pneumatic pressure? Like, is that the sound we're hearing is the air release?

J: Yes, that's the air release. So the person who sent this in Damien Van Schneidel last week, he wrote train brakes operate in the reverse of how car brakes work in that the brakes are always on and a brake pipe is charged up to 500 KPA to release the brakes as brakes are applied the brake pipe is reduced, which allows the brakes to apply. So, for example, when a train is traveling along, the brake pipe will be sitting at 500 KPA. But when the driver applies the brake to initial it, it will reduce the brake pipe to 450 KPA, which essentially sits the brake pads onto the wheels, creating friction to reduce the speed. The more that the pressure drops, the more brake that's applied. And that's like a safety system where if it suddenly loses pressure, the brakes go on.

C: And so trains have this safety feature in case if the conductor is no longer doing their job.

S: Conducting?

C: Yes, my car has its own version of that. If I take my hands off the wheel and the wheel starts to drift, it will like beep at me and it'll say like, take the wheel. And I wonder if a lot of it's funny that it took a while for that to get to a lot of cars. But my assumption is it's been on trains for quite some time.

J: So just so you know, the person who guessed and of course, the person who sent this in both work on trains. This is a very, if not impossible thing to know unless you're in the industry. You know, like the braking system of certain types of trains, you know what I mean? It's like a very rare piece of thing. But I always am blown away. You know, I play like this rare sound and somebody out there, somebody's got it. I love that.

S: That's the power of crowdsourcing.

J: That's right.

C: Yeah.

New Noisy (1:19:36)[edit]

[brief, vague description of Noisy]

J: So I have a new noisy this week. I talked to Bob about it. I was so intrigued by this noisy that I called Bob and explained to him just how interesting I think it is.

B: I will neither confirm nor deny this.

J: But what I'd like you to do, especially if you email me what you think it is, I want you to tell me how you felt. What was your emotional response to this noisy? I don't think I've ever asked that before, because I had an emotional response to this noisy. And this this noisy was sent in by a listener named Carrie Harmon.


S: Cool.

C: Jay, you had an emotional reaction because it sounds like somebody being murdered with a chainsaw.

S: At the beginning part, I thought it sounded like the Martians from War of the Worlds.

J: Oh, totally.

E: Yeah.

J: Yeah, it has that trumpety ring like that that high pitch, like screamy type of thing. Yeah, definitely. This one is really, really interesting. And I'm not going to say anything else because I want to get your reaction. So let me know. Email me at if you have a guess, if you have a cool noisy and if you just want to say hi and tell me how you're doing with this whole pandemic bullshit that we have to deal with for what? Another two or three years.

S: All right. Thanks, brother. Quick one quick email.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:21:15)[edit]

Email #1: Electrical Treatment for RP[edit]

First time long time listener (2010, I think). I'm a better thinker as a result of the show, so can't thank you enough. The book was great too. To my question: I have Retinitis pigmentosa (genetic degenerative vision condition). Diagnosed at 14 and now 36, so it's well on its way. Recently my partner found a German clinic advertising the Federov Treatment, link at the end. It claims not to cure but stabilize and, in some cases, improve night vision/peripheral vision. The treatment is electrical stimulation to retinal cells/optic nerve or parts of the brain dependent on the condition. It claims to natural - I don't see electricity to the dome in nature, myself - and the website is full of testimonials. I can't find anywhere else that delivers the treatment, although it's delivered by neurologists (good?) and has been going since '93. I've read a pinned review of the available studies, link at the end. Small studies in animals and humans...the improvements as far as I can see are all assumed markers: thicker this, increased blood flow to that, and the killer quote for me: "Despite several studies showing promising results in both animal experiments and clinical studies, there are presently few reports on the mechanisms of action for ES, making this field still poorly understood." I'd love to be wrong and not wait for CRISPR or the phase 2 stem cell trials, but I'm not optimistic. Thanks for all that you do; you're all wonderful. I don't know who picks these up, but I have to say that although she's part of the furniture now, I'm really happy with the addition of Cara. As much as I like the speculative and exciting potential sciences, I think she applies them to the world as it is: environmentally, socially, etc. I did have a COVID question, but this trumps it for me. Stay safe in these peculiar times and thanks again. - Stephen, Manchester, UK

S: This one comes from Stephen from Manchester in the UK. And he bookends it with some praise. I want to go right to the question so we can go forward. He says, I have retinitis pigmentosa genetic degenerative vision condition diagnosed at 14 and now 36. So it's well on its way. Recently my partner found a German clinic advertising the Fedorov technique. It claims not to cure, but stabilize and in some cases improve night vision peripheral vision. The treatment is electrical stimulation to retinal cells, optic nerve and parts of the brain dependent on the condition. It claims to natural. I don't see electricity to the dome in itself in nature myself. And the website is full of testimonials. I can't find anywhere else that delivers the treatment, although it's delivered by neurologists and has been going since 1993. I've read a pinned review of the available studies. Small studies in animals and humans. The improvements as far as I can see are all assumed markers. Thicker this increased blood flow to that. And the killer quote for me, despite several studies showing promising results of both animals experiments and clinical studies, there are presently few reports on the mechanisms of actions for ES making this field field still poorly understood. So he wants to know, is this something worthwhile or not? Yeah, so it's obviously a very narrow medical question, but the principles here are broad. So one thing is, all right, so you have one clinic giving this treatment, that's always a red flag. If this treatment is so great, why isn't everybody doing it? Also, they've been doing it since 1993. So they had 27 years to prove that this works and they haven't been able to do that. So that's a huge red flag. So either they don't care, which is bad, or it doesn't work and they can't prove that it does work. So they're just nibbling around the edges with animal studies and markers and intention, whatever, just like pragmatic studies. But not the kind of thing that would answer the definitive question, does it work? And so it's never getting any traction because they're not producing the kind of evidence that clinicians need to see. I did do a literature search to see what was out there. I think I found the same reviews that Stephen did. So a 2016 systematic review of the literature basically said, yep, there's a lot of animal and preclinical studies, but there basically aren't any double-blind placebo-controlled trials. And that's what we need to really know if this works or not. Again, why hasn't there been after 27 years? That's kind of problematic. However, I did find a randomized controlled trial since that review.

E: Yes, yes?

S: But it was only masked. It was like partially masked, not double-blind. And they concluded that it didn't work. They found no, their primary outcome was basically a slowing of the decrease in vision in patients with retinitis pigmentosa specifically. And it basically was negative. There was no, they said it was a trend, but that means that's negative. There was no clinically significant, there was no statistically significant difference between the treatment groups and the sham group. And they looked at a bunch of-

C: Is this in the US?

S: This clinic's in Germany, the one that he's talking about. And then they looked at a bunch of markers and one of the many markers was significant. The others were all negative. That to me is just shotgunning. That means nothing. The primary endpoint of the visual field, the decrease in visual field over time was not different between treatment. And placebo. So that's discouraging, that study. But again, it's not a lot of clinical data out there, but just what is there is not good. Then there's other trials looking at stimulation for nerve damage, not in retinitis pigmentosa, and they have mixed results. But some of them show some positive results. There could be that stimulating the brain may help certain kinds of vision overcome partial optic nerve damage in some cases. That, again, it's still early, but there is some clinical data. That's a little bit more encouraging, but again, too early to make any conclusions. But that's not studying retinitis pigmentosa. The only study I could find in that disease is negative. But the bigger lesson here is just beware of those red flags. Treatments not only need to be plausible, but we need that clinical evidence, man, the double blind plus super controlled trials. And without that, with this kind of treatment, how do you know you're not just seeing placebo effects? But beware of the one clinic.

C: How is that legal?

S: Well, it's just the medicine is regulated in different ways. Those kind of clinics are legal in the US as well. There are these one-off clinics where the only people doing this controversial treatment for decades without producing any kind of convincing evidence. Unfortunately, again, that pattern be very wary of. You have to ask, why isn't everybody doing this? You've had plenty of time. Why haven't you been able to demonstrate a clear clinical benefit with rigorous trials? You know, the answer usually is because it doesn't really work, you know?

C: Are there like licensing bodies or regulatory bodies that maybe not governmental, but like the AMA or these certain groups that will make statements? Well, you make statements.

S: Yes, like you have a professional organization, you know.

C: Maybe you can look into that kind of like, well, what does the Doctors' Association of Germany, whatever it's called, say about this?

S: Yeah, like the Ophthalmological Association or whatever, something the appropriate professional organization. Yeah, you're right. It's also it's often a very good place to go for an expert review position statement on these kinds of treatments if they're above the radar. You know what I mean?

C: Right. Yeah, it's not so small.

S: Which they aren't always. Yeah, exactly. All right. Well, thanks for the question, Steven, and good luck with with everything. So, guys, let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:27:20)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction Online shopping
Science Ozone collapse
Missing baryons
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
Ozone collapse
Missing baryons
Online shopping
Online shopping

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.

Item #1: Scientists find evidence that the mass extinction 359 million years ago was caused by a UV damage resulting from a collapse of the ozone layer.[7]
Item #2: A new study of online clothes shopping using augmented reality showed higher purchase satisfaction than in person shopping.[8]
Item #3: Astronomers have used a new technique to finally identify all the missing baryonic matter in the universe.[9]

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one they think is the fake. We have just three news items this week, no theme. You guys ready?

J: Yes.

C: Yep.

S: Are you ready? Here they are. Item number one, scientists find evidence that the mass extinction 359 million years ago was caused by UV damage resulting from a collapse of the ozone layer. Item number two, a new study of online clothes shopping using augmented reality showed higher purchase satisfaction than in-person shopping. And item number three, astronomers have used a new technique to finally identify all the missing baryonic matter in the universe. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Me?

S: Yeah.

J: All right. So this first one here, scientists find evidence that the mass extinction 359 million years ago was caused by UV damage resulting from a collapse of the ozone layer. Because that one thing we're sure of that we are, science is not 100% sure about pretty much anything, but they are 100% sure that not one of those creatures had sunglasses. And this is bullshit because they needed them. And it's really sad that they died from UV light. I'm very angry about that. God Steve, I don't know. Could UV do it? What about creatures that live under the ocean and under tree canopies and all that and whatnot? You know what I mean? I don't know. But if enough creatures died, then they would not be food for other creatures. And there you have that. Okay. So that there's a little bit of that in there. Number two, a new study of online clothes shopping using augmented reality showed higher purchase satisfaction in in-person shopping. All right. Using augmented reality to do what specifically, Steve? To put the clothes on them like virtually?

S: Exactly.

J: All right. I've never done it. I don't know anyone that does it. And if Amazon doesn't do it, it doesn't count. I don't know.

C: Amazon does it.

J: They do. I don't know. I mean, I never tried it. I think it's a great idea. I think that if they have a way to measure accurately measure your body, what would you call it? You know, like the different measurements of your body, your arm length and all that stuff. If they can get the sizing correct, that's cool. I mean, I've had virtual eyeglasses put on pictures of me that worked pretty damn well. So, yeah, that's cool. I can see that. And what is it about that's better? You don't have to go drive and you don't have to be in front of people you don't want to be in front of and try on clothes just basically does it automatically. That's pretty nice. I think that one's science. And then astronomers have used a new technique to finally identify all the missing baryonic matter in the universe.

S: So I'll give you baryonic matter is like normal matter with electrons, protons and neutrons.

B: Well... Electrons are not baryons.

S: Well, not only, whatever. Protons.

B: Did you just whatever particle? Oh shit. Neutrons, protons. That's good enough. Neutrons, protons is good enough.

J: All right. But more importantly, Bob, there was missing baryonic matter that I didn't know about? All right. So they have a new technique to finally identify. I don't like this one for multiple reasons. They can finally identify all of the missing baryonic matter in the universe. How? That's impossible.

S: Including those socks you lost in your dryer last week.

J: But seriously, like, am I reading it? Is it just because I don't understand this, Steve? Like when you're saying missing all of the baryonic matter in the universe, the observable matter? Like, what are you talking about here?

S: Theoretically, there should have been a certain amount of baryonic matter, but we only were able to identify a certain percentage of it. There was a big chunk missing. And now we found the missing big chunk of baryon.

J: Got it. OK. That makes much more sense. So they found a new technique that lets them through observation. Radio telemetry, you might say. Something along those lines. See it. They can now see it. This is amazing. All right. I'm not going to take that one, but I'm going to go with the ozone layer. I don't like that one anymore.

E: Oh, jeez.

S: OK, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: OK, ozone layer. What would be the evidence that you would have that all this stuff, 359 million years ago, died off because of the UV damage? I mean, it must be in the rocks. I mean, that's the only thing you can do is because that's all that's around from then that you can discern it from. So have they done that? I guess that's literally what it comes down to. And then the study of online clothes shopping using augmented reality showed higher purchase satisfaction than in-person shopping. Where were you 40 years ago in my life? Augmented reality. Boy, I could have used you because I hate clothes shopping. I want to do all my clothes shopping using augmented reality. That is sweet.

J: Yeah, that's awesome.

E: Just for the sheer personal satisfaction, I'm saying that one's science, whether it is or not. OK, and the last one, the detection of all the missing baryonic matter in the universe. They took a blue light in CSI Jay and they just waved it around and they said, oh, there it is. You know, all of a sudden it kind of glowed. There it was.

J: And you also know who had sex recently.

E: That's an added bonus. That too is baryonic matter. Thanks for defining it, Steve, because I kind of thought I maybe knew and I was maybe half right there. Jeez, it's either the UV damage or the baryonic matter one. It sounds more plausible comparing the two that they would be able to crack the rocks open and figure out the UV damage than they would in finding like missing material that's been missing for 13 billion years or whatever. So I have to say it's the baryonic matter one's going to be the fiction.

S: OK, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: OK, tell me if you can clarify something. If you can't, that's fine. The online clothes shopping study, people that were in the study, were they men, women or mixed?

S: It was mixed.

C: It was mixed. OK. I would not prefer to try on clothes in augmented reality. I prefer to shop for some things that way. I bought a table in my entryway off Amazon. I augmented to see what it would look like in my space. It was freaking awesome. But for clothes, it fit is so important that just painting the clothes on yourself and augmented really doesn't tell you how well they fit. And I think trying them on and also shopping is a social experience for a lot of women. So not being able to go and do that, like with their friends and get people's opinions and stuff, I think I'm leaning towards this one being the fiction simply because I think if there are enough women in the study that they would say, no, I would still prefer to go and shop in person, especially because this is specifically clothing shopping, not like stuff you would buy on Amazon. But just to look at the other ones, UV damage resulting from a collapse of the ozone layer. What does that mean, a collapse?

J: It fell.

C: So it wasn't like a hole.

J: Yeah, no, it just like collapsed. Yeah, it went away. It was destroyed by something.

C: So we know that chlorofluorocarbons destroyed it in our lifetime and then we cut using those and it started to grow back. I don't know what would have caused a hole. I mean, it's usually some sort of chemical, right? So but it could be a greenhouse gas or something. That one, I have no idea. It could be science. It could be fiction. And then the same thing with the baryonic matter. I feel like this is probably actually a statistical thing, right? Like they are trying to do measurements based on things and they realized they were missing something based on models and then they changed the model. And now they're like, oh, that accounts for the missing matter. So that one seems likely to me. So I don't know. I'm going to go with the clothes shopping one and say that that's fiction. I could be wrong, but if there are a lot of women in the study, I bet you they actually prefer shopping in person.

S: Okay. And Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: So the UV damage one, that's really interesting. I like this. The only thing that I know of that could wipe out ozone would be gamma ray burst. That could do it. Maybe they found evidence of that or maybe it was something else. I'm not sure what else could wipe it out, but that would happen. I mean, unless you were like in the deep ocean, you were kind of screwed without ozone. UVC is not pretty. I mean, that's what they're using to kill COVID, man. And you don't want anybody in there with those UVC lights.

E: Talked about that. That's right.

B: Yeah. So I could see that happening. I never heard of that being ozone depletion being the reason for an extinction. That's just too awesome to be fiction. The third one, all right, baryonic matter. Yeah, protons, neutrons. I thought like literally five or six years ago they solved this problem. So they solved it again. Still, this seems likely to me. And yeah, it was a mystery because you could theoretically look at big bang nucleosynthesis when these particles were created and even a cosmic microwave background. You could say, all right, this is how much baryonic matter there should be. And it was like they were like less than 50%. They were like, where the hell is this? But like I said, I thought they already discovered that years ago. So I think that's probably science. The second one was grabbing me. I mean, AR is great, but I don't think anything is going to compare to closed purchasing and satisfaction and being in the store and trying it on. I think you get a lot of returns in any other way. So yeah, so I'll say that one's fiction.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right, so we got a pretty good split. So I guess I'll take these in order. We'll start with number one. Scientists find evidence that the mass extinction, 359 million years ago, was caused by UV damage resulting from a collapse of the ozone layer. Jay, you think this one is the fiction? Everyone else thinks this one is science. So there were five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, not including the current one we're in the middle of. One was caused by an asteroid impact six million years ago. We talked about that earlier in the show. Three were caused by volcanic eruptions, probably. And then there's the end Devonian extinction from 359 million years ago. And there's multiple theories as to what caused this. But there's a new study which says that it was UV damage from a collapsed ozone layer. This one is science.

C: I'm so glad. I was so nervous that you were going to be like, guys, there was no mass extinction 359 million years ago. Like that it was like one of those John Oliver things when he's talking about Luxembourg. And then he's like, you didn't even notice that's not Luxembourg.

B: He wouldn't do that, though. He's not that nefarious.

C: He could get us that way. That would be hilarious.

S: The mindf science, or fiction. I have to think about that. All right. Good idea, Cara.

B: Thanks Cara.

C: You're welcome.

S: So what was the evidence? It was actually in spores in the rocks.

E: Oh, not rocks. Spores in the rocks. Yes, I was right on the rocks.

S: Of course they're in rocks. But 359 million year old spores that showed two features. One was that they're very spiky, which they say was an indication of DNA damage from UV light.

B: Were they coronavirus spores?

S: And the other was that they were dark coloured, which they also attributed to UV radiation. So from this, and this is all at a particular, right at the extinction, that's when they found this feature. So it looks like corresponding to this mass extinction event, there was this dramatic increase in UV damage evidenced in the spores in the rocks. OK. So let's say, not proof, but it's evidence of that hypothesis. Then you guys were speculating, well, what would have caused the collapse of the ozone layer? And they don't know. That data, this data doesn't tell them. But it does correlate with a, so there was a ice age, like a drop in temperature, followed by a rapid period of global warming, leading up to the ozone collapse.

C: So it would have been greenhouse gases?

S: So the speculation is that was it the rapid warming that did it. Which, of course, would be very concerning, given what's currently happening.

B: Oh, boy. Another thing we can look forward to. Thank you.

S: So again, that's a couple of dots you have to connect there. It's certainly not direct evidence of any of that. But there is pretty good evidence for the UV damage at that time. But again, though, putting the whole picture together is complicated. And that, I think, is one of the more complicated mass extinctions, the Andavonian one.

B: I wish it were a gamma ray burst.

S: Who knows? Maybe that triggered everything.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Let's go on. Number two. A new study of online clothes shopping using augmented reality showed higher purchase satisfaction than in-person shopping. Bob and Cara, you think this one is the fiction. Jay and Evan, you think this one is science. And this one is the fiction.

B: Yeah, Cara. High five.

S: So yeah.

J: It's not even fun.

S: Leave it to Cara to snuff it out. You totally nailed it, because it was actually they had lower satisfaction with the augmented reality. Because even when you can get the size correct using augmented reality, it doesn't tell you how it will fit. The fit is the thing. So augmented reality online shopping was better than regular online shopping.

C: Right. I'm sure. Yeah.

S: But not better than in-person shopping. That was the part I made fiction. So it got you a little bit closer to in-person shopping, but there's still a huge difference.

C: But I bet you for furniture, it would be awesome.

S: Yeah, but this is for clothes. There's two things. One is the fit. So again, it's size/fit. And then this other thing, which nobody mentioned. What would be the other thing that it doesn't quite work?

B: Hang.

E: Feel.

B: How it hangs.

J: How close it is to the-

C: Yeah, the texture.

E: The tactile.

S: Colour.

C: Oh, colour. Interesting.

S: Because you can't really see the colour on your monitor, unless you use some colour matching software or whatever.

B: Oh, god. Close enough.

S: But is it? That's the thing. You think, oh, yeah, I really like that blue. And then you get it's a different shade. I've had that where there's a slightly different shade of blue, and suddenly it looks terrible.

E: You ordered that gold dress turned out to be blue.

C: Texture does matter. I actually want soft clothing. And so if I can't feel the fabric.

S: A lot of that is the fit and the feel. So there's size, fit and feel, and then colour. Those are the features. So the AR basically fixed the size problem, because you could then virtually try it on and make sure you're getting the correct size. But you don't know if the cut. And this is something else I've run into, and sure you guys have run into as well. You get something that it's the correct size, but the cut is terrible. It's just like, ugh. And you can't really. So you know what people do when they buy online?

C/E: They buy multiple sizes.

B: Oh, yeah.

S: They do bracket purchase.

J: Amazon does it where you could send it back without a problem.

E: Yeah, it's become.

C: Yeah, a lot of clothing companies.

S: So you guys say, "without a problem". But this is a massive source of inefficiency and waste.

E: Absolutely.

S: Think about all the clothes that are going back and forth in the mail, because people are buying three, four, five, six things to find the one that they really want. So they could try the one that they send us back.

C: This is why Jorby Parker does such a smart thing, where they have a sampler box that's small. And it's easier with glasses, right? It doesn't take as much of a carbon footprint, because it's small. But you pick your top five choices, and they send you just the try-on pairs with no lenses in them. You try on of your five choices. Then you get to pick which one you want sent back.

E: How can you see what you're looking at without the lenses?

B: That's a good idea.

E: Oh, Catch 22.

C: Right? It's smart. And then they'll mail you your fashion pair based on that. So then you don't have to go into the store to go glasses shopping, because that's not fun.

S: Yeah, so there's definitely a convenience to online shopping. But for clothes specifically, I don't know if it's ever going to really work, because it's never going to be a substitute for actually trying it on the physical object itself. And trying to do it leads to, again, this massive waste.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: So all this means that astronomers have used a new technique to finally identify all the missing baryonic matter in the universe is science. Bob, I had the exact same reaction that you had. And I thought, I thought we already cracked that nut. So I looked it up, and yeah, there's a report from several years ago. We've finally identified all the... So I had to read the original article. And they mention all of that. But they say, yeah, but they didn't really visualize the baryonic matter. They were just inferring it indirectly. So what we were thinking of was a few years ago when they were imaging the hydrogen ions in intergalactic gas. And then from that, they had to infer how much total matter there would be. And it was also a limited observation. So they were extrapolating a lot from limited data. They were only looking at little parts of the universe and trying to extrapolate to the whole universe. So yeah, they had to model it and everything. It wasn't really good. But the authors of this study are claiming that this is the first time we've really visualized all the baryonic matter. And you know how they did it?

C: How?

S: Fast radio bursts, FRBs.

J: Of course.

E: No.

S: So you have to basically backlight this gaseous matter. So just to back up a little bit, so Bob is correct. Based upon the background microwave radiation, essentially the Big Bang, we can model how much baryonic matter there should be in the universe. And when we observe the universe, we only find initially like 50% of it. And then we got up to maybe 60% or 2 thirds. But that was it. We were somewhere between 60% and 70%. And that was it. We're missing 30 plus percent of the baryonic matter, which is itself only about 5% of all the stuff in the universe. But that's a different story. So but we figured it's got to be out there. It's not in the galaxies. You know, there are certainly intergalactic streams and clouds and structures of material. They would be very, very sparse. They estimate on average two atoms per average size room in your house, right? That's how diffuse is. And it's just hard to visualize.

B: Trixie.

S: Yeah, you need to backlight it somehow. And so that's these various studies have used different techniques. And again, this research reviewed like all the different techniques of sort of backlighting the matter to get a better estimate. But when you do that, you need to know the distance of your lighting source, right? Because you're basically calculating how much of that light is getting affected by the matter between the source and the observation. So different wavelengths of light will be slowed to different degrees by this intergalactic gas, right? So if you have a fast radio burst, which is very, very bright, very, very energetic, right? And you know how far away it is, you could then calculate how much matter it passed through to get here. And so the study looked at five different FRBs with a known source. We knew what galaxy they were coming from, right? The host galaxy.

B: And they were repeaters? Were they the repeaters?

S: No, that's one way to know, but there's two ways. There's two ways to know what's the host galaxy. One is that it's a repeater, which are rare. And two is that we were lucky enough to observe it with multiple different telescopes at the same time and then localize the host galaxy that way. So they present four new FRBs plus one old one. And because they're in different parts of the sky, we were able to look at five basically different pathways through the universe. So five different directions, right? So that gives us a good sort of estimate of how much stuff is out there between these FRB sources and the Earth. And when they run the calculations, bam, 100% of the baryonic matter that's supposed to be, that's predicted. They basically closed that gap to zero. And this is the most direct observation, the less sort of inference. So it's superior than the previous methods where they maybe prematurely claimed victory, at least according to these authors.

E: What a cool usage of FRBs.

J: Right, yeah. Tell me about it.

S: Cool, very nice, very nice.

B: I wonder if there's any ramifications to the discovery now that we know, or I guess like other calculations assumed the amount of baryonic matter that was in the universe, even if they hadn't discovered, haven't proved that it's out there. Say for example, the expansion of the universe, right? That would be impacted. So they probably just assumed, yeah, theory tells us this is how much baryonic matter there is. So we're just going to go with that number, even if we haven't quite found it yet.

S: Yeah, but it's good to know.

B: But I just wonder if that will affect anything else.

C: If they had to iterate any of their models.

B: Yeah, exactly.

C: Finding.

S: But they conclude this independent measurement is consistent with values derived from cosmic microwave background and from Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

B: Nucleosynthesis. Yeah, baby.

S: So very nice. Good job, Bob and Cara.

C: Yay, Bob.

S: All right, so guys, don't forget, we have our Friday stream.

B: Yeah, I can't wait.

S: Friday, 5 p.m. Eastern time. We have a guest this week. I know it's too late.

C: We do?

S: Yeah, we do. Brian Wecht. So it's too late for when the show comes out. But as I've said, first of all, these streams are hella fun. Everyone's really enjoying it. We're getting a good audience. George Hrab was on last week or two weeks ago. We have Brian on this week. So keep checking in. You may find some surprise guests joining us for these streams.

B: We should have had a pandemic years ago.

J: That can be arranged.

C: Oh no.

E: I can arrange that.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:50:32)[edit]

I’m 13, so I don’t want to rush everything ... I’m still trying to figure it out, but I just want to focus on learning right now. That’s what I love to do.
– Jack Rico, youngest graduate in Fullerton College history, who earned 4 associates degrees simultaneously over the course of 2 years[1]

S: All right, Evan, give us the quote.

E: "I'm 13, so I don't want to rush everything. I'm still trying to figure it out, but I just want to focus on learning right now. That's what I love to do." Word spoken by Jack Rico, the youngest graduate in Fullerton College history. He earned four associate's degrees simultaneously over the course of two years. Oh my gosh. His degrees are in social sciences, social behavior and self-development, arts and human expression and history. He earned the degrees in just two years at the college. He will be continuing his education at the University of Nevada. And point of fact, Fullerton College is the oldest community college and continuous operation in California. So well done, Jack, you're awesome.

C: You said he was the youngest. You didn't say how old he is.

E: 13. It was in the quote.

C: Oh, did you say that? Shit, sorry.

B: Yeah, but what do you have done well on this week's Science or Fiction?

E: No worse than me. Congratulations, Jack.

S: All right, thanks, Evan.

E: Thanks.

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

B: Sure, man.

C: Thanks, Steve.

E: Thanks, Steve.

S: Yep, we'll see you guys online on Friday.


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[10]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description



Navi-previous.png Back to top of page Navi-next.png