SGU Episode 804

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SGU Episode 804
December 5th 2020
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 803                      SGU 805

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

If you think back on all the movies you've ever seen with goodies and baddies, you always remember the baddie.

David Prowse, English bodybuilder and character actor

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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, December 2nd, 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: Evening, folks.

S: God, it's December already, man. In a way, the 2020s seemed like forever, but always at the same time, yeah, these years always seem like they're flying by at the same time, because we mark the date every week and we're like, it's always like, oh, it's December already. But yeah, this is definitely one year I won't be sad to see put into the history books.

E: That's for sure.

S: In the rear view mirror, you know?

COVID-19 Update (0:48)[edit]

S: So just a very quick COVID update this week. The bottom line is the pandemic is raging, at least in the US, worse than it ever has been. Worldwide as well, but I mean, it's country by country, but in the US, it's worse than it's ever been. We broke 200,000 cases in one day. Some areas are going back into shutdown of one degree or another. I'm sure there's going to be a surge on top of a surge because of Thanksgiving, and the cold months are coming, Christmas is coming.

C: Yeah, multiple hospitals are back at capacity. It's dangerous. I know, Jay is laughing because you said Christmas is coming, not because of COVID.

E: Right, of course.

C: Just to be clear.

J: Yeah, but I was just waiting for one of you guys to say it, you know?

B: Say it.

E: I wasn't going to say it during the COVID segment.

B: Say it, Jay. Get out of the way.

J: What with Christmas coming and all?

C: There you go.

S: All right. But talking about Christmas and COVID, how many of you guys have heard that there is an increase, an uptick in suicides during the holidays?

C: Oh, during the holidays, yeah, for sure.

E: I've heard of that, but I don't know if that's ... Has that really been proven?

S: It's a complete myth.

C: Really?

S: Yes. In the United States, the CDC tracks these numbers, so if you go month by month, December is 12 out of 12. It actually has the lowest suicide rate of any month. Number two is November. Number three is January. So the three lowest months are November, December, January.

J: Why is that?

S: That's a separate question. The peaks are actually-

B: Because they're still happy from Halloween, you know.

S: It's complicated. Actually, if you have a decreased energy, like the seasonal sadness thing, that actually could make you too depressed to do that, to have the energy.

C: That's why I was wondering if there was a rebound effect. Just like you often see that with suicides in bipolar individuals, is when they are coming up from a depressive swing, that's when they complete.

S: That's when they could be at highest risk, yeah.

C: That's why I figured that maybe post-holiday, but you're right. It's still cold. It's still that seasonal affective problem in January.

S: Some years, it's like spring, fall, but then some years, summer, like 2018, the three highest months were over the summer, June, July, August. So it's kind of flipped to what people think, but the holiday suicide risk thing is a complete myth. There's never been a correlation there. I'm not really sure where that came from.

C: The idea that it would be a risk is also kind of strange. Even if there had been a change in the numbers, like it being the holidays does not lead to suicide.

S: It's not a risk and there's no correlation, so there's nothing to explain there. But the question is, what has the suicide rate been due to the COVID pandemic? The short answer is it's too early to tell because they're still sort of gathering information, but we do have data for the spring, when it started, when the shutdown was occurring. In fact, during the shutdown, at least in the countries for which we have good data, which is like the US and other Western or industrialized nations, the answer is there was either no change or a decrease, if anything, in the suicide rate. No increase, so no increase. There's data for Japan over the summer, so Japan had a 12% decrease in the spring and then a 13% increase over the summer, and experts are still debating on why that occurred. And then in terms of other parts of the world, we're still gathering data, so maybe in a month or two we'll start to get published studies looking at like the summer and fall. Certainly there is an increase in things that are known to be risks of suicide, like depression and anxiety and isolation and stress and socioeconomic stress and all those sort of things. So it wouldn't be surprising. We just haven't seen it yet, and if it is happening, we haven't gathered the data to document it yet. So that's where we are right now, but again, no holiday thing, that's a myth, but probably the effect of the pandemic is going to be complicated, and we'll see what it comes out.

C: Right, but there's no denying that it has a severe, it's having a significant impact on mental health.

S: Yes, absolutely. That's why, that's what's expected, and it may just be that it, there might have been like a, oh, let's all band together kind of effect in the spring when it was first happening, but as it lasts longer and longer and longer and people get pandemic fatigue and the isolation starts to wear thin and the economic stress starts to really start to, and you know, in the U.S. again, we're sort of getting to the end of the subsidies and we don't know what's going to happen there, so that could have a huge impact.

C: Oh, I think I read somewhere that the stimulus package that was originally offered to, individual Americans at this point amounts to something like $4.35 a day.

J: Oh my God.

C: That's where we're at right now. Yeah.

News Items[edit]

Have Archaeologists Found the Home of Jesus? (5:46)[edit]

S: All right, so let's, we're going to go right into some news items, and we're going to start with something that we've sort of spoken about before, but I had to talk about it, the reporting on it was just so bad. So most of the headlines are saying one of two things. The better ones are saying this, has the childhood home of Jesus Christ actually been found in Nazareth? They basically put it as a question mark.

E: Oh, gosh.

C: Is the answer no?

S: The other ones are just saying archaeologists says they found Jesus's home and even like Popular Mechanics and the BBC did horrible write-ups of this. I just haven't found anything yet. Maybe the more skeptical ones will come in a bit from more academic sources, but all the mainstream reporting on this has been horrible.

E: Sounds more like a Christmas fluff piece kind of thing.

S: No, well, it's it's a serious archaeological researcher who's been working on this for 14 years, and there's, it's a legitimate archaeological site. It's just that the claims here are just ridiculous. This is an archaeological site that is under a convent in what is believed to be the Nazareth of the Bible, of the New Testament. Nazareth was supposed to be the place where Jesus was, where his family lived and where he grew up. Remember, his parents had to be in Bethlehem for the census, and he was born there, according to the New Testament. But he's really, his family's from Nazareth.

E: Jesus of Nazareth, right.

S: Yeah. Exactly. And then this is, that's one of the lines of argument that scholars say there, this wasn't a story that was made up out of whole cloth because the prophecy was that, he had to be born in Bethlehem. And so in order to make the story work for somebody who was from Nazareth, they just had his parents just go to Bethlehem for a census and give birth there. And so why would they do that if they weren't trying to make it work for a real person, you know? Which I think is a very weak argument. I think it's more likely that they were just making different narratives work together, you know? They could all be fake. But in any case, so we have the potentially historical location of Nazareth. And apparently the even going back hundreds of years, the nuns in the convent said, yep, this is Jesus's home that underneath us where we're built, you know? So the new evaluation is not a new excavation. And this is a Ken Dark, Ken Dark is the archaeologist, he said, I didn't do a new excavation. I just re-investigated the existing evidence and the existing excavation. And there was, I think, one of the floors caved in, so he was able to get access to some new material, but he didn't do any new excavation. And here's his line of argument. So what they're finding was, yeah, definitely underneath there was a Roman era home, right? And Nazareth was supposed to be a Jewish settlement during Roman occupation. So you would expect there to be Roman structures and maybe evidence that it was Jewish people who were living there. And he said, yeah, that the construction's limestone. And at the time, the Jewish people liked to build their homes out of limestone because they believed it protected them from the vapours or whatever. So okay, whatever. But now here is his argument for why this is not only a home, not only a home in Nazareth from 1 AD, despite the fact around that time, the first century AD, despite the fact they haven't been able to carbon date anything, but the home of actual Jesus. Are you ready? Here's his line of argument. In the Bible, it says that Jesus's father, Joseph, was a carpenter, although the word that they use could actually just mean craftsman. So he was some kind of craftsman. And the house they found had pretty good stonework.

B: Compelling.

E: Wow.

S: That's it. That is it. So maybe Jesus's father was the one who worked that stone. And since the Bible says he was a craftsman, there you go. Because how else could you explain decent stonework, you know?

E: I can think of a few things wrong with this.

S: In a Roman structure. Like the Romans weren't known for stonework, were they? Or precision or any of that stuff.

E: Wow.

S: Yeah, that's it. There you go.

C: That's the whole thing?

S: That's the whole thing.

J: That's good enough for me.

E: Jesus lived here, this I know, cause the Bible told me so.

S: The rest, honestly, is just that over time, there were rumours that this was Jesus's house. That's it. But he said, this doesn't prove it actually was Jesus's house. Yeah, no kidding. Really? But he says, basically, he does the, but it's a plausible hypothesis, and you can't prove it wasn't.

E: Oh, gosh.

C: But how is that worth publishing? But did he not know there was good stonework before?

S: Published it in a book, apparently. Not necessarily peer-reviewed.

E: But this is the culmination of 14 years of study, Steve?

S: Yeah, there you go, boy.

E: Oh, my gosh.

S: And unfortunately, nothing could be, they couldn't, not only could they not carbon date it, they couldn't even date it based upon pottery. Because pottery is a really good way to date a find. You can create, essentially, a timeline of pottery traditions, and then when you find a piece of pottery, you could then place it in time based upon the details of its craftsmanship and design, the material used, et cetera. But unfortunately, the site was never excavated by archaeologists. It basically was dug up by nuns who had no idea what they were doing. So they essentially destroyed all the evidence and took it out of context. It was no longer in situ. So we don't really, we don't know what, this could be from 500 AD. We don't even know that. We can't really even say it was from the first century AD.

'C: But why can't they use radio isotopes to date it?

S: They just haven't done it. I don't think they have anything they could say, this was from this house, and this can be carbon dated.

C: You'd think they could do it with some of their stonework.

S: I don't know if there's enough, you need organic material.

C: Oh, you're right. But I wonder what they used for the mortar and the stonework.

S: Yeah, I don't know. I don't know. So we'll see. This popularization may garner actual attention from archaeologists now that could do a real excavation and maybe some dating and stuff. But even if it was from a home from the first century AD, and even if this was Nazareth, that doesn't mean it was Jesus's house. And that argument that, well, the stonework was really good, is so thin, it's essentially useless. And it's amazing how every single piece of reporting takes that argument seriously without any pushback.

E: Oh my gosh. Says like Shroud of Turin feel to it.

S: Totally.

C: Absolutely.

S: Totally.

J: I mean, Steve, what's it going to take, man? I mean, you don't believe in anything at this point.

S: It's going to take more than this line of argument. And the other thing is a lot of, most of the reporting, including from Popular Mechanics, which is terrible for them, start with the premise that, well, we know that Jesus was a real guy because scholars basically say that he really existed. It's like, well, no. I would not say that that is. Even if that might be the majority opinion.

E: That's not universally accepted, right?

S: It is not universally accepted. And I don't really think that they have a good argument. Because again, as I've said previously on the show, their best argument was two things. One was, well, why would they have Jesus born in Bethlehem? If they were going to make up the story, why wouldn't they just have it be somebody from Bethlehem? Why make it this Nazarene guy whose mother had to travel to Bethlehem? It's like, OK, so there was some crossing of the streams. That doesn't mean that it was a real person from Nazareth. Could be two stories got their streams crossed.

C: Totally.

S: Yeah, which we know, right? We have many, many modern examples of how these stories get fabricated and altered, and how new details get woven in, and how people keep reworking it and reworking it, and traditions meld and everything. So that's just naive, in my opinion. Incredibly naive to say that, well, it must be a real guy because why would they do that? And the other thing is the way that Christ was crucified. They said, why would they crucify their Savior? That was the most humiliating thing to have happen. Again, they probably didn't write the story out of whole cloth. They are weaving together different people. I'm sure there were a lot of... First of all, we knew that there were tons of self-proclaimed prophets walking around the Middle East at that time. And probably a lot of them got crucified.

C: A lot of scholars that I've read make the argument that it's likely that the Jesus persona is an amalgamation of a lot of storytelling. Multiple people, some myth, some truth, all sort of mixed together.

S: Yeah. And the other thing is, I'm sure that there are real people in there. Absolutely. But the thing is that everything significant about the story of Jesus in the New Testament is almost certainly all mythology. Because it falls in line with the mythology of that time and place.

C: Right. That's been recapitulated.

S: The pre-existing mythology. Not in the little details, but in the broad brushstrokes. So you've got these random details, probably woven in from real people or just other stories, overlaid on top of a narrative structure that was pre-existing. Again, it would be like somebody in modern day claiming to be Batman. And that gets crossed with, was Elon Musk Batman? You know? And then we get real details about Elon Musk mixing with the Batman mythology.

C: His kid had a weird name.

S: Yeah. A thousand years from now, people think that Elon Musk was, like Batman was a real guy, because there are details from a real person's life mixed in with the mythology. But the mythology is all DC comics. You know what I mean? That's basically what we're dealing with here. So I just don't find any of that argument compelling. It's just too on the nose of the pre-existing mythology. So anyway, so they're starting with the premise that it was a real person. And of course, if it wasn't a real person, then the details in the New Testament, which again is not really a historical document, if they are again, just this reworking and reworking of mythology with zero reliability when it comes to actual details, then it becomes ridiculous to claim that you found the house of somebody who may be mythological, right?

E: I found Odin's barn out back.

S: Yeah, you're using a detail like the father was a craftsman. I mean come on. I mean, that is like so razor thin. It's incredible.

C: Yeah. It's like we found Noah's Ark. There's some boat boards and some shit on the ground. It must have been Noah's Ark.

S: Well, that's literally the truth, Cara. I don't know if you're making that up or not, but that's literally. Did you ever see that movie, like Finding Noah's Ark, where the big evidence at the end was, yeah, they found a plank. Yeah, they found like a plank on Mount Ararat, yeah.

C: So they found just like this animal poop?

S: No, they found a hunk of wood, you know?

C: Yeah. Oh, so I even added something more, like, oh, wood next to animal shit. Must be Noah's Ark. It wasn't even that good.

S: Yeah, it wasn't even that good. But very disappointed in the reporting. No real scholarship even, let alone skepticism.

Ancient Seeds (17:59)[edit]

S: But Jay, you're going to tell us about another story that dates back about 2,000 years. And this one is real and has to do with seeds. So tell us about this.

J: Because the seeds exist and people have held them. This isn't somebody's fantasy.

S: Are they Jesus' seeds?

J: They are Jesus' seeds. How did you know, Steve? Let me ask you guys a question. So how long do you think seeds will last if they're well preserved?

C: Forever.

E: Hundreds of years, thousands, maybe?

B: At least 2,000 years.

C: I mean, if they're in resin or amber or something.

J: Well, we have seed vaults, don't we?

S: Yeah, if they're dry and cool, they could maybe last indefinitely. Probably for the half-life of the DNA that's in them. So we're probably talking about hundreds of thousands of years, but not millions.

C: But even if the DNA was degraded, I think something about the seed, like the husk around it or something, might still persist.

S: But we're talking about germinating.

C: Oh, he didn't say that. He just said, how long can a seed last?

S: Well, I think— Yeah, you mean germinate, right, Jay?

J: Then germinate, yeah.

C: Oh, and be able to then plant it and grow something from it.

B: Well, yeah, I mean, the protons wouldn't decay for quintillions of—

C: Yeah, I was like, hello.

B: Last a real long time.

C: Oh, well, I think, yeah. Or if they're cryo, like, yeah, seed vaults are usually, they freeze them. Or actually, it's not the seed itself. It might be these little germinations of the seed. But yeah, or dried or something like that. I don't know, maybe thousands.

E: Did we wreck your surprise, Jay?

J: No, it's just an interesting question because there's a lot of answers to that question. You know, for example, like typical fruits and vegetable seeds, they really don't last more than five years in normal operating conditions.

C: You mean like on the forest floor?

J: Yeah, even if you went and bought seeds from a professional, you go to the hardware store and they're professionally packaged, whatever you buy, like those seeds just don't last a long time. And I ask you guys because we are, this news item is about seeds that are 2000 years old that they were able to get date palm trees out of. So the scientists, like I said, they found, there's two different reports that I'm reading. One article says hundreds, another one says thousands. I think it's more likely that it's hundreds of date palm seeds. These seeds are 1800 to 2400 years old, and they found them in an old desert ruins near Jerusalem back in the 1960s. So those seeds were in storage since then. And Dr. Sarah Salon decided she wanted to try and grow the seeds. And this was in the early 2000s. So she did end up picking a seed and she grew it and she was able to get this seed to germinate. But earlier this year, she started a new batch of seeds. So what she ended up doing was she recruited the help of Dr. Elaine Soloway, who is an expert on arid agriculture. So she knew what to do. So they used radiocarbon dating to ensure that they knew the age of the seeds. And like I said, the seeds were from 1800 to 2400 years old. And they selected the best seeds that they can find out of the batch. And they settled on 34 seeds that seemed the most viable. And then one of the seeds they ended up using as a control, and then they had another seed that got damaged. So out of the remaining 32 seeds, six ended up growing into trees. So Dr. Soloway prepared the seeds by soaking them in water that had enzymes and fertilizer in it. And this helped the seeds to germinate. And they actually took root in a greenhouse. Once the date palms grew enough, they planted them outside. This never happened with Steve's banana plants, I'll remind you, over those seven or eight years.

E: Cats didn't like them.

J: Now, as a point of interest, these were the oldest seeds ever grown to ever germinate and become trees again, or whatever the plant is. So this is not the only interesting part of the story. So they studied the fruit of the trees that they grew. And they genetically analysed them. And they found that several of the female trees were pollinated by male palm trees from different areas. And when I say different areas, I'm talking back in 2000 years ago. They determined that there was an exchange of genetic material from Eastern date palms from the Middle East and Western date palms from North Africa. And this shows that the ancient Judeans were selectively breeding the trees to enhance the quality of the fruit. And they also determined that their cultivation of the date palms was very sophisticated, which I think is fascinating. So the historians say that the date palms that grew back then in this region, 2000 years ago, they were sweet. They were large. And the people ate them at the time to promote health. And the dates from back then also were considered superior to the Egyptian dates because they had a longer shelf life, allowing them to be distributed throughout the Roman Empire. So they had all of these traits that they were breeding for. And they achieved it. And they made a, from what the historians say, these were very sweet, very, very delicious date. So the new date palm trees that they grew bore larger than normal fruit. They measured up to 11 centimetres, 4.3 inches. The ancient seeds that they found were 30% bigger than the modern date seeds. And those seeds track with what the historians say. And when they grew the trees and ate the fruit, the scientists said that they tasted sweet like honey and that they were very large and juicy date palms. So these historically very much match up with the records that the historians have. So all of the date palm crops from 2000 years ago, straight up died after the fall of the Roman Empire. And they were able to track through the historical writings and everything, when they were no longer available. And also we have physical evidence as well. So the seeds that they now grow in the new trees can help scientists figure out how and why the seeds were able to survive.

C: Wait, so the date palms we have right now are not... I mean, they're related, but they're not directly... I'm a little confused. So all the date palms died.

J: Not from that cultivation. They come from the other cultivations.

C: Cool. Oh, wow.

E: So this is like an island unto itself.

C: It's bringing back something that we didn't have access to until we brought it back. That's awesome.

B: Gone forever until...

J: Now the scientists are just studying them now, but I'm hoping somebody says, hey we want to grow them. You know, they're that good.

S: I know, I want to eat them

J: I know they sound delicious. So they're analysing the trees and they're using the seeds, the new seeds that they grow and the trees themselves. And they're trying to figure out, like, why did the seeds survive? What is it about these seeds genetically? You know, they're trying to reconstruct the phenotypes of these trees and identify their genomic regions. So what they're trying to figure out is how did they make this cultivar? What did it take for them to do it? Where did they come from? Where did all of the genetic material come from? Which they have a very good idea about now, but they want to really get down to specifics. And they really do want to know why did these seeds survive? They were in the desert, so they were very dry. And like I said earlier in this news item, most fruit and vegetable seeds just typically don't last long. And you'll have a very hard time germinating seeds that are over five years old. Now you might have thrown them in your toolbox or just put them in your garage or whatever. So, of course, this isn't under ideal conditions. But seeds just aren't built to last that long. You know, the other cool thing about this, really, it is just grabbing something from history. Now, we're having examples of this because of all the ice that's melting, right? They're finding lots of stuff. You know, they're finding corpses of animals and they're finding, artefacts, objects, weapons, all sorts of stuff is turning up. And I'm wondering if they're going to find more plant life that, or if there's anything that could be viable. I would love to imagine that they just like, hey we found some fruit that we didn't even know existed or whatever, that would be fantastic.

S: But this seems like the perfect storm in that it was in the middle of an empire that had far-ranging connections, that was able to cultivate different cultivars together to make a particularly, sweet and juicy fruit. And it was lost, but the seed survived. Like, I don't know how, if that's going to ever get replicated, like that combination of features where we're going to resurrect a great fruit from the past that was lost to history, you know.

J: This is a big deal. You know, this is actually pretty significant find. And the fact that they were able to germinate these seeds and pull it off is fantastic. It's amazing.

E: We need to find some banana plants or banana seeds from way back when.

C: Banana phone.

S: The bananas we eat don't have seeds. So they're cultivated with clippings. But the Gros Michel banana that was the previous cultivar that was distributed and then was wiped out by a fungus, it's not extinct. It's just not growable at commercial scale. And in fact, for the upcoming 12-Hour Show, we may have access to some Gros Michel bananas to try for the first time live during that show.

B: I can't wait.

E: Oh my gosh.

S: Can't promise you at this point, but if the timing is right.

B: Promise me.

C: You guys are so funny about bananas. I love it. Hey, Jay, can I be pendantic for a second?

J: Yes.

C: Dead animals aren't corpses.

J: What are they?

C: Carcasses. Corpses are only human.

J: All right. That's good.

S: Did you know Cara, so an autopsy is only a human.

C: Yeah, it's a necropsy.

S: It's a necropsy.

J: What?

C: Doesn't that sound dark and like Halloween-y?

J: Oh man, that is awesome.

C: Necromancer.

B: Look at this necrotic tissue from the necropsy I did.

C: Necro.

J: So Steve, while we're talking about words like this, so if you have, what's the difference between laparoscopic and what's the one, like there's surgery in your torso and there's surgery in a limb?

S: So endoscopic just means you're using a camera to look inside a body part, right? Body cavity of some sort, right? But then there are different cavities in the body and then that name would then apply to whatever cavity you're in. So a laparoscopic is in the abdominal cavity specifically, right? Like thoroscopic would be in the thorax. Arthroscopic would be in a joint, right?

J: You know, it's kind of like they developed like a science of medicine, you know?

S: Like there's all these different words for everything.

C: Sometimes multiple words for the same thing.

Treatment for Progeria (28:47)[edit]

S: All right, well Cara, talking about science and medicine, there's potentially some good news for a very terrible and very rare disease, progeria. Very interesting. Tell us about this.

C: Yeah, progeria has long fascinated me and I think this is a topic that I was excited about when I came across this FDA announcement. It's not as kind of game-changing as we would hope, but I think that it gives us hope. So how many of you know about progeria?

S: Yeah [inaudible].

J: I've never heard of it.

C: You've never heard of it, okay.

E: I've heard of it.

S: I think you have, Jay, you just forgot. We've talked about it before.

C: Okay, so—

E: Pictures of people.

C: Yeah, you may have seen photos. There's a brilliant documentary that I highly recommend to everybody called Life According to Sam about Sam Burns who died of progeria and it's a really beautiful, fascinating, life-affirming film about his journey. So progeria is a really interesting genetic disease and it seems to be a spontaneous genetic disease. So there's a tiny bit of evidence of like one Indian family passing it down to multiple children, but it seems unlikely that somebody actually carries it and it's more likely that the gene mutation occurs spontaneously. It's incredibly rare, like Steve said. The Progeria Foundation estimates something like 160 cases.

S: Oh, I just read like 300 to 400 around the world.

C: Right, so it's 160-some-odd that are known. I guess I shouldn't have said estimates. It's 160-some-odd known cases, but the estimation is that it's closer to double that in sort of undiagnosed or unknown cases. So, I mean, think about that. Think about how rare that really is. I think there was a study in the Netherlands, where they're showing an incidence rate of about 1 in 20 million births. Very rare.

S: That's rare.

C: Because of that, as we often talk about on the show, very rare diseases often just don't get the funding that's necessary to develop therapeutics, to develop treatments. It's there's not a hot market for these drugs because so few people have it. But there are some programs here in the U.S. that do try at least to account for that. There are orphan drugs. There's an orphan drug designation. And an orphan drug is kind of specifically a drug or biological product that treats a super rare disease or condition. And usually they need to be sponsored. There's also Rare Pediatric Disease Priority Review voucher program as part of the FDA, which additionally helps with funding for these very rare childhood diseases. So let me kind of describe progeria a little bit. First, for those of you who are like, what are you even talking about? It's got a very specific look to it. So progeria is a rapid ageing disease. That's how it's often identified. And if you actually break down the word progeria into its Latin roots, it's sort of pre or early ageing.

S: But Cara, we should know, I don't know if you're going to get into this, but it's not a perfect analog of ageing.

C: No, not at all. Because you don't get cataracts. You don't get like whatever.

S: Yeah, but it's pretty good.

C: It's pretty good. And there are progeria-type disorders too that are sort of within the family. But the specific type of progeria that I'm talking about is actually called Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome or Hutchinson-Gilford's progeria. But of course, there are progeroid syndromes as well. Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome, so the progeria for short, does approximate rapid ageing better than some of the other ones. And so let's talk about sort of what some of the overt symptoms are. When you see a child who has progeria, and the reason that I say child is because often around puberty age, a lot of the symptoms that come along with this that cause early death start to become really, really apparent. They're there throughout childhood. But around puberty age is when things start to get critical. And most kids with progeria don't live to be 20. I think the median age of death is around 14. So when kids are first born with progeria, they usually seem pretty normal. Within the first year, their growth slows down. They have a little bit of failure to thrive. And they start to lose their hair. And then as they develop more, you see these classic symptoms, which is a very short stature, low weight, very little muscle mass, a narrowed face, a beaked nose, a large head, like a disproportionately large head that usually has a thinning of the skin, and you can see the vessels underneath it. And then often there is hair loss across both the eyebrows, eyelashes, and the head hair. And so the look is, and also a very, very high pitched voice, kind of a squeakier sounding voice. So it's a pretty specific look when somebody has progeria, although it is sometimes misdiagnosed, because apparently there are some other conditions that show some similar symptoms. But it's not actually just a, "rapid ageing disease". That's sort of a, like we mentioned, an approximation. What's actually happening is that there's a gene called LMNA, which produces a protein called Laminae. And they're often used interchangeably. LMNA codes for Laminae, Laminae. And that protein is involved in scaffolding the nucleus of a cell. So through a series of steps, the protein is produced, it connects to the nucleus of the cell, and then portions of it break back off and are involved in nuclear activity within the nucleus. But what happens in progeria is that instead of Laminae, they actually produce progerin. And progerin, unfortunately, doesn't break off at the right places. And it sticks to the nuclear membrane. It continues to build up and it causes the nuclear membrane to bleb. There's these like outpouchings of the nuclear membrane where it's bulging a little bit. And strangely, and scientists don't really understand how, this buildup of this protein within that nuclear membrane leads to all of these really detrimental downstream effects. Most people, not only those physical traits that we talked about, but ultimately premature death, usually by cardiac problems. Yeah, so you'll see heart attack, you'll see heart disease, you'll see stroke. A lot of classic causes of death in the elderly, but you're seeing it at a very, very accelerated rate. Now, there are other things that don't happen. Kids don't often get cataracts in their eyes, for example. They do get wrinkly, they do get fragile bones. It's not uncommon to break or dislocate hips in these children. But there are-

B: No Alzheimer's?

C: Yeah, no Alzheimer's. One thing that's really interesting about kids with progeria, you're right, Bob, is that they tend to have average or higher than average intelligence. And their cognitive capabilities don't seem to be affected at all. The FDA has approved a new drug, it's called Zokinvy, or that's the brand name. The generic name is lonafrinib. And this has been approved to, as they say, reduce the risk of death due to Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. And also a few progerioid laminopathies, but not all of them. The trial was very small, and it was kind of a different trial than we're used to hearing about. There were only 62 patients in it. Of course, they were not matched because there are so few people who have this disease. And in a case like this, they're not going to not give patients who want the drug, who want to be in the trial, the drug. So they were comparing it actually to previous evidence that was collected, previous data that was collected from untreated patients before the drug was available. And they found that during the short period that they were following these patients over several months, that there was a significant increase of on average three months of an increase in lifespan. But then when they followed the patients over 11 years, they found that the average increase was two and a half years. This drug did not completely reduce the protein from building up, but it was able to kind of take some of that protein out of the picture. Obviously, it wasn't able to treat the underlying mechanism, but it was able to minimize to some small extent that mechanism. Interestingly, this drug was first developed as a cancer therapy. And then they found that it acted on the steps between the precursor molecule and the ultimate protein being developed. And so they were able to test it with this population. Unfortunately, there's also a pretty high amount of side effects, vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, fatigue, decreased appetite, which is already a problem often with progeria patients. And there may be some liver toxicity. There may be some eye toxicity that was seen in animal models, but they haven't seen that yet in human beings. So I think for a lot of these kids, they have to weigh the quality of life as well against the increase in the years that they get. But for some of these kids and their families, an extra two and a half years with their kids, a potential extra two and a half years is life altering, you know? I mean, especially when your life is so short. So I think what's really exciting about this breakthrough is less the initial iteration and more the potential that it opens up for secondary therapeutics, co-therapeutics that could potentially be developed along the same pathway and work in conjunction. But this is the first ever drug that's ever gone to market to treat progeria. Up until this point, patients only could get supportive care. Obviously, there were drugs available to help with some of the secondary or the comorbidities that they deal with because of progeria, but there's no treatment, no cure. So most of the time, it was just supportive care. So it's really great to see that this option is available to the families who want it.

S: Yeah, this would be called a disease-modifying treatment. So this is the first disease-modifying treatment. So Cara, because this is a genetic disease, I wanted to know if there's anyone researching using CRISPR to treat it.

B: Of course.

S: In fact, there is.

C: Yeah, I'm not surprised. I know that gene therapies are being developed right now, so I wouldn't be surprised if as soon as CRISPR was made available, they were like, well, that's going to make our lives easier here in the lab.

S: Yeah, so there was one study it's at the mouse level. So they studied it in a mouse model of progeria using CRISPR-Cas9, using an adeno-associated virus, so a viral vector, and basically just to snip that gene just to stop the buildup of the progerin, not to replace it, just to stop the buildup.

C: Just to prevent the progerin, yeah.

S: Yeah, just to reduce the total burden of progerin buildup. And it had a significant improvement in the mice that were studied. So now they just need to port that over to humans. They also did... So what they did was they used the CRISPR to not only disrupt the gene, but to insert a reporter gene so that they could tag all the cells that got it.

C: Oh, cool.

S: So they knew how much it was getting into the cells. So they need now to figure out how to get more types of tissues affected.

C: Oh, so they weren't able to get it into all of the different body tissues?

S: No, just certain types of cells. Obviously, the more you get it in there, obviously, the greater the effect will be.

C: Right, because this affects the whole body.

S: It would be totally complementary to the drug. So yeah, this would have hopefully an additive benefit.

C: It also potentially... I mean, Bob, you'd really be interested in this, I think. Progeria, because of its association with ageing, because there is very good evidence that progerin, which is naturally occurring... So I might not have made it clear at the beginning because I was talking about how Lamin A is what we all want. And progerin is the defective version of that. But Lamin A, even in its form, starts to break and become damaged and build up within our nuclei. And so we see higher levels of Lamin A in the elderly than we do in young people. Like we're better able to recycle it. We're better able to process it. But as we get older, just like with a lot of functions of ageing, Lamin A does seem to build up. So it would be interesting to see how some of these treatments for progeria might then be modified or developed in the kind of quest to understand ageing a little bit better as well.

B: That's interesting, because I thought that it just wouldn't be of any help because I wasn't aware of any specific type of ageing that matched that closely. But apparently there is.

C: So yeah, when you look at the amount of Lamin A within the cell of an elderly person and some of the damage to the nuclear membranes that you see in elderly people, yeah, it's significantly higher than in young people.

B: Okay.

Protein Folding (42:30)[edit]

S: And speaking about protein, so this, so far this week, every news item has had a really good segue to the next one. And this is no exception. Because Bob, you're going to tell us about the science of protein folding. Apparently there's been a bit of a breakthrough.

C: Oh, I'm so excited about the story, Bob.

B: Oh my God.

C: It's so good.

B: There's been a break in. I made a breakthrough. So yes, this looks like a holy grail of biology. Predicting protein folding has, for all intents and purposes, been achieved using a deep learning AI network called AlphaFold. Now with it, we can now predict with extreme accuracy, the 3D shape of many proteins as they curl up into their complicated shapes. This could change medicine and medical research as we know it. Now this is big kids. And if you're not excited, please pretend to be. This is not an incremental improvement that typifies so much of scientific advancement, frustratingly for me. According to many scientists who have looked at this, the 50-year-old mystery or the mystery of how protein folding works has had a major game-changing breakthrough. Now the quotes that I've come across, I do quotes every week. I read science news all the time. I don't see stuff like this very often. John Molt, computational biologist, University of Maryland. He said, this is a big deal. In some sense, the problem is solved. Pushmeet Kohli is the head of AI for science with DeepMind. He said, the implications are immense. How diseases progress to how you discover new drugs, it's endless. And finally, evolutionary biologist Andre Lupus at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology said, it's a game changer. This will change medicine. It will change research. It will change bioengineering. It will change everything. So I mean, these guys they're not x-ray technicians. These are, these guys are in the game. They know what they're talking about and they sound extremely optimistic. So it's really, it's all about proteins here. You know, when you think of life on the earth, you have to think of proteins. You know, they're basically strings of hundreds or thousands of amino acids are among, if not the most abundant biological molecule in the solar system.

S: Bob, you know what the biggest, the biggest human protein is?

B: The biggest human protein.

S: And how many amino acids long is it?

B: Well, the biggest number I've heard is thousands of amino acids.

S: Yeah, so the biggest, that's true. But the single biggest one is called Titin. T-I-T-I-N.

C: Of course it is.

E: We're so creative.

S: The human variant has 34,351 amino acids.

C: Jeez.

E: 51?

C: All folded up in an intricate pattern.

B: Imagine predicting that bad boy. So, but yeah, proteins are endlessly fascinating. Their range of functions, it's really astounding. They can, they're used within biology for so many things. They could be purely structural. They could be protective. They could be used as transport or storage, as membranes, enzymes, even toxins. When you look at a cell, most of what a cell does involves proteins, it's just protein machines. And in fact, evolved earth life, the only life we know, is in many ways, interacting proteins. But you know, interacting proteins, that's the bottom line. So of course then, knowing as much as we can about proteins can have a dramatic impact on health and medicine and so many things. And don't forget, when proteins go bad, they go really bad. Look, for example, at SARS-CoV-2. 1.5 million people are dead in the world as of this recording, because of one very specific protein, the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2. So why is it so hard to know how proteins fold? We can see the recipe, right? We can see the recipe for any specific protein in a DNA's genes. That's what genes do.

C: Yeah, but have you ever looked at a protein?

B: Well, I mean, but it's, we see, yes, of course.

C: It's bananas.

B: I know, but the recipe is right there. You put this amino acid next to this one, next to this one. You got 20 different amino acids. You make a chain, like I said, of a hundred, hundreds of them or up to apparently 34,000. Then, but then the real interesting thing happens. It folds in on itself like Jay when he eats too many meatballs. And that's the hard part.

J: Too much gravity, Bob, in my stomach?

B: Yes, that's the hard part. Because you have some parts are attracting to other, are attractive to other parts. Some parts repel other parts. Some parts of the amino acids are hydrophobic and they want to get inside so they can't get wet and so on and so on. It could, that line, that chain of amino acids can assume any one of literally trillions of potential shapes. And that's what's so hard is to figure out, well, which shape is that? How do you calculate this? How does it work? And the bottom line here though is that shape is critical. It's all about the shape. The specific shape is what determines what that protein can do.

S: So just to, because I do, I'm a little sensitive about when we're hyping how big a discovery is, overhauling our previous ignorance. And so to be clear, and what experts have said about this is there's actually three things, three kinds of things to know about protein folding. One is how the specific amino acids affect how a protein folds. We pretty much totally understand that. The other is the mechanisms in the cell that make folding happen. We pretty much understand that. And the third is predicting how a protein will fold just from its amino acid sequence. And that's what this advances. And on this score, we weren't starting from zero. We were two thirds of the way there, pretty much.

B: Yeah, I totally agree with that. And some of my talk is definitely going to cover that, but although not quite in that detail when it comes to the folding. Now, we actually, we can determine what a protein looks like very, very clearly. And that uses techniques like X-ray crystallography or cryo-electron microscopy. And that's like, that's the gold standard. We could really determine what it looks like very, very well using these methods. But the problem is they're very expensive and they're very time consuming and they don't always work. And so right now we've only solved about 170,000 protein shapes, but we know that there's at least 200 million proteins in nature. So that's about a 0.085%. And that's really pathetic. We could do a lot better. And there was just no way that we were going to actually solve a significant number of those proteins since we've only done 170,000. There's so many more. So how could we get there more quickly? And that's where computers can come in to predict the shape based on the sequence alone. And that's exactly what we've been trying to do for decades, literally for decades. We've been trying to do this and it's been just so difficult for the reasons I talked about. So now this is where CASP competition comes in. Now CASP is an acronym for Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction. And it's essentially the Olympics of protein folding. Every two years, about 100 teams get together for a protein structure prediction challenge using their programs. Now they're given a series of amino acid strings that have been solved experimentally, but have not been made public.

C: Cool.

B: And so they can't know, they can't know based on the amino acid sequence what it's going to look like. So each team's computational predictions are compared to the actual protein shape and given a score. And that score is called the GDT score, Global Distance Test score. If you get above 90, then that's pretty much comparable to the gold standard using the expensive slow processes like X-ray crystallography. That's an amazing score. Anything above 90 and you pretty much, it's considered to be a solution for that protein. You've pretty much nailed it. So in the last CASP in 2018, two years ago, it's biannual, every two years, last time the AlphaFold AI system was the best. Number one. Now this is the team from DeepMind. Remember DeepMind? They're the ones who used AI and deep learning to create the greatest chess and go champions ever. No human, no un-augmented human can ever even think about challenging these.

E: I was wondering if these were related, yeah.

B: Oh man. And if you wanna read about that DeepMind chess AI champ, go to episode 704. So now back then, two years ago, back then AlphaFold dominated. They beat everyone by at least 15%, but their best score was only about 60. So that's where your two thirds is coming in, Steve. But 60 is essentially useless for really helping with protein folding and really making solid progress. Sure, it was incremental and 60 was a really good score two years ago, but it's still not what we needed. There's really not a lot of utility in that until you get much higher.

C: It's close, but no cigar.

B: Yeah, so that was then. Now the most recent CASP challenge recently ended and after two years of tweaking AlphaFold, they won again, but boy, did they win. Their median score was a whopping 92.4. That's 25 points greater than the second best, still dominating head and shoulders above second place and everybody else. And it really was an astounding achievement. And so, but this puts their computational predictions in the same class as the gold standard techniques. So just from the amino acid sequence using that technique, they can predict what the protein is going to look like in many, many, many, many cases. Now, remember my quote above by the computational biologist. He said, this is a big deal. In some sense, the problem is solved. Some are saying also that it's the first use of AI to solve a serious problem. In fact, DeepMind, DeepMind was very proud of their chess champions and their Go champions and they really were amazing achievements. But this is the one they're really proud of because this is the one that could seriously help a lot of people. And then this next bit, I love this next bit. So AlphaFold did so well. They did so well that some of the organizers-

S: How well did they do?

B: How well did they do? Some organizers of the challenge had some trepidation about, they were thinking, did they cheat? I mean, this is just so good that they were concerned that they cheated. So evolutionary biologist, Andre Lupus, he gave them a special challenge. A membrane protein from an archaea microbe. And now for 10 years, Lupus and his team have been trying to get a good x-ray crystal structure from this and they have failed every time. Tried and tried, could not do it. So I'll give you a quote that Lupus said afterwards. He said, the model from group 427, which is DeepMind's AlphaFold, gave us our structure in half an hour.

C: That's what I wanted to know, Bob. How did they compare time-wise to the other competitors in this competition?

B: I don't know. They didn't tell us how fast they did it compared to the other ones.

C: But compared to old school techniques like x-ray crystallography, it's like half an hour to like years.

B: Actually, they couldn't do it using x-ray crystallography. It's not infallible. They tried for 10 years. They said they could not possibly have cheated on this. I don't know how they do it. So that was an extra special test that they passed with, can you imagine, a half hour? And this guy has been working on it with his team for a decade.

C: Well, I think that's what everybody felt like when PCR came out. And then again, when CRISPR came out, they're like, God, damn it.

B: Yeah, this is on the scale of that. But it's not perfect yet anyway. There's some types of proteins that alpha-fold has some difficulty with. There was one specific one that it didn't do nearly as well with as the other proteins.

C: Oh, interesting.

B: But I haven't come across any reason why people don't think that eventually will be solved. And there are certain classes of proteins that are different, that fold differently than other ones. And those are kind of like on the outskirts of conventional proteins. And so it can't do those really that well either. But I'll throw one other quote your way. This is Mohamed Al-Qarashi. He's a computational biologist at Columbia University. He was also a CASP participant. He said, I think it's fair to say, this will be very disruptive to the protein structure prediction field. I suspect many will leave the field as the core problem has arguably been solved. It's a breakthrough of the first order. Certainly one of the most significant scientific results of my lifetime. That's a hell of a quote right there.

C: Ooh, you smelling a Nobel Prize?

B: Yep, could be. You just read my mind. This will definitely, I think this will definitely win a Nobel Prize fairly soon too. So what does this mean? What are some of the benefits? So I'm just gonna throw out just some quotes I came across regarding what could the future might bring with this technology.

S: Really smooth ice cream.

B: So yeah. Oh my God. And beyond even that, Steve, people are saying, I'll just throw the quotes out. Huge boon to life sciences and medicine. Vastly accelerate efforts to understand building blocks of cells. Dramatically speed the creation of new medicines. Could help illuminate the function of thousands of unsolved proteins in the human genome. Make sense of disease-causing gene variations that differ between people. How about making biofuels and the ability to degrade waste plastic. And finally, this quote said that this could potentially enable drug designers to quickly work out the structure of every protein in new and dangerous pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, a key step in the hunt for molecules to block them. So that's kind of it for now.

S: I'm kind of disappointed they completely missed all the culinary implications.

B: Yeah, what the hell were they thinking? But Steve, this is the kind of advance that I was hoping to see from AI and deep learning. It's a true breakthrough that will probably be remembered for generations. And as I have here in my bullet points, I definitely see a Nobel Prize for this. And as these techniques get more sophisticated and powerful, I think I expect similar advances to come along with increasing frequency. How often, I don't know, nobody knows, but I'll be waiting to pounce on them and geek out as usual.

C: I love that some of the quotes that you pulled from some of these scientists were basically like, I may not have a job soon, and I'm sort of excited about that. This is how it's supposed to be. We're supposed to make such amazing technological advances that we no longer need the human hours to go into something. Now that we have a new tool, we can put those human hours somewhere else that they're needed. And that's the greatest thing about iterations or even paradigm changes in science.

S: And Cara, since you say that, I have to point out that you're right, science is often about creative destruction. We're trying to make certain specific applications or researches or medical treatment modalities obsolete. And then those resources get repurposed somewhere else. But that's a key difference to pseudoscience because pseudoscience is like acupuncture or homeopathy. They're locked in. A homeopath will always be a homeopath. And they can't allow their pseudoscience to be debunked because then they don't just go shift over to something else. They're out of a job.

C: Yeah, in some ways you see that too as a key difference with sort of political ideology. This idea that I want things to be the same because this is what I'm used to them being and it serves these different purposes, these different interest groups. And sometimes-

S: My tribe can't lose.

C: Right. And sometimes progress disrupts in a way that's uncomfortable. But to fight against that discomfort actually means to prevent individuals from having their lives improved.

B: Yeah, and disruptive technologies, those are the things that we are going to start to see. And I think in the relative near future, things that are such game changers that they call them disruptive. Like nanotech, artificial intelligence, these things are disruptive. And but it's a good disruptive, I think. These are the things that are going to make people nervous because they're big change. They're not incremental changes. They're going to make people nervous. But they're on the horizon. We see them coming. Hard to say when they're going to be here, but they will come eventually. And they have the potential to be very disruptive.

E: I want my fishmato.

C: I think we as a species need to, just like we often talk about, needing to be in front of the ethics on really intense changes like CRISPR and human cells.

B: Be ready for it, yeah.

C: We need to have some sort of psychological training in how to adjust and adapt to rapid technological advancements. Because I do think that a lot of human nature is to say, I don't like this new thing. It scares me. I want to do it the old way. But that sort of lack of will could potentially be detrimental, you know? So yeah, it's an interesting problem to have.

B: Yeah, I think AI will be integral to these types of disruptive changes. Because essentially, you're automating some aspects of human intelligence and the ability to do research and to make scientific advancements. And at some point, I mean, we may see changes that are so fast that people will get freaked out. They're really freaked out at the pace that some of these things are coming. But we just got, yeah, we got to talk about it now, be ready for it, and anticipate it. And just so that we can guide them to the best, most possible outcomes. Like not creating an AI that will think that we're just an infection that needs to be removed from the surface of the planet. You know, that type of thing.

S: Yeah, but Cara, I don't think most people are going to really even notice because they're going to be too busy enjoying their really smooth ice cream.

C: That was served to them by their badass robot.

S: Yeah.

C: Agree.

S: All right, let's move on.

ISS Longevity (1:00:13)[edit]

S: Okay, Evan, you're going to finish up the news items talking about the International Space Station. I've been hearing some bad things about it.

E: Yeah, I've been reading some bad things about it. And some people have been speaking some bad things about it. We love the International Space Station though, ISS. I think it's as recognizable as any other name in astronautic history. You know, it's right up there with Apollo, Soyuz, Space Shuttle, Mir and the ISS.

S: Totally.

E: Absolutely. An incredible feat of science and engineering. Perhaps more as importantly though, it's a feat of cooperation and unity among nations. So throughout the 1990s, as we learned and read more about this ambitious project as it was coming online, it sort of stirred the sense of optimism that we had. And we had lost for a little time. We were still sort of recovering from pain and loss of the Challenger explosion. The late 80s was a very dark time for us in the US, specifically in space exploration. We were not quite sure of the future. But this plan for the ISS represented something new and fresh, sophisticated and sort of romantic, but also peaceful. Because if you think about it, the threat of nuclear war deteriorated with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. So to think that the US and the Russians would come together and finally start cooperating on one of the most ambitious projects in human history, that was an optimistic time. And then it came to fruition, 1998. Segments of ISS went up into orbit and they connected. And then by the end of 2000, it was hosting its first crew and conducting its first experiments and has been doing so ever since. But that was 20 years ago. Today, International Space Station, it still captures the imagination, but like anything in life, it ages. And in this case, it does age before our eyes. Space stations are no exception to this rule. They can be improved upon, upgrades made, systems added, but it's machinery. And it eventually needs more work than just routine maintenance can keep up with. And something as complex as a space station, it makes it even more inevitable. So it was unfortunate to hear the news report that came out last week, a report from a Russian manufacturer, RSC Energia, who is the primary developer and contractor of the Russian crewed space flight program. They reported that a number of elements aboard the ISS are on the verge of catastrophic failure. That sounds like hyperbole, but here's what they're actually saying. Too many of the systems on the station are not fixable, not upgradable, and not worth the continuing effort. And they predict an avalanche of failures by the year 2025, which is pretty much right on cue with when the current international agreements governing the station expire. And that's kind of important to remember. Now, these thoughts were expressed by the flight director of the Russian segment of the ISS. His name is Vladimir Solovyev. And he said this to a meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences Council on Space. And at that meeting were many top officials from various Russian academies of space, science, and astronautics. Estimates to fix the problem aboard the ISS would range to around 10 to 15 billion rubles. And they deem that a cost too high.

C: How much is that in US dollars?

E: 200 million.

C: Oh, yeah, that's a lot of money.

E: So it's a lot. I don't know if it's insurmountable, but they're saying that that's too much.

C: Evan, can I ask, what was the sort of age that the ISS was supposed to make it to?

E: The original time span was 15 years, but they always say that's the original mission plan. But you design it so that it could go about double that. So they said, realistically, if you put more money into it and you renew your contracts and everything and you keep up with things, you can get 30 years out of the space station without a problem.

C: And when did it launch?

E: The first modules went up in 1998, and it's been connected and hosting people since 2000. So we're 20 to 22 years in. Okay, so yeah, I mean, we're definitely into this extension phase. But this is not...

C: Sort of lines up with their numbers, no?

E: Yeah, well, and it does. It's not unusual for a project like this to get to this point, in which you're sort of most of the way through its useful lifespan, and you have to start thinking about maybe some other things. So the fellow Solovev stated that it was necessary to revise the terms of further participation in the program, which essentially is calling for a rearrangement of funding of the program at that point. So they're kind of saying two things at the same time. Is it irreparable? Is it really on the verge of catastrophic failure? But also at the same time, they're saying, well, we'll participate, but not at the terms that we're otherwise contractually obligated to. But maybe there's another possibility that they would rather see their funds diverted to the implementation of something called the Russian Orbital Service Station, ROSS. And this is a new space station, all Soviet, sorry, this is a new space station, all Russian built, with replaceable modules. The idea being is that you can swap out the modules as they deteriorate over time. So it'd be something that had a much longer lifespan to it. So this was the news that came out. And on the heels of this being said at this conference, within a matter of hours, there's a Russian company which has oversight of Russia's space missions. It's called Roscosmos. The Roscosmos spokespeople were forced to issue an official denial of the information. And again, this was just within a few hours of these words having been reported. And they said that the quote of RSC engineer, first deputy design general for flight operations, Vladimir Solovyov, contradicts the reality of the situation. And they added that his comments were of an informational nature, did not contain proposals to terminate participation in the ISS. So what are other people-

S: They walked it back.

E: Yeah, they basically had to walk it back. Now, some other people that they've interviewed about this subject involved with the ISS or in the field of astronautics, what are they saying? It's a bit of a mixed sort of review, depending on who you speak to. For example, there's a fellow Martin Barstow, who's a professor of astrophysics at Leeds University. And he chairs a group that oversees British science experiments on the space station. And he basically said, look, such extensions are normal in space missions, as long as the machinery keeps working. The original estimated mission life was 15 years, but with extensions and funding, they could stretch the life to 30 years. It's not unusual. Echoing that was space analyst and former NASA engineer, Keith Cowing. He edits something called NASA Watch. And he said that many non-Russian systems on the space station also routinely suffer malfunctions. I'll get to that in a second. But these malfunctions and things are part of the mission. They're sort of anticipated ahead of time. You do have to deal with these things when you're building things like space stations. You know, you understand that these parts are gonna either deteriorate over time, there may be some problems along the way, but that's also part of the mission. Then you have someone, his name is Gennady Padalka. And they hold the record of 787 days, the longest stay on the ISS. And they told the Russian media news outlet, RIA Novosti, that the Russian half is wearing out and all the modules of the Russian segment are exhausted. So he's kind of throwing shade on the Russian components because the station is pretty much half Russian built and the rest is the international, the United States among a few other countries, their components. And they've been having some problems that have been occurring in the Russian segments. For example, there was an air leak and that air leak started in 2019 and it was a problem right up until October of this year. In which they had trouble exactly identifying where the leak was coming from, but it wasn't a problem sort of at first because it was a very small leak, but it became larger and larger and they couldn't ignore it anymore. They were just losing too much air. So they actually figured out how the leak was occurring and that the fix they used was Kapton tape. That's K-A-P-T-O-N, which has a high tolerance for very extreme environments, both hot and cold, and it's used in aerospace design and among other things. But when you think about it, it doesn't leave the nicest image in a person's mind of a space station sort of relying on tape and patchwork like that in order to fix, "these problems".

J: Oh yeah, it's scary.

E: Yeah, it's kind of a scary thought. So what do you think or what do you do in a situation like this? I think the gist of the story though is that because Russia is working on their new design with their new station, it sounds like they're looking for a way to sort of shift their responsibility, their funding, or their commitment or whatever away from ISS and into their new project. That's kind of what it boils down to me.

C: But isn't that in a way what we should be doing too? Like ISS is old.

S: Well, I disagree, Cara. So first of all, NASA is acting like they are still fully committed to the ISS. And for example, they're just wrapping up completely swapping out all of the batteries from nickel metal hydride to lithium ion batteries. So that's one just upgrade that they're just finishing right now. But also remember, we spoke about this. They're planning on adding entirely new modules to the US section. The Axiom Space, which is a commercial company, is going to be adding three modules. And in the Axiom Habitation Module 1 will be going up, they say no earlier than 2024. So sometime around 2024, 2025, we're going to be having brand new modules attached to the space station. And their lifespan will be beginning then. And we could build off of those.

C: Do you give credence to the Russian claim then that the parts that are in existence right now are beyond repair?

S: I think, no, no, I don't think they're beyond repair. It's more a matter of how much do you want to spend to repair them or to maintain them? But I do think, and this may be, and the thing is, they're touting their station they want to build as being modular. Well, the space station already is modular by definition. And the thing is, OK, so fine, we may have to retire older modules. But there will be newer modules on the station.

C: And I didn't realize that you could do that. I thought that basically the argument here was that there's a core that's crumbling, that's being held together by space tape and adding shit to a space tape core. It's kind of like, oh, I'm going to put a new addition on my house, but my house is falling apart. Why would you do that?

E: Coat of paint on it. Look great.

C: Like, let's add a fourth floor, even though the third floor is falling into the second floor. Like, let's not do that.

E: Yeah, because half of the station is Russian built. How much of it can you really swap out and can you eventually get to a point where you might be able to swap outall of the Russian components, if that's your concern?

C: Yeah, if it's completely replaceable, then that's a totally different view.

E: I couldn't find anything that stated that, that it would be essentially that modular in which you could remove, take half of it apart effectively and put it back together.

J: And don't forget that, you know, I don't remember how long ago it was. Was it six months? I did an article on the fact that they were going to be adding these new modules to the space station and that they were going to leave the space station and become a new space station.

S: Yeah.

C: OK, OK. Yeah, because to be clear, I mean, and I'm not being flip here. I'm literally saying, I thought this thing was not supposed to last this long.

S: I agree. I've been trying to figure that out just in preparation for this specific news item. And they're not really saying, but when it says, what are NASA's long term plans? They talk about adding these new modules.

C: OK.

S: So I don't know if, and maybe they're just not committing to like 100 years from now, what's what's going to be going on. But once you're you have the ability to add new modules, they will have connectors. You could add new modules onto them. You probably will end up migrating over to an entirely new space station. I don't see any.

C: And then you can retire.

S: Yeah, I don't see any reason why there has to be any discontinuity, though. Like, you know what I mean? Like, in other words, it will always be the ISS. But over time, it'll be entirely replaced.

C: You've just thrown out the old pieces.

S: Or just shut it down and leave it attached as a museum. You know, just close the hatch and you don't go there anymore.

C: Yeah. So long as it the detritus, like the falling apart of it doesn't negatively affect the good parts of it, because I don't know. I just I grew up in the early 80s. I was born in 1983. So actually, I grew up in the late 80s and I grew up with images like New Yorker cartoons of the Mir falling apart in my head. Like that was the big joke was that mirror was like being held together by duct tape. And so I'm going there in my head with ISS. Is it the same?

S: I hope not. And I would say not necessarily. If we want to continue to add to it, replace, swap out parts, maintain it. It could be indefinite. And also like these new modules, the concept of them that I'm seeing, they have their own solar panels. You know, I don't know. They're probably very independent. So they could be self-sufficient in and of themselves. So again, I think that just adds to the modularness, if you will, of this station. And maybe they're moving in that direction specifically so that they can just keep building on what they have. But we'll see if at some point they want to start from scratch with something that will be have a better infrastructure to build off of. Fine. But maybe they don't have to. If they take this approach, who knows? Well, obviously you can only plan so far ahead because it's all budget dependent. And it always comes down to what do we want to spend our money on, you know?

C: And who's in charge of that money at the time.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Who's That Noisy? (1:14:53)[edit]

  • Answer to last week’s Noisy: _brief_description_perhaps_with_link_

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

J: Last week I played this Noisy.


All right. Any guesses?

S: It's a chirping noise.

C: Frog?

E: Let me guess. It's not a bird. It's not a plane.

B: It's a T-Rex.

J: Evan, you are correct. It is not a bird. That would have been so obvious. I got so many varied guesses here and I had to like hone them down to the ones I like the most. But the first one I got, Tracy Melinda wrote in and said, "Hi, Jay, I think today's noisy is the signal at an intersection for deaf people to know that it's safe to cross."

C: Oh, it does kind of sound like that.

J: It does, but it goes faster. It's faster than that. Yeah, it makes a noise, like the signals.

C: You're right. You're right, Evan. Yeah, it's for blind people. It's for blind people, not deaf people.

J: Oh, my God. That's what they wrote. They wrote deaf people.

E: They meant blind.

J: They did mean blind. They did. And it's funny. My brain just transposed it to blind.

S: You know what they meant, yeah.

C: Yeah, you filled it in.

J: You just don't even know what reality is. OK, that's incorrect. But that's not a bad guess. It does kind of sound like that. A listener named Kay McCreesh said, "I'm going to guess a baby badger or some old guy kissing his missus." I thought that was funny. He's like smooching. That'll be me. That's not it. But I've never heard a baby badger, so I don't know. But it's a high pitched thing. There's lots of things that make those kind of noises. Another listener named Gary Sturman said, "Second time guessing, hopefully not the last. Thought it was at first a Japanese pedestrian crossing. But then he listened with his headphones and he said, it sounds like a clockwork mechanism that's making the chirp." That is also not correct. And then I got one from Visto Tutti. He said, "I think that chirping sounds like a guinea pig." And that is not correct. I have one more guess. David Roach said, "I'm guessing this week's noisy is a chirping gecko."

C: Oh, a gecko, not a frog.

J: We're getting a little bit closer here. The winner for last week, Richard Smith wrote, "This week's noisy sounds like the chirping of a cheetah cub." It is a cheetah.

C: No way.

J: Listen again. [plays Noisy] That noise does not belong in a cheetah's throat.

C: But if it's teeny tiny.

J: That's why I played it because I'm like, that's a cheetah? Like, you got to be kidding me. But apparently that is it. That is the truth. I saw a video, so I believe it. You know, if it's in video form, whatever it shows me, I believe it. So thank you for sending that in. Katie, I appreciate it. That was very interesting. You guys could look up the video of that if you want to take a look.

New Noisy (1:17:40)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy this week that was sent in by a listener named Tumas Makin. Here's that noisy.


All right. Now I will tell you right now, this is not Benny Hill slapping the head of the short, bald guy on his show.

B: That was my guess.

J: And for those of you who know what I'm talking about, I'm sure you just laughed because that was one of the funniest damn things I ever saw in my life. Remember that? So if you think you know what that is, email me at and also email me if you heard something cool this week. And if you have anything that is this holiday specific that you think would make a good noisy, send it in.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:18:32)[edit]

_consider_using_block_quotes_for_emails_read_aloud_in_this_segment_ with_reduced_spacing_for_long_chunks –

Follow-up #1: Principia[edit]

S: So we're going to do one email this week. Cara, we got approximately three million emails.

C: Oh my God. I know. Let me take this, Steve.

S: Correcting you.

C: Right at the top. I'm going to say 100%. Last week I did this really deep dive on the Principia. And of course, as I was doing the deep dive on the Principia, I read the full Latin title and then later proceeded to be like, old English is hard to read. And of course, Principia was not-

S: Really old English.

C: Right.

E: Yeah, so old it's Latin.

C: Thank you, Evan. Yeah, of course, it wasn't translated to English until the third edition. And also that wasn't old English. It was modern English. Apparently Shakespeare is also modern English. So don't listen to me when it comes to anything about literature. It's obviously I'm not well versed in this area.

S: If you want old English, read the Canterbury Tales.

C: And yeah, I'm reading all these things about how impenetrable the writing is. And weirdly, my head just went to like, yeah, it was written in English that we can't even understand. It's like, no, it was written in Latin. And that's not why it was impenetrable. It's because the math and science was, really hard for a lot of people to read at the time. But apparently not as much as we thought. And that was the whole purpose of the piece was that popular collectors were probably reading it as well. In Latin, not old English. Sorry.

S: Actually, the Canterbury Tales were in middle English, apparently.

C: Yeah, see, old English is like, I don't know the difference.

B: Did you already get an email on that, Steve?

S: I better double check that myself right now before I get more into the middle.

E: Here we go.

S: What's interesting is why Newton decided to publish it in Latin. And how did that... Actually, the thing that I was kind of annoyed by is that that was kind of important to the core of the discussion. It wasn't a small little fact. In other words, wouldn't that have affected whether or not it was popularized or who was buying and reading the book that it was in Latin?

C: Well, I guess I wonder how much did Enlightenment-era academics speak Latin? Was that just a fundamental part of your education?

E: It's a good question.

S: Yeah, I think so. I think that's the answer.

C: And that probably also makes sense why so much kind of early medicine and these early biological studies, it's all Latin. Like all the anatomical directions and all the names for things, so many of them are based in Latin. Yeah, taxonomy. You're right, Evan. Yeah, a lot of that was just... It was Latin-based.

S: Yeah, interesting.

Name That Logical Fallacy (1:21:07)[edit]

  • Slippery Slope

S: Okay, we're going to do a Name That Logical Fallacy. This is based upon an email we got from Bjorn Matzen from Switzerland. Bjorn as in like Bjorn Borg, right? Same first name. And he writes, "You talked about slippery slopes in relation to video surveillance and facial recognition. I do agree with your conclusions, but I was wondering where you draw the line between the slippery slope as a logical fallacy and its use as a valid argument. I think it should, again, have something to do with the principle of charity and steelmanning the other side's argument, but I cannot quite put my finger on it. Anyway, thanks for your brilliant work." Very well, thank you, Bjorn. So the logical fallacies that we talk about are informal logical fallacies, meaning that they're not always one way or the other. It's not ironclad. It's not like every time you make a slippery slope argument, it is a fallacy. It's more that there's a fuzzy line depending on how you use it. It's very context dependent. And so there really aren't any hard and fast rules about when it is a fallacy and when it's a valid argument, but there are some guiding principles, right? So what is the slippery slope? That's essentially when you say, well, if we allow a situation to go this far, it will necessarily go farther.

C: And you almost take it to like an absurd conclusion when you're making a slippery slope argument.

S: So there is also the argument ad absurdum, which I think you're bleeding into a little bit. So the argument ad absurdum is when you use the absurd conclusion in order to invalidate someone's argument. And again, they both operate the same way. They're valid sometimes, and then they can be a logical fallacy depending on how you use them. So I think the slippery slope logical fallacy is, if we allow research using embryonic stem cells, then eventually they're going to be involuntarily harvesting stem cells from women against their will.

C: So the arguments that we're hearing right now.

S: If you legalize marijuana, then they'll be legalizing cocaine and heroin. Or if we furlough people from jail, we'll just be letting murderers out of prison.

C: So can I ask though, what was the slippery slope that we were discussing with regards to AI? I don't remember.

S: It was the giving up security for convenience. And we're saying if we allow using facial recognition in some cases, we're giving power to companies, to the government to use our data, to use our information. And we're worried about where that will lead.

C: Right. But this isn't new.

S: I think Jay actually said slippery slope. No, you're right.

C: We're already on that slide. We're already halfway down that slide.

S: That's where you tell the difference between a logical fallacy and a valid argument. So if you're saying that, that for example, if we give up our freedoms for convenience, then that can lead to surrendering even more freedoms. And we don't know where that will end, or it may go farther than we think is optimal. That's a valid argument, right? And we do have to hold the line somewhere. But if where it becomes a logical fallacy is in a couple of ways. One is when you say that it will necessarily lead to going further when it doesn't. Or another one is when you go to the absurd extreme. So like, for example, you say, well, if we allow regulation about fully automatic weapons, they'll be confiscating all our guns. You know?

C: That's what I was going to say.

S: That's the classic, that's probably, that's like the classic slippery slope arguments. Like, well, no, we can have regulations without completely banning something.

E: We do have them.

S: We don't have to go all the way.

C: Yeah, we already do. Exactly.

S: There's plenty of counterexamples. It's like, yeah, we regulate lots of things without going all the way to banning.

C: Right. Or if we have a public option, then all of a sudden we'll be socialist. And it's like, we already have the mail, and firemen, and school.

S: Well, they said that about Medicaid. Once the government's paying for health care, we're going to have socialized medicine. We'll set aside the argument about whether or not that's a good thing or a bad thing.

[talking over each other]

E: That's right, but that's not happening.

S: So it's been 60 years, and it hasn't led to socialized medicine. That right there is evidence that it doesn't necessarily lead down the slippery slope. That's when it becomes a logical fallacy, when you say it absolutely will happen, or when you say it's going to go to ridiculous extremes. But just saying that we have to be careful not to let this go too far, or to set limits on how far this will go, or we have to realize this is what we're doing. We are trading security for convenience, or freedom for convenience. And we have to think about that trade-off.

C: Is there something where, because it has the same name as an argument, so if we say, ooh, we don't want to fall down that slippery slope, and then somebody else says, wait, is that a slippery slope fallacy? It's like, no. Is there a name for that fallacy?

S/E: The fallacy fallacy.

C: The fallacy fallacy, OK, yeah. So just because we use the terminology to paint a picture or to make an argument doesn't mean we are falling victim to utilizing a fallacy.

S: Yeah, it's like falsely charging a fallacy, but again, without putting it into the proper context.

C: Right, OK, that's the fallacy fallacy.

S: Yeah, and almost every fallacy can be used that way, where you can frame somebody's argument in a fallacious way. And that's why he mentioned steel manning as the opposite of straw manning. You could straw man anyone's argument. If we say, well, we should listen to scientists, somebody could say, that's an argument from authority. Is it, though? Is it really? It really isn't. I'm not saying they have to be correct because they have authority. I'm just saying we should take what they have to say seriously because they're actual experts who know what they're talking about and have dedicated their life to whatever.

B: And they've got a pretty good track record.

S: Yeah, they have a pretty good track record. Or for example, if we say, well, I'm very dubious about what this person is saying because they've been convicted of fraud in the past. That's an ad hominem. No, it isn't.

B: No, it's not.

S: It's legitimate concern about the reliability of somebody who's a proven fraudster, a con artist.

C: Right. You didn't say, I'm dubious about what he's saying because he has ugly shoes.

S: Right, right. Or that he has to be wrong. I'm not saying he has to be wrong.

E: I don't like his opinion.

B: Or he's definitely wrong because he was—

S: Yeah, I'm just saying I am more cautious about the claim coming from somebody who has a history of being a con artist.

E: Yeah. John Edwards is going to tell— Right. John Edwards is going to tell me something. I'm going to be more skeptical about it than probably someone else.

S: It could be to his advantage to tell the truth in this particular case. Who knows? But I'm not going to take his word for it, you know? So all of these fallacies can be portrayed in a way to make them seem like a fallacy. A legitimate use of an argument can unfairly straw man into a fallacy. And that's the fallacy fallacy.

J: Steve, while we're talking about this, I get this on Facebook a lot. There are people that just refuse to be contradicted. It's not really a fallacy, but there's definitely something going on there.

C: What do you mean by they refuse to be contradicted?

J: Well, they can't be wrong. You can't say to them something like, it would be good if you had some evidence to back up what you're saying because you don't have any evidence. And then they just go off on a tirade because you've put up a wall in front of them that requires something from them.

C: Right. I think in order to commit a logical fallacy, you still have to be at least attempting to argue logically.

S: You have to make an argument. Not all bad arguments are logical fallacies. Because there could be other problems with arguments, right? One just being incoherent or stupid or just using bad facts.

C: Or just going, nuh-uh.

S: Well, that's the ultimate logical fallacy of the non-sequitur. It just doesn't even follow. But some people are not even wrong. You know what I mean? They're not even making an argument. You have to make an argument in order to commit a logical fallacy. Some people are not even doing that. So what a lot of people do or what we see a lot online is that people make an assertion and then treat it as if they made an argument. It's like, no, you didn't actually make an argument in support of your position. You just asserted your position. And then they just keep reverting to their assertion, saying it over again in different ways or more emphatic ways. You're still not making an argument. You're just saying, I'm right. This is the fact. This is the case. That's not an argument.

J: Yeah, that's pretty much it.

S: All right, guys. Let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:31:39)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction Personal finances
Science Cared for animal rights
Assassination attempts
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Assassination attempts
Personal finances
Personal finances
Personal finances

Theme: Adolf Hitler
Item #1: Unscrupulous in amassing power, Hitler was, however, fastidious about personal finances, and had modest personal income and wealth from his government salary.[6]
Item #2: Although there is some debate about how consistent he was, Hitler was a vegetarian based on principles of animal rights.[7]
Item #3: Historians document at least 42 assassination attempts against Hitler, all of which were foiled, failed, or had to be abandoned.[8]

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. You know, sometimes I come across an interesting fact that I think, huh, that would make a good science or fiction. And then I build a science fiction theme around it. And so that's what I did this week. Now, the theme's a bit unusual. I don't want you to read too much into it. It just happens to be a piece of information that I came across. The theme of the science or fiction this week is Adolf Hitler.

C: OK. Don't read too into it.

S: Yeah, don't read too much into that. Just three things about Adolf Hitler.

E: That doesn't get anyone upset or anything.

S: Yeah, it's a non-controversial topic.

B: Nah, not a trigger person.

S: All right. So three things about Adolf Hitler. Here we go. Item number one, unscrupulous and amassing power. Hitler was, however, fastidious about personal finances and had modest personal income and wealth from his government salary. Item number two, although there is some debate about how consistent he was, Hitler was a vegetarian based upon principles of animal rights. And item number three, historians document at least 42 assassination attempts against Hitler, all of which were foiled, failed, or had to be abandoned. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right. So three things about Hitler. All right. So unscrupulous and amassing power. But Hitler was, however, fastidious about his finances. OK. So I don't know that much about Hitler when it comes to how he made money before he pulled his Hitler maneuver. I know that he liked to paint.

B: That like the Picard maneuver?

J: You know, he liked to paint and wanted to be a painter, but then he was basically told don't do that. And he wasn't that bad, actually. But wealth from his government salary. OK. So he worked for the government. That makes sense. OK. So let me go on to the next one. So Hitler was a vegetarian. I thought, did I hear something about that? I don't remember. I would argue that it probably wasn't about animal rights, though, just because, you know. And then the last one here, 42 assassination attempts against Hitler, all of which were foiled. Yeah, I don't know. 42. And it's that number 42. You know, really? Is it going to be 42? These are really hard.

E: That's not a bad, you know.

J: I mean, there was a lot. I didn't think there were 42 seems dramatically high to me. I would think I thought it was like seven or something like that. Seven? You know, I'm going to go with the last one as the fake, the number of assassination attempts.

S: OK, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: The fact that he was fastidious about personal finances. I mean, maybe. Who knows? I guess you do. Then there's the.

C: It's so funny, I don't know why.

B: And then he's a vegetarian because of animal rights. Come on. Really? I mean, that's just too, too ironic. And then the next 142 just seems, yeah, it's an awesome number, but that just seems way too high. So screw it. I'm going to go with the other the one that seems the most reasonable. I'll say the personal finances. I'll say that's fiction. The other ones are just like they've got inherent problems that set them and set them aside, make them stand out. So that makes number one stand out for me. All right. Personal finances, fiction, whatever.

S: OK, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: All right. I'll go reverse order, I guess. The 42 assassination attempts. I think that's right. I think the number was in the 40s when last I recall there were a lot against him, a lot. So I think that one's actually right. Yes, he was number two. Yes, he was a vegetarian. But was it based on principles of animal rights? I'm thinking, yes. It's sort of one of the ironies in a way that and he had and he loved his dog and stuff. I know about that. He had a lot of weird some health issues as well. So I don't know if that if it's more about his health and stuff. But this one about the first one about being fastidious about personal finances and had modest personal income, you can think that one also might be true, because when you're that person, you've amassed that much. You can just sort of order people to do whatever it is you need. So money becomes sort of irrelevant in a way. I think it's between the animal rights one and the personal and the personal finances one. I'd not heard much about him in his personal finances. So that's the one I kind of know the least about. I'll have to go with that one being the fiction.

S: OK, and Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Yeah, I think I'm going to follow suit with the last two. To me, I would assume that Hitler was probably like rich as shit. Like he was a super powerful guy and he probably did all sorts of horrible, corrupt things to make a ton of money off the backs of people. So this idea that he had modest personal income and wealth to me seems I would just assume he was like filthy rich. I think the others are seem true simply. I do know I read that he was a vegetarian. So you're going to this is going to be the got me one if it's like one of those great myths that we all believe. But it's actually not true. So there's a part of me that's a little concerned about that. And then the last one about 42, I have no idea. The number to me sounds low, but I know how you are with numbers. And I don't think it was 420. So I'm going to say that people hated that man.

E: It was 4.2.

C: Right, yeah, 4.2. Some people loved him, but a lot of people hated him. So yeah, I'm going to say people hated the rich guy who loved animals, but hated people.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay, so you all agree on the second one. So we'll start there. Although there is some debate about how consistent he was Hitler was a vegetarian based on principles of animal rights. You all think this one is true, but ironic. And this one is science. This one is science. Hitler was a fanatical animal rights activist. And he was a vegetarian based upon principle. In fact, Goebbels wrote in his diary, the Fuhrer is a convinced vegetarian on principle. His arguments cannot be refuted on any serious basis. They are totally unanswerable. Hitler thought that eating meat was a major factor in the decline of civilization, and that vegetarianism would rejuvenate society. Now, the Nazis were very activist in animal rights, and they innovated a lot of animal rights practice.

C: Oh, my God, that's so crazy.

S: The irony here is great. So they, in fact, outlawed Jews from owning pets, because they thought they wouldn't take care of them well. And if somebody was mistreating an animal, they thought that they should be put into a concentration camp and tortured and murdered. So they literally had no compunctions about torturing and murdering people, and would justify that based upon the fact that they committed animal cruelty, which is ironic. But yeah, they were put forward actual legislation about animal rights and humane treatment in animal husbandry.

C: Do you think that Hitler was the full architect of that? It was such a pet, no pun intended, but like a pet project of his?

S: Yeah, I think so.

C: The entire Reich. Yeah, okay.

S: And then, of course, everyone had to agree with him, right?

C: Of course, yeah.

S: He apparently was very obsessed over the suffering of lobsters in restaurants.

C: No, are you serious?

S: No, I'm seriously, yeah.

B: Oh, my God.

C: Asshole.

B: Talk about compartmentalization.

S: Yeah, talk about compartmentalization, exactly.

E: You can't explain everything.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right, let's go back to number one, unscrupulous in amassing power. Hitler was, however, fastidious about personal finances and had modest personal income and wealth from his government's salary. So, Jay, you think this one is science. The rest of you think this is fiction. And I guess the question here is, when you have all the power and you basically have all of the resources of a country at your disposal, o you actually need personal wealth? The example would be like if you're a priest, a Catholic priest, technically you own no property and you're poor, but still you have everything you need, right? So would it work like that? He had all the houses and everything he needed. He didn't need money because he owned the country.

E: Money became irrelevant, but...

S: But Cara's right. Despite that, the guy amassed billions of dollars.

B: Billions?

E: Marks.

B: Billions.

C: And when you say amassed, you mean like pilfered and stole?

S: He was worth the equivalent, they believe, of about $5 billion.

B/J: Wow.

S: He was very good at using his power to amass wealth. And some historians think that because he was poor when he was a starving artist, that he became afraid or just really didn't like the idea of being poor. And so he became also obsessed with amassing as much wealth as possible. And he was corrupt as hell. I mean, it was pay to play in every possible way. He would take "donations" from companies, obviously for special privileges. I mean, just...

J:I wonder what happened to all that money.

S: He would make the government buy hundreds of thousands of copies of his books to give out to people.

E: Oh, that's true. It was the Bible. It was the Bible of Germany at the time.

C: Oh, yeah. He must have made a ton of money off that book.

E: Absolutely.

S: It was estimated worth of about $5 billion.

J: That is so much more money than I would have ever guessed.

C: Well, and also think about it. He systematically murdered and exterminated a massive portion of his population. That portion of the population themselves had their own personal wealth. Did he not? I mean, was there not some sort of plan to...

E: But did he use that to fund his armed...

C: I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if they just took the money of these people long before they actually killed them.

E: Rip the fillings out of their teeth.

S: Yeah, they literally took the fillings out of their teeth. They confiscated everything of value that these people had.

C: But I mean, long before concentration camps, there was a systematic disenfranchisement.

S: Totally.

E: Well, plus there was theft everywhere of the art world and gold and so many things that he sent his henchmen out to get.

C: So gross.

S: I mean, Hitler was an artist, and he was obviously very interested in art. And his goal ultimately was to build a massive Führer Museum in Austria that was going to just be filled with the world's art that he plundered. That was his ultimate plan. So Jay, to answer your question, actually, it says, after the war, his estate was given to Bavaria. So that's where it went.

J: That's good.

S: Bavaria basically ended up with it.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: So all of this means that historians document at least 42 assassination attempts against Hitler, all of which were foiled, failed, or had to be abandoned. That is science. It is amazing how this guy survived.

E: Yeah.

S: When you read each, you could read each and every attempt and what happened. It's like, how did this guy possibly survive all these attempts?

B: So it's like Inspector Clouseau.

S: Well, many of them, the Gestapo foiled. So the Gestapo was really good at their job, apparently, because they managed to foil a lot of these plots. And of course, they executed all the people involved. But a lot of them were like, there was a bomb in a wine bottle on a plane with him, but it froze and didn't go off. Or a shooter was blocked by somebody else and couldn't get a good shot. Or somebody was ratted out. They poisoned a letter that was sent to him, but he was ratted out by somebody else.

E: He had food tasters, that's for sure.

S: Yeah. So from one point of view, you're reading through all this, like, oh my God, he came so close to death so many times. But on the other hand, I think what's probably the case is that he made it so hard to kill him that you had to use some kind of elaborate scheme that was highly prone to failing or to being discovered.

C: Wait, isn't there a movie about this?

E: Valkyrie.

S: Well, yeah, yeah.

C: No, like a comedy movie. About like all these foiled attempts to... Was Brad Pitt in a movie about... Am I amalgamating something?

S/E: Well, you're talking about Inglourious Bastards.

C: I don't know, I've never seen it.

E: But that's Brad Pitt.

B: See it. It's good.

C: Is he trying to kill Hitler?

E: Oh, yeah.

S: It was about one attempt. It was one specific attempt. But it's a lot of it. A lot of the attempts were by soldiers, by his own people, by people who infiltrated the SS. I mean, there was a lot of, as you say, lots of his own people wanted him dead.

C: Hated him, yeah.

S: I mean for lots of reasons. They thought he was going to destroy Germany. They were correct. You know, they thought that this path that he set the country on was not going to lead to a good place. And others were like, he's just losing the war. You know, he's just incompetent and just... And which he was. He was... We would get obsessed with decisions and like, we have to take this city. And his generals were like this he's just... He's losing the war. He's making horrible decisions. And also, this is a funny one. Apparently, his name was almost Adolf Schickelgruber.

J: Oh my god.

C: Wait, why? How do you change your last name?

S: He didn't change his last name. His father changed his last name when he was 40. So his father, Alois, A-L-O-I-S, or how would you pronounce that, Evan?

E: A-L... I'm sorry. Alois?

S: I don't know if that's French or whatever.

E: How are we spelling it?

S: A-L-O-I-S.

E: O-I-S.

'S: That was his father.

E: Aloy?

S: Aloy. So he was born to Maria Anna Schickelgruber, and his name was Alois Schickelgruber, which he changed at age 40 to Alois Hiedler, H-I-E-D-L-E-R, which then Adolf changed to H-I-T-L-E-R, changed the spelling of the name, but close to the pronunciation. So that's how he became Adolf Hitler. But he was born Adolf Schickelgruber.

E: Also, hey, let's face it, it's too Jewish sounding, too. It just is.

S: Would history be different if he was Adolf Schickelgruber versus Hitler? I mean, it's funny to think about that.

C: But it is interesting how small things like that really can be the difference between winning the election or not. Because remember, he was democratically elected at the beginning.

E: With intimidation tactics, among other things.

C: But still, he had massive support.

E: Not initially. He got really low scores in his first couple of runs at it. Then he struck at the exact right vulnerable time for Germany and just eked in and took over from there.

C: But if you think about how much something as simple as somebody's last name or the way they carry themselves in a speech or whatever, that's politics, man.

E: Sure. Yeah, that's why you've got to be so careful.

S: Well, good job, guys. Jay, sorry, this was a tricky one. What I like about ones like this and the real reason why I wanted to do it, I love it when there's something that you think you know a lot about. Like, how much have we heard and read and seen about Adolf Hitler over our lifetime? There's so many nooks and crannies of this guy that you may never have heard. It's interesting.

C: And also so much lore. It's like, what's actually real and what kind of got spun out?

S: Totally. I mean, somebody may refute the vegetarian thing, but I thought I found enough objective sources that sounded, yeah, this is pretty solid.

E: And I have to remind myself of that. Even when I'm watching these documentaries, because I've seen a lot of them on Hitler, and you can't help – I mean, they must have gotten some things either incorrect or misconstrued or – I can't imagine everything I've seen is exactly 100% correct. So tough to suss out, though, exactly what's what.

C: Yeah, I think it all is based on the sourcing, too, who produced this thing. How scrupulous were they?

S: I mean, they had some quotes there that would seem pretty good, so. All right. Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:46:56)[edit]

If you think back on all the movies that you’ve ever seen where there are goodies and baddies, you always remember the baddie.
David Prowse (1935-2020), English bodybuilder and character actor (including Darth Vader)

E: So not all of our quotes every week have to do with science or skepticism, and this is going to be one of those exceptions. "If you think back on all the movies that you've ever seen where there are goodies and baddies, you always remember the baddie." David Prowse, the actor. Darth Vader himself. He died last week. COVID-related.

S: That's what I heard.

B: Really?

E: Yeah, unfortunately.

S: So I was sad to hear about David Prowse's death, obviously, but it did send me on this little tangent thought because everyone said, like, this is the actor who portrayed Darth Vader. And, of course, he was acted in the costume. But the voice was James Earl Jones. And so who was Darth Vader? Was it David Prowse or was it James Earl Jones? It was obviously both of them in a way.

J: It was definitely both, Steve, because you have, I mean, of course, James Earl Jones, his voice had effects on it. But he did a brilliant voice acting job. I mean, utterly brilliant.

S: Well, let me ask you.

J: But wait, I'm not done. Let me finish. But David Prowse, though, was the physicality behind Darth Vader and the way that he walked and his hand gestures, even having to turn his head certain ways. You know, that all added to the gravitas of the character. So, I mean, I wouldn't want to take it away or give it to either of them.

S: I agree. But there's one point I want to make that I thought of, and that is if either of those actors were replaced, which would you notice more?

E: Well, James Earl Jones.

S: Yeah, I think you would notice James Earl Jones a lot more.

C: Was it the same guy when they took the mask off?

E: No, that's a third actor.

B: How about this thing, guys? And then there's the quote by James Earl Jones himself who said that if he had to pick one person that epitomizes Darth Vader, he picked Prowse.

C: He has to say that.

B: He said his movement, he said typified Vader more than his voice.

C: Right. And that's beautiful. But he's not going to say, I pick me.

S: Yeah, I disagree with him. What can I say? And he might just be being humble. But I mean, I'm not trying to not to take anything away from what Prowse added to that character. He was amazing. It's just that I think James Earl Jones is a little bit more amazing is all I would say.

J: Steve, did you know that David Prowse was in A Clockwork Orange?

E: Yeah, it's Julius.

C: Very cool.

E: Yeah, he didn't have many acting roles. But I mean, when you played the bad person, the bad guy of all time in movie history, I mean.

S: And I agree with that quote. Yeah, that a good villain is unforgettable.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: Like Darth Vader, I think, is the ultimate villain. I mean, he's definitely on my short list, if not number one.

E: Prowse went in to play either Chewbacca or Darth Vader. And he was hoping to get Vader because he was the baddie.

Signoff/Announcements (1:50:14)[edit]

S: All right, guys. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

B: Sure, man.

C: Thanks, Steve.

J: You got it.

E: Thanks Steve.

S: Hey, before we go, Jay we're going to set up a website so people can vote for all of their favorites of the year so that we can discuss them in a couple of weeks on our review show, our year end wrap up show. So check that out. That'll be up by Saturday, Jay?

J: Yeah, it's up now.

S: Oh, great. So you'll see all the categories like your favorite news item, your favorite bit, your favorite interview, all that stuff. So please, please, please take a look. Give us the feedback that we need. And then because we really do enjoy doing these wrap up shows at the end of the year.

J: Yeah, they can go to wrap up 2020. Right. So it's the And we have what, about 10 questions on there that you could you don't have to answer all of them. Just put in anything in there. We're asking questions like the typical ones, like what's your favorite episode? What was your favorite bit?

B: Please, please help us people because I don't remember any of these shows.

C: It all blends together.

S: All right. So thanks for doing that. Again, thank you guys for joining me.

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[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description



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