SGU Episode 851

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SGU Episode 851
October 30th 2021
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Creepy fish parasite

SGU 850                      SGU 852

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

In many cases, flawed or misleading evidence is worse than no evidence at all. This is because the state of ignorance resulting from a lack of evidence is recognized as a state of ignorance, whereas the state of ignorance resulting from misleading evidence is not so recognized.

Vance Berger and Sunny Alperson, biostatistician and nurse practioner, resp.

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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, October 27th, 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: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening, folks.

S: So Bob, a few more days till Halloween, your favorite holiday.

B: Oh man. It's been a great month. The haunted house has been going fantastic. We've done thousands of people. My costume is the best it's ever...

C: Thousands? Plural?

B: Yeah. Oh yeah.

C: Oh cool.

B: Well low thousands, very low thousands, but we're ahead of where we were last year. It's just so much fun freaking out everybody.

S: I went through it last week.

B: Teenagers, old ladies.

S: High calibre. Very, very good.

C: Anybody pee their pants?

B: No, but we had a lot of people that had to be escorted out or just freaked out or freaked out. Yeah. No audible confirmations of peeing in pants, but I'm sure it's happening.

C: Yeah. Why would they tell you if you couldn't see it?

B: So yeah, it's just so much fun. And I might be on TV Friday morning for a local news station. They're going to show me jumping out of my coffin in the cemetery.

C: Wait, so you're in it too?

B: Oh yeah. My God, I put on my awesome zombie costume version 4.2. Oh my God, of course, but I don't stay in one spot.

C: I was going to say.

B: Most of the volunteers, they have their area and that's what they... They're a clown. They're in the meat market or whatever. But for me, I do the cemetery, I go in the crypt, then I go to the queue line. I do queue line entertainment and I freak out the people that are waiting to go in. And then I just walk through the entire haunt and freaking people out. So I just go all over the place. But I love spending time in the crypt and in the cemetery especially.

J: I have two things I want to say about Halloween and Bob. One of them is that one of my favorite memories, I was working the haunt with Bob one year and Bob turns to me and he goes, God, I love the screaming. And the other thing is a listener wrote in and said, Bob has more Halloween stuff than I have stuff, period.

E: Yeah, that's likely true for a lot of our listeners.

B: Quite a collection over the decades. Yeah. And it's tough to see the good stuff like die like this latex mask. It's seen its last Halloween. This is so sad. I have to throw it out. But you get new stuff.

COVID-19 Update (2:35)[edit]

S: So we're still in the middle of a pandemic. I wanted to just say one thing about it since they were getting into another phase of vaccines because they're starting to get approved for booster and also for young children. You know, more evidence is coming in. A recent study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine found no increase in miscarriages in pregnant women who got vaccinated. They looked at three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. So that's very reassuring. There was no real reason to think that there would be an issue, but having lots of data is always a good thing.

C: And Steve, did you see the new information that was put out that when a study looking at vaccine side effects in Australia, who they started to look back over some of the links between Guillain-Barre and AstraZeneca, which was a big shot there, and they were fine. They when they went back over the data with a fine tooth comb, they found that there's actually, okay, now nationwide sort of 32 million adults in England revealed an increased but low risk of Guillain-Barre and Bell's palsy following a first dose. It also revealed an increased but low risk of hemorrhagic stroke. But research that was published in Nature Medicine also revealed a substantially higher risk of seven neurological outcomes, including Guillain-Barre after a positive COVID test. So here's an example. 145 excess cases versus 38 excess cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome per 10 million exposed to those who had positive SARS-CoV-2 test and the AstraZeneca vaccine, respectively. So we're still seeing significantly more cases of these negative neurological outcomes in people who contracted COVID than in people who got the vaccine.

S: Also, that was 3.5 cases per million people vaccinated.

C: Yeah, it's already a super low number.

S: The background rate is one to two per million. So right. Well, they're saying excess cases. So I'm assuming they accounted for that. So if you're going to worry about a one in a million side effect, then you know, you can't do anything.

C: Exactly. And we already know that there's a very low risk of Guillain-Barre from getting vaccinated generally, like we've seen this with other vaccines. But to really that really puts it in perspective to me when you compare that to the risk of Guillain-Barre from COVID infection.

S: It's 10 times as much.

C: Yeah, it's significantly higher. So right there your risk, it just contributes to that risk benefit calculus.

S: And that's almost always the case because Guillain-Barre is a post infectious syndrome, right? It happens because your immune system gets activated by an infection. There's something on the virus or the bacteria that mimics a protein on your nerves. The immune system gets confused and attacks your nerves thinking it's attacking the virus or the bacteria. That's it. That's what Guillain-Barre syndrome is. Anything that provokes an immune response can theoretically cause that. But infection is way more likely to cause it because first of all, you're making there's a lot more things that you're making antibodies against, right? There's a lot more opportunities for this to happen. Whereas for vaccines, it's usually depending on the kind of vaccine, like with the mRNA vaccine, there's only you're only making antibodies against a few things. And if it's with a like a killed virus vaccine, that's more similar to that to an infection.

C: But it's still a controlled dose as opposed to infection, which is just like a random viral load.

S: A raging infection going on for a long time. It's gonna and that's why the anti-vaxxers don't have a coherent position. They're always saying, oh, you get better immunity from the infection than the vaccine, which is not always true, by the way. But a better immunity translates to higher risk of post infectious syndromes, right? Because it's all about how activated was your immune system. Yeah, you can't have it both ways.

C: Yeah. And you have no idea how long that lasts either. I mean, it's yeah, there's a lot of problems with that argument.

S: Yeah, it's just it's just you have to go case by case vaccine by vaccine, infection by infection. And again, the whole idea is that you get the immunity from a vaccine without all the risks of an infection. The vaccine itself has risks, but it's orders of magnitude less than the illness than being sick. COVID is a nasty illness. And it's not just the death numbers. It's the you know, the long COVID there's a lot of debility and disability that results if you had a bad infection.

C: It's just so clear that we have such a benefit. Modern medicine has given us a sense of security and a sense of separation from like pestilence in a way that is kind of hard to quantify. And so you know, you think about when people were actually asking for smallpox, what was it called variolation? They wanted to put pustules of sick people on their own skin because the concept or the risk of getting a little bit of smallpox was way less scary than the risk of dying the horrible disease that they saw their loved ones dying of like people were willing to take that risk. And now we have such safe and secure vaccines and people are afraid of them. I think because we live in a sanitized world where most of the people who are regretfully refusing to get vaccinated just haven't seen negative consequences.

E: They have no perspective

S: Totally. 60, 70 years ago, parents wouldn't let their kids go out and play because they were afraid they were going to get polio. And yeah, it was you know, you think about the lockdowns that we have now. It's just that yep, you cannot go out and play just you got to stay inside. You know, there's polio is happening. And parents were just scared to death of their kids catching polio, having to spend their life in an iron lung. And we didn't get our lives back until the polio vaccines came out.

C: And people would have paid their entire salary to get vaccinated against polio. They didn't have to luckily, but people would have broken themselves to get their hands on the polio vaccine. And now the tables have turned so much that we are paying people to get vaccinated.

S: And we always used to think that it's the big problem was that people aren't afraid of infectious illness anymore because of modern medicine and because of vaccines. And so they don't realize right much vaccines have changed our lives. But now that we're going through the COVID pandemic you realize that now the anti vaxxers are still going to deny that. Even in the middle of a pandemic, when the when the risk is there, obviously, there are some people that are going to sway, but the hardcore anti vaxxers, they're still going to be.

B: Yeah, we were naive. I remember thinking that once we go through it and see the devastation, then then we'll see some some big changes in their in their beliefs. But no, that's not how people work.

C: I agree. But I don't think that's a completely fair characterization, because as more and more people died, more and more people did get vaccinated, more and more people were turned towards it.

S: Yeah, that was the vaccine hesitant.

B: They are not marginalized, like I assume they would

C: be right. Like you saw the vaccine hesitant people shifting. But you're right, you the entrenched anti vaxxers. I mean, the most amazing thing is when you see the videos of people in the hospital, like about to get vented going, I still wouldn't get the vaccine. And you're like, Okay, I don't what do you do with that? Yeah, like, it's one thing when you see the people in the hospital saying, This is horrible. I led you astray. I can't believe I didn't get vaccinated. Please, dear God, whatever you do, go get vaccinated, like, and a lot of people did change their tune, when they saw how devastating it was. But you're right, there is that very small kind of dug in. But it's so it's exceedingly small.

B: But it's big enough that we need to that it's very worrisome. In terms of a variant, another variant coming or reaching herd immunity. I thought we'd be able to reach herd immunity. And I don't think we are. We're not going to I think that's pretty much the consensus at this point.

C: I don't know what the what the most kind of recent views are on herd immunity.

B: Well, that's I heard like, like 85 to 90% for this for this, for this.

C: But there are places that have not vaccination rates that high.

S: They are pushing for vaccination to try to get it as high as we can get. But at the same time the the chatter is we are preparing for endemic COVID. It's never going away. That's that though that battle has been lost.

C: But that's really what herd immunity is. It's something that keeps an endemic infection sort of at bay. Like herd immunity means there's always going to be people pop up with infections. But like we have herd immunity against measles, mumps, rubella, because enough people are vaccinated. It's a vaccine induced herd immunity. And then you periodically get these outbreaks among unvaccinated people.

S: Yes. Yeah. Herd immunity means you have an outbreak, but the outbreaks are limited and they don't turn into an epidemic.

C: Yeah.

S: But but that's what they're saying here is that this will be more like the flu, which the flu we don't have flu outbreaks. We have we are living through a continuous flu pandemic.

C: Yeah.

S: Right. It's always at pandemic levels, just sort of seasonally moving around the world.

B: And you get used to it. You get used to the 30, 40, 50 thousand people dead a year from that

S: Unlike like measles where measles when we had them under really good control because of herd immunity, there would be these tiny outbreaks. But that was it. It would never it would never break out beyond that because of herd immunity.

B: Yeah. Would never even really be epidemic.

S: Right. Never even got to epidemic levels in countries where they had. And not only that, but measles was no longer endemic in the US, meaning.

B: Right. No, it was gone.

S: There was no person to person spread in the US.

C: Yeah, it was until.

S: It was only coming in from the outside. So that's that's high levels of herd immunity. So we're not going to get anything like that with COVID. It's going to be like the flu. It's going to be like the flu.

C: But it's twofold, right? It's because A, vaccine hesitancy, vaccine denial, all those reasons like we just can't get the vaccine numbers up. But even in places where the vaccine numbers are up, we're still seeing breakthrough infections. There are characteristics of the virus itself, which mutates very quickly.

S: It doesn't. It doesn't mutate very quickly. It mutates a lot slower than the flu vaccine. It does mutate. It does sort of.

C: It does mutate. I mean, we still only have like a year and a half of evidence on this.

S: But what you're seeing, Cara, in terms of a lot of breakthrough infections and even in high vaccination rates, because we're in the middle of a pandemic. That's why. It's because there are so many opportunities to get infected.

C: Yeah, the background levels are too high.

S: And there's so many vaccinated people. There's millions of vaccinated people. So even a tiny percentage of them get breakthrough. It's a lot of people. The numbers are high. But if we get the pandemic under control, then the probability of having a breakthrough infection would plummet because there's just not that much of it circulating.

C: Yeah. I mean, we're speaking right from a very American perspective. It would be interesting to look at like, what is it like in parts of New Zealand where the vaccine rate is exceedingly high and they've managed to keep a lot of movement of people down to a minimum. Are they seeing these breakthrough infections? You're right, probably not. They're able to lift all sorts of restrictions and live more like normal lives. And then when there is a little pocket or a little outbreak, they're able to use public health measures to control it, isolate it, minimize it, which we can't do in the US. We can't do track and trace effectively. There's just too much COVID.

S: Yeah. I mean, if we had kept it to really low levels the whole time, then maybe we could have. But once it broke out into a massive pandemic, then you have to shift your strategy, right? Then you're just trying to do damage control. You're no longer trying to prevent it from reaching those levels.

C: God, I just hope we get to a place where I don't have to get a booster every nine months because I got sick from my booster too.

J: Oh, God. Cara, I got my booster yesterday.

C: How are you feeling?

J: I felt fine yesterday. Courtney, my wife and I woke up this morning. We both felt like we got hit in the arm with a baseball bat.

C: Well, yeah, there's that.

J: And I can't believe how sick I felt this morning and this afternoon. I feel a little bit better right now, but I had full on headache, full on massive achy body, wicked fatigue.

C: Yeah.

B: I got nothing.

J: Now, look, I'm not complaining because you know what that means? It's the exact opposite of complaining. That means that that Moderna booster is soliciting an immune response from me big time.

B: Eliciting.

J: Oh, it's not. Yeah, you're right. It's not looking for money. Okay, yeah. But you get what I'm saying.

C: It all seems to just come down to some, I mean, it's like genetic, it's-

S: Very individual.

C: Yeah, it's like whatever. Some people have that response, some don't. It doesn't mean it's not doing what it's supposed to do at the cellular level, but it sucked. I don't like it. I don't like getting my, I mean, I'm going to do it, of course. I don't want to get COVID, but I don't want to do this for the rest of my life.

J: Yeah.

S: Get used to it. All right.

B: Suck it up.

What's the Word? (15:43)[edit]

S: Cara, you're going to give us, what's the word?

C: The word this week. It's actually, well, Evan, I wanted to pick back up on your story from the other week when we talked about chirality, because I feel like what we didn't do is we didn't really grapple with the word itself. And maybe it would be good to do a little deep dive, especially given that we did get some feedback in email. I think because we brought up thalidomide as an example, that he was like, don't let that one point make us think that all chirality is bad. And I think that's actually a really interesting way to look at it because chirality is neither good nor bad. Chirality just is. And let's talk about what that property of chirality is. So in chemistry, either molecule or even an ion can be called chiral when it is a mirror image. But a mirror image is not sufficient for something to be chiral because it also has to be non superimposable. So what that means is if I were to look at my left hand and I were to look at my right hand in a flat plane in space, there's no way that I could rotate my right hand to fit it on top of my left hand perfectly. Right?

B: Right.

E: Yes.

C: So you have to flip it around completely, but there's no way to rotate it or to change it in any of the ways that like the rules of chemistry and physics allow you to do in order for it to fit on top. And that is the definition. So isomers, for example, there's a lot of words that get thrown around and I think that is what sometimes confuses folks. Okay, so isomers are just compounds, ions, molecules, whatever that have the same number of atoms, but they differ in structural arrangement. And then we've got stereo isomers, which are isomers that differ in how the atoms are spatially arranged, but not the order of their atomic connectivity. And then you've got these things called enantiomers. That's a hard one to say. Spelled E-N-A-N-T-I-O-M-E-R-S. Enantiomers are types of stereo isomers which are non superimposable. So a chiral molecule is an example of an enantiomer. Sometimes you'll hear those words interchangeably, but really chirality is a subcomponent of that. Regardless of all of these complicated chemistry words, if you think about chirality from the perspective of its etymology, right? Where does the word come from? Guess who actually coined this word?

B: Benjamin Franklin.

C: No, I'll give you a hint. It was in the year 1894 and it's a hybrid. It was coined by Lord Kelvin.

J: Of course.

E: Oh, I say Lord Kelvin.

C: Yeah. So what he was trying to do was Latinize the Greek term care, which means hand. So really the word itself means handedness. If something is chiral, it is handed. If it has chirality, it has a handedness. And something that's kind of interesting that there are implications of chirality. So we've talked a little bit about thalidomide, which it was not well understood that thalidomide was a chiral molecule. So sometimes in medicine, when that's not well understood, the opposite handedness might be formed in the laboratory. And if we're not careful, it can bind differently to different receptor sites and have different downstream effects. So we have to test both versions of that molecule. Now, in the lab, if we're going to be making sugars, proteins, it's very common that like doing the basic chemistry that we're doing will make like a 50 50 soup of left handed and right handed molecules. But in life, here's the interesting thing. Pretty much all amino acids on Earth are what handed.

S: They're all left handed.

C: Yeah, all our proteins are lefties. And equally interesting, did you know that most of our sugars are righties?

J: No.

E: Didn't know that.

B: I used to know and then I forgot.

C: Yeah, in a living organism, and there's a lot of kind of theoretical hypotheses about why this is the case could be that in the primordial, the very early universe, glycine found itself to be chiral. And it had this downstream effect where more and more molecules that were produced, if they were one handedness, it was more likely that the other handedness stuck. It could be that kind of this early dust just lent itself to a certain chirality because stuff just fit better. It's still sort of a mystery why life on Earth tends to be or at least the proteinaceous portion of life on Earth tends to be left handed. And it doesn't really necessarily follow that life elsewhere in the galaxy or in the universe would need to be that way. That's something to that astrobiologists often think about something to kind of look for. Wouldn't it be interesting if we found alternative chirality in other portions of the universe if we if we found any building blocks of life at all? Pretty interesting. So yeah, the reason we often hear the terms left or right handedness to refer to chirality is not just because it helps us conceptually understand the concept. Wow, that was redundant. But it's also because it literally means handedness. That's how Lord Kelvin decided to to name it. And it makes perfect sense. And I think it's it's an easy way to look at it. Again, just as a review, left handed and right handed, you can't rotate your left hand to look like your right hand. It's a mirror image, but it's also not superimposable as opposed to an arrow, for example, which is not chiral. If I were to look at an arrow, yes, it's a mirror image like an arrow facing left and an arrow facing right. Yes, it's a mirror image, but I can also rotate it to look the exact same. So that's not an example of chirality. But your hands are.

S: Yeah, it's an important concept in biochemistry. And it's not that hard. I think you explained it well. But the news item that everyone was talking about was the chemical process where we can control the chirality of chemicals that we make so that we don't have to have a 50 50 mix.

C: Which is really important, like in the case of thalidomide and like in the case that I brought up of starting off on citalopram back in the day, which had both left and right handed versions and then later taking escitalopram. So that was in America. The brand names would be Celexa. And then the newer version was Lexapro, which only has one handedness. And so it tends to you tend to be able to take less of the drug for the same effect. And it has fewer side effects because it doesn't have one hand. Exactly. But you wouldn't be able to do that without the work that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went towards.

S: All right. Thanks, Cara.

News Items[edit]

Creepy Parasite (22:27)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to start us off with the news items with a Halloween themed creepy news item.

B: Yeah. Had to talk about that. So a Texas parks and wildlife employee posted a picture on Facebook recently of a fish quite nearby for the first time that had its tongue replaced by a parasite known as the tongue eating louse. So this is, as you said, a creepy Halloween theme news item, if ever there were one. So how nasty is this? As far as body horrors go, this is a top five for sure. But it kind of happens to fish and not people. But oh, boy, I'd love to see a story where this does happen to people because that would be creepy. All right. First of all, what is this tongue eating louse that I speak of? This parasite, they're isopods and isopods are an order of crustaceans that live in water, land, saltwater, freshwater, kind of all over. They've got segmented exoskeletons with antennae and many spindly legs, seven or eight, depending on where you, what your source is. And they're related to pill bugs, which I never heard of, which you may know as roly polies.

C: Yeah, roly polies.

B: Okay. I never heard of those either.

C: Wait, no, no, no, no, no, Bob. Come on.

B: They're related. They're related to roly polies. I never heard of them.

C: I know, but you don't know what a roly polie is?

B: No, I do now.

C: Do you guys also call it, what are other words for roly polie?

B: Pill bugs?

C: I know you know what it is. You just call it something different.

B: Okay, maybe, but I don't know. I don't know. Pill bug or roly polie, but they can be in your yard. Those things have been there, but they're related. These specific beasties are called Cimithoa exigua. And so what separates them from other isopods? Now here's the part where you got to gird your loins a little bit. The female gets into the fish's mouth through the gills. The males just kind of hang out in the gills. They stay there. That's home. From there in the mouth though, it severs the blood supply to the soft tissue of the tongue, which then necrotizes and drops off. Blam. Tongue is gone. Then the parasite attaches to the muscles on the remaining little stub tongue and takes up residence as the new fish tongue. How nasty is that? You look in the fish mouth, you see these eyes staring at you where the tongue is supposed to be. Now, so if you're anthropomorphizing the fish, you're probably thinking the fish is now in hell for the rest of its life, right? I mean, at that point, why wouldn't the fish just scream until it dies, right? That's what I would do.

E: Because it has no tongue.

B: Yeah. Not just it has no tongue. It has a parasite, a crustacean for its tongue in its mouth kind of hanging out. And I assume-

J: Tell me, Bob, do they talk to each other? Is there a community?

E: Is it symbiotic? What's going on?

B: He took one of my jokes later on.

E: Does the fish get any benefit from this?

B: Damn you, Jay. So in fact, the parasitic tongue doesn't make that much of a difference and the fish doesn't seem to mind. And to answer that, we'll need to look at how awesome human tongues are. Our tongues are, they're just amazing and versatile as we all know. It's the most flexible muscle you have. In fact, it's made up of eight muscles, which I did not know. But I did know that the tongue does many things. It makes language as we know it and it helps us form the sounds into words. They let us whistle, taste, swallow, and of course don't forget lick. Whatever you're licking, you lick it because you have a tongue. Now a fish tongue is kind of lame compared to that. Very kind of like whatever. It's really, it's just essentially a stub of bone with some soft tissue on it. And it helps move food down and it pushes water through the gills. And that's about it. It only does really those two things, those two activities though, the parasite now can do for the fish. You know, so maybe if the fish just kind of shrugs its non-existent shoulders and says, hey, at least I have someone to talk to now. So that was Jay's joke that he stole from me. Thank you, Jay. So, but the feet though is still extraordinary. This makes the tongue eating louse the only known parasite that can totally replace an organ in another creature. And yes, it'd be kind of cool if there were others and maybe there are and we're not aware of it, but that's just so damn creepy.

S: You mean like brain parasites that replace your brain?

E: The brain slugs.

B: Oh, I like that. Yeah, some zombies. So you may think that the parasite feeds on a share of the food that the fish eats, right? That makes perfect sense. If I took up residence in a creature's mouth, I'd certainly take a share of the food because it's right there within reach every day, right? So I got, he's chewing some food. I might as well grab some. It's like the awesome, it's the ultimate awesome in laziness scenario there. But in, and I was going to compare this mouth parasite to remora. Now you guys have heard remora fish. They essentially stick to sharks for years and they eat some of the bits of food that float around it while it's eating. Or so I thought, or so I thought for years, that's what I thought. They just eat the particles of food that the that the sloppy shark just has floating around its mouth while it's eating. But that's not true. I just found out that that's actually been disproved. Remora don't eat shark food. They eat shark faeces apparently. So that there's a little remora/excrement trivia for you. So the parasite is basically a tongue, but it doesn't eat any of the fish food as you might think. Instead it eats the mucus that's in the mouth, which sounds to me only slightly better than shark excrement, just a little bit better. But Hey, who am I to judge? Maybe it tastes like butterscotch pudding to the louse, but mucus doesn't sound good. So apparently some scientists though also think that these parasites can tap into the former supply, blood supply of the tongue for some nourishment. So if that's the case, it's not, most of them eat the mucus and maybe just a tiny subset can actually tap into the blood supply and get some nourishment that way as well. So scientists say that this phenomenon is not uncommon. These, these parasites are commonly found in the mouths of sea trout and some snapper species as well. So it's more common than you might think. And it got some, some good quotes here. Jimmy Brunot, he's an evolutionary biologist and parasite expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. He said, you look into a fish's mouth and there's eyes staring back at you.

J: What?

B: Yes. That's yeah. Right. Cause these parasites got eyes. Yeah. Well no, they're, they're crustaceans. You know, they're actually with exoskeleton. They're not when you think parasite, you're not really thinking of something like that with an exoskeleton and something, but it's it's an, it's a parasite. Cory Evans is a fish biologist at Rice University and he has my favorite quote about this regarding looking at the parasite in the fish's mouth. He said, every time is as bad as the first time. It's like being Rick rolled. I thought that was hilarious. Every time is as bad as the first time. It's always creepy and scary and nasty no matter how many times you do it. It's like being Rick rolled. That's a hilarious quote. But uh, yeah, this is the creepiest news item I could find that is appropriate for the weekend of Halloween when this podcast is being released. So there you go. I'm done.

C: So Bob, I can't let this go. You don't know what a roly poly is.

B: No, to me I would have thought, Oh, what is that a candy bar? I don't know. I never heard of a roly poly.

C: They're in the family Armadillidiidae. Not to be confused with Armadillidae.

B: I love that family.

C: Yeah. There's Armadillidae, but then there's also Armadillidiidae.

B: Oh my goodness.

E: And the day you celebrated is called what?

B: Armadillidiidiidae.

C: They undergo something. They have a behavior called, no lie. I love this so much. Conglobation, which basically just means rolling up. They roll up into a ball. They congregate.

B: Getting memories now.

C: And they're also called in different parts of the country in the world. They're called pill bugs, roly poly, slaters, potato bugs and doodle bugs.

E: Potato bug.

C: Is that how you guys call them?

S: I also see wood shrimp, chicky pigs, penny sows, and cheesy bugs.

C: What do you call them Jay?

J: Chicky pigs.

C: No you don't.

E: I do now.

J: I do from right now to forever.

C: Evan, who knew I'd be going to Evan to get a straight answer here. What do you, having grown up in Connecticut, call these things?

E: It's the potato bug.

C: Potato bug.

E: That's probably the one I'm familiar with.

S: I have heard pill bug before.

B: Cara, now I'm looking at pictures. I haven't, I didn't look at the pictures before. So this does, this does, I do recognize this, but I have not.

C: What would you call that?

B: I don't know. I don't know what I would. If you, if you showed me a picture yesterday before I started doing research or two days ago, whatever, I would have said, I, I've seen this before. I don't know what you would call it, but pill bug makes sense.

C: This is such a cool like regional thing.

B: It is because I haven't seen it a lot locally on the East coast. This is not common.

C: My whole childhood you played with roly polies.

B: And roly polies, I never heard of that term, but I see why it would be called the roly poly.

C: Right? Cause they-

B: They look ancient.

C: Yeah. I suppose. They're cool.

E: But that doesn't save them from predators. Why do they do that behavior?

B: Imagine how fast you could roll downhill. If you get trapped on top of a hill, they could just roll down. Catch me if you can.

C: It protects their belly. No? Cause they have a pretty intense exoskeleton.

S: They're like, an armadillo or something.

C: Yeah. That's why they're called Armadillidiidae.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Lab Grown Coffee (31:55)[edit]

S: Jay, tell us about lab grown coffee.

J: Steve, have you heard of Frankenstein coffee?

S: Franken coffee?

J: Franken coffee.

S: Franken brew?

J: This is coffee that's made in the lab and you know, the coffee that we drank in the future might actually be made in a bioreactor. Now, do you remember within the last couple of episodes I was talking about-

S: Molecular farming?

J: Molecular farming.

S: Basically using growing plants to replace bioreactors. Now you're going to use bioreactors to replace plants.

J: Right. And I thought that that was ironic, right? Because we, wait a minute, we were just working on the other stuff, but there's a reason behind all this, which I'll let you know. So the researchers at Technical Research Center VTT in Finland have brewed coffee from cultured cells taken from coffee plant leaves. Question. How were they making coffee from just the plant leaves?

E: So they, no beans?

J: No, there's no beans. There are no beans. So keep that in mind as I continue sharing.

B: Did you know that they're actually, yes, yes, there's, they're not beans or actually they're seeds. They're not really beans and it's not really a coffee plant, it's a coffee shrub. So I'm just throwing out some anal technical information there,

J: Thank you, Bob. Wait, so you don't have anything else? You know that they're not using beans though?

B: Yeah. So using the plant, they're using the plant cells or the shrub cells, the leaf cells. Right. The cells. But they tweaked the crap out of them though.

E: So that's all you need are the cells?

J: Yeah, they did tweak them to, I guess, make them have properties like the actual beans, which Bob wants us to not call them seeds, but the actual answer is seeds. This is very complicated. I think we should start the whole thing over.

B: No, this is great.

C: That's how I felt with chirality.

J: So the lead researcher, his name is Risher, who he's the head plant biotechnologist at VTT. He said, coffee making is an art and involves iterative optimization under the supervision of specialists with dedicated equipment. Our work marks the basis for such work. And regarding the taste, the lead guy said to describe it as difficult, but for me it was in between a coffee and a black tea.

C: Ew.

J: He went on to say, it depends really on the roasting grade and this was a very a bit of a lighter roast. So it had a little bit more of a tea like sensation. He did say that he likes the darker roast better. This is where they happen to be in their research right now. And that of course they're going to, you're going to make it so it tastes like coffee. 100%. There won't be any hints of tea in there once they hit their goal. So now this research was done in Finland and Finland happens to be the largest consumer of coffee. I didn't know that.

B: I didn't know it either.

E: Per capita?

J: Yeah, yeah. Per capita. And this is under kilograms per person consumed. Let me read you the list real quick. I think you'll find this interesting. Finland is the top, then Sweden, then Iceland, then Norway, then Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Bosnia, Germany. And then at the very bottom of the list, very surprisingly, the US and the UK.

B: What?

J: Yes. And it goes down from, yeah, it goes down from like 12.2 kilograms per person. And then the US is a 2.5. I'm drinking 40. I don't know about you. Bob, you've got to be drinking 200.

C: Do you think it has something to do with how cold it is there?

J: Yeah. You hit the nail on the head. I mean, it's a warm beverage being largely consumed in very cold places. I thought that was really fun to just wrap your head around like who's drinking the most coffee. So of course we have to ask if this technology will ever be cost effective. And at this time there is no answer because they're not far enough in their research. We don't know what it's going to be like when they scale it up. If it's even, if they can even scale it up, that's a big deal. And this is where everything that doesn't make it, it dies on the vine right there. The scaling up part of it is really the 99%. Now a more important question is why would we even do this in the first place? Right? Let's not do it just because we can. There's gotta be a reason. Well, there is. Let me tell you, let me give you a nice answer for that one. This technology comes at a good time. Why? Because the coffee industry is having a hard time keeping up with global demand. The coffee-

E: It's those finish people, you know?

J: Yes. I mean they stopped drinking. Then only we could have more. They're the problem. Actually, we should go to war with Finland over coffee is what I think is happening. So coffee is the third most consumed beverage in the world coming behind. What are the other two guys?

E: Water?

C: Tea?

B: Water and tea.

J: Correct. Right now, coffee growers are producing 22 billion, billion pounds of coffee bean per year, not seeds. Right? 22 billion pounds. I want to see how big that is. If somebody could measure the size of a coffee bean and tell me what is it, does this cover Manhattan? Like how big is 22 billion pounds of coffee beans?

E: Right. How many Empire State buildings would that fill?

J: Exactly. I would love to have someone figure that out for me. This is a huge crap that takes an ever growing amount of land to sustain that they're, they're stripping the land to build more to create more farmland for, for coffee bushes. Coffee growers are damaging the climate because of this deforestation and to kick it all off, to make it even worse, they are also using unsustainable farming methods that increased the problem. So this is a train wreck. I didn't realize that my love of coffee that Bob and I are damaging the earth because we like to drink coffee. So the researchers see that their technology could help this problem by potentially eliminating the need for more land to grow coffee. That's obvious, but using biotechnology will decrease the amount of water needed as well, which is fantastic. And also there will be less transportation of the actual coffee. Why? Because they could build a lab anywhere like the one in Finland. Doesn't matter. So they don't have to ship it as far. They don't have to ship it halfway across the planet to get you the coffee. So also all the chemicals that they need for farming are gone. And you know, I know that they need chemicals in the bioreactors, but they use them as efficiently as possible and they have exquisite control over it, which you don't out in the real world. There's a ton of evaporation and whatnot. The team says that they're about four years away from a viable product, which is good news because typically when they say five years, that means never, but right. You know that. That's right. But when they say four years, they're hedging their bet and they're going, no, this is actually going to happen. So I think it's going to happen.

S: Yeah. So I mean, my concern is the cost. I mean, it's not like just because they're not using up land, et cetera, it doesn't mean, I mean, bioreactors are famously massively expensive, right? This is the whole point of going the other way, trying to use plants to make things so you don't have to use a bioreactor. So it doesn't matter if it works, if it's going to be too expensive. And you're right the coffee is made from dried cellular material and then they do roast it. They had to come up with their own roasting process. So it is that certain material is roasted, but you know, they claim it tastes fine, but there you will, you have to see how much it's going to cost and what's the consumer acceptance going to be.

C: Yeah. Cause so much of coffee is like cultural too. It's not just a, I need this thing that tastes this way. It's a, I get my coffee, the single origin blend from this part of the world or it requires more than just here's something that's available to change people's minds and change their consumption.

E: Otherwise we'd all be drinking Sanka.

S: People drink low end swill, but they're not going to, they're not going to pay a lot of money for it though.

C: Yeah. And there are also ways to buy coffee sustainably.

B: True I guess. But what if, but what if you, we were comparing the cost of the bioreactor to the true cost of coffee when you factor in all this damage it's doing to the environment. Maybe it's not.

S: Yeah. But the question is, is there just an alternative where you could do better farming techniques for coffee rather than going all the way to using a bioreactor. It wouldn't surprise me if this never comes to fruition, even if we can technically do it just because the economics are not going to be there.

C: Or the will. I don't want my coffee to taste like coffee tea.

J: I agree, Cara, of course.

C: I want coffee to taste like coffee.

J: You know, think about just, but just run this through the computer real quick. There are so many people out there that are coffee aficionados, like there are people that are expert roasters. There's so much demand for high quality coffee and for coffee that tastes in so many different ways that I think it's likely that they'll first start making just regular, everyday, non-critical coffee for the average person. Right?

C: Right, like Folgers.

E: Average Joe.

J: Yeah, the average Joe stuff. And then as they become more nuanced and better and they could do all the tweaking and everything, they'll probably be able to make some specialty coffees. But you know, regular, normal, plant grown coffee, I don't think that's going anywhere in the short term.

C: Me neither.

J: Unless global warming destroys all outside crops and then you know.

E: Yeah, parasites, fungus, anything can take, you know.

C: I actually think they're better off just calling it something completely different and making it a fad like kombucha. Just don't call it coffee. Call it a whole new drink that's really sustainable.

S: That's true.

C: Blah, blah, blah. I think they'd have a better marketing.

B: Yeah, maybe.

C: Because they, and they might be able to do things like really control the caffeine content and really control the tannins. And I don't know, it may be that they can dial into some things that you couldn't do with conventionally grown coffee. But yeah, sell it as something else.

J: We could call it a combined word of tea and coffee. We can call it toffee. And it could taste like coffee.

C: Yeah, that's fucking amazing.

S: All right, let's move on.

Organoid Research (41:45)[edit]

S: So I have my Halloween themed sort of new item. Research involving growing human brains.

B: Organoids.

S: Yes, sort of. Not real full human brains, just organoids. Mini me brains. So yeah, this is a study that came out recently looking at growing an organoid of a human brain in order to do research on specific neurodegenerative diseases. So first let's back up a little bit and talk about what are organoids. So organoids are essentially three dimensional cell cultures. So you don't just have just cells growing in a mat, in a Petri dish. You actually grow the cell culture from stem cells that can become different kinds of cells. And if you grow it three dimensionally, it could actually start to acquire some of the structure of the organ that you're growing. So you could actually have like a little piece of liver that actually has some bile ducts and some structure to it.

C: And remember, Steve, last time I talked about organoids, the article was about self-assembling eye spots.

S: Yeah.

C: Which is very cool.

S: Yeah, they're doing it with kidneys and lungs and livers and brains.

B: But there was a difference.

S: This study involved using human adult derived induced pluripotent stem cells. So what does all that mean? I know we've discussed this before, but just as a quick review. So stem cells are cells that can become other cells, right? They're like the progenitor cells that could turn into different specific cell types. If you have an induced stem cell, that means that it wasn't, didn't have, you increased its potential by genetically tweaking it in some way by doing something to it. So the pretty much the standard technology now is to start with something like fibroplasts, which are skin stem cells, and then all tweak them genetically so that they become either more multipotent or pluripotent. A pluripotent cell could become any kind of cell in the body.

E: Yeah.

S: It's not totipotent. The only difference there is that totipotent cells like embryonic stem cells can become every kind of cell in the body, but also the placenta and every kind of extra embryonic cell. So everything including-

B: Every cell a human could make.

S: Yes. But pluripotent is everything in the body. So you could, so in this case, they took human fibroblasts, induced them to be pluripotent, and then coach them into forming the different types of brain cells. And you actually get a somewhat of a brain structure with neurons and astrocytes forming the layers that would typically occur in a human brain. And this gives us the ability to study in more detail the effects of, for example, different disease states, not just looking at the health of a cell. You could be looking at the health of the structures that are formed by those cells. And it mimics a living organism better because you're actually getting multiple kinds of cells interacting with each other. So it mimics a biological organism much more than just a cell culture.

B: So it's kind of in between like an in vitro and in vivo. It's in between those two.

S: It's kind of in between. There's this new category of research.

B: Better than one and almost as good as the other.

C: Well, wait, it's not in vivo.

B: No, but it's in between.

C: It's still in vitro.

S: No, it's still in vitro. It's still in vitro, but it's getting closer to simulating in vivo within vitro.

C: Yeah, yeah. But it's just really good in vitro.

S: Yes. That's a good way to think about it. But it's so good. How good is it? It's so good that it actually can be considered translational research in a way because you can take basic science like stuff you looked at in a petri dish just on cells and go, okay, let's see now how it affects an organoid. And so it's kind of like on the way to doing human research in the same way that animal research is. But this animal research has the advantage of being whole organism. And but you know, organoid research has the advantage of being human. But also, all right. So in the in this study, the one advance they did was they figured out that if they do, even though they're doing like this three dimensional brain structure, if they do it in thin sections, they can feed the cells better and keep them alive longer. So in the published study, normally you can only look at the cells for a few days. In this study, they kept the cells alive for 240 days. And in unpublished data, they have kept the same group has kept a brain organoids alive for 340 days. So it's so yeah, that allows for obviously a lot more research longer term research. Here's the other advantage of organoid research over like animal studies, for example. So what they were looking at are organoids made from adult derived again, induced pluripotent stem cells taken from people who have ALS, Frontal Temporal Dementia, which is a genetic form of ALS, which is a motor neuron disease. And it's a combination of the motor neurons dying, so you become weak, as with ALS, but also Frontal Temporal Dementia, which is like a form of say, Alzheimer's type dementia, but it's affecting mainly the frontal and temporal lobes. And you get those two things together. So just different kinds of neurons are dying and you get the motor neuron disease plus the dementia. And then they were this way, they could see how the brains of this disease state evolve. One thing they learned is that the cells start to accumulate toxic abnormal proteins right at the beginning, which which means that probably people who are born with this disease, even though it might not manifest until they're adults, their brain cells are abnormal at birth, which means that we may be able to diagnose it earlier and also be able to target interventions long before they start to manifest clinical symptoms. The other advantage of this research, which is why it's considered partially translational is because you now you have a model on which you can test treatments, right? So not only is it a model where you could study what's happening, just learn about the disease. You could then say, OK, let's be exposed to different drugs and see if it alters the course of this abnormal disease state. And that's what they did. They took a drug just has just a designation, letters and numbers. And that was shown to affect the buildup of the toxic proteins that they discovered in when they looked at their organoid model and it did reduce it. So it did have a potential effect. That is pretty promising. Now, obviously we don't the first organoid was made in 2013, so they haven't been around for a long time. It's not like we have decades and decades of research where we know how well organoid research predicts human clinical trials. But there's every reason to think that they will be more predictive than just cell culture. They may be more predictive than animal research because it's actually on human cells. If it turns out once we keep doing this long enough we we need to do enough research where treatments go all the way through the pipeline. Then we could say, well, how many treatments that looked promising at the organoid level of research ended up being a drug that was actually used on people in the clinic, got approved as a treatment. We don't really have that data yet. I'm very interested in seeing what that is. It may be much better than anything else we have now in terms of preclinical research, predicting clinical outcomes, because right now it's pretty bad. You know, in terms of the statistics, we have it's the preclinical research is critical. We need to do it. But things that look promising at the preclinical level, less than 1% translate into the human level. Yeah. If you're just looking across the board and that's that's looking at the most promising things like not even just the stuff that gets abandoned early but things that say, OK, this probably should work. Let's see what happens. And then it doesn't work out in clinical trials. So we'll say perhaps organoid research will will be a lot better, a lot more predictive because we're dealing with we're getting pretty close to doing research on human tissue without having to the ethical and the pragmatic issues of doing actual live person research.

B: Well, what about organoid rights? What if that ever becomes a thing? And of course, I'm only joking.

C: But it's something that people will bring up. I mean, like at what point at some point-

B: At some point they'd have to be. Yeah, they'd have to be a lot more substantive than they are now.

C: You say that. But look at what's happening in Texas right now. Like there's definitely people who.

B: Oh, I don't. Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking scientifically. I wasn't thinking crazy like like like that.

S: But scientifically, it's a it's a continuum from an organoid to a human brain. And as they get more sophisticated, will there be a point where like, I wonder if this organoids thinking.

B: I think we will we will reach that point. But just so it's clear, Steve, that now the reason that that it's flat is basically for nutrient circulation, because when you had the really 3D spherical type of organoids, the centers of it would die and then it would limit the lifespan of the organ. But the reason it's flat is to is so that the nutrient dispersion is can feed all of the nutrient, all of the cells. And that's why. So my question to you then is how much is the flattening of the organoid? How is that? How much does that compromise the replication of the three dimensional structure that we're really looking forward to dealing with here?

S: For the brain, not by much, because that's how the brain's organized. You know what I mean? In that kind of vertical way. And so it's still a pretty good section of a brain with all the you know, a lot of the structure is there. So I don't think, that's a good question and I'm sure researchers will exactly ask that question, explore that some more. But from a theoretical point of view, it may not affect it much at all.

B: That's good.

S: You know, it's still yeah, it's still a great model because not like again, you're getting sophisticated brain anatomy. You're just getting just like the layers, the cell layers in a cortex like just like a unit-

B: Like a cortical stack? Are they like getting close like something like that's the classic subunit of the brain, right? Is those cortical stacks?

S: Yes. Yeah, I wouldn't call it that, but you're getting close to that. But you're not. Obviously, you're not getting the networking, right? But if you make a big enough organoid with enough complexity, it might start spontaneously networking with itself and get to the point where you might have something that's like an insect level in terms of its or higher data.

C: Well, and that was I mean, that was I don't want to say it's the same thing, but the organoid story that I covered just not that many weeks ago was about the fact that if you put the right factors in, it started making eyes.

S: Yeah. Yeah.

C: Just or it just had the sort of instructions to do that already.

J: Why is that so creepy?

C: I know. Hey, Jay, guess what? Jay, if you look at a living brain after the skull's been removed.

J: Don't even.

E: Oh, yes. Guess what's there to do to do attached to why?

J: Why does it have to do that?

C: Pulse?

J: Why can't the blood just flow through it?

B: Because your heart beats.

C: Because your heart beats.

E: And your brain pulses.

J: Why does my brain have to jiggle? Why can't it just be like my bicep? You know what I mean?

S: It's like Jell-O.

Conspiracies and COVID (53:55)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about people who believe in conspiracies about COVID.

C: We know them. We love them. Not really. They frustrate us, but we love them. So we talk about this all the time. And I think that I came across an article that very much answers the question, what's the harm? You know, this is a very common question that we have to that we're faced with as skeptics. And I think this has been a big one, right? A lot of conspiracies flying around about COVID-19. Everything from that it's a vast government conspiracy to try and affect the global economy. Like people legit thought that it had something to do with trying to get Trump reelected or not reelected. I don't even know. Lots of medical conspiracies about effects on pregnancy or about what was the one with Bill Gates?

E: Oh, the microchipping?

C: Microchipping. Yes. They're just so ridiculous. So and there have been obviously a lot of studies published about how conspiracy beliefs affect people's behavior. But there are limits to some of those studies. One of the biggest ones is that oftentimes these studies are done in a cross sectional manner. So at one point in time a big swath of the population might be sampled. And then at a later point in time, another big swath of the population is sampled in the hopes that they sort of reflect changing attitudes. But what some researchers in the Netherlands decided to do is a longitudinal study. Over a short period of time, they decided to ask a bunch of people at the very beginning of the pandemic, I think it was in April of 2020, about their how they sort of rank on a conspiracy scale. Like, what are their beliefs about COVID? What are their beliefs about different conspiratorial thoughts? And then they decided to ask those same people again in December of that year, some questions about their behavior. So eight months later, what are they up to? And are there any sort of associations that they can see? Predictions, as it were this is not a way to measure cause and effect. Let's put that out there. This is a correlational or actually, it's a regression study. So it tells you what is maybe a little bit predictive of something else, but not that something necessarily caused something. So they, they looked at 5,745 participants in what they are calling a nationally representative sample of the Dutch population. So this took place in the Netherlands. They asked them, like I said, at the beginning, do you believe in these conspiracy theories? What do you think? They didn't call them conspiracy theories, but what do you think about COVID? Is it a bio weapon that was engineered by scientists? Is it a vast conspiracy to take away citizens' rights? Is it a cover up for the impending global economic crash? And then in December, when they surveyed them again, they asked them things like, have you been tested for COVID? If you were tested, was that test positive or negative? Do you breach COVID regulations? And in the Netherlands, there's actually like you get fined for certain things. So they asked some questions about whether or not people had been fined. Not many people had. But you know, did you go to a crowded party? Have you had a whole bunch of people over to your house? And what do you think they found?

S: Oh yeah, there was a correlation.

C: Oh yeah. So people who believed in COVID-19 conspiracy theories tended to not get tested for the virus. And among those who did get tested, they had higher rates of infection. This is a real world outcome. And we don't know again, if it's causal. Obviously, we don't know if not believing in conspiracy theories makes people more likely to catch the virus or if other behaviors affect both of those things or other personality traits or states affect both of those things. But obviously, there is a high relationship and they even demonstrated that it's also a high relationship between conspiratorial thinking in general, not just conspiracy thinking specifically about COVID. That that was also just as predictive.

E: Because people have predispositions towards all sorts of stuff.

C: Yeah, like people who tend to believe in conspiracies in general, were also more likely to have caught the virus. They were more likely to not get tested. But if they were tested to have had a positive test, they were more likely to have had visitors over the number that was recommended by the government at the time. And they were more likely to have visited overcrowded parties, bars or restaurants. They also looked at some of the other outcomes like pandemic outcomes that were interesting to them. They found that conspiratorial thinkers were more likely to have lost employment and income. And they were also potentially more likely to have experienced social rejection. But again, it's difficult to say is that because of their views, or did it did those losses contribute to their views? Did they reinforce their views? And you know, is this a self perpetuating cycle? But the idea here is that a this was not just A, random snapshot in time, they were actually able to longitudinally follow these individuals. And B, conspiracy beliefs was predictive of implications for public health. They also found that on measures of social well being those who endorsed higher levels of conspiratorial thinking also endorsed lower levels of well being. So there are real world effects. And like it seems reasonable, right? Nobody I think would be surprised by these results. But these results reinforce in in data, what I think a lot of people maybe assumed but we didn't know for certain, which is that the thoughts, the thought patterns, the cognitions, the beliefs, the emotional state affect behavior, that behavior affects public health, and personal medical status, right?

S: It also is another independent line of evidence that the public health measures that the authorities are promoting work, because you know, the the big thing is that the conspiracy theorists, people who are tend to think in that way are less likely to wear a mask, social distance, get vaccinated, get tested, just believe that there's a virus and act accordingly. And so they're more likely to catch it because it's actually is a real pandemic out there that's happening. And if it weren't, if they're if they were correct, then they would not put them at increased risk of anything. So it is, in a way, its own sort of confirmation that yep, the pandemic is real. Yeah. All right. Thanks, Cara.

C: Yep.

Death by Exorcism (1:00:37)[edit]

S: Evan, you haven't spoken about death by exorcism in quite a while. This is a good Halloween themed news item. It's unfortunately still happening. So give us the sad update on this thing.

E: Very sad update. In fact, Halloween being what it is finally here, a celebration of the dead. Although I wouldn't say we're going to be celebrating about this particular news item. You know, exorcism. All right. It's a religious practice. It is it hinges on the belief that people, places or objects, which means just about anyone and everything and every place can and do become possessed by spirits or ghosts or devils or demons or any fantastical entity that you choose to conjure. This is known as possession. If you are deemed to be possessed, the remedy is exorcism. Now, exorcism falls along the spectrum. There are more benign versions of exorcisms in which people basically, well, they'll pray. They'll pray to angels or gods and those of common faith and close proximity, family members living in the same household. They'll pray for the spirits to be released from you. But then there's the other end of the spectrum. These are the cases of exorcism by things like beatings and burnings and suffocation and wounding and breaking and drowning and outright death. Also at the hands of people of common faith and close proximity and family members and living in the same household. These are the patterns that have been established. So this week there was a death by exorcism in Israel where a 26 year old woman collapsed during this ceremony, as it was described, performed by a sheikh, one who practices witchcraft, and three suspects have been arrested. And the autopsy results have not yet been made public. This only happened or was reported a couple of days ago, so it's still unfolding the details. They're not even releasing the name of the victim or have not released the names of the people who have been arrested yet. That's to be coming out soon. It may come out by the time you hear this, but for now we don't have that information. Those who were arrested were, well, the sheikh, the victim's husband, and a doctor. You do a search online for death by exorcism. You come up with a lot of hits basically, but what I found is that it spans a vast swath of time. Basically you find articles on your first page, if you're going to use Google in the first and second page, of articles from 1978, 1986, 1990s. And it's not confined to any one region of the country. This is not something that only happens in places like the Middle East. This happens in America. This happens in Europe. This happens in China. This happens in South Africa. This happens all over the world. It doesn't seem to have any real cultural barriers or age groups or anything you can measure on a demographic scale. It's everywhere. The understanding of what this is so ingrained in cultures around the world, the belief of possession and exorcism. And it's been around for thousands of years. You go back in history and there are cited examples of this happening for a very long time and all over the place. So it is as common as people themselves.

C: I assumed exorcism was Catholic.

E: No, not...

C: Yeah, because you mentioned this was a sheikh, right? So this was Islamic. This was Muslim. So interesting. I didn't even realize that it's so trans-cultural.

E: Yeah, our modern sort of idea of it is perhaps, well, the movie The Exorcist, which certainly has the Catholicism angle to it. But it is. It's all religions have a version of this. I mean, society basically has accepted this is true, that this actually does happen. There's zero evidence showing that spirits or ghosts or demons or anything like that actually exist. Yet, here we are sort of accepting it. And there were a couple of other, if I can touch on them very quickly, Steve, other news items this week having to do with exorcisms. And I think it touches us to the argument about how it is so pervasive in the culture. So this is obviously a Christian news website. But a Catholic priest claims that the pandemic, the COVID pandemic, is behind a rise in people asking for exorcisms. And this comes from the exorcists themselves. They claim that people have been asking them more than ever now to perform exorcisms because they can't find solutions otherwise to the issues surrounding COVID-19, whether it's the disease, the virus itself or the other aspects of the virus, like the limiting social interaction, the psychological effects that it's having on people, the financial effects that it's having on people. People think that on some level there's something supernatural going on and they're going to turn to, well, exorcisms because it's pretty well accepted in so many places around the world. And certainly the Catholic Church has, I'll say it, a vested interest in in in their being things like possessions and exorcisms. It's part of their dogma. It just is.

C: Do these practitioners actually call themselves exorcists.

E: Yes.

C: You would think that would be a little sullied by the movie.

E: Yeah. The exorcist is referring to the priest, the person performing the ritual. And they run courses. In fact, that's where this particular priest or this Father Roggio runs a training course on exorcism and liberation prayer, all backed by the Vatican. They have an official department dealing with this, but they hold courses every year and they train their priests. And also for lay people, they teach it as well. And going back to how it's cultural and really ubiquitous all around the world, this year's focus is on exorcism in the context of Afro-Brazilian magical rites. So they each year they can find new themes to tap into and pulling them from various, various parts of the of the of the world enough so that they run this every, every year. And then the last thing I wanted to touch base on was something else that came up in the news because there was a show that debuted this week called obviously with Halloween here, Celebrity Exorcism.

C: What?

E: I kid you not. Oh, my gosh. I mean, I saw that and I'm like, what is this? Really? Yep. Stars Jodie Sweetin, who was in the show Full House. You remember Full House, right?

C: Oh, my God. She was the middle daughter.

E: I guess so. Yeah. I mean, I really never watched Full House, but. Shar Jackson from the show Moesha and Metta World Peace, who was a basketball player. I think his name used to be Ron Artest, if I'm not mistaken. So so basically they put these three celebrities in their own right together and they go out and they with an exorcist, a self-proclaimed exorcist. Her name is Rachel Stavis, S-T-A-V-I-S. Never heard of her before. And they go on to what's called Paranormal Boot Camp. And then then they go and investigate haunted places. And it's basically the Ghost Hunters pattern of show to our two hour pilot show that this was. So that's so Celebrity Exorcism. So there you go. Another example of how exorcism is. I don't want to say it's not really misunderstood, but it's just it's just accepted that, yes, this happens and there's no critical thinking. There's no analysis. There's really no rational thought that I think the society should be putting into actually what exorcism really is and stopping and thinking about it before they go ahead and use it as a marketing tool.

S: All right. Thanks, Evan. Jay, it's Who's That Noisy Time.

Who's That Noisy? (1:08:55)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
CNC (computer numerical control) machine inscribing measuring marks on sheet metal

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


Any guesses, guys?

E: Yes. Electric razor, razor sonata in C major.

J: So close.

C: Sort of printer situation.

J: You're not you're not alone in that in that guess. Well, a listener named James Lovell said, Hey, there, I've been listening for a couple of years now and very much appreciate the work you all do. I'm hearing the episode on 10/23 and believe the noisy in this episode is either a spark gap radio operating CW Morse code or a laser engraver in use. That is incorrect. But those are good guesses. Casey Casey Dora wrote in Hi Jay, I believe this week's noisy is a dot matrix printer. Cara agrees with you. The answer to that is incorrect. It is not a dot matrix printer, although, man, does it sound like a dot matrix printer.

C: Right. Young people, you may not know what this is.

J: Yeah, I mean, that's true. I have to say this now. If you're young enough where you don't know what that is, just YouTube it and you will see and hear what we used to print paper on. And you'll laugh at us.

E: All the time.

J: Listener named Paul Levine wrote in he said, Hi, J. This week's noisy sounds like a locksmith getting their groove on while duplicating a key. The that's not correct. I can recall that sound very clearly and it has much more of a grinding shushing kind of noise.

C: That's a way more shrill.

J: And there is that much variation. But that's not a bad guess. I would definitely say that's not bad. I have a something that strikes a little chord in me. This listener named Ani Koski said sounds like the door buzzer at an old New York City apartment building.

E: Oh, yeah.

J: Totally.

E: Yes, it does. It has that tone.

J: They keep hitting it. No winner again this week, guys. I'm picking hard noises. There was no winner. I was really shocked. I thought someone would get this. So let me tell you what it is. This was originally sent in by a listener named Matt Kemp and Matt wrote, Hi, Jay, I've been a listener and sometimes patron for many years and I am always keeping one ear out for noises for you. I enjoyed this short clip of a CNC machine inscribing some measuring marks on sheet metal and thought it could be a who's that noisy contender. So a CNC machine is kind of a vague term.

C: Sort of. I mean, it's a thing. It's a specific thing.

J: It is.

C: But something like routes out shapes.

B: Computer controlled.

J: Yeah, they could do a lot of different things, though. And they're not like just one exact tiny thing. Like they do different things. But anyway, this particular one looks like it has like a there's like a point on it that is coming in contact with a piece of metal and it's carving into metal a kind of like something that looks very similar to a ruler. So hear it again. [plays Noisy] You get the idea. Very interesting sound. Definitely something that most of us don't hear on a regular basis, especially doing that particular thing. But I thought that that was a very, very fun sound to listen to. You know, I realize, guys, a lot of these times, these noisies, I don't get to guess. I just I'm either email them and I or I find noises and I don't get to guess as many, which I'm not I'm not complaining. I'm just saying I didn't I don't get the pleasure of sitting there contemplating each one of these in the same way that you do. So we're not we're not playing the same game. You know what I mean, Evan?

E: Absolutely.

J: Absolutely.

E: Absolutely.

New Noisy (1:12:46)[edit]

J: Alright, guys, I have a new Noisy for this week. This was sent in by a listener named Robert House—

E: —Doctor House?

J: And here it is.

[crackling whir in background, with animal-like squeaks and squawks, then higher-pitched whirring and hissing with pattering drops/beats]

All right. What is that? What did I just play? If you have any idea, you can email me at

Announcements (1:13:19)[edit]

J: Steve, couple quickies. Yeah, we still have seats left at the Denver private show. This is a live podcast recording that we do in front of a live audience. And this is happening in Denver. We also have another one happening in Fort Collins. Of course, both of these locations are in the state of Colorado in the United States. These are happening on November 19th and 20. You can go to our website. You can go to the skeptics guide dot org and you can check it out and see the details. I we still have some seats, especially in Fort Collins. So if you're interested, please join us.

S: All right. Thanks, brother.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:13:57)[edit]

Email #1: Peak Uranium[edit]

S: We're going to do an email this week. This one comes from Jonathan Olson. He writes, Recently, the Swedish prime minister said it won't push for including nuclear power as part of the green taxonomy in the EU. Premature shutdown of yet another reactor and of 2020 combined with crazy high energy prices made an oil plant such south of Stockholm go online burning 140,000 litres of oil per hour. To me, nuclear energy has long been an obvious medium to long term necessity in reducing emissions of CO2 and the Swedish rejection of it is irrational beyond belief. Not only conserving existing reactors, but expanding them too has been my opinion for some time now. However, a new argument I had not previously considered popped up in a Twitter Twitter debate. It's related to peak uranium and the non renewableness of uranium. For instance, in this rather old article, it is claimed that uranium supply with current consumption would likely only last for around 100 years. They argue, for instance, that covering the world's energy consumption, which at that time was estimated at 15 terawatts, would require 15,000 reactors depleting all available uranium within five years. Granted, this is a straw man since virtually no one is actually arguing for replacing all energy production with nuclear. However, I think it still begs the question, how much can we really expect nuclear energy to be considered even a stopgap solution in the combat against climate change? Is considerable expansion for global reactors feasible in light of available uranium? So, I don't know if you guys remember, we've nibbled away at this question in previous episodes, but it's good to directly answer this specific question. Is there enough uranium for nuclear power to be a significant medium term, stopgap energy source until we get more renewable long term options?

B: I'd say definitely yes. I mean, if you just look at the uranium that's in the oceans.

S: Yeah, that's definitely one factor. There's two factors here that make this claim of peak uranium basically wrong. That is one. We talked about this not too long ago. There is, if you recall, 1000 times as much uranium dissolved in the world's oceans as there is in the land. A thousand times. So it's not implausible to be able to purify that to get even if you don't extract every last uranium atom out of the oceans. Even getting 1% of that will increase our uranium supplies by an order of magnitude by 10 times. So there's a lot of uranium on the world, right? The other factor is that that number of we could only we would deplete our supply within five years is based upon the current extraction of energy from uranium, which is only 3 to 5% of the energy that's potential that's in there. If we reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rather than treating it as waste, we could theoretically extract up to 97% of the energy in nuclear fuel. And if we did that, we could first of all use up all of what is currently nuclear waste becomes fuel again, and then we can use that. So one estimate that I've seen is that if we reprocessed existing just existing nuclear waste in the United States and used that in reactors and some of the Gen 4 reactors, whatever, extracted that 95 to 97% of the energy out of it, we could power the US, the entire US for 100 years, right? So that's just based on existing nuclear waste in the US, not in the world. And if we only are going to do like 20% of power, let's say, from nuclear, then obviously that would be for 500 years, or we could do 40% for 250 years. And that's with existing waste, that's without mining any more uranium. So and also doesn't include using thorium, for example, as another type of cycle. And you think about, say, if we use all the nuclear waste around the world we probably you're on the order of magnitude of producing 20 to 30 to 40% of the world's power needs for hundreds of years, right? With existing uranium stores versus plus existing waste that we would reprocess into more fuel. That's long and that's what are they talking about in terms of like the medium term, two, three, 400 years isn't long enough. I mean, the point is, we can't even look beyond I think 100 years, let alone two or 300 years in terms of what our energy production capability is going to be. The idea for those people who think we need nuclear and who promote nuclear, the idea is, we need to buy 50 years, right, or 40 years or something like that 30 to 50 years to give us time to build all those windmills there's wind turbines and solar panels and develop grid storage and update the grid and it's going to take time to build out an infrastructure of renewable energy. In the meantime, we're going to be burning fossil fuel, period. It's the only thing that's going to produce enough energy on demand to meet our needs.

C: Unless we have nuclear.

S: Unless we have nuclear, right? So geothermal and hydroelectric are fine, but they're always going to be in the 5 to 10% range just because they're, they're location limited. We may have a breakthrough there, but we can't count. This is like not counting on any breakthroughs, only incremental improvements in existing technologies. The choice is really between nuclear and fossil fuel, right? What are we going to be burning over the next 20 to 50 years while we are advancing our technology and building out our renewable infrastructure and developing our grid technology and developing grid storage? Because we are, we've basically already used up our carbon budget. At this point, we got about six years of our carbon budget left to stay below the 1.5 C goal, which everyone's pretty much given up on because it's not politically plausible. If we want to go to keep it the warming above pre-industrial levels to 2.0, the carbon budget is going to be used up, I forget the exact number, something like 20 years. So we we're not going to be a hundred percent renewable in six years or even in 20 years. It's not going to happen. And of course, if we want to at the same time change over our our car fleet to electric vehicles and the population is growing, our energy demand is going to be growing. If we don't keep our our nuclear power fleet in the 20% or so range, and I think even just expand it to 30 or 40%, if we don't do that, we're going to blow through our carbon budget. Eventually we'll get off fossil fuel, but it's going to be long after we've blown through our carbon budget and we're going to get to past the 2.0 level where we can't be confident that we're not going to hit some irreversible tipping points that are going to be impossible for us to control. And I've argued with a lot of people about this, they always count on a really unrealistic rollout of like solar and wind turbines, or they just say this system will be better. It'll be cheaper. It'll be better. So yes, but in how long? What's the timeframe? And what are we doing in the meantime? It's the path. What path are we going to take? Interestingly, I've read a lot of analyses by a lot of experts on this. And one thing that we don't talk about a lot because it doesn't sound sexy, but the number one thing we can do right now to reduce our carbon footprint in the energy production sector is what? What do you think it is?

J: To have more energy efficient appliances?

S: No, no, that's a round off error. It's not, that's not a significant factor. It's not what individuals can do. It's not, yeah, obviously you want to maximize efficiency and all that, but that's like the in the one, two, 3% range.

B: What about the corporate level then?

C: Yeah, but what are you talking about the actual extraction?

E: Production of energy.

C: Yeah, you're talking about production of energy, not energy usage.

S: Production of energy.

J: What is it?

S: Switching from coal to natural gas.

E: Yeah, stop the coal.

C: I was going to say stop drilling, but oh, stop, stop coal.

S: Yeah, coal is the worst. It's like 90% of the CO2, 90%. We have to get rid of coal as soon as-

E: Isn't China building new coal plants?

S: Yes, they are. We've got to get rid of coal as soon as possible. And the quickest way to get rid of coal is to replace them with, with no, with natural gas.

E: Natural gas?

C: We already have that sort of infrastructure.

S: And then nuclear, and then nuclear. So we need for like the next 10 years, we need natural gas, 10 to 20 years. And in that 10 to 20 years, we need to build nuclear reactors so that we can then go from natural gas to nuclear. And then they'll run for 20 years. And then at that point-

B: The other renewables will be ready.

C: There are places that are doing this pretty well, right?

S: Yeah.

E: There are places that are failing miserably.

S: Not enough. Not, not China, India, or the US, which are the big threes, but-

B: Yeah, the rest of them are like rounding errors.

S: But coal is just bad. Like there's just, it just is the responsible for the most CO2 output in the energy sector. It really that, that has got a, that's like the big emergency, just getting off coal as fast as we can.

C: In California, it's only 3% of our energy.

S: Yeah. I don't know what you got to do to for like the coal mining states and the coal mining industry. Obviously there's going to, this is going to be very disruptive. We just have to come up with a plan of how we're going to deal with them.

C: The fact that we're talking about that now is preposterous.

S: I know.

C: Like the fact that it's like, oh, we've got to come up with a plan. Like we've known this for so long.

E: Generations.

C: And we've allowed the, basically the coal lobbies to have so much power in this conversation.

S: Right now one Senator from West Virginia is completely torpedoing the United States global warming plan.

C: Yeah.

S: Because of the representative-

C: All because of wanting to secure these jobs, which it's like, they're not even healthy jobs.

S: And they're going away anyway.

C: Like what we should be doing is not trying to protect the coal jobs, but coming up with alternative places where these workers can go.

S: Build a solar panel plant in West Virginia.

C: Yeah.

S: Something.

C: Figure out a pipeline that allows these workers to continue to work.

S: Coal is almost 20%.

B: That's a lot.

S: Yeah. Natural gas is 40%. So that's what's been killing coal for the last 20 years. It's the shift to natural gas. We just got to complete that and just get rid of that last 20-

B: Rip that bandaid off.

S: 20% is the same amount as nuclear. Nuclear is 20, coal is 20, natural gas is 40. We need to get rid of the rest of that coal and then start shifting natural gas over to nuclear while we increase solar and wind as fast as we can. But that's going to take decades to get that up.

E: Generations. Yeah.

B: But you got to start. You got to start doing it.

E: Of course, that's the point.

S: Yeah. I know, but it's not like the, of course, like the Greens don't want to talk about natural gas because it's a fossil fuel and the Republicans don't want to talk about getting rid of coal because that's their constituents. And so there's no political will.

B: So just all I got to say is invest in sunscreen. And air conditioning.

S: The New York Times published a good, it's a film about Greta Thunberg and I recommend it. She's a very smart girl. She's not just like a media darling. She actually knows what she's talking about. I love the fact that she says, she really completely disses the media and calls them out on their shenanigans. Like, why are you talking to me? I'm a teenager. Talk to a climate scientist. She was asked to give testimony before Congress. And her entire testimony said, I am going to submit the IPCC report as my entire testimony because I'm a kid and you should be listening to the scientists.

B: Wow.

S: And I think she wants just politicians should listen to the scientists. She's just- She's like adamant about not making it about her or about anything.

B: Holy crap, man. That's great.

S: Very, very, and then her summary of the situation is pretty much spot on. So I think she really has wrapped her head around this issue very, very well. I was very impressed by that. Okay. Let's move on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:27:07)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction Gilles de Rais
Science Japanese spider crab
Cotard's syndrome
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Japanese spider crab
Japanese spider crab
Japanese spider crab
Gilles de Rais
Theme: Creepy Science

Item #1: The Japanese spider crab has the largest leg span of any arthropod at over 12 feet (3.7 meters).[6]
Item #2: Cotard’s syndrome is a neurological disorder in which people believe they are dead and their body is rotting, they often refuse to eat and in some cases request to be taken to the morgue.[7]
Item #3: Lieutenant General Gilles de Rais, who served under General Washington during the revolutionary war, was later convicted of raping and dismembering over a hundred children (although the exact number is unknown) and was ultimately hanged for his crimes.[8]

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, Then I challenge my panel of skeptics on which one is the fake. I have a theme this week. The theme is inspired by Halloween. It's not Halloween itself. It's just creepy science. Okay. You'll see. Item number one, the Japanese spider crab has the largest leg span of any arthropod at over 12 feet or 3.7 meters. Item number two, Cotard's syndrome is a neurological disorder in which people believe they are dead and their body is rotting. They often refuse to eat and in some cases request to be taken to the morgue. And item number three, Lieutenant General Gilles DeRay, who served under General Washington during the Revolutionary War, was later convicted of raping and dismembering over 100 children, although the exact number is unknown, and was ultimately hanged for his crimes. Jay go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Okay. The Japanese spider crab, it has the largest leg span of any arthropod at over 12 feet. Damn. Because of course you would think the king crab would have the largest and I've seen very large king crabs. So I'm on the fence about this because of visuals I have in my head. Let me move on to the second one. Cotard's syndrome is a neurological disorder and these poor people believe that their body is rotting. Now Steve, you're basically saying whether or not that Cotard's syndrome exists. Is that what I'm saying yes or no to here?

S: I don't understand the ambiguity here. Is this real or not?

J: Okay. I'm just seeing if I can get any other information out of you. That's all.

C: Don't tell him that.

J: I'm not lying to you. Don't lie to me. This last one. All right. Yes, I actually believe that there are people that have a neurological disorder like this because I think anything can happen neurologically to make people think anything. So I would believe pretty much anything, any thought that the brain could concoct and people would think that's reality. I would pretty much believe it. The last one, Lieutenant General, Lieutenant Steve. Cara has no idea what I just said and she's still laughing.

C: Because it was fun.

J: It is funny. The comedian who did it said it funny so I copied him. Lieutenant General Giles, Giles, Gile. He served under General Washington and the thing is, he was convicted of raping and dismembering over 100 children. Holy Christ. Oh my God. Can that possibly be true? I want to say that isn't true just on the fact that my brain is rejecting it. I'm going to say that the Japanese spider crab though is not the largest one. I think the king crab is the largest one.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Yeah, I think I'm going to go with Jay here. I think the Japanese spider crab, although it probably is this 12 foot leg span, probably is not the largest one. I couldn't tell you which one is but crabs can get pretty large there. As far as the other two go, these are wild because I've never heard of these before. Although with Cotard's syndrome, how does a person who has it sort of come to the conclusion that they're dead and not take into account that they're alive and thinking about it? How do they think that they're dead? How do they get past that? That they're thinking about it and making decisions, refusing to eat, requesting things, yet they believe they're dead. That's the disconnect there. It doesn't mean it's wrong. And then yeah, that General Washington's, Lieutenant General, boy, this is a piece of history that I've never heard of before and probably for good reason because it's so horrific. But yeah, I think that's sadly going to wind up being true. So I'm with Jay about the crab.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: All right. So that Lieutenant General dude, my problem with that is that I'm just surprised I've never heard of it. But that's not a reliable reason to make a decision. In a lot of cases, the Cotard's syndrome makes sense. I don't have much of a disconnect. If you have a neurological disorder that makes you think you're dead and rotting, then the fact that you're still breathing, the fact that you believe you're still breathing and don't have a reason for that doesn't bother me because there's something clearly bad going on in the brain. So it makes sense. And if it's true, I want to recruit them from my graveyard this weekend. I believe the spider crab, the spider crab is the biggest, but 12 feet sounds a little silly. That's as tall, that's as long as my skeleton is tall. I don't think so. I'll say that's fiction.

S: Okay. And Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Wow. Everybody stacked on the spider crab? I don't, I think I'm going out on a limb. I think I'm going out on a limb. It says the largest leg span. So that's probably end to end. It's not a single leg.

B: Of course, of course. But 12 feet.

C: I know that's huge, but there's some weird ass shit in the ocean.

E: Crawling around.

C: I don't know. That doesn't surprise me at all. There's some big, have you ever seen the insects in Borneo? I would not be surprised.

E: Size of a human head.

C: Well, the Japanese spider crab does seem plausible. The ocean is full of big things. Cotard syndrome among many very strange neurological syndromes, walking corpse syndrome, alien hand syndrome. There's even an impostor syndrome. This does not strike me as strange. The brain can do weird stuff when we get bad bumps on our noggin. So and probably the issue on this one is not that there's a big disconnect. There may be a big disconnect, but I would assume the issue is that they literally think they're walking corpses, like zombies, not that they think that they are dead in the ground. You know, that's a thing. And the I mean, the one that's getting to me is Guy Deray, this lieutenant. I would have heard of this mofo. I'm into creepy weird stuff like that. And when I was a little girl, I remember that I had a book of like creepy weird serial killers. And this guy's I didn't I don't remember this person. Like I remember learning about Lizzie Borden and I remember learning about Pol Pot and I remember learning about like all these big people who like committed genocide all the way down to like just really fantastic murders because I was weirdly obsessed with that stuff. And I do not recognize this person's name at all. And the fact that it happened here under Washington during the Revolutionary War, I don't buy it. I don't buy this one. So I'm saying that's the fiction.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right. So you all agree on the second one. So we'll start there. Cotard's syndrome is a neurological disorder in which people believe they are dead and their body is rotting. They often refuse to eat and in some cases request to be taken to the morgue. You all think this one is science and this one is science.

B: Yeah, I heard it this one.

S: Yeah, not not not difficult. Yeah, the brain can do anything. And but how can I resist people who think that they're dead? So it seems there may be this may be a heterogeneous disorder, but meaning that there might be people might have slightly different neurological deficits that lead to the same basic presentation. But the core seems to be that the part of their brain is damaged that makes them feel as if they exist. So this is a denial of existence. They think they don't exist. But another aspect of it, and this is where like different patients may have slightly different manifestations of it, is that it's not that necessarily that they think that they don't exist, is that they have no emotions and they interpret that as being dead.

C: Well, and is that similar, Steve, then to cop cross, which is the one where people think that somebody they know is not really them, that they've been like replaced by an impostor?

S: Yeah. But so they think that because they have no feelings towards that person.

C: Right. OK. So it's still an emotional disturbance, but it's specific to another person, not to themselves.

S: So there's like there's a connection between the part of our visual system that is geared towards things that we believe are have agency. So it's like this is this is a being that has agency that then connects to the limbic system so that we have some kind of feeling about whatever that is that that person.

B: Good cartoons can elicit that response.

S: Totally. Absolutely. And obviously animals can, not just people.

C: Just putting googly eyes on stuff.

S: If you see your your significant other and you don't have the usual feelings that you associate with that person, the thing is, you also have to understand the concept of most many neurological disorders have what's called anosagnosia, where patients don't realize that they have a deficit. They assume the problem is with the world, not with them. And so if they don't have feelings for someone that looks like their spouse or their significant other, they don't think I must have a brain lesion. They think that person's an impostor.

C: Because I think it even goes beyond not having feelings to this extent that, like, the familiarity is gone.

S: Well, they know it's that person. They just think. But yeah, but there's no-

C: Yeah, they know they look the same.

S: All the emotional connection is gone.

B: Is there any reasoning at all with maybe some of them or is it just impossible?

C: No, no, no.

S: You can always get them.

C: All of these things run the gamut.

S: Yeah, you can. You can often. It's hard. It's difficult. But with therapy, you can get people to the higher cognitive centers of their brain to understand it right actually.

B: OK, that's good.

S: That's the case. But but it's hard.

C: They might not be able to get past that emotional. It's like even though I know it's my husband, it doesn't feel it. I can imagine that in most of these cases, it still ends in the relationship ending. It's because it might be very hard to stay with somebody when you feel that way about or you no longer feel that way.

S: So in this case, they're like they don't have any feelings or they don't feel that they exist. And so they how do they explain that? They think, well, I must be dead. And that because that would explain this weird because it's think about it. It's something you've never experienced before.

B: I can't relate to it.

S: A normally functioning brain. Yeah, it's a you can't you basically don't have access to how it feels to have a brain that's functioning differently than your brain functions. And when you have this kind of disorder, you can't imagine how it feels. And for people who have it, they can't make sense of it. And they can't understand that it's a brain disorder because they don't even know that their brain does this thing in the first place. Your brain makes you feel as if you exist. You don't know that your brain does that. It just you don't even know that it's a thing that happens. And so when it's missing, it's just that there's something wrong with the world. I feel like I'm dead and and they go with it.

C: That's why it's sometimes called Cotard's delusion.

S: Delusion.

C: And Oliver Sacks writes about a guy who had something called alien hand syndrome. He specifically had alien leg syndrome where he was living, I think, in a facility in an institution, but he was throwing his leg out of bed every night. And of course, that means he was also falling on the ground. And the nurses couldn't figure out why, what's going on. And finally, they realized that he literally thought there was a cadaver leg in his bed, like somebody was playing a trick on him.

B: Yeah, I know what that's like.

S: Well, that sounds more like neglect rather than alien limb syndrome. So like alien hand syndrome. Let's the classic presentation that would be like you're walking down the street and you just start emptying your pockets onto the street, but you're not aware that you're doing it.

C: Your hand has agency that you don't seem to have control over.

S: Well, here's the thing. You do have control over it.

B: Corpus callosum?

S: What's missing- No, no. What's missing is the is the feedback loop that tells your brain that your body parts are doing what you want them to do so that you don't get that feedback. And so your hand does what you want it to do, but you don't get the feedback to tell you that it did. And so you think it's acting on its own. But also without that feedback, you can't really moderate what your hand does. And so it does weird shit.

C: So it's almost it's almost that's interesting. It's a lack of that feedback, but it has some crossover, it seems like with proprioceptive problems, too.

S: Although, yeah, but this is this is a central problem, not a not a not a not a primary sensory.

C: So that I see. So so if you watch your hand, you can't assert control over it in this case?

S: No, the connection is not there. It's not like you could bypass proprioception with vision.

C: Interesting.

S: There are different pathways that are disrupted that you just can't make that connection.

C: Yeah. So you're right. In the case of what Oliver Sacks was talking about, it wasn't alien hand syndrome. I misspoke. It was it was a neglect. Like, he did not recognize that his leg was attached to his body, which in some ways may be sort of a form of cotards or like in that.

S: But it's specific to the body parts. They think that, well, this doesn't feel like my leg. Therefore, it's not my leg. Therefore, it's somebody else's leg.

C: This leg feels dead.

S: Yeah, the patients will complain of there being another patient in the bed with them, for example.

C: Or or this guy was saying somebody put a cadaver leg in my bed as a joke.

S: Typically, what we what we do to test for this type of neglect in patients is we hold up their arm and say, whose arm is this? And invariably, if they have neglect, they'll say it's your arm or that's your hand. It's clearly not theirs. So it must be yours.

C: Because you're the only other person in the room with them.

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah.

S: All right.

S: Let's...

J: Wait, Steve.

S: Let's go back to. Yeah?

J: Can you help these people?

S: It's again, it takes a long time. Neglect is hard because they don't know they have a problem. So it's hard to get them to work on a problem they can't perceive. It takes months. It's very difficult to rehab, but you can make progress with it.

E: How does it even happen? Is it like protein folding?

S: No, no, it's like a stroke.

B: Part of your brain dies.

S: The part of your brain that makes you feel like you own something and it's part of you and you control it. You know, these things can all be damaged.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right. Let's go back to number one. The Japanese spider crab has the largest leg span of any arthropod and over 12 feet or three point seven meters. The guys, Jay, Bob and Evan, think this is the fiction. Cara thinks this one is science. So I want you guys to really imagine a 12 foot crab. This thing can walk on land.

S: No.

J: Walk on land?

S: This is science.

B: I've seen pictures of it. I've seen pictures.

S: This thing, if this thing were walking towards you.

C: Then wait, why did you say it was fiction?

B: Because in my mind and the picture that I saw years ago, it was not 12 feet, maybe six feet.

C: Yeah, they could have put the little dollar bill next to it for scale.

S: If you look at the biggest ones, I mean, there are pictures of different sized ones online. The biggest ones get up to 12 feet and there I've seen them.

E: Is it the biggest?

B: 12!

S: They're huge.

C: Japanese spider crab. I imagine that it was only in the ocean. Like there's big weird stuff in there. Ew, look at these pictures!

S: It's amazing.

J: So it's bigger than the king crab?

S: Oh, totally.

E: Is it the biggest?

C: We eat king crab, don't we? I mean, we. You wouldn't want to eat this. Oh, maybe.

J: Well, look, Cara, let me put it to you like this. Humans eat everything.

C: True. They're like, that's a lot of meat.

B: Even other humans.

C: It is pretty cool.

B: All right, let's move on.

S: Massive, just massive. OK.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All this means that Lieutenant General Gilles DeRay, who served in General Washington during the Revolutionary War, was later convicted of raping and dismembering over 100 children, although the exact number is unknown, and was ultimately hanged for his crimes, is the fiction, but-

C: Yeah, there's no way you made this up because you wouldn't have made up a name you couldn't pronounce.

S: Sure I would. That's the believability part of it. But I mean, you also could have just borrowed a name.

C: That's what I figured.

S: Like this is a real guy who did something different. This is a real guy who did rape and murder children. They estimate between 80 and 800. They're not, again, they don't really know. But this was not in the United States. This was not attached to General Washington. He was, however, a soldier who fought with.

E: Napoleon?

S: Who do you think? Nope, no.

B: Genghis Khan?

C: Hitler?

S: Genghis Khan was the end of the spectrum. Don't think somebody brutal. Joan of Arc. This guy was Joan of Arc's swordman.

C: What?

E: Wow.

S: And meanwhile, he was like luring kids away and raping them and dismembering them.

C: So he was like hiding in plain sight.

S: Yeah, totally hiding in plain sight.

E: Yeah, using her crusade to cover his.

S: And had people under him that were helping him do it. Eventually he was exposed and people confessed confessed, yes, I kind of helped them capture kids. Etcetera, etcetera. And then again, this is like this is going back to the 1400s where you could just go into a village and take some peasant kids and you know, who's going to say anything about it? You know what I mean?

C: Especially if you have clout.

S: Yeah, exactly. And so that's why he got away with it for so long. But eventually it came out and he was hanged for his crimes. But not until he had done it to hundreds of kids. It's absolutely horrific.

C: How did you find out about that? Did you already know about this guy?

S: No, I just looked up.

E: You see, he made it plausible, the General Washington part of it, because obviously the US and France were allies at the time of the revolution.

S: Yes, there were plenty.

E: And there were generals that came over to help, many of them, Rochambeau and others.

S: Yes. Washington had plenty of French officers in his retinue. And so I just substituted this guy's name in history.

E: Yeah, made it plausible.

S: Yeah, so it made it sound plausible.

B: Whatever.

S: There's also, do you know, Cara, have you heard of Countess Bathory?

C: Bathory? No.

S: Countess Bathory lived in the 16th century, often nicknamed Countess Dracula. So she would lure young women to her castle and kill them.

B: Blood.

S: She would often like promise them to to train them to be maidservants or, you know. So again, she just preyed on young peasant girls because she can get away with it. Evetually she started to do what they call lower level gentleman's daughters. So basically people who had, who were low level, didn't have the station to do anything about it. And she had her underlings helping her, you know. Eventually, again, exposed. But she wasn't executed. She was basically put under castle arrest and died of natural causes years later. Talk about privilege.

C: It's just like, I'm just fascinated by the motivation.

S: No, they're just psychopaths. They're Jeffrey Dahmers of their age, you know.

C: Come on, you don't think this Guyet de Ré guy was getting his rocks off too? Like he was probably gross.

S: Oh, totally. He was sexually abusing them.

C: But this Elizabeth Bathory, why is she just like going around murdering women?

S: Don't know.

C: Yeah, it's weird. I don't know.

S: She bathed in their blood because she thought it would make her youthful.

C: Women serial killers are exceedingly rare.

S: Very rare.

B: Yeah, it's true.

C: I don't know, it's just interesting.

S: She is the most prolific female serial killer now.

C: Wow. Yeah, I'm looking at her now. This is fascinating.

S They may have slaughtered hundreds of young women. Well, happy Halloween, everybody.

E: Happy Halloween.

B: Thank you.

S: I had one zombie, one monster, and one murder.

C: I love it.

S: Science fiction item.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:47:11)[edit]

In many cases, flawed or misleading evidence is worse than no evidence at all. This is because the state of ignorance resulting from a lack of evidence is recognized as a state of ignorance, whereas the state of ignorance resulting from misleading evidence is not so recognized.

– Vance Berger and Sunny Alperson, biostatistician and nurse practioner, respectively, from their paper, "A General Framework for the Evaluation of Clinical Trial Quality"[9]

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

E: This quote was submitted by SGU listener David Weinberg. Thank you, David. "In many cases, flawed or misleading evidence is worse than no evidence at all. This is because the state of ignorance resulting from a lack of evidence is recognized as a state of ignorance, whereas the state of ignorance resulting from misleading evidence is not so recognized." That was written by Vance Berger and Sunny Alperson from their paper titled A General Framework for the Evaluation of Clinical Trial Quality.

S: Yeah, kind of a wonky, narrow technical paper, but point of general wisdom.

E: Yeah

S: Absolutely, that thought was reiterated later by Dunning and Krueger saying that, yeah, the far worse than just ignorance is the illusion of knowledge, this illusion that you know something because of failures of critical thinking. Absolutely. All right. Thanks, Evan.

E: Thank you.

Signoff (1:48:20)[edit]

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

B: Sure, man.

S: Happy Halloween, everyone. Bob.

J: You too, brother.

B: Right back at you.

S: Have a good Halloween.

B: Oh, I will.

S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. [blood-curdling scream sound]

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[10]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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