SGU Episode 78

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SGU Episode 78
January 15th 2007
Skull.jpeg
SGU 77 SGU 79
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
Guest
JW: Jeff Wagg
Quote of the Week
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
John Adams
Links
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


Introduction[edit]

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

News Items[edit]

Stem Cell Debate Continues (3:20)[edit]

  • House votes to fund stem cell research:
    www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/11/AR2007011100251.html?referrer=email&referrer=email&referrer=email

    New source of stem cells found in amniotic fluid.
    www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanId=sa003&articleId=F4BB3ACB-E7F2-99DF-349FD71C1164C66D

    Article about the chilling effect the Federal ban on stem cell lines has produced.
    www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1979639,00.html

Randi Revises Psychic Challenge (15:34)[edit]

  • With an Interview with Jeff Wagg, the director of the JREF and the Challenge.

    www.randi.org

Questions and E-mails[edit]

Government Conspiracies (26:53)[edit]

Steven, Bob, Rebecca, Jay, Perry, and Evan (whew!),

I'll start off as most do by thanking you for a wonderful podcast. Having just recently discovered the show, I promptly signed up for a 1 year membership to support your work and began working my way through previous episodes. On to my question (apologies if it's been discussed before and I haven't yet gotten to it!):

What advice do you have for skeptics and critical thinkers for evaluating 'conspiracy theories' with regard to the government? And by this, I don't mean the complete idiocy that takes the form of moon landing hoax conspiracies or flying saucers and the like. I mean the more prevalent 'theories' such as information suppression, cover-ups, clandestine deals, corruption, all the way up to more extreme things like 9/11 involvement, election fixing, etc. Personally speaking, I find no shortage of clear and well-publicized issues that anger me about the current administration. However, the items reported in the news are often not enough some people and other things are talked about as though they were fact. It can often be very difficult to tell where the facts end and the theories and 'woo-woo' begin. When I challenge people on their claims, I'm called either naive or some sort of crypto-republican or Bush apologist. And of course I'm reminded that our government (both parties) has a history of cover-ups, scandals, and conspiracies so perhaps this casts things in a different light?

Sorry that this question has turned out to be so political, but really my question is more generic. How might scientific methods or critical thinking be applied to these kinds of claims?

Thanks,
Jeret Lemontt
Santa Barbara, CA

Herbs, Hags, and Kids (31:22)[edit]

First off I want to say I love your podcast, you are by far the best one out of many that I subscribe to and hope you can answer a few questions of mine.

I have three separate questions for the panel, first, I just finished listening to episode number 48 with Steve Mirsky,(another great podcaster I listen to) where you guys just touched on herbal remedies such as Ginko Biloba and how full of B.S. much of it is. Could you guys perhaps go down the list of some of the more popular ones and debunk some of their claims, if not anything else do it for my mother, who is a fanatic for them, some truth would be nice.

My second question is one for myself, I suscribe to a podcast called mysterious universe, not for the science, but for the muse of entertainment it brings. One subject that has come up a few times is of shadow people or 'old hag syndrome' where a person is lying awake and unable to move and witnessing a shadow figure climbing over them. I would love to hear to skeptical/ truth on this matter and what is exactly happening during these reported events.

My last question is, who's kids do I keep hearing in the background of some of the episodes? Just one of those annoying little questions I keep wondering for no apparent reason.

Thank you guys, I look forward to more and please to Rebecca that no, I will not marry her so please stop proposing.

Ian Horner
San Diego, California


Some Ginkgo references:
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=12186600&query_hl=1

Skepticism a Movement? (45:14)[edit]

The question from the last podcast (1/13/06) about when you became a skeptic sounded uncomfortably to me like discussions I have heard about when I came to Christ or when I came to organic food. I dont mean to slander you all (I listen to the podcast religiously (oops!)) and I think you are great. But I dont think that skepticism is something you come to or are converted to. My friends refer to me as a skeptic but I dont think of myself as such. I just believe in using what intelligence I have coupled with the information available to view the world critically and with clear sight. Let us be honest: if we were living 300 years ago we all might well believe in ghosts and we would all believe that the earth is the center of the universe. We know today that there are no ghosts to an extent the same way we know that the atom consists of a positive nucleus surrounded by a swarm of negative electrons: somebody who did the research told us. Looking at skepticism as some kind of movement desirable in itself leads to what you briefly discussed at the beginning of the global warming segment, i.e., people who ignore reasonable evidence get some credibility just because they are skeptics.

Don Jennings
Torrance, CA, USA

Scientology (48:41)[edit]

Thank you for all the hard work you put into each podcast.

I am interested in your views on Scientology (I hope I am spelling it correctly!). Obviously, I know that none of you believe in Xemu (sic). But I am more intrested in how this cult is able to attract followers.

I am sure that you get plenty of show topics from listeners, but I think a show about Scientologies' beliefs, and how the cult operates would be an informative show.

I just started listening in November, and I have not been able to listen to all the back episodes, so please forgive me if you have already done a show on this topic. If you have done this topic already, could you let me know the show number?

Thank you again, and I am happy to be one of your 10,000 listeners.

Also, tell RW that I cannot send her a proposal as I am happly married with three kids. Sorry.

William Watkinson
Detroit, MI

Randi Speaks (55:59)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic

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

    This week's topic: That's My Line.

JR: Hello. This is James Randi. I was reminded the other day of an encounter that I had back in 1980 with a gentleman named James Hydrick. Hydrick dressed in sort of... black pajamas; he thought he was a kung fu expert of some kind and perhaps he did have some experience in that line, but he had learned a very special trick. It got him on the program that I've always called "That's Inedible!"—I think the name was actually "That's Incredible!", but John Davidson was taken in completely by him, as he was by many other people. Hydrick could move small objects on a tabletop, apparently merely by concentrating on them. He could also turn the pages, or a page at a time, in a telephone directory, just simply by lurching toward the thing and making strange gestures. Well, it wasn't much of a puzzle if you had any knowledge of the conjuring techniques. Hydrick was simply blowing; blowing along the table and that would raise the page and turn it over. I must admit, however, that he was very good at it. He had the ability to hide the fact that he was blowing by fixing his lips in what we call a "vent" position. That's a ventriloquist's position. The ventriloquist uses this particular mouth structure or shape in order to be able to speak without moving his lips.

In 1980, Goodson-Todman Productions came up with a new show format. It was called "That's My Line". No, not "What's My Line"; "That's My Line". It was rather short-lived; I think it only lasted for one season. I was on the very first two episodes. Bob Barker was the emcee of the show. On the first episode, I appeared as Adam Jersin—that's Adam J-E-R-S-I-N, which is an anagram for James Randi, if you work on it carefully. They tried not to show extreme close-ups of me so I might not be recognized, but I posed as a psychic, and I was able to fool the audience into believing that I had some sort of psychic powers. But then Bob Barker revealed the whole thing and everybody was much happier. I certainly was. My second appearance on that show was to confront James Hydrick with his trick of blowing telephone pages over. That was quite an adventure. Mark Goodson was the director on the show and he just about went nuts. You must understand that this was a very big studio in the Los Angeles area; very large audience was accommodated and we had to make very special preparations for Mr. Hydrick. I got to the studio very early that day, before Hydrick arrived, and I demonstrated to Mark Goodson that the air conditioning would have to be turned off, which was rather a disastrous decision to have to make because it was a large building; there were lots of hot lights going and the audience would probably be a bit uncomfortable. As it turned out, they were. I simply turned a Styrofoam cup on its side and I showed Mark Goodson that the cup would run around in circles merely because of the natural ambiance of the studio with its moving air conditioning currents. So we turned the whole system off. That had to be done a good hour before Hydrick arrived to do his demonstration. Hydrick did his regular demo of turning the page of the telephone book, and then it was my turn. I stepped over to the table and distributed some Styrofoam peanuts, the kind of thing that you use to package delicate objects, all around the table. Hydrick was stymied. He couldn't blow, or the Styrofoam tablets would run in all directions, of course, and it would be very obvious what he was doing. Because he hummed and hawed for such a long period of time, Mark Goodson had to tell the audience that they could go out to lunch and come back in about an hour. But, meanwhile, the whole staff, all of the crew, the cameramen, the editors, the whole business had to be on duty in case Hydrick suddenly decided that he was possessed of psychic powers again. Well, the upshot of the thing was that Hydrick couldn't do anything. When the audience came back in again, they didn't see a demonstration of any kind. Except that I duplicated the Hydrick trick simply by blowing. And I think I did it rather well. Shortly after that, Hydrick vanished from sight. It turned out he'd been arrested; he was a very sad character and had a long history of such misdemeanors. Look it up on our website. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction (1:01:00)[edit]

Question #1: Scientists have discovered a possible 'off switch' for HIV. Question #2: Researchers have found that being bilingual delays the onset of dementia by as much as four years. Question #3: Scientist have used a new technique to date a modern human skull that was discovered 50 years ago, and the new dating shows that humans migrated out of Africa as early as 150,000 years ago.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:09:03)[edit]

This Week's Puzzle
The French and the Germans both agree
And so do Chinese, from twelve hundred BC
It only takes 10, placed upon 3
Peer through one eye and you will soon see
Designed to impress children as young as three
It dazzles adults, especially those that believe
All it takes is a skeptic to add fabric you see
The magic disappears, and this trick is history

What is it?

Last Week's Puzzle
I have something that was said to have existed in the first century
That was first written about in the eighth century
That was actually produced in the 14th century
That was almost destroyed in the 16th century
And proven to be a hoax in the 20th century
What do I have?

Answer: The Shroud of Turin

Winner: Mike from the message board
Correction - Rich Ludwig was credited on the show but he did not get the answer correct (oops).

Quote of the Week (1:11:36)[edit]

'Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.'- John Adams

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

References[edit]


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