SGU Episode 808

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SGU Episode 808
January 2nd 2021
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 807                      SGU 809

                     predictions → SGU 861

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

You are modern humans of the civilized world. And modern humans rise beyond all laws and superstitions of the society. They help their fellow beings to rise from the ashes of ignorance, illusion and fear.

Abhijit Naskar, neuroscientist [1]

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, December 29th, 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: Goodbye 2020.

S: Yeah. So we're all still stuck in 2020 back here at December 29th, but this is the first show of 2021 because it will be airing in January, January 2nd. So this is going to be our first episode of 2021. Our listeners are so lucky. They're already there.

C: Yeah. Seriously.

E: Future you. So jealous.

S: So did you guys survive your holiday shenanigans?

J: Yeah. It was fine.

C: Yeah.

B: No, I did not.

C: This is the ghost of Bob.

B: Thought I would, but I didn't.

S: It was good. We did our pandemic Christmas where we had limited get-togethers smaller groups. We didn't eat together. We just sort of waved from across the room kind of thing. It was still good. It was good to have whatever social contact we could. But I keep telling everybody, we're almost there. Just buckle down until we get this damn vaccine, and then life can start to creep back to normal. Now we made it through the year. Now is not the time to drop your guard and screw up. I know. Imagine that. I mean, I'm kind of proud of the fact that I got my whole family through this without anyone catching COVID.

E: Knock wood.

S: And I would hate for that to happen right at the end, you know?

B: Right. Yeah.

J: Definitely.

B: I like to think I saved mom's life, though, because every time she said, Bob, Bob, come on. Let's go to Costco. Let's go to Costco. I gotta go to Costco, Bob. Like, mom, it's the height of the pandemic. She's like, come on. We'll be quick. We're not going.

E: Good for you, Bob. Protect your loved ones, please. And I hope the new strain of COVID is not going to put a damper on things for our recovery.

C: Yeah, we'll talk about that in the show. I'm going to do a deep dive on that bad boy.

E: Okay.

B: Oh, yeah.

E: No spoilers now.

C: Yeah. But I don't know. It's been a little frustrating, I have to admit, to see how many people are like, screw it. I'm just going to jump on a plane and go visit my family.

E: Oh, boy.

C: And how many people really are just throwing the rule book out because somehow, I guess, biology doesn't apply during the holidays. But yeah, now more than ever is when we need to be vigilant.

E: I know. But the fatigue is, it wears on people. It just does.

C: It must be tough for you guys on the East Coast, though, where you can't really be spending much time outside.

J: Oh, yeah. It's been hit or miss. Like, the weather's been hot and cold, even though it's winter. It's weird how much the weather has changed. But yeah, it sucks because we had a lot of people, like friends, come over when we were like 15 feet apart on my patio, or my deck, rather, and that's out. And I hate doing, I can't stand video conferencing people. I just feel like, it just makes me more aggravated.

C: But it's the only thing you've got right now.

J: I know. I know.

C: So do you just not do it?

J: I do it, but I don't like it because I just don't, especially the more people, the harder it is to communicate.

C: Oh, for sure. Yeah. It's easier if you keep it small. Or if you just go with it and say, this is crazy, we're just going to have a ton of people.

S: Basically, by June, we should be at herd immunity, hopefully, assuming that people are compliant enough. The other thing to point out is and the World Health Organization recently made this point, that the COVID-19 is probably not the worst pandemic we're going to get this century. This is really a dry run for the big bad one that's probably still coming.

C: That's much more, like, fatal. And maybe even more contagious.

S: I mean, on the range of potential properties of a pandemic virus, this is not at the bad end of the spectrum. Not even close. But this is good sort of wake-up call to say, all right, what are our plans? What is our infrastructure to deal with a really serious pandemic? And I think part of that is public education. I think also part of that is getting our political shit together. We're not going to survive if we can't get our crap together. That's just the bottom line.

C: I agree.

S: The world is too unforgiving now for a dysfunctional political environment like we have.

E: Absolutely.

Psychic Predictions for 2020 (4:43)[edit]

S: All right. But let's get serious, guys. Let's talk about psychic predictions.

E: Yes. Come on.

S: So this is mainly for fun, where we like to look back over what psychics predicted and didn't predict for 2020. And we like to make a few points that, first of all, obviously, we don't believe that psychics are real. There's no evidence that ESP is real. The idea that you can see the future is a violation of causality, cause and effect. And so it's basically impossible. And of course, it's not surprising that self-proclaimed mediums and psychics or whatever, whatever mechanism they're using, whether it's tarot cards or astrology or numerology, asparagus, assology, whatever their mechanism, is that their performance is indistinguishable from either random guessing, at best. At best, they do random guessing. At worst, they're actually worse than random guessing. They're just saying stuff to be entertaining, like to be for the shock value.

B: Or extrapolation.

S: Well, yeah, but there are a few methods that they use to try to make it seem like they're more accurate than they are. And we'll give examples of all of these things. So one is shotgunning. Just make a bunch of predictions and then tout the ones that were correct after the fact. The other one is the vague prediction that gives way more wiggle room than it may seem. This is very common, even in a personal reading. Like someone says, oh, I see a red door. And it seems like a very specific prediction, but actually it's so common that almost everybody will find meaning for it. Or I see an older person in uniform. It sounds really specific, but it's very, very vague. Or they make predictions that are high probability, like there's going to be an earthquake. And yeah, there's hundreds of earthquakes, thousands of earthquakes a year. So again, people don't realize how high probability. One of my favorite is, oh, I see an airplane and there's red in the tail. Yeah, like 60% or something of airlines have red in their logo. But if you don't know the—so part of it is that they know statistics that the general public may not know, like how frequent names are or whatever. And so they can make high probability or shotgunning or very vague with plenty of wiggle room kind of predictions. And then they make the—and then they use post hoc analysis or really to just encourage the people that are the target of their predictions to do all the heavy lifting in terms of making the connections and engaging in the cognitive errors and the logical fallacies to make it seem more impressive than it is. But one way to poke a hole into all of this is just to track the predictions and see somewhat more objectively how they did. And again, no one performs in such a way that it requires an extraordinary explanation other than random guessing and a little showmanship. So I reviewed a number of psychics to see how they did. So one thing I did was look at as many different psychics who made predictions about the 2020 election, because usually in years where there's like a big presidential election, everyone makes their predictions. And of course, any one person's going to be random, you know. But I sort of counted up how they did in the aggregate. Almost no one that I looked at predicted that Joe Biden would win.

B: Really?

S: These are only counting ones that were made prior to 2020. So remember, this is prior to the primaries. So most of them either said Trump will win or Trump will lose without naming who he was going to lose to. And most of them, it was like 80 to 90 percent said Trump was going to win. So just—

C: Oh, I see. You're saying most of the psychics either said he would win or he would lose, not most of the psychics said he would win or lose.

E: Because that's a much easier guess to make when you have an incumbent running for re-election. That raises your odds tremendously. Whereas if you had each candidate running primary campaigns, that's a lot harder to predict in December for the coming year.

S: Yeah. So Trump, it was a coin flip, except one psychic managed to predict that Trump would not run in 2020. So they did worse.

B: Oh, awesome.

E: Yeah, well, that would be—

S: But most said that Trump would win. So they just in the aggregate did horribly. And then in terms of like on the Democratic side, most said that Elizabeth Warren was going to get nominated. There were a lot of Michelle Obamas for some reason, even though she wasn't running. I don't know where that came from.

C: Oh, because they wouldn't have known yet, maybe.

E:Because that would be something you could hang a hat on. You said, nobody saw that coming. I got it.

S: Exactly.

E: They'll take collateral on that for the next 10 years.

S: That's the gunshotting approach where they make some low probability predictions, hoping that people will just forget about it. But if they get it right occasionally, then they're the superstar, right?

E: Yep. Gamble big.

S: Some said that, oh, yeah, after Biden was nominated, he would get replaced by Elizabeth Warren or Bloomberg. There was a few people who said Bloomberg was going to win or was going to get nominated.

E: Wow. When he was still in the discussion, right? You have to remember, this was December of 2019 when people are making these predictions.

S: So they were all over the place on the Democratic side and 90-plus percent wrong. And they were mostly wrong about Trump winning. So just, again, in the aggregate, their performance on the presidential election was horrible. They didn't even do as well as just the political pundits who—Biden was the favorite from the beginning, right? So all they had to do was play the odds on this one. And of course, there was a lot of room to predict the unusual things that did happen. Like if they said Trump will massively outperform the polls but still lose in a squeaker that would be kind of the specific prediction that would be at least a little impressive. But nobody had said anything remotely compelling about the election. And this was an unusual year because this year was so dominated by the election, first of all, but then also the pandemic. That was pretty much the big news for the year. And so everything people said were somehow laughably wrong because they didn't account for the pandemic. Like, it affected everything. It didn't predict anything really about the economy or about entertainment or about sports. It's like, nobody predicted, but it won't be happening because there's a pandemic. You know what I mean? Like, it just—it disrupted—the predictions—I mean, we usually say this till the end, but we have to state nobody predicted the pandemic. And so if you missed that, pretty much all your other predictions are going to be off. There's one category, though, that's pretty independent of just these kind of events, and that's technology. This is now coming from a group of psychics that were collected by the, right? And they had, after they got it all wrong about the election, they had a medical and technology one. So these are always fun because you have non-scientists making scientific predictions.

B: Yeah, that's always good.

S: New bionic eye will be created to perfect human vision. We're about 20, 30 years away from that. 5G will increase cases of brain tumors and aneurysms. Nope. People should avoid Libra, Facebook's cryptocurrency. So that's not really a prediction, that's just financial advice. Saying that some other cryptocurrency is not going to do well is kind of an easy one. There will be a creation of an at-home flu vaccine that can be administered through a Band-Aid. Nope.

E: That's ambitious.

S: And here, gold will rise in value and make a good investment. I'm not sure why that's under medical and tech. It's kind of an economic one. Gold has been steadily on the rise. That's just, again, that's another one, another typical sort of high probability prediction is just continuing an existing trend and making that into a prediction. So those were the ones that I covered. I did look specifically at who predicted COVID-19 and I found two people sort of given credit for that. One, did you guys hear about this? So that in 2008, Sylvia Brown, in her book about the end of the world, said that around 2020, there's going to be some kind of pneumonia kind of infection going around.

E: Around 2020.

S: Around 2020. So 2020 is obviously a round number. That's like saying, yeah, around 2100 that's like, you're not really saying specifically that you're just in that timeframe. So saying that there's going to be a pandemic around 2020, which you could charitably say that's a three to five year sort of window there, if you go one or two years on either side.

E: And how often do we have pandemics?

S: Yeah, it was very high. That's very high probability. More than that it was inevitable, basically, so just predicting something that's inevitable. But she got all the... Any details that she did give, she got wrong because it's not really a pneumonia, but okay, you could sort of give her wiggle room on that. But she said the one very specific thing she said, which was completely wrong, was that it would suddenly disappear as mysteriously as it appeared.

C: I wish.

S: Yeah.

B: Sounds familiar.

E: Define suddenly.

J: Well, she can't get it all right, Steve. I mean this is very hard work.

E: Yeah. She was right about the end of the world, though, for her, in that she wasn't here to see it.

C: Aww.

E: So maybe there's a sliver of truth in there. Is that too cold too soon?

J: Not too cold.

S: The kid's dead. All right. Who did you guys review? Did you guys see any other kinds of predictions?

B: Yeah, I was looking around. I agree with Evan. I did some searching. I was like, wait, where are these? Did they take them down because they were just so amazingly, incredibly, explosively incorrect this year? I don't know. But then I found some guy, Mark Drought. I found a website, My Prophecies for 2020. And it was a little weird reading this. He says something that, let's see, in the new year, GOP will satisfy the devout in its base, continuing its war with science. I'm like, OK. Then he said the federal government will continue to treat climate change as a hoax. I'm like, OK, easy prediction. But this guy's obviously a Democratic psychic, I would say, if he's got this pattern here. And he's like, then he's talking about climate change. New records again will again be set, then be explained away or simply ignored. Like, fine. OK. And then he said something that I thought he was wrong. It turned out I was wrong. He said there's no reason to expect fewer gun deaths in 2020. And my first reaction was, wait, wasn't that weren't gun deaths a lot less, a lot fewer in 2020 because of the pandemic? And I did research like, no, it kind of is pretty bad. So he's correct on that one, too. And so I'm like, wait, this isn't going with the way I thought. And this guy seems somewhat reasonable. Well, then I found out why I was like, who is this guy, Mark Drought, editor at Stanford IT firm. And he was an adjunct English professor. Oh, crap. He's not even a psychic. He's just like he's a you know, he's an editor and he's an English professor. And he just he just named it my prophecies for 2020 totally got me with it. But so what I said, I don't. Hey, we all know that the prophet, the psychics are full of crap. Let's see what this guy has to say. So I read his whole thing. Then then he goes off the rails a bit. He's like pretty much every year for the past two millennia, prophets have announced the date of the second coming. But I'm predicting less end of days activity this year. And I'm like, whoa, no, wrong. If any year was like an end of days year, it was 2020, even though it really wasn't. It was so bad that people were like totally, of course making that connection all year. So it's kind of wrong there. Then he's like the nexus of pseudoscience and paranoia will be flat earthism. No, no, you'd have to, flat earthism is bad. But I'd have to give that to like the whole anti COVID, anti mask science, pseudoscience. I'd have to give it to that for 2020 above pretty much anything, especially in terms of having a real negative impact and people dying because of it. So he was wrong on that one. Then he throws out that 2020 will be the year the Iranians joined the nuclear club. Nope. Not an unreasonable prediction, I suppose. But I was wrong on that one, although that may happen sooner than we would like. Then he's like, I predict a second Trump term. No. So he got that wrong. And but of course, no mention of COVID or a pandemic. And then I look, he posted this at the end of January, like, wait, dude, I mean, all right. And the January was kind of early.

C: He had some data there.

B: He got some data.

E: He could have used COVID by then.

B: He figured, I guess that was right by the cusp to I guess you could have believed that it wasn't going to be a global pandemic right by then. But maybe just but he must have been like right at like a week or two after he posted. He must have been like, damn, I should have probably thrown that. So that's what so that's what I came up with this year. Not really a psychic, but he did make prophecies, as he called them, for 2020. And it was right more on the pure extrapolation stuff that made sense. But the more predictive predictions, he was off. So just what you would expect.

E: I've got Tana Hoy, T-A-N-A is his first name and H-O-Y is the second name. I've never heard of this person before. However, according to the banner at the top of his Web site, he is the world's foremost psychic. No doubt about what he does here, Bob.

B: Putting it out there. Yeah. No doubt.

E: He broke up. I like that he subcategorized his. He broke it up into Hollywood and international. You're going to do Hollywood because that's just silly. Here's what he said about some international predictions. A commercial airplane crash will cause the death of several people. Now is that a prediction? What is that? I mean, it chances are so are high that somewhere in the world, a commercial airplane is going to go down and it will almost always cause the death of several people as a result to go hand in hand. So I don't know what that is. The U.S. president will not be impeached, but will have his reputation badly tarnished to a point of no return. That could be right. You know, he got the not not impeached.

S: So he was impeached. That's incorrect.

E: No, I'm sorry. He was not. Right. He was not. He's impeached by the House, not convicted. You're right.

S: He was impeached, so that is wrong.

E: So he got that X.

S: And if you get it wrong on a 50 50, you get zero credit.

E: He said a major ice cap will break, causing water levels in the ocean to rise.

S: No.

E: I don't recall there being a major ice cap break report. I don't recall that. I couldn't find anything. But then he moves on to his science category where he says new areas of the human brain will be discovered to do more than scientists realized. Generic. Cars running on vegetable oil will make a resurgence and more people will begin converting their diesel cars. Nope. Vegetable oil is still used mostly for cooking.

B: What a silly prediction, though, considering there was the electric cars that are that are just totally exploding everywhere. You know, like, why would you even go there and think, yeah, we're going to start using vegetable oil again? Really?

S: I mean, that's a very niche market. There are people who have cars that run on vegetable oil that have been modified to do that.

E: Sure.

S: But I don't think it's been any change. It was a tiny, tiny sliver and it still is.

B: If anything, it's probably gone down.

E: Cars can run on propane as well.

S: Yeah, because the people who want it, who would do that for like environmental reasons, just get electric.

E: Yeah. Right. Yeah, that's right. There are better options nowadays. Health and medicine. A vaccine for HIV will be announced for human trials. Did that happen? Vaccine for HIV?

S: For human trials? It's been in the works for decades, obviously.

E: Right.

B: Decades, huh?

C: Yeah. It's been a hard one to pin down.

B: It's not an mRNA vaccine?

C: Inside the fight. Nope. This is all about HIV vaccine trial participants benefit socially from their efforts. Yeah.

E: Socially.

S: I mean, this is ongoing. So that's like, predict, that's another kind of high probability thing. I read a lot of those under scientific predictions where it's like, we'll make advances in battery technology. So, yeah, that happens every year, like just predicting an incremental change in something that constantly has incremental changes is that you're just stating what's happening now. You know what I mean? So, yeah, we've been working on an HIV vaccine. There are trials going on all the time. So saying that there's going to be trials of an HIV vaccine, it's like, yeah, that's happening.

C: Yeah, it's not new.

S: It's not new.

E: But did you hear the news item about milk is discovered to actually cause bone damage instead of making bones stronger?

J: Oh, wow. That's – we've got to stop drinking milk.

C: What?

B: I'm glad I never was a milk drinker.

E: Milk will be discovered to cause bone damage.

J: Cara, stop questioning, go in the kitchen and dump it now.

C: Dump it.

E: Pay attention to the psychic. Due to the new focus on meat-free products, stocks related to meat will plummet. I don't believe that that happened at all. In fact, stocks overall went on the rise for a good part of the year. It did go down early due to the COVID, but it rebounded pretty nicely. He also says here that three months will be very lucky for investors this year and two months won't. Well, that's actually OK. I mean not terrible. But again, this vague – that can apply to anything. You take any year, OK, and you look at the stock market.

C: Those are the best predictions.

E: You can put that prediction in any year.

S: The stock market would rise and fall throughout the year.

E: Exactly. So not a prediction at all. That's just one of the – one of the psychics I stumbled upon.

B: Give me a specific number on a specific date, then I'll be impressed.

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah, exactly.

C: But don't give me 500 of them.

S: Another category is sort of a non-falsifiable prediction, right?

C: Oh, yeah.

S: It doesn't say anything that can be falsified actually because it's vague or because it's kind of covering all of its bases or it could be interpreted in many ways.

C: And that's kind of like when you look at the different types of psychics and what their process is, you've got your clairvoyants and you've got your tarot readers and you've got your astrologers. And that's sort of like the astrology approach, which is sort of like Libra, you will come into openness throughout the month.

S: Yeah, that's the subjective part. Love will increase. There's a lot of psychics who definitely are on that sort of new agey end of the spectrum where they're just making vague, sugary subtotally subjective statements. 2020 will be the year of openness.

C: Yeah. And then anybody can go, yeah, I feel that. I came across some psychics from Dallas. So not exactly my hometown, but I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas and Plano. And I wanted to see what they thought about COVID because they made these predictions actually in April of 2020 about how COVID was going to continue. So I found at least some specific COVID 2020 predictions. Of course, they were made later in the year, in April of 2020. So it's like, given that we are living in a COVID world, what do you predict for the future? So Megan Benanti, who reads tarot cards, I love this, she said, I got the sense that some things will start to go back to normal in June.

B: You get that?

S: Got that sense, huh?

C: Right. But summer is weird. I get a lot of mixed readings on what summer feels like. So I don't have a strong answer to how summer will be yet. And then there's, it doesn't matter when quarantine ends because there's no vaccine yet. So when it ends, there will not be a joy we are hoping to feel. Well, that's weird. We're not going to end quarantine before there is a vaccine. So thanks for that.

S: And what do they mean by quarantine?

C: That's that vague term that everybody uses for stay at home, don't go outside, try not to gather?

S: But there's an operational definition for quarantine, and that's not it, you know?

C: No, exactly.

S: They're just using a technical term in a vague way, and then even and the vague way doesn't really tell us.

C: Incorrectly. Yeah. This one's very strange. Based on the Seven of Pentacles, some, of course, she's reading tarot cards, which was reversed. Apparently, that's important to know. As we come out of quarantine, we need to prepare for the slow progress of financial affluence. Some people are going to have adjusted to the demands of the market and immediately make money. Most everyone else will find themselves needing to bend and be flexible to accommodate sales in ways they never expected. For example, it might be a sole proprietor making a deal with an individual buyer just to move more merchandise. The less flexible a business is, the longer their recovery will take. I think it's interesting that at the top of that statement, she used the term affluence simply because the data show that over the course of this pandemic, we have seen greater income inequality than in almost any time. So the affluent are getting more affluent, and those of us who don't fall in that category are just struggling. That seems to be the real outcome. I'm also seeing that Madame Stella Devine, who is a resident psychic down in Deep Ellum.

E: Do you think that's her real name?

C: I'm going to say it is. We need to steal that actually for our own purposes in the SGU.

J: Cara, we need to come up with one of those things where you come up with your psychic name, like you take your shoe size and you add it to the name of the garage door manufacturer that you just purchased.

C: Right, like your porn star name, which by the way, have we done this before? Mine, it's so good, is Midnight Hearthstone.

E: It doesn't fit on a marquee, though.

C: Your first pet in the street you grew up on, Midnight Hearthstone.

J: Oh, my God.

C: Say action.

J: Mine is Cokie Smokehill.

C: Which is great for a guy.

J: Yeah.

C: It's so good.

J: Cokie Smokehill and Midnight Hearthstone, starring in Pa-Pow!

C: 2020 Pa-Pow!

S: Actually, the three of us, the three novella boys, would each have a different name because we each were born on different streets.

C: Oh, good. And did you all have a different pet when you were born?

S: Well, sort of. I mean, yeah, well, sort of, because Jay was really super young when we had a dog briefly before we got Cokie, so mine would be Brandy Appleblossom.

E: Okay.

C: Bob, are you also a Brandy?

B: I guess, but what the hell was that road?

S: Appleblossom. Before we moved to Smokehill. And you were Blackthorn.

C: Ooh, that's good.

J: That's cool, Bob.

S: Blackthorn, yeah.

C: All right, Evan. We need yours, Evan.

E: What is it? It's dog and then street?

C: No, just first pet and the street you grew up on.

E: Tongue Mohegan.

B: Nice.

J: Is that what you said? Tongue? Like King Kong?

E: Actually, I would reverse that, though. Mohegan Tongue.

C: Yeah, that's going to take some poetic license.

E: Yeah.

C: So we've got down here, Madam Stella Divine, who calls herself an intuitive consultant. She uses tarot, palm readings, and psychic channeling to divine information for her clients. So I love what she has divined. 2020 is going to be a roller coaster. It's pretty much going to suck. Thank you, based on the available evidence for all of us. I think that's not as much a psychic prediction as just looking around and saying what you see. I love this. We don't get to choose when it's done. The universe tells us when it's done. I've been seeing that we're in this through November. So this is a common tactic that psychics use, too, where they'll make very specific predictions about things that we can't measure. But then when it comes to things that they know they're very easily going to be potentially wrong on, then they leave it up to the universe. It's sort of what you see sometimes with, what do you call them, like channelers and diviners where they'll be communing with the dead. And then if they're on a cold streak, then they're like, well, the spirits, they're just not very talkative today.

E: Right.

C: And you're like, really, dude, really?

E: One of a hundred escape hatches they have.

C: Yeah, exactly.

Rogues' Results for 2020 and Predictions for 2021 (29:49)[edit]

S: All right, guys. So let's compare how the psychics, I can go first here, how the psychics do it compared to the rogues. So we make our own predictions. And just to illustrate, if you're actually trying to be accurate and you're not an idiot, you could do better than the average psychic. So here are my predictions for 2020. You ready? Number one, 2020 will be the hottest year on record. Ding, ding, ding. So 2020 is...

E: Isn't that the second hottest?

S: Well, so some sources are saying, the end of the year has not been fully analysed, so either it's on track to be the hottest or it's in a dead heat tie with 2016. So either it's tied for the hottest or it is the hottest. We'll know in a couple of weeks, I guess, when they analyse the last of the data.

B: Wow.

S: So that's pretty close. All right, here's number two. Sometime in 2020, I will be accused of being a shill simply for expressing the consensus of scientific opinion. I think that came true 20 or 30 times this year.

E: It's one of those very high probability...

S: In fact, just before doing this show, I had an email claiming, accusing me of being a shill. You know, for Big Pharma, that's like nine out of ten of them. And then number three, a breakthrough VR game will be released that will significantly affect demand for the technology. So I'm currently playing Half-Life Alyx. Have any of you guys played that?

J: I haven't played it, but I know everything about it.

S: I think it's the single best VR game that's out there.

B: Really?

S: It's certainly the best that I've played. It's awesome. It's, again, like the first time you have like a major release. This is Valve on a major brand, Half-Life, built for VR. So that's the threshold. That's the milestone that we hit rather than repurposed for VR. VR is an afterthought or it just was like a side, not a major title. And it's just incredible. It's what I've been waiting for. It's a fantastic VR experience. You know, only about a third or a quarter of the way through right now playing it. It's just great. Loving it.

B: You think this could do it, Steve? You think that could be it?

S: Oh, it's definitely increased VR sales and demand for the tech. "Significantly" is kind of vague, so it depends on what you mean by that.

E: You have a very accurate set of predictions.

S: I think it's legit to call it a breakthrough VR game, but it is actually legitimate.

J: So on the Steam store, it has received – and I've never seen this before. The ratings are like have a huge variability, right? It could be like really bad pretty good. Okay, blah, blah, blah. This one is overwhelmingly positive.

S: Mm-hmm.

E: Very good.

J: 40,000 reviews. Yeah, it's fantastic.

B: Wow.

S: The thing is the game it's an alternative future game where aliens have sort of taken over the earth and you're part of the rebellion. So there's this alien tech all over the place.

B: Ooh.

S: And some of it is massive. And so in VR, like when you're standing next to one of these massive structures or massive machines or whatever, it's overwhelming. It really is.

B: Overwhelming?

S: And also, there's a lot of creepy parts where you're crawling through dark tunnels and creatures, alien creatures are jumping out at you. It's very visceral, absolutely. So it's a great game for VR, which is what I'm talking about. It was like Half-Life was this before VR, but it was sort of a perfect marriage, I think, of a game and VR. Great, great experience. All right, so here are my three predictions for 2021. You ready?

J: Yes.

E: Ready.

S: I'm kind of following the same pattern as 2020. They're serious predictions, but they're very high probability, although there's something specific in there, so they can be wrong. Prediction number one, the Artemis mission's return to the moon will be delayed by one to two years, and that will become apparent in 2021. Number two, the closest FRB, that's a fast radio burst, source to the Earth will be discovered. So in 2021, an FRB source will be discovered that will be at that time the closest to the Earth.

E: Di d you look up [inaudible].

C: Didn't that happen this year too?

S: Yeah. I think they recently discovered one from within-

E: In our galaxy.

S: Yeah, our galaxy.

C: I love the ones where every year, it's just the newer version of the same prediction.

S: And number three, I don't think I've made an FRB prediction that before. And then number three is a remarkable archaeological find will disrupt our current understanding of the time period in question.

C: That's so bullshit.

S: A disruptive archaeological find.

C: It's so good.

E: It sounds impressive.

C: It happened like 50 times this year.

S: No, come on. No, this would have to be truly disruptive.

C: Okay. Okay.

S: Yeah, there's definitely some wiggle room there. All right, who wants to go next?

E: All right, here were my predictions for 2020. An earthquake during the Olympic Games in Japan with limited loss of life, but damage will have an impact on the venues, canceling some events. No. You see, the Olympic Games in Japan did not happen in 2020 due to COVID.

C: That's so sad.

E: They've been postponed until the summer of 2021. So obviously, that's a miss. Next one.

S: So your prediction was disrupted by COVID.

E: Yeah, I know. COVID got in the way. Damn it. Who saw that coming? My second prediction was the cyber crime of the century as Visa, MasterCard, or American Express get hacked, compromising data for over a billion users worldwide. Oh, my gosh.

C: That probably happened.

E: No, it didn't happen. No, no. In fact, some of the more egregious cyber crimes took place prior to 2020. There was some in 2019, 2018, but that trend apparently did not continue into 2020. There was cyber crime, but nothing near a billion users being hacked. So that's wrong, too. And then my last one. Three major heads of state will resign in 2020, but none of them would be Trump. OK, so that part I got right. None of them Trump. Now, I looked up list of resignations for 2020. And you have to tell me if these are major heads of states. Hashim Taichi resigns as president of Kosovo.

S: President? Sure.

E: President? OK. And then we have Hassan Diab resigned as prime minister of Lebanon in the wake of the explosion.

S: Yeah, I'll give you prime minister.

E: And that was it as far as heads of states.

S: So two out of three.

E: So I got two out of three. I didn't know if you were going to allow Kosovo and Lebanon to be considered major.

C: I think the leader of any country is a major world leader.

E: I'll take that in this context. No doubt about it. So my score was 0.667 out of three, which is not good. Now, here are my 2021 predictions. Ready? An earthquake during the Olympic Games in Japan with limited loss of life but damage will have an impact on the venues, canceling some events. See what I did there?

S: Yeah.

E: I can do that because.

S: You can.

E: Because if COVID is going to play that game, I'm going to play this game. So that prediction will happen in 2021. Number two, global warming trends will plateau in 2021. They will be the same as 2020 or no more severe.

S: So, Evan, I'll just tell you, 2021 is going to be a La Nina year. It'll probably be cooler in 2021.

E: Yes. I am already ahead of the game. And third, a prominent celebrity psychic will come clean and confess that their entire career has been a ruse.

S: No, you can't even.

J: You can't even.

E: Okay. Okay. A year from now. Let's talk about it.

S: All right. Bob, you go.

B: So I found my predictions from last year. I did horribly. I predicted for 2020, Jay will be sick. I got that one. I predicted that we will confirm dark energy does not exist. I don't know what the hell I was thinking, but that did not happen.

E: It's one of those things, Bob, where if you were right, you'd be like, oh, Bob's brilliant.

B: That's true. Let's see. I predicted for 2020 a major deep fake political scandal, which was an eminently reasonable prediction to make a year ago. And it'll probably happen next year. But it will happen. I think everyone's pretty positive that we will be seeing those at some point. And for my final prediction for 2020, let's see. We will find solid indirect evidence of extraterrestrial technology. Yeah, that was me swinging for the fences and did not find that yet. That would have been just-

E: Not solid.

C: Just got to keep doing that one every year, Bob.

E: Nothing solid.

B: Let's see. So for I predict 2021, first quarter, a plague of bunnies.

E: Bunny plague?

C: What?

B: That's my – yes, a plague of bunnies.

E: Like when rabbits got loose in Australia?

B: Yes. A plague of bunnies, though. These are bunnies.

C: How do we identify?

B: Oh, it'll be obvious. It'll be obvious. That's my requisite real silly prediction. I predict that in 2021 we'll have a COVID SARS-2 variant that is decidedly less lethal than the handful of strains that are out right now. And actually that one's not unreasonable. That often happens with illnesses like this where it comes out with a less virulent strain than was initially out and about. And for my third prediction, 2021, there will be a naked eye visible supernova in the night sky. Now, to vastly increase the odds of this prediction actually happening, I will also predict that the supernova will only be visible in the hemisphere of the earth that I am currently not in.

E: I thought you were going to go with the cloud cover.

B: No. It will happen. It'll be spectacular. But it will be on the opposite side of the planet that I'm currently in no matter which hemisphere I'm in.

E: How long would that remain visible in the sky for? Do you have to be there that night to see it?

B: No, it could be days or weeks. But, of course, if I flew there, it would be cloud cover.

E: Well, see, okay. I knew cloud cover was going to come into that at some point.

C: Yeah, somehow Bob will not be able to directly observe it.

B: That's part of my prediction. I will have failed if I could see it.

S: Well, I mean, the thing is, if it's in the southern hemisphere, like an unexpected supernova pops up in the southern hemisphere, we're not going to be able to get down there in two weeks. We'll miss it.

C: Yeah, you could.

B: Yes.

C: If you want it too bad, yeah.

B: But it's physically possible for me to get down there within two weeks.

S: It's not. I mean, no, it would not be physically possible for me to do that because I can't cancel patients with less than two weeks' notice.

B: Well, then go there without you, wouldn't I?

E: But if they knew it was a supernova, they would understand.

S: No, it doesn't work that way.

C: I feel like I could do it because I only see patients Monday through Thursday, and they're all telehealth. So I could travel on the weekend and then just wake up at odd hours, unless it was directly below me.

S: I guess I could go over the weekend.

C: In my time zone. Exactly. It's doable.

B: Can you imagine?

C: It would be much easier if it were in, like, South America than if it were in Australia.

S: Well, how far south would you have to go to see it?

C: I don't know about that. It's more just about time zones. It'd be much easier.

S: I mean, it could just be, like, just below the equator, so we would have to go to, like, Florida to see it or something.

C: You'd still have to go farther.

B: Just go to a really tall building.

C: You could go to Ecuador. Yeah. It'd be a really tall building. This is a science podcast.

E: Really tall.

S: No, but I mean, if it were overhead just below the equator, you wouldn't have to go to the equator to see it.

C: That's true.

E: No. No, it would be visible in both hemispheres.

C: Yeah, you're right.

S: I just have to go far enough south that it would pop up above our horizon.

E: Remember when we saw Orion in New Zealand?

S: Yeah. It was awesome.

E: Upside down from the direction we see it.

B: Yeah, that was great.

J: It's so weird, isn't it?

B: How do you explain that? How could it be upside down? Look at the moon. It's upside down, too.

C: Jay.

J: Yeah?

C: Are yours more interesting? Because mine sucks, so I want to go next. So you can close with better ones.

J: Yeah, go ahead. You go next.

C: Okay. All right. I am ready to share my psychic predictions.

S: Well, you got yours from last year?

C: Yeah. So last year, I predicted that the pound would spike and then plummet after Brexit, which is kind of confusing because Brexit is a vague term. But if you actually look back at all of the times the referendum and the deal were pushed back, the negotiation was extended again January 31st. Okay. 11 p.m., January 31st, the UK officially withdrew from the EU. So we'll call that the Brexit day. And then when I looked at the pound versus the dollar, there was a minor spike and a minor like dip.

S: Plummet.

C: Yeah, right after that. But if we were to look at plummets, that would have been on March 19th, 20th. Biggest plummet, which I think I could be wrong, is tied to COVID.

S: Again, COVID disrupting psychic predictions.

C: Everything. Yeah. Okay. Number two, a gene drive will be successfully implemented in the wild. Parenthesis, it doesn't mean the outcome will be successful. It just means that it will be successfully implemented. So I think that that happened.

S: I think so, yeah.

C: But gene drive strategy for mosquitoes. And I want to say there were two, like there was one in Florida and maybe one somewhere in South or Central America. But I'm going to have to do more digging to really, because like this is a complicated one in terms of small scale studies, large releases. What do we consider a wild release? Yeah. But I think that was one of those like it's pretty clearly going to happen because we're right there with the research.

S: It's happening.

C: Yeah. And then number three, more species will go extinct than in any previous recorded years, which I don't think is true, but it seemed like a good bet, sadly.

E: Sad bet.

C: If I was going to be really cynical, which it looks like I was pretty freaking cynical when I placed these. For 2021, looking forward, trying to come up with a more successful strategy, we've got number one, more acres will burn worldwide than in any other modern recorded year. Number two, sales on home gym equipment will reach an all time high.

J: Oh, yeah. That was good, Cara.

E: That's good.

C: No, this is new.

E: Oh, this is coming up.

J: Oh, okay.

C: But I think it's actually going to be higher in 21 than 20, because yes, it's true that in 20, nobody could leave their houses, so they bought home gym equipment, but then they didn't use it. So I think in 2021, when they realize that they put on those extra quarantine pounds and they still can't go to the gym, then they're actually going to really spend more money. And then number three, a great political mind will unexpectedly die.

S: Okay.

C: Sufficiently vague?

E: No, there's some specificity there. More than an earthquake will happen or people will die if a plane crashes. I mean-

C: True. Yeah.

J: All right. So last year, for some reason, I decided that all of my predictions were just going to be silly jokes.

S: Okay.

J: I'll give you a couple of samples. The US government will begin a fake news tax on social media sites. I think that that would be actually a good idea.

B: We gotta do something, man.

J: Another one I said was that Mark Zuckerberg will be called in front of Congress again, and it will be revealed that he was actually lip syncing the whole time.

C: I think he was in front of the Senate this year again.

E: Is that a South Park episode?

J: No, but I was like, the joke was more like he's a robot. But anyway, all of mine were ridiculous. So none of them could possibly come true. But I do have 2021 predictions for you.

S: Okay.

J: It will be revealed that Donald Trump leaked US secrets to foreign entities. Cryptocurrency value will significantly increase as more people start to use it as their main currency.

E: Wow. Main currency. Okay.

J: Due to lack of trust in governments. China will crack down on protesters in Hong Kong using lethal force.

S: Didn't that already happen?

J: Well, I was thinking on a larger scale like not even trying to hide it anymore type of lethal force.

E: Is there open fire on people?

J: Well, it's very hard to see that far into the future. I'm trying.

E: It is.

J: And the last one, I'm just hoping that the last one comes true. Beards will go out of style.

C: That's never going to happen.

B: Whoa, never.

C: That's never happened.

J: Well they came back with a vengeance like what, five years ago? Like it became hugely popular. You know, it was like tattoos kind of had their heyday and then beards took over.

C: Yeah. But the beard has staying power.

S: Well, Jay, I think we charitably say that beards will go back down to their floor, their baseline floor. But yeah, they won't be in style above and beyond their historic levels anymore.

E: Interesting.

C: Is there something, Jay, just to pry a little bit, is there something that you think will replace the beard?

E: The mutton chop.

C: Will it be the clean shaven? Will it be the moustache? The mutton chops? The soul patch?

J: No, I mean, the mutton chops inspired me. I felt something from the Kashuk Library. It's going to be it's definitely going to be polyester pants.

C: Oh, just on your face?

J: No, no, no. People will start wearing, like, polyester pants again. They'll make the noise of zip, zip when you walk that.

C: Oh, like, oh, like parachute pants?

B: No, not those.

E: You want a low probability psychic prediction.

J: No, really, really tighten the butt and really loosen the legs, you know what I mean?

C: Tighten the butt, lose in the legs.

J: Yeah, that's what I'm looking for. It's going to happen.

E: Okay.

C: Somebody hire this man up to be your fashion consultant.

E: That's right.

J: I'm writing that down as a prediction for next year.

S: I think we have some solid predictions here.

J: Thanks, Steve. Good stuff, man.

S: We're going to have bunnies with beards. You know, it's the kind of crazy stuff that's going to happen in 2021. All right. We have time for a few news items.

News Items[edit]

The New SARS-CoV-2 variant (48:30)[edit]

S: Cara, I think we had to pretty much talk about this one. Getting a lot of questions about the emergence of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant. What does this mean for the pandemic?

C: Right. So we, as mentioned at the top of the show, are recording this on the evening of Tuesday, December 29th. I want to make that clear just because the news is changing literally every day with regards to this new variant. A lot of people are calling this the British variant because it looks like it was first identified in Kent and very quickly became the dominant variant in London. The big news coming out today after an article was just published in a preprint, a preprint of an article was just published in the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases, is that it does appear to be the case after now multiple investigations through different sort of avenues that this new variant is indeed more transmissible. But there is no evidence as of yet that it is in any way more deadly. It does not seem to increase mortality. It does not seem to make people sicker, but it does seem to spread more quickly. And there are a lot of different potential reasons for that that we're still trying to zero in on. So the new study, which I'll just mention quite quickly, and then maybe we can talk in more depth about the variant itself. And again, this is a preprint. This is not yet peer-reviewed, so keep that in mind. But you are already seeing in a fair amount of sort of public write-ups of this individual researchers that are at the top of their field from different nations being quoted. So even though it hasn't been peer-reviewed by the journal yet, there are a fair amount of experts in the field that have read this research and are willing to comment on it at this point. And for the most part, what I've been reading is that people are saying that this is pretty good evidence and that it's something that's important for us to look at. So basically, these researchers did some computer modeling, and they used a lot of different ideas in their model, everything from places where people go, residential workplaces, grocery stores, pharmacies, retail locations, transit. They looked at hospitalizations. They looked at how many people are living within close quarters. And they modeled out the spread of the virus based on where we were previously seeing transmission and how things have changed since this new variant was detected. And they were able to come to the conclusion based on the evidence they have, and they were very clear to say this, more evidence is needed and this number will likely change. But that this new variant is 56% more transmissible than preexisting variants of SARS-CoV-2. You may have read in some outlets earlier in the week that the UK government was saying it could be up to 70% more transmissible. So the newest number that seems to have some amount of consensus right now is that it's 56% more transmissible. But again, that's based on modeling. There are a lot of other ways that different labs are researching this new variant. They're looking at it genetically. They're looking at its biology. This was based on computer modeling. So let's talk about the actual variant. It's being dubbed B.1.1.7. So if you hear B.1.1.7, that is what they're referring to. And it appears to have 23 different mutations on it. There are some changes to an RNA sequence on the ORF1A protein. There are some mutations that occurred on the ORF1B protein. There's a deletion of a gene. But the major, major changes that we're seeing here and the ones that seem to be leading heavily to the increase in transmissibility are the mutations that occurred on the spike protein. So we remember when we talked about the spike protein that there are these spikes on the outside of the virus that are used to latch onto and enter into human cells. The spike protein gene is going to code for that protein that produces those spikes. And so some researchers are saying that it could be the case that this variant is spreading more rapidly because it latches on more readily to cells. Some are saying perhaps it's not because it latches on more readily to cells, but perhaps it is in fact because it stays virulent for longer, that people shed the virus for longer. And because of that, they're more infectious. It could be that they are actually getting higher viral loads because of this. And it could be that some individuals that maybe wouldn't have been infected before are more likely of getting infected. None of that is known right now. But what we do know is that there is a demonstrable difference in the infection rate. So when we look at known exposure within the UK where this research is being done, known exposure to individuals with the previous and the well-established coronavirus version that most of us have been discussing to this point, that had a 9.8% infection rate. This new variant has a 15.1% infection rate. What that means is that if an individual is known to have been exposed to someone that was already infected with the variant, then they will infect either 15.1% or 9.8% of other individuals that they're exposed to. So that's a significant increase there. That said, I think we have to be careful when we talk about variants and mutations when it comes to viruses. Because it can sound pretty clear, even by the way that I'm talking, that there's the old SARS-CoV-2 and now there's the new SARS-CoV-2. But we know that mutations happen all the time. And they generally happen at a relatively predictable rate. What's been, "astounding", like people are literally calling this astounding, about this strain is that the mutation rate happened incredibly quickly, quicker than it, "should have happened" according to modeling. And so that's where people are becoming concerned. But even the SARS-CoV-2 that somebody you know caught last week is different than the SARS-CoV-2 that somebody caught months and months ago. Because mutations are always occurring in viruses. This is different enough that we can call it its own variant. And it's different enough and happened so quickly that researchers are concerned. But let's allay, I think, some of those concerns. Again, to repeat, because I think this is very important. There is no evidence to suggest that this variant is more deadly or even increases sickness. The only evidence that we have available right now is that it spreads more quickly. Now the question, also, by the way, you may hear about a variant in South Africa that is a different variant. That variant has now also shown up in the UK. That is another mutated version of SARS-CoV-2. It's independent from the UK variant that I've been discussing, the B.1.1.7. As of this morning, I found evidence. I think WAPO wrote up an article that the first variant of the UK variant, the first patient with a positive test of the UK variant, was identified in the US. It happened outside of, I can't remember the name of the town, but it happened in Colorado, which is in Elbert County. In South Park, exactly. Of course, in South Park. In Elbert County, about 50 miles southeast of Denver. Here's an interesting thing. The individual who is now in isolation had no travel history. No travel history, and most people with this variant did. The first variant that we've detected here in the US, that tells us something really important, which is that this is very likely already spreading within the community. If this person didn't get it from traveling, they probably got it from somebody else who got it from somebody else. Some of the papers and the commentary that I've been reading from epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists at some really kind of large institutions, follows the reasoning that in some ways the UK is sort of getting punished for being really good with gene sequencing. Whereas here in the US, we've sort of been behind the curve when it comes to gene sequencing because we haven't had a coordinated viral response. In the UK, where they have the National Health Service, the response to the pandemic, at the very least, has been incredibly coordinated. Even though we have a lot of gene sequencing resources here in the US, we're not using them in a coordinated fashion. What some of the commentary that I've been reading is, is that because the UK identified this variant quickly, and because they did so much good research on it now, and now for, I think, a reasonable public health measure, we're seeing that a lot of countries are closing their borders to the UK. Here in the US, we haven't closed our borders, but we have required testing. That's a new change.

S: It's too late, though. So, Cara, just reading it just today, India confirmed six cases of the new variant.

C: Oh, yeah, it's in 17, 18 countries now. Yeah, it's spread all over the world. But the question is, is the UK being penalized for having done this research when it's highly likely that there are other variants out there, but nobody is actually taking the time to sequence the genomes of the coronavirus cases? And so we just don't know. It's a black box here. In the UK, they actually did the research, and they said, look, we have this variant that was several weeks ago, it was just a few cases. Then we saw in London that it made up something like 20% of the cases. And then only three weeks later, it was 60% of the cases. And that's when they started to get concerned and started to really dig deep into this. So that's, I mean, that's neither here nor there. It's just an interesting idea. But long story short, I do think that there's some interesting takeaways here. People are asking, why? Why? If we know that viruses are always mutating, and we know that there's sort of a predictable mutation rate, why is it that this particular variant, that the South African variant, and potentially others are mutating so quickly?

S: Maybe it's because it's spreading more than we realize because of all the asymptomatic cases.

C: Right. So some people are saying it could be because there's this spread that is undetectable because of either asymptomatic or low-level symptomatic cases. Some people are saying maybe there's a handful of super spreader events that are responsible for these particular cases. Just like when we look at evolution and nature, if you have a bottleneck, then all of a sudden you'll see this one individual thing sort of take over. It could be that these genes are taking over so quickly because there were a handful of super spreader events that haven't yet been identified.

S: A couple of things. So just to be clear, the vaccine covers this variant, so this isn't going to make the vaccine not work. As far as we know.

C: We don't fully know, but it does seem to be the case that because our own immune response is just as good with this variant as with any other variant, that the vaccine, because it was developed utilizing that, will still work. Because this doesn't make us sick in a different way, it's very likely that the vaccine will work on this variant. But for how long, would there be a new variant that it wouldn't work on? We don't know, which is why we need to get to herd immunity fast.

S: All right. We'll keep an eye on this.

Satellites Made from Wood (1:00:16)[edit]

S: So this was a very interesting news item, very unusual. What do you guys think about making a satellite out of wood? Doesn't that sound totally counterintuitive?

C: Kind of, but when you see spacecrafts a lot in museums, it looks like they're made out of foil.

B: What kind of wood though, Steve? I've heard of woods that are amazingly resistant and resilient and tough. Even a treatment on wood. I found a news item like a year ago that we didn't talk about, but I read about it, that makes wood like crazy resistant and tough.

S: So I guess it depends on the type of wood. Lightweight, it's lightweight. And if you make it tough enough, why not? So Japan is developing, a Japanese company and the Kyoto University are developing the technology for possibly wood-based satellites. So we think our image of a satellite is something that's shiny and metal, very futuristic. And thinking about wood just doesn't really fit. But Bob is correct. It depends on the wood. But let's back up a little bit. Let's talk about what are the properties of the substance that you would want to build your satellite out of in the first place. So obviously they have to withstand the stress of being launched into orbit. So three to five, maybe more G's. That's not a problem for any reasonably strong material. If anything inside needs to be pressurized, this is probably the biggest strain. Like if you need one atmosphere inside the satellite for whatever reason. And obviously for a space station with people, you would absolutely need to be pressurized. And that's I don't think any wood of any size would withstand that. That would require a lot of force. But it would have to withstand the wide temperature variations that you get. Because like when you're in orbit, when you're exposed to the sun, the part of you that's exposed to the sun gets very, very hot. And the other side gets very, very cold. That's why they all rotate with respect to the sun so that they're sort of heating evenly. So that's one way to deal with that. And they also would have to withstand space junk slamming into them, right? But also you want them to be fairly light because you're launching it into orbit and you pay by the pound for that. So aluminium alloys is a very common substance to use. Aluminium is very light. And alloys of aluminium can be very, very strong. And the strength per weight is very good. So that's a common material that satellites are made out of. For example, Kevlar, also a good material. It's got a lot of the properties in terms of being lightweight and strong and very resistant to temperature variations.

B: And impacts.

S: And impacts. So you have ballistic impact. So it's got a lot of perfect properties for surviving up there. So Kevlar and aluminium are two very common materials that are being used. So the idea is then could we replace, for example, the aluminium casing on a satellite with wood? So the properties of wood depend on, the big factor is the ratio of cellulose and lignin. They're the two sort of polymers that make up the major constituent of wood in terms of its strength and durability. Obviously, its structure makes a difference as well. So yes, there are kinds of wood, especially if they're treated. As Bob said, there are polymers that you could use to treat the wood that would increase its strength even further. So you can make versions of wood that would be as strong as the aluminium alloys and similar in weight. But here's the interesting thing. Wood has a property that might make it superior for some applications. And that is that it's transparent in many of the frequencies used in satellite communication.

B: Oh, wow.

C: Wait, what?

E: Transparent.

C: Oh, in the frequencies. Okay.

S: In the frequencies used by like radio waves satellite communication. So if you – one of the big things about vulnerabilities of a communication satellite is that you have to get the transmitters and receivers outside of the aluminium shell. And so they have to unfurl or unfold in some way. But imagine if you just had a solid wood casing that doesn't have to unfold and all the electronic equipment is on the inside. And it's completely transparent in the frequencies being used for communication. So it actually would make it a lot easier, a lot less vulnerable, maybe even cheaper. So there might be certain applications for which it's advantageous. Now, some of the reporting about this focuses a lot on the – using wood satellites, wooden satellites in order to minimize space junk.

J: So how would that help though?

S: But that's an interesting – yeah, exactly. How would that help? That's an interesting angle.

B: Maybe they don't shatter the same way.

S: Well, no. Just it won't really help at all because if something's going to be left up there, it's going to be left up there no matter what it's made out of. You know, having pieces of a wooden satellite flying around. Again, if the wood has the properties we need it to have in terms of strength, et cetera, it's still not going to be good flying around as space junk. But most space junk is not used satellites anyway. And the answer to that in any case is deorbiting the satellites when their lifespan is over. You know, some people are saying the real advantage is that when it deorbits and it burns up in the atmosphere, it's more environmentally friendly. So that's the whole space junk angle. If we deorbit the satellites, the wooden satellites, then when they burn up in the atmosphere, they won't be putting alumina or other sort of potentially toxic substances into the atmosphere. It will just be burning wood which is organic.

J: I find this kind of strange because more because of my ignorance. I never heard about people being concerned about polluting our atmosphere or the planet with debris from satellites.

S: Yeah, that's because it's not really a problem. And for a couple of reasons, one is just the volume is not that great. But second, the upper atmosphere, like they get burned up really high in the atmosphere. You know, it's probably not going to be a significant environmental impact. So some people are commenting on the fact that it's kind of solving a non-existent problem and it's not solving the problem that is existent. And so not really sure why they're doing this, but it was still is interesting to think that there may be ways to use wood in the construction of satellites that is actually advantageous. The other point that some of the commenters are making, the people the experts who are reviewing this proposal is a lot of the guts of the satellite would have to be the same. All the electronics have to still be aluminium and metal and conducting material, whatever. And so this is really, we're really just talking about like the casing the outer casing, things like that, not any of the guts. And so is that really, what's the contribution of that anyway? You're still going to, all the metallic electronics are still going to be burning up in the atmosphere when you de-orbit them. So I don't think this is going to be a solution to space junk. And again, that's kind of a weird angle for the reporting to take in some cases. But there is very, like Ars Technica had a very good article about it where they sort of put it into perspective very well. But most of the straight up, like news outlets just took that framing without really questioning it. But we may who knows, maybe in a few years we'll be seeing wood enclosed satellites. I think that one notion that it actually makes sense for communication satellites because it's transparent in radio frequencies is very compelling. Because like not having to unfurl could be a massive advantage-

J: I'm sure it would lower the cost.

S: -in terms of construction and safety.

B: Complexity.

J: Until you see the numbers like, yeah, this is all, it's interesting, but it doesn't matter until the dollars are lined up and you can see what the costs are.

S: Yeah, it's right now, they're developing the technology. They're going to first, they're going to build one. They're going to engineer it just on earth and then test it just to see what features it has. Then they'll engineer it for orbit. And then we'll see how it does. And it's going to take a few years just to develop the basic technology of wood based satellites. But not something I would have predicted that we're going to, it feels like going backwards. You know, that's why it's like wood having anything to do with space made out of wood sounds totally counter-intuitive.

E: It's actually a Futurama episode about that.

S: Of course there is. Of course there is.

Quantum Computing (1:09:41)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, you have an update for us on quantum computing. Is this a real breakthrough or just like another incremental advance?

B: It's maybe potentially more than just incremental. But it depends. It depends. Let's see. Yeah, so yet another interesting quantum computer advance that could, like I was saying, set the stage for many of its brethren in the future. This time it involves quantum dots and two dimensional arrays. So will this advance be a critical stepping stone for near future commercial quantum computers? I have no effing idea. But it's interesting nonetheless. Let's go through this. This is in the recently published Nature Communications. So a pan-European collaboration in partnership with French microelectronics leader Sayaleti. They've been working for years on this underlying technology that could support future quantum computers from different potentially revolutionary angles. One angle has to do with the wafers. The wafers that microelectronics are created on. And Sayaleti makes them and they've got billions – they can put billions of transistors and other components on these wafers. And now if those same foundry processes could create qubits, for example, in quantum circuits, then you could potentially see how important this could be. You could potentially create orders of magnitude more components for the quantum computer, quantum circuits, qubits. And so that could be dramatic if that's even feasible at all. Because if you think about it, a lot of the qubits made today are made in labs and they make five of them or 50 or 100. I mean the fastest quantum computer on the planet is, I think, 96 qubits. Not a lot yet. So now to do this, though, you just can't print this on using conventional techniques. You need to be creating different structures that are amenable to a quantum computer. And that's where the quantum dots come in. Now quantum dots, I think we've already probably mentioned these a couple times on the show. These are artificial semiconductor nanoparticles. They could be crystals. They could be electrons or even electron holes. And they're known as artificial atoms since they can behave like atoms in some important ways. Like, for example, they could combine electrons within specific energy levels. So they're very, very tiny, 1 ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. And that's so small that quantum effects come into play. They're both photoluminescent and electroluminescent, two words that I instantly fell in love with that I haven't really come across very often. That just means that in the presence of light and electric current, it could make the quantum dots will emit a very pure wavelength of light, which is based on their size. And as you might imagine, something like this could have very many versatile applications in optical and electrical industries, medicine, optics, nanotech, quantum research, and TVs. You may be watching a TV that has quantum dots in them to produce the wide array of colors that you see. So one of the big ideas is to use these quantum dots in two-dimensional arrays by arranging them in these two-by-two arrays. And then using those arrays to create the things that are needed, like qubits and quantum circuits, and then control the electrons that are at the heart of the quantum dots. And that's exactly what they've pulled off here. Got a quote from Fabio Anzalone. He's a postdoc at the Center for Quantum Devices, NBI. He said, what we have shown is that we can realize single electron control in every single one of these quantum dots. This is very important for the development of a qubit, because one of the possible ways of making qubits is to use the spin of a single electron. So reaching this goal of controlling a single electron and doing it in a 2D array of quantum dots was very important to us. So what he's talking about here is using the spin, up and down spin, of an electron to make it like the 1 and the 0 of the classical bit. So another angle to their research, though, and this one you may have heard before, has to do with minimizing the qubit errors that plague computers. Error correction, when it comes to any computer, is a big deal. If you look at your phone right now or your desktop, these are classical computers. How old are the computers like this? They're very, very old. They've been around for so long, but even they can have errors. A binary 1 can change to a binary 0 for unavoidable reasons, and it's happening all the time. It could be even something like a cosmic ray. Jay, we talked about this relatively recently. A cosmic ray can go in and flip one of your bits, and then what happens? So your computer calculations are now wrong? So what they do and what they've been doing for years is they do the calculations using repetition code. They actually will do the calculations multiple times. So if the answers don't match, then you know there's a problem. So if you get three 1s as an answer and one 0 as an answer, then you could assume that that 0 is the mistake because you have three or four other ones that said it was not a 0, that it was a 1. So that's a classical computer. But now with the quantum computers, they need error correction as well, but you can't do the same type of error correction because you cannot perfectly replicate a qubit. So how are you going to do it? How are you going to deal with this error correction? Well, some of you may have guessed it. The quantum dot arrays can help with that. If these quantum dots are in a two-dimensional array, they can actually, in a sense, error correct each other in a way. So just by having the array can deal with this error correction problem at least to some degree. And in fact, some of these scientists actually believe that they are essential. These arrays, these two-dimensional arrays are essential to efficiently implementing quantum computer error correction. So this may be the way to go. You may absolutely need to have these arrays if you really want to deal with error correction in quantum computers. And if we don't deal with error correction, then we're screwed. I mean it's vitally important. So that's the crux of what they created. So what's new for this research? They've shown now that they can control the electrons in these quantum dots. They can deal with them. They can move them around and swap them out and things like that. The next thing they need to be able to do then is to detect the spin of these particles. And once that's done, then you can start creating these quantum logic gates, which are analogous to the classical logic gates that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. Like AND, OR, NAND. These are used in Boolean logic. And once you have Boolean logic in your computer, no matter what kind of computer it is, then you can start using all of the algorithms and mathematics that are amenable to Boolean logic. And that's, oh my god, once you've got that, that's it. You've got the keys to the city. Once you have this, once you can create this and you have a complete set of quantum gates, then theory says that what we now have then is this universal quantum computing architecture. And you could do everything that is promised with quantum computing. So yeah, so this seems to me to be a decent advance. They've spent years and years doing all the small incremental steps that it's taken to get to this point. So it's definitely a little bit more of an incremental advance. And we could potentially be looking back on this and say, wow, yeah, this was the way to do it. Because there seems to be lots of different ways to go about doing this, lots of different ways to create qubits. And this may be the way to create these quantum circuits and quantum logic gates. It may be the most efficient way to do it, the most efficient way to deal with error correction. And if that's the case, then this day, then this this advance will definitely be remembered. But we'll see. Things are changing so fast with quantum computers. It's like battery technology. I see articles all the time about these incremental advances and different directions that people are going in. So it's tough to predict where it's going to end up in 10 in 10 or 20 years. So we'll have to see. But this one looks pretty interesting. Check it out online if you're interested.

S: Yeah, definitely. I think we're going to be seeing quantum computing in our future. But as you often say, it's not going to be on your desktop. It'll be behind the scenes working in some capacity, but it will be changing our world.

B: Doing things that classical computers will never be able to do, not in a million billion years.

Who's That Noisy? (1:18:16)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, it's who's that noisy time.

J: All right, guys, last time we did a show, here was the noisy.


What do you think?

E: Nothing's coming to mind. Gee whiz.

B: Cheese whiz.

E: Cheese whiz, yes.

J: So a listener named Kyle Pizzola wrote in. So, hi, Jay. I think that the noise is a large piece of dock equipment that moves in a pendulum motion. Or it's Steve groaning when his dog gets another package. That is a fantastic guess. A big piece of dock equipment that's I could see it like moving with the water or something. That's not correct, but I think that was a really cool inventive guess that you came up with. Another listener named Jason S. wrote in and said, hey, Jay, this week's noisy is definitely a large machine. So considering it's outside, is it a car crusher? If you haven't seen one of those, check them out on YouTube. There really are monster machines. It is not a car crusher. And the one thing about the car crusher that I would say is it probably wouldn't have that repeat kind of sound happening. And I've seen them many times over the years on YouTube, whatever. And I don't think they sound like that either. But it is a cool guess because, of course there's lots of steel and metals being bent and whatnot.

C: Is it outside?

J: This is, in fact, an outside sound. Yes.

C: All right. So they must have picked up on something I couldn't hear. Birds or something. By the way, Jay, to that first guess, have you guys not just Jay, everybody. Have you guys ever watched high speed dock footage?

J: Like what do you mean? What's high speed about it?

C: So like there will be these fixed cameras around different docks and you know how they run all through the night. And a lot of their machinery is robotic. And they'll fix these high speed cameras on them. And then you watch this kind of sped up dock footage. It's fascinating. It's like I think one of my favorite meditative things to look at.

B: Really?

C: It's stunning. Yeah. There's something really weird about high speed dock footage that just captures me. I highly recommend everybody look at it.

J: Well, you have all the boats coming and going and coming and going.

C: And not just that, lifting all of the big shipping containers and stacking them. And it's almost like these giant cranes. And everything looks like a toy when it's done in high speed photography.

J: It has a meditative quality to it.

C: Totally. It's amazing.

S: There's also that way to focus the lens to make big things seem like tiny toys.

C: Yeah, like teeny tiny toys. And they're just like stacking and unstacking and stacking.

B: Yeah, it's not so much the sped up nature of it. It is the angle and how you film it that could reproduce that. It's so cool.

C: It could be that too, yeah.

B: It looks like a little toy model, but it's not.

C: It's beautiful.

S: Is that your ASMR, Cara?

C: That might be my version of ASMR is weird dock footage. What does that say about me?

J: I looked up the physics on how they take those pictures. What is it about it? And it all has to do with, I guess, the focal length. Yeah, that's called tilt shift. And they're doing something to a special lens to change the focal quality.

C: I love it. Look up tilt shift dock footage and just zen out with me.

J: So another listener named Ryan Gebhardt wrote in. Said hi, Jay. My name is Ryan from Minnesota. Found you all a few weeks ago and been binging the podcast since. This is my first What's That Noisy? Ryan, you will figure out that the name of this segment is Who's That Noisy? But you're a young listener, so no worries. For the December 19th noisy, my first thought was a metal bed frame dragging like in a suspenseful movie. I think that's pretty cool. You know what I mean? You can hear like that noise, like something dragging. Just so listeners know, whatever your first guess is in the email, that's the one I take because you can't shotgun me with five guesses or whatever. People like say, hey, I thought of this and I thought of this and I thought of that. I'll always just go with the first one. So anyway, I thought that that guess was pretty cool. That is not it, though. I thought I could see why you picked that. A couple more. Ryan Boyes wrote in, so hi, Jay. Love the show. My guess is almost certainly wrong, but you got to try it. I'm going to say it's a failing wind turbine as its bearings give up the ghost. I thought that that was a really cool guess and I looked it up. And here is what a wind turbine, a normal wind turbine sounds like. [plays wind turbine noise] And that is about at 50 meters. And that's one fan or one turbine. So I did see video of turbines like crashing and burning in all sorts of different ways. But none of them made like that epically creaky noise that was happening. But I did do a little reading about wind turbines just because I was looking up the sounds that they make and the distance. It was pretty interesting, like how far the sound travels and what happens to the sound as it as it as it gets farther and farther away. Of course, the volume goes down. But then there's the added complexity of multiple turbines. And, of course, the weather has a huge impact on how much noise that they put out. But they're not as loud as you would think. Now, it's definitely not as much as people complain. One last guess before the winner. Of course, this is Visto Tutti. He sent in a joke guess. But the whole point was that Visto guessed every single who's that noisy this year.

B: Yay!

C: I love that.

J: That's why I stuck with him because he really committed himself. He did it. I feel like it was a little adventure he and I went on together. It was a lot of fun. One thing that I don't think everyone realized was that every email he sent, he wrote a different thing in Italian at the end of the email.

B: Cool.

J: Which I also thought was a lot of fun. So, Visto, I must meet you at some point. We must get together and have a drink or whatever.

E: Meatball.

J: Yeah. And, of course, eating meatballs. That will always happen if you're near me. But anyway, man, thanks a lot. I really appreciated all those guesses. You don't have to stop. But I'm just talking about 2020. It was a shit year and you made me smile a little bit during that year, especially everybody. Everybody made me smile this past year. All of my who's that noisy guessers. So many emails I can't read on the air because they're not appropriate that are more for me. I think they know it because everybody knows that we keep it clean on the show. Oh, my God. I have so many people send me wacky stuff and weird things. I just love it. It's great. All right. The winner. Let's get to it. Crystal Haka wrote in, said, this is the sound of New York City's Verrazano Bridge swaying in high winds on 11-30-2020. Listen again. You will not believe what the sound of this bridge makes. [plays Noisy] When you see the video of this, it's really it's pretty scary. The entire bridge is swaying like up and down, up and down a lot. You know, feet, multiple feet. And there are these joints where the bridge I guess there's multiple of these joints. These are the expansion and retraction joints. So it's kind of like taking two combs and putting them together and perfectly lining up the teeth of the comb in between the other teeth of the other comb. So they can go in and out, go in and out. Except it's giant pieces of steel teeth that are doing this kind of connecting and separating, connecting and separating type of thing. So that that must absolutely be the bulk of the of the noise that we're hearing is that steel rubbing against the other steel. So so the bridge can stretch and move. It also could. I do believe that part of the sound is coming from the cables. It's a suspension bridge. So the cables are probably making a big noise. But the thing that really freaks me out is my God, how much can steel reinforced concrete move? I mean, it's remarkable.

C: It's scary.

J: Like you hold a piece of concrete in your hand and you're like, this would not move. This would not bend in any way. Well, it does.

B: Especially if you put steel in it.

J: Yes. Especially if you put steel in it.

S: No, but that's actually the opposite of what's true, Bob. The steel is there so that it can move. The concrete is there to provide hardness to steel strength. The steel will return to true, will return to its original position after it's displaced, whereas the concrete is brittle and will fall apart. That's why steel reinforced concrete is the best of both worlds. It's strong and hard. That's exactly why it's made that way. If you had just concrete to be brittle, if you had just steel, it wouldn't be hard. And so if you combine the two and it works.

B: Yeah. But if I had some.

S: Bob, it's a matter of scale. Yes, if you're holding a small piece of concrete, you're going to think this is not going to move. But you've got to then a bridge of concrete is different.

B: Of course. You've got long expanses of the material and the more malleable, the more movable it is.

New Noisy (1:27:51)[edit]

S: Jay, what's your new noisy for this week?

J: All right, guys. This was a noisy sent in by a listener named Robert Bowmaker. What a cool name.

E: Yeah.

J: I'll just say he started his email by saying, hey, Bob. And then he crossed it out and it said, Jack, people are still doing it right now.

B: That's all right.

C: Love it.

J: So here is this, what I would consider to be a special noisy. I thought this was a fun way to end and begin the year because we're recording in 2020 and we will be playing this episode in 2021. Check this out.

[whooshing/whirring noise]

I'm going to play more versions of this next week. You'll understand. But do give me a guess. It definitely has a very large and busy sound to it. The only thing I'll say is you will be happily surprised at how cool and interesting this noisy actually is.

Announcements (1:29:01)[edit]

S: Well, Jay, we'll get the new year off to a start relatively soon in the year with our January 23rd 12 hour live stream. You guys are all looking forward to it.

E: Prepping already. Yep. Definitely.

S: I hope so. I hope you're prepping already. We've got a lot of material. It's like six shows to prep for.

J: Well, Ian and I have been working tirelessly. Like, I got a whole bunch of like the tiles, the green screen tile, the floor mat tiles that we use, Steve. I got a box of those. We have more green screen floor space, which is cool. I can't wait for everyone to see what we've done. I'll definitely show you the studio without the background just so you can see how we've changed it. And I have a person who listens to the show who also happens to work with my wife. He is a 3D digital artist, and he offered to help us out with some of our 3D design needs, which is really, really cool. So we're going to have something really cool to show you. It's going to be the set, the virtual set is going to be pretty awesome. I'm really excited about this whole thing. I think we're going to have a great time, and I think the food is going to be amazing.

S: Yeah, we'll see about that. All right, guys, let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:30:16)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction Year getting longer
Science Short Roman calendar
Gregorian vs Julian
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Year getting longer
Year getting longer
Year getting longer
Year getting longer

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.

Theme: The Calendar
Item #1: The ancient Roman calendar year originally contained only 304 days.[5]
Item #2: In the last 2000 years the year has increased by 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the Earth’s rotation.[6]
Item #3: While the Gregorian calendar was first proclaimed official in 1582, the Julian calendar is still used by several groups even though it is now 13 days off.[7]

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. It's a new year. We wipe the slate clean. Our eyes are all tied at nothing. So we'll see how you do. There's a theme this week because not much science news happens between Christmas and New Year's. So I did a theme. But in honour of the calendar switching over to a new year, I decided to make the theme the calendar. Okay, ready?

J: Yeah.

S: All right, here we go. Item number one, the ancient Roman calendar year originally contained only 304 days. Item number two, in the last 2,000 years, the year has increased by 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the Earth's rotation. And item number three, while the Gregorian calendar was first proclaimed official in 1582, the Julian calendar is still used by several groups, even though it is now 13 days off. So Cara, as last year's winner, you get to go first this year.

B: I love that.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: The ancient Roman calendar year originally contained only 304 days. So this is either a really good lie or it's true, as are everything in science or fiction, because it's off but not so off, which would make sense to be based on the observations of the time with the tools of the time. So yeah, I'm sort of liking that one. That one's not sticking in my craw. In the last 2,000 years, the year has increased by 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the Earth's rotation. And then lastly, while the Gregorian calendar was first proclaimed official in 1582, the Julian calendar is still used by several groups, even though it is now 13 days off. The Julian calendar, okay, so that would be post the ancient Roman calendar.

S: Yeah.

C: A Roman calendar after the ancient Roman calendar.

S: Yeah.

C: Okay, cool, because that's off by more than 13 days. I wouldn't be surprised if there are still like religious groups that use a Julian calendar. I like how you said several groups and not like nations. That one strikes me as something as maybe religious groups use it, but then they also still use obviously the calendar that they have to use for work, for example. Because I have a lot of Jewish friends and they use a different calendar. Actually, I think there are several new years within the Jewish tradition, depending on how orthodox you can be. So I wouldn't be surprised. And we've got Chinese New Years. There are a lot of different calendars that individuals use. So I don't know. That one doesn't surprise me. But the increasing of the year by 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the Earth's rotation. So that's not what leap years account for, right? That's not like that extra day every four years to sort of recheck. I don't do that kind of math in my head. Just 2.8 seconds per year. Is that what you're saying? The year has increased by 2.8 seconds per year.

S: 2.8 seconds over 2,000 years.

C: Over 2,000 years. So we're very different. Yeah. OK. And so we're saying that that's it would be different now, but it wouldn't. It would take so long to actually affect the calendar date that maybe that's true. But, oh, God, Steve, this one's hard. But I think I'm going to say the 2.8 seconds slowing of the Earth's rotation 2,000 years later. How could we know that? Probably from rocks. Dammit. Rocks tell us everything about magnets and spin. Whereas the Gregorian calendar, this one could have more things that are wrong. Like some of the things could be right, but some things could be wrong. Would you do that to us, Steve? You would, wouldn't you?

S: I have that.

C: I'll say the 2.8 seconds one's the fiction, but I'm probably wrong.

S: OK. Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: The ancient Roman calendar, 304 days. Well, it doesn't divide by 12 easily. So in that context, that one could be fiction. But not every month has an equal amount of days. So that would be the explanation there. So it puts it back into the plausibility category. And then the 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the Earth's rotation. I think the only question here, there's no doubt that that has been happening. But is it 2.8 seconds or did you order of magnitude this thing? Is it 28 seconds or is it another order, 280 seconds? So if that one's fiction, that I think would be the reason why. And then the last one about the Gregorian calendar and the Julian calendar. Yeah, several groups using it. Sure, because there's groups. I mean, that's a pretty vague term. But like Cara said, there's – she spouted off just what? Eight off the top of her head. There's probably dozens, maybe more obscure ones that we don't even know. So I think that one's right. So is it 304 days or 2.8 seconds? I will go with Cara. Cara, I'm hitching my star to you on this one.

C: Crap.

S: Okay, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: The ancient Romans with the 304-day calendar. When you hear things like this, you say that is pretty far off. It's very far off from what it should be. And how did they equate that? How did they deal with those differences? Unless the – I don't know. That just doesn't make much sense. But there is something that I do semi-recognize about it. I don't know. It's really hard. I have so much junk in my head. This one about the last 2,000 years. We've increased 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the earth's rotation. I don't know if we can calculate things that accurately. I wonder. I wonder if we can get that accurate with those types of calculations. And I would think 2,000 years is way too short. If this one is the fiction, to me, that's what number has been faked. And the last one, yeah, sure. I'm positive that there are people that use many different calendars around the world. And why not use the Julian calendar? So, I'll say the second one at 2.8 seconds is the fiction.

S: And Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Ancient Roman calendar 304. That seems low to me. I thought it would be a little bit higher, like 320 or something. Yeah, that's within error bars of my memory, I think. Gregorian calendar. Let's see. It was first. Wow. I haven't just focused on this 2,000-year 2.8 second one. I haven't really even looked at this third one. Yeah, yeah. I think there's some weirdos out there still using that. So, yeah. I think I got a problem with 2.8. I calculate that to be 0.38 hours per million years, which is a lot. And then if you go to like 100 million years ago, it's basically the earth would have been stopped. So, I think that's off by a lot. And, yes, they can be that accurate in terms of that kind of thing. This is all due to tidal breaking. You can thank the moon for this. Essentially what it's doing, the moon is tidal breaking the rotation of the earth.

E: Such a drag.

B: And then it's basically sloshing the oceans in its basin against our direction of rotation. And that is what's slowing down the spin of the earth. And, of course, that energy can't disappear. So, it's actually as the earth is slowing down, the moon is moving farther away. So, it's a fascinating dynamic. I just love that stuff. But, yeah, that 2.8 seconds per 2,000 years seems like too much. It's less than that. So, I'll say that's fiction as well.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Okay. So, you all agree on number two, which means we're starting the year with a sweep one way or the other. So, we'll take these in order. We'll start with the first one. The first one, the ancient Roman calendar year, originally contained only 304 days. You all think this one is science. And this one is science. And you guys were surprisingly okay with this.

B: Yeah. It seemed low. It seemed low to me. And I would have picked that one if it wasn't for the second one.

S: It seemed low. I mean, you think that their year was 61 days off?

C: I don't know.

S: That would be like every year the seasons would shift by two months.

C: Well, when you think about it that way, they must have had some sort of way to shift it back.

B: Yeah, but maybe it originally contained 304 days for a week. And then they changed it.

C: Maybe their days were longer. That's weird. How would they do that?

S: No, this is what they did. So, first of all, I should say, we're going to like 700 BCE, right? And what historians think was going on at that time is a lot of inference, you know? So, we're not sure. We have to say we're not sure about whatever was happening this far back. But the calendar was a 304-day calendar. The other 61 days was just off calendar.

B: Sex parties and stuff?

C: Yeah, they just didn't count that.

S: They just didn't count it. It was the winter. It was like the calendar year went from March to December. Then they took a break for the winter.

B: They're taking a break from time. That's awesome.

C: Yeah, because nobody could do anything. It was just cold and awful.

S: A very carefully worded it as the Roman calendar year because the rest of it is off calendar. It's just not part of the calendar.

C: That's kind of like all of 2020.

S: Yeah.

C: It's just been off calendar for us.

B: Remember what happened during that interstitial period between 2019 and 2021?

S: It was just – and this is very common just to have extra days in the calendar to make things work, right?

C: We do that with leap year.

S: But it's not just leap year. They were just like – I mean, various calendars throughout the world.

C: They just kind of stop and then start back up again.

S: Yeah, they just start and stop back up again.

C: But how do they know what day to start up again?

B: Yeah, right? You still need like some meta calendar.

C: That's what everybody in town agrees. It's like at the first frost.

S: Yeah, right. They had some way of estimating the seasons. The frigging druids could precisely measure the seasons and then they would just make it work.

E: Cherry blossoms.

C: Because the world was only so big back then. So yeah, like a bird saying that was pretty much everybody you knew and saw.

B: How long was their calendar year plus the off period? Add that together.

C: 365 days.

B: What was that? That's the real question.

S: Because it was 61 days. So you know that they had only 10 months, right? March. The year started in March.

C: That's why all of ours are off by two.

S: Yes.

C: Oct is 10.

S: Once you get to like September, October, November, December, that should be 7, 8, 9, 10. But they're 9, 10, 11, 12. They're off by two.

C: It's annoying.

S: So what happened was they added January, February between December and March in order to pick up those missing days. To make them part of the calendar. And even then the calendar was only 355 days. Because they were more obsessed with making the months more standardized. So you had the full months, the plenis months with 31 days. And then you had the hollow months which only had like 20 days.

B: They had Halloween.

C: Although that's on the 31st.

S: Hollow has nothing to do with Halloween. So this was the Republican calendar. And that lasted for 355 days. And again, they just sort of had a 10-day break just to make it all sort of roughly fit. And it was a mess. So the bottom line is for like 700 years or whatever, the Roman calendar was a complete mess. There were many different calendars. There were fixes upon fixes, you know. And then came Julius Caesar who was like, all right, we got to fix this shit. This is just not working. So then came the Julian calendar which had a 365 and one quarter day year. 365 days and a leap year every four years. That's the Julian calendar.

B: But did they have the leap year every century?

S: No, they didn't.

B: Because it's not just .4.

S: No.

B: It's .4, like 2.4.

E: You have to throw some extra time back in there, right?

S: That's the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendar.

B: Yes.

S: Right. The Julian calendar was just 365 and a quarter just a straight up quarter.

B: Which is fine for a while but relatively accurate.

S: But it drifted.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: And so let's go to number three. We'll skip over to number two. While the Gregorian calendar was first proclaimed official in 1582, the Julian calendar, that's the one we've been talking about, is still used by several groups even though it is now 13 days off. You guys all think this one is science. And this one is science.

E: Ah.

C: Yay.

S: Because.

C: Go Cara.

S: Yeah. So in 1582 it was off by 11 days. So they basically had to just make 11 days vanish to re-sync the calendar to the season.

B: And my birthday, if I were alive, my birthday would be within those 11 days.

C: Oh, no. You wouldn't exist.

S: I thought it was in October, Bob. Those 11 days were in October.

B: I'm just saying. You can imagine me being born back then. I can imagine being born in October too.

C: And it would have been cloudy too.

S: The solar year is 365.24219 days.

E: Oh, of course.

S: So that's where you have all of the leap year rules in order to make it work for a lot longer.

E: Leap seconds.

S: But there are several groups, and Cara you're correct, they're religious groups, who still use the Gregorian calendar. They are, I mean, you still use the Julian calendar. They are the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Berbers.

E: The Berbers. We always forget about the Berbers.

J: Oh, yeah, you're right.

S: The Berbers.

C: I visited some Berber groups when I was in Morocco.

S: Yeah, that's where they are.

C: I do not forget about them.

E: There's a group in Seville of Berbers.

C: Oh, dammit, that took me a second.

E: Happy New Year.

C: The Berber of Seville. So stupid.

E: Yet you laugh.

C: He's like trimming a rug.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: So all this means that in the last 2,000 years, the year has increased by 2.8 seconds due to the slowing of the Earth's rotation is the fiction. Evan, you were going in the wrong direction. Bob is correct. I shifted it by two orders of magnitude.

B: Yeah.

S: Bigger.

C: Oh, wow.

B: At least.

S: It's 14 milliseconds a century. I think that's how it works out. It would have been 1.4 milliseconds per century. So if I did the math right. So it would have been 0.028 seconds in 2,000 years. So I shifted it by two orders of magnitude bigger. And, yeah, a little bit of back of the envelope calculation tells you that's way too fast as a steady increase.

B: That's what I was doing. I was calculating. Like, wait, a third of an hour in a million years? Too much.

S: That's why you went last.

B: Yes, I figured.

E: That's too high.

C: Good guess, Cara.

S: That's too high.

B: It's fascinating. It's fascinating because they have evidence of a 10-hour day millions and millions of years ago. A 10-hour day.

E: I know. Oh, we were spinning around like a top. Oh, my gosh.

B: That's like Jupiter.

S: The 2,000-year distance difference isn't based upon rocks or anything. That's based upon us precisely measuring the year. And we could measure the difference year to year. We could measure those 1.4 milliseconds or whatever it comes out to be.

B: And that will change. I mean it's not hard and fast like 2.8735. It's not consistent. The earth can actually spin a little bit faster if we have a certain type of earthquake. When you have lots of rocks shifting around like a skater conservation of angular momentum, the tighter you are, the faster you spin. So if you have a lot of rocks shifting, the earth could actually speed up a little bit faster than it would. It normally would have or slow down. It would affect it. It could be that sensitive. So it's fascinating.

S: But it averages out.

B: Yeah. Tidal forces are just amazing.

S: All right. So good job. Guys, getting the year off to a good start. You're all at 100%. Awesome.

C: Yay.

J: All right, man.

S: It won't last for long.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:47:28)[edit]

You are modern humans of the civilized world. And modern humans rise beyond all laws and superstitions of the society. They help their fellow beings to rise from the ashes of ignorance, illusion and fear.
– Abhijit Naskar, neuroscientist[1]

S: Okay, Evan, give us the first quote of the new year.

E: "You are modern humans of the civilized world, and modern humans rise beyond all laws and superstitions of the society. They help their fellow beings to rise from the ashes of ignorance, illusion, and fear." And that was said by or written by Abhijit Naskar. He's a neuroscientist and an author and speaks a lot about people breaking their superstitions and old traditions. And it's the responsibility of those who do know better to help the others along in bringing them out of the illusions of the past. So that's what he talks about.

S: Yeah. I have a sense that he's saying that they should be doing this, not necessarily that all modern humans do do this. Or he's doing it as a matter of definition. If you're a modern human, to be a modern human by definition means that you rise above superstition and to help others also rise above superstition.

E: Agreed.

S: Because otherwise it's always hard to get away from sounding a little condescending. You know, this is just a sort of a generic skeptical thing that we have to be very, very careful about because we are kind of setting ourselves up by saying, well we're thinking straight and you're thinking wrong. So it's really important.

B: Brights.

S: That's why the brights are like the worst thing ever to be recommended. But you have to frame it in such a way. Listen, we all have these cognitive biases. We all are on the Dunning-Kruger curve at some point or other. We all have the same emotional makeup. But these are the tools that we all can use to help us rise above superstition and our cognitive failings, things like that. But still, even if we make a Herculean effort to not be condescending, some people are still going to interpret it that way.

E: That's right.

S: It's just hard to get away from it.

E: It is. It's hard. But it's practice. And as long as we're aware of it and we try to guard against it to at least some degree, then we still have to do it. It's not like we have to stop doing it. It must happen. And we all need the help.

S: That's why I say the principle of charity and humility is probably the most important thing for skeptics to follow, to teach and to follow. Because otherwise, yeah, you end up just becoming that jerk. And then you're not helping anybody. You're actually just giving critical thinking a bad name.

Signoff (1:49:58)[edit]

S: Well, guys, I had a lot of fun. Looking forward to 2021. Looking forward to the 12-hour show. I think it's going to be epic.

E: Yes, yes.

S: A lot of fun.

E: Can't wait.

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[8]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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