SGU Episode 838

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SGU Episode 838
July 31st 2021
838 Magnet therapy.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 837                      SGU 839

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


KA: Knute Adcock

Quote of the Week

It seems almost natural for us to want to look up, to look back in time, and to learn and appreciate the wonder of this universe that allows us to exist, whether we are scientists or not.

Suze Kundu 

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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, July 28th, 2021, 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: Evan Bernstein...

E: Good evening, folks.

S: And today we have a guest rogue this week, Knute Adcock. Knute, welcome to the Skeptics Guide.

KA: Hello. Thanks for inviting me.

S: So Knute, tell us, we had a big debate before the show, whether it was Knute or Knut or Knewt. The Knut wasn't really serious, but you said in Germany it's Knute and in the United States it's Knewt.

KA: It is, yeah, it's Knute. To spell it with a K, my mother was gracious enough to change the spelling early on when I was born, even though I was named after the salamander, the N-E-W-T style. But the pronunciation is the same. According to my dad, I looked and sounded exactly like one when I came out. So I don't know if we got enough time for that whole story. The K is silent and yeah, when I lived in Germany, it was Knut, like the ice bear.

J: And you said you're a pilot, correct?

KA: I am. Yeah, I've been a pilot for about 25 years now, 20 of those in the Air Force, a little bit at the Air Force Academy before that, flew Cessnas, and now I fly in a private corporate aviation.

E: How many tic-tac UFOs have you seen? Come on, be honest. Now's the time.

KA: Oof. I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about it.

E: See?

KA: Well, as pilots, they're really tight-knit. I mean, it's hard enough keeping the chemtrails under wraps.

S: I know, you've got to pretend the world is a sphere. You've got to it's hard.

E: That's right.

C: The ice wall.

E: Fly at the edge of the planet.

J: What's funny is you sound like a pilot.

C: I was about to say that, Jay. I don't think it'll translate to the podcast because he's recording his own thing, but definitely the way that he sounds through Skype right now to us, it's like, shh, hello?

E: That intercoms.

S: This is AlphaEchoNiner.

KA: I can break out the pilot speak if you like, I'm actually wearing the headset I use when I fly.

J: Well, first off, we demand that you do talk like a pilot right now.

KA: Roger.

J: There it is.

KA: Copy.

B: Roger, Roger.

J: Knewt, have you ever said anything by accident thinking the microphone was off?

KA: Oh, yeah.

E: Besides right now.

KA: Actually, I only got in trouble once saying something.

J: Okay, I'll tell you the story.

KA: My last job in the Air Force, I flew Air Force One and-

B: Wow.

E: No way.

J: That's amazing.

KA: So, we would be very critical of our radio supply and one time we're sitting there at the end of the runway waiting to take off and there's this storm right off the end and we could not find a way around this thing. Finally, it looked like there was a break in the weather and I think Tower knows well because they asked you want to go? And I was on the radios at the time, I was on the right seat and I said, Air Force One copies. Yeah, we'll risk it. And that was like the worst thing I could have said on the radios because everything we do and say is recorded. I think I remember getting hit in the side of the head with a checklist by somebody saying, dude, don't say things like that. Normally, we are very, very succinct and precise and practice saying, Air Force One, ready for takeoff. You know, that's it. Don't say anything like that.

E: Right. No unnecessary words.

J: Oh my God. I just realized I could never be a pilot.

E: Did you just realize that?

J: I could never follow that protocol. Forget it. I would be like- Trying to chat the guy up.

S: It's the same thing when you're a physician, like they teach you early on, like you don't say whoops. There's certain things you don't say, like when you're examining a patient, you don't say, yeah, that's good. Like there are things that you would just say normally that can be interpreted in a nefarious way. You have to clean your lingo.

C: Yeah, psychologists never ever, or like good psychologists, I think, never say, I understand. Even though that's a normal thing to say in common parlance, when somebody's telling you about an experience and you're like, yeah, I understand.

E: Is it considered discourteous or why?

C: Because you don't understand and it's actually, like the really important thing as a psychologist is not to be sort of like feigning empathy. You don't understand what the patient is going through. You can say, that sounds very difficult. It sounds like you really were struggling there. I can imagine, or I even try not to say I can imagine because I don't know if I can, but I would never just say, totally, I understand. It's so disingenuous.

J: Well, maybe.

C: No, it is. Trust me. If somebody says that to you when you're talking about going through like a death or something really intense, they're like, I understand. That's not what you want to hear.

S: You learn to follow the path of least resistance. For example, early on in my career, I used to, when I was doing the neurological exam, I would tell patients, just walk normally across the room just so I could see them walk. After about the third or fourth time, I had a patient get mad at me and say, I can't walk normally. I said, walk as you normally would across the room just so that every now and then somebody doesn't get mad at me for implying that they can walk normally.

E: Well, the word normal itself also has kind of become-

S: It can be loaded. When you're just dealing with thousands of people in an interaction, you sort of learned how to avoid, you smooth out all these rough edges.

C: Yeah, especially if you're seeing, like you said, if you're seeing people every day. Because I have ongoing relationships with my patients weekly, one of the things I do since I work at a cancer center that's, I think, so important is to figure out their identity language early on. Do you like the word survivor? Do you like the word victim? Do you like the word- Because so many people have very strong feelings about those words and you want to make sure you know what they are and you're operating within their frame. But anyway, that's very far away from the pilot saying, whoopsie. We'll risk it. We'll risk it.

S: We'll risk it. To the press.

E: They're saying, you smell that?

KA: Yeah, that's another good one you don't want to say. What's that smell? Yeah, things like that.

S: What's that noise?

KA: What's that noise? I've never heard that before.

E: Whoa, that sounds bad.

C: How do I turn that off?

KA: Anything new.

S: Is it supposed to do that?

KA: Exactly. Anything new that happens-

E: Can you turn those alarms off, please? Ever been struck by lightning while in flight?

S: Hold that thought. Hold that thought.

COVID-19 Update (6:36)[edit]

S: We're going to move on to some COVID updates. And I do want to say before I do that, today is July 28th, so my birthday is tomorrow, July 29th.

C: Happy birthday.

E: Happy day before your birthday.

S: Her birthday is the day before mine.

E: Julia!

S: Happy birthday, Julia. I know she listens to the show. She wants to say happy birthday.

C: Yeah, Julia.

S: All right, so a couple of COVID items I wanted to point out.

J: Okay.

E: Here we go.

S: Both things that I get a ton of questions about, and there were some news items today that were relevant, so I thought I would cover them. One is about ivermectin. You guys remember what that is?

E: Yes.

S: A drug that many people claim is effective at treating COVID-19, so an antiviral drug that treats COVID-19. And there is a bit of a controversy about how well it works. There's a controversy because the data is preliminary. If it were ironclad, there'd still be a controversy because it's COVID and people are dumb, right? But it would be less of one. So there was a systematic review published recently where they go over all of the published data to date. This was 14 studies with 1,678 participants, so that's the total amount of data that they had to work with. And they concluded that, well, I'll read you the author's conclusions. This is sort of the executive summary of all the data. Based on the current very low to low certainty evidence, we are uncertain about the efficacy and safety of ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. The completed studies are small and few are considered high quality. Several studies are underway that may produce clearer answers and review updates. So they're basically saying there's not enough evidence to say either way. But keep in mind what that also means is that if there were a big signal, we would be seeing it and there isn't a big signal. It's hard to rule out a small signal. So usually preliminary data tends to be more positive. There's a bias towards the positive. So if in the preliminary data, they're not even saying it's encouraging or there's a potential signal. Yeah, there's not really much there with the studies we have. Most are negative. There's one big positive study that was really lit a fire under the claims for ivermectin and that was retracted as fraudulent. It was a fake study. So you now have to factor that out of any previous reviews about ivermectin. This is the most up to date one and it accounts for that one fraudulent study. This really is a fairly negative review, but it's based upon preliminary evidence. So there is room for more definitive studies. But again, it probably isn't a big effect there because if there were a big effect, we probably would be seeing it even in the preliminary data.

C: So Steve, how does that work? You know how the New York Times writes an article and then they correct it later in the day saying, we accidentally named the source as Dr. So-and-so, but really it's Mrs. So-and-so or something like that. But we don't do that with journal articles.

S: Well, they just retract them completely.

C: But I'm saying like, let's say a meta-analysis includes a study that later was found fraudulent. Wouldn't it be great if the authors of that meta-analysis could just update their study and sort of like make a note at the bottom so that now when people search for it, it's still the same DOI number. It's just an updated version.

S: Usually editors will do that. Like they'll publish an editor's note that includes a study which has now been retracted or whatever.

C: Right. Because that seems like a really unfortunate aspect of the scientific publishing world, that there's always outdated information.

S: Yeah. But no, they do publish corrections though.

C: Okay.

S: And that could be even just once it goes through the meat grinder of open-ended peer, not the pre-publication peer review. But the community now has to tear it apart. If they go, oh, you really screwed up here, and you know, if like the, basically if the journal gets embarrassed because they missed something or they really didn't do a good job editorially, they'll correct it post-production in response to the feedback from the community, which is appropriate.

C: Right. It's just such a hard thing when like, like you said, a published journal article passes peer review. Everybody thinks it's legitimate. They cited a bunch of times. They actually utilize it as part of their own analysis. And then later it's uncovered that it's fraudulent. So everything it touched is now tainted.

S: Oh, yeah. And these retracted articles continue to be cited even after they're retracted.

C: Which is bananas. I understand if they were cited prior to that point.

S: Well, it's just lazy. It's because people are not going back to the primary source. They're citing something that's citing the article just perpetually, we really should never do that, you know. And hopefully a reviewer should pick that up. These are all things that should happen, but yeah, whatever. It's tough. It's why it takes months to get a paper through peer review because there's so many details to go over. And you know, and having published what I have and written thousands of blog posts and et cetera. You write anything of any length, no matter how careful you are, there's going to be errors. There's going to be mistakes. There's no way you can, you can weed them all out.

J: I'm reading the news today and the CDC changed the mask recommendations like, circumstantial, right?

S: Yeah.

J: So what's the confusion? Why are people like what is this? It's like, yeah, they changed it because the circumstances changed. So do you understand why there's general confusion about the CDC's change in recommendation?

C: It depends on where it is, right? Like the new CDC guidance is that in hotspot areas, vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors. I think the concern is like, why didn't they just say everywhere? Why not say everywhere?

S: I know it's tough because there's an intention to treat kind of approach to it, but it's complicated. So in other words, if you leave people wiggle room, there's the perception that maybe they'll be more receptive. And if you if you are draconian, then you'll get more backlash. But if you make it more too complicated, then they'll be confused. And so it's no one really knows what the perfect way to put it is. But that's the thinking that goes behind it. But I was just interviewed on the radio yesterday about this, and they asked that question. It's like, oh the experts are changing their mind when we don't know what to believe. Like, listen, this is a rapidly evolving pandemic, right? The facts are actually changing. This is literally a new variant of the virus. It's a different virus that's circulating now.

E: Right. That's how it should be.

S: Yeah. The recommendations have to keep being updated in order to track facts on the ground. And we have to just accept that that the CDC is going to tell us one thing today and then something else a month from now, because it's going to be a different situation.

B: And also, this is actually based on actual new facts like they actually discovered that people with the beta variant are have like a thousand times the load of a virus in their mucosal tracts or whatever.

S: Delta variant.

B: Yeah. What did I say?

S: You said beta.

B: Oh, boy. The Delta variant. I mean, it's like a new fact. They found that there's a thousand times the virus that there was in the second variant in a second. And because of that it's going to spread a lot worse. And so even if you get it, so even if you're even if you're vaccinated and you don't have a mask, there's a greater chance that you're going to catch it because there's a thousand fold increase. And you might not even get sick, but you can still potentially spread it even if you're vaccinated. So it's just safer and better to put to have a mask on if you're in a yellow or a red zone. And that makes sense to me, too, because that's where you're going to get the most bang for the buck. It's not it's not nearly as as as required in a regular in a place where it's it's good where the vaccine rates are decent.

S: And Cara, you're also right, though, that we can have like the most evidence based tweaked out recommendations. But if they're too complicated, people will throw up their hands in confusion. And so sometimes you may need to just gloss over some of the complexity just to make the recommendations a little bit more simple. But it's no one knows what the perfect answer is. It's difficult when you're dealing with public messaging like that.

C: In some states and some municipalities are like, we're going to say we're going to be more extreme than what the federal government says that like California and then other states and municipalities it's like, we're not going to do any of this until we're forced to. And I think that's where the confusion comes in, too. The federal guidance is not always in line with the local guidance.

KA: Something I recently read on the pilot forums. Now, I'm not an airline pilot, but I have a lot of friends who fly airlines, as you can imagine when an airline pilot flies next to somebody they may have never met, even though they've been in the airline for a decade and they sit there and everybody cycles into the plane and maybe they'll look in the cockpit and maybe they'll see if the pilot's wearing a mask or not. And what they've talked about is that if they're not wearing a mask, they are being assumed to have vaccinated. But if they are wearing a mask, people are assuming the opposite. People have heard them mutter under their breath things like, oh, I have a MAGA pilot.

C: Yeah, I think I mentioned on the show a few weeks ago that I went into a bakery and it was in the in-between when you couldn't when you were allowed to not wear a mask.

S: In the in-between, is that like the upside down?

C: Yeah, the in-between times. And I was wearing my mask. Everybody there was wearing their mask. A woman walked in. She said, do I need to do I should I take it out of my bag? And they were like, if you're vaccinated, it's fine if you're not blah, blah, blah. She was like, well, I am, but I didn't want to send the wrong message. And I literally had that moment, that thought. And I kind of turned to the guy who was working the register and I was like, oh, I was just wearing mine so that people don't think I'm an anti-masker. And he's like, oh, same.

S: We're clearly in a gray zone kind of transition period. And the bottom line is get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Suck it up until this is over. OK, we want this to be over. All right. One more quick news item.

S: OK, so the question is, is it OK to mix and match COVID vaccines? What happens to the question?

C: That's a big question.

S: Big question. So there was a study. And the study looked at it compared. This is now in Europe. They compared, getting one dose of AstraZeneca and another dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, versus getting just the AstraZeneca or just the Pfizer. So how do you think that shook out?

S: It's so hard. It's different. I don't know.

J: I think it works. I think it's fine to mix and match. That's my guess.

C: I hope it's my guess, too.

B: Maybe I guess it's a little bit better to mix and match.

E: Really?

S: Bob is correct. It's a little bit better to mix. So the BioNTech, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine did better overall than AstraZeneca, the Oxford AstraZeneca one. And if you took one of each, it was slightly better than if you got two of the Pfizer.

C: Even though it's not just that mixing was better than just getting AstraZeneca, mixing was better than just getting Pfizer?

S: A little bit, but only by a little bit.

C: Interesting.

B: Sounds kind of negligible, but interesting.

C: Yeah, that is interesting. I would get why it would be better because if it had a higher efficacy, then yeah.

S: Now, however, this was a measuring antibodies and T cells, not risk of infection. So this is remember we talked, I think, a couple of weeks ago about different ways. Yeah, so looking at markers, not risk of infection, they said they're all fine. They're all protective. It's all good. But we were just looking at antibodies just to see if there was like any reason for concern, if anything, mixing is not only fine, if anything, it might be slightly better because maybe just getting different stimulation of different antigens and the overall stimulation to the immune system was a little bit more robust. So mixing and matching is based on this one study of these particular vaccines appears to be fine.

KA: Steve, I have a question for you, Steve, regarding this. So just tonight, my son and I look forward to watching baseball games all the time, and they just canceled the Nationals Phillies game due to COVID. So right before we started here, my son came up to me and told me it was because 12 national players and management team have been tested positive, 11 of them were vaccinated. And he said that he said that those 11 were Johnson and Johnson. Now, this is this is from my 15 year old son. So I haven't had a chance to peer review this journal. But he's pretty smart on Facebook. My question, then, related to what you just brought up, Steve, is say someone does get the Johnson and Johnson, they read some of this anecdotal evidence and they get nervous. Can they go out and get themselves some Pfizer or Moderna?

S: Yeah, I was like 85 versus 90 to 95. It's still very, very effective. It's not quite as effective as the mRNA vaccines. I haven't seen any published studies looking at crossing over, getting a booster from the from the Johnson and Johnson. And then they're basically the other thing is you have to remember they were sort of discouraging that mainly because they think everyone wants needs to get a first dose before we talk about people getting boosters or second doses or insurance doses or whatever.

C: Right. But J&J was a single shot.

S: It's a single shot. But they're basically saying, don't worry about that until we get everybody vaccinated. Was kind of the standard answer. And I think I think we're going to be getting our boosters at a year. I think that's going to happen.

C: I think you're right. I think we're all going to be getting boosters. And when you look at the hospital data, again, over and over and over 90, some extreme number percent of people in hospitals across the country were not vaccinated or only had a single shot.

S: And the single shot definitely is not adequate. Like you do not get for the ones that require two shots. A single shot is not does not do it does not cut it. All right. Let's move on to some news items.

News Items[edit]

Folding Proteins (20:27)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to start with an update on folding proteins.

B: Yes.

C: I thought you were going to say folding laundry.

J: I don't do it.

B: Yeah, I wouldn't cover that unless maybe it was metamaterial laundry. So yes, DeepMind and European Bioinformatics Institute released a treasure trove of 350,000 predicted protein structures created by their deep learning AI Alpha Fold 2. Now, you may remember Alpha Fold 2. I talked about it in episode 804. Check it out. Fascinating stuff. Last December, it won the Olympics of protein folding, showing that it could predict how hundreds or thousands of linked amino acids would fold into complex proteins far, far better than any other predictive system at that time. So knowing the specific shape of a protein is critical, right? Because that 3D shape actually determines how that protein will function. And proteins are, by the way, proteins are the shit they make. They make up and make happen most of the important life stuff, in quotes, life stuff that happens in biology. That's, of course, all over the earth. Proteins are they really are the queens of biology. They catalyse far and away most of the chemical reactions in the cell. They could be so many different things. They could be structural. They could be protective. They could be used as transport or storage. Their membranes, their enzymes, their toxins. I mean, just look at the cell's resume. Most of what they have written down, proteins, proteins, proteins. That's kind of like what they do. So proteins are kind of important in biology. And intimately knowing what those those proteins are and especially the ones that humans create, particularly, is obviously that's a that's a holy grail of biology. So this almanac of all the proteins for humans is called the proteome. And it was the biggest ineluctable goal once the genome was mapped in 2003, because once we mapped our genome, a lot of these scientists were saying, all right, now that we got this, we've got to go after the proteome. And of course, it's been that's been a goal for years. But you really kind of need the genome first before you're really going to start mapping creating the proteome. And but only until now do we really kind of have the tools to do this. Because remember that just because we know the genome, that doesn't mean that we know the shape of the proteins that it codes for. It's not encoded in DNA. It's not in there. It's just way too hard to predict how amino acids would fold in on themselves to form a protein. Incredibly complicated. Some amino acids are hydrophobic, some are hydrophilic, some are charged, some are uncharged. I mean, trying to suss that out for a protein comprised of hundreds and thousands of amino acids, not going to happen in any way that we could come up with in like an algorithmic way until really the alpha fold two. Now, we've had other methods to actually get a fairly definitive look at the 3D shape of proteins, but they were expensive. They were time consuming. Like, for example, you may have heard of X-ray crystallography or cryo electron microscopy. Those are two methods. They're great. They will really get you a look at what the 3D shape of that protein is. But that takes too much time, too much money, way too slow. But that's really the gold standard for years. But really no longer. It's not necessarily the gold standard anymore. All right. So how does AlphaFold do this? It uses two methods primarily. It uses training data that was taken from all that hard one information from the crystallography data. We have all those images, all those all those those that hard one data from X-ray crystallography. And using that, you could use that as training data. So basically saying that look at this amino acid sequence. This is exactly what the protein looks like. So that is training it. And then the second way that it does this, that it uses actually the knowledge that we have about how related proteins fold. Because if you're a related protein, you're going to generally fold similarly to the your cousin protein down down the road. So all that information was kind of thrown into AlphaFold as well. And those are the two the two main ways that it that it's really doing all this. Now, this latest news is the result of unleashing AlphaFold 2 on the human genome, the human genome and the genomes of important model organisms like E. coli, fruit flies and even meatballs. Right, Jay?

J: Don't even.

B: OK. I won't go there.

C: Even? Don't even.

B: So last week, as I said, they released a database of three hundred and fifty thousand three dimensional protein structures. Now, let's look at the subset of those that are just the human proteins. Many researchers put that the human proteome at twenty thousand proteins. But that's kind of a guess, I think, Steve, right? That's not exactly that firm. I've come across numbers that were smaller and even far bigger. But kind of the big number you'll hit when looking up the human proteome is about twenty thousand proteins. And that's probably close enough, I guess.

S: Twenty thousand is always this is the estimate I always see now.

B: Yeah, yeah. OK. So so the database that was released covered only about ninety eight point five percent of them. So almost all of the twenty thousand. And that's mainly because they had to they had a limit. They said, all right, no proteins that are beyond, say, twenty three hundred amino acids. They cut it off there because it gets kind of crazy once you get the really huge proteins and they're much harder to predict. So ninety eight point five percent. Pretty close. So we had previously laboriously identified 17 percent of the human amino acids, so-called residues in our proteome. We spent decades, decades using those gold standard methods I mentioned. Seventeen percent. So now this new database brings that number up to fifty eight percent, almost sixty eight percent at a confident level. It's just confident. They are very confident. And of that fifty eight, thirty six percent are highly confident. So they're very highly confident over of thirty six percent of it. Now, think about that. I mean, from 17 to 36 or to 58 percent, that's a staggering increase. There's nothing incremental about that. And what what that is, if you really think about it, that's essentially decades worth of research done in months or weeks. I mean, probably be a lot quicker than that for the program to to run. Can you mean we're actually doing this where we're doing decades worth of research in a day or so. Now, Alpha Fold is obviously it's not perfect. There are things that it can't do. There are some proteins that do not have a defined structure. I mean, that actually is what they do. They're not defined at all that there. If they have any structure, their structure is to be flexible. So Alpha Fold is not designed to really deal with that. There are some proteins that will not take on a specific structure until they are like physically touching another protein. So Alpha Fold is definitely not designed to deal with that. The data is just not there to handle that as well. So it's not going to you know, it can't do all proteins. Not at all, but it can do a lot of them and it can do some of them incredibly, incredibly well. One thing about this release that I really loved is that DeepMind is making their data set publicly available on a site hosted by a European Bioinformatics Institute. I checked it out today. You can go there right now. AlphaFold.ebi/ac/uk. Go there right now. I poked around and under a minute I was looking at the predicted shape of cell division protein FTSP for E. Coli. BAM. I just like it offered it as E. Coli as an example. And I drilled down a little bit and I was looking at a protein and the confidence level for most of the shape of that protein was above the 90th percentile, above 90th, which is essentially what the X-ray crystallography gets you after months of work and a ton of money. And they got it probably between breakfast and lunch. Amazing, amazing. This is going to be an amazing tool. Now, over the course of the rest of this year, DeepMind plans to target every last gene sequence and DNA databases, like probably all the major databases all over the world. They're just going to hit all of those gene sequences and feed them in to Alpha Fold 2. Their goal is to increase their database of predicted structures from 350,000 to 100 million proteins, 100 million or more. Researchers say we think this is the most significant contribution AI has made to science to date. That is a hell of a quote right there. So what does that mean? And so what's this going to mean to me? So now having the proteome and we don't have the proteome yet, but we've made big strides, it seems, and we're going to make even bigger strides in the very near future. It's definitely going to make some big changes to the practice of medicine, obviously, designing drugs, understanding diseases. Computational biologist Mohammed Al Quraishi describes having the availability of so many protein structures as a paradigm shift in biology. Steve, you mentioned in your blog that we'll be able to move more quickly from research on people and animals to computers, right? From in vivo and in vitro to in silico, right?

S: The more data we have, the better we'll be able to model things. So you're still going to for anything medical, you're going to need that final piece of testing it in actual people. The goal is by the time you get to that point, you've maximized safety and you maximize the probability of it working. And the more information we have, the better. So this this will speed up clinical research because it'll get us to that final human stage with much greater confidence.

B: Yeah. But of course like the Genome Project, when that remember when that came out in 2003, I distinctly remember it. A lot of changes now will be behind the scenes. You're not going to you're not going to go to your doctor and talking about this really. It's not going to trickle down to you for a while. It could take years for that to happen. This kind of stuff takes time. But behind the scenes, there's going to be a lot of stuff going on. And but of course, not everyone is doing a happy dance, apparently. I found David David Jones, David Jones, as a UCL computational biologist, he thinks he believes that many of Alphafold's predictive structures could have been created with earlier software developed by academics. He said, for most proteins, those results are are probably good enough for quite a lot of things that you want to do. So, OK. So to sum it up, I'll end with a quote from Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who said recently, the Alphafold database shows the potential for AI to profoundly accelerate scientific progress. Not only has DeepMind's machine learning system greatly expanded our accumulated knowledge of protein structures and the human proteome overnight, its deep insights into the building blocks of life hold an extraordinary promise for the future of scientific discovery. And I'll finally end with with my big takeaway. My big takeaway from this is that I think this is starting to give us a glimpse of the potential of narrow AI. I mean, if you already hadn't having gotten that glimpse already, it's it's an amazing tool. It's you know, and this we're just scratching the surface. We're just getting started. And it's going to continue and continue and continue to improve and change our lives. And I mean, I'm just trying to think, can you imagine in 20 to 30 years, what narrow AI and beyond will be giving us? It's going to I mean, it's going to be amazing. I mean, clearly some crazy stuff's coming down the road.

S: I agree. And I'm usually not nearly as much as a techno optimist as you, Bob. But I think that it's you can't oversell, I think, like the promise of narrow AI, the way it's been taking off in the last five years or so with deep learning and neural networks and everything. Think about this. This is jet fuel to biological and medical research. We're going to be feeling the effects of this for decades and it's only going to get better. So yeah, it really is allowing us to do decades of research in months in some areas.

B: And yeah, even though it could take some years before we really start seeing the payoff, your kids and your grandkids, they are going to be seeing the results of this. They'll be thinking of this of this date and maybe they'll even remember this talk. I remember when Bob talked about that.

J: Wouldn't that be nice?

E: He first brought it up in episode 804.

S: It's 838. All right. That's the episode we're on today.

E: Thank you.

S: You're welcome.

Magnet Therapy for Cancer (32:46)[edit]

S: What if I told you guys, what would your first reaction be of a study that claims, to treat brain cancer with magnets?

E: Brain cancer?

B: Sounds like it's from an article a hundred years ago.

J: But we're using magnets on the brain. I would imagine that it's probably derivative of that.

E: Yeah. But for cancer treatment?

C: Yeah, but how do you how do you shrink a tumor with a magnet?

S: Yeah. So-

J: You hit it with magnetism.

C: So wait, but what if you're using the magnets to guide the drugs?

E: Oh, is that how? Oh, like an etch a sketch kind of thing?

S: This is just from the directly from the magnetic field itself.

C: Yeah, that's cool. I mean, I would say I'm skeptical, but tell me more.

S: Yeah, it's kind of you guys are reflecting kind of the dichotomy here. So magnets are real. It's like it's not like their magnets themselves are made up and they affect the body because our biological organisms are electromagnetic and magnetic resonance imaging, MRI scans or use magnets to make the best images we can of of biology. And we're using transcranial magnetic stimulation to change brain function. And so, yeah magnets are a powerful, real biological force.

C: But that's all like physiology, there's something interesting about the idea of like there being a tumor in the brain.

S: Yeah, yeah. So this definitely is like a new level. And of course, my initial reaction was skeptical as well, because the flip side of that coin is for the last 200 years, basically, since there's been a science of magnetism and magnets, there has been magnetic quackery and it's still flourishing. And so the question is always when you want to hear any claim being put forward for magnets, is this real or is this magnetic quackery? Is this nonsense? And sometimes there's things in the middle where you have legitimate researchers who think they've hit upon something, but they're just getting kind of lost in the sexiness of using magnetic fields to affect the body. I've seen that happen as well. So I took a deep look at this at this one and my overall sense is that this is legitimate, but preliminary. If I had to encapsulate the executive summary there. First of all, the brain cancer that they're treating here is glioblastoma multiforme, which is the most GPM. It's the most common. It's also the nastiest. It's bad. It's the hardest to treat. Survival times are still like 12 to 18 months on average. And yeah, and like our treatments, they've made a little bit of a difference, but not much.

C: And they can be kind of brutal, too.

S: Yeah. Oh, yeah. It's hard because it's brain cancer. It's a very invasive cancer. It sends out like the tendrils into the brain tissue. That's why it's impossible to cure. It's not like encapsulated or anything. And by the time you detect it, it's like too late. It's already insinuated itself in the brain. And of course, our ability to use aggressive treatment, whether surgical or radiation or whatever, is limited because it's the brain that you're talking about. At some point, you're like you could take out lobes of the lung and try to manage people that way. But you can't do that to the brain without causing significant neurological impairment. So it's bad. It's very, very bad.

B: But wait, we only use 10 percent of our brains. So can't you just cut off the other 90 percent?

C: And delete it.

S: And that's not just to make sure everyone listening knows that's absolutely not true. That's myth. Bob said that in jest.

E: It's 12 percent.

C: Bob was supposed to say, what is it? Sarcasm symbol.

S: Yeah, the sarcasm. All right. So this is how the thing I was most interested in when I heard this is what's the apparent mechanism here? Because it's not obvious. And I did not think of it. Wasn't even among the things that I would consider. So this is how it allegedly works. And this is based upon some in vitro data. So there's some preliminary data. And this is what led to this study. And that is that the if you have an intense enough magnetic field for a long enough period of time, it can affect the function of mitochondria in such a way that it causes them to spew out a lot of oxygen free radicals. Now, if you have a very metabolically active tissue like cancer, it might cause them to put out so many oxygen free radicals that it triggers cell death. Apoptosis.

B: Apoptosis.

S: Yeah. So that's the idea.

C: But it would never be like all of it.

S: No, probably not.

C: But yeah, I just don't see how this is. I mean, but it could definitely maybe tamp it down, slow its progression.

S: Well, you want to hear what the results were? So first of all, this was a case report. This is a case report of one person. This is one person. So this is just a proof of concept. We just want to make sure it's not going to make the person drop dead so that we could actually study it in people. So this was somebody who has glioblastoma, GBM, or I should say had he passed away during the study. But he had GBM and had failed all treatment and there was nothing left they can do for him. So it was like nothing left to lose. Let's try this experimental treatment sort of thing. So he had to wear it. It's interesting because you wear a helmet with these three magnets on them and it looks like a beer drinking hat. You know what those look like?

C: Oh, no.

S: Exactly like that. Like, yeah, like almost with the exact same dimensions as like a beer can. There's sort of like a little fat. So there's like these two little fat beer cans on either side, like at both temples. And then there's a third one on the top of the head. So there's these three can magnets, which are very powerful. And he had to wear them for several hours a day, like with five minutes between each hour for five days a week. And they tracked the size of the tumor while he was doing this. And the tumor actually shrunk. You know, it shrunk by by 1.03 centimetres per day, cubic centimetres per day.

C: It might have been an enormous tumor.

S: Yeah. So overall, overall, it shrunk by 31 percent during the course of the treatment. Thirty one percent.

C: Random question, Steve. How sure are we that this wasn't just the cumulative effect of all the other treatments this guy had taken?

S: Well, because there's we don't know for sure because it's one person. But there's a couple of good reasons to suspect that it isn't.

C: That it was the magnets.

S: One is at one point he had to take a break from wearing the magnets and the tumor started to get bigger. And then they reinstated the magnets and they got smaller. And then when he did it for longer, it got smaller, faster. So there was an apparent dose response and there was there was good correlation to actually because they were again, they were following him during the course of several months. It wasn't just like at the beginning and the end.

C: Yeah, that's a good.

S: That's pretty good. That's pretty good. That's pretty strong.

B: Wear them all the time.

C: Interesting. OK.

S: Unfortunately, the guy had you mean he had a brain tumor, he's neurologically impaired. At some point during the study, he fell, had a closed head injury and ultimately died from the injury.

E: Oh, my gosh.

S: Not from the tumor and not from the treatment, but from falling and hitting his head.

C: Which is related, probably.

S: Well, probably secondarily related, probably because I said he's impaired because he's got a brain tumor. The family did allow for an autopsy. So this allowed the researchers to do a pathological examination of the brain, and they were able to document the tumor shrinkage that way. You know, it's a case report of one person. So that's a hugely preliminary. It has to be replicated. We need statistics. You know, we need to do real controls here. It's encouraging enough to do more research. I don't want to, like, oversell the implication of a single study with one person. But as a proof of concept to justify later research, it's pretty solid. And it's interesting. It's interesting, I never would have thought about that, that effect. But again, one of the main ways that we treat cancer is to put cells that are the most metabolically active under some stress, because cancer cells are probably the most metabolically active cells.

B: That's why you lose your hair, right?

S: But that's why you lose your hair and you have other effects, because the other metabolically active cells will tend to be affected as well.

C: Oh, it's why chemo is severely toxic. It's not just hair loss.

S: It is literally a toxin just killing cells is hoping to kill the tumor cells more than the healthy cells.

C: And that's why a lot of a lot of chemotherapies, you have to like get your levels of your liver enzymes checked. You have to get heart tests and yeah, just make sure your organs are OK.

S: So the other thing is that this was looking at tumor size, which, again, is a very important marker, but it didn't look at survival because it couldn't because he died in the middle of it. And there's only anecdotal evidence about quality of life. You know, his caregiver said he was getting a little bit decreased effects of the tumor. But so what later studies will need to look at is does it actually increase survival and does it and or does it increase quality of life duration and quality of life? That's what it's all about. And so it's probably not going to be a cure, probably not going to be a cure. But if it does help whack back the tumor and extend survival even a little bit, it's something because again, it's such a horrible diagnosis. I did want just to remind you guys of the CRISPR study from a few months ago.

B: Yeah, that was incredibly encouraging.

S: That was in mice. It was not in humans. Right. But that was also with GBM. So who knows, maybe in four or five years might have in the clinic, some combination of CRISPR and this magnetic therapy that might start moving the needle on GBM would be really, really nice.

C: Yeah. And the truth is, human trials would probably be relatively easy to get approval for considering that it's not invasive.

S: It's all risk versus benefit. Right.

C: And the standard of care for glioblastoma is still it's they're low survival. I mean, it's a very low survival. So even the best we have right now is not great.

S: Yeah, exactly.

C: So being able to have a clinical trial like this would be helpful.

S: And this could be completely adjunctive therapy to whatever else is standard of care. So it's very easy.

C: Yeah, I don't see any reason why this would be at least from a face validity perspective, why this would in any way like gum up chemo or radiation.

S: Right. Right. Right. But again, I just have to my huge word of caution here is we've been here before with GBM, with treatments like, oh, this keeps blood vessels from growing. This is going to be fantastic. And it does like very little to nothing. So we just got to be very cautious because everything that's looked encouraging previously for GBM has just not had that much of an effect. But we got to keep playing, buying those lottery tickets, right? We just got to keep trying. And this is one of the more encouraging things to come down for a while. So we'll see how it works out.

B: I mean, have we ever seen a 30 percent decrease like that?

E: Probably. I mean, that's the thing. You've got to remember, this is one dude. Probably plenty of people have seen 30 percent decrease when they took chemo.

S: Yeah. Or radiation therapy.

C: Or radiation, like stuff we already have.

S: Yeah. Yeah. The problem is that even when it looks good with markers and everything, it just doesn't seem to extend survival. That's the key.

C: Yeah. And also a 30 percent decrease means nothing if it's just going to come roaring back the minute you can no longer tolerate the treatment because it's too toxic. And that's a huge problem. It's like you can only stave these things off for so much. And the minute that you're not in treatment anymore, it comes raring back.

B: So I mean, I could wear that helmet all day.

S: Yeah, but we can't we can't assume it's benign. It's doing something. If you're killing cancer cells, it's doing something.

C: Yeah, it might cause long term cognitive impairment or I mean, there's no reason to think it wouldn't. It's just not relevant if survival solo.

J: Steve, Steve, are the doctors worried, though, that somebody might end up with superpowers?

E: No, they're very worried. It's why they haven't said anything about it yet.

J: OK, just curious.

E: Take their silence as panic.

C: Do you have a sticky note on your laptop that says to ask that every time we do a CRISPR or magnetic?

J: I'm just checking because this is where these superpowers come from. If you if you read comic book historical research, that's where all these wacky stuff is coming from.

E: That's right.

C: The peer reviewed comic book literature tells me this.

Galileo Project (45:29)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, since you're so keen on trying me in here, tell us about the Galileo project.

J: Yeah, I want to start off by saying before we get into this news item that right now, I don't know where the researchers really lie on the science versus pseudoscience spectrum. I'm hoping they're way more on the science side of things. But there is a little bit of question about it. So do your own research. I'm just going to tell you about what took place this week. So the concept here is imagine if we could find an alien artifact for real and how cool that would be. You know, I'm talking about something that was built by an alien culture. You know, what impact would that have on today's society? That's for philosophers and Cara to figure out. But astrophysicist Avi Loeb from Harvard University and Frank Lockean, CEO of Brooker Corporation, they're both co-founders of this new initiative called the Galileo project. And the goal of the project is to search for and hopefully find extraterrestrial technological civilizations or ETCs. So on Monday, the 26th of July, the team announced, and this is in quotes, Given the recently discovered abundance of Earth, Sun, systems, the Galileo project is dedicated to the proposition that humans can no longer ignore the possible existence of extraterrestrial technological civilizations. So that's a mouthful, right?

B: OK, ignore the existence.

E: Have you been ignoring?

B: Have there been any evidence?

J: Yeah, I know, Bob. Right. There's there's a lot of question marks.

C: They're missing the word potential or possible.

J: Exactly. Well, I'll get into it a little bit later where what I was able to read today, what I found out. But let me just go through what the Galileo project is, because on the surface, it's not a complete waste of time. The team will look for techno signatures. Have you ever heard of a techno signature?

B: Yes.

S: Yeah, we talked about it on the show.

J: Right. OK, so just to remind people, there are physical objects, right? Maybe it's an alien species that built something that we can see, right? It could be an alien technological equipment of some kind. Like, Bob, you always talk about Dyson spheres, right? Like a Dyson swarm, like encasing a sun in a material that will collect the energy of that sun.

B: Right. And it would radiate infrared and you could detect the infrared. Sure.

J: Right. So there might be who knows, right? You know, come on.

B: Yeah.

J: The universe is huge. There might be some artifact out there.

B: The problem is detecting it.

J: Exactly. So the project has three research goals. The first one is to obtain high resolution images of unidentified aerial phenomena. This is a new way of saying UFO. It's UAP.

B: Really? They're going they're going local with this. Ugh.

J: Through multi detector sensors to discover their nature. Search and conduct in depth research on interstellar objects. That part is great. Search for potential ETC satellites in Earth's orbit. Not so great.

E: In Earth's orbit?

J: Yes.

B: Wow. No, this is pseudoscience.

J: Yeah.

B: But this is Avi. This is Avi.

S: I think it's mixed. I think it's mixed.

B: Not from what I'm hearing so far. I mean, you're going to look for extraterrestrial technology in the atmosphere, in orbit around the Earth or in the solar system. Steve this is the ʻOumuamua guy.

S: I know.

E: Oh, yeah.

B: So, I mean, what do you hear? What are you hearing that that looks that sounds encouraging to you?

J: So the team is not investigating previous claims of alien visitation or UAPs. This is good news, by the way, right? Because there's all this crap in the news for the past several months about UFOs, whatnot. They want to look for and research physical objects like ʻOumuamua. And no matter what oddities they do find, this is what they say. They want to discover the origin, if possible. It could be an atmospheric phenomenon. This is what they're saying, that it could be an atmospheric phenomenon or a similarly mundane explanation. Or it could be something much more compelling, like an actual alien artifact. Either way, the team is going to use a science-based methodology to draw conclusions. That's basically what they're saying. Now, of course, what they actually do with the information that they find is a completely different thing. And that's going to happen behind closed doors, which we won't know. So in the past two weeks, the team has received one point seven five million dollars in donations. They're currently selecting the scientific instruments that they need to get started. And they plan to set up multiple telescopes and or they're calling it telescope systems globally. So each telescope system is going to have two 25 centimeter telescopes and, of course, a digital camera. And they'll use software to search through all the collected data that they end up with. Then they'll find an object of interest and then they'll do a deeper dive on it and get the highest resolution that they can off of that. They also plan to analyse data collected from other survey telescopes, like the 8-meter Verisi-Rubin Observatory that's currently under construction in Chile. Okay, that's cool. They should use these bigger telescopes as well. Now, just for some context here. Many fields of science look for signs of life outside our Earth. Legit like planetary scientists, astrobiologists, exoplanet astronomers, and, of course, SETI. Hello, right? They they're they're looking for evidence. And we don't like turn a crooked eye to SETI because we know that they're science based. The question always is how legitimate is the science? And the problem here is that pseudoscience has a strong presence when it comes to proof of aliens. It always has. Some scientists are conducting legitimate research and others aren't. So time will tell how legitimate this new endeavour is. But I found something very interesting. So Carl Sagan's book, Contact, was very loosely based on a scientist named Jill Tarter. And she recently went head to head with Ali, the guy-

S: Avi.

J: Avi Loeb, right? She went head to head with him, basically saying, like cut the pseudoscience, right? You need to read it. There's there's there's an exchange that they had. It was it's interesting. But the point here is that other scientists are turning an eye and saying how legitimate is this? That's the main question here. And I think it's a good thing for people to discuss because money is being spent and they're making claims and they're going to what if they do find something? You know, this team actually believed that that object that came through, ʻOumuamua, they really believe that it was an alien technology. And there is no evidence of that whatsoever. So I feel like they're being very, very optimistic, like in the face of true science, they're being way too optimistic. So that puts a big skeptical red flag in the sky for me when I hear that kind of sentiment towards an object that happened to pass by the earth. You know, now that he wrote a book and now he's out collecting money. So the only thing we could do is sit back and watch what they do and see if anything comes out of it. I mean, if they do legit science, the sad fact is they're probably going to find absolutely nothing.

E: Yeah.

S: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I obviously have no problem with people in doing scientific investigation to things like this. I have no problem with SETI. I think SETI is great. As long as they keep the quality of the science high and they don't overstate any claims or they're not trying to prove that this is true. They're just they're trying to really answer the question. Like, is there any evidence for technosignatures out there? Then that's fine. I have no problem with it. And I agree. It's like probably come up with nothing. But it's also possible that somewhere in our galaxy there is a Dyson swarm. You know, it's possible. And if they find that great.

B: Well, the question for me is the the implication I got earlier, Jay, was that they were looking primarily local, earth's atmosphere, earth orbit, and our solar system. And so if they're looking just there, I think okay, look, but I think that's a waste – kind of a waste of time because it's basically looking for UFOs. There's just no evidence that extraterrestrials visited our solar system, our planet. And I think if you're going to spend millions to look locally, I think that's a massive waste of time. If you're going to do good science, that's great. But I would rather you look outward, you know? Look out into the galaxy and into the universe for technosignatures of like Kardashev civilizations type 2, type 3, the kind of civilizations that can make an impact on their local environment to such a degree that we could detect it thousands or millions of light years away. That's great because I think that's probably going to be the only way we're going to find alien evidence is some technosignature or a signal that we could detect. That's how it's probably going to be detected. And we got to look. And we actually did look. We did a big survey. We did a big survey, I remember a few years ago, looking for a specific infrared signature that you would get from a Dyson swarm. And they didn't find anything. And that was very disappointing because it was a solid, it was a solid task. It was a solid mission that they were doing. They really, it was a pretty wide survey. And so that was very disappointing. But that's the kind of stuff I think you're going to need to do to find a technosignature. So I hope they look more non-local than what they, sounds like they're doing.

J: But if we do hear a signal from outer space that it goes bang, bang, bang. If we hear that, we know, we know it's legit. That's what aliens sound like.

E: And only like that.

Wing Colour and Flight Efficiency (54:53)[edit]

S: All right. Knewt, you're going to tell us about this study looking at wing colour and flight efficiency.

KA: Yes. So wing colour and flight efficiency, specifically in birds.

E: Not airplanes. Okay.

KA: Not airplanes. Not yet. Maybe we'll get there as a pilot. I would love to talk about airplanes, so I'll find a way to work that in. But also as a pilot, I've had a lifelong fascination and I would say inherent jealousy of our winged friends. And one thing that we've noticed, not me, but this research that I read, they noticed that all of those large swooping birds across the ocean, they all have one thing in common. That is dark wings. So a group of researchers out of Ghent University, they examined about 324 specimens on record of soaring birds. And what they found was, yeah, dark wings are great for things like camouflage and perhaps mating, hiding. The classic reason that you would think a bird has decorative plumage. But what they got interested in was that if the dark wings, the dark feathers actually helped them fly. And sure enough, the study determined that they did find there was a benefit to having dark wing in the actual mechanics of flight for a bird. What they found specifically was that, well, what they did took, they took wings from a northern gannet. And they propped them up in a wind tunnel after stuffing them with cotton. And they manipulated the colouring of the plumage. Of course, they had white, they had dark, they had white fading into dark. And they ran them through all sorts of positions and different wind speeds and wind directions. And also they simulated various sun intensities using infrared bulbs on these wings. And what was interesting is that, of course, they found out that the darker wings heated up more. But what the researchers found was that when the wings started with the white feathers closer to the body and then branching out to the darker feathers, that there was up to nine degrees temperature change from the lighter to the darker. And this boosted airflow by what you may know of as a convection current. So from colder air to hotter air, just like works in the water. But what they found was that, interesting thing, is that it resulted in a 20% reduction in drag across the wing. And that's significant. And I can tell you as a pilot, that's significant based on, now here we go into aircraft. Back in 1973 with the oil crisis, there was a push by NASA and they worked with Boeing, a bunch of other companies, trying to figure out how they could improve fuel efficiency. And this one guy, he said we should do something about the wingtip vortices at the end of a wing. And what they came up with was the winglet. And you've seen that if you've ever flown Southwest. You look out the wing, you can see the little nub going up at the end of the wing. That's a blended winglet. But what they first tested was just a chunk of metal at the end of a KC-135 wing. And what they determined was that that also reduced drag by 20%. Coincidentally, exact same number. But what that translated into was about five to 7% fuel savings. And that's maybe a little better version of efficiency. Because five to seven translates to dollars when you're talking to airlines. It translates to a lot of dollars. So NASA has said it's in the billions. It's hard to wrap your brain around that number. So I went and grabbed some numbers just to make sure. But Southwest, the number one user of the 737, they've got 746 of those. They say that by adding those winglets, they save 100,000 gallons of gas a year per jet. And that's just a four to six percent. So five percent, let's say, fuel savings. And yeah, absolutely. It reduces the carbon footprint as well. In fact, that two billion gallons of jet fuel worldwide was saved in 2010. Which equated to 21.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. I mean, I buy gas when I'm out on the road and say you get a good rate. Say it's an easy number, five bucks a gallon. If you've got 750 jets at 100,000 gallons a day or a year, five bucks a gallon, you're already over $3.75 billion a year saved. So how do you translate that? So we go from the birds having dark wings, try to put it on an aircraft. If you've ever looked out, you have looked out your window and you see most aircraft are white. I fly business jets. They're all white. In fact, they're just called white jets. So you've got to think there's got to be a reason. We're all about saving money. Everybody wants to be more efficient. Why is it they haven't figured this out yet? That if I painted the wing dark, I could save billions of dollars. So I'll open it up to you guys. Why do you think we paint jets white?

E: Identification.

J: To reflect, so they don't absorb heat energy. I always imagine that that colour made it so they didn't get hot.

KA: Absolutely. Where do aircraft keep their fuel?

J: In the wings.

KA: You don't want to get that hot. And then someone else said identification as well.

C: Yes, you can see other planes.

KA: I said that at the beginning. They use dark plumage to be adaptive, to hide. Camouflage. We don't want that. We want birds to see the plane. So painting white, they've proved over time, actually helps the bird avoid the aircraft. And that'll save way more money than a couple of gallons of gas for sure.

E: So what we need are black wings with a lot of light.

KA: Or maybe, like they talked about, the one that they found was where it's white at the root. And then it sort of gets darker as it extends out. But honestly, we're just-

S: Let's just kill all birds.

[talking over each other]

B: Let the cats do that.

S: It's kind of in the way of wind turbines. I mean, come on, they're a menace.

E: Bird strikes.

J: I got it guys, all they need to do is put deer whistles on the airplanes and we're good to go.

E: Pig whistles?

B: Deer whistles.

KA: But the likelihood of changing the colour of aircraft, that's pretty slim. However, and you know, you touched on this on the blog just this week with hydrogen fuel cells in aircraft. And of course, you all talked about significantly recently with electronic aircraft and using batteries. So if you're no longer holding your fuel source in the wings, and you have a fuel cell through a battery or through a hybrid engine, and that's in the fuselage, then maybe the wing could be a source of efficiency by changing its colour.

E: Sure.

KA: And then this is, I think one of you called it the Wikipedia rabbit hole. So I just started Googling all these EV aircraft that are coming out because birds, they fly relatively slow compared to business jets. But so do electronic aircraft, the ones that are coming out. They're looking at ranges of 200 to 400 miles. But there's a lot of them. There's a bunch coming out this year, or that claim to be able to fly this year. And it seems like by 2024, I found no less than three or four companies that say that they're going to have a fleet of 19 passenger or less EV aircraft that'll be flying around. But in all the mockups, they're all white. They're solid white. Just like because that's what we're used to seeing. And I would think we can make most of it white. But there's got to be a way to save some gas on the engines.

S: Yeah, you'd think if all you do is put some black stripes at the end of the wings, then you could save money.

KA: Probably will. They'll find a way.

S: It reminds me of when they figured out that like for the space shuttle, they would paint the main gas tank white for the first few launches. Then they go, let's just not paint it.

B: Because we save 200 pounds. They save like hundreds of pounds of paint.

KA: White is also the lightest. It's easy to put a coat of white on there and not be as unattractive as the coloured, the darker paints because those fade. You just got to keep adding paint.

S: Right.

C: What did they end up with? Wasn't it orange?

KA: Yeah.

S: Orange. Yeah.

C: Orange? Yeah. Yeah.

S: Okay. Thanks, Knewt.

KA: No problem.

Mercola Misinformation (1:02:39)[edit]

S: Cara, tell us about Joseph Mercola and coronavirus misinformation. We know this guy. He's a…

E: The collective groan goes out.

C: I'm reading this article in the New York Times and I'm thinking, I remember way back when I joined the SGU. One of the things they used to say to me is Cara, what we love about like your addition to the show is that you're skeptically minded. You're a skeptical scientist, but you're not like steeped in the skeptical kind of culture. And so I love learning about people. I mean, obviously, I've heard of Mercola, but I don't know if I have quite the amount of information in my brain that you guys do about Mercola. So I got to do a little bit of a deep dive on him. Great guy.

E: Oh, my gosh. Where do you start?

C: Yeah. So, okay, here we go. Yeah. Where do you start? New York Times did their own investigation, but I'm also going to cite a really interesting study that came out of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which is a nonprofit that looks at hate speech and misinformation online. So I don't know if you guys have been following, but the Center for Countering Digital Hate put out what they call the disinformation dozen. So, yeah, so they looked at a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook or Twitter a total of 812,000 times between February 1st and March 16th, 2021. So just like a kind of like a sample in the middle of COVID disinformation. And they were like, let's look at this and see who's posting it, who's sharing it, what's going on. And they basically, through their analysis, were able to there's a lot of numbers in this analysis. It was this many accounts and shared this many times and this many people retweeted or whatever. But ultimately, they came up with a list of the disinformation dozen. So the top 12 people who collectively account for 73% of Facebook's anti-vax content and that disinformation. Can you guys guess who some of the people on it are?

B: Wink Martindale?

C: Oh, come on, come on. Who do you think makes up the anti-vax disinformation dozen?

S: I know. I've read the whole list.

C: So Mercola is at the top. Joseph Mercola is the number one contributor. Number two, Robert F. Kennedy.

E: Oh, sure.

C: Right? Junior.

E: Wakefield's not in there?

C: Wakefield is not in there. No. Sherry Tenpenny, number four.

E: Yeah, Tenpenny.

C: Ty and Charlene Bollinger, number three. And then we've got Riza Islam, Rashid Buttar, Erin Elizabeth, who I didn't know about Erin Elizabeth, but she's Mercola's partner. So they take up extra space on this list together. Sayer G, I'm not sure if it's Jai or G, Kelly Brogan, Christiane Northrup, Ben Tapper and Kevin Jenkins. So if you come across any of these people.

E: Leroy Jenkins.

C: Be skeptical. Yeah, Leroy Jenkins. We had to. And there are also key anti-vaxxer organizations that the Center for Countering Digital Hate points to. So it's not just the disinformation dozen, the top 12, but the organizations that are linked to them, which often it's shared through these organizations that have like a sheen of professionalism. So I'm saying this, I mean, to really arm us. So the Children's Health Defense, anti-vax. Informed Consent Action Network, anti-vax. The National Vaccine Information Center, anti-vax. The Organic Consumers Association. And lastly, Millions Against Medical Mandates. These are pseudoscientific organizations that were developed to spread misinformation, specifically anti-vax misinformation. So not only did this organization, this nonprofit, find that he was number one on the disinformation dozen, but the New York Times did their own investigation. You know, so they sampled. I think they were just looking at Facebook and they found that Mercola is responsible. The number one, the most influential spreader of COVID misinformation online. So they cite an article that showed up on February 9th, which has since been taken down, where Mercola says that COVID vaccines are a medical fraud. They don't prevent infections. They don't provide immunity. They don't stop transmission. But they do alter your genetic coding, turning you into a viral protein factory that has no off switch.

B: Oh my God. That's not gene editing.

C: Exactly. And then later, they do make some, I think, really important points in here. Because, I mean, I could just like list horrible things that this man has said. And for a little bit of background, this is an osteopath who I think very early on realized that a media empire was the way that he was going to make a lot of money. So in the 90s, he started building these different websites. And then when social media really caught on, he very quickly hired a team of people and worked very hard to create viral content that would spread and spread and spread through social media. This is a big part of his focus. There are quotes in this New York Times article from unnamed sources who used to work for him that they had signed NDAs. So they weren't willing to give their names on the record about how he does this. He like often does A, B testing. It's just it's a really important part of his job that he figure out how can I make these posts go as viral as possible. I did mention before that he is dating a woman named Erin Elizabeth and she is the founder of the website Health Nut News. And she is also responsible for a large percentage of the anti-vaccine rhetoric that you see out there. What I think this article does a good job of noting is that Mercola is not a dumb guy. And what Mercola does really well is skate right up to the line. But a lot of times the way he writes his articles, he doesn't outright say vaccines are bad. I am not I am an anti-vaxxer. I do not advocate for vaccines. He like uses, I mean, it's that perfect definition of pseudoscience. It has a sheen of scientific.

S: Just asking questions. Just asking questions. Cites debunked studies or cherry-picked results and just really it's like he understands the machine so he knows how to manipulate it. Whereas, for example, his girlfriend Erin Elizabeth is like straight up, I am an anti-vaxxer. Vaccines are bad. And so these different people, if you actually look at the disinformation dozen, you can see, for example, they cite an individual named Riza Islam who specifically tends to target, he himself is a black guy and he tends to target black Americans. For example, you'll see that some of these people on the list tend to target a more religious audience or a more health conscious audience. So collectively they're really hitting lots of pockets of people who might tend towards hesitancy or who might tend towards denialism and then they're able to sort of trap them and get them in. Like you've got Ty and Charlene Bollinger who are like hardcore super pack, like big, more like politically biased individuals. So that's kind of, I think, one of the, unfortunately, the most insidious things about Mercola is that a lot of people think he's legitimate. He's a physician. He knows how to talk about science in a way that sounds scientific. He's very good at misinformation and he always backtracks. So in an email with the New York Times, he said, it's quite peculiar to me that I'm named as the number one super spreader. There are relatively small number of shares. I don't see how this could possibly cause such calamity to Biden's multi-billion dollar vaccination campaign. I mean, again, I don't think I'm, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the actions of this man are leading maybe indirectly, sometimes possibly directly to loss of life, to injury, to significant harm. And I think he needs to be held responsible for that.

S: Totally. He's a poster child for inadequate regulation of this kind of medical malpractice, basically. Yeah, it's a disgrace. Let me read you guys this quote I just saw. This is a tweet from George Takai who's great. He wrote, overheard that in quotes, the irony of anti-vaxxers saying they don't want to be part of an experiment without realizing they are now the control group.

C: I love that so much.

B: Yeah, that's it. That's great.

C: That's amazing.

E: Welcome to the study.

C: They got the placebo.

S: Yeah, right.

C: They're not going to get better.

S: Unfortunately, they're a self-selective group, so it's not a good study.

Who's That Noisy? (1:11:37)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:

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

J: All right, guys, last week I played this noisy.


It's probably the shortest noisy I've ever done. I'll play it again. [plays Noisy] You guys want to make any guesses before I start?

S: It sounds like a bird.

E: Sideshow Mel, I think it was.

J: All right, Steve thinks it's a bird. Anybody else?

C: Yeah, like a whistle, some sort of. No, it's not a whistle. That's too easy.

J: A whistle. All right.

B: I'm going to pull a Price is Right move and say a slightly bigger bird than Steve's.

J: Let's get into this. Rachel Benaggia wrote in and said, the noisy this week has to be nature's squeaky toy, a guinea pig. So it turns out a lot of people wrote in guinea pig, a lot of people. Rachel just happened to be the first. So it's not a guinea pig. I did try to find sounds that a guinea pig makes, and I didn't find any that sounded like that.

S: Is it a whistle pig?

J: A whistle pig.

B: Remember that?

S: Remember?

E: That's a groundhog.

S: A groundhog, yeah.

E: That's a groundhog. A whistlepig.

C: I love that.

J: That's awesome.

E: My favorite.

J: All right, another person wrote in, Kevin Williams. He says, Hi, guys. Love the show. One thing I've always wondered is where does the name of the segment come from?

S: Well, I'll tell you.

J: Yeah, so I'm figuring instead of me emailing him back, I thought that I'd let Steve say it.

S: We've said it on the show before, but basically when my daughter was like two and she was just learning how to talk.

E: Happy birthday, Julia.

S: Yeah, the one whose birthday it is today. When she heard something, instead of saying, What's that noise? She said, Who's that noisy? So we just started saying that in my family and with Evan and everyone.

B: It became a thing.

S: Yeah, it just became a thing. And so when we were doing this segment, we just naturally started calling it, Who's that noisy? And we just figured just to keep it that way since we're already calling it that.

E: That's right.

S: So it's basically just a way of embarrassing my daughter.

J: For the rest of her life. Yeah. So he says he continues. He says, Anyway, my guest this week is the sound of fingers moving over guitar strings. So I happen to have my acoustic guitar here, and he's right because it does kind of have that sound. Let me try to simulate what he's doing.

S: I mean, he's wrong, but he's correct in what it sounds like.

J: He's wrong, but there is something to it. But let me see if I can do this now. Can you hear that? So I get what he was saying. Maybe an electric guitar would have something a little bit louder than that. That was from my acoustic. But that is incorrect. So John Creasy writes in, It's a steam powered siren from a traction engine. Have you ever heard of a traction engine, guys?

E: Traction engine.

J: It looks like a train engine that somebody put gigantic tires on, and it drives down the road. So it's kind of like a steam tractor. Super powerful steam based tractor. Now, I suspect, because multiple people wrote in about these traction engines, that they have toot toot horns, right? I would assume, though, that they probably do make a noise, a high pitched noise like that. This is not correct. Anyway, my favorite answer so far this week came from Dane Milner, and he wrote, It's a dancer wearing corduroy pants. Corduroy does sound like that. It does have that noise. You might not have been fat enough when you were a kid to hear it, Evan. But when I was a kid, I was husky, and my thighs would always hit each other. And when you walk with corduroy, it made that noise.

E: OK.

S: They were very popular when we were in high school, and we had a dress code. That's why I wore corduroy for four years, basically.

J: Dane said it sounds like paracord or nylon rubbing together. Corduroy was kind of a joke. Now, here's the closest guess that we got. Nobody won this week. But long, long time Who's That Noisy submitter, guesser, Evil Eye, wrote in. He said, I know I'm wrong, but I so want it to be a little kid in a toy electric cop car pulling over his friend.

E: Cute. Cute.

J: I thought that was cute. But he happens to be moderately close. So let me play it again before I tell you what it is. [plays Noisy] OK. Here's the explanation. So this comes from Bob Leadham, who sent it in. He said, here's one I haven't heard anywhere else. When we were on a bus tour in Morocco, the bus driver had two choices when he used the horn. One was the normal loud beep that says, watch out like a normal horn. The other is one for pedestrians who might be straying a bit close to the road or for when we were moving slowly through a crowded street scene. It's what I called the polite horn saying, excuse me, big bus here. Please take care where you walk. In Morocco, they have these polite horns. One version of the horn is like that noise. Here's the noise again. [plays Noisy]

B: Oh, my God.

J: A little warning noise. Not like a big, oh, my God, you scare somebody noise. If they're right next to the vehicle and you lean on your horn, you could jump out of your skin. So it's a polite horn.

B: I like it.

J: I thought that was cool. Makes perfect sense. Think about how many times you'd use it if you had a car.

E: There should be more polite horns out there.

B: My version of a polite horn is like two quick beeps. Not being a dick here, but pay attention or whatever. But one long one, that's when you mean it. There's a good reason, hopefully, that you're going to do that.

J: It's called leaning on it. You got to lean on it.

E: Lean on the horn. Does an airplane have a horn?

J: Can you imagine?

E: Knewt, does an airplane have a horn?

KA: It does not. And I've got a great story if you want to hear one.

E: Absolutely.

J: Do it.

KA: Okay. So I was flying a 737, actually, and I was going to New Zealand. And we get there, and we run a thing sometimes when we're flying distinguished visitors called quiet arrivals, where we want to know as the pilots whether or not there's going to be some sort of fanfare when we arrive, in which case we need to do certain procedures to make sure the engines are off and the APU is down before they do their proper circumstances.

B: And the automated weapons are turned off, too.

KA: Yeah, those, too. The 737 with the missiles did not have those. So they told us nothing. They said nothing's going to happen in New Zealand. So we land, we roll into parking, and there is everything you can imagine from a huge band to a whole, the Maori warrior tribe and a red carpet. And so we park, and we're like, probably it was supposed to be quiet arrivals. The guy runs up. He's like, you've got to turn everything off. All right, we're doing what we can. So we start turning stuff off, and he says, it's still too loud. It's still too loud. And so one guy just reaches up and he just kills the batteries, makes everything die, no cool-down cycle, nothing. So we don't have a horn, but what we do have is a warning system when the DC power loses all power unexpectedly, and it makes a beeping noise. So it goes quiet. The leader of the Maori tribe thinks that that's his cue to start so he grabs one elbow with the hand. His tongue sticks out. He goes, ah, ah, ah, and screams at the jet. And the jet starts going, ah, ah, ah, ah, and starts beeping back at him because that sound has to be able to be heard by an outside maintenance guy to know that the DC power is not being powered. And the look on the dude's face was great. But that is the extent of horn that an aircraft will have.

C: Is it just me? I'm kind of surprised because you guys, you taxi.

KA: Yeah, but no turn signals either, but no horn. Honestly, I think if we had one, no one could hear it. Those engines are pretty loud.

S: You have to have one of those aouga horns on.

New Noisy (1:19:12)[edit]

J: All right, I have a new noisy for this week.

E: Jay has a new noisy.

S: Jay, let's hear your new noisy.

J: This is from Joshua Gillespie.


So I love this noisy. So if you think you know what this week's noisy is or if you heard something cool, and come on, people like Knewt who work on airplanes, they hear cool stuff all the time, and you're not sending it to me. Just take two seconds and send me a cool sound. I know you heard something cool. Send it to

S: All right. Thank you, Jay.

Announcements (1:19:48)[edit]

S: We're going to do one quick email. But before we do, this is the last episode to come out before NECSS. NECSS is all digital. Essentially, the week after this comes out, August 6th and 7th, we have a great lineup. If you didn't join us last year or even if you did, join us this year. We have two game shows, a live SGU show, a bunch of speakers. It's going to be awesome. Jay and Ian have been working in the studio for a month or longer, actually.

J: More than that, yeah.

S: Got it all tweaked out. So go to


S: Yes, and sign up for NECSS next week, August 6th and 7th.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:20:31)[edit]

Email #1: Nuclear Enegry[edit]

S: All right, one quick email. This comes from Rainer in Portland, Oregon, and he writes, thanks for the show and the skeptical view on a lot of issues. Couldn't agree more on most of what you say. You know what's coming next. The one topic I feel like you are disregarding skeptical thinking is nuclear power. It always sounds like it is a no-brainer when you mention it. I'm missing, for example, the discussion about the risks involved or the unsolved waste discussion on the production side. On the demand side, I don't think it is a given that it is needed at all. Just using standard technology, we could easily save a very significant amount of energy. U.S. citizens still use about two to three times their primary energy than any other developed country. If we would spend the same amount of money we put into nuclear power subsidies, into energy-saving measures and alternative sources, it would look even better. All right, a lot to unpack there. I actually, for premium content this week, I did like a 30-minute deep dive on this email, so I'm just going to give you the five-minute version. If you want to hear the 30-minute version, you could listen to the premium content. That's for people who are members of the SGU. Very, very quickly, the U.S. citizens don't use two to three times as much energy as anybody else per capita. Actually, Canada uses more energy than we do per capita. Canada.

J: Why?

S: Because it's cold up there, and they've got to heat all their houses.

E: Cold. They need a lot.

S: The point is you can't make direct comparisons like that because different conditions will lead to different energy needs. We are a big country, and you have to drive far to go everywhere. You can't compare like Latvia to the United States. Not that there isn't room for energy conservation and energy saving. Of course there is. That doesn't mean, though, that that's going to solve our energy mix issue. So I just want to focus on one thing because, again, this is the short version, and that is the nuclear waste question. And that's because it really isn't an issue, or at least it doesn't have to be. And there's a number of reasons why, but I want to focus on one. Do you know how much of the energy, the potential energy, potential extractable energy that we get out of uranium in the existing nuclear power plants?

B: Oh, it's a fraction, right?

S: Yeah. What do you think?

E: 10%? 3%.

B: The nuclear energy? Not antimatter.

S: Yeah, the nuclear energy.

B: I would say we're extracting what? Say, I don't know, 12%.

S: 5%. Evan's closer. 5%. The other 95%, it then becomes nuclear waste.

E: Waste.

S: The reason for this is because our nuclear reactors are so-called slow reactors. The idea is that you create a self-sustaining chain reaction because the neutron that gets kicked out of one uranium atom will then hit another one and cause that to break down, decay, and keep spreading. However, a uranium atom cannot capture a neutron directly because it's too fast. And so that's why we have to use the water, like the light water, heavy water, or light water, depending on the reactor design. That slows down the neutrons just enough that they can be captured by another uranium atom and cause a self-sustaining reaction. So using that method, we can only get about 5% to 6% of the energy out of the uranium fuel. The other 95%, which is plutonium and other things, now becomes, "waste". But what if we could make a fast reactor that can capture those fast neutrons?

B: You could burn the waste.

S: But what if we used all of the energy? There's like this other 95% of the energy in the nuclear waste that could be fuel. Again, the only difference between nuclear waste and nuclear fuel is whether or not we can burn it for energy. So we actually have the design for fast reactors.

B: The Gen 4?

S: Yeah, some of the Gen 4 reactor designs are fast reactors, and they can actually use existing waste from older reactors as their fuel.

E: Oh, great.

S: And the waste that we currently have in this country, in the U.S., could supply all our energy needs for 100 years. We have 100 years of fuel for fast nuclear reactors without having to mine any more uranium.

B: And we're also getting rid of our waste.

S: It would get rid of all of our waste.

E: And what's the byproduct of burning the—

B: It blows up the planet in 500 years, but still.

E: Yeah, no problem.

S: No, no. So here's the thing. Existing nuclear waste has some isotopes in it that have half-lives in the thousands and hundreds of thousands of years, which is why you have to store it basically indefinitely. But if you use a fast reactor, that extracts all of the long half-life material. And you're left with just the short half-life stuff that's like 30 years, 30 to 50 years.

E: Manageable.

S: Yeah, so that's completely manageable. So you want to solve our nuclear waste problem, you build fast reactors, which are Gen 4 reactors, which have lots of other advantages, too. Like they can't melt down because of the auto-cool. Like if you embed them in salt and if they heat up more, the salt expands, moves the rods apart, and they cool down. So even if left unattended, it won't melt down. Or if a pump fails, it won't melt down, et cetera. So they're much, much safer. They can be completely self-contained. They don't have as many pipes and stuff that can fail. They're much, much safer than older stuff.

B: If there's an apocalypse for another reason, you don't have to worry about your nuclear reactors exploding as it would during a normal apocalypse.

S: Or if there's a tsunami or whatever. Right, also they burn hotter, which means that we could do two other things with them if we choose to. We could make hydrogen or we could desalinate water. Do you know where we get most of our hydrogen from now, by the way?

B: We mine it off of Jupiter.

S: No.

E: We order it on Amazon.

S: We strip it from fossil fuels.

B: Oh, that too, that too.

S: Which is kind of defeating the purpose of using hydrogen, right? Imagine if we could just make hydrogen by electrolyzing water using the heat from a fast nuclear reactor. The hydrogen becomes a byproduct and then you could bottle that and use that in our rockets or our hydrogen.

E: Hydrogen economy.

S: Yeah, for whatever part of the economy.

B: So what's the downside for these Gen 4 reactors?

E: Right, where are they?

B: Is there a downside?

S: Yeah, the downside is it's still more expensive than just building solar panels or wind turbines. But here's the issue. They're more expensive now.

E: More of an upfront investment.

S: The more you try to increase the penetration of renewables, the more expensive the renewables get. Because then you have to get into overproduction. You have to upgrade the grid. You need grid storage. And you use up all the prime locations, et cetera, et cetera. So it gets progressively less cost effective. And also we're counting on innovations we don't have yet, like for grid storage. And it's going to take decades to do things like upgrade the grid. So if time were not an issue at all, you might make a reasonable argument for saying, all right, let's just go for all renewable and grid storage. Fine. Do that. Let's keep doing that. Let's keep building renewable and grid storage and all that stuff. That's great. Let's upgrade the grid. We got to do that anyway. But if we try to do that without keeping our nuclear in the mix, like we have 20% of our electricity right now in the US is nuclear. It's about 10% worldwide. And it's all retiring pretty soon. If we don't keep that in the mix, then we're going to be building fossil fuel plants. Absolutely. If the goal is to get rid of fossil fuel as quickly as possible, then we want to do both. We want to do nuclear and as much renewable as we can and grid storage and hydroelectric and geothermal, whatever we can other than fossil fuel. So the people who are the renewable purists are going to delay by decades decarbonizing our energy infrastructure. Are you guys aware of the fact we talk about global warming all the time, and yet the bottom line is between now and 2050, we're going to be increasing the amount of fossil fuel that we're burning for energy. It's already over 80% of our energy profile is from fossil fuel, and it's going to increase between now and 2050. And then the game is over in terms of preventing the worst outcomes of global warming. It's over. We have to actually change what's happening over the next 30 years. So we could have small modular Gen 4 reactors up by 2030, and they could burn fuel from older plants. They won't have any waste of their – I mean they could burn waste from older plants. They won't generate any waste of their own. They'll be taking care of our waste problem. Yes, it's more expensive than just building more solar for now, but if you plan out the next 30 years of our energy infrastructure, it's actually cost-effective, and especially if you consider the cost of global warming and the healthcare costs of burning fossil fuels and the subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, it's actually quite cost-effective certainly than fossil fuel. To me, it seems like we need to be hedging our bets, and there's no reason why we shouldn't pursue this technology. Just to buy us a few decades that we actually need.

B: You're way over five minutes, man.

S: Sorry. I tried. I tried. All right, here we go. Let's move on to science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:30:33)[edit]

Item #1: Although lightning strikes are common, on average they cause only about one crash per year of commercial aircraft[6]
Item #2: It is physically impossible to open a cabin door on a commercial aircraft at typical cruising altitude.[7]
Item #3: According to a survey of commercial airline pilots, 56% admit to falling asleep while flying the plane, and 29% report waking up to find their co-pilot also asleep.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Lightning strikes
Science Cabin door
Sleeping pilots
Host Result
Rogue Guess
Cabin door
Lightning strikes
Lightning strikes
Lightning strikes
Lightning strikes

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme.

E: Airplane.

S: This week, the theme is air travel.

E: There you go.

KA: I think I'm getting set up.

C: Unfair advantage, I'd say.

J: That's what I think.

E: Who's going first?

S: You think so? All right. We'll see. We shall see. All right, here we go. Item number one. Although lightning strikes are common, on average, they cause only about one crash per year of commercial aircraft. Item number two. It is physically impossible to open a cabin door on a commercial aircraft at typical cruising altitude. Item number three. According to a survey of commercial airline pilots, 56% admit to falling asleep while flying the plane and 29% report waking up to find their co-pilot also asleep.

E: That's how many they admit.

S: All right. Knewt, for what should be obvious reasons, I'm going to have you go last.

C: Damn it.

S: Because Evan groaned I'm going to have him go first.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Oh. Well, at least I know now, Steve, why you stopped me from asking the question about lightning.

S: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

E: I was reading the future. Lightning strikes are common. On average, they cause only about one crash per year of commercial aircraft. Yeah, okay. I can believe that. The planes are designed to take the lightning hits. They have to. And I know we've spoken about it before on shows maybe many years ago, but the only reason I think this one might be the fiction is it would be less than one crash. Maybe one crash would be 10 years or something like that. So I don't think that's a problem. Next one. Physically impossible to open a cabin door on a commercial aircraft at typical cruising altitude. That could be how the pressure works. You'd have to have enough strength to overcome that. And just a typical person could not do it maybe on their own. And then the last one about airline pilots, 56 admit to falling asleep and 29% report waking up to find their co-pilot also asleep. I'm trying to think of why this would be the fiction. It just would have to be the numbers themselves. Is it really just much, much lower than that? You know, because again, admitting to falling asleep. Although I guess we're going to learn about how much soon, about how much the pilots actually need to be awake at certain points versus being able to be able to go to sleep. All right. I'm going to go against the grain in my own head and say, I think maybe the cabin door one, maybe it is possible to open a cabin door at cruising altitude. I'll say that one's fiction.

S: Okay. Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Yeah. I mean, part of me wants to go with Evan because it's like, my rule I used to always tell my students when I would teach is if you have a quick, if you're taking a true false exam and the question States always or never, it's usually false. Usually you see that. So to say it's physically impossible. It doesn't allow for any caveats, but I still think it's physically impossible. I don't know. I think the pressure is probably like exorbitant. It's like, it's like saying it's physically impossible to open the submarine door. It's like, well, yeah, I don't think you can do that. So let's see. So for me, it's, it's a question of frequency, right? Like, do more pilots admit to falling asleep? Fewer pilots admit to falling asleep. Are lightning strikes more common than that though? I think the lightning strike one is getting to me the most because I feel like we hear about airplane crashes often. Like when an airplane crashes, it's on the news. Pretty much every time. And I've never heard of an airplane crashing because it was struck by lightning. It's almost always on takeoff or landing. And it's almost always because of some sort of like failure of like an engine or something like that. So to me, I, this one just, it doesn't have face validity because I can't remember a time in my existence where I was watching the news and I was like, holy crap, that airplane got struck by lightning and went down. So that's, that's the reason I'm going to say that's the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Okay. Physically impossible to open the cabin door. It makes perfect sense. It's gotta be, it's gotta be that way. I mean, come on, you know there's crazy people on a plane that would do that. I even thought about it at one point.

C: It's like not pushing the big red button, Bob. It's like asking for you to try.

B: You know, it's, it just makes too much sense. Falling asleep. Yeah, that's gotta happen. I mean, they're not needed. They're needed for, they're needed for takeoff and landing.

C: That's so cruel.

B: I mean, this is talking on the speaker.

C: Someone who's on the call with us right now begs to differ.

B: Oh, wait. Oh, shit. But I mean, technically, I mean, cruise control. I mean, yeah, falling asleep. Absolutely. I totally buy it. The one I'm not buying is lightning. One a year is way too much. I've also never heard of it. And I think one a year would, would be enough to, to make people say, I'm not going on that damn plane because one a year, one of them are going down. I've never heard of one. I mean, I think, they have designs in place to, to deal with it. They get struck all the time. Like buildings. And I think that they basically almost, it's never so rare that we don't really even, we can, none of us can think of one, one example. So one is fiction. Lightning strike is fiction.

S: Okay, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I'll take them in reverse order. So the, the it says according to the survey, so 56% of pilots admit to falling asleep while flying the plane. This is vague though, because, hold on, let me turn that off.

C: What the hell?

J: Somebody called me. I silenced the phone and then I accidentally played my thing.

B: Jay, man, I, I really hate, when you just have these recorded things, just go off. I'm sorry.

J: Bob. I'm sorry, man. I know what you mean.

C: You're welcome to our lives.

J: I won't, I shouldn't let it happen while we're talking. It's really, it's obnoxious.

B: I bought you that damn thing.

J: So 50%, 56% of pilots admit to falling asleep that, they do fall asleep on the plane. They're allowed to, but this seems to be that they're saying that they did it when they're not supposed to. So, I guess I'm sure that they fall asleep just like everybody else. Like when they're on cruise control and that things are, there are times when they could probably have a lot of downtime. I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I just don't think that one is the fiction. Number two, the one about being physically impossible to open the door. So air pressure inside of a plane is, is what between eight and 10,000 feet and airplanes usually cruise around 36,000 feet. So there is a massive air pressure change, but the air pressure is higher in the cabin than it is outside. And you would think that that would make the door easier to open, but I guess I bet you that in the design of the airplane, that air pressure change does make it impossible to open the door. I'm sure that the door is impossible to freaking open. Cause it would open a lot more. Well, that's the thing where Cara said, you'd never hear people opening doors on airplanes like that.

C: Not what I said, but that's fair.

J: Well, you kind of made me think of that.

E: You never hear of Cara never hearing about it.

B: I'll say, I think my guess is that the door locks when the wheels are up, right? If the wheels are in, it like automatically makes it like you can't.

J: Yeah, but Bob, what about on a crash landing? What about on a water crash landing when they don't put the landing gear down? I don't agree with that. So finally, the last one here about the lightning strikes, it can't, this one cannot be true because if it means that there's one crash per year because of lightning, you think about how many airplanes are flown every day. There would be airplane crashing all the time.

S: But Jay, it's one crash, one total crash per year.

J: No, I think, I think I don't agree with it. I think that it still would be, it still would be a thing.

S: I suppose this needs clarifying, not per plane. In the world, one plane a year crashes due to a lightning strike.

J: I mean, I've been, I think every single person that's ever been on an airplane, it was probably been on the airplane that's been hit by lightning. It happens all the time. I've seen, I saw lightning hit an engine on an airplane and it just, nothing happened. It scared the shit out of me, but nothing happened.

E: Yeah. The creature on the wing hung on too.

J: There's something on the wing. So I think that planes get hit very often, but nothing happens. So I think the first one's got to be the fiction.

S: Okay. Knewt, straighten them out.

Knute's Response[edit]

KA: All right. Jay, your analysis is really good actually on all three of them, but everybody had great points. I think I'm going to end up going around the same lines, but I'll work backwards as well. According to the survey, talking to pilots and I want to just get a clarification. This is talking to the pilots that are in the seats. Correct. Because a lot of aircraft have crew rest facilities.

S: Yeah. This is a pilot who is supposed to be flying the plane, supposed to be at the controls. Yes.

KA: So while back, I hate to say that this is the truth because it looks like what my profession is inherently unsafe. I'm going to say that this is the truth because this is a fact, because actually part of good cockpit resource management and safety and flight is something we call controlled cockpit rest, where you're encouraged to sleep for 20 minutes, but you're supposed to set an alarm or have the other guy wake you up at exactly 20 minutes. And this is for those really long, insane flights where you will be drunk to the point if you're so sleep deprived that it's unsafe.

E: Going to New Zealand.

KA: It's actually unsafe for you to not just get a little bit of rest. And it's kind of an emergency situation to do that, but it will pay dividends later. So there are regulations that allow for people to sleep. It could be used 56% of the time. Sounds like maybe a little bit of abuse, but I'm going to go ahead knowing pilots that that is fact. Physically impossible to open a cabin.

C: But it sounds like you're not supposed to have your co-pilot be asleep at the same time.

KA: That is true, but I don't want to admit, maybe I know somebody who's woken up and seen that.

E: Here we go.

KA: And I haven't flied for a while.

C: 29% of people.

KA: I can't say it happens 29% of the time, but I can see 29% of people saying that they've seen that happen for sure. Physical impossibility to open a cabin door. Jay hit it right on. Yeah. It's like 8,000 feet. Cabin altitude is inside the plane and outside about 36,000 feet. We're usually the commercial airlines fly aircraft. I fly routinely go up to the high forties. Imagine the pressure differential between 49,000 feet outside and 8,000 feet inside. And that, I mean, I just know it. That is what keeps, keeps the doors closed. It keeps everything tight. Is when it's pressure pushing out on that round two toy. So I imagine that that pressure applies to the doors as well. Makes it pretty much impossible for a human to overcome those kinds of pressure differentials. So that leaves us with number one, although lightning strikes are common that they would result in a single crash a year seems excessive. I got to think that across the commercial airline industry, completely you're in single digit crashes for any reason a year. This is commercial aircraft because airlines can survive a wreck. They're very, very safe and you can't control lightning, but they can mitigate it. So we have a, I've asked earlier if I've ever been hit by lightning. And the answer is yes. And I didn't know it till I landed. And the maintenance guy said, hey, it looks like you got hit by lightning. So there's a lot of ways.

E: That's reassuring in a way.

KA: So I will say that number one is the fiction. It's way less.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right. Let's I'll take these in reverse order. Since Evan, you're you think that the number two is the fiction.

E: Well, not anymore, but my guess is.

S: Yeah. So according to a survey of commercial airline pilots, 56% admit to falling asleep while flying the plane, meaning they were meant to be at the controls and 29% report waking up to find their copilot asleep. You guys all are pretty happy thinking this one is the science. And this one is science. This is science. This was a British survey. So I don't think it's, unique to British airways, but yeah. So pilots not off, I guess when they're not supposed to, obviously like, it's not like when they fall asleep, the plane immediately starts going to a nose dive.

E: Used the as a pillow.

S: Yeah. But, but they're supposed to be awakened at the, at the controls, but not surprising.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right. Let's go back to number two. It's absolutely impossible to open a cabin door on a commercial aircraft at typical cruising altitude. I do want to, just before I do the reveal, I want to ask you guys a question related to the first one. How many crash do you think there are a year? If we look at it around the world, commercial.

J: Less than one.

S: Per year. Totally. Of all sizes. I also didn't say fatal crash. I didn't say fatal crash.

C: Yeah. You just said crash.

E: Define crash.

C: A dozen or fewer.

S: There's 14 fatal crashes a year.

C: Okay. Fatal?

S: Fatal ones. So there's probably more-

C: Gosh, that sounds high.

J: I'm not hearing about 14 a year.

S: No, why would you?

[talking over each other]

C: Yeah, they're probably often on airlines that have like pretty low safety rating.

S: Yeah, you hear about the big ones.

E: Uzbekistan air.

C: Huddle jumper flights and stuff.

S: Exactly. It is physically impossible to open a cabin door in a commercial aircraft at typical cruising altitude. Evan, you think this one is a fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. This is science. Yeah, Jay, you nailed it. So I did the calculation. I've read it in multiple places, but I did it myself just to double check. So how much pressure do you think there is on a cabin door if you're flying at 18,000, at 36,000 feet?

B: Tons, right?

S: 36,000 pounds. Of pressure.

B: How many?

S: 36,000.

B: So tons.

E: Oh, that's a lot.

S: Yeah. So they are designed, the inside of the door is bigger than the outside of the door. So it's a plug. It's literally called a plug design, right?

E: Makes sense.

S: Yeah, which makes sense. It's designed to be plugged by the pressure inside the cabin. And even if you were at 18,000 feet, it would still be, it would be half that. It would be, 18,000 pounds of pressure.

C: Right. That's why the little cards, the safety cards show you have to like undo it, turn it sideways. And then throw it out the door.

S: But even if you did all that, even if you did all that-

B: You'd have to be Hulk.

S: You couldn't do it.

C: No, no, I'm saying because of the plug design. You can't open the door. You have to turn it sideways.

J: Wouldn't you be literally ripping through the metal before you'd open it normally?

S: Yeah, and you'd probably pull the handle off of it.

C: Rip the handle off.

S: Yeah. It's just not possible.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: So all this means that lightning strikes are common, on average they cause only about one crash per year of commercial aircraft. That is the fiction. Do lighting strikes are very common. And moder aircraft are well designed so that they withstand lightening strikes. The big risk is to the instrumentation. If you suddenly loose all your instrumentation mid flight that would be a bad thing. Not that the plane is necessarily blow up. But they are well designed to handle strikes. So how often do you think it does happen?

J: All the time.

E: One every 10 years.

S: No, how often does a plane crash because it was struck by lighting?

J: Oh, very, very, very infrequently.

J: Yeah, like once every 10 years, I would say.

S: Or once every 50 years.

S: The last one was in 1963.

C: Hey.

B: Oh my God. So 58 years.

S: Yeah, but it hasn't happened. So it basically doesn't happen anymore.

C: Right, because they probably didn't have the same like, safety?

S: Yes. It's basically zero. Because it hasn't happened since 1963.

B: Yeah, you're putting a big metal tube in the sky. Of course, lightning is going to love that shit.

J: It goes right through the plane. You could look up pictures. I mean, there's tons of pictures online. If you haven't figured it out, I know a lot about all this stuff because I have anxiety. And I had to kill it with information. So I've read about this shit a million times. And there's nothing to worry about when you're on a good airline.

S: My favorite statistic, Jay, for the people who have fear of flying, like Sandra Bullock, for some reason, is that in order to have a 50-50 chance of dying in a plane crash, you would have to fly every day for 500 years. Think about that. That's pretty reassuring.

B: Yeah, it's safer than driving to the airport. That helps me.

E: Heck yeah.

C: Yeah, for sure.

S: Well, it's not necessarily. It's safer than driving total. That doesn't mean that. It depends on how far you have to drive for the Airport, et cetera, et cetera.

C: Not to be pendantic.

S: Well, we've already been hit with the pedantic email about that exact statistic. I don't want to repeat it. How about this one?

C: And guys, pendantic is an inside joke. I wasn't not knowing how to say pedantic. I have to be pedantic about that.

E: Oh, your pendantry, Cara, your pendantry.

S: So what is more fuel efficient per passenger, flying or driving?

B: Yes.

C: Driving my electric car?

B: Flying.

J: Fuel efficient? I mean, that's a hard one.

B: All the people that are in that plane?

E: That's a lot of stuff you got to calculate.

S: 747 has a fuel efficiency per passenger of 100 miles per gallon. Yeah, per passenger. So if you had one person in the car, flying in a plane would be much more fuel efficient.

C: Except for my car.

S: Electric cars, I mean, you still have to count the energy.

C: Yeah, but there's an MPG equivalency. And I think it's over 100.

S: Is it over 100?

C: I think so, but I'll look.

S: Definitely for a gasoline engine, it's more efficient.

C: Yeah, oh, wow. In most electric cars, it's right about 100.

S: Yeah.

C: Interesting. OK, I wonder, yeah, yeah. So I guess it's specific to individual cars, but it averages at 100. Wow, so it's about the same.

J: Cool.

S: Cool.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

It seems almost natural for us to want to look up, to look back in time, and to learn and appreciate the wonder of this universe that allows us to exist, whether we are scientists or not.
– Dr. Suze Kundu, nanochemist, science presenter on the Discovery Channel, science writer for Forbes, Head of Public Engagement at Digital Science

S: All right, Evan, give us a quote.

E: "It seems almost natural for us to want to look up, to look back in time, and to learn and appreciate the wonder of this universe that allows us to exist, whether we are scientists or not." And that was said by Dr. Susie Kundu, who is a nanochemist. She's a science presenter on the Discovery Channel. She's a science writer for Forbes, and she's the head of public engagement at Digital Science, a science communicator.

S: Do you know her, Cara?

C: I don't, actually. I don't know her. And I'm surprised Bob doesn't know her either, because she's a nanochemist.

B: My first thought, though, was aren't all chemists dealing in the nano realm? I mean, that seems a little redundant, but it's cool.

C: Well, yeah, I guess that is nano.

E: It's the first descriptor in her bio, nanochemist.

C: Yeah, I guess that is nano if you're doing chemistry.

J: So, Knewt, what did you think?

KA: That was great. I really appreciate you guys letting me come on. I didn't believe it at first when I saw that that was an option, being a Patreon, that you could be on the show, but I pressed the test with Jay, and he wrote me right back, saying, sure, and we tried three times and finally got it to work.

C: Yay!

B: Well, I'm sorry we were so drunk for the whole episode, right?

E: Or asleep for 59% of it, yeah.

KA: It's fascinating to see what I sound like at one and a half when I play this back later.

C: Oh, yes, you will. We sound drunk right now, but you're gonna sound like a chipmunk to yourself later.

J: I wanted to thank you for being a patron, because it means a lot, right? So, it's what keeps our doors open, so we really appreciate it.

KA: Oh, no. I mean, the thanks is all directed at you guys. This is, I don't know how to explain it, but when the pandemic hit, and you've seen it, the misinformation, I mean, it seems to come from more than just 12 people. It seems it could come from everywhere. And somehow, I was mowing my lawn and listening to a Steve Novella, great courses that got turned onto your book. I read the SGU book first, and then it mentioned a podcast. I honestly had no idea. Then I just couldn't get enough of you guys' analysis of the stuff going on in the world. I started binge podcasting, if that's a thing, until I finally got, I didn't go back 800 episodes. I probably went back to somewhere in the 600s. And then I would just put one in while I was riding my mountain bike. I had to go on double speed for a while there to get caught up. And then eventually, by last summer, I think I got to where I was waiting for the next week's episode.

S: I don't know, Knewt. Some of those earlier episodes are gold.

KA: I may have to go back.

J: But some of them are terrible.

E: No.

J: The production value was really bad. We came a long way in a short time.

E: Vintage, Jay. The word is vintage.

S: Vintage, yeah. Well, it was a lot of fun having you on the show.

KA: I appreciate it. Thanks, guys. I really enjoyed it.

S: All right, thank the rest of you for joining me this week.

C: Thanks Steve.

B: Sure. And Steve, for the record, nanochemistry is the combination of chemistry and nanoscience. Nanochemistry is associated with synthesis of building blocks at that scale.

E: Sweet.

S: Thank you. Thanks for that.


S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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