SGU Episode 856

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SGU Episode 856
December 4th 2021
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 855                      SGU 857

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

It’s hard to win an argument with a smart person, but it’s damn near impossible to win an argument with a stupid person.

Bill Murray, American actor & comedian

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

9.00 13.00 S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

13.00 17.00 S: Today is Wednesday, December 1st, 2021, and this is your host, Stephen Novella.

17.00 23.00 S: Joining me this week are Cara Santa Maria.

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella.

J: Hey guys.

S: and Evan Bernstein.

23.00 26.00 E: Hello everyone, and we are missing someone.

26.00 30.00 S: Yeah, Bob is off this week because he is moving into a new house.

30.00 35.00 S: So yeah, he spent most of the day closing and then moving in so we didn't have time to prep.

35.00 36.00 C: That's exciting.

36.00 37.00 J: Yeah, it is awesome.

37.00 38.00 J: But he's got a new crib.

38.00 41.00 J: Yeah, so Bob moved, so he's in between me and Steve now.

41.00 46.00 J: Instead of being one step further away, now he's like, you know, it's pretty cool.

46.00 49.00 J: I'm really excited about it. I'm very happy for him and his partner.

49.00 51.00 S: Yeah, so we can gather at his place now.

51.00 52.00 S: That's right.

52.00 53.00 S: All right.

53.00 54.00 J: We can go dirty his house and eat his food.

54.00 55.00 J: Party at Bob's house.

55.00 56.00 C: Oh, and they have a hot tub.

56.00 58.00 E: He does have a hot tub.

58.00 59.00 J: Hot tub.

59.00 66.00 J: I am, I'm very happy Bob has a lair now, a real lair that is his own.

66.00 73.00 E: Yeah, he started telling me about how he intends to decorate it, and you don't want to know.

COVID-19 Update (1:13)[edit]

  • Omicron variant

73.00 76.00 S: All right. Well, let's start with some COVID update.

76.00 83.00 S: We're doing this intermittently now every week, but there's a significant update, specifically the Omicron variant.

83.00 85.00 S: I'm sure most of you now have heard of this by now.

85.00 87.00 S: Is that how you pronounce it?

87.00 88.00 J: Omicron.

88.00 89.00 E: Omicron, Persei 8.

89.00 91.00 J: Omicron, Omicron, I don't know.

91.00 99.00 C: Did you see the tweet going around that was like, I cannot wait for this pandemic to be over because I do not want to learn the entire Greek alphabet.

99.00 101.00 C: It's not important to me.

101.00 103.00 E: It's not the ideal way to learn that alphabet, right?

103.00 106.00 J: Omicron sounds like a villain though, doesn't it?

106.00 107.00 J: I am Omicron.

107.00 115.00 S: Omicron is a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and the U.S. government also endorsed that as well, the variant of concern.

115.00 125.00 S: Specifically what those are, a variant of interest means that it has mutations, most likely on the spike protein, that are likely to give it one of three properties.

125.00 138.00 S: Either it's more infectious, it's more deadly or the clinical picture is significantly changed, or it can evade any of the preventive measures, either detection from testing, vaccines, social distancing, etc.

138.00 152.00 S: A variant of concern is one that is a variant that has one or more of these properties, definitely, and is spreading, you know, and is competing against the other variants and is starting to become a problem unto itself.

152.00 155.00 S: Now, we have to give kudos to South Africa for detecting this.

155.00 157.00 S: They have a really good surveillance system down there.

157.00 166.00 S: They do full genome sequencing of variants as a surveillance program, and they pick this up, you know, pretty quickly.

166.00 169.00 S: We really need to replicate this around the world.

169.00 172.00 C: But we're not, and that's like, it's interesting.

172.00 174.00 C: We talked about this a while back on the show.

174.00 185.00 C: What ends up happening politically, sadly, is that countries like South Africa, where they're doing the genomic work that's necessary for the entire globe to understand, actually end up getting punished.

185.00 202.00 C: And there are all these travel bans and all of these trade bans and things that come into play simply because they have transparency, whereas there are probably other variants that are taking place that we just don't even know about because in certain parts of the world, we're not doing any genomic testing.

202.00 206.00 S: Well, unfortunately, as good as South Africa was, it's already in Europe.

206.00 211.00 S: We already are starting to see cases in the U.S. and Canada and other countries.

211.00 214.00 S: It's getting out. It's going to get out. It's going to spread.

214.00 218.00 S: The real question is, you know, how infectious is this variant?

218.00 225.00 S: If you remember over the summer, we had the mu variant, which was a variant of interest because it was partially evading the vaccine.

225.00 230.00 S: But that variant completely fizzled because it was simply out competed by the Delta variant.

230.00 237.00 S: The Delta variant was much more infectious and the mu variant just could not compete against it.

237.00 242.00 S: So that's probably the single most important thing that we need to discover about the Omicron variant.

242.00 246.00 S: How does it compete against the Delta variant?

246.00 255.00 S: The early reports out of South Africa are that it does seem to be responsible for a spike in cases and hospitalizations.

255.00 260.00 S: It does seem to have a higher infection rate than the Delta variant.

260.00 265.00 S: And so it may spread among people who were previously infected with Delta.

265.00 270.00 S: And so, again, there are reasons, significant reasons for concern here.

270.00 277.00 S: It's too early to tell if this is going to be responsible for a new wave of the pandemic, but it certainly might.

277.00 281.00 S: We may get an Omicron wave, just like we had a Delta wave over the summer.

281.00 284.00 S: We're still in a Delta wave in many parts of the world.

284.00 290.00 S: That's why it was elevated to the highest level of concern by the World Health Organization.

290.00 299.00 S: But, you know, it'll take about two to three weeks to do all the preliminary research on it to see what the properties of this new variant are.

299.00 306.00 S: How it is neutralized by antibodies from previous infections and neutralized by antibodies from the existing vaccines.

306.00 311.00 S: And then do more epidemiology about how is it competing against the Delta variant?

311.00 314.00 S: What is the severity of the disease of people who get it?

314.00 322.00 S: Is there any other alteration in its characteristics, like infecting more people who are younger versus older, etc.?

322.00 327.00 S: One of the reasons why this variant is of is highly concerning is because it has so many mutations.

327.00 334.00 S: It has like 30 mutations on the spike protein, which is the business end of the coronaviruses.

334.00 338.00 S: And 26 of those are unique to this variant. They haven't been seen before.

338.00 345.00 S: So, so many mutations is, you know, it creates the potential for this to have a lot of new properties.

345.00 347.00 S: And that's why we're going to have to keep a really close eye on it.

347.00 352.00 J: Steve, when you say outcompete, like, why couldn't you get both at the same time?

352.00 358.00 S: I mean, you theoretically can have more than one variant in you at the same time, but in terms of statistics, it's just math.

358.00 368.00 S: You know, if one virus is replicating faster or more efficiently or is infecting people more quickly, etc., it will spread faster.

368.00 372.00 S: It will outcompete other variants and it will dominate like the Delta variant has.

372.00 375.00 S: The Delta variant is the most infectious variant so far.

375.00 381.00 S: And it's now basically 100 percent of infections around the world because of that.

381.00 390.00 S: Also, you know, you think about the fact that if you get infected with the Delta variant, you make antibodies against the Delta variant of the coronavirus that protects you somewhat against other variants.

390.00 396.00 S: So it prevents the spread of the variants who are not spreading as quickly or as robustly.

396.00 405.00 J: So that being the case, would it be wise for us to manufacture a version of the virus that is super virulent but not deadly at all?

405.00 407.00 S: No, that really wouldn't be a good idea.

407.00 412.00 S: Certainly, you don't want to create a virus with one bad property, high infectivity.

412.00 418.00 S: You don't mean virulence. Virulence is causing a bad disease. Infectivity is spreading quickly.

418.00 424.00 S: You want to make a virus that spreads quickly and then hope it doesn't develop other bad features like virulence.

424.00 427.00 J: Yeah, you know, now that I think about it, forget it.

427.00 430.00 S: And essentially what you're talking about, though, that is the vaccine.

430.00 436.00 C: Because vaccines are exactly what we're talking about. They're basically the good version of all of that.

436.00 444.00 C: It's a way for your body to think you've been infected without actually carrying any sort of live virus that could mutate and spread.

444.00 448.00 S: Another point to mention here is that it's really important to get the booster.

448.00 453.00 S: The booster shots cause way more antibody titers than even being fully vaccinated.

453.00 466.00 S: And even if these new variants are not targeted as well as the older variants by the vaccine, the really high antibody titers will overcome that and still be very effective against these new variants.

466.00 472.00 S: So all the more reason to get boosted in preparation for a potential Omicron wave.

472.00 479.00 C: All that said, also continue to social distance, continue to wear your masks, don't get lazy over the holidays.

479.00 484.00 C: I think we've gotten a bit complacent because we're sick of it.

484.00 507.00 C: But the good news is I think that, sorry, sorry, I'm J real quick, but the good news is I think that, you know, vaccine hesitancy as an ideological or a fear based action is usually going to be the psychological power of it is such that you're either going to be not vaccinated or you're going to continue to get vaccinated.

507.00 512.00 C: If we make sure that vaccines are widely available, they're free, they're easy to get.

512.00 520.00 C: There is I think there was some concern about, you know, people getting sick and then not wanting to follow up with with second doses or with boosters.

520.00 527.00 C: But generally speaking, people who get vaccinated will likely continue to get vaccinated and get their booster.

527.00 533.00 S: Yeah, I agree. But unfortunately, we may be running up against the hard ceiling now of the true anti-vaxxers.

533.00 546.00 S: There was a study coming out of Yale recently where they did a survey a year ago and again this year in 2021 looking at different messaging tactics to get the vaccine hesitant to agree to get vaccinated.

546.00 557.00 S: And a year ago, you could move the needle a little bit by framing your vaccine pro vaccine messaging messaging this year, nothing, especially against white evangelicals.

557.00 566.00 S: They had no effect from any messaging strategy that was tested. They're just if you're dug in now as an anti-vaxxer, it's pretty much unmovable.

566.00 575.00 S: So that really is arguing for the next phase being vaccine mandates. I think the the era of gentle persuasion is over.

575.00 582.00 S: Right. Because it's not a knowledge gap problem. I read that the mandates worked pretty well, though. Yeah, mandates do work. Absolutely.

Special Segment: Today Jay Learned (9:43)[edit]

582.00 592.00 S: All right. Let's go on. Jay, you're going to start us off before we get to the news items specifically. You're going to tell us about myths about Black Widow spiders.

592.00 600.00 J: Yeah, I'll also tell you some cool things that you may not know. So before we get into this, guys, I want to pose a question to the three of you.

600.00 606.00 J: Again, this is coming from your personal information. So Iggy Azalea. Exactly. Oh, right.

606.00 613.00 J: OK, so we all know that Black Widow spiders are somewhat notorious. But what do you guys actually think of Black Widow spiders?

613.00 618.00 J: Like what have you picked up through the collective conscious consciousness?

618.00 623.00 C: You know, what do you know? So not what is our opinion of them, but what kinds of like what we heard?

623.00 627.00 J: No, I want to know what you actually think. What do you think of Black Widow?

627.00 633.00 C: So we have them here in California. So I have seen Black Widow's, but they're getting pushed out by brown widows.

633.00 638.00 C: So it's more common that you're actually encountering a brown widow if you see one like in your house.

638.00 643.00 C: What I know about Black Widow's and brown widows, because they're a little bit hard to tell the difference between is their body shape.

643.00 649.00 C: They have these really bulbous kind of abdomen with a little red hourglass shape on it.

649.00 656.00 C: They make very messy webs. So that's a good way to identify them. And they tend to hang out like near doorways and in corners.

656.00 663.00 C: I tend not to do anything with them if I find them like in my home because I feel like they eat the buggies that I don't want in my house.

663.00 669.00 C: But I also leave them alone because I don't think that they're aggressive per se, but you don't want to get bit by one because it hurts.

669.00 677.00 S: Yeah, we have two poisonous spiders in Connecticut and as part of the country, the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse.

677.00 682.00 S: I'm actually actually more likely to see a brown recluse than a black widow, but we do have them.

682.00 689.00 S: And I know that for both of them, yeah, they are poisonous. If you get bit by them, it will hurt. It could cause some local tissue damage.

689.00 697.00 S: You definitely want to avoid it, but it's very unlikely to kill you unless you're a small child or elderly or sick or something.

697.00 703.00 S: There's very few deaths from Black Widow spider bites. And the best thing to do is just leave them alone.

703.00 709.00 E: Well, basically most of what Cara said is what I know and that we're told to fear them.

709.00 714.00 E: I think we have since an early age, like six years old, fear the Black Widow spider.

714.00 719.00 E: And of course, it has cultural meanings as well. And you can call, you know, people derogatory comment.

719.00 727.00 E: Oh, that's a Black Widow. Like a woman who murders her husband. Well, you know, I suppose the shoe fits.

727.00 732.00 C: Tell me if I'm wrong though, Jay, real quick. Your Black Widow is different than my Black Widow.

732.00 739.00 S: Yeah, it's a genus. And so there are different species. Pretty much anything you think of as a species of animal is probably a genus.

739.00 743.00 S: And I know there's a Western Black Widow, which is probably what you're used to.

743.00 748.00 C: Yeah, I think they're completely different species. I think there's like a Black Widow that hangs out in the southern part of the U.S.

748.00 752.00 C: and then a Black Widow that hangs out in the northern part of the U.S. And I think they're different.

752.00 759.00 J: So the common element here is that there is the myth of the Black Widow. They're super dangerous.

759.00 763.00 J: You know, a lot of people think they're very deadly, that type of thing.

763.00 767.00 J: But, you know, there is there is a lot of details here that are worth hearing.

767.00 773.00 J: The good news is that just to give it to you right away, they're nowhere near as deadly as people think that they are.

773.00 782.00 J: So as you guys know, when it comes to venom, things like venom, it's more about how much you get than the venom itself.

782.00 792.00 J: That's a big factor. So as an example, the Black Widow's venom is approximately 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake, which, you know, that's some strong stuff. It is actually pretty dangerous.

792.00 801.00 J: But when you factor in the amount that you get, that you just don't get anywhere near the amount of venom that you'll get from a rattlesnake.

801.00 805.00 J: And it's also important to note that the Black Widow spiders don't release all their venom at the same time.

805.00 808.00 J: So when you get bit, they're only giving you a little bit of it.

808.00 813.00 J: So typically when someone is bitten by a Black Widow, you know, this is a neurotoxin.

813.00 822.00 J: And that means that it does a lot of bad things to you and you can when they inject it into you, it can cause things like chills, sweating, cramping, painful swelling around the wound.

822.00 825.00 J: And these side effects could last up to a week.

825.00 833.00 J: Now, that's a long time to be in that zone where you're in pain and you have cramping, all of these bad elements of the of the venom.

833.00 838.00 J: But it's very unlikely it's going to kill you as bad as it is to get bitten by a Black Widow.

838.00 840.00 J: It's not as dangerous as you think.

840.00 849.00 J: Now, first of all, Black Widow spiders evolved to prey on very small insects like flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars.

849.00 857.00 J: So Black Widow spiders are not injecting the amount of venom into a human that they would be, you know, comparatively into one of these creatures.

857.00 862.00 J: Their venom works very well on these small bugs, you know, if it doesn't outright kill them.

862.00 865.00 J: And what Black Widow spiders do, they're called a comb footed spider.

865.00 871.00 J: This means that, well, this first off, to clarify, Cara, no relation to Sean Puffy combs.

871.00 873.00 J: Good to know. Good to know. I was concerned about that, Jay.

873.00 875.00 J: He has nothing to do with spiders in the first place.

875.00 884.00 J: So just he's off the table. But seriously, they're called comb footed because they have tiny bristles on their back legs that are used to cover their trapped prey with silk.

884.00 889.00 J: So as they as silk is coming out of them, they're using their legs as combs to wrap up.

889.00 894.00 J: You know, if you see a spider do this, they wrap it up really quickly, spinning around.

894.00 899.00 J: They're using their back legs to do that. And they're very, you know, very dexterous with their back legs.

899.00 903.00 J: So they didn't evolve to prey on animals that are human sized.

903.00 913.00 J: There are over 300 million people in the United States and out of 2500 bites on average per year, only about four to eight people die a year from Black Widow spider bite.

913.00 917.00 J: That's point three, two percent. Very it's a very low percentage.

917.00 922.00 J: And keep in mind that many hospitals have anti-venom that they can use to neutralize the toxin.

922.00 931.00 J: So we got that going for us, which is nice. And the people who do die from Black Widow bites, typically, Steve, you know, the bell was ringing when you said this.

931.00 936.00 J: Typically it's small children, the very old or the people who are already sick.

936.00 943.00 J: So, you know, you have to be in one of these extreme categories to to actually succumb to a Black Widow bite.

943.00 949.00 J: So the urban legend that Black Widow spiders are the deadliest in the world is flat out not true.

949.00 953.00 J: And that title goes to the Sydney funnel web spider found.

953.00 960.00 J: No, of course, in Australia, because I mean, the deadliest creatures in the world are in Australia and they know they're proud of it.

960.00 965.00 J: So the Black Widow spiders are not looking to bite people. They don't want to bite people.

965.00 968.00 J: Right. Care, you're doing the right thing. Just leave them alone. It's a myth.

968.00 972.00 C: Let them let them eat all the buggers. Exactly. And they're they're carnivorous.

972.00 975.00 C: Like they eat things that are in your house that you don't want to be there.

975.00 979.00 J: Exactly. And you you you won't get bit by a Black Widow unless you do something to piss it off.

979.00 982.00 J: This is this is the the the bottom line here.

982.00 989.00 J: They particularly don't like to be squeezed like when you step on them, because a lot of times you hear in the guys boot or whatever.

989.00 994.00 J: Yeah. If you step on one, they're going to whip around if they're still alive and they're going to try to get you.

994.00 997.00 J: So, you know, if you have them in your house or whatever, be super careful.

997.00 1001.00 J: You know, you could very gingerly put them outside if you're not comfortable.

1001.00 1004.00 J: But don't do anything to piss them off because then they will give you a zinger.

1004.00 1012.00 J: It's also thought like I don't know, would you call this another myth or whatever that, you know, Black Widow spiders kill their husbands after spider sex?

1012.00 1016.00 C: Right. Yeah. Because I think that's how it translates to the like people.

1016.00 1020.00 S: Yeah, that's not true for the Black Widow. Actually, I heard that with praying mantis.

1020.00 1025.00 S: Praying mantis. That's not true there either, because that mostly happens only in captivity.

1025.00 1031.00 J: You are very smart when it comes to these insect, insectoid, insectipods, whatever you want to call them.

1031.00 1039.00 J: So the myth likely comes from the female redback spider who are a close relative of the Black Widow.

1039.00 1052.00 J: And even those spiders only in certain circumstances, you know, 2% of the time will they eat their tiny little husband, which is another interesting thing. The male Black Widow spider is much smaller than the female.

1052.00 1056.00 J: The female is one hundred fifty percent bigger than the male.

1056.00 1061.00 J: It turns out that the male Black Widow spiders pretty much always escape after sex.

1061.00 1067.00 J: So they don't get eaten except like Steve said, in captivity where they were observed to eat them because the male spiders couldn't go. They couldn't get away.

1067.00 1070.00 J: Couldn't get out. Locked the door. They insisted.

1070.00 1077.00 C: Do you think also the myth might come from the fact that female Black Widow spiders are, they have more venom.

1077.00 1085.00 C: So they tend to be, it tends to be if you get bit and you actually have a reaction, it's likely that you got bit by a female Black Widow, not by a male Black Widow.

1085.00 1090.00 J: I don't, you know, I, Cara, I couldn't find anything about being bit by a male Black Widow.

1090.00 1097.00 C: Yeah, I don't think that they do usually or if they do, I think apparently they just don't carry enough venom to have a real effect on human beings.

1097.00 1101.00 J: Yeah, I don't think. Yeah, I couldn't find. I'd love to hear more details about that.

1101.00 1105.00 J: So the male Black Widow does not have the red hourglass. They're more of a brown color.

1105.00 1110.00 J: They have like a like an orangey stripe going down the upper part of their back.

1110.00 1115.00 J: The females are the ones that have like the red hourglass on their belly.

1115.00 1122.00 J: Scientists think that the red mark actually is the typical like stay away sign, you know, like the or the yellow frogs.

1122.00 1127.00 J: Like it's a it's a sign, you know, I'm bad, stay away. And I think some animals can read that.

1127.00 1132.00 J: One thing that does happen, though, is Black Widow offspring do eat other offspring.

1132.00 1142.00 J: So as soon as they hatch, they start eating. And the mother, the female Black Widow does like try to counteract this behavior.

1142.00 1147.00 J: You know, I think they're using their comb footed legs to keep them away from each other.

1147.00 1150.00 J: But there's a lot of them, you know, so, you know, some always get eaten.

1150.00 1156.00 J: So it's true that Black Widow spiders can feel the vibrations of their prey trapped in their web, which I think is very interesting.

1156.00 1160.00 J: I thought that was a myth. You know, that whole like shaking of the spider web thing.

1160.00 1164.00 J: That's legit. Yeah, that is legit across a lot of different spiders.

1164.00 1169.00 J: And another fact about the Black Widow is that the silk that they produce is incredibly strong.

1169.00 1174.00 J: And yet again, I read the whole thing about it's stronger than steel.

1174.00 1180.00 J: And if only we could figure out how to make it, we'd be having all these magical products and, you know, replace plastics.

1180.00 1184.00 J: And it's like this thing that to me is a myth, you know, like it's not going to go away.

1184.00 1188.00 J: Like nobody is turning spider silk into anything right now.

1188.00 1197.00 S: Let me elaborate on that a little bit. So it is true that spider silk has a greater specific strength than steel.

1197.00 1205.00 S: A lot of reporting misses the specific part. It is stronger than steel per mass, right?

1205.00 1213.00 S: It's not stronger than steel. Absolutely. But because it's so much lighter than steel, it has a higher specific strength.

1213.00 1220.00 S: And also there are different kinds of strength. It has a higher specific tensile strength than steel.

1220.00 1230.00 S: And people are trying to make it. People are trying to produce different kinds of spider silk for, you know, to make very, very strong fabrics.

1230.00 1236.00 S: Like would be useful in bulletproof vests and whatnot or cabling.

1236.00 1248.00 S: The problem is not creating the material, the spider silk. The thing that we can't replicate are the spinnerets is weaving it into a fiber.

1248.00 1256.00 S: You know, we could put the genes into bacteria, whatever, make clumps of spider silk, but we can't manufacture them into the fibers.

1256.00 1260.00 S: That's the limiting factor. And there are absolutely researchers working on that.

1260.00 1268.00 S: And I read about incremental advances and getting closer to being able to do that. But we haven't fully, fully cracked that technology yet.

1268.00 1275.00 J: So, yeah, so there it is. They're cool animals. They're not as anywhere near as deadly as we were brought up to fear.

1275.00 1281.00 J: You know, they could actually be helpful. Don't step on them. Don't pinch them. They'll zing you, like I said.

1281.00 1287.00 J: And you don't want to get bit just because it sucks. It really sucks. It's a bad thing to go through.

1287.00 1292.00 J: But you probably will survive. Go to the hospital. They'll give you anti-venom. That'll help a lot.

1292.00 1301.00 S: All right. Thanks, Jay.

News Items[edit]

Sentient Cephalopods (21:33)[edit]

S: OK, Cara, you're going to start us off with the news items talking about a different kind of animal or animals, cephalopods and certain kinds of crustaceans.

1301.00 1304.00 S: So answer me this. Are they sentient?

1304.00 1308.00 C: Right. So according to the United Kingdom, yes, they are.

1308.00 1314.00 C: And I think according to kind of a deeper dive into what that word actually means, we might agree.

1314.00 1321.00 C: And do you guys remember a few years ago when we did a What's the Word on sentience and we sort of compared it to sapience?

1321.00 1331.00 C: And I think some of the confusion comes in because oftentimes the word sentient is misused where sapience should be used.

1331.00 1334.00 C: So let's talk about the difference. So what is sentient?

1334.00 1336.00 J: It's able to perceive, no?

1336.00 1351.00 C: Well, really, the basic definition, even though this gets deep into consciousness science and there's a lot of argumentation around this, but sentience, the basic definition is really that just you can feel, not even that you can think.

1351.00 1355.00 J: Yeah, it's perception. It's like being able to detect the environment around you.

1355.00 1359.00 C: It's not even necessarily at the level of perception. It's literally just the level of sensation.

1359.00 1361.00 C: Tactile touching?

1361.00 1369.00 C: Most of the time what we're actually referring to is pain, like can an animal feel pain?

1369.00 1375.00 C: But yes, touching, experiencing, chemo, reception, you know, there's a lot of different ways to feel.

1375.00 1378.00 C: But do they feel sensations? That's sentience.

1378.00 1389.00 C: So any organism that can feel something, and specifically, usually we're talking about pain, but even it could be light or we could take it further and talk about emotions, right?

1389.00 1391.00 C: That really is sentience.

1391.00 1398.00 C: Sapience is a much deeper concept of self-awareness, wisdom, reflection.

1398.00 1399.00 C: Homo sapien?

1399.00 1405.00 C: Yeah, when we talk about passing the mirror test, we might be getting closer to a concept of sapience.

1405.00 1406.00 C: Does that make sense?

1406.00 1407.00 C: Yes.

1407.00 1410.00 C: Yeah. So just think homo sapiens, right? Exactly.

1410.00 1428.00 C: Very often, which comes from the Latin root for wisdom, but very often we say sentience when we mean sapience, and I think that's where things get confusing because, of course, a new headline, octopuses, squids, and lobsters are identified as sentient or could be identified as sentient beings in the UK.

1428.00 1431.00 C: I think it grabs a lot of people and go, well, they're not sentient beings.

1431.00 1434.00 C: They can't self-reflect. They don't think. Well, that's not what sentience means.

1434.00 1461.00 C: So basically, there's a study that came out recently by the London School of Economics and Political Science, just in 2021, in November of 2021, where they did a massive review of all of the evidence of sentience across cephalopods and decopods, so different mollusks. So that would include, as you mentioned, Steve, octopuses, squid, cuttlefish, and also decopod crustaceans.

1461.00 1465.00 C: So that would include like lobsters and crabs and shrimp and things like that.

1465.00 1472.00 C: And they looked at basically a lot of the research that's been published over the years to see can these things feel?

1472.00 1475.00 C: And their basic takeaway was like, yep, these things can feel.

1475.00 1491.00 C: And so the news item here is that there is a new bill called the Animal Welfare or the Sentience Bill that was proposed to the UK government or by the UK government this past May, and it's been under review since then.

1491.00 1497.00 C: Originally, the law only included vertebrates.

1497.00 1514.00 C: But there was a push after this study was published to include in addition to all vertebrate animals, cephalopods and decopods, because there's good evidence to support the fact that they feel and specifically they feel pain.

1514.00 1522.00 C: How this publication or how this law is going to affect other legislation downstream is left to be known.

1522.00 1540.00 C: And something that's interesting, which I didn't realize, is that, for example, in the UK, it's still legal to boil a lobster live, whereas apparently that's illegal here in the US and in other countries across the world like Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand.

1540.00 1559.00 C: And there are other slaughter methods that are legal on the books in the UK for sentient animals, also here in the US, actually, that I think this law is sort of a first step to try to change practices around handling, transporting and slaughtering or culling animals.

1559.00 1567.00 C: So if the animal can feel pain, the idea here is we need to up our game so that we're utilizing methods that reduce suffering in these organisms.

1567.00 1570.00 E: Minimize it whenever possible.

1570.00 1578.00 S: Whenever topics like this come up, I feel compelled to point out that these things like sentience, even sapience, exist on a spectrum.

1578.00 1584.00 S: There's obviously no sharp demarcation line between being not sentient and fully sentient.

1584.00 1589.00 S: It's a continuum. And sometimes we do have to draw lines for regulation and things like that.

1589.00 1595.00 S: And you just have to choose if the pick some criteria that are reasonable and draw a line.

1595.00 1599.00 S: But with the understanding that this is a continuum.

1599.00 1608.00 C: Yeah. And I think each individual person from a philosophical and like moral philosophy perspective also has to grapple with and determine their own line.

1608.00 1619.00 C: When I used to do regular animal research in the lab, I would often encounter friends, family members, people reaching out to me and saying, like, how could you work with mice?

1619.00 1625.00 C: Mice are fuzzy and they list all the features to mice that make them very much like humans.

1625.00 1629.00 C: And then I would say back, well, it's because we can do all these things before we do the kind of work with humans.

1629.00 1633.00 C: But I myself had to grapple with, you know, I don't know if I could have worked in a primate lab.

1633.00 1640.00 C: I don't know how I would have felt about that. I don't know if I could have worked with, you know, dogs or cats, for example, perhaps maybe not.

1640.00 1645.00 C: And but then on the other end of the spectrum, I would ask them, well, what about fruit fly research?

1645.00 1649.00 C: Do you have a problem with that? And they usually were like, no. And I'm like, well, that's an animal, too.

1649.00 1660.00 C: So, you know, like at a certain point, there is a line in the sand. And, you know, my line, I think, comes with dolphins, elephants, apes.

1660.00 1665.00 C: And, you know, as I don't even think we should be doing invasive research on those organisms.

1665.00 1682.00 C: And I think that a lot of legislation has followed suit. But in terms of other research, yes, minimizing suffering in an animal that can feel pain is something that is, to me, an easy decision to make. And we have good literature to show they respond or they withdraw from noxious stimuli.

1682.00 1689.00 C: That's one of the most important things, right? Like if they do they have the architecture in their brain and their body?

1689.00 1693.00 C: First of all, do they have like nerve fibers that respond to pain? OK, that's a good line of evidence.

1693.00 1696.00 C: Yeah. Prerequisite, even though we can't feel what they feel.

1696.00 1703.00 C: And then if we actually poke them or if there's a heat source or if there's a shock, do they withdraw from it?

1703.00 1713.00 C: And if they do, it shows that they have a behavior, whether it's innate or whether it's chosen or learned, that says, whatever that is, I want to go away from it.

1713.00 1719.00 C: And that's another indicator that researchers use to say, yes, this organism can feel pain and chooses to avoid it.

1719.00 1734.00 S: Yeah. And I think it's reasonable to to afford rights and welfare to living things, to animals, based upon their level of neurological sophistication, their ability to sense themselves and their surrounding, be aware of their own existence.

1734.00 1738.00 S: Yeah, this it's perfectly reasonable to continue.

1738.00 1745.00 S: It's hard to draw lines, but to to use that as a as a way of determining how we should be treating these creatures.

1745.00 1748.00 C: Or if they just literally say no animals. And that's fine.

1748.00 1756.00 C: If you are a practicing Buddhist and you really think fruit fly research is not something or you wouldn't want to kill, you know, intentionally kill a fruit fly, like, great.

1756.00 1761.00 C: That's your practice. That makes sense if it's something that you follow and is internally consistent.

1761.00 1768.00 C: But, you know, check yourself, utilize that neuropsychological humility, like ask yourself, am I being internally consistent?

1768.00 1780.00 C: And one thing I would point out, Steve, is that I remember early on when I first was like studying biology, I had a great professor who did a whole kind of seminar on this idea of animal rights versus animal welfare.

1780.00 1793.00 C: And very often we moved into utilizing the term welfare as opposed to rights because the distinction that was made was that rights are legal documents that I'm trying to think of, like how they categorized it.

1793.00 1802.00 C: Like rights are usually viewed from a legal perspective and they're they're things that organisms write themselves.

1802.00 1811.00 C: So like an animal, like a human being has a right to self-determination because they have determined amongst themselves that that is a core right that they should have.

1811.00 1819.00 C: And we talk about welfare because we, sadly, are in the position to be responsible for their well-being.

1819.00 1827.00 C: So we're actually legislating what human beings do to animals. And so there we're talking about the welfare of an animal. Yeah.

1827.00 1830.00 J: I like that. I mean, we should we should have done this a long time ago.

1830.00 1842.00 C: Yeah, I mean, and we have we've seen changes like historically. I remember way back in the day when I worked at HuffPost, I did a piece about chimpanzee research in the US and it's since been been banned, invasive chimpanzee.

1842.00 1846.00 C: We still do behavioral research, but invasive chimpanzee research has since been banned.

1846.00 1854.00 C: And at the time, we were the only nation in the world that did invasive chimpanzee research other than Gabon, which is a Western nation in Africa.

1854.00 1858.00 C: There were two countries, the US, one of them. And we've since changed that.

1858.00 1865.00 C: So, yeah, it takes time. And but it's also about, you know, being evidence based and being reasonable and rational about this stuff.

1865.00 1871.00 C: And I love that it's like they can point to this big study that shows, hey, look at all the research here.

1871.00 1876.00 C: These organisms feel pain. Let's let's be mindful of that in our policy. Definitely.

1876.00 1882.00 J: You know, Cara, we also you know, this is so obvious, but we have to stop destroying their habitats. Right.

1882.00 1890.00 C: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, and there's also a whole other conversation to be had about, you know, since mollusks were added to this list, it gets confusing.

1890.00 1898.00 C: And we see this in our legislation here in the US. We have amazing animal welfare laws. And then we have brutal carve outs for farm animals.

1898.00 1904.00 C: So like the same welfare laws that exist for our pets do not exist for our food.

1904.00 1909.00 C: There are different laws in place. You can still hunt whales in Japan, I believe. Right.

1909.00 1914.00 C: You may be able to. Yeah, I'm not sure. And so obviously there are the ecological principles that play.

1914.00 1918.00 C: There are the mechanisms that play about protecting animals from pain.

1918.00 1931.00 C: And and and then there are the kind of like socio political issues around what sadly what role does that animal serve in the in the mindset of the human beings who interact with it?

1931.00 1936.00 C: And sadly, most of our legislation is written clearly from a human perspective.

Self-Replicating Xenobots (32:16)[edit]

1936.00 1941.00 S: Cara, let me ask you a question. Are Xenobots sentient? What's a Xenobot?

1941.00 1948.00 S: Well, I'll tell you because this is amazing. Xenobots are kind of a living robot.

1948.00 1954.00 S: They are created by clumping a bunch of cells together.

1954.00 1962.00 S: The research that has been developing this is using pluripotent stem cells taken from the embryos of Xenopus Levus.

1962.00 1969.00 S: Xenopus is a type of frog and the Xeno in the Xenopus is where the Xenobots get their name.

1969.00 1976.00 S: And the Xenobots are formed by about 3000 of these in essentially a sphere.

1976.00 1984.00 S: And when you do that, you take the pluripotent stem cells out of their typical developmental environment.

1984.00 1992.00 S: So they don't develop into a tadpole into a frog and they start to take on some spontaneous behavior.

1992.00 1995.00 S: And the researchers have been, you know, have been studying this.

1995.00 2001.00 S: They also are interested in the ability of these Xenobots to to replicate themselves.

2001.00 2004.00 S: So let's let's back up and let me ask you guys a question.

2004.00 2015.00 S: How many different kinds of replication do you think of the way living organisms reproduce do you think you could name?

2015.00 2018.00 S: Oh, gosh, three?

2018.00 2020.00 C: Sexual, asexual.

2020.00 2023.00 C: OK, and in terms of asexual, you could break that down.

2023.00 2027.00 C: There could be like vegetative propagation.

2027.00 2031.00 C: There could be parthenogenesis.

2031.00 2035.00 J: What about copying files on your computer? You know, you make a duplicate.

2035.00 2036.00 C: What is it?

2036.00 2039.00 C: Oh, simple binary fission.

2039.00 2040.00 E: Hey, I got sexual.

2040.00 2044.00 C: And then there's all sorts of weird plant ones that I don't really understand.

2044.00 2046.00 J: Yeah, but you think like the Xenomorph from Alien?

2046.00 2048.00 J: Oh, budding. Yeah, there you go. That's fine.

2048.00 2049.00 C: Hey, this is good.

2049.00 2050.00 C: This is fun.

2050.00 2053.00 S: Oh, you guys are pretty good, but let's go through it.

2053.00 2070.00 S: So the different types of replication are fission, budding, fragmentation, spore formation, vegetative propagation, parthenogenesis, sexual reproduction, hermaphroditism and viral propagation.

2070.00 2072.00 S: So you guys got a lot of those.

2072.00 2090.00 S: But there's one thing that all of these very different forms of reproduction have in common, and that is the organism needs to grow the offspring either in or on themselves.

2090.00 2097.00 S: There's some kind of internal or self growth happening as part of the reproduction process.

2097.00 2102.00 C: Yeah, like when we talk about meiosis, we often talk about it in terms of how do we word it?

2102.00 2105.00 C: It's like not replication division, but like growth and then division.

2105.00 2110.00 C: Like first you have to double all your DNA and then you divide it out and you double it and you divide it out.

2110.00 2111.00 C: And that's or sorry, that's mitosis.

2111.00 2118.00 C: And so, yeah, this idea that like you have to make something, you have to make more of yourself so that then it can pinch off or it can break free.

2118.00 2127.00 S: Now, xenobots display an entirely new form of reproduction that does not require any self growth.

2127.00 2131.00 S: And this is called kinematic self replication.

2131.00 2136.00 S: And what they do is they use entirely external resources.

2136.00 2147.00 S: They are taking other stem cells, other embryonic pluripotent cells and forming them into copies of themselves.

2147.00 2152.00 E: So that 3000 cell thing actually collects the other stuff that's floating around.

2152.00 2157.00 S: So these xenobots can use this kinematic self replication to make copies of themselves.

2157.00 2161.00 S: However, the copies cannot make further copies.

2161.00 2168.00 S: Or another way to look at this is that the number of generations of these xenobots is very limited.

2168.00 2172.00 S: So they can't continuously self replicate.

2172.00 2183.00 S: The researchers were interested in finding a form of the xenobots that would be better able to have sustainable kinematic self replication.

2183.00 2188.00 S: So they turned to an artificial intelligence simulator.

2188.00 2197.00 S: Obviously, it would take a long time to do the research with with the living cells to, you know, to test different different forms.

2197.00 2208.00 S: But the A.I. chugging along for several months, you know, they ran this program for several months, was able to test billions, billions of different structures of different forms.

2208.00 2215.00 S: And they came up with a form that looks amazingly like a Pac-Man.

2215.00 2226.00 S: So it's a sphere, but it has this kind of wedge shaped mouth that I mean, looks uncannily like a three dimensional Pac-Man.

2226.00 2228.00 J: Wait, but is it a mouth? It's not a mouth, though.

2228.00 2234.00 E: Well, is it is it using the upper part of the mouth and the bottom part to grab the pieces and put them in?

2234.00 2240.00 S: Yeah, you know, moves around and gathers up the cells. I don't know if it makes a waka waka waka sound when it does.

2240.00 2257.00 S: It can gather up like sort of herd these stem cells into into the same shape, essentially making a copy of itself entirely out of external feedstock, as they call it, or material, the other other stem cells.

2257.00 2266.00 S: And yeah, and these these replicants were able to make further copies of themselves for many generations.

2266.00 2293.00 S: So now you have a self-sustaining population of xenobots in as many numbers as you wish from an initially small number, as long as you keep providing feedstock. And the feedstock is actually easy to come by because the these xenopus frogs will lay thousands of eggs per day, each one containing enough of the stem cells to make one xenobot.

2293.00 2298.00 S: So it's very easy to just massively reproduce these xenobots.

2298.00 2302.00 S: The next question becomes then, well, what's the practical value of this?

2302.00 2308.00 S: What can you do with them? You know, to which my first answer is we don't have to answer that question.

2308.00 2311.00 S: This is basic science. We're just learning about how stuff works.

2311.00 2319.00 S: And we don't need to necessarily anticipate the ultimate pragmatic or practical application of it.

2319.00 2327.00 S: You know, the history has shown that basic science research bears fruit down the road and often in a way that you cannot predict.

2327.00 2332.00 S: So you don't have to always say this is going to create this specific benefit.

2332.00 2338.00 S: But having said that, the researchers did address this question and they actually explored it a little bit.

2338.00 2353.00 S: So their question was, could while these xenobots are going around replicating themselves with the kinematic self-replication, can they also be made to do any useful work? Now, they're essentially moving around at random.

2353.00 2360.00 S: But could that random motion be leveraged to do anything that could be utilized in manufacturing, let's say.

2360.00 2369.00 S: And they looked at a system where they were trying to construct electronics at this microscopic scale.

2369.00 2378.00 S: And they asked the question, so could these xenobots move around wires and close a connection?

2378.00 2382.00 S: And they were able to do that. They were able to move wires and close connections.

2382.00 2393.00 S: And theoretically, this could be used to do useful work, again, in the right context in terms of manufacturing these micro scale electronics.

2393.00 2400.00 S: So this is just a proof of concept. It's not necessarily something that's going to translate into some manufacturing process.

2400.00 2408.00 S: But it was just trying to answer the answer. The very basic question is, could they do useful work while they're while they're moving around, replicating themselves?

2408.00 2421.00 S: And if this turns out to be true, you know, in reality, then the researchers say this would give the xenobots exponential utility.

2421.00 2443.00 S: So because you can start with a very small number and they can essentially endlessly replicate themselves, given enough feedstock, you could have this massive manufacturing process from a very, very small number of initial starting xenobots because they are self replicating.

2443.00 2448.00 S: So that's one of the ways in which this research may go, one of the directions in which it may go.

2448.00 2451.00 S: And then there's also just it will have utility for research itself.

2451.00 2460.00 S: These are, you know, living constructs that we can use to do certain kinds of more biological research, studying how cells behave.

2460.00 2467.00 S: It's interesting, you know, that these xenobots, they were not programmed, they were not genetically engineered, they were not made to do this behavior in any specific way.

2467.00 2471.00 S: They just spontaneously started doing this, including their self replication.

2471.00 2474.00 S: And that's interesting. And we could explore why that is.

2474.00 2479.00 S: Why would a clump of cells form and start to engage in this behavior?

2479.00 2489.00 S: This perhaps may have some implications for understanding how multicellular life evolved, you know, six, seven hundred million years ago.

2489.00 2499.00 S: If do single celled creatures have this latent ability to spontaneously form into clumps and then start collectively doing stuff?

2499.00 2504.00 S: I mean, this is essentially a very primitive form of multicellular life.

2504.00 2510.00 C: Yeah. And there's all this like just like resources in the primordial soup that they're just floating around with.

2510.00 2518.00 S: Yeah. So anyway, there's a cool area of research, you know, a new form of reproduction for living organisms.

2518.00 2522.00 S: Certainly something to keep an eye on. Xenobots see where this research goes in the future.

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Pharmacists Recommending Homeopathy (43:24)[edit]

2604.00 2613.00 S: All right, Evan, finish up the news items for us. You're going to tell us about pharmacists recommending homeopathy.

2613.00 2617.00 E: What? Homeopathy, that's a subject we bring up regularly on the show.

2617.00 2623.00 E: I'd say at least once a year, if not more, 17 years and counting. Easily we've talked about it that many times.

2623.00 2634.00 E: Yeah. You know, and when I think about that, Steve, I think, well, why don't we cover things like phrenology or voodoo with any sort of regularity or consistency like homeopathy?

2634.00 2637.00 S: Because they're not officially approved by the government.

2637.00 2642.00 E: Yeah, right. And yeah, that's part of it.

2642.00 2648.00 E: And definitely because I think those things are not always in the news, but homeopathy is regularly in the news.

2648.00 2654.00 E: Now, it's not page one news and it's not headline news. You know, it's not COVID-19 or anything, but it's there.

2654.00 2657.00 E: And because I do a search, I do a news search, I type in homeopathy.

2657.00 2665.00 E: There is a news story almost on a daily basis somewhere by a halfway respectable or better news outfit that's talking about the subject.

2665.00 2673.00 E: So it's there. And for those of you who don't know what homeopathy is in its purest form, one might say its most watered down form.

2673.00 2677.00 E: Homeopathy is a belief system. They believe in magic. Effectively, that's it.

2677.00 2684.00 E: Now, you can understand the history of the practice and the methods and steps that homeopaths take in their dilution fetish, I call it.

2684.00 2691.00 E: But everything else that you hear about it through the media and the majority of the public, what they know about it, it's sciencey sounding words.

2691.00 2694.00 E: It's marketing and varying levels of deception, some combination of that.

2694.00 2698.00 E: That's why it's the perfect belief system in the world of pseudo medicine.

2698.00 2716.00 E: But in the news this week, our friends from above the northern border, that's Canada to us, courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, headline reads, hidden camera reveals some pharmacists recommend homeopathic products to treat kids cold and flu.

2716.00 2730.00 E: So it's an investigative report that they did. They went around to 10 pharmacies, major pharmacies, places, Rexall, Shoppers, Drug Mart, Walmart, Metro, large stores, large pharmacies, 10 of them.

2730.00 2743.00 E: And out of the 10, six pharmacists of the 10 that got interviewed said there was no problem and yes, they would recommend the homeopathic cough syrup for the kids.

2743.00 2750.00 E: Here's some of the things they said. One pharmacist at Rexall store said, it'll probably help with the symptoms like discomfort.

2750.00 2758.00 E: Another Rexall pharmacist said, absolutely, it's fine just for symptom relief. It's fine. It's great.

2758.00 2770.00 E: And let's see, one shopper at Drug Mart at a Drug Mart location, the pharmacist said that they use homeopathic remedy on their own child and that is soothing when they have a runny nose.

2770.00 2780.00 E: So, I mean, so I want to comment at this moment about this particular article and sort of give you a step back for a second and talk about it.

2780.00 2800.00 E: This is a very good article that they put together. They didn't approach this from the alt-medicine view of homeopathy, all the typical, the more common sort of approach to a new subject like this in which they'll give it its fluff and then maybe interview some skeptic like at the end if you're lucky.

2800.00 2816.00 E: But no, they treated this correctly. It was an investigation. They got right into it. And the first person that they interview and have comment on this is Timothy Caulfield, who's the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

2816.00 2824.00 E: He should not be a stranger to anyone here. We've had him on the show. He's presented at skeptic conferences and he wrote the book about Gwyneth Paltrow and goop.

2824.00 2832.00 E: I think that's the go-to person when it comes to everything goop and Gwyneth Paltrow. So good on them for handling this article correctly.

2832.00 2844.00 E: And yeah, it's basically Caulfield reinforces what kind of we already know. This is a multibillion dollar industry, the homeopathic industry, and they're selling sugar water.

2844.00 2852.00 E: Pseudoscience at its worst is what he says. And it's really good that they that the reader gets to understand that right from basically right from the get go.

2852.00 2862.00 E: Now, the article goes on to explain to the readers that most consumers, at least in Canada, they don't know the difference between homeopathic and say what are deemed natural products.

2862.00 2872.00 C: Those two, you know, surface overlap. When I ask my friends, like, do you know what homeopathy is? Very often they're like, yeah, it's like alternative medicine, right?

2872.00 2878.00 C: Yeah, it's like herbs and stuff. That's right. They really don't know that it's just like magic water.

2878.00 2884.00 E: Ninety five percent of Canadians were unable to correctly identify what homeopathy is. Ninety five percent.

2884.00 2888.00 E: And that I think that number holds true in a lot of places, not just Canada.

2888.00 2907.00 S: Yeah, I think the big problem here is similar to mainstream medicine in general is that pharmacists, while they're trained in pharmacology, they're not trained in products that are not legitimate, not scientific, but that their their clients, their customers may ask about or maybe purchasing at their pharmacies.

2907.00 2912.00 S: So they need to be trained in pharmacological pseudoscience and they're not.

2912.00 2919.00 S: So many of them don't know what homeopathy is or don't know what the science behind homeopathy is.

2919.00 2923.00 S: The fact that homeopathy is pure pseudoscience, it can't possibly work.

2923.00 2934.00 S: And in fact, when studied, it doesn't work that and they need to understand the regulations as well, the regulations of these products and so that they can properly inform their customers.

2934.00 2943.00 S: Otherwise, they're giving them misinformation and sometimes lack of information is functionally the equivalent of misinformation as well.

2943.00 2951.00 S: And this really is is a detriment. It's a shame on the pharmaceutical, you know, pharmacology profession.

2951.00 2954.00 S: This is a problem that they need to correct.

2954.00 2957.00 E: And that's what part of the article definitely emphasizes and questions.

2957.00 2982.00 E: Is this a code of ethics violation? And and yeah, and a lot of and a lot of real scientists, real doctors, real pharmacists who are aware of it say it absolutely is because, you know, you're supposed to uphold these codes in which you're ensuring that the information that you're providing to your patients is consistent with standards of practice and based on the best available evidence.

2982.00 2984.00 E: And that's not what they're getting.

2984.00 2988.00 E: Apparently, when they go to six out of ten drugstores, at least in the greater Toronto area.

2988.00 2994.00 S: And as skeptics in with topics like homeopathy, I think there's two things we need to do.

2994.00 2998.00 S: One first is to educate the public about what homeopathy is.

2998.00 3001.00 S: That's the best weapon against homeopathy.

3001.00 3003.00 S: The truth. Just education.

3003.00 3014.00 S: As you say, most people don't understand what it is. And when they learn that it's really is magic water, that it's witchcraft, that changes their opinion about it. So that's really powerful.

3014.00 3021.00 S: But also, I think this is one of the areas where where ridicule and mockery is appropriate.

3021.00 3026.00 S: When you have these black and white, this is truly 100 percent pseudoscientific nonsense.

3026.00 3033.00 S: We can't give it the respect it doesn't deserve by treating it as if it's normal or just another opinion.

3033.00 3037.00 S: It is pseudoscience and it needs to be criticized that way.

3037.00 3048.00 E: And Steve, what you said earlier about us as skeptics and certainly activists, we apparently are the ones that can make the changes, at least by the organizations that oversee this stuff.

3048.00 3057.00 E: Because as an example, the same group of people at the Canadian Broadcasting Company, they're called Marketplace.

3057.00 3066.00 E: I guess they're the branch or they're the investigative arm of their news programming.

3066.00 3077.00 E: 2015, they went ahead. They wanted to show just how low the bar was to get a homeopathic product approved by Health Canada, which is basically like their health ministry.

3077.00 3085.00 E: They created their own bogus children's remedy that claimed to effectively treat fever and pain, and they got it licensed.

3085.00 3091.00 E: And then they shared with them the results. They said, hey, by the way, we're this. Here's what you just approved and everything.

3091.00 3095.00 E: And then they wound up changing the law based on that. Yep.

3095.00 3102.00 E: So Health Canada wound up because of that activism, because they went through that, actually did affect change.

3102.00 3109.00 E: So, yeah, shamed into doing it. But heck, if we're not doing it, if groups like this are not doing it, apparently no one else is doing it.

3109.00 3113.00 E: So it's very important to remember that that our efforts do not go wasted.

3113.00 3136.00 J: OK, thanks, Evan.

Who's That Noisy? (51:55)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
First recording played by a PC--an Altair 8800, the first true PC, interfering with a radio signal, programed to "play" the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" via that interference

S: Jay, it's who's that noisy time. All right, guys, not last week, several weeks ago, I played this noisy.

3136.00 3142.00 E: What was that? It's like a Game Boy game playing being played, you know, some Nintendo thing.

3142.00 3146.00 S: It definitely sounds like like an 8-bit computer generated sound.

3146.00 3150.00 J: Without a doubt, without a doubt. All right. Let me just get into it here.

3150.00 3156.00 J: Adam Hill wrote in said, Hello, long time, first time. Love your podcast and passed it on to coworkers.

3156.00 3166.00 J: This week's noisy is definitely custom control software on something with a very fast positional motor, either a printer or a scanner, maybe a hard drive or floppy drive.

3166.00 3175.00 J: Read, write, head. These devices need to be super precise in position and timing to do their normal job, which makes them great platforms to vibrate at specific tonal frequencies.

3175.00 3184.00 J: I liked Adam's descriptiveness here, but I will tell you for future reference, don't give me three or four different answers when you write in who's that noisy.

3184.00 3193.00 J: And I'm not pulling I'm not calling Adam out at all, because he's basically saying all these different devices have, you know, have this type of super precise positioning.

3193.00 3206.00 J: So I get why he did that. But this is not correct. But, you know, not a bad guess, because there are many examples of devices being used like this to make different tonal frequencies.

3206.00 3212.00 J: And I've even played them on this segment before the next listener, Howard Cordingley.

3212.00 3216.00 J: Cordingley, that's a cool last name. He said, Hey, Jay, my five year old son wants to guess this week.

3216.00 3221.00 J: He says the noisy sounds like a robot telling a story to other robots.

3221.00 3227.00 J: Oh, favorite answer. I mean, that was so freaking awesome.

3227.00 3233.00 J: And then he goes, My guess would be old computer equipment like CD-ROM drives and printers set up to play musical notes.

3233.00 3244.00 J: But, you know, I'm always a sucker for the kids, you know, doing who's that noisy because it means they're listening to this show and they're learning about science, the love of science and critical thinking, which, as you know, we care a lot about.

3244.00 3250.00 J: So that's really cool, Howard. Thanks for thanks for having your child send that guess in.

3250.00 3257.00 J: The answer is not correct, but I will tell you this somewhere. There's a robot telling stories to other robots.

3257.00 3268.00 J: So you should tell your child you were that wasn't the noisy, but you weren't overall incorrect because somewhere this is happening and it sounds just like that.

3268.00 3274.00 J: I think that's adorable. Moving on to the next one. Dan Lee wrote in and said, Hi, Meatball Jay.

3274.00 3281.00 J: See, people are starting to catch on. They're starting to get it. The noisy is electronic bagpipes.

3281.00 3286.00 J: Notice the drone. She'll no take a captain. She's breaking up.

3286.00 3294.00 J: So the bagpipe thing came up a lot. A lot of people guessed some type of bagpipe situation.

3294.00 3301.00 J: There was lots of very variations on bagpipes. This was this was like a common one that there's electronic bagpipes of some kind.

3301.00 3310.00 J: Not correct, but a very interesting guess. All right. I have a couple more here. Michael Blaney wrote in said Hi, Jay. Very 8-bit.

3310.00 3315.00 J: I got excited when I read that. OK, cool. I'm going to say that that's not quite what it sounds like.

3315.00 3327.00 J: And it's some kind of unique sound generation method. So my guess is a bunch of small battery powered engines, the kind that you find in a mechanical Lego car, each tuned to a different rotation rate, which would equal the frequency.

3327.00 3332.00 J: This is like, you know, similar guesses that other people had. That's not correct. It's not correct.

3332.00 3338.00 J: But there was a little bit of info there. The 8-bit thing, you know, was getting a little bit closer.

3338.00 3343.00 J: Jonathan Tindall wrote in I know what it is, but not that song. I know that I'm not the first person to guess.

3343.00 3348.00 J: It's one of the old gift cards that played music when you open them. That's been reprogrammed to tune.

3348.00 3354.00 J: I don't do the tune. I don't know. That's pretty cool. Imagine, you know, those ones we open them up and they play music.

3354.00 3359.00 J: Imagine going in reprogramming the little little device that's in there to play something that you want.

3359.00 3367.00 J: I didn't know that that was even possible. OK, so, guys, we don't really have a winner, but we have an almost winner.

3367.00 3376.00 J: And guess who it is? Fisto Tutti. Exactly. Oh, exactly. Not Meat Leg. Not Charlie.

3376.00 3379.00 J: He wrote in, by the way. He wrote in. He did. Meat Leg wrote us.

3379.00 3384.00 J: He wrote in. He mentioned him again. He's like, hey, oh, my God, you mentioned me again.

3384.00 3388.00 E: He's been there since 2005. Amazing. I know. It blows my mind.

3388.00 3393.00 J: So, OK, so Fisto writes in I hear not 8-bit music, but single-bit music.

3393.00 3399.00 J: This is generated by programming tight loops in the computer code and varying the loop length for different notes.

3399.00 3406.00 J: Ancient microcomputers like the ZX80 or the TRS80 used this clever technique before advanced sound chips were developed.

3406.00 3410.00 E: TRS80. I kind of remember that. Yep, we had those.

3410.00 3419.00 J: And Fisto said, sorry, I don't recognize the tune. That's an important clue that he gave everyone because there is, in fact, a song being played here.

3419.00 3423.00 J: So let me give you the answer. So nobody got it right. But let me give you the answer.

3423.00 3428.00 J: And it's kind of close. So I'm kind of giving it to Fisto because he did his research.

3428.00 3432.00 J: This was sent in by a listener named Marco. Remember, he said, hello, Jay Duardo.

3432.00 3436.00 J: So let me skip down because he was saying a bunch of stuff to us and thanking us.

3436.00 3443.00 J: And then he said, in 1974, Ed Roberts built the Altair 8800. Anybody recognize that out there?

3443.00 3451.00 J: No, I don't know that one. OK, he says, which some people, including Bill Gates, considered the first truly personal computer.

3451.00 3462.00 J: A few months later, in 1975, a hacker named Steve Dampierre was working with the Altair 88, trying to create a program to work with some numbers while executing that computer program.

3462.00 3470.00 J: He was listening to the radio and he started hearing some interference in the radio caused by the execution of that program and the Altair 8800.

3470.00 3477.00 J: So his software was executing on the computer and it was interfering with the radio signal.

3477.00 3480.00 J: And he started to hear the computer after some experiments.

3480.00 3486.00 J: He ended up writing a computer program that could play the Fool on the Hill by the Beatles.

3486.00 3489.00 E: That's what's happening here. Oh, my gosh. Yes.

3489.00 3497.00 J: So this may very well believe be the first time this is the first recording of music being played by a personal computer.

3497.00 3511.00 J: Right. Now, listen to it again. See if you recognize the song.

3511.00 3526.00 J: I just love that a software engineer going all the way back to almost the beginning, something weird happened and that software engineer immediately went off the rails and decided to do something kind of wacky with the computer.

3526.00 3529.00 J: You know, like this is where innovation comes from.

3529.00 3534.00 J: You know, just oh, cool. An idea pops up that came, you know, came about spontaneously.

3534.00 3541.00 J: And then next thing you know, he's making the computer play a Beatles song and it was never supposed to be able to play music in the first place.

3541.00 3545.00 J: I just find that really cool. I like I like that humans do these types of things.

3545.00 3551.00 J: So thank you, everybody. You know, I've had a string of a lot of a lot of non guesses happening here.

3551.00 3554.00 J: I'm trying to soften it up a little bit. I'm being humbled.

3554.00 3556.00 J: I thought I had it kind of dialed in where I always had a winner.

3556.00 3561.00 J: But, you know, it isn't happening as often as I'd like. So let me try something a little bit different.

3561.00 3567.00 J: So not to bring up Visto Tutti too much during this segment because he's basically like the who's that noisy superstar.

3567.00 3573.00 J: But he did also supply the noisy that I picked for this week. So this is really his week.

New Noisy (59:50)[edit]


3573.00 3579.00 J: So if you don't know who Visto is, he is a person who answered every single noisy for an entire year.

3579.00 3583.00 J: And I believe he's still going strong. He may have missed one here or there.

3583.00 3588.00 J: I might be incorrect on that. But he really does love the segment and I got to give him props.

3588.00 3602.00 J: And he sent in a great noisy this week. So I just thought I'd pick it. So here it is. Here's this week's noisy.

3602.00 3613.00 J: There it is. If you guys have any idea what this week's noisy is or if you heard something cool, something that is worthy of who's that noisy, email me at WTN at the skeptics guide dot org.

3613.00 3620.00 E: That's what a xenobot whistles when it's assembling the other. That's right. They scream. They're actually screaming.

3620.00 3625.00 E: Yeah, but it's their way. It's how they whistle. They don't have lips, you see.

3625.00 3629.00 S: OK, thanks, Jay.

J: If you guys have any idea what this week's Noisy is, or if you heard something cool, something that is worthy of Who's That Noisy?, email me at

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:00:27)[edit]

_consider_using_block_quotes_for_emails_read_aloud_in_this_segment_ with_reduced_spacing_for_long_chunks –

Follow-up: Spin Launch System[edit]

rocket equation

S: I'm going to do one email this week.

3629.00 3640.00 S: We actually had a bunch of emails responding to the segment that we did on the spin launch system last week, essentially bringing up some some points we didn't get to and requesting a deeper dive.

3640.00 3652.00 S: So to recap, the spin launch system is a company proposing a way of getting satellites, not people, but like satellites and stuff into low Earth orbit.

3652.00 3667.00 S: Instead of using rockets all the way, you will spin it up to 5000 miles per hour in a chamber, like an evacuated vacuum chamber by spinning it around at around 10000 rpms.

3667.00 3673.00 S: You release it when it's at full speed. It launches it into the upper atmosphere to the edge of space.

3673.00 3681.00 S: And then it's like a second stage type rocket takes over and gets it all the way into an orbital trajectory.

3681.00 3690.00 S: Looks good on paper. The CGs look great. The idea we like the idea of getting around the rocket equation.

3690.00 3700.00 S: You don't want to have to carry all the fuel that you need just to get the fuel, you know, the second stage up to the upper atmosphere or the edge of space.

3700.00 3712.00 S: And to get something into orbit, you could dramatically reduce the fuel if you can get it up to altitude and velocity with external energy rather than carrying your fuel with you.

3712.00 3717.00 S: And then just use rockets to get that last step into the precise orbital trajectory.

3717.00 3723.00 S: So good idea. Is the spin launch a way to do it? They did conduct a preliminary test.

3723.00 3732.00 S: This is a scaled down version of the spin launch system, and it did, you know, quote unquote, work.

3732.00 3742.00 S: It did manage to get up to a little bit over Mach 1 and successfully launch something, you know, high into the air.

3742.00 3750.00 S: But is what does this test really tell us? So let's incorporate some of the feedback and go into this in a little bit more detail.

3750.00 3758.00 S: So there's a few things I think worth pointing out. One is that it does seem like the test chamber was not evacuated.

3758.00 3767.00 S: It wasn't a vacuum. And this is critical because I think this is probably the greatest engineering challenge of the spin launch system.

3767.00 3777.00 S: And why the test get going from the test to a final product is not simply a matter of scaling it up, of making it bigger and faster, more powerful.

3777.00 3787.00 S: That the test size, you're only going Mach 1, which you can accomplish at one atmosphere of pressure, basically sea level of air pressure.

3787.00 3795.00 S: If you're going to get up to this Mach 6 or 7 that they say that they will need in order to have this thing work, you will need a really good vacuum.

3795.00 3803.00 S: And that's challenging to create a really good vacuum, especially in a machine that requires ball bearings and has to be able to spin around.

3803.00 3816.00 S: And also you need some way to block the exit of the chamber that your satellite is going to go through to hold out the atmosphere to maintain that vacuum.

3816.00 3824.00 S: But it has to be strong enough to do that while being brittle enough that the satellite could break through it when you launch it.

3824.00 3829.00 S: Because that's essentially how it works. It just sort of busts through the cap on the vacuum chamber.

3829.00 3837.00 S: That's not, it's a non-trivial problem to solve there. And they didn't really test that on their test launch.

3837.00 3842.00 S: So, you know, some people think that these are fatal flaws, that these, you know, quote unquote, break the laws of physics.

3842.00 3848.00 S: And I think that they're, you know, they're definitely legitimate criticisms, but that may be overstating it a little bit.

3848.00 3854.00 S: There are some potential solutions to the really serious challenges that the system presents.

3854.00 3858.00 S: So, for example, you could build it on top of a mountain where you're at 40, 50 percent of an atmosphere.

3858.00 3864.00 S: It doesn't have to be done at sea level with one atmosphere. That would make the physics here work a little bit easier.

3864.00 3877.00 S: Maybe they need to have a sequence of bladders, you know, holding out the atmosphere so that each one doesn't have to be that strong and the satellite can more easily bust through them in sequence.

3877.00 3889.00 S: Who knows? But the system as it is definitely is problematic and they will need to fix these issues before a full scale version can work.

3889.00 3893.00 S: There's also questions are brought up about the precision of it.

3893.00 3903.00 S: You know, definitely in the test launch, the rocket was a little bit off kilter and it did tumble after they launched it.

3903.00 3908.00 S: So, you know, these maybe that will prove to be a fatal problem with the whole system.

3908.00 3916.00 S: But it's also possible that you could fix these, you know, by designing the rocket better, engineering it better, making it more precise, et cetera.

3916.00 3925.00 S: So again, not breaking the laws of physics there, just need to significantly improve the precision of how the whole mechanism works.

3925.00 3936.00 S: So those were the major points that were brought up in terms of the viability of this system itself.

3936.00 3948.00 S: But I think there are two, I don't think those are fatal flaws, but I do think there are a couple of potentially fatal flaws to the spin launch approach.

3948.00 3960.00 S: One is that the cost of failure is likely to be catastrophic with a an entirely rocket launch system.

3960.00 3965.00 S: Yeah, every now and then a rocket's going to blow up. That's pretty much part of the cost of the system.

3965.00 3972.00 S: It's we understand that that's going to happen and that's catastrophic for that mission for the certainly for the satellite that was going up.

3972.00 3981.00 S: But, you know, we companies that launch rockets into space have lots of rockets and any one rocket is disposable, doesn't tank the entire system.

3981.00 3989.00 S: The spin launch system depends upon one giant, very expensive machine that the spin launch chamber itself.

3989.00 3995.00 S: This is kind of the idea. You build it and then you could very cheaply launch things, you know, into low Earth orbit.

3995.00 4003.00 S: If there is a failure of that system at 10000 rpms, that would be catastrophic.

4003.00 4013.00 S: That would come. The energies involved are so huge that would completely destroy the entire infrastructure and bankrupt the company.

4013.00 4022.00 S: So it's a very fragile to to error system in a way that rockets are not because, you know, your rockets are going to fail.

4022.00 4028.00 S: And that's just part of the part of the process. And it's built into the cost and it's acceptable losses.

4028.00 4032.00 S: These would not be acceptable. This would be catastrophic and tank the whole thing.

4032.00 4038.00 S: You know, even a slight error is inevitable. So I think that the system is going to be too fragile.

4038.00 4056.00 S: The second thing is cost. Now, the whole idea here is to reduce the cost of getting stuff into low Earth orbit because you're using a lot less fuel and you're not using either disposable rockets or rockets that have a limited life expectancy.

4056.00 4081.00 S: But again, the problem here is that the reusable rockets like SpaceX's reusable rockets, the Falcon 9, etc., have gotten the cost of going into space down so much that the incentive for a non rocket based system, the financial incentive has shrunk considerably, maybe even be eclipsed.

4081.00 4100.00 S: And so where's the I think the economics now no longer favor that unless you can develop a system that's super cheap and keep ahead of the drop in cost of getting getting pounds, kilograms into low Earth orbit with a reusable rocket system.

4100.00 4110.00 S: Why invest in this tricky technology that we really haven't solved all the problems and where the slightest error could be absolutely catastrophic?

4110.00 4119.00 S: Let me give you another example here. And that is essentially that second fatal flaw is you always have to compare a system to its competition.

4119.00 4143.00 S: And the reusable rockets are just too competitive at this point in time. But even worse, there are other ways of getting things potentially near orbit, essentially replacing that first stage rocket in getting something into low Earth orbit that are proven work are cheaper, safer and probably better in every way.

4143.00 4152.00 S: And we're still not using them. So one is the HAARP system. And if you guys remember this, the high altitude rocket project, our research project.

4152.00 4160.00 S: And this was this used essentially a giant gun and it would blast probes into the upper atmosphere for atmospheric research.

4160.00 4166.00 S: We've talked about it, I think more in the context of HAARP being the focus of conspiracy theories about trying to control the weather and such.

4166.00 4184.00 S: But it's a legit it was a legitimate project and it worked. It set multiple probes up. The G forces involved in blowing something out of a cannon are actually about the same as the G forces involved in spinning something at 10000 rpms just over a much shorter period of time.

4184.00 4189.00 S: And again, these probes functioned. They were they were launched and were able to function.

4189.00 4197.00 S: This the program basically ended because of politics, not really because of science or engineering, not because it didn't work.

4197.00 4203.00 S: It was just, you know, there's a complicated political situation involved between Canada and the United States. And that really is what ended it.

4203.00 4215.00 J: It worked. The will wasn't there and the funding dried up. So it was like you say, Steve, it was just politics that stopped it. But it was working. It was actually working.

4215.00 4224.00 S: Yeah, but, you know, so the you know, the cost of resurrecting a HAARP like system would be much less than building SpinLaunch.

4224.00 4229.00 S: And it's a proven technology. So where's the advantage of SpinLaunch over HAARP?

4229.00 4236.00 S: Unless they could state that, unless they could show why SpinLaunch would be better than HAARP, why bother?

4236.00 4248.00 S: The other competition is from a railgun system. Now, railguns use electromagnetic forces in order to accelerate a ferromagnetic projectile down along a rail that's magnetized.

4248.00 4251.00 S: The acceleration is over distance rather than all at once.

4251.00 4262.00 S: You know, when you set off a cannon so it actually could have gentler acceleration forces and you can get things up to extremely high speed.

4262.00 4270.00 S: It's, you know, much more quickly reusable. Like you don't have to re-evacuate a chamber every time you need to launch something.

4270.00 4275.00 S: And this is a proven technology. We have working railguns.

4275.00 4291.00 S: In fact, starting in 2010, NASA was looking into developing a system where they had like a two mile long railway that would accelerate a ramjet over the two miles.

4291.00 4293.00 S: Now, this is something that people could be in, right?

4293.00 4301.00 S: Because you have this long, you know, run up. The acceleration is like 5G's because it's over two miles.

4301.00 4305.00 S: And then the ramjets need a minimum speed to function.

4305.00 4312.00 S: So either you have like a normal jet and a ramjet and the normal jet engines get it up to ramjet speed, then the ramjets take over.

4312.00 4327.00 S: This would use a railgun system to get up to ramjet speed and then the ramjets take over, accelerate the plane into about 7, mach 7 in the upper upper atmosphere.

4327.00 4332.00 S: That's very thin because you can't go mach 7 at one atmosphere at sea level.

4332.00 4336.00 S: You have to get very, very high. And then from there you could launch things into orbit.

4336.00 4339.00 S: And so this system could work.

4339.00 4344.00 S: We have designs on that we've been developing and I don't know what the status of it is at this point in time.

4344.00 4363.00 S: I couldn't find that quickly, but that is seems like a much better approach than the spin launch system, which is, you can highly, highly fragile and has some engineering problems that they have not demonstrated they can overcome.

4363.00 4373.00 S: So if I had to be paced by nickel, I would say that, you know, for now, reusable rockets are it because they're cheap and proven and working.

4373.00 4391.00 S: If we're going to develop a system for getting stuff into low Earth orbit to minimize fuel use, maybe for environmental reasons as much as cost, that's something like the HARP system or a railgun system is more likely to be successful than the spin launch system.

4391.00 4396.00 S: I know the spin launch technology may be useful in some context.

4396.00 4406.00 S: Like, for example, I think we mentioned last week if you built it on the moon to get stuff into lunar orbit or off of the surface of the moon, that would be a lot easier because you don't have to worry about the vacuum.

4406.00 4411.00 S: Right. Which dramatically makes it a simpler engineering challenge.

4411.00 4414.00 S: Or maybe it'll work for a Mars colony or whatever.

4414.00 4422.00 S: So there may be context in the future where this kind of technology would be would be useful on Earth.

4422.00 4427.00 S: Probably not going to be competitive for those reasons.

4427.00 4430.00 S: And they may not ever get it to actually work.

4430.00 4432.00 S: We certainly can't conclude that they're going to do that.

4432.00 4436.00 S: There are significant engineering challenges for it.

4436.00 4445.00 S: But overall, the idea of not using fuel to get all the way from the surface of the Earth into low Earth orbit is a great idea.

4445.00 4450.00 S: You don't want to have to carry all of your fuel with you because that invokes the rocket equation.

4450.00 4458.00 S: Any time you can use external energy to get altitude and acceleration, that dramatically improves the fuel use.

4458.00 4462.00 S: That's a good idea. The question is how to get there.

4462.00 4467.00 S: And again, Spin Launch is probably not going to be the way that we do it.

4467.00 4472.00 S: OK, so thanks to everybody who wrote in and gave us feedback. We appreciate it.

Science or Fiction (1:14:36)[edit]

Theme: The Deep Ocean Item #1: Only four people have visited the Challenger Deep, the deepest location on Earth at 10,928 meters and about 1,100 atmospheres of pressure, including filmmaker James Cameron.[4]
Item #2: We have mapped only 20% of the ocean floor, compared to 100% of the surface of Mars.[5]
Item #3: Cuvier's beaked whales (the deepest diving whales) have been spotted in the Mariana Trench at depths of over 6,000 meters.[6]

(Transcriptionist's note: see this cool, super-scrollable breakdown of facts, animals, and exploration of the deep ocean!)

Answer Item
Fiction Beaked whales below 6000m
Only four to Challenger Deep (Transcriptionist's note: this was true in 2019, but by this episode, 23 people had visited!)
Science 20% of ocean floor mapped
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
20% of ocean floor mapped
Beaked whales below 6000m
20% of ocean floor mapped

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

4472.00 4478.00 S: OK, guys, are you ready for science or fiction?

4478.00 4488.00 E: It's time for science or fiction.

4488.00 4494.00 S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake.

4494.00 4498.00 S: Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake.

4498.00 4501.00 S: We have a theme this week. Right.

4501.00 4507.00 S: The theme is the deep ocean. How much do you guys know about the deep ocean?

4507.00 4511.00 E: It depends out. It depends how deep we're going.

4511.00 4514.00 C: It's a distinct boundary and there's nothing to that.

4514.00 4518.00 C: It's the Mariana Trench. I mean, what do we? Oh, boy.

4518.00 4522.00 C: Well, it is the Mariana Trench. So right there, we're having problems.

4522.00 4527.00 E: Yeah. The S is silent. Forgot.

4527.00 4530.00 S: All right. Well, let's see. Here they are.

4530.00 4543.00 S: Item number one, only four people have visited the Challenger Deep, the deepest location on Earth at 10,928 meters and about 1,100 atmospheres of pressure, including filmmaker James Cameron.

4543.00 4550.00 S: Number two, we have mapped only 20 percent of the ocean floor compared to 100 percent of the surface of Mars.

4550.00 4562.00 S: And number three, Cuvier's Beaked Whales, the deepest diving whales, have been spotted in the Mariana Trench at depths over 6000 meters.

Evan's Response[edit]

4562.00 4566.00 S: All right. Evan, you're chatty tonight. Let's have you go first.

4566.00 4569.00 E: I asked for it. I asked for it.

4569.00 4578.00 E: All right. Four people have visited the Challenger Deep, deepest location on Earth, including filmmaker James Cameron.

4578.00 4589.00 E: I think that's right. And I seem to recall something about James Cameron heading down, heading way down there.

4589.00 4592.00 E: You know, what with his fascination with Titanic and that whole thing.

4592.00 4604.00 E: So I think that's right. I'll jump to the third one, maybe the Beaked Whales, Cuvier's Beaked Whales have been spotted in the Mariana Trench.

4604.00 4609.00 E: Yeah, there is an S. The S is silent. At depths over 6000 meters.

4609.00 4617.00 E: Mariana. That's wrong, too, the way you wrote it.

4617.00 4620.00 C: I am reading. Am I not reading what he wrote here?

4620.00 4623.00 C: You are, but he wrote it wrong.

4623.00 4625.00 E: I say it wrong. Steve wrote it wrong.

4625.00 4632.00 E: Sorry. All right. The M Trench at depths over 6000 meters.

4632.00 4634.00 E: Why wouldn't that be?

4634.00 4637.00 S: Actually, what I'm seeing here is that both are acceptable to them.

4637.00 4641.00 S: Mariana Trench or Mariana's Trench is sometimes called Mariana's.

4641.00 4645.00 S: So maybe we could do a deeper dive into that to see why there is that discrepancy.

4645.00 4650.00 S: But but a lot of the references I'm seeing say that both are acceptable.

4650.00 4655.00 S: Maybe it's one of those foreign pronunciation things or Americanization things.

4655.00 4658.00 S: But there it is. Really? You can say both?

4658.00 4663.00 C: All I know is that every ocean person that I'm friends with is like all super pedantic.

4663.00 4666.00 C: Whenever people put an S on it, they get all bitchy about it.

4666.00 4669.00 C: Bring them on the show. That does not necessarily mean that they're correct.

4669.00 4673.00 C: True, true, true. Very quick anecdote.

4673.00 4678.00 S: Early on in the show, I in one of the segments, I refer to hieroglyphics.

4678.00 4685.00 S: Hieroglyphics. And somebody wrote in said, I'm an expert in Egyptology and it's hieroglyphic writing.

4685.00 4688.00 S: There is no such thing as hieroglyphics.

4688.00 4695.00 S: So I thought that was an excellent example of pedantry because it's not like everyone doesn't know exactly what I'm referring to.

4695.00 4699.00 S: But I'm like, fine, if the experts all say hieroglyphic writing, that's fine.

4699.00 4704.00 S: And he actually said, I've never heard any expert in the field ever say hieroglyphic writing, ever say hieroglyphics.

4704.00 4706.00 S: It's always hieroglyphic writing.

4706.00 4714.00 S: Then like a month later, two months later, the same guy emailed me back and said, I'm going to have to retract my previous statement.

4714.00 4723.00 S: I apologize. I was at a meeting and all of the Egyptologists experts were saying hieroglyphics.

4723.00 4726.00 E: Good follow up. That's because they heard our show clearly.

4726.00 4731.00 E: He was a scientist. Well, right. Where was I? I jumped to three. I skipped two.

4731.00 4734.00 E: So the question. So the only question here is 6000 meters.

4734.00 4739.00 E: That's pretty deep. Can they handle that pressure? Is that where they are?

4739.00 4745.00 E: They've been spotted down there. They don't necessarily, you know, could habitate down, you know, live down there.

4745.00 4751.00 E: They maybe have just gone deeper and then come back up to a more feasible living depth.

4751.00 4759.00 E: But the one about the 20 percent of the ocean floor compared to 100 percent of the surface of Mars, I think 100 percent of the surface of Mars is correct.

4759.00 4763.00 E: I think the problem maybe with this one is 20 percent of the ocean floor.

4763.00 4770.00 E: We only 20 percent of the ocean floor. Maybe the ocean floor is bigger than I'm giving it credit for.

4770.00 4775.00 E: So it's either the whales or the ocean floor. I have to choose one.

4775.00 4781.00 E: Shoot. Only 20 percent of the ocean floor. That doesn't that seems so low.

4781.00 4788.00 E: But shoot, Steve, I'm going to say I'll say the one about mapping 20 percent of the ocean floor is the fiction.

Jay's Response[edit]

S: OK, Jay.

4788.00 4798.00 J: All right. So the first one about only four people going down 10,928 meters.

4798.00 4808.00 J: I think that one's correct. I mean, you know, I remember reading stuff about James Cameron and the Titanic and, you know, he loved the Titanic.

4808.00 4813.00 J: Then he makes the movie. You know, Steve, I didn't like that movie. Everybody in the world except me like that movie.

4813.00 4816.00 J: I didn't like it. I just thought it was, you know, movie Titanic.

4816.00 4822.00 J: Yeah, like they basically like this event happened and it is completely manufactured like this total fiction around it.

4822.00 4827.00 C: And I thought it was silly. But that's so that's not why he went on the Challenger. I know that I'm saying that.

4827.00 4831.00 J: Oh, yeah, it was for Avatar. I didn't like the movie. Gotcha.

4831.00 4837.00 J: But I admit that the world loved it and I didn't. All right. So we have mapped only 20 percent of the ocean.

4837.00 4842.00 J: I thought we mapped more of that. But I mean, for science fiction, I guess we're on there. I don't know.

4842.00 4847.00 J: I mean, this is tough at this point. So much could have changed just in the last five years.

4847.00 4854.00 J: But I do do remember like hearing some type of low percentage that I was surprised to hear.

4854.00 4859.00 J: But, you know, it's hard to get down there. So I get it. It's this last one that's been bothering me.

4859.00 4864.00 E: Evan, did you pick this one? I forget. Well, I almost I almost did.

4864.00 4873.00 J: I I'll just say it. I just don't see a mammal going down to the bottom of the trench. I just don't think a mammal can go down that far.

4873.00 4881.00 J: So I'm just going to say this one is a fiction.

Cara's Response[edit]

S: And Cara.

C: Well, OK, so Cuvier's Beaked Whale.

4881.00 4896.00 C: It says here that it has been spotted in the Mariana Trench, but only a depths of 6000 meters, which is really deep, but not as deep as Challenger deep, which is the biggest like gouge in the Mariana Trench. And that's almost 11000 meters.

4896.00 4903.00 C: I mean, that's bananas. That's like a really specialized. What's it called? Diving pod. Oh, my God.

4903.00 4909.00 E: What's it called? Submarine. No, no.

4909.00 4912.00 S: You got to add that one to the bucket. It's got to go in the bucket. That's awesome.

4912.00 4919.00 C: Damn it. It couldn't have been. And I know that James Cameron has been down there. I think it's more than four people, though.

4919.00 4926.00 C: So there's two of these seem like fiction to me. The Cuvier's Beaked Whales, which sounds the most bananas, I think is science.

4926.00 4930.00 C: But two of them seem like fiction. So I want to grapple with some details here.

4930.00 4933.00 C: So only four people having visited Challenger deep seems like too few.

4933.00 4937.00 C: I think it's been more than that because there have been several trips on that. What is that?

4937.00 4943.00 C: That deep sea, whatever. Actually, my ex-boyfriend was on that trip. They gave them all Rolexes.

4943.00 4950.00 C: It's not crazy. What? Like on that big James Cameron trip. But he didn't go down in the in the dive pod.

4950.00 4954.00 C: So I don't know. I'm trying to actually would have been in the submersible.

4954.00 4959.00 C: Yeah. But then the other one that's bothering me is that we've mapped only 20 percent of the ocean floor.

4959.00 4962.00 C: We've got the whole damn ocean floor. We know what the ocean floor looks like.

4962.00 4967.00 C: I don't think we have like amazing resolution, but we've definitely mapped the whole thing.

4967.00 4970.00 C: That OK, that's the one that really bugs me then. I'm going to say that that's wrong.

4970.00 4973.00 C: I think we've mapped the whole ocean floor.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right. You all agree with the first one.

4973.00 4986.00 S: So we'll start there. Only four people have visited the Challenger deep, the deepest location on Earth at ten thousand nine hundred and twenty eight meters and about one thousand one hundred atmospheres of pressure, including filmmaker James Cameron.

4986.00 4993.00 S: You all think this one is science and this one is science. Yep. This one's correct.

4993.00 5000.00 S: So there have been three trips total, three trips. The first one had two people in it.

5000.00 5005.00 S: The second one was James Cameron. So just alone to one person.

5005.00 5021.00 S: That's the third person. And when at the time that James Cameron went to the bottom of the Challenger deep, that bought him the record at the time for the deepest diving human being. But then more recently, he was beaten out by Texan adventurer Victor Vescovo.

5021.00 5026.00 S: Yeah. So, you know, like by a small amount, like tens of meters. Yeah. Just barely beat Cameron's record.

5026.00 5029.00 S: But that was it. So now the scope was the deepest diving human being.

5029.00 5039.00 S: And also, you know, Vescovo visited the deepest location in each of the oceans on Earth because he at some point he realized nobody had ever done it.

5039.00 5045.00 S: Well, that's wrong. Somebody should do it. So he built built himself a dive pod.

5045.00 5051.00 S: And then has taken it to the deepest location in each ocean, including the Challenger deep, winning him the record.

5051.00 5060.00 S: All right. Let's go on to number two. We have mapped only 20 percent of the ocean floor compared to 100 percent of the surface of Mars.

5060.00 5069.00 S: Evan and Cara, you think this one is the fiction and this one is science. Congratulations.

5069.00 5075.00 E: Holy crow. Twenty percent. It's not true. There's no way that's true.

5075.00 5083.00 S: Yeah. This one is science. So, Cara, I think what you're thinking of, if you're looking at, you know, so-called maps of the ocean floor, you're just looking at those are just depth.

5083.00 5088.00 S: We've measured the depth of the ocean at various places because you could just use like radar for that.

5088.00 5094.00 S: But we haven't mapped the ocean floor. That would take something like like sonar to do that.

5094.00 5098.00 S: And this is a long, laborious process.

5098.00 5105.00 S: You have to have ships at the at the ocean surface with the right equipment going across every bit of ocean.

5105.00 5115.00 S: And the ocean floor is huge. It's massive. This would take decades using our current technology and infrastructure to do this.

5115.00 5122.00 S: So so far, we've only managed to actually map about 20 percent of the ocean floor, which sounds surprising, but it is true.

5122.00 5129.00 S: Meanwhile, you know, we've had satellites around Mars map 100 percent of the surface of Mars.

5129.00 5133.00 S: It's just a lot easier without miles of ocean in the way. All right.

5133.00 5144.00 S: All this means that Cuvier's Beaked Whales, the deepest diving whales, have been spotted in the Mariana Trench at depths over 6000 meters is the fiction.

5144.00 5148.00 S: No animal, no mammal can can dive that deep.

5148.00 5155.00 S: Cuvier's Beaked Whales are the deepest diving whales, however. How deep do you think these whales can dive?

5155.00 5158.00 S: Oh, half of it. I don't know. Yeah, I don't know.

5158.00 5163.00 S: Yeah, about half a little bit less than half. Less than 3000 meters is the deepest that they've been sighted.

5163.00 5167.00 S: They've been spotted at and they do that mainly to feed.

5167.00 5172.00 S: You know, they've adapted to die very, very quickly. Obviously, they can hold their breath for a very long time.

5172.00 5174.00 C: So how do they how do they not like implode?

5174.00 5179.00 S: Yeah, they've adapted to be able to to withstand the pressures at that depth.

5179.00 5183.00 S: But yeah, and of course, it's more than twice as hard to go twice as deep.

5183.00 5187.00 S: That would be require incredible adaptation to get even deeper.

5187.00 5190.00 C: It's all done with bungee cords, Cara. I see.

5190.00 5194.00 C: OK, yeah. And just like different like swim bladders.

5194.00 5197.00 J: They have actually small dive pods that they attach to their bodies.

5197.00 5200.00 E: Yeah, dive, dive, dive.

5200.00 5204.00 S: Another deep diving whale, one of my favorite animals is the sperm whale.

5204.00 5210.00 S: Sperm whales dive to feed. They can get down to between one and 2000 meters.

5210.00 5214.00 S: So quite deep, but not nearly as deep as the Nekuvia's beaked whale.

5214.00 5218.00 E: I got the answer wrong, but I was not wrong about Marianas.

5218.00 5220.00 C: You still kind of were.

5220.00 5224.00 C: No, Cara. Salt wound.

5224.00 5229.00 C: I know, but look it up. It's definitely the Marianas.

5229.00 5231.00 J: Cara, let me get this straight.

5231.00 5235.00 J: Cara, you're laughing. You're laughing at Steve when you said dive pod.

5235.00 5238.00 C: I know I said dive pod. I'm not laughing at Steve.

5238.00 5241.00 C: I'm laughing at the fight.

5241.00 5246.00 C: I'm laughing at the need for both of them to be correct.

5246.00 5250.00 S: If there's a real cultural thing there, then fine.

5250.00 5254.00 S: If one thing is objectively correct, then we'll say it that way.

5254.00 5261.00 S: But it could be more like the Neanderthal, Neanderthal thing, where it's gone back and forth.

5261.00 5264.00 S: And personally, I prefer Neanderthal.

5264.00 5268.00 S: Oh, I say Neanderthal, but nobody cares anymore.

5268.00 5270.00 S: I don't really pay that much attention anymore.

5270.00 5273.00 S: I kind of go back and forth between Neanderthal and Neanderthal.

5273.00 5275.00 S: But I do, I think, prefer Neanderthal.

5275.00 5286.00 C: I think the difference is that the Mariana Islands, which are like the boundary islands that are above the Mariana Trench, are called the Mariana Islands. There's no S.

5286.00 5288.00 E: That's because they're above water.

5288.00 5291.00 E: When you go below water, you add the S, as in sink.

5291.00 5293.00 S: That's the convention, Carrie. Did you know that?

5293.00 5294.00 C: I didn't realize.

5294.00 5296.00 E: S, as in submarine.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:28:20)[edit]

It's hard to win an argument with a smart person, but it's damn near impossible to win an argument with a stupid person.
Bill Murray, American actor & comedian

5296.00 5302.00 S: All right, Evan, give us a quote.

5302.00 5307.00 E: The quote this week was provided by someone named Kohoutek.

5307.00 5310.00 E: K-O-U-H-O-U-T-E-K.

5310.00 5312.00 E: Who knows if I pronounced that correct?

5312.00 5314.00 E: They're from Denver. I don't know.

5314.00 5316.00 E: Did we see you when we were there? Maybe.

5316.00 5318.00 E: Thanks for the suggestion. Here it is.

5318.00 5325.00 E: It's hard to win an argument with a smart person, but it's damn near impossible to win an argument with a stupid person.

5325.00 5329.00 E: Bill Murray. Comedian extraordinaire. Love Bill Murray.

5329.00 5330.00 S: That's very clever.

5330.00 5331.00 S: Very clever.

5331.00 5332.00 S: And totally true.

5332.00 5333.00 S: Witty as well.

5333.00 5335.00 S: I completely agree with that quote.

5335.00 5337.00 S: It's sadly true.

5337.00 5339.00 S: Yeah, you know, it just comes down to, you know, we could quibble about the terminology.

5339.00 5341.00 S: There's obviously being a comedian.

5341.00 5351.00 S: But if people do not use logic and evidence to find their way to a conclusion, then trying to use logic and evidence to convince them otherwise is going to be, might be literally impossible.

5351.00 5356.00 S: You may not have any common ground in order to proceed from.

5356.00 5357.00 S: So, yeah.

5357.00 5359.00 S: All right. Well, thanks a lot, Evan.

Note about episode releases & Signoff (1:29:19)[edit]

5359.00 5360.00 S: So just a quick note.

5360.00 5363.00 S: You know, we got some feedback after last show, last week's show.

5363.00 5368.00 S: We had a few emails saying, hey, why you guys put out an old episode?

5368.00 5372.00 S: You know, why am I, why am I listening to topics from two months ago?

5372.00 5374.00 S: It's like, well, because we recorded the show two months ago.

5374.00 5380.00 S: You know, yes, we occasionally will post shows that are recorded previously.

5380.00 5382.00 S: Yeah. So, I mean, here's the deal. This is what happens.

5382.00 5384.00 S: You know, we put out 52 shows a year.

5384.00 5386.00 S: We put out a show every single week.

5386.00 5390.00 S: Some weeks we're traveling. We're traveling for live events, for example.

5390.00 5397.00 S: And when we do that, it's, you know, basically impossible to record and post produce a show during a week when we're traveling.

5397.00 5403.00 S: So in order to account for that, when we usually will keep one show in the can, as it were.

5403.00 5412.00 S: So when we do record live episodes, you know, one gets, I always save one to use for the next time we travel.

5412.00 5414.00 S: So there's always that like that several month shift.

5414.00 5418.00 S: And we try to record evergreen shows when we do that.

5418.00 5421.00 S: But, you know, we can only do so much.

5421.00 5428.00 S: But then occasionally, not all that much, but occasionally people complain about the fact that we're, well, I don't like the live shows or why are you putting up old shows?

5428.00 5430.00 S: But here's the thing. You have two options.

5430.00 5439.00 S: Either we put up live shows that we recorded previously to cover the weeks when we're traveling, or you get nothing, or we put up nothing.

5439.00 5443.00 S: You know, most podcasts don't record 52 shows a year.

5443.00 5447.00 S: They take weeks off, you know, for holidays or travel or whatever.

5447.00 5449.00 S: We find a way to put up a show every single week.

5449.00 5453.00 S: And sometimes that means it's going to be a show we previously recorded.

5453.00 5458.00 E: Hey, first time writing the show, you recorded a show two months ago.

5458.00 5461.00 S: Love the show.

5461.00 5463.00 S: Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

5463.00 5465.00 S: Thank you, Steve.

5465.00 5471.00 S: And yeah, I do want to mention to the audience now is a good time to send us your recommendations for the end of the year review show.

5471.00 5473.00 S: We're going to be doing that.

5473.00 5475.00 S: The last show of every year is always a year in review.

5475.00 5482.00 S: So send us your picks for your favorite segment, your favorite interview, the funniest bit, best quotes.

5482.00 5484.00 S: Send us as much information as you can.

5484.00 5486.00 S: We'd like to review all of that at the end of the year.

5486.00 5488.00 S: It's always a lot of fun.

5488.00 5490.00 S: So that's coming up in a few weeks.

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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[7]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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