SGU Episode 792

From SGUTranscripts
Jump to navigation Jump to search
  Emblem-pen-green.png This transcript is not finished. Please help us finish it!
Add a Transcribing template to the top of this transcript before you start so that we don't duplicate your efforts.
  Emblem-pen-orange.png This episode needs: transcription, time stamps, formatting, links, 'Today I Learned' list, categories, segment redirects.
Please help out by contributing!
How to Contribute

You can use this outline to help structure the transcription. Click "Edit" above to begin.

SGU Episode 792
September 12th 2020
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 791                      SGU 793

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

Quote of the Week

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius, and we’re skeptical.

attributed to Arthur C. Clarke, English writer, inventor, futurist

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

COVID-19 Update ()[edit]

News Items[edit]






(laughs) (laughter) (applause) [inaudible]

Using AI to Detect Deep Fakes ()[edit]

The Neuroscience of Stuttering ()[edit]

Undead Fears ()[edit]

Mighty Mouse in Space ()[edit]

Fake Reviews ()[edit]

Who's That Noisy? ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week’s Noisy: _brief_description_perhaps_with_link_

New Noisy ()[edit]


Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups ()[edit]

Question #1: Panspermia Again ()[edit]

As a long-time listener, I know that one of your favorite ongoing sagas is the ridiculous panspermia claims coming from Steele and Wickramasinghe in Australia. Well, they have done it again, this time with COVID-19. For your entertainment: Some amazing highlights (but there are many more):

• They were clearly writing this chapter about Candida, and then at the last minute before "publishing" (more on this below) decided that they would add some wild speculation about COVID-19 (because why not?). Some of their predictions from that time did not exactly age well (e.g. there will likely be little or no human-to-human

• I absolutely love the comparisons of the geographic pattern of COVID-19 infections in China to the fallout from a giant "viral bomb." (I guess a meteorite strike? They find one that fits within the general time period of late 2019.)

• Several figures are directly taken from Australian newspapers...seems legit for a scientific publication.

• Sunspot cycles! Because why not?!

• There are a number of problematic and frankly dangerous statements in the chapter, including the statement that the exterior of masks is likely [conclusion missing].

• The whole article is an exercise in argument from ignorance ("we don't know exactly where it came from -- or at least we can find some out-of-context quotes from researchers supporting that statement -- so must be panspermia")… and also in ignoring all the genomic evidence that shows that SARS-CoV-2 clearly nestles within the phylogeny of terrestrial coronaviruses. But that's obviously giving the authors too much credit.

This also pointed me towards a way that I was not familiar with of publishing bullshit in a seemingly legitimate scientific venue that you might be interested in if not already aware. As a researcher myself (although in entomology, far from this domain), I wondered how the heck they got this published under the Elsevier umbrella and indexed by NCBI. To a member of the public who's not in the research game, this would look totally legit! I am well aware and familiar with the predatory journal game (as I get many email invites every week to publish in them), but this is a new one: these authors are using an "Online Book Series" called "Advances in Genetics" that has multiple volumes that appear to have different editorial teams. Some appear to be legitimate (the series is indexed and has a not-bad-but-not-great impact factor) while others (this one, I assume, although this volume is still in press so I can't see who the editors are) have guest editors that are likely sympathetic to the bullshit and can send the chapters to known friendly reviewers.

And check out who the guest editors are for the latest volume, 106!: I wonder how critical they were of their own chapters? Because this chapter, although entertaining, has COVID-19-related statements that are frankly dangerous to have in the scientific literature, I think it'd be reasonable to push for retractions. The series editor appears to be a legit researcher (but I didn't dig deep; I'm sure he could have his blind spots ( I wonder if he's aware of this.

As a very last aside, it's a funny coincidence that the first part of the chapter advances a bullshit panspermia "hypothesis" for the origin of Candida auris to explain how it suddenly popped up in multiple locations without clear evidence of human-mediated spread among those locations. Just this week, NPR's radiolab summarized the case for an alternative (and seemingly much more legitimate) hypothesis that selection for higher temperature tolerance is responsible for the recent emergence of C. auris. Seems preliminary, but better than panspermia. Anyway, I'd love to hear you talk about the new panspermia BS, if only because I need a laugh these days. And if you ever want to spread the gospel of or have questions about the wild and crazy world of parasitoid wasps (I know, I keep emailing you about this), I'm always here Keep up the good work, folks.

– Paul Abram Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada

Science or Fiction (1:29:53)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction As tractable as dogs
Science Gone from british isles
6 n.a. attacks in 100y
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
As tractable as dogs
As tractable as dogs
As tractable as dogs
As tractable as dogs

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.

Theme: Wolves
Item #1: Wolves were completely eradicated from the British Isles by about 1760.[7]
Item #2: Wolves raised and socialized by humans from young pups are as 'tractable' as domestic dogs.[8]
Item #3: In North America there have been only six reported unprovoked wolf attacks against humans in the last century, none of which were fatal.[9]

Jay's Response[edit]

Bob's Response[edit]

Evan's Response[edit]

Cara's Response[edit]

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius, and we’re skeptical.
– attributed to Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), English writer, inventor, futurist, undersea explorer, and television series host.

Signoff/Announcements ()[edit]

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