SGU Episode 81

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SGU Episode 81
February 7th 2007
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 80                      SGU 82

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

“Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun a hot rock.”


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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 Wednesday, February 7th, 2007, and this is your host, Steven Novella president of the New England Skeptical Society, and joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Rebecca Watson...

R: Hello everyone!

S: Evan Bernstein...

E: Guten Abend, my friends.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys!

S: ...and Perry D'Angeles.

P: Hey, freezing with this global cooling going on here.

S: It's very very cold in the northeast here.

P: Cold outside.

S: We had an Indian summer, we went straight into an arctic freeze, it's incredible.

P: That's for sure.

News Items[edit]

Enviga Lawsuit (0:56)[edit]


S: A few items in the news, one follow-up item. We had talked before about Coke and Nestle coming out with their new Enviga, which is the green tea flavored diet soda that they say has "negative calories". And we basically said that this is pretty much bunk. Well now, the non-profit Center for Science and the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola and Nestle for making fraudulent claims in marketing and labeling for Enviga. Basically saying the same thing that we did, that their claims are unfounded and are not proven with evidence.

P: That's a legit organization?

S: Yeah, it's a public interest organization.

J: Did they honestly think though that everyone was going to accept it as that without being contested anyway?

S: You mean Coke?

J: Yeah, it doesn't make any sense. Basically from what I've read, it's heavy on caffeine and the caffeine increases your metabolism a little bit.

P: People have been drinking their carbonated battery acid for years, why would they think they'd question this?

E: Because of the deceptive nature of it apparently.

S: I think the public will buy it largely because they buy most things like this fairly uncritically. And anytime someone tells them they could lose weight without exercise or dieting, people are spending lots of money on that. But the company is making some specific claims which is contradicted by evidence. For example, they do claim that it will help weight loss.

B: But they don't use that term, weight loss.

S: They did do some studies, but their studies did not last more than three days. There was a European study which found that the ingredients did not help people lose weight after one month of study. So the longer term studies are all negative. The bottom line is that we do have a Federal Trade Commission and the FTC has a lot more leeway in going after companies like this than say the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. They can actually fine companies for making claims that are misleading and they can force them to change the wording of their advertisements. So something concrete can come out of this.

J: But like I said before though, it just seems obvious to me that a company with the money backing it like Coca-Cola, they have companies that do market research, they have a lot of energy put into finding out what's legal and what's not legal. They have all of these things in place and yet this kind of slipped through like they actually thought there wasn't going to be a response.

B: I've got some dirt on CSPI. There's a lot of organizations that do not agree with their tactics. For example, Bob Barr, former U.S. Congressman, says that CSPI does not conduct research, but carries out smear campaigns against scientists who publish research which contradicts their ideas.

P: But that's the whole point. There's always going to be another organization out there fighting what the other groups said, always. Either the stuff has negative calories or it doesn't. For instance.

J: Yeah, but negative calories don't exist. There's no such thing as negative calories.

P: It takes more calories to consume the item than the item gives you.

R: I think what they're claiming is that the caffeine curbs your appetite, which it does.

S: There's another ingredient as well, EGCG, which is the combination of the two.

B: That's the key. It's the combination.

S: It encourages your body to burn calories. They word it in such a way as to try to get around the FDA regulations. But again, you guys are mixing the whole notion of successful marketing versus what the regulations are. The Federal Trade Commission does regulate the accuracy and honesty of commercial claims. Most countries probably have something similar. The FDA is mainly their regulations before market. In other words, they can keep things from getting to the market until they pass some kind of evidence threshold for safety and effectiveness. But things like supplements are outside now the realm of the FDA. The FDA cannot do any kind of pre-marketing regulation of them. In this country, in the United States, the only line of defense is the Federal Trade Commission. They've actually been cracking down on weight loss and dieting claims in the marketplace. But Jay, you make it sound like it would be rare or unlikely for a company to make claims that are misleading or that would violate the FTC rules. They do it all the time. In fact, the FTC is overwhelmed with companies that are making false claims.

J: I didn't imply that at all. What I was saying was you would figure that a company like Coke or on that level...

S: Because they're high profile.

J: Hundreds and hundreds of products.

P: They figure it into their budget, Jay. They figure the lawsuits in, they figure the negative publicity in, and they figure it into the budget.

E: Who knows? This publicity might actually help the product.

J: That's right. I think it smacks of them entering this arena. They want to sell a product that's got the borderline, does it do it, is it going to help me? To me, it might as well be a bogus supplement.

S: Right. Well, I think what this shows... I mean, it would be very interesting to follow this and see how it plays out. But I think it does show that you really do need some kind of before marketing regulation. And that once the cat's out of the bag, as it were, getting a slap on the wrist from the FTC afterwards may not have that big of an effect. I do think a lot of companies just take it as the cost of doing business. And they just sort of change their packaging, change the wording of their claims, and just go about business as usual. So it really hasn't been that effective in the marketplace. It's better than nothing.

P: Especially a monster company like Coke.

J: Do you guys feel that this is kind of shifty, what they're doing?

S: Yeah, oh yeah.

P: Of course.

S: Well, I do because I tell you, there is an increasing epidemic of obesity in this country and in the Western world, not just in the United States, in Western industrialized countries. And a huge contributor to it is the public constantly being bombarded with false claims, with claims of easy ways of losing weight that are not effective. So ineffective diet supplements or diet plans or the latest fad diet book. These are all very counterproductive. I'm not saying they're causing the epidemic, but I think they're contributing to it.

R: I agree with that. I think that this product in particular, I don't think it's that big a deal. Because I do think that if you can get a large section of the population to trade in their sugary soft drinks for a zero calorie beverage, that's a good thing.

S: Yes, but I suspect that most people who would do that already are drinking diet or zero calorie colas.

J: But I think it is a big deal because of the absolute gargantuan size of this company. I mean, this company, Coke is like McDonald's. It's worldwide. You know what I mean? The reach of this company is huge. And it just puts out a really selfish signal to me like, yep, we're just going to do this. We know a lot of people are going to find out it's crap, but we'll get through it and we'll still sell the product and we'll alter our marketing after the word gets out. And then we'll make a ton of money just to tap into this other market.

P: I told you they've been selling carbonated battery acid for years.

E: 100 years?

P: We've all seen the tooth dissolving in the Coke.

S: Perry, that's a myth.

P: It's garbage.

S: The tooth dissolving in Coke is a myth.

E: Yeah, the Mythbusters.

S: The Mythbusters destroyed that one.

J: Prove that one.

B: But it's a great story.

J: But it sticks with you, right, Perry?

P: I didn't know that.

S: It's a myth.

J: Hey, come on.

B: Hey guys, but doesn't part of you have very little sympathy for people that drink Enviga and make it a significant part of their weight loss strategy?

S: No, I don't blame the victim. I don't blame the victim at all.

B: I don't know.

J: That's just sad, Bob.

B: It's upset to me that people, I don't know, it seems like they should be a little more sophisticated about dieting with all the there's lots of bad information out there, but there's also a lot of good information out there. And if you were serious about dieting, you'd think a lot of people, more than do now, would finally realize that, well, yeah, I've got to eat less and move more. And that's the bottom line. And why don't people get it?

S: But Bob, they're being bombarded. They're being bombarded with messages that contradict that.

J: Yeah. I remember going to McDonald's once, the very few times, the very few memories left I have of actually walking into a fast food restaurant. And this guy ordered like four hamburgers in front of me and a Diet Coke. Like, hello, what are you doing with the Diet Coke? You just ordered four hamburgers from a fast food restaurant. It's the same thing, Bob. They fool themselves. They lie to themselves. People that have an eating problem or trying to lose weight, they want to, but they really don't know how to or aren't trying to. They don't really have the knowledge or if they do, they don't have the willpower to apply it. It doesn't matter, Bob. What it boils down to is this company is taking advantage. They're taking advantage of people that have willpower problems. All the different kinds of reasons why people are overweight. Coke made a decision to take advantage of them and take their money. And I think it's bad.

P: A tooth won't dissolve in Coke, huh?

J: Nope.

P: That's awesome. I wonder who started that rumour. Pepsi?

B: Gatorade.

E: Mountain Dew.

P: Yeah, Mountain Dew.

E: I'll take a crab juice.

Iranian AIDS Cure (10:30)[edit]


    Gambian President says he can personally cure AIDS

S: So the Iranian Minister of Health has announced that Iranian scientists have cured AIDS. Cured. It's cured.

P: It's all fixed.

E: Done. And how did they cure it, doctor?

J: They did it with Diet Coke.

S: They cured it with a concoction of herbs. Plants that are all native to Iran.

P: Of course.

E: Persian herbs.

J: It's a dessert topping. It's a floor cleaner.

S: Of course, this claim comes out of nowhere. There's nothing published in the scientific literature. There's no basic science establishing how this could possibly work. They just announced, by the way, we've cured AIDS. Now this was announced as part of a series of announcements on technological and scientific and medical breakthroughs by Iranian scientists and also part of their appeal to establish that they have nuclear rights. So it's just part of their propaganda.

E: The Holocaust never happened.

P: It was a footnote on their Jews are Monkeys page. P.S. we cured AIDS with herbs.

S: It's just another example of a totalitarian oppressive regime using science for propaganda.

E: With no side effects. With no side effects.

S: That's right. They claim that the herbal treatment has absolutely no side effects.

E: Must be homeopathic.

S: Now I look back to see if there was anything to indicate that they've been doing this research for the last seven years as they claim. And there's really nothing. There's no indication that they've been doing this research. In fact, I saw an interview with the head of the Iranian Center for AIDS Research one year ago. And there was no mention of this. No mention that they were engaged in any kind of research program. Interestingly, the Gambian president also has an herbal AIDS cure. He apparently has a history of making kooky claims. Now he's saying that he has been told by whatever powers that be that he can cure AIDS on Thursdays.

E: Because there's an R in Thursday. You see.

J: Who is he? I am Thursday man.

S: And then he can cure asthma on Saturdays.

P: Is Tehran being flooded with HIV patients?

S: Interestingly, they are having an uptick in their HIV cases due to a sharp rise in heroin and drug abuse. IV drug abuse.

P: Excellent.

S: So they've been actually rather in denial. This is the other thing. They've been really in denial that there even is an AIDS problem in Iran. So it's even more implausible that they've been doing diligent research for the last seven years for a problem they have been denying really exists.

B: Steve, I can see the reasons why they would do this to bolster their prestige worldwide. But it seems very short-sighted. Granted, they have control over the situation over there. But God, I mean, won't they eventually have to show some people that were cured by their wonder drug?

P: They could show a hundred people. This guy was cured. He was cured. He was cured.

B: Yeah, but it just, I mean.

S: It is all kind of naive, though. It's kind of the naivete of a totalitarian regime that thinks that they can say anything they want and people will believe it or at least will pretend that they believe it. I don't think they're really fooling anybody on the world stage.

B: Right. That's what I'm getting at.

J: Why would they pick AIDS, though? Why wouldn't they pick cancer or something?

P: AIDS is sexier.

S: Well, there could be other motivations. Now they don't have to pay Western pharmaceutical companies for AIDS drugs. They can just give Iranian patients with AIDS homegrown herbs. I'm sure it's much cheaper for them. And the sad thing is that the people who are going to ultimately pay the price for this piece of propaganda are Iranians with AIDS. I mean, they're not going to get, it's possible that they won't get real effective treatments because their country wants to convince the world for some reason that they have this fake treatment for AIDS.

Creationists Nonsense in Kenya (14:36)[edit]


S: The next news item involves creationists creating nonsense in Kenya. Kenya is a country in Africa where many early human fossils have been found. That is where the famous Leakeys, initially Mary and Louis Leakey and then their son Richard Leakey, had their base of operations for all of their fossil hunting over the years. Well, now the National Museum of Kenya wants to put the fossils known as the Turkana Boy, which is an early human ancestor.

B: Probably Homo erectus or Homo ergaster.

S: That's right. And they want to put them on display. Now, normally fossils like that are kept in humidity-controlled, temperature-controlled drawers in the back of museums somewhere, which is true of most fossils. In fact, when you go to the museum and see fossils on display that you can touch, they're not real. Museums don't like to talk about it too much because they want to give the impression that you're actually feeling real fossils, but the real stuff's always kept locked away somewhere. But they want to put the fossils on display so that people can come and see them, which occasionally that is done. But a bishop, Bishop Boniface Adoyo, said, "I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it. These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

B: That was an interesting comment, I thought. They're killing their faith, really? Ten million followers? Yeah, religion's really making inroads. I mean, it's ridiculous that they're killing his faith.

S: Yeah, the bishop is a leader of 37 evangelical denominations in Kenya and claim over 10 million members. But moreover, he's trying to hide evidence. He's saying that this physical evidence is inconvenient for my beliefs, for my faith, so let's hide it away somewhere and let's not show it to the public.

J: Stop that pesky science, you know?

B: Richard Leakey made a comment that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. He said that the bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved. Now, of course, you really shouldn't say descended from apes because then that just sets off all these wrong things in people's minds. Really, apes and humans share a common ancestor. I know it's probably a picky little thing, but I'm just surprised he said descended from apes.

S: We did not evolve from modern apes. Modern apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor which is probably reasonably characterized as an ape, too, but that's okay. But that does cause confusion. That can cause confusion. But his point was evolution is a fact, deal with it. It's silly.

R: That's the important thing to take from this is that Richard Leakey is out there kicking ass. Over this whole thing, the museum itself, the official statement is that the situation is delicate and we need to express a diversity of visitors' opinions. And Richard Leakey is standing up and saying, screw you guys.

S: Well, the unfortunate thing is that the nation of Kenya has historically taken pride in the fact that they are the home for a great many important fossil finds, human ancestor fossil finds. So I think in the end that will win the day and that their national pride will win out over political correctness.

B: It's too bad the security they have to have for a fossil. Have guards on the doors.

E: It would be great if we could get Richard Leakey for an interview. That would be great.

S: Incidentally, in five days from when we're recording, so on February 12th, is the anniversary of the birthday of Charles Darwin. And this is celebrated by many people as Darwin Day. There's actually a website dedicated to this called, so check it out. And in two years, so in 2009, it will be Darwin's 200th birthday.

P: Steve, you actually read The Origin of the Species, didn't you? And you said that that's some dry writing.

S: By modern standards, it is incredibly dry. But the thing that's amazing to me still is how much Darwin got right. I mean, he really did put 30 years of research into that one book, you know. He anticipated so many of the objections and questions about evolution and had very cogent ends that was then later confirmed by the discovery of genetics, a genetic inheritance that actually does not get diluted. Well, let's move on to your email.

Questions and E-mails (19:29)[edit]

P: Yeah, we get a lot of emails lately, and I just want to say before we start, man, we're getting, in my opinion, crushed with emails and form things on this agnosticism versus atheism debate. I'm sure you'd all concur with me.

S: It's been one of the more lively discussions.

P: Oh, my God, over and over and over. And the same thing. And I just want to say enough! That's enough, we get it. All right, yes I understand.

S: It's an interesting discussion. I don't want to spend more time talking about it on this episode because we talked about it a lot last week, but I will say if you are interested in getting really deep into the nitty-gritty of this discussion, go on our forum, the thread for last week's episode, plus there's a thread just dedicated to this topic under the podcast forum. So if you want to get into it deeper, I suggest you read and partake in those.

P: That's why Steve is a president, because he can answer the same question 52 times. It's true. That's why he's the president.

S: Actually, what we need, and I think I've mentioned this to you, Jay, but we have a lot of things on our plates, we need a FAQ. And definitely one of my first FAQ is going to be, what's your stance on religion? And then we could write it once, and I can just refer people to that.

Follow up on Global Warming (20:56)[edit]

Hello All,

I consider myself an amateur skeptic and really enjoy your podcast. Ive been listening for a couple months now and haven't really disagreed with you so far. Until now...and its so bad that I must give you my two cents.

Im not sure what your intentions were with having Spencer Weart discuss the critical nature of global warming, but being the skeptics you are, I'm very surprised nobody questioned his statements. After listening to him speak, it's no wonder there are so many denialists out there. As is the case with the usual rantings on global warming, Mr. Weart did not provide one shred of scientific evidence (by any stretch of the word) to demonstrate the 'catastrophic' human effect on global warming.

At the beginning of his diatribe, he inferred that the earth is obviously warming up because he was just up in New York and cherry trees were blossoming. Do you really consider this evidence? I grew up in Upstate New York where the ground was normally covered in snow from November till April, yet even back in the '70s and 80's, we'd have an off-year with warmer temperatures and very little snow. Now I live in Colorado where the temperatures have been much colder than normal and we have a hell of a lot more snow than usual. If Mr. Weart traveled out here, would the unusually severe winter change his mind about global warming? Probably not, because the global warming movement also asserts that some places will actually cool down. How does human-induced global warming cause such differing conditions in both places? Both are variations that have occurred many times in the past, even before global warming became popular.

Mr. Weart also referred to a study that someone did 20 or 30 years ago. What? If he is a scientist and has solid evidence, why can't he be more specific about the study, or at least narrow down the year.

Mr. Weart reflects the typical arguments of the catastophic global warming movement and, surprisingly,

S: All right, the first email comes from Patrick Van Wee in Fountain, Colorado, and he writes, "Hello all. I consider myself an amateur skeptic and really enjoy your podcast. I've been listening for a couple of months now and haven't really disagreed with you so far until now. And it's so bad that I must give you my two cents. I'm not sure what your intentions were in having Spencer Weirt discuss the critical nature of global warming, but being the skeptics you are, I'm very surprised nobody questioned his statements. After listening to him speak, it's no wonder there are many denialists out there. As is the case with the usual rantings on global warming, Mr. Weirt did not provide one shred of scientific evidence to demonstrate the catastrophic human effect on global warming. At the beginning of his diatribe, he inferred that the earth is obviously warming up because he was just up in New York and cherry trees were blossoming. Do you really consider this evidence? I grew up in upstate New York where the ground was normally covered in snow from November till April, yet even back in the 1780s we'd have an off year with warmer temperatures and very little snow. Mr. Weirt also referred to a study that someone did 20 or 30 years ago. What? If he is a scientist and has solid evidence, why can't he be more specific about the study or at least narrow down the year? Mr. Weirt reflects the typical arguments of the catastrophic global warming movement, and surprisingly you guys didn't question him on it. I understand the earth has been warming since the last ice age 20,000 years ago, but until you hear a scientist like Mr. Weirt give quantifiable evidence, I can't accept that cars and power plants are significantly accelerating the process." This is just a representative email. We've had quite a few on this topic. This was, I think, almost as lively as the atheism topic in terms of the number of emails that we've had, which is not surprising. I expected that we would get this response because there are a lot of skeptics who have not accepted some of the claims or all the claims of the global warming crowd. I do think a few people reiterated some of these specific claims that were made by Patrick in this email, which I don't think are quite fair. Now, first of all, Mr. Weirt is not a climatologist, but he's a historian and he wrote a book basically on the history of global warming, which is why I brought him on the show to discuss that. I do admit that I was hoping to get from him a little bit more of meat and sort of nitty-gritty details to talk about, but he basically just said, listen, it's too much really to go over in detail. It's not fair to say that he did not offer evidence. He actually specifically referred to evidence. He basically said, here's the evidence all laid out online. Here are the references. We gave the links on the notes page for that episode, so it's not fair to say that he did not provide evidence. He also was not saying, and this is not fair either, although a couple of people picked up on this, that we know there's global warming because of the cherry blossoms, and it's actually in D.C., not in New York. I mean, come on. That's not what he was saying. That was maybe just a little anecdote for emphasis. The bottom line is there's no question that the planet is warming. If you're waiting to hear a scientist say it, then about a week ago you heard 2,500 scientists saying it. There was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was a report that was put together by 2,500 scientists, relevant scientists in their area of expertise. They reviewed all of the data that we have to date, and they said that the planet is definitely in a warming phase. Again, I don't think that there's really anybody serious who denies that. They said the probability that human influences are forcing, at least are partly responsible for this, a process called forcing, is about 90%, which I think is a fairly honest way to say it. They're not saying it's absolutely certain or there's no question. They said it's 90%, which is the kind of statement that you expect responsible scientists to make, to put some kind of error bars or percentage on their statements. They are using language that there is a solid consensus. There really is no longer any debate about whether or not human influences are partly responsible for global warming. I did note that recently there was an article published by George Will, who is a political writer. He is a very intellectual, thoughtful person. I often think that he puts together his thoughts in a very careful way. He has been one of the people who is certainly a holdout on the global warming issue. In his article that I thought was very helpful, he broke down the claims of global warming into six specific subclaims, which I think is helpful in discussing it. One is global warming is happening. Two is it is our, meaning humanity's, fault. Three, it will continue unless we mend our ways. Four, if it continues, we are in grave danger. Five, we know how to slow or even reverse the warming. And six, the benefits from doing that will far exceed the costs. He says that there's really only a scientific consensus or certainty on number one and not two through six. I disagree with that. I think that certainly number one, I would say, I would have to add two.

B: Is he aware of this 2500 scientists consensus? Because he made no mention of that in the entire article. What does that mean that he didn't even talk about this recent, gargantuan event in global warming news?

S: Yeah, I agree. I think that it warranted a mention in that article. And I totally disagree with him. Saying that we're 90% certain it's playing a role is an accurate statement. Now, of course, you can always quibble about how much of a role is it playing. And I think there, the IPCC said it's significant. It's actually, you can't say, oh, yeah, sure, it's there, but it's 1%. Therefore, we could forget about it. No, it's there and it's significant. Will it continue unless we mend our ways? I think what you could say is that the human forcing of global warming will continue unless we stop doing what we're doing. That doesn't mean that global warming itself will continue because if we go into a natural cooling period, that might offset the human warming that we're doing. So it's still possible that we it's also interestingly true that we are also in a period of a natural warming that is being, was at least partly caused by solar forcing, by increased solar activity. So, of course, those who deny the human contribution to global warming point to that. But the fact is both are happening. Although I think we discussed maybe a few months ago on the show that we may be coming to the end of the solar warming period, which is a good thing. So it's actually even possible that the short-term trend may reverse a little bit. But we have to look at the long-term trend in climate over decades and over centuries. If we're forcing an upward trend, there may be this background of up and down, but the long-term trend is going to be of human forcing will lead upward. So I think I disagree with him on three, too, but with that further explanation. If it continues, we are in grave danger now. Here is where we start to get shaky. No one really does know what the consequences of this are going to be.

P: Al Gore knows.

S: Well, I mean, I think and I think that it was very honest in saying that Al Gore overstates the negative outcomes.

B: Well, maybe the time. I think I thought he specifically mentioned the time frame. It's not quite as imminent as Gore may lead you to believe. But in 100 years, even if the progression is slow given 100 or 200 years, it's not going to be nice.

S: You're right, Bob. I mean, it is misleading to say that it's going to cause this much rise in the ocean without saying this is over 200 years. I think that's significant also because we don't know what our technology is going to be like in 50 years, let alone 100 or 200 years.

B: Don't get me started.

S: It's you of all people, Bob, don't realize that we may be dealing with completely different technological infrastructure by then. That doesn't mean we don't need to worry about it. It just means it's hard to get too excited about things 200 years down the road. But he also will makes the point again. This is just I'm using this article just as an example of a very cogent explanation of the sort of anti global warming position. He said that we don't really but there have been periods in history, in geological history, certainly where the earth has been cooler and other times when the earth has been warmer. And who's to say that the temperature as it is right now is the way it's "supposed to be" or is perfect and that we should do everything we can to keep it exactly as it is now. And that is true as far as it goes. But I think it's also misleading because of this. We do have a vested interest in keeping the climate from changing too much, especially... If it's a natural trend, that's one thing. But if we're forcing the climate to change, change is a bad thing because we've built cities on lots of coastlines. It doesn't matter if you don't have cities on coastlines but if you do, then you don't want to have the oceans rise even by a few feet. Also, we have an infrastructure that's that is based upon where good farmland is right now. And if that shifts if, for example, the American Midwest became a desert and the Sahara became good farmland that may be good for people living in northern Africa. But that would certainly be very destabilizing to the industrialized world.

B: And Steve, I think all of what you just said gives us the right to say, yeah, it's kind of right the way it is now. And we shouldn't, at least we shouldn't be forcing drastic changes because of all that.

S: Yeah, from a practical point of view, because we've built our civilization around it. And if it changes, it may not be objectively better or worse, but it's worse for us on the short term of decades and the one or two centuries.

P: Steve, when did Will write this article?

S: This is very recent. February 12th issue, which is the current the current issue of Newsweek.

P: OK, fine.

S: Which is why which is why I'm using it, because it's very, very current. I also came across do my recent readings on global warming, something called the Petition Project. And this is a an article written by a group which is just called the Petition Project. And interestingly, it basically says that the data shows that there is no global warming and that increased CO2 in the atmosphere is a good thing because it will actually encourage plants and animals to grow. They were basically releasing carbon into the environment that will then get turned into plants and animals. It's very, very dubious, the entire project. Well, first of all, the the website is designed to look like a published peer reviewed article. And that is certainly what I thought when I saw it. I as a as a physician and a scientist, I read published work all the time, including online. And to my eyes, it looked like it was published and peer reviewed. And it's not. It's really just a mock up to make it look as if it is.

B: Yeah, look at that. Wow.

S: That's that's very it's very deceptive. It's very, very deceptive to do that because it's not it's not a published peer reviewed article. And the claims, the specific scientific claims that are made within it have been pretty thoroughly refuted, some in the past. So you can ignoring past refutations of your arguments is kind of a intellectually dishonest thing to do as well. There really isn't any evidence to suggest that this simplistic sort of notion that putting more carbon into the atmosphere is just going to get recycled into plants and animals. There's actually what happens to the carbon is far more complex.

B: And insidious.

S: That's right. So I'll have links to both that article and a response to it. So you could sort of get both sides in our notes page as well. So I mean, I think this is a very interesting debate for skeptics. It is certainly one of those science issues that a reasonable skeptical scientific person could take either position. I do think if you do look at all of the facts and and and you bow to the scientific consensus, which I think is reasonable, then the more reasonable position is that, yes, there is global warming as there is a human component to it. And we have at least reasons to suspect that there may be untoward outcome untoward outcomes from it.

B: Also, it's kind of interesting to see the to see the transformation from global warming skeptics to global warming deniers.

S: Yeah, I mean, that that term, I admit I was a little uncomfortable with that term because it is so inflammatory. It's so inflammatory. And of course, people who think that think their skeptics don't like to be about anything don't like to be labeled as deniers, just like deniers are going to going to label scientists true believers and true believers will think skeptics are deniers. Sometimes those terms are thrown around as kind of an ad hominem attack. So I don't know if we're quite at the point where you would say you could say that anybody who has any sort of misgivings about the whole notion of global warming is a "denialist" or a denier. I think it may be is unnecessary inflammatory. It's not got to say I mean, I think that creationists or evolution deniers and that's unequivocal. And they're so far into that end of the spectrum that I feel right about using that term.

B: Holocaust deniers.

S: And Holocaust deniers, too.

P: I certainly am closer to the George Will School of thought on this issue. And I don't want to be called the denier. I think that the planet's warming and I think that humans contribute. It's just a matter of degree.

S: But from a practical point of view, and this is where Will makes some good points where his good points are we can't take the sort of hysterical position that we have to these really radical, ridiculous things in order to prevent any any global warming because we know that all these horrible things are going to be happening. We do want to keep our heads about us and think about the steps that we make. Are they rational? Are they going to have a good return on investment if you will, are they going to have an effect that's worth the price that we're going to pay for them and go through this process in a rational way? And of course, I think there are sort of environmentalists at the other end of the spectrum who are basically making propositions that are that are that are unreasonable. There's also always there is a segment that is basically anti-corporate, anti-industrialization that are using this to promote that agenda. But so that's part of the political spectrum. We certainly have the corporate shills on one end of the spectrum politically and then the environmentalists on the sort of anti-corporate, anti-industrialist on the other end of the spectrum. So there is this political dimension to this scientific issue, which is why it's so heated. No pun intended. And why I think that normally if you've got twenty five hundred scientists together that systematically review all the data and say, yeah, this is a fact, usually that's that's good enough. An issue does not remain controversial unless there is such a deep political dimension to it, which is why I think why this is such an interesting.

J: Steve, why do you think there's such a polarization? Why are people so hardcore believing it and so hardcore not believing in?

S: Again, like anything, it comes down to ideology, because people's ideologies trump the science.

J: The reason why the reason why I ask is because we've even had the differences in our amongst ourselves about this topic. And people can tend to get emotional about it. And I for some reason, from the very beginning with global warming, I always it was a very simple topic to me. I just said, well, if it's happening and humans are causing it, then we should do things to prevent it. I just I guess I don't have any ideology attached to it whatsoever. And that's why I can't relate to people getting just so fired up and angry about.

S: The other thing, Jay, is that there are very practical decisions at stake here. It's not just whether or not scientifically you think there's manmade global warming or not. It's what should we do about it? And we have to act in the absence of certitude. And some of those actions may be economically very difficult to do. I mean should we shift to to nuclear power plants? Should we know how much effort do we need to put in conservation?

P: Depending on who you listen to, some of the things they're asking for, frankly, are insane. Yeah, that's my opinion. If you're an alarmist, if you're an alarmist.

S: If you're an alarmist. But I think that the other side, they they try to say that there's this conspiracy to rob America of its industrial advantage by deindustrializing the West and America specifically. That's just as hysterical as the environment in the West, in my opinion.

P: I agree.

S: But those are the ideologies that we're confronting. So in any case, we've got to make tough decisions with imperfect data. Ideologies come to the fore. And it's going to stay that way, I think, for a while, despite this growing scientific certitude and consensus.

E: Well, I guess we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope technology ultimately saves the day here.

S: I hope that's the case. I think that I think it will. It's just a matter of when and how much damage will be done in the meantime. The other angle to this that Will brings out is that what we do. The other point he makes is that what the United States does at this point is almost irrelevant because China is building all these coal fired plants. And even just what they do is so overwhelming that it's really not even within our power to affect right now.

B: There's something to that. China's emissions are growing at 3.6 percent per year. India's at 4.5 and we're growing at point nine percent a year. So I think before before we made any make any sweeping changes that apply to us, it would make sense to make sure other countries are doing the same thing because then we will be hurting ourselves and we wouldn't be really addressing the issue.

Youngest Skeptic (39:25)[edit]

Hi guys,

I was listing to your show (Podcast # 77) and you asked if there were any 10-year old skeptics. I am 11 years old, 12 in May and I wanted to let you guys know that there was a 10-year old skeptic out there.

Daniel Cohen

S: The next one comes from Daniel Cohen in right here in Connecticut. And and he writes, "Hi, guys, I was listening to your show podcast number 77 and you asked if there were any 10 year old skeptics. I am 11 years old to be 12 in May. And I wanted to let you guys know that there was a 10 year old skeptic out there." Well, we did get a lot of emails in response to our question. We appreciate it. Thanks for sending them all in. But this one wins the prize. I didn't count people who were like in their 40s and 50s and said that they were a skeptic when they were a little kid. I wanted somebody who actually was a kid right now and out there. So Daniel Cohen gets our award for the youngest skeptic listening to our show.

B: Way to go, Daniel.

E: Yeah, Daniel. Tell your friends. I'm curious, though. How did you find us? I mean, how did you stumble across our podcast? Curious.

S: Yes. Let us know. He's right here in Connecticut. So next time we have a local meeting, we'll have to make sure to let you know so you can come.

E: Absolutely.

P: I have always said that Daniel Cohen is a fine young man.

Martin Gardner Lives (40:23)[edit]

Greetings Steve and Gang,

Thanks for the useful and entertaining podcast.

Steve's comment that Martin Gardner was a deist may come as a surprise to Martin if you ask him. Mr. Gardner certainly still is, because HE is! So, referring to Martin in a past tense is rather premature. Randi recently gave readers of Swift the opportunity to send Martin cards on his birthday. By the way, Martin's book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener has a chapter Why I Am not an Atheist.

Of course it isn't news to any of you that Martin is as important to the skeptical movement and skeptical literature than anyone else has ever been. It's gratifying that others like Michael Shermer, Randi, etc. have come along. For a long time, the movement was Martin's, and we are a better world for his prolific pen. Your comments on this podcast on cults reminded me of several of Martin's essays and books on cults-- Urantia, Scientology, Christian Science, etc.

Another topic you mentioned briefly on the last podcast was on quantum mechanics, and Martin wrote about this in an essay titled Parapsychology and Quantum Mechanics in the book Science and the Paranormal: Probing the Existence of the Supernatural 1981, George Abell and Barry Singer, Editors.

So, long live Martin Gardner and his legacy, including The Skeptics Guide to the Universe!

Jay DeLong
Olympia, WA

S: And then one final email, this one is actually just a quick correction of sorts. "Greetings, Steve and gang. Thanks for the useful and entertaining podcast. Steve's comment that Martin Gardner was a deist may come as a surprise to Martin Gardner if you ask him. Mr. Gardner certainly still is because he is. So referring to Martin in the past tense is rather premature. Randy recently gave readers of Swift the opportunity to send Martin cards on his birthday. By the way, Martin's book, The Wise of the Philosophical Scrivener, has a chapter, Why I Am Not an Atheist. Of course, it isn't news to any of you that Martin is as important to the skeptical movement and skeptical literature than anyone else has ever been. And it's gratifying that others like Michael Shermer, Randy, et cetera, have come along. For a long time, the movement was Martin. And we are a better world for his prolific pen."

E: Oh, yeah.

S: He goes on to say some other things. So basically, he says, long live Martin Gardner and his legacy, including the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Well, Jay, thanks for that. Actually, I did talk about Martin Gardner in the past tense. It was inadvertent. I know that Martin is alive.

P: Geez.

S: Did not mean to imply that he had passed away. So reports of his death were highly exaggerated.

P: That is pathetic, Steve. I am shocked at you. Next thing you're going to be going around saying teeth dissolving coke.

E: Only a loser would think that.

P: I'm outraged.

S: Got to keep you guys on your toes. But I guess I might think of Martin in the past tense because he's had kind of a low profile recently. I think he's still writing and stuff, but he doesn't come to meetings and to skeptical events. And he hasn't had his article, his column in the Skeptical Enquirer recently. But he has not thankfully passed on. So thanks for the correction.

TAM5 Interviews Part III (42:10)[edit]

S: Well, this week we have part three of our TAM5 interviews, and we will include portions of our interviews with Phil Plait, the bad astronomer, and also with Adam Savage and Tory Balecchi from the Mythbusters.

Interview with Phil Plait (42:34)[edit]

S: Sitting with us now is Phil Plait, the bad astronomer. Phil, thanks for joining us.

PP: Hey, hey, my pleasure.

S: How are you enjoying the conference so far?

PP: I haven't really been experiencing it that much. I've been running around too much.

S: It seems to happen a lot.

R: That's pretty much the way to experience it these days.

PP: Well, you have to be pretty flexible with skeptics. There's a lot of scheduling delays and all sorts of basically barely manageable chaos at these meetings.

S: So Phil, what are you going to be talking about later on?

PP: I'll be doing the moon hoax talk, which is debunking the Fox TV show that said that the moon landings are fake. It's a good lesson in critical thinking. A lot of the basics are there about evidence that's used and misused and how people can phrase things to make things sound logical when in fact they're nonsense and how you can change topics rapidly, don't give people time to think about things, how you can give them most of the information they need to make a decision but not that key piece of information which shows that everything this guy is saying is just crap.

R: We were actually just talking about this with Richard Wiseman about how you can really connect with people when you hit something that's immediately relevant to them and what's more relevant than the movies that they're watching.

PP: And even TV shows don't have that sort of universality like I don't watch 24 or I guess that's a Fox show.

B: You should though. It's a great show.

PP: It's never been a big key for someone ever since I guess Lost Boys. But something about the movies, I could talk about Battlestar Galactica, I could talk about Lost or any of these big popular shows and I'll still leave a lot of people behind. But if you mention a movie like Armageddon or Deep Impact, well these were seven, eight years ago now, it's been too long. But you mention movies like that, Superman Returns. And you say how does Superman stop a plummeting airplane by putting his hand on the nose of the plane? Shouldn't the plane just be crushed? He should put his hand right through it. That doesn't make sense. And everybody's like, oh yeah, they saw that scene, they remember it.

B: My classic version of that is when somebody's jumping off of a building, Superman swoops down and grabs him and there's no deceleration. It's an instant stop and he would have a sack of skin in his hand.

PP: He immediately negates their entire velocity towards the ground.

R: Actually there was a Spider-Man comic about that.

PP: I was about to mention this where the woman falls off the bridge. This is in the physics of superheroes I think. Yeah, this girl falls off a bridge, right? And he uses his web to catch her.

R: And she snaps her neck or something.

PP: Yeah, he kills her, winds up killing her. She would have died anyway.

R: Yeah, she was done for.

PP: How totally cool is that?

R: So Spider-Man beats Superman on the proper physics.

PP: Of course, he was bitten by a radioactive spider.

R: That's true, that can happen.

PP: We'll watch TV shows sometimes and if a superhero's flying around they'll do something stupid and my wife will say, now how am I supposed to believe that? It's like, hon, it's a guy flying. You're sort of missing the forest for the trees.

R: He puts on his glasses and nobody knows who he is.

PP: So I think there's a psychological statement to be made there. There are ridiculous scientific fallacies that we see every day on TV shows. And yet when something happens that's really trivial, we'll focus on that. It's like, but Superman's flying, come on, don't worry about it. In the last episode Red Kryptonite made him cripple. That's not the point.

S: You're allowed one thing about your world that you don't have to explain, you just take it for granted, it's what makes it a fantasy world.

R: There are vampires here.

S: But you don't get two or three. You can't go beyond that.

PP: In the science fiction world it's called a MacGuffin. There's a device that's a magical device.

R: Actually that's a mystery novel term.

PP: That's right, you're right. In astronomy we call it a tooth fairy. If you have an idea about some phenomenon and you say, well let's just assume this is happening. And that's your one tooth fairy. You're not allowed a second tooth fairy.

R: From there you have to extrapolate if that's happening, then this, then this.

S: It's kind of an Occam's razor. You should minimize your assumptions.

B: But at some point you have to address the tooth fairy, I would assume.

PP: Yeah, but if you can build a consistent picture by making some leap of logic that is self-consistent and actually is predictive, it'll say, you know, we know the Big Bang is true. But we're having these problems with some of the observations. Well let's assume that there was a short period of time shortly after the universe was formed where it expanded super quickly.

B: Let's try to support that conclusion.

PP: Well this explains a lot of disparate phenomena. It predicts this. Oh look, the predictions are right. That's what happened with inflation theory, which is this idea that for a brief fraction of a second, like 10 to the minus 35 seconds, something crazy like that, the universal expansion just accelerated hugely and then slowed back down. And it was totally made up. But it explained so many things and people started realizing that it may actually be correct and they were able to figure out what might cause it. And now it's totally accepted. It's separate from the Big Bang because it happened after, long enough after that it's sort of a separate model. But it is a part of the standard. 10 to the minus 42 seconds, whatever the number is. But it keeps these are separate models, but they're now a part of the standard cosmology. You have the Big Bang, inflation, dark matter, dark energy. And I still get people emailing me saying, oh this dark energy, this dark matter, it's ridiculous. And it's like, well, they just had a press release where they've just mapped out dark matter from here out to 6 billion light years. It's very impressive and it's like in your face.

S: But that's the, you focused it on the point that it makes predictions. That's the cornerstone of science.

PP: And this dark matter release that was out in January where they were able to map out this stuff. It's a lot of different complicated physics. But the beauty of it is that they were able to take their data and say, here's where the normal matter is, here's where the dark matter is. And you look at the two pictures and they looked really similar. And you say this is exactly according to theory that the dark matter formed giant structures first, these huge structures and hundreds of millions of light years across. And then the normal matter fell into that. So you would expect that the two of them side by side would look alike.

B: The dark matter skeleton, it was like the dark matter skeleton and the regular matter is kind of around that.

PP: A framework, a skeleton, these are great words. And I was at the press conference where they announced this. And I mean, you could just hear everybody go, oh, all the science, the journalists who were scientists and the scientists in the audience were all like, oh, that totally rocks. It was a very cool moment.

B: It's funny. Evan sent us an email with that. And for some bizarre reason, just by glancing at the title, I got the impression that they knew what dark matter was. So as I'm reading it, I'm like, okay, where is it? And I got to the end, I'm like-

PP: We don't know what the hell this stuff is, but we've got a map of it.

S: But we know it's going to be there. We know what it does. We just know what it did.

PP: This is another thing about science that I just love. Here's an observation of this guy named Fritz Zwicky, he's an astronomer in the 1930s. He's looking at clusters of galaxies. These are collections of hundreds of galaxies like the Milky Way, and they're all orbiting each other like a beehive. Well, you can measure the velocities of the galaxies in there by using the Doppler shift. It's a trivial thing to do. You can do it very easily. The thing is, when you looked at all the light coming from these galaxies, and you said, well, let's assume they're filled with stars like the sun. So for every amount of light that the galaxy's emitting, like the sun, I'm assuming there's one solar mass material emitting it. So if I see a billion times the sun's light coming from this galaxy, I'm assuming it has a billion times the sun's mass. And when you do that, and you measure the velocities of the galaxies, you realize the gravity of the cluster is not nearly enough to hold the cluster together. These guys are moving too quickly. This thing will evaporate like bullets shooting out of a gun. And so why is this thing still being held together after billions of years? The creationists would have an answer for that. It would be the wrong answer that the universe is young. Exactly. We know that these galaxies are billions of years old, and there's no way these clusters could have been lasting that long. So he said, well, it sounds to me like 90% of the matter in this cluster is dark. And everybody went, that's insane. Well, years later they found another, I won't go into too much detail, but they found more and more evidence that a lot of matter in the universe is dark. And people started to really believe it, and they said, well, let's start thinking about what it could be. It could be dead stars, planets, whatever. But all of these things would have some sort of tell. They would emit light or do something that you could see them. Nothing, nothing, nothing. We know it's there, so it became clear that this stuff is made of some weird matter that's not like normal matter. And then last year they came out with a discovery that, in fact, they could show that the dark matter does not interact with normal matter except through gravity. It's a big complicated thing. If you go on my blog and look up bullet cluster, you'll find it, because there's this cluster called the bullet cluster. But again, this is a scientific theory that was crazy at first, but inevitable. We had this big problem, and there had to be some solution to it. And people wanted to deny it. Of course, they tried to attack it, and that's what happened. And it survived. Now, there are people who are still trying to attack it, because they don't want the universe to be old, they don't want there to be a big bang, whatever, and they say dark matter is baloney. And I've got to tell you, it has really withstood a lot of trials by fire.

S: And let them try to attack it.

PP: If you can explain why we see all of this gravitational distortion of galaxies from a long way off without invoking dark matter, I want to hear it.

S: Well, Phil, thanks for sitting with us. Looking forward to your talk.

J: Superman's cool.

R: Yeah, I can't wait to see the moon hoax.

PP: This will be fun.

S: It'll be awesome.

R: Totally.

PP: Thanks.

S: Always a pleasure.

PP: Take it easy.

R: Bye.

Interview with Adam Savage (52:17)[edit]

S: So sitting with us now is Adam Savage of the Mythbusters. Adam, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule. I know you guys are, they run your ragged when you come up to these TAM meetings. And sitting to your left is Tory. Thanks both of you for joining us. Yours is going to be talking later on today.

AS: Yes.

S: Just give us a little preview. What are you guys going to be talking about?

AS: Well, last year Jamie and I came, and we did kind of our standard spiel that we do at colleges and corporate events around the country, where we do a little bit of talking with a moderator on stage. We were lucky enough to have Penn Gillette interview us on stage last year, and he was really generous and amazing. Then we showed some clips from the show, and then we took questions from the audience. This year, since I figure there's a lot of repeat visitors, we're just going to wrestle. It's going to be an all out fight. We need some yellow. We're going to be beating each other. Well, we're going to talk a little bit more about how the show got started, and how we both came to be on the show, because Tory got to be on the show after it started, so he had a perception of both the before and the after, and that changed. I've also brought a slightly pared down version of the original demo reel that got Jamie and I the job, which is kind of a treat to see. There's a lot that's interesting about it.

J: Did you guys know what you were getting into when it first started? How did they contact you, and then what went on from there?

AS: We had no idea what we were getting into when it started. It was shocking. I was actually, at that point, flying back and forth to New York, trying to develop a children's television series. I actually remember having lunch with Tory, because we were both working on The Matrix.

TB: Yeah, he left The Matrix for a couple of weeks to go do the pilot for Midbusters. So he went off to do the pilot, and then he came back, and we were all just kind of waiting around to see if the show was going to get picked up.

AS: But we were having this lunch, and I was like, yeah, this children's television series, this is the one that we've got lots of power behind, some guys from NBC. It's going to be really great. This is the one I think is really going to take off, and Tory's like, yeah, dude, this Midbuster thing sounds amazing. That's the one you should go for. And I'm like, yeah, that's never going to happen.

S: Whose idea was that originally?

AS: It was originally Peter Rees. He was a producer for Beyond 2000. I don't know if you remember the magazine style show for about 10 years. He actually interviewed Jamie and peripherally I as part of a segment they did on Robot Wars back in 1994. Jamie had designed and I did the remote control system for a robot called Blendo that was just absolutely devastating. It had become quite famous.

J: Oh, God, I'm such a geek I remember that.

TB: I was actually at one of the fights where they disqualified Blendo because it was too dangerous. We were sitting like two rows back and a piece of the other robot came flying at the plex and it cracked it.

E: Did it?

TB: I was like sitting right in front of the glass where it hit, and they were like, okay, it's too dangerous.

AS: So Peter, as a good producer, never throws away a phone number. And in 2002, in spring of 2002, he contacted Jamie and said, would you be interested in hosting this show? And Jamie contacted me and said these guys want to see a demo reel. And I was like, well, I can come in next week and do it. And he said, no, no, no, they want to see it like Friday and they're in Australia, so we need to do it right now. So I went in with my Sony DV cam and Jamie's assistant Chris filmed a second camera. We shot two hours of footage. I cut it into a 14 minute demo reel, which is just you'll see it today. Jamie and I talking.

B: But you had an idea of what you wanted to do though at that point.

AS: We didn't know what the structure of the show would be. They told us, we want to see you guys introduce yourselves, talk on camera, and then we want you to discuss a myth. That's it. That's all. That's the full scope of what we got. When you see it, you'll be shocked because what we did was pretty much the show.

S: Yeah. So this is to discuss a myth and you said, OK, but we have to add in some violence and danger. You can throw a hot vape in there too. We blew something up.

AS: At some point I said to Jamie can we blow something? Make a big fireball. Jamie goes, yeah. And then there's a shot of us running from the fireball, you know.

J: Did you have any idea that because of the show, there was any, it was going to have influence on the world of skepticism and it was going to...

S: Did you know there was a world of skepticism before the show?

AS: I had some peripheral knowledge that there was a thing called the Skeptical Enquirer and Skeptics magazine.

E: Did you know James Randi?

AS: Of course I knew James Randi. I was watching Happy Days in 1972 when he was first on. I was watching Saturday night with my babysitter. So when James Randi contacted me for TAM4 and said, we'd love you to be on. You're one of our heroes. And I was like, jeez, James Randi, I'm not your hero, man. That was amazing. I mean, it's the amount of access that I've found, that we've all found from moving around in the world, from doing this show. The people that respond to it and the kind of peerage you find among scientists and professionals and people with brains that want to actually look at the world is astonishing.

J: I remember when I was first watching the show, I came on and of course I'm like, oh yeah, this is right up my alley. I love this kind of stuff. And then like three or four episodes into it, it occurred to me, like it all kind of clicked together. I'm like, holy shit, these guys are these guys are really good skeptics. Everything that they do, all the logic that they apply, all totally fits right in. And then I was hooked. It really does. The show absolutely has such a strong skeptical spine to it.

AS: Well, there's I have high hopes for this next couple of seasons in trying out some really radical stuff. I'd like to we spent seven months testing. Tore spent seven months testing whether Rolling Stone gathers any moss.

TB: Oh, was that an exciting episode.

AS: If we could spend seven months in a myth, I'd like to prove natural selection. So it actually occur on television.

TB: And then we might go over the Niagara Falls.

J: How did you ever get yourself? Did you call these guys up after they were famous like, dude, that's it.

TB: No, absolutely not. But it was funny because he we had worked for years. Actually, Jamie gave me my first job building models and they left to go do the show. And I was still working at Lucasfilm. I just finished working on Van Helsing. And I was just I remember just sitting out on the stage looking around going I'm going to be doing this forever. This isn't going to lead to anything new. But whatever. And then three days later, he called and he's like, I got an opportunity. It could change your life.

AS: That was a message I left to call me. Tory, call me.

TB: Change your life. He's all just do a video of you building something or demoing something, whatever, to show to the people at Discovery. So I did it.

AS: Tell them what you did.

TB: Oh, I did.The myth can do real do women fart. And so it was a total spoof.

J: We all want to know.

TB: So I went to a taqueria and I put a microphone underneath a table. And then as girls sat down, I would just...

AS: He's like, I want to find out if girls fart. So I'm going to go to Taco Bell and we're going to put a microphone under the seat. And then the music kicks in.

TB: I put in fart sound effects. But it was just to show my personality.

AS: It was great. He put in fart sound effects. And then you hear all these. And all these random. It's the thing you can do. You don't have to get anyone to sign a release. All these poor, random ladies just sitting there. And you just hear these terrible farts and you cut the Tory going.

J: Do you still have that available? Is that on YouTube?

TB: It's somewhere. It's definitely somewhere. Yeah.

S: Do you guys have any kind of scientific consultants for your show or to help you get the science right about what you do?

AS: It's always been. Of course, I mean, most of the show is finding out after the fact that we really screwed up. That we didn't know about some thing that we should have known about. And in our desire to first accurately research, it's really difficult to find that one person in 100,000 who really knows what you're talking about.

TB: And you just don't have the time. I mean, it's like we don't have the time to do all the research before we do the myth. It's like, go. And as you're going, you're like learning new stuff. And it's like, oh, if only we had known this earlier, that would have changed how we were going to experiment, try this experiment. And by then, it's too late.

AS: And the researchers do an amazing job. Our research team is a crack team of people who really, I mean, the level of enthusiasm you see us display on camera is actually exemplified in the entire crew, about 20 strong in San Francisco. Everybody is that excited when we get something right, when an experiment goes off well. And even then, when they own these myths and they really research them for weeks or months sometimes, they don't necessarily have the type of perspective on it that we might have and might not know to look down a certain avenue.

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

Question #1: Harvard scientists have successfully turned a light beam into matter and then back into light again with the exact same properties at a different location.

Question #2: Study finds that children who sleep more are less likely to be overweight.

Question #3: A new study demonstrates that playing video games for 2 or more hours a day worsens visual acuity.

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to figure out which one is the fake. And you can play along.

P: Global warming. Sorry.

S: Are you guys ready?

E: Yes.

P: Yes.

S: All right. Let's get to it. Number one.

J: I just want you guys to know, I have to get all of these right from now on because money is on the line.

S: That's right. There are actually listeners on the forum actually betting on Jay's performance on Science or Fiction.

J: It was Mike on the forum. He basically says he's going to donate, I don't remember.

P: $25?

J: $25. It was a $25 per person I beat.

P: Per person you take over.

J: Yeah. In other words, if my average goes up above Perry's, he's going to donate $35. And then if I finally get all the way up to the Bob and Rebecca zone, he's going to give us like $350 or something.

S: Let's see how you do today. Ready? Number one. Harvard scientists have successfully turned a light beam into matter and then back into light again with the exact same properties and at a different location. Item number two. A study finds that children who sleep more are less likely to be overweight. And item number three. A new study demonstrates that playing video games for two or more hours a day worsens visual acuity. Perry, why don't you go first?

Perry's Response[edit]

P: So the light beam thing is obviously true. That's the Scotty project. I've heard of that. The second one now was what happened?

S: Children who sleep more are less likely to be overweight.

P: Children who sleep more. Let's see. So sleeping less is what fat guys do. So does that correlate?

B: That follows. Yes.

P: OK. All right. And then the last one is video worsens visual acuity. Well, it's got that hand eye thing going on. I mean, that's good. And get your reflexes up there. So the first one's got to be crap. The first one's fake.

S: The light beam is fiction. OK. Evan?

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Oh, boy. I'm stuck between the sleep relation to weight loss and the visual acuity relationship to video games. I'm really on the fence on these two. One of those two is fiction. Rats. OK. I got to make a guess. So I'm going to guess that the more kids sleep, the less likely they are to be overweight is fiction.

S: OK. Jay?

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I distinctly remember reading things about the last two. But I know the first one is not. I'm going to go with the first one.

S: With the light beam?

J: Yeah.

S: OK. Rebecca?

Rebecca's Response[edit]

R: OK. So I'm pretty sure that sleeping more is actually better for your health and better for your weight. And the light beam through the matter thing is just insane. But somehow, I think that that one's probably true. So I think that it's the video game one. I think that video games actually might help your hand-eye coordination.

S: OK. Bob?

Bob's Response[edit]

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

B: The answer is three. Videos improve visual acuity by 20%, by the way.

S: OK. So Jay and Perry, you think that the light beam one is fake. Is that correct?

P: Oh, yeah.

E: Silence is gold.

S: That one is science. That one is science. This is a cool new study.

B: Yeah. It's interesting.

S: They basically shot a laser or a light beam into a cloud of Bose-Einstein condensate.

P: What? What about Heisenberg and his uncertainty?

S: These are an ultra-cold cloud of about 2 million sodium atoms. And I think the thing that makes it a Bose-Einstein condensate is that they're all sort of lined up in the same orientation or something.

B: No, they behave as one quantum system.

S: OK.

S: So one equationist, I guess, you could describe it.

J: OK. But you said the light beam turns into matter.

S: That's right. So it enters into it. The light beam ends. It stops. And then it turns into some kind of matter particle, which then travels for a while to another cloud. And then it turns back into the light beam. Because it's basically still entangled, I guess, from a quantum point of view. So when it turns back into a light beam, it has the same exact properties as it did before it went in. Now, the reason this is potentially interesting, other than just as another weird quantum effect, is that this could give us the ability to manipulate light beams, which has potential to be optical computers or optical information transfer. Light uses very little energy, travels very fast, obviously, so it's a good sort of medium for switching. But the problem is it's really hard to control. This might be a way of controlling it. You can turn it into a matter particle, which then can be easily manipulated and then back into light again.

R: So what kind of matter particle? What does a light beam look like when it turns into matter?

S: It just said messenger atoms.

P: Are these... is this matter intelligent?

E: Is it a new life form?

P: Is it sentient?

B: Although I wouldn't expect everyone having personal computers with Bose-Einstein condensates inside them.

S: Not anytime soon, anyway.

E: No, not for at least 18 months.

J: I don't know, Steve. That's pretty shifty, what you've tried to pull off there. The light doesn't actually turn into matter.

S: It does, Jay. It does. That part is absolutely...

B: That's how it was described.

P: I'm outraged by this duplicity.

J: Let me ask you a question. What if facts prove, anyway, right?

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: The next one, study finds that children who sleep more are less likely to be overweight. Evan, you thought this one was fake?

E: Yes. Well, no, actually, I thought either this one or the Q81 one, and I basically flipped the coin.

S: You thought this one was fake, and in fact, this one is...

E: See, my coin came up wrong.

S: And it is... it does have to do probably just with overall health. The study is just a correlation. They really didn't demonstrate why kids that sleep more are less overweight. But kids do need a lot more sleep than you might think. Six- to ten-year-olds probably should be getting like 10 or 11 hours of sleep a night. Pre-teens, like eight or nine hours of sleep a night, and often they don't get enough. And the not getting a full night's sleep did correlate with being overweight.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Which means that a new study demonstrates that playing video games for two hours or more a day worsens visual acuity is fake. Is fiction. So Bob and Rebecca both got it correct. And, Bob, you obviously read this article, because it says the study showed that playing action video games actually sharpens visual perception by up to 20%.

B: Twenty percent! Twenty percent!

S: These are video games that, like first-person shooters or action games where there's lots going on, not games they said like Tetris, but something where there's more activity going on screen.

R: Actually, I kind of had an advantage here, because I did my science fair project in the eighth grade on whether or not video games improve your hand-eye coordination. I mean, I found that they did, but I pretty much made up all the data, so maybe that didn't really help me.

S: One of the researchers, Bavalier, said, when people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing. Those games push the human visual system to the limits of the brain and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life. This also isn't the only study. We might have had one or two of these on science or fiction before. There was a study that showed that certain kinds of surgeons, those that do laparoscopic surgery or endoscopic surgery where they use a little tiny video camera, that those who play video games actually have fewer complications in doing surgery with video equipment, basically. Other studies would show that video game use actually positively correlates with hand-eye coordination with overall intelligence.

E: I bet you the military has a lot of data on that, because I know they utilize video games quite a bit.

S: Yes, you're right. A lot of this is military. The military are on the leading edge in many ways of using immersive video games for training. In fact, they have the best first-person combat simulator that was actually then turned into a game for the civilian market. They use it to put soldiers through tactical situations. Video games are good for you.

E: Go ahead, kids. Tell your parents that.

S: I keep telling my wife that. Obviously, like anything, it is to a certain degree. Unfortunately, it's probably also contributing to our obesity problem, because people are spending a lot of time sitting in a chair playing video games.

B: Unless you use the Wii.

S: That's right. Use the Wii. Everything in moderation, obviously. You need physical activity, but video games, the bottom line is they're good mental and visual activity that actually does have an effect on your processing.

J: Yes, but they also promote snacking, which is bad for you.

S: Yes, they are very snack-promoting.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:10:45)[edit]

This Week's Puzzle

Explain the following sequence:
10, 1, 5, 25, 50

Last Week's Puzzle

I came into being in the mid 19th century in Iowa
But I was only discovered a year later in New York
My fathers name was George
But the man who found me was my first cousin, once removed
I am larger than any person that has ever lived
Yet millions of people believe that others like me once flourished
People from far and wide would visit me
Theyd line up by the hundreds to get a glance at my visage
I was no great thinker, some thought I had rocks in my head
But I was gentle, firm, and thought provoking
I traveled the country and displayed my uniqueness to the masses
Though my star shone brightly, it faded quite fast
And a year or so later, I was little more than a joke
But before I was through, I had carved out my place in history
And solidified myself as one of the best known fakes of all time

Who am I?

Answer: The Cardiff Giant
Winner: David Tyler

S: Evan, please tell us the answer to last week's puzzle.

E: The answer to last week's puzzle is The Abominable Snowman. No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

S: I knew it.

E: The Cardiff Giant. The Cardiff Giant. I'm actually surprised that the correct answers came in rather quickly. The Cardiff Giant is just something that's not at the front of many skeptical topics these days. It's kind of something tucked away.

S: It's old school.

E: It is. It's still one of my favorite stories. And certainly when someone like Kenny Fader presents it, it's just I love it.

B: He can get a laundry list and make it fun.

S: Kenny is our skeptical archaeologist. He has a good talk about the Cardiff Giant. My favorite part about that story, so again, just quickly for background, this was what, about 100 years ago?

E: Yep.

S: It was a stone carving of a giant that somebody carved and buried in their backyard for a year and tried to make it look old and then chopped it around as a fossilized giant person. And then, who was the famous, was it P.T. Barnum?

E: Yes. Barnum.

S: Yeah, the famous huckster. He tried to buy the Cardiff Giant from the guy who wouldn't sell it.

E: For 60,000 bucks.

S: So he just made a fake one.

E: Yep.

S: And then he started shopping around a fake of the fake. And it didn't matter.

B: Does that make it real then?

S: This is, P.T. Barnum he's the guy who said there's a sucker born every minute. Is that apocryphal, by the way, that he really said that?

E: He did not say. He was attributed to saying it, but he didn't say it. Somebody else said it, and I don't have, unfortunately, that reference in front of me, but when I was looking up this, my little write-up for the Cardiff Giant, it mentioned that, that it's falsely attributed to Barnum.

S: That's very common, by the way, that pithy quotes are often attributed to more famous people than the people who actually said them. Famous people tend to accumulate to a quote.

E: They didn't have podcasts at the time, so.

S: Right. That's right. Well, what's our puzzle for this week?

E: But first, we have to tell you that David Tyler.

S: Oh, yes.

E: Emailed in the correct answer first. He beat Mike on the message boards by just a minute, but David Tyler is the winner, so congratulations, David.

S: Congratulations. Well done.

J: Good work, Dave.

E: Well done. Now for the latest, greatest puzzle. Here you go, folks. Identify this number sequence, okay? Ten.

B: Fibonacci. No, I'm sorry.

E: Ten, one, five, twenty-five, fifty.

J: For a good time, call ten, one, five-

S: Twenty-five, fifty.

B: What was the sequence again?

E: Ten, one, five, twenty-five, fifty. Good luck, everyone. Enjoy that one.

S: That's a logic puzzle.

J: Identify this sequence. There's a trick in there somewhere.

E: No, never.

Quote of the Week (1:13:29)[edit]

“Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun a hot rock.” - Anaxagoras

S: Bob, do you have a quote for us this week?

B: Yeah. I've got a quote by Anaxagoras circa 475 BC.

E: He was so cool.

B: He was the first philosopher to visit Athens, and clearly ahead of his time, he said, "Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun a hot rock."

S: That is pretty far ahead of his time. But you know, it seems amazing to us that the ancient Greeks would say something that does seem, again, so far ahead of "medieval thinking". But actually, the ancient Greeks pretty much got everything right. I mean, most of the ideas that there are to think, the ancient Greek philosophers thought them. They pretty much had everything down. You can find some Greek philosopher who basically said anything. It's hard to come up with anything new.

P: Nothing new under the sun.

E: Certainly that's true of Hollywood. It's hard for them to come up with anything new.

S: That's true.

E: But that's another story for another time.

S: Well, everyone, thanks again for joining me. It's a pleasure, as always.

J: Thank you, Steve.

E: Thank you.

B: Good episode.

R: Thanks, Steve. Good show.

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


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