SGU Episode 860

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SGU Episode 860
January 1st 2022
2021 YIR - 860.png

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SGU 859                      SGU 861

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


IC: Ian Callanan, SGU tech-guru

Quotes of the Week/Year

— Once again, science saves the day.
The End.

— Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

first: Professor Hubert Farnsworth, fictional mad scientist
second: Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and philosopher

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella ...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella ...

J: Hey guys.

S: Evan Bernstein ...

E: (voicing an impression) "What with Christmas coming and all!" (Rogues laugh.)

S: And we have a special guest: a return to the podcast of Ian Callanan. Ian, welcome back, buddy. (Rogues cheer.)

IC: What's up guys!

E: THE Ian. Oh my Gosh.

C: He speaks!

E: I've heard about you.

IC: Yeah, I did my Youtuber intro, so I hope that works.

S: Yeah, there you go. (Bob and Cara laugh.) Ian is our tech-guru. He's our right-hand man for everything in terms of making the show actually function. And—

IC: —Left for Jay, though.


S: Yeah.

IC: Cause he is left-handed, never mind, sorry.

S: Jay's left hand. And you did the year end review with us last year.

IC: True.

S: So this is now the second year in a row, so it's officially a tradition.

IC: That's right. You even invited me on after the watermelon incident. Which is—

S: —I did.

IC: —something. (Cara laughs.)

B: Yeah we talked about that. We debated…

S: I had to think about it. (Ian and Evan laugh.) Had to give it some time. I love how when we do our live streaming events now, Ian is always this disembodied voice, right, who never shows his face on anything [indiscernible].

B: Ever!

IC: Truth.

S: But—

E: —Ever.

S: —Ian's official emoji is the watermelon. That's Ian, is the watermelon. (Ian laughs.)

C: Well, yeah.

J: Watermelon!

E: That's it. That's it. Gallagher and Ian.

S: If you don't know what we are talking about, during the 12-hour show, it was like comically perfect. We couldn't have made this happen if we tried to. (Rogues laugh.) We were going to—we had on a guest who was in their forge, and they have a press, and they were crushing different things. And they were just about to crush a watermelon when Ian hit a button accidentally, and we went to some other video and we missed it.

IC: No, it was the internet.

S: It was a one time live event.

C: Oh it was the internet, huh?

J: Yeah, the "Internet" did it.

IC: Yeah, uh…I slipped and fell, sort of. You can go watch it. It's still available, so we don't have to go through it too much anymore, thank you.

(Rogues laugh.)

J: Spectacular.

S: It was spectacular, yeah.

E: It's not like we were building up all day to that moment—

IC: —Yeah, really.

E: —or anything like that.

S: But the thing is, it was like, it turned out to be funnier than if we just watched the watermelon get crushed. You know what I mean?

E: True.

S: It was epic. It was epic.

J: The thing about it was, it was literally like Steve said: the timing couldn't have been more perfect. It was like you were about to see something. You know exactly what you were about to see, and the second it was about to begin, it got pulled away from all of us.

IC: Yeah.

J: So everybody was sitting there going, "Huuuh!?"

C: Oh, and it's not like it just got pulled away; he came back right after it was over.

(Rogues laugh.)

IC: The second after.

E: Oh my god, it's true.

IC: What can I say, I'm a comedic genius, I'm sorry, just can't help it. It's natural.

B: Yes, Ian, you are. And from my point of view, you just gotta, just roll with this, because I've been living with similar accolades, if you will, for many years after the first time I ever said "Hello" on episode 1 way back in, what—

J: —Hellooooo.

E: —2005.

B: —1812.

S: Literal first word on the SGU.

E: 2005.

S: It's infamous.

B: First word! I still think Steve edited it, and that's not what was really said. (Rogues laugh.) You just gotta roll with it, man.

IC: Ok, thank you.

E: Ian, it's not like things like this have legs. There's a thing called the Heidi Game, the Heidi incident, in professional sports—

J: —Heidi heigh!

E: —The Jets are playing the Oakland Raiders on national television on a Sunday with those millions of people watching, and it's a big, exciting game, right down to the last play, and they switched it over to see Heidi.

(Cara laughs.)

S: Oh yeah.

E: Classic old Heidi movie.

B: Oh my god.

E: And the country went crazy over it, and it's forever known as The Heidi Incident so, it's—you know, and that was 1972. So within—

C: —Yeah, everybody totally forgot.

IC: Oh yeah, so it only lasted 50-some-odd years. Forty-nine years?

E: I just had to remind everyone. So yeah, you're good for about 50 years—

IC: —(dramatic sigh) Okay. Perfect.

E: —and people'll forget it.

C: Oh yeah, that's 50 years, by the way. Just as a nice reminder, everybody, that 1972 was FIFTY freaking years ago.

E: Oh, some of us were there. (Rogues laugh.)

S: So, this is our Year-in-Review show. We're gonna look back at 2021. The good, the bad; science, pseudoscience, at how the SGU did, our funniest moments. If this were a TV show, this would be a flashback episode. Do you guys watch those flashbacks? Like, sometimes when I see, "Oh, this is a flashback episode," I just turn the channel. Do you guys?

C: Me too. I skip it. (laughs)

(Rogues laugh.)

IC: Or if the do the (mimicking flashback trills) "duh-duh-loop, duh-duh-loop, duh-duh-loop"!

(Bob laughs.)

E: (laughing) Wayne's World.

IC: Excellent.

C: But the difference is, this is more like the {director's cut. Because in those shows, they're just repackaging old footage, which is annoying. But what we're doing is we are talking about all the old stuff.

S: Yeah. That's right.

C: We're not just gonna play old clips.

S: Yeah. "Here's a clip from March"… yeah, we're now gonna do that.

E: Here's something you've already listened to.

B: Awesome.

Year in Science (05:03)[edit]

S: Why don't we get started with some looking back on 2021, the Year in Science. A lot of stuff happened, a lot of cool stuff, a lot of interesting things.

E: Oh yeah.

S: Let's start with space news. What do you guys think the biggest space news of the year was?

Space News ()[edit]

C: The billionaire space race!

J: James Webb.

E: That was one of them. Perseverance on Mars?

S: I put Perseverance as my number one choice.

B: Yeah, that's pretty big.

C: You think that was the, like—I guess how do you define biggest? Like, probably most important, okay. I don't know, time will tell...

S: Choose your criteria.

IC: Shatner in space.

S: (echo voice) Shatner in space.

C: Right, but I think the most popular—what got the most coverage? Definitely the billionaire space race and the penis rockets.

IC: Yeah.

E: Sure.

S: The penis rocket was big.

J: —Let's talk about—

IC: Hey, average.

S: The space tourism in general, billionaires in space. But yeah, William Shatner in space was, was special. That was great PR for the whole—

E: —Oh yes.

S: —space tourism thing.

J: What meant the most for science and to progress, right?

S: Oh I think that, you know, I think Perseverance, but also this is the year where it really felt like we were turning the corner on, "Yeah, we're going back to the moon." Like that's happening.

E: Mm-hmm.

S: The timeline got "delayed." The original timeline was what 20...?

E: 2028.

S: 2028. And then it was arbitrarily moved up to 2024 for no reason and nobody thought they were going to do it. And now they are like, "Well, yeah, we're gonna push it back to 2025." So even if it does happen in 2025 it's still three years ahead of the original schedule.

E: Yeah, the Artemis program.

S: Yeah, they chose a lander. They're gonna use SpaceX star ship as their lunar lander. They're making progress on the space suits. Everything is coming together. Yeah, it really looks like it's gonna happen. So, that's exciting. This is going to be the decade we get back to the Moon.

B: Goddamn, man, it also sucks.


S: Why does it suck?

C: Bob, ever the optimist!

B: It's 2021 and we haven't been on the Moon for how many decades!? It's just mind-boggling.

S: Five.

B: If you said, if you went back to the mid seventies and said "We're not gonna go back to the f--ing Moon until the 2020s," you would say, "You're full of crap. Stop lying. That's ridiculous." Nobody would ever believe that. And here we are. It's just mind-boggling that it's been decades, and we haven't been back to the Moon.

E: We have fifty years of better technology now than we had then, that we would have used in the late 70s to go back to the Moon.

B: It's better. It's better. But it's not so much that we built on that technology. That technology is gone. It's done. You can't even recreate it. It's almost impossible to recreate that technology. Do you think we can build a Saturn V now? No. To even try that would be ridiculous. So in a way, it's kind of like we are reinventing the wheel in some ways. It's not a perfect analogy because the technology—sure, it's better. It's definitely better and more sophisticated and everything. But it's just frustrating that there hasn't been continuous development. [We're] just restarting you know restarting the whole trip to the Moon. And who knows? Hey, we got lucky in a lot of ways in the late '60s. And I hope we get lucky this time too, because it's not a no-brainier that's it's gonna be flawless, not at all. Because there's gonna be people involved. Think of all the screwed up landings on Mars. I mean, that's a horrible percentage. If you—

S: —Yeah, but Bob, the tolerances for crewed craft are a lot tighter─

B: —True.

S: ─than for robotic craft.

B: Yeah, right, and when things go bad, it goes really bad.

S: Of course.

B: I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed.

S: But you can't extrapolate from our success rate with lunar—with Mars landers to our success rate with crewed craft. You can't make the comparison.

E: They're different.

B: No, it's not a direct extrapolation, but it's damned difficult. It's damned difficult.

S: Of course it is.

B: And we all know how lucky we got in the late '60s, and I think we're gonna need a little bit of luck to pull this off flawlessly. Everyone really, I think, expects it to be a no-brainier. This is gonna be great. There's not gonna be any problems.

E: Yeah.

B: You know, shit can go wrong. So I'm gonna be crossing my fingers.

E: Well, that's always true.

S: In the twenty years, how many crewed missions have we sent to the ISS to swap out crew? There haven't been any problems. We have pretty good success rate.

B: Going to an orbiting station? And you're comparing it to landing on the Moon—

S: —I'm just saying.

B: —staying safe—and then staying safe from the radiation, and then you know going into—

S: —It's rocket technology.

B: It's more than rocket technology.

E: (laughs)

S: We're getting pretty good at it.

E: It's not brain surgery.

B: Steve, it's a helluva lot more than just getting from A to B.

S: I know.

B: They're gonna be hanging out there, and they're going to be doing shit. I'm just saying my fingers are gonna be crossed, and it's about f-ing time that we're seriously getting back there. (Evan laughs.)

S: I know, and 2001 [A Space Odyssey] seemed plausible for us at the time.


B: I know, yeah, and it's classic, because you overestimate near-term and underestimate far-term, and that's kind of the way things go. [indiscernible]

S: But be optimistic, Bob. The whole point of this discussion─

B: —Oh screw that.

S: ─is to be optimistic. Now we're going back to the Moon; forget about how long it took. You can also think about the fact that even though it took a long time, the technology we have today is much better. If we tried to do this back in the '80s or the '90s, it would have been a lot harder than it is today. So it's like waiting to buy a computer: the longer you wait, the longer you would have to go without a computer, but when you do get one, the better it is for less money.

B: I want my Moon Base Alpha.

C: (laughs) So upset.

E: Well, Shatner had to go into space first. And he did that, so now that's one.

B: Cara, you're still in your 30s. I'm in my late 50s, you know? I don't have much time left. I want to see some shit happen.

C: Well, you know me. I don't really think there should be [traipsing] around the Moon.

B: Oh don't even go there.

C: (laughs)

E: She's not. She's not going there.

C: I'm cool with all these robot missions.

B: Yeah, me too. I love them too. (chanting) Robots!

C: (chanting) Robots!

E: (chanting) Perseverance!

COVID-19 ()[edit]

S: Of course, the other huge category of news items was Covid. Some weeks it seems that the news is all "Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid." It's hard to find non-Covid news. It is sucking up all the oxygen out of the room. But some things happened. You think about where we were at the beginning of 2021.

B: Yeah, not good.

S: No vaccines, basically. Vaccines were just coming up, but there really wasn't any significant distribution of them. But we also weren't contending with any new variants. So, on the good side, a lot of people have been vaccinated, and we have tons of vaccines available.

B: Eight billion doses we've made. Eight billion doses have been made.

C: Well Steve, in our very first episode of 2021—so that was January 2nd, 2021—the first news item was that there was a new SARS-CoV-2 variant.

S: Yeah.

C: Right at the beginning.

S: We started the year of vaccines and the year of variants. So the Alpha variant, the Beta variant. Those were kind of fizzles. They didn't really do much. They were a little bit worse, but the vaccine's still covering them. And then we kept talking about that any variant—the next one could be it. Then the Delta hit, and Delta was a game-changer.

'C: Yeah, Delta wiped us out.

B: Yeah.

S: That's when we—Over the summer, we thought that Covid was maybe turning the corner, we're getting back to normality, and then, boom, the Delta variant hit. Delta variant is like six times more contagious than the original variant, and now we have Omicron, which is three times more contagious than Delta. It's even worse in terms of infectivity. Not worse—

C: —And our vaccines are not as nearly as good.

S: And it's partially evasive to the vaccine. Although if you get boosted, you're still covered, but each variant seems to be worse, drifting farther and farther [inaudible]─

B: But, Steve, you know, you shouldn't really be that pessimistic, dude. (Steve laughs) For me, for me─

E: Wow, yeah Bob.

B: ─my top science news for 2021 was mRNA vaccines. To me, that's the beast in the room right there. So I looked at it. Who's the first guy that did it or first person who did it? Do you know? I didn't know. Robert Malone at the Salk Institute. He was a grad student. He mixed some strands of messenger RNA with some droplets of fat. I personally think that he was high and looking for something weird to eat. So he realized that this concoction was absorbed by cells, and mRNA then begin producing proteins. He realized, he was like, "Damn. This is gonna be something. This could be important." He wrote notes, and he signed and dated them. And he said something like, "This could allow us to treat RNA as a drug." And then just a little bit later in 1988, he was the first person to actually use them, use this fatty droplets to insert mRNA into a living organism. And in this case it was a frog embryo. And it worked.

S: And he made dinosaurs?


B: And that's the first time it happened, back in 1988─

E: "We have a T-rex."

B: ─so I think this is an amazing—that's a milestone in scientific history right there.

C: But to be fair...

B: Yes?

C: As amazing as his initial research was, two things: number one, some incredible people built on this and made it possible.

E: Oh yes.

C: Incredible people.

B: Of course.

C: Time magazine─

B: —He just started it.

C: ─yeah, he just started it. Time magazine did a really good kind a feature on four of the most prominent vaccine scientists who brought this to life. And also, Robert Malone, not somebody who you wanna listen to now. Not sure if you are aware, but he─

B: —Really?

C: ─oh, he has run the gamut. He has gone on the Steve Bannon podcast, the Tucker Carlson podcast.

B: Oh my god!

C: He's claiming now that the mRNA vaccines that are on the market might actually make your infection worse. It's very scary.

B: That is horrific.

S: Gone off the reservation.

B: What the hell, man!

C: He's gone off the reservation.

E: Jumped the ship.

C: Yeah, he is a misinformation peddler now. What a bummer!

B: Wow, that's really disappointing.

S: Yeah, it's kind of our whole modern society in one person: invents amazing new technology that led to these vaccines and now is spreading misinformation. That's perfect.

C: Mm-hmm.

E: Yeah. It's not the first time it happened.

S: No, no. Unfortunately.

E: But did you guys read about—at they did a special article about the vaccinations themselves, and this one was actually my—one of [my] heroes, actually, of the year is the entire community of scientists, doctors, and everyone else contributing to the vaccine research. I'm just gonna read you this blurb: "Researchers are developing more than 300 Covid-19 vaccines in addition to the 23 already in use around the world. 84 are in early stage clinical trails, and 40 are at much later stages of development." And that's from practically zero to begin the year with, you know, with just a handful of these things. So the advancement in 2021 of vaccine understanding technology and research has been warp-speed, no doubt about it.

C: Oh yeah.

S: And this year we have two drugs now that are towards the end of the pipeline: the Molnupiravir and the Paxlovid, which are antivirals effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And they prevent 100% of deaths in the trials.

E: The tools are coming in which we will much, much better deal with this.

C: And the thing is, yes, the tools are coming, but the tools are also already here. And that's something that I think is such an important part of the conversation that's maybe a little bit missing, and I'm curious what you guys think about this. You know, I recently had a gathering with some friends. We were all negative. We all took antigen tests. Everybody was negative, and then a friend came down as positive within a couple of days. And I see a wide range of resulting conversations, like chatter, from very, very intelligent and─

E: —Informed people.

C: ─informed people, yes. All the way from "I'm not that worried because I'm boosted" to "Guys, guys, it's—we're not out of the woods. It's really, really bad. Cancel all your plans. Be very, very, you know—we really shouldn't be out in public, and bla bla bla." And what I worry is that there's not a sort of nuanced in-between point, and I think this might be—I'm curious what do you guys think about this—a sort of cognitive bias, where we develop a baseline of concern early on in something like a global pandemic. So we remember back when we were, like, bleaching our groceries, right? Like, nobody knew what was going on. And we had a baseline of concern. And then, things start to get a little better. We let our guard down. And then something happens like Delta, and instead of iterating to a new baseline, we go back to our previous baseline.

S: Mm-hmm.

C: And I think I'm seeing that a lot with people where they're like, "It's not over, so we need to be just as vigilant as we were at the beginning." And I'm not saying we shouldn't be vigilant, but we do have vaccines now. We do have medication now that we didn't have previously. We have—we're able to get PPE, which we weren't able to do before.

S: We're definitely in a much better situation, and we're not doing the level of caution that we were early on. You're right, there is an anchoring bias, I think─

C: —Right.

S: ─in terms of where you started off. Totally.

C: And, it worries me, because people aren't living their lives, and I'm really afraid of the mental health consequences of this. Like they're not finding the doing the risk-benefit analysis and finding a medium [level] that works for them.

S: Right, I think if you are vaccinated and boosted—like you're fully protected—and you're not in a super high risk population, then you can, you know, go back to mostly normal life. You may wanna wear a mask in certain situations. That's pretty much it.

C: Yeah, and here in California you have to. It's mandated anyway. You're wearing a mask when you're in public. [Steve says something to the effect of "Yeah, in Connecticut, too."]

B: When you're in Florida, you're strongly urged not to.

C: (laughs)

B: I talked with somebody who lives down there, he was like, "Yeah, nobody wears masks. Nobody."

C: Oh, that's so scary.

S: I gotta tell you—I work at a hospital, so that's my barometer for how bad the things are going, at least regionally. And it's been very accurate. When the hospital is like, "All right guys, we're going into crisis protocol," with regard to Covid, that's always at the beginning of a massive wave in the area. And we are just going into that right now. So I was just—the last two weeks I was doing inpatient consult service. [The] Hospital is overwhelmed. Yale is overwhelmed. I mean, we're dealing with it, but it's full. The hospital is full. People in the emergency room—you could be waiting there for a day to get admitted to the hospital. Most of our patients we were treating in the emergency room, lot of unhappy patients. But, you know…

B: [There are] Headlines today in the paper, Steve, saying in Connecticut since early November, Covid hospitalizations have quadrupled.

S: I know, that what it feels like. This is at the very beginning of the Omicron wave.

C: Yeah, this is real.

S: Oh it's real, it's real. And that means that you need to step up your precautions at least one or two notches, no question. We're not going into lockdown. We're not doing the things we were doing at the very, very beginning when we didn't know.

C: But some places are. I think UK is because Omicron is just rampant in the UK right now. And there are you know─

E: —Some cities are taking measures.

C: Yeah, there are new closures. All sorts of things are happening, but I think the issue here it's not hell or heaven─

S: —It's somewhere in between.

C: ─it's somewhere in between. And so it's, like, new available evidence, iterate, new available evidence, iterate. It's the only way we're gonna get through this without, you know, really destroying our mental health.

S: Cara, you're saying we should take a Bayesian approach to the event, to the pandemic?

C: I am! (Cara and Evan laugh.)

J: Cara, of course we all agree with you, but the core problem is, in the United States particularly, you know, half the population is science-inert. Like, they are not factoring in the science. They don't trust the science. They are eschewing expertise. How do we as a society function as a society when we don't operate as a cohesive society?

C: The good news is, it's not half. It really isn't. We're seeing numbers close to 50% in only the most extreme states here in the US. When you actually look at the percentage of the state that's vaccinated, in certain states, yes, it's close to 50%, and in many other states it's much higher than that. And so that's the good news. I think it feels sometimes like it's 50% because the news likes, or we all like to talk about that, 'cause it is a real problem. But, you know, when you actually break it down by population, what 75+, 84% of the US population is fully vaccinated.

B: Yeah, but if you look at it globally—I think the number I saw today was 57%, which is kinda pathetic.

C: It's scary, but that also is not just about anti-vax rhetoric. So much about the global is about access.

B: Oh yeah, absolutely not, exactly.

C: Yeah, geopolitics.

IC: Sorry, does "fully vaccinated" mean two shots or boosted now?

S: Boosted.

B: Two shots.

E: Oh!

C: I think it depends on where you're looking.

S: With Omicron it means you're boosted.

IC: Right, okay.

C: Yeah, when we say "fully vaccinated" now, we should be referring to "including your booster." Which again, here in the US, anybody can just go get for free. You just go. But you're right, Jay, I mean it is—obviously that's the big problem, and I think that's why it's one of the big news items of the year. Like number one, it's the progress we've made in fighting against this pandemic, and then on the exact equal and opposite pole of that, what are we covering week after week after week? Vaccine misinformation. And all of the efforts to fight against it. I mean, I think that's by far the number one news item of the year is just all of the efforts going into trying to prevent good public health.

Global Warming (22:55)[edit]

S: Although, let's move to a happier topic─

C: Yes, please.

S: ─global warming. Let's talk about global warming.

IC: (small voice, halfheartedly) Woo-hoo!

C: Oh god. Steve. (laughs)

S: Cause this is also a big science news.

C: Bait and switch.

S: [indiscernible]

E: It was, like, 50°F today in Connecticut. I love this.

B: We had warmest [the] December that I can remember.

IC: We could grow bananas.

E: Grow bananas? Like Gros Michel bananas?

IC:' Pretty soon!

J: Gotta try again, Steve.

IC: It's happening.

S: Yeah, absolutely, I have my planters ready to go. So this year we had the IPCC number 6 report—so the updated report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—updating the review of the science about climate change. We also had the COP26 meeting, where world governments got together to talk about whether or not they should do something, with an inconclusive outcome. (sarcastically) Yay! And it's also a year of extreme weather events─

E: —Extreme nastiness.

S: ─and trying to make sense of what these extreme weather events mean. We're in, I think, a different position than we were a year ago with global warming. I think it's more on everyone's radar. I think the evidence—again, it's still coming in—it's absolutely clear, that man-made global warming is a thing. It's happening, and we gotta do something about it. But I don’t think we've crossed the tipping point of political will where we actually are doing something about it. Certainly in the US.

B: I don't think we ever will.

S: Yeah, we might not. I think, if I had to predict, this is my pessimistic topic. If I had to predict, I would say what's likely going to happen is that most governments are going to do little things where they’re nibbling around the edges, but not gonna really make significant difference in the course of global warming. But we are going to—you know, technology will advance until eventually technology will solve the problem, in that it will allow us to reduce our carbon emissions. But it will be too late to avoid─

C: —Yeah, but not before a ton of people die. A ton of people are displaced.

S: Yeah, it's gonna be, we're gonna blow past 1.5°C. We're probably gonna blow past 2.0°C above, you know, pre-technological baseline temperatures.

B: I can make a worse prediction.

S: And we'll see what happens.

E: Oh, it could be worse.

B: I'll tell ya!

S: Really the only question at this point is, you know, is the tipping points, which we can’t really predict. You know, will the Antarctic ice sheet fall into the ocean? You know, that kind of thing. If it does, we're pretty screwed. You know, if we dodge that bullet it’s not gonna be as bad, but you know, we'll find out in a hundred years. I predict, yeah, we're not going to successfully do what we state we should do, which is keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Not gonna happen! We don't have the political will. What's your worse prediction Bob?

B: Worse, in 20 years, it's so obviously getting really bad, and countries are getting desperate, and some country takes on a geoengineering scale-effort to deal with it, and they screw up. And then—'cause if you're involved in something at the geo scale, where, like say you're seeding the clouds to—and you screw up, and you can't reverse it, you can't turn it off. It's like, "Oh boy, we made a mistake!"

J: Give us an example. I'm not clear on what you’re—

S: Then we get Snowpiercer. You guys see that show, Snowpiercer?

IC: Yep.


E: It's a train, yeah.

S: They tried to fix global warming, and they plunged the planet into an ice age.

B: There you go, Jay, that's an example. You do something [inaudible] dramatic scale, that the worse case scenario is altering the environment of the Earth, increasing the effect dramatically.

S: I know! Let's push the Earth a little bit further away from the Sun. What could go wrong?

E: That was an episode of Futurama.

C: But the thing, Bob, that I think is like, yeah, that might happen. You're right. That could be a "worst case scenario," but I think the thing that we often forget, because it's too existentially painful to think about, is that we did that. We just don't see it happening on the timescale. Like you're talking about overnight but like this is happening overnight in a geologic sense.

B: Yes, oh absolutely.

S: Totally.

C: Like it is that bad already. There’s almost kind of nothing worse. Like, yes, it could always get worse, but like, lots of people are gonna die. That’s where we're at.

E: Lots of animals are gonna die. Lots of vegetation is going to die.

C: Oh, of course. I mean that's why the people die, right, is because─

E: —The whole chain goes down.

C: Yeah, it's because of drought. It's because of famine. It's because of displacement. It's because of sea level rise. It's because of disease and pestilence and pandemics, and you know all of these things are directly related to climate change.

E: Oh sure.

S: We spoke on the show that aired last week—this is our Fort Collins private show that we did—about how fragile our civilization is. Like look what happened when 20%—we started pooping 20% more at home than at work, and how that disrupted the toilet paper supply chain, whatever. But think about how disruptive global warming is going to be. I think the most disruptive aspect of it is going to be the climate refugees.

B: Exactly.

C: Of course.

S: What's gonna happen when we have hundreds of millions of people who no longer can live where they're living? They're gonna go somewhere. They’re not gonna just stay there and die.

C: Yeah, we can't handle the hundreds of thousands of refugees we see now.

S: Right.

C: What happens when that's order of magnitude or two more?

S: That's going to be massively disruptive, and then growing locations are going to shift, but our infrastructure is not going to easily shift along with it, you know. What happens when North American bread basket moves from [the United States of] America to Canada, just as an example? It's going to be extremely disruptive to food production and food supply lines, and then of course coastal cities are going to—we’re not budgeted for the damage that's gonna be happening to coastal cities.

B: Yeah, basically go Disney World when you can, folks. (Cara laughs.)

J: I mean I would imagine, Steve, that sometimes the right thing to do might be to just quit on that city and go somewhere else.

S: Yeah, but then there's millions of more refugees, right? That's not going to be─

C: —Yeah, where would they go?

S: ─look what happened with Katrina and how disruptive that was, and people were able to go back. What if they could never go back and New Orleans was gone?

B: To be absorbed elsewhere.

S: They would have to be absorbed, yeah, but it's not, it's not just New Orleans, it's 20 coastal cities all at once.

B: Right. When do you think the excrement gonna hit the spinning blades really hard, like, when do you think we're gonna start seeing that level...

E: —Within a hundred years.

C: —I think the question is—that is the question that is completely based on perspective. It depends on who you are and where you live. The excrement is hitting the spinning blades for shitload of people right now! It's just we're protected.

B: But that’s not my point.

S: Yeah, we’re fine. I live in the hills of Connecticut.

B: When I say shit hitting the fan, I'm talking like Steve said, a hundred million climate refugees. That’s not happening now. I’m talking about when, but when...

C: It happens slowly but surely. It doesn't happen overnight. That's the whole point.

S: Yeah, there's not gonna be like one line when now it's really happening.

J: Yeah, but Bob, you're missing the point. Bob's saying: "What is it gonna be? Five years, ten years?"─

B: Right.

J: ─Ten years until we hit something that's unavoidably—I know that we're slowly─

C: —Yeah, there's no "hitting anything." It's that every year we look in hindsight and go, "Holy shit! How did it get this bad?"

S: Yeah.

B So Steve, then how about this? Steve, you say a hundred million climate refugees.What do you mean, then? Is it gonna be 5 million a year for 20 years or is it gonna be... is there gonna be a year when there's gonna be 100 million? What are you talking about then?

S: I don't know.

B: Well that's what I'm asking.

S: Yeah but these are the things that nobody can predict.

C: Yes, those are unanswerable questions.

S: That's too granular. It's too granular, Bob.

B: I'm looking for order of magnitude, I'm talking, you're talking 20 years or a 500 years?

C: Not, it's not 500.

S: I wouldn’t—no, no—I think it's probably closer to 20 years, you know, before—we’re gonna start— we're already seeing climate refugees. We're gonna start getting into the millions probably within 20 or 30 years. Again, it depends on variables that even scientists are like, "Yep, here's the range of problems─

B: —Sure.

S: There's two things that I think are gonna really from reading what the scientists say that are gonna drive the climate refugees. One is just that some parts of the world are gonna get too hot to live. They're gonna have unsurvivably hot days more and more frequently.

B: Like, today they may have six or seven days a year where it's over a 120°F, and it's incredibly horrible, and people die. But we're gonna transition; those countries are gonna transition to 30, 60, 70 days like that. Where it's basically, you can't live there anymore. You just basically cannot live in that area, and that's when you have to get out.

E: Yeah, it becomes Death Valley.

C: Or even, sorry to interject, but or even places where, for example, it may be livable, but the infrastructure—so it's not—we’re not talking 120°F. Maybe we're talking 100°F. But nobody in that town ever had air conditioning put into their home. It just wasn't built that way, and so we do see these boundary problems as well. It's not always the most extreme version.

S: Then the other thing I think that's gonna do it is the coastal cities are gonna get too dangerous from sea rise.

C: And we are already seeing that. We’re seeing sea water flooding in Bangladesh where the crops aren't growing because they are getting saturated with salt water, and they can't withstand that increase in their salination, and we're seeing yeah, creep. We're seeing creep in on the coast lines. And even—there are islands, I mean, there are islands in the Maldives. There are islands in—like, atolls kind of in the middle of the Pacific—where the island is sandbagged. And soon those sand bags won't be enough to keep it above the sea level. Like the whole thing is just gonna disappear. I mean it's happening before our eyes right now; it’s just very remote from us.

B: Yeah, I mean, and that's kinda the point: we’re rapidly approaching the time when figuring it out is irrelevant, 'cause it's like the die is cast, kids. It's gonna happen. It's gonna be horrible. We can just mitigate. We can mitigate levels of horribleness.

S: For balance—'cause I do think it's gonna suck. There's no way around it. It's already sucking. It’s gonna suck a lot more before we really turn this ship around. On the other hand, technology is advancing faster than I thought it was, you know, like really, really nicely in terms of renewable energy, grid storage, even nuclear technology, electric cars. We are going to—I think in 20-30 years our energy infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure is gonna be awesome. Just because technology is advancing and it will continue to advance, and that's really the only thing we got going for us. And the thing is, politicians really can't do much about that. They could make it happen a little faster─

C: —In our country you mean. In a country with a kind of democracy we have set up.

S: Absolutely. Industrialized nations, I will say. In the poorer nations, they basically need our help so that they could bypass coal and get to cleaner energy quicker. That could make a huge difference, so policy can make a huge difference in countries that can't afford to do it on their own. And that's a good investment because that's gonna save trillions of dollars in climate change induced costs.

C: Much like healthcare, much like education, the ROI isn't obvious at first. It doesn't realize at first. We’ve got a great ROI down the line, but there's not always a good economic argument for, you know, keeping people alive! For health and wellness.

S: We definitely have to shift—our country was doing best when we were able to make long term investments. And the reason—part of the reason for our success economically, etc., is because we did. We made massive, long term investments in education, in technology, in infrastructure. And we gotta get back to that mode of doing things, you know. We’ve been out of it for a long time.

B: We've been living off of that for too long.

S: You know, at the end of the day, I wouldn't be surprised it makes almost all the political wrangling makes almost no difference in where we end up in 50 years, you know.

C: Yeah, and where we end up in 50 years is a complicated question of our health and our wellness, of our survival, but it's also question of where is our government? Where is our society in 50 years? 'Cause I think that's gonna be affected as well.

S: I agree, and that has a lot to do with technology itself. It has a lot to do with social media, the internet. We've talked a lot this year about how the social media interacts and effects the flow of information and people's belief systems. And I do see and I've written about a number of articles over the course of this year. I do think, at least scientifically, we're starting to get a handle on the negative effect that social media and big internet computer companies have on society and on politics. You can argue that the internet broke democracy. You could make that argument, and it's a reasonable argument and highly defensible. And we're gonna need to figure out how to adapt to this brave new world that we find ourselves in. You know 15, 20 years ago, like "Yay! Social media! It's democratizing information and helping people communicate, and all this wonderful stuff is gonna happen! I can go shopping online!" And then we've seen people close to us get sucked into this vortex of misinformation—

E: —Phew. Gone!

S: —and it’s—we are living in a dystopian future if you compare it to 20 years ago. We are living in the social media dystopian future we never really believed we were gonna get to.

C: One of my favorite news stories of the year was the news stories—I don't remember if I covered it, or somebody else did—about how the top, like the vast majority of misinformation on the internet around Covid and vaccines comes from 12 people!

S: Yeah, the "Dirty Dozen" of Covid misinformation and vaccine misinformation.

E: [indiscernible]

C: And that's the thing we're seeing over and over. There's undue influence on the internet.

S: We basically gave psychopaths and con-artists the keys to the kingdom, is what happened.

C: Yes!

S: We had no way of managing that, and we don’t—we still really don't, you know. We’re maybe a little bit more savvy about it, some of us, but honestly—

E: —Nah. The cow left the barn.

S: I mean just think about how many people believe demonstrably absurd things and how disconnected we are.

E: And it's not like people didn't have those sort of thoughts before, but it's just so amplified.

B: On steroids. It's been amplified.

C: Yeah, it's subjectively worse.

E: It turned into a monster beyond control.

B: And it's partly because of something we've been talking about since day one. It's the lack of critical thinking skills, which is critical. I mean evaluating—imagine if people were—everyone was well-versed in evaluating evidence. Where would we be? If that was, just that—I think we'd be in a much better place, and we're not gonna get there until something like that happens or there's much more oversight.

S: Education’s always the best option. You know we had that trifecta of scientific literacy, media savvy, and critical thinking skills. We're always trying to push those three things, and we're suffering now because we have a significant lack of those three things in our society, and people are overwhelmed with not only misinformation, with misinformation that's curated for them by an artificially intelligent algorithm that knows them better than they do. We have algorithms that have been optimized to predict what you're going to buy and that same technology is being used to predict what you want to watch and what you want to read, and it's created this belief system feedback loop that is exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology─

B: —Like the people believe that the Earth is flat?

S: Yeah, people are [indiscernible].

E: —A psychological perpetual motion machine.

B: —and other weird things.

C: It's like we have to add something to the trifecta, you know. You said there's the critical thinking, internet literacy, and what was the other one?

S: Scientific literacy.

C: Scientific literacy, sorry, and media training, or media literacy.

S: Media savvy, yeah.

C: It's like, we have to add accountability. Like we have to hold the individual actors accountable who are intentionally, for very often political gain, forcing misinformation, and we're not.

S: Ian, you’re our social media expert: what do you think about all this?

IC: (laughs)

B: Solve this. Solve this, please.

IC: Uh, yeah, I don’t—I'm not sure what the solution is. I mean, we don't have enough oversight, I guess, over the big tech companies, and some of them are external to the US. I mean, the Tik-Tok algorithm is "awesome," 'cause it delivers such interesting content, and I'll say it later, but there's couple people on Tik-Tok that are doing science and they're great, but it also is fueling pseudoscience…beyond measure. So like, you know, the Gen Zs are all inundated with it, and I'm not sure what the thing is. Obviously, again, it’s the political will. Will we actually be able to enforce these companies to ban this like really dangerous "speech," if you wanna label it that. I don't know, does that break the Freedom of Speech thing? I don't think so with you know, private companies, but─

B: —Correct.

IC: —How do we get that with our political power to say 'hey, can you tell this private company to maybe they need to like figure that out?'. Especially given what is it, section 1.40 or whatever that like keeps them from being sued. Have we kinda shot ourselves in the foot in that situation?

C: Of course.

E: 2.30 I believe is the...

IC: Or is it 2.30 I'm sorry, not 1.40.

C: It's like a boxing match, or like a tournament. You can't just let one guy bring a shank into the ring. All the rules get broke, of course that guy is gonna win every time. And when you look at the algorithms of like is the great science content or the misinformation rising to the top, well, the people who just don't play by the rules very easily can overtake the entire system.

IC: Right.

S: Cara let me ask you a question, what's more deadly a shank or a shiv?

C: Oh, I don't know, what's the difference between shank and a shiv?

S: I think you shank somebody with a shiv.

IC: I think shank is the action.

C: Oh, you might be right you don't bring the shank, oh god.

E: One's a verb, one's a noun.

C: I just made the fatal error like when people say 'uu, I need to itch that', it makes me insane.

S: Yeah, to itch that scratch.


B: You just made a few people insane in our audience.

C: Oh, I'm so sorry you guys I know how painful that can be, it's like when somebody brings a shiv into a boxing match.

S: There you go.

C: Thank you. (laughs)

S: All right, let's pivot to some positive technology news.

IC: Oh god.


IC: Bait and switch.

S: I looked through the news items to try to say what do I think was the again in retrospect when we look back on 2021 what was like a real turning point kinda technology. I think, so two things top my list you guys tell me what's on your list. One was CRISPRoff, remember the CRISPRoff thing?

E: Oh yeah.

C: Yeah that was cool.

S: We could flip genes on and off reversibly and just the potential there just seem so amazing for research and therapeutics. And it also, it's just my representation of just the incredible advances in the genetic technology and CRISPR specifically and you know it is, we are on the steep part of the curve and it's still going, like it's still going, we're still learning like more incredible technology in terms of genetic manipulation. So far, and I think I know I am very optimistic about genetic technology. I don;t think we're gonna abuse it. I think the worse fears─

B: That's adorable

S: Probably not gonna happen, I think because we do, cause it is happening mainly within, you know, medical technology.

C: Yeah, where people are abiding by agreed upon ethics.

S: Right, and we're already seeing medical advances in treatment and everything, we're seeing the benefits of it, you know, it's happening so that's maybe my top list. The other thing that was kinda in the background, we only talked about it a little bit on the show, but over the course of the year I've seen a number of significant advances in quantum computing.

B: Yeah.

C: Mhm, yeah. That's making a lot of like top 10 lists.

S: Yeah, it is, cause I've seen a lot of it, we haven't talked about it every time it's like, oh we can miniaturize this quantum computing chip, that's interesting. All this little obstacles are starting to fall─

B: Yeah, error correcting, it's coming together.

S: Error correcting, it's still may not come to it's you know optimistic fruition, there still may be a deal killer lurking in there that we can't figure out, but the rate at which they are finding solutions to quantum computing problems is very encouraging and I think we may be getting close to this turning point where that's gonna start to become a major player in technology.

B: Yeah I really think so I think quantum computing clearly has quite a future ahead of it and it's the possibilities are really just a mind-blowing but, and I like in that Steve, you know what you just said to I like [inaudible] if you track it for the past year I think it really seems like, you know, that we are, that it's different this past year than it was even for the many years before that, because we're getting, you know they're making such important milestones that there's really not too many of those milestones left before it's we really have something, have a working reactor, that's maybe not commercial grade but at least a test bed that's working and that seems to be not to far away. And once that's done then what comes after that? You have essentially a working commercial reactor, so I think you would agree that this year was kinda special in terms of fusion research because we've made some pretty important milestones, are just falling down.

S: Yeah, we definitely hit, especially with the laser-confined fusion method. We definitely hit some milestones. I still think it's gonna be 2050 before we have like commercial fusion power on the grid but or something like that. But that, and that's soon, think about it, all this technologies we talked about we were just mentioning first mRNA thing, it was 30 years ago. That's the delay to yeah, we got this proof of concept now we now it could work before you actually get something that's in the clinic or making energy or whatever. It could easily be 20-30 years. If I had to guess, I'm still putting it somewhere in the 2050 range and again like quantum computing there still may be deal killers, you know, until you do it, you don't know that you can do it. It could be like a hydrogen thing, like yeah, the hydrogen makes perfect sense except for the fact that we can't figure out how to store it. Will figure that out. And here we are 20 years later.

J: Yeah but Steve artificial intelligence might dramatically speed up our ability to have gains in research.

S: Totally, is that what your vote for technology this year?

J: Well, I mean, I didn't see anything as I'm scrolling through my memory of just last year looking at news items I didn't see any major breakthroughs in AI, it's kinda like battery technology, it's progressing, we're seeing interesting new progress over the year, you know new layers to the complexity of it and what it can do. But at some point we're gonna have a situation where artificial intelligence is going to start to really be able to do things that are gonna speed up our ability to gain knowledge.

B: Yeah, Jay, I totally agree, especially like I talked about this actually one year ago, the AlphaFold and AlphaFold2, that's AI, that's AI mitigated right there and that's gonna, you know being able to determine protein folding that problem has much of it has fallen by the wayside. It's made dramatic, dramatic and very accurate predictions that, and this is, that's AI, that's AI based right there and that there you go that's gonna save us many many years of research and millions and millions of dollars. So this information about protein folding it's gonna come fast they're releasing huge libraries of protein, very accurate protein predictions and that's all AI dude and yes, we're gonna be seeing a lot of that and that's always a safe bet to talk about it at the end of every year is AI research.

J: But Bob we might have you know a computer system and you know this is where these you know fields kind of a criss-cross, concentric circles.

B: Exactly.

J: If we had quantum computing and quantum computing can help artificial intelligence research or speed that up, right you know these can support each other but─

B: Feedback yeah.

J: ─imagine, and I know we've talked about this on the show but it's just a fun thought experiment, you know imagine where we're at the point where we're posing questions to artificial intelligence, like, what can we do about the grid and battery storage.

S: So Jay, recently I wrote 2 articles that are about research that was augmented by AI. One we talked about on the show, the xenobots, the fact that AI was able to run billions of simulations and figure out the optimal shape of these living robots, these xenobots, but the other one which we didn't talk about on the show was also using AI. So we use AI to test the structure of potential solar cells, photovoltaic cells to make them more efficient. What configuration wold be more efficient. But again there's like so many different, like almost virtually infinite configurations. So now we have an AI algorithm that will predict which configuration will be more efficient, which we can then test with the AI to test how efficient they should be.

E: Yeah, cut out the fat and go for the meat.

B: Exactly.

S: We are literally, we are doing years of research in hours. This is one of the I think the most fulfilled promises of future technology. We are already living in an age where AI is doing months or years or even decades of research in hours or days or weeks.

B: That's what I'm talking about.

S: It's happening, it's happening.

C: And across almost every discipline, that's the other cool thing.

S: Absolutely.

C: It's happening in health care, it's happening in material science it's happening you know in engineering it's happening everywhere.

J: That might be the element though, guys like, you know earlier Steve said 'technology might save us' and Cara you were like, 'you know, come on, is it really gonna, is it really gonna save us>', I think─

'C: I was saying it's not gonna save those of us who don't have access to it, but go ahead.

J: ─that's true, you know when you say 'us', we're talking about pockets of us.

C: Right right, exactly, that's the whole point.

J: I do in a weird kind of was as if we're living in our own simulation like the world is falling apart in front of our eyes, look at the last ten years when we can literally point our fingers at things that has screwed up the world significantly that didn't exist 30 years ago, you know, like the Internet, you know, for good and bad the Internet has done a lot of bad. And then you look at artificial intelligence and you look at like achievements in science and it's almost like this race happening. What's gonna win out, is it gonna, is the best properties of human kind gonna win out over the worse properties of human kind. I kinda look at it like we're in a footrace now to the finish line, you know what's gonna be our ultimate result here. You know cause I, global warming is one of those things that could you know it could take us out.

C: It's an eschatological risk.

J: Right. And then on the other hand you look at artificial intelligence and you're like we might have a machine answer our problems. Give us the actual answers to the questions that we need right now that could happen, we could be within 10 years of that happening.

S: Jay, we have the answer man, it's 42.


E: AI said so.

J: It's a funny way to look at it, it's just an interesting and funny way the reality that we live in, we have such amazing things happening where I, I'm you know, mRNA and the whole platform. I know that we've been working on it for 30 years but man did it come like right when we needed it. mRNA was luckily there when this pandemic started to squeeze the life out of this planet.

E: Yeah, thank goodness, thank goodness.

J: If it weren't for scientists and engineers and researchers we would've been f'd without that mRNA technology. We would have been in a bad shape.

S: There were other vaccines, there were other vaccines.


C: They were not as good, we already know that.

S: Enable us to change the vaccine to keep up with new variants to maybe tackle other diseases like I know they're working on an HIV mRNA-based vaccine. Yeah, that technology, we're just seeing the beginnings of it. It's like finally we're working on this technology for 30 years, now we've crossed this line to applications then the applications are gonna start coming fast and furious.

J: And you know right next to a CRISPR, kicking ass. I'm expecting like some remarkable things out of CRISPR in the next 10 years. Like we are gonna see things that humanity has had to deal with from the very beginning just not be a problem anymore.

S: Did we talked about using CRISPR to sex animals, did we talk about that on the show? I don't remember.

E: I don't recall.

S: There's another CRISPR news not too long ago where, so you know now like in the chicken industry they basically sacrifice─

J: Chicken!

S: ─all the males and they raise all the females cause they're, it's more cost-effective that way. But how, what if we could just magically make all of them female.

E: There you go.

C: I see, so not just sex them like to determine their sex, but actually...

E: Jurassic Park, Chicken Park.

S: No you can make them all female. So yeah, and they've done it. They've done it with CRISPR, you know, you have a system where there's like a suicide switch that only kills all the males. Or you could kill all the females, or whatever. This is like at the embryo stage, so they are not born as chicks. For research and for you know food production this could be a massive efficiency gain using CRISPR.

C: And you're saying like we're already doing it.

S: It's happening.

C: That's such a cool example like we've been, we talk a lot on the show about 5 to 10 years, 5 to 10 years or 10 to 50 years with the example of like quantum computing and...

B: Fusion research.

C: And AI. But I think one of the things that we talked about a lot this year that sort of at the translational edge, sort of this is now the accumulation of the previous several decades of research is brain-computer interfaces. Like we've done a lot of stories and I wonder sometimes if it's just like our bias because it's super interesting to us.

B: A little bit.

S: No that's happening.

C: Yeah, it's freaking happening! And it's amazing how many lives are actually being affected now and that you know we're still sort of on a precipice in terms of like really good trials are showing all these amazing promise in human beings now. Which means that it's not going to be long before these things and some of them are already available clinically but before it's like a regular option for individuals to be able to utilize these interfaces.

B: Doctor McCoy was clearly wrong referring to Pike and saying that we couldn't tap into the human brain.

C: (laughs)

B: That prediction did not panned out.

E: Right? Right?

B: We clearly can and brain-computer interfaces are showing that. But now that I got the floor finally I gotta do a five minute rewind and I wanna just express how happy I am that Steve is finally seeing things my way when he was talking about you know doing decades of research over the weekend and that's exactly what I'm talking about, because I agree with Steve as he often says so much in science research is incremental and it's true it's very incremental you're not gonna see big leaps and over 20 years even minimal incremental research improvements can have dramatic changes and that is absolutely true. But as I been saying for a long time we are now reaching the point where we can automate certain things like research and we will see the day in our lifetimes where we have dramatic far beyond incremental improvements in scientific discovery based things like AI and automated scientific research so we're gonna be seeing that. A lot things will stay incremental, but I think in the future a lot of things are also gonna go beyond incremental advances when you can do, when you can literally do you know months of research in a day at least months of human level research in a day.

C: Yeah I think computational chemistry is an area where that's just exploding, like when we're talking about looking for affinity of molecules, how well do they fit in certain receptors when you can just like model these things out using algorithms and having these calculations run in the background it's amazing how much we know now about the shapes and affinities of just different drugs and how they fit in different places. And just like modeling proteins structures and things like that. Things that used to be so painstaking in the lab now it's like, oh the computer just runs it in the background, so cool.

IC: So with the brain interface how long till I can order a Grubhub with a thought I was just wondering of you.

B: (laughs)

E: Yeah, right, let's talk about real world applications.

C: That is probably honestly more of a regulatory question than an actual technology cautions I think.

B: Yes.

IC: Ok, ok, fine...

C: I think we're kinda close to that.

IC: I'm excited.

S: I mean that's the, that's the killer app turning point, you know, when do we get to that point like with the smart phone was just that killer app that made a huge change. The technology was incremental but the, that came out and suddenly we were all using smartphones.

E: Change the world.

S: We're gonna get these incremental changes with brain-machine interface then there will be some we'll cross over some boundary and somebody will come out with something and then suddenly we are all jacking in. You know and then that's, that's what's gonna happen.

C: I do think though that we probably could be closer to that than we are and I shouldn't say could as in that what we want, but we don't want that, there's a really big fear around what that means, what are the implications of being able to order Grubhub with your thought.

IC: I mean a lot of cheesecake in my case, so...


E: Yeah, weight gain.

B: I think the pandemic ponds were a lot.

E: Don't remind me.

S: All right a couple of pseudoscience things for the year, so we are talking about science of the year, so much to talk about, we cannot talk about all the science of 2021. Couple of pseudoscience things peeked above the herd for me. I think the biggest pseudoscience story of the year was the fact that UFOs are back.

IC: They never left.

S: Didn't we deal with those 20 years ago?

C: Apparently not.

E: Philipp Klaas wrote that book.

S: Yeah we had the, the Pentagon UFO videos and then that just sparked the whole new generation of people and just terrible but it's all the same crap, it's all the same crap for the last 50 years.

E: Blobsquatch.

S: The same arguments the same low-grade evidence it's just recycled all of the crappy arguments we've been debunking for decades.

IC: So are people using an app to like pixelate and blur their photos, cause I would imagine they are so crisp nowadays.

S: Yeah, right?

E: Well, it;s the Navy, I think the Navy footage that came out is that everybody sort of pointed to say, hey, look this is official. Now you are seeing THE TRUTH, finally, they finally released this classified footage and they can't even explain what's going on, which is...

S: And it's still fuzzy blobs of light.

E: That's right.

IC (laughs)

E: And that's I think our best interviews of the year was when we had Mick West on who did a nice in depth analysis of those videos and was able to─

B: Yeah, he was great.

S: Yeah.

E: ─give some nice explanations about what exactly we were seeing.

S: Yeah we're getting, we're just about to shift to SGU in 2021 when we talk about some more of the interviews. The other one was more recent thing that we haven't talked about on the show but needs to get mentioned: Oliver Stone is back with more JFK conspiracy nonsense.

E: Oh yeah.

S: Doubling down on the JFK conspiracy crapola, you know, saying, making a string of claims that have already been completely debunked and you know you wonder if it's gonna tart the conversations all over again. But you know it's bad and the I was reading a good article by Max Boot, who was making a point that you know the JFK conspiracy theories that paved the road for all the QAnon modern crap that we're─

E: Sure.

S: You convinced a generation of people that the government can pull off lie about something like murdering a president and they can believe anything about the government.

E: 9/11 truthers.

S: Sure.

C: Right, well that just answered my question as to why, you know I'm always so curious as to why certain pseudo scientific things capture so many people's imagination, like why that, you know, but you're right it's sort of is like a deep state I'm an insider, you know I have that power cause I know something other people didn't know appeal that conspiracy theories have.

S: Yeah yeah, does anybody have any other pseudoscience that stuck out for them this year?

B: Well I mean we gotta say something about anti-vaxxers, right?

S: Well, yeah, we kinda covered that in the Covid segment, but you're right.

B: I know, but just throw, mention it, to me, that's number one, that's number on to me.

E: What about Sri Lanka being the first country in the world to ban inorganic fertilizer and crop protection products.

C: Well but didn't they just like unban them really quickly right after that.

E: Oh yeah they did, they did a fast turnaround, because that's how catastrophic that decision was.

S: There's always complicated politics behind it, but the are relevant to the main point though, you can't just suddenly ban fertilizer, you know and you're gonna still produce all the food that you need to produce but it was a good microcosm of the world can't do that either, half of our food comes from artificial fertilizer and we're already using all of the manure, so how are we gonna suddenly you know fertilize you know the other half of our food production if we ban artificial fertilizer, it's nonsense, you can't do it.

C: There's kind of a win against pseudo-science I think we shouldn't fail to mention which is, you remember those miracle mineral solution idiots.

E: Uuu, bleach.

C: Right? They were prosecuted this year, so that's good.

E: Yes.

C: So that's like an ongoing kind of fight but it's always good when, when we're able to step up against this toxic, god this unproven, cause it's one thing to be antivax it's another thing to actively promote.

S: To peddle poison.

C: Yeah, poison. And of course we thought the 2020 was the year of that 'what if I shine a light inside of your body' and hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and all of this but you know it's just spilled right over into 2021.

S: Yeah, yeah, Ivermectin was the snake oil of 2021, absolutely.

C: Yeah, for sure.

S: Alex Jones took a hit this year, so that was good.

IC: Oh yeah.

E: Yes, yes.

C: Oh hell yeah.

IC: Very good.

C: Hells yeah.

E: Go down.

IC: Yeah I found an interesting one on Tik-Tok no less, which is an individual or perhaps a community that believe the Roman Empire never existed.


C: Cool.

E: That was a Saturday Night Live skit─

[Talking over each other]

E:─with Mike Myers way back when actually. The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire, discuss.

IC: Discuss, very good.

S: Discuss.

C: (laughs) Discuss.

E: And that's where it was born.

S: The Roman Empire never existed.

C: Have you seen Ian all over Tik-Tok, cause I've seen this like, I've seen screen-shares from, more from Facebook I think it might be a slightly different demographic, but shared all over Reddit of like these weird people who are all about pee. And they like─

IC: Ugh, yes. Boil it and then drink it.

C: ─drink pee, and they put it in their hair.

IC: Put it in their eyes, for like a glaucoma.

C: Yes! They do pee eye-drops, they call themselves like a uri...

E: Peeons?

B: The Pee People?

S: The Stream Team?


B: Nice, nice.

C: It's bananas, and the crazy thing is how often─

S: Oh they don't pee on bananas, do they?

IC: No it's not bananas.

C: (laughs) ─No. How often, I remember seeing a meme of this person who was like oh my gosh the reason with him was so strong I loved it, it was a screen grab of somebody talking about using, like, they have aged urine.

IC: Yes.

C: And unfiltered urine, they have all these weird things that they use. So using aged urine for their hair as a natural detoxifier.

IC: Sure.

C: Like the irony of people who fight against your kidneys, like, that's the stuff your body was like, we can't, we have no use for this anymore, like this is something we don't want in our body and they're saying let's capture this and us it to actually detox. What? It was already detoxed!

E: It doesn't have to make sense.

IC: Yeah, the Internet was a mistake.

B: Oh my god.

IC: I feel like it was made up on Reddit and then people actually believed it and started doing it, it's just like one of those things.

S: Well you know it's part of ayurvedic medicine, drinking pee.

IC: True.

S: So it didn't come out of nowhere.

C: Oh it's a whole thing, it's called urine culture.

IC: Is it urine culture? I see urine therapy or something.

C: Urine therapy, yeah.

IC: I mean it's all that kind of stuff.

E: I call it you're in the spotlight.

IC: Oh boy.

S: Urine culture is what we do in a hospital to see if you have a UTI.

IC: (laughs)

C: Yeah, exactly! (laughs)

E: And if your urine is red, did you eat beets recently?


C: Oh yes, very important.

S: It's more of a mauve but yeah.


Favorite Segments from the Year (1:04:22)[edit]

S: Let's talk about some of your favorite segments from the year, we got a few votes from listener, episode 810 Cara said: 'Don't give the AI lasers'.


S: In that same episode Bob said: 'Fear minus death equals fun!'.


B: I didn't coin that, but I'll take the credit.

IC: Partial credit.

C: You could do an entire psychological study on that that's so true. That's what a roller-coaster is.

S: Evan.

E: Oh I said something?

S: In 808 Evan said: 'Tidal braking is a a drag'.


S: That's an Evanism, absolutely.

E: Totally.

B: Really? Tidal braking is a drag? I love it. And I love tidal braking.

S: Bob said, 828 Bob said: 'Organisms that breath through their rectum are asspirators'


B: That's awesome.

J: Bob that's awesome.

S: That's good for you, that was very good.


S: And 813 I said 'The Jaz drive was the A-track of data storage'.


E: Sure as heck was.

IC: True.

S: That's a pretty nerdy joke, but yeah. You guys have any votes?

C: Oh gosh, we got so many e-mails for people voting for Jay's meltdown about how there's no timezone.

B: Yeah.

E: Oh yes.

C: In the North Pole.

S: Yeah, it was a bit of a recent bias in terms of [inaudible].

C: (laughs) But it was really funny the attempts to argue that nothing could actually happen, was that the, what was the actual argument?

J: I just said you couldn't, Steve couldn't if somebody say hey what's the temperature out?

C: Oh no temperature!

E: It's tied to time.

J: And if you can't say what time it is, then you can't actually like do that.

S: There's still a now but here's the thing─


S: ─I left it all in, I didn't edit any of it out, cause it was [inaudible]


IC: I heard it, it was fun.

S: Do you guys have a favorite interview from the year?

B: Yes!.

S: There were some good ones this year.

E: Very good.

B: My favorite? David Copperfield and Richard Wiseman.

E: Yeah, that was special.

S: That was awesome.

B: Come on!

E: That was special.

J: That was by far my favorite.

B: That was my favorite and I love the Julia Galef one was a fun interview, interesting interview.

E: Very good interviews this year.

S: David Copperfield was so charming.

B: He was good man.

S: You know the thing is, he's a mega, like, first of all he is a billionaire, this guy and he's a mega super star magician and you never know how they're gonna be, right, you know, they could be and it's not like they necessarily have to be an asshole just not everybody─

C: Don't have enough time for you.

S: ─yeah, whatever, they could be very busy, they may not be comfortable in their celebrity, they're really shy when they come off as aloof.

B: Lot's of possibilities.

S: Lot of possibilities, he was so, nice, down-to-earth, you know, exactly what you would want a celebrity to be he was all of it just an awesome guy and Richard Wiseman says that's him, it's not an act, that's him, he's just a super nice guy. It's always nice to discover that.

B: Yeah the fact though that, that he was with Richard for the interview and Richard had spent obviously spent a lot of time with him and did this project with him that made me very optimistic that he would be a decent guy, because you know, Richard is awesome so it increased the odds in my in my estimation.

S: It may have made him more comfortable too to have a friend on the show with him, you know which is why it was a good─

B: Yeah that's true.

S: ─doing a double interviews can be is a can be really good. Can work really well. So yeah, that was definitely the funnest interview that we did. I just thought that I mention the Philip Goff argument of interview that we did, he is a philosopher we were talking about the multiverse, right, so this─

C: Oh and panpsychism, right, isn't that this thing?

S: Yeah, he's into panpsychism we didn't do that interview with him, we might do that.

C: Gotcha.

S: Jay, will do it next year. But we talked bout multiverse. The thing that I liked about this we, I think we took like three takes on this topic on the show, I wrote about it like two or three times on my blog, this was like the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around this year in terms of the skeptical things that we talked about. And it was really fun to like, just try to work through logic ally, the question is, can we infer multiverse from the fact that our Universe is very unlikely to exist, in a way that can support life. And you know so we like incrementally worked through the logic of this argument.

C: Oh yeah, those e-mail chains were intense.

E: It was looong.

S: It was intense, what he was saying you can't infer multiverse and I was saying yeah, you know, you pretty much can and it came down to the subtlest bit of logic, we like, we and it was also just like a great example of if you are not like waging war with somebody you are actually trying to find common ground, trying to understand the other persons position and work together to move forward we actually like incrementally was like yeah, we both agree on this, let's go step by step and see what we can agree on and it came down to like this nuance which we couldn't resolve which was whether or not the question is what's the probability of our Universe existing and supporting life versus what's the probability of any Universe, some Universe existing that could support life. And you know we were unable to resolve which was the correct question but I just thought that whole process was awesome.

B: That's almost, that's a rare best case scenario, isn't it Steve? I mean, that doesn't happen very often.

S: Yeah that's why, that's why it was so much fun.

B: Right, cause often you know, there's too much emotion and there's too much pride wrapped into a discussion and it's just you can't get pass a certain level. But here in this example you went to pretty much the nth degree and you know.

S: We took it to the end, we took it to the end.

B: Took it to the end, took it to the end and you found that subtle little nuance that neither of you really knew at the beginning but you discovered what that was the point that neither of you would go pass.

E: Yeah worked on it together.

B: The conversation is done and you know exactly what the problem was that's great. Unfortunately too rare.

E: Enlightening, and it was enlightening.

C: I don't think it's all that rare in academic circles or among philosophers.

S: No, it isn't.

B: Exactly.

C: And that's really what he is─

S: He's a philosopher.

C: ─academic philosopher.

B: Right, in our, in my experience.

S: In the skeptical universe it's very rare.

B: Normal people, yes.

S: Cause we're dealing with assholes all the time.

C: Like on Facebook it's quite rare.

S: It was pleasant because it was it was like a brake from arguing with people who have no interest in finding common ground. You know like I get so tired of just this endless discussions online and then comment section and dealing with all these people who are just insincere and can't logic their way out of a paper bag and don't want to.

E: No they don't pay attention

S: They are [inaudible] their side and they're not trying to come to a, so this was just such a pleasant departure from that.

B: That's good a way to put it.

S: And it was like this is what we should be doing, remove all the politics and ideology and emotion and juat have a discussion where you try to find common ground and that's gonna get you to the best place, you know.

B: Two Vulcans talking.

S: Yeah.


J: Steve I enjoyed talking to Andy Weir.

S: Oh yeah, he's fun, he was great.

B: Oh yeah, that was a great interview too, dammit.

J: Yeah, he, he's one of those people, the second we initiate a conversation with him it sounds like we're talking to one of our friends and you could tell that he, he is the same like level of geek-dome that we're at, like he knows all of our references, he gets all of our inside jokes, he knows like science and fantasy genres very very well where we're like I just feel very comfortable talking to him, he's a really really nice guy.

S: Absolutely. Our first interview of the year was Phil McAlister from NASA always fun to talk about what NASA's up to. We had two more NASA people at NECSS this year so a lot of NASA contact, it was great.

J: Those two talks were fantastic I mean that was going over you know the Artemis program and what the Moon missions are gonna be like and then finding out a lot of things like having a NASA scientist reveal to us that we're not gonna have one of those space stations where people you know─

S: No artificial gravity. Forget about it.

J: ─no artificial gravity.

S: No shielding, yeah, we're gonna get there fast, that's our solution.

J: Get there fast, oh my go I'll never forget that, how are we gonna solve this? Gotta get there fast.


B: Not only get there fast but then be able to deal with the medical problems.

S: Yeah, mitigate the radiation.

B: Yeah have treatments ready.

IC: Jay, where should I re-watch those? Where can I find those?


B: I thought those tapes were destroyed.

IC: Sorry shameless plug.

J: Ian aren't those, aren't they in the aether?

IC: No (sighs) Jay, you can go to and sign up [inaudible].

S: Ian, that's why you're here.

J: You can go to it's never too late to buy a ticket for NECSS because the entire conference is recorded, you can just, go on whenever you like.

E: Cool.

S: There you go.

B: Bob I'm surprised you didn't mentioned Izzy Lawrence who did a whole interview about pirates.

J: Arrrr!

B: Oh yeah, that's what happens, you know when you get in your late fifties you forget all this great stuff, it's like I remember the interviews we did it the past month, but before that, eeeee, who knows what we did.

C: Yeah what year was that, I don't know, that was this year and also I've no reference.

B: You're right Steve, thanks for reminding us.

S: Sure.

C: Like 2021 weirdly lasted a month and also infinity, like it's such a frustrating experience, I don't know what happened this year, I really did have to look at every episode just to remember what this year looked like, because yeah it's oh god─

E: It was a blur.

C: ─it's such a blur.

S: And we have to mention Craig Good cause otherwise he'll be the only interview we didn't mention.

E: Oh gosh (laughs)

S: He was, you know Craig is a friend of ours, we first knew him he was working at Pixar, he's obviously had, no longer there.

B: Oh my god great guy.

S: Yeah we talked to him about his book Relax and Enjoy Your Food he was just has his science communicator hat on and it was a really fun discussion, he did a great job with that.

B: Yeah that was. Learned a lot.

Skeptical Hero and Jackass (1:14:12)[edit]

S: All right, let's move on to skeptical heroes and jackasses. I'm gonna go first. My skeptical jackasses of the year is every anti-vaxxer, just the whole lot of them. If you're an anti-vaxxer, you are a skeptical jackass of the year for 2021. And the skeptical heroes are everybody who pushed back against them online or in the public arena or fought against vaccine misinformation that was essentially the big skeptical fight of the year and that defined who where the heroes and jackasses in my opinion.

B: I totally agree Steve you nailed mine as well, my hero and jackasses, yep. So frustrating, such a frustrating year, because you know I actually naively think like before the pandemic but I knew it was gonna be a pandemic I though you know at the very least, we're this is gonna, during a pandemic vaccines efficacy will just be too obvious to ignore but no, but no, they can ignore anything and everything and that's, you know I can't believe after all these years I was that naive, but it was like, you know I would think when it was in your face it would make a difference.

S: It gets back to the social media discussion they're living in a different information ecosystem─

B: Yeah, exactly.

S: ─they're literally, they're living in a different world, it is a different world.

E: Can I name two people that stood out in my list, because─

S: I don't know, can you? (sarcasm)

E: I can. I'm going to.

C: You may.

E: All right, star NFL quarterback Aaron Rogers claimed he was immunized against Covid-19 at the time, yep, and then when pressed on it turns out, well he actually treated himself with homeopathy and that was, that's basically he lied (laughs) effectively to everyone when he said 'oh yes, I'm immunized'. No, you weren't Aaron Rogers and you got caught so shame on you.

IC: He was well hydrated though.

E: Yeah, right.

IC: Or, slightly hydrated.

E: And, we know dr Sherri Tenpenny.

S: One of the dirty dozen. One of the dirty dozen.

E: One of the dirty dozen, right? Here's her quote 'I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the internet of people who've had these shots and now they're magnetized, they could put a key on their forehead, it sticks, they could put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick.'. Ok it's one thing to say that on your blog but when you go up in front of Ohio State House of Representatives and they're making these claim in defense of a house bill that takes it to a whole other level, so Sherri Tenpenny, you are jackass of the year 2021.

IC: I don't understand, I don't understand why it's a bad thing, you'd never loose your keys, that's awesome, I would love to be magnetic.

S: Yeah, that's a feature not a bug.

IC: Yeah, I think either I channeled Steve or vice versa but it's very similar in my hero and dummies, so I'm gonna tack on little extra so I'm gonna hyper focus like I was saying I was on Tik-Tok a lot so all the science communicators on Tik-Tok are like kind of doing the 'lord's work' in trying to combat the pseudoscience and like directly going after other people on the platform which is really cool. I dig that. And the dummies is in a roundabout way it's gonna be Joe Rogan who influenced my handful of High School and College friends who listen to him and say things like 'how many boosters for how many variants are you gonna take until you say enough is enough'. And that's like a direct quote from a friend of mine.

C: How much food are you gonna eat until you like enough is enough. [inaudible]

IC: So yeah, let's swing it back Joe Rogan is a ding-dong so, there you go.

S: Joe Rogan absolutely needed a mention, thanks for bringing him up, totally.

C: Oh god.


J: Let's say it, let's have the balls to actually say it Joe Rogan is an asshole, he doesn't care about anybody but himself, his misinformation is profound, it's profound and it's so profound that you can't look at him like a serious human being at this point he is actually a parody of himself at this point.

C: And that's the thing that's so depressing you know, Rogan was my first interview on Talk Nerdy and I used to go on his show regularly. I used to be friends with this guy you may have heard of him named Dave Ruben, what happened to him, he completely fell of the deep end. And it's so frustrating when you see these people who you have this core question and I actually, I actually confronted Ruben about it once in text and I sis not get a very pleasant response which was 'do you feel like you finally have the space to say what you've always been thinking or did you kind of become savvy to the fact that going this route is gonna be more lucrative as a career move'. Yeah, and he did not take that question very lightly.

S: It's a loaded question but but fair.

C: Well not really, I really wanted to know have you always been have you always had this views but you weren't really comfortable saying them out loud.

E: Yeah, when exactly did you [inaudible].

C: I really wanted to know that because I was like, was I missing something, did I have a massive blind spot or are you physically a different person you were five years ago. And I, I actually think that's what happened, I think, I think, with Rogan, I don't know, but part of my hypothesis here is that he's one of these people who just believes the last things he was told. And so when somebody goes on the show and makes what sounds to him like a good argument because the basic skeptical you know toolbox isn't there, then he's like, yeah that sound like a good argument, you've convinced me. Because he sometimes has very reasonable people on the show and those, those interviews sound reasonable and then he has completely you know of the deep end people and and it's the same to him, that part scares the crap out of me.

S: that's such a great insult 'he believes the last thing that he was told'.


S: That's such a, that is a really, that's a razor blade slice.

In Memoriam (1:19:50)[edit]

S: All right guys let's go on to the next segment which we do every year, In Memoriam where we remember the skeptics and scientists and just people we think are cool who we lost in the last year.

C: Oh good I'm glad we get to just do people who we think are cool cause I have a few of those to add to the list.

S: Yeah yeah, so I've got my list but you guys add anything to it, we generally don't talk about celebrities but we always throw in a few if they were special to us in some way I did wanna mention Michael Nesmith, from The Monkees.

IC: Recent.

B: Yeah that one hurt a little.

S: Dean Stockwell, Dean Stockwell was awesome we loved him, he was in Dune, one of my favorite movies. And Christopher Plummer, Christopher Plummer is just awesome.

B: Yeah, I miss him.

S: He's just one of those actors that had so much gravitas, like when he was on camera we had so much weight, you know what I mean─

B: Couldn't take your eyes off of him.

S: ─he was just amazing, yeah, absolutely mesmerizing, loved him.

C: So I've got one from that category.

S: Ok, hit it.

C: Michael K Williams who played Omar on The Wire. This one hit me hard.

S Hit me hard too.

C: I love Michael K Williams and he was a massive advocate of the arts and just like did so much in his community so that was like a big one for me. We did loose Norm Macdonald, you know some people loved him, that one was kinda hard.

B: More than some.

C: Oh, Stephen Sondheim like these are big people who were massively influential you know maybe not so much in the skeptic movement but, oh and then this one happened really recently and we didn't talk about on the show, you know who died I think just a couple of weeks ago? Anne Rice.

B: What?!

C: Who wrote Interview with the Vampire.

B: Are you kidding, wow.

C: She was 80 years old, she had a decently long life and I think she died of cancer but um yeah.

S: I was like if you threw all the names and compiling the list and you there's like a range of reactions. One reaction is 'oh, they were still alive?'


S: Good for them that they you know and then the other one was 'oh my god, you know, they were so young, so like the one that like really hit me hard just for the age thing was Markie Post you guys remember who she was?

B: Yes!

S: The blonde from Night Court the blonde lawyer.

B: Wait she died?

S: Yeah.

E: Oh wow, Night Court. Holy molly.

C: How old was she?

S: That's the thing Bob, guess how old she was.

B&E:' She was 75.

E: Wow Bob.

S 70 years old. Right, but it seems like yesterday she was young and extremely attractive.

B: Wait, she was on Chicago P.D. oh boy, she had a you know like a she's not a regular but a oh boy.

C: Well Michael K Williams, Omar he was only 54.

B: Ouch.

S: All right so there's really only one like name recognition science related person who died that I could find that was Michael Collins from Apollo 11 right, he was the pilot, stayed in the capsule when Aldrin and Armstrong went to the Moon.

C: Oh yeah I remember, we talked about that on the show.

S: He was 90, of course, 90 is good, that's like one of those people like great, good for him, lobe it when people that are cool make it info their 90s. The other one sort of a name that I recognized before I just read it although I see some you know if you like in the field you recognize names but John McAfee, you guys know that name.

[talking over each other confirming]

S: The anti-virus software.

C: Oh but wasn't his story bananas?

IC: The fugitive actually.

[talking over each other]

C: Crazy story.

S: He has a crazy story but one thing of note is that later in his life he quit the company McAfee and then just trash talked the anti-viral software saying it doesn't work, it's bloat ware it's horrible, like really you know didn't like McAfee anti-viral software which I appreciated. So then there were a number of other scientists that are you know what they did was more famous than they are, you know what I mean? So there was Masayuki Uemura who was a designer of the first Nintendo Console, gotta get props for that.

C: Hell yeah.

IC: Awesome.

E: Absolutely.

S: Cara you have to know who Aaron Beck was.

C: Oh, of course, the CBT he's like the father of Cognitive behavioral therapy.

S: The fa-, I know he developed Cognitive therapy, wow.

C: Yeah, like he's the guy.

IC: A 100 that's good.

S: A 100 years old, a 100 years old.

C: He also wrote this incredible book called Prisoners of Hate that I highly recommend to anybody to read which is all about how everything from domestic violence to genocide like how hateful thought develops and hateful actions follow. And it's a really really insightful book. Into kinda the human experience.

S: Antony Hewish, 97. Good for him. An astronomer honored for the discovery of pulsars. Edmond Fischer, 101, 101, Nobelist who helped discover how cells talk to each other. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh scientist who linked natural disasters to climate change.

C: Oh well, that's big.

S: Only 59, only 59. Not sure why he died. But here's one that all parents will appreciate Arthur Staats, 97. Psychologist who came up with the whole idea of 'timeout'.

C: (laughs)

S: He came up with 'timeout'!

E: Wait wait wait wait wait.

S: For kids, you know, for, you're in a timeout, that was him.

E: But, huh? That's attributable to a person?

J: That's pretty cool.

S: Apparently, yeah.

J: That is pretty damn cool.

C: He probably also studied it Evan. He probably also like studied its efficacy.

S: Oh yeah he was a psychologist.

E: Ok.

S: Paul Crutzen, 87. Scientist who named our age the Anthropocene.

E: Oh boy.

C: That's a big one. I wonder how he pronounced it, because it's like a jif - gif thing, like Anthropocene - Anthropocene. There's some good argument there.

S: Anthropocene.

E: (laughs)

C: [inaudible]

S: And then some, there's a couple of people who like were not necessarily sad that they died, like, we're not gonna celebrate anybody dying, but just wanna mention people in the skeptical universe on the other side who passed away. One was Rush Limbaugh, not sad to see him go. Larry King, Larry King did a lot in his later years to promote and disseminate pseudoscience. Very, a lot of gullible interviews, Larry King. And then we have to mention the father of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history Bernie Madoff.

C: Bernie Madoff, right.

E: Jeez.

C: Yeah he's a household name because of that.

E: Oh yeah, and you got madoffed.

C: Do you know, I came across a few other sort of influential people who maybe aren't necessarily tied to skepticism but might be meaningful to people so you know Beverly Cleary? The children's book author? She wrote all the Ramona Quimby books and oh my gosh, won so many awards, she died at a 104. She was a 104 years old. And then of course we lost a lot of political, historical greats.

S: A lot of political deaths.

C: Donald Rumsfeld.

S: Colin Powell.

C: Colin Powell, yes.

S: Bob Dole

C: Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, a lot of.

S: A lot of political a lot of big political deaths.

C: Historical giants, yeah.

IC: I have a one just because her face will probably live on the Internet forever, Jessica Walter who was the mother in Arrested Development

C: Arrested Development, yeah.

IC: ─my god, she's like the best meme collection ever, like, for expressing emotion.

C: Yeah, she was great.

Science or Fiction (1:27:06)[edit]

Theme: 2021

Item #1: 2021 is on track to being one of the warmest years on record, making the warmest seven years since 1850 the last seven years.[1]
Item #2: The number of recorded earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 and above was up sharply in 2021, with almost double the annual average for the previous decade.[2]
Item #3: The best performing stock for 2021 was GameStop with returns of 815%, and creating a “meme stock” frenzy.[3]
Item #4: Tik-Tok beauty trends in 2021 included Rudolph-style nose blush, eye bags, and snail facials.[4]

Answer Item
Fiction Earthquakes
Science Warmest year
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Warmest year
Warmest year
Warmest year

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

S: Well everyone let's go on with out last Science or Fiction of the year. Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and then I challenge my panel of expert skeptics to tell me which one they think is the fake. But before we get to the Science or Fiction itself, it's the end of the year, we're gonna do the end of the year science or fiction stats. We actually had two listeners submit their stats Wayne Heller and Zeb Rice. They are slightly different, which is ok, I mean, yeah, you have to count fifty whatever one, two episodes so I can see one getting lost here or there. Let me give you Zeb's stats just on who, what the percentages were everybody did. These are episodes 807 to 858 so it's obviously not including this episode that we're recording right now. Cara had the highest success rate at 32 wins at of 48 rounds played.

E: Wow.

S: 66.67%.

E: Two thirds.

C: This blows my mind by the way.

S: No no, come on, you had obviously a very good year.

IC: I'm going with Cara for this one.

C: But a very good year in science or fiction just means you didn't do as poorly as everybody else.

E: I don't think if I agree.

C: It's still feeling great.

B: Congratulations Cara, if that's your name.

C: Science or fiction is so hard.

S: Jay was second, at 29 out of 47 or 61.7%.

E: Nice.

S: Evan was third. 28 out of 49 or 57.14%. Bob was 27 out of 50 or 54% so everyone was above 50%.

B: What freaking Universe am I in right now? What's happening?

S: I don't know, it's topsy-turvy it's the upside-down.

B: Yeah it is. It's gotta be.

S: Ian, you and I were both tied.

IC: Oh really? Ah, of course.

S: At 0 out of 1. George Hrab, sorry George, George was 0 out of 3 this year. And then a we had the pilot on Newt, remember him, he wa 1 out of 1 cause he got one time that he played correct. How many times did I sweep you guys?

B: Five?

E: Six?

J: Three times.

S: Six, six times. How many times did you guys sweep me?

E: At least eight.

C: Six?

S: Ten. I swept you six you swept me ten. The Rogue with the longest win streak was Evan, with eight episodes, followed by Cara with 6, Jay with 5, Bob with 4.

B: Wait, what? That's not what I read, all right.

S: I get it, there's a two different stats. People submitted two different stat, they're slightly off, but each, whatever, they're pretty close. So also Zeb wrote that episode 856 Bob very recently, you missed an episode and that ended your longest Rogue streak of not missing an episode. The lat time you missed an episode was 486.

B: Oh wow, really?

E: Holy crow.

C: That's bananas.

S: 369 episode streak.

E: It's that like 6 years? That's darn impressive.

B: Beat that punks.

E: I can't!

S: I have a 100% episode streak, but...


S: That's like built in to the podcast, so not counting me that was the longest stroke, the longest streak of not missing an episode. So that was a lot of fun. Good to look back. That's I think fairly comparable to recent years in terms of statistics.

E: Yeah recent year, I remember kind of early on when I think people started tailing these things I recall being in the 39-42 percentile.

S: You guys have definitely gotten better─

B: I've gotten worse. I used to be in first and second every year.

S: ─that's true, used to be that, yeah couple people below 50%, like couple above, the high end it was like around 60%. So you guys definitely crept up in terms of your baseline percentage over the years. I think you guys are just getting better at it, sniff them out really really well, you know.

E: Yeah, expanding our basic knowledge.

S Ok, are you guys ready to do the last science of fiction of the year?

J: I'm ready.

E: Rede.

C: Yes, yes.

S: We have a theme this week, the theme is: 2021. These are items about the year 2021. And there are four items instead of three, there are four.

IC: Oh no.

E: This emphasis there Steve. A little Jean Luc.

S: All right, we're gonna go in the a reverse order of your scores as I usually do, so that means Cara, you go first.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: One of the warmest years on record, making the warmest 7 years since 1850 the last seven. I buy it, but it could, there's a million ways that could be tweaked to be wrong. But yeah, it's definitely one hottest years. And the past decade has been full many of the hottest years so I buy that. Number of recorder earthquakes 4.0 and above was up sharply, almost a double in the annual average for the previous decade. You mean across the globe?

S: So, yeah yeah, all in the world. Average annual earthquakes for the last decade 2021 was double that.

C: That's weird, unless the only thing I could think would account for that is either better measurement skills or fracking like nothing else like makes there be earthquakes. That's so weird. Best performing stock for 2021 was GameStop oh yeah I remember the GameStop thing but I'm wondering if it actually did do that well. So you're saying at its peak it was the best performing stock.

S: No, that'─

C: Oh you're saying overall?

S: ─beginning of the year, yeah if you January 1st to today you're up 815%.

C: Still? To the Moon! Ok, Tik-Tok beauty trends included Rudolf-style nose blush, sure. Eye bags, I don't know what that is, but ok. And snail facials.

S: It's make up that make it look like you have bags under your eyes.

C: That's the dumbest thing ever, why would you do that? (laughs) Snail facials are a legit thing. These don't feel very 2021 they feel very like 2016 but I don't know you could've just literary made them up. I'm, gonna say the GameStop was is the fiction because even though it did peak really high, I think it also crashed. Could be wrong, but that's what I seem to remember.

S: Ok, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I disagree with Cara, I think GameStop very likely was up there you know with all the craziness that happened with it this year. The Tik-Tok beauty trends I mean how could I possibly doubt any of those things? Rudolf-style nose blush, eye bags, and snail facials I mean, that's not even weird enough to make me question it. So it's between 1 and 2 for me, 2021 on track to being one of the warmest years on record, making the warmest seven years since 1850, I mean if there's anything wrong with that I would think that the reference to 1850. I bet you that that was probably much longer ago. I wanna say that one was the fiction.

S: Ok, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Boy this warmest years on record it's just so easy to say that these years are the warmest on record chances are you're not wrong. But is it the warmest 7 years since the 1850 I mean, that's yeah, unless you recently looked that up you're not gonna know that. The earthquakes one, so this, this is interesting because did we somehow I'm trying, like Cara I'm trying to think about how exactly did this happen, could it have happened. Our detection methods became more sensitive and we were able to detect earthquakes that were happening this year than were actually happening in prior years just not detected for some reason. I'm not quite sure. The GameStop one it did, it went gangbusters but come back down can't remember that exactly. And Tik-Tok beauty trends, snail facials definitely is a thing, we've been reading about that for 20 years practically and these other things. So I'll say, I think I'm gonna agree with Jay and say the one about the warmest years on record. I have a feeling that that's gonna turn out to be not exactly correct.

S: Ok, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: The beauty trends that's easy I mean, I've tried all those beauty trends so I know all that stuff.

E: They've all worked Bob by the way. I'm just saying.

B: Oh yeah, yeah, that's right. Let's see, the stock, I remember when it's spiked, I thought it crashed, did it go back up, I don't know, I don't follow that. The earthquakes, that doesn't sound right, I mean why over a decade you know, is it just natural variation double the annual average that sounds pretty dramatic. I'm gonna go with the guys though and say I think there was one year that was kind of like in the outskirts beyond you know more than 10 years ago that was a little bit extra warm that's in that top seven. I could be wrong but I'll go with the guys and say that's fiction too.

S: And Ian. As the person with 0% record, you got to go last.

Ian's Response[edit]

IC: Perfect, yeah I mean the warmest thing just smells right or feels right maybe, cause it's warmth. The number of earthquakes, it does seem like a measurement thing in my head too, I'm kind of siding with Cara in this thing. Best performing stock with returns 815%. That one I don't know I think it is actually true, even though I feel like it might have peaked higher would that be like possible to peak higher and then still the returns are 815 I think and still be the best performing of 2020, I mean 2021, I think that's probably what it is. I mean Elon tweeted about it so it must've skyrocketed.


S: He tweets about something, that's solid.

IC: That's a solid business, yep yep. Definitely invest. Tik-Tok beauty trends in 2021 blush, eye-bags and snail facials. I mean that one feels like sooo accurate just for the goofiness of it like the meme of it. So I'm gonna be weird and say the earthquakes is the fiction.

S: Ok, so we are all over the place except for number 4, so we're start there.

Steve Explains Item #4[edit]

S: You all agree that Tik-Tok beauty trends in 2021 included Rudolf-style nose blush, eye bags, and snail facials. You all think this one is science─

B: Steven sound slimily happy.

S:─And this one is science, this is science. there's a little bit, there's a story behind each of these. I mean the snail facial is old, right, that's not anything new, but did have that did have a peak this year on Tik-Tok. Why the Rudolf-style nose blush? Why do you think that that was a thing?

E: Because of masks?

S: Because of masks! Because the nose is under the mask anyway so you can do it and you still look fine, but boom, you've got the Rudolf nose under your mask. Whatever.

E: So when there's a reveal it's like what, shocking, Tik-Tok worthy.

C: Yeah but then like you've got blush all over inside of your mask, anyway.

S: And what do you think about the eye bags?

C: I don't get that. I don't know but Tik-Tok is weird, like it doesn't have to be something people go out in public with.

IC: It's kinda like the VSCO girl style with like the messy blond kinda thing but it's like so put together messy.

C: Oh see I thought that maybe it was one of those things where they peel the crap of their face, have you seen that.

IC: Oh, interesting, oh the black mask?

C: No when they almost do like the prostheticy stuff and peel it of after.

IC: Oh that oh.

C: I don't know.

S: So this it's possible that this came out of another trend this year and that was the Squid Game make up.

[collective oh]

S: Making yourself looked haggard and broken down even injured you know and etc.


S: The eye bags thing was like to make your eyes smiley or something it was.

C: Ok.

IC: Sure.

S: I guess we'll keep going backwards.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: The best performing stock for 2021 was GameStop with returns of 815%, and creating a “meme stock” frenzy.

IC: Wait you didn't explain the snail facials.

C: But everybody just knows that.

S: That's an old thing that just came back this year.

IC: Ok, apparently.

S: Couse you've got slime on your face, right? Like, you know.

C: It's like masks it's like a mask source, snail slime.

IC: Ok.

S: The best performing stock for 2021 was GameStop with returns of 815%, and creating a “meme stock” frenzy. So I think only Cara thinks that one is the fiction, correct?

C: Damn it.

S: And this one is science, sorry Cara. Brings you down to 65%.

E: It must've been so low to begin with that 815.

IC: It was, it was crashing I think right?

C: Cause it must've gone way higher than that too.

S: It did, but it at the end of the year, if you held GameStock for the whole year you were up 815%.

B: Damn. I wish I can send myself an e-mail to a year ago.

[talking over each other]

C: Holy crap.

IC: Cause the meme is like it's a dying company, nobody, who goes to buy games at a store, stupid.

C: that was the whole thing, yeah.

S: Becomes like a penny stock, which is the kind of a whole point if it's super cheap that's the potential to multiply you know, not it went 5% wo-hoo!

C: And a lot of people held.

S: Well it was the meme stock frenzy was using social media to say hey everybody buy GameStop it will pump it up.

C: And then they were like hold hold hold because so many people were like I'm gonna sell now.

IC: I believe you mean holdol, holdol is the term that they use.

S: Holdol?

B: I think it was Hodor, hello.


S: Now the stock that peaked and really crashed and made it end the year like one of the worst performing stocks was Peloton.

E: The bicycle thing, huh?

S: Peaked and crashed in 2021.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right, let's go back to number 2: The number of recorded earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 and above was up sharply in 2021, with almost double the annual average for the previous decade. Ian you are all by your lonesome in thinking that this one is the fiction, everyone else thinks this one is the science─

B: I hope Ian wins this one.

C: I'm kinda with you Ian, this was my second choice.

S: And this one is...

B: Come on Ian.

S: ... the fiction. Good job Ian.


C: Yeah why would that happen.


S: It wouldn't it was, you know.


S: 2021 was about, was a little bit above average for the last 10 years, wasn't even more than other years, like there were two other years in the last 10 years that were higher. It's up a little bit from 2020. In 2021 so far 16 436 total earthquakes of 4.0 and above. And then between 2011 and 2020 it's like 15, 12, 13, 17, 15, 15, you know, so it's right in the mix there maybe a little bit above average but not double. There would be no real good reasons for that.

C: I hate these ones Steve when you like all of us are like, that doesn't make any sense and then we still don't pick it.

S: Well and I threw in 'recorded' I thought people would maybe there were more recorded earthquakes so threw it in deliberately and I though you mentioned that. Like 4.0 and higher so you couldn't think well it's all the tiny little ones but yeah, that was, I just made that up.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: And then item number 1: 2021 in on track to being one of the warmest years on record, making the warmest seven years since 1850 the last seven. That's science? Why 1850? Cause that's when they started the records. So it's basically since we've been recording the annual temperature. Yep, so.

E: You either know it or you don't.

S: But it would probably be about 7 like the 7th warmest year so there is a peak in there but that's not enough to knock it out of the top 7. The last, yeah, the last decade is the warmest decade on record and yeah, like it's not a coincidence, last 7 years were the warmest on record and we're on track again. Keep that trend going.

J: Good job Ian.

S: Ian, solo win.

IC: Thank you. Wow.

S: So now you're up to 50%. There you go, one.

IC: And I didn't even cheat this year. That's good.


IC: Well I got it wrong last year so. You know, cheaters don't win.

S: I thought you'll be all over the Tik-Tok thing though. Because you're you know.

IC: Weird.


IC: I seem to close to stuff I'd seen it's like that's definitely happened like it will get there be used like it's just.

E: Because you're the only one of the six of us who kinda knows how Tik-Tok works.

IC: Kinda, yeah, just barely.

S: All right, Evan give us, you're gonna give us two quotes a quote of the week and a quote of the year.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:43:54)[edit]

Once again, science saves the day. The End.
Professor Farnsworth

S: Good news everyone!

IC: Very good.

E: Oh gosh, love him, one of my all-time favorite characters in all mediums. Hilarious stuff. Now, for the year.

S: And we interviewed him for the show.

E: Yes we did, Billy West. Who I also actually run into again earlier this year you guys. I reminded him of our interview, he said, he claims to have remembered it.

S: Yeah, you never know.

B: No way, really? We definitely stood out that day I think.

S: (laughs) That day.

B: But I think he forgot about it.

S: 10 years later, hard to say.

E: I reminder him I said we had the big setup with the headphones, we brought the table out and everything and he says 'oh, absolutely!', but again, who knows for sure. He impressed me, took a picture with him, with me again, so. Now for the year.

Skeptical Quote of the Year (1:44:58)[edit]

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

S: I like that.

E: Very optimistic. Very uplifting.

S: Today is the best day, because it's today, cause it's the day that you're living right now.

E: That's right.

S: That reminds me of a I remember someone said the best camera in the world is the one you're holding. Cause that's the only one you can take a picture with. You can't take a picture with any other camera because you don't have it on you right now.

E: A nice sentiment, yes.

IC: It's a happy way to end after all the depressing stuff at the top.

J: That's true.

E: Yes, absolutely.

IC: Hopefully people make it to hear this point.

J: Well thank you guys for another great year. that was great working with all of you.

S: Absolutely, it was, 2021 in all honesty it was a rough year, you know, second year of the pandemic, definitely fatigue is beyond you know setting in, there's a lot of challenging stuff going on in the world, you know the skeptical fights just multiplying seems like we're being overwhelmed. But this is my beacon in the darkness. Just being with other skeptics, being with you guys, doing this with all of you guys, absolutely is psychologically as Cara says people you know it could be psychologically harmful. This is psychologically re-energizing. Just hanging out with people talking about how much the world sucks and what we're gonna do about it. Like trying to turn it to something positive is to me it's awesome.

C: Yeah, agree.

E: Like.

S: That's it, come on!


E: We got to go back on the road together and for me that was a really really special moment cause we hadn't been able to do that for practically two years.

S: Cara we hadn't seen you in person for almost two years.

C: That I know like Jay's children are like little people now, that was really weird for me. They're not toddlers anymore.

S: You always mark time by kids.

B: I'm working on rolling that back, we'll see if that works.

E: You'll need some AI Bob.

S: I remember we were kids and we would see like my parents friends we hadn't seen in a year or two they were like 'oh my god they're growing like weeds'. And I would hate it. I don't know why it bothered me so much but now I totally get it. Cause that's how you mark time, how someone else's kids have grown or your own kids when you have them.

C: That was funny I wonder what Olivia thought, cause I didn't say you're growing like a weed but I was like the last time I saw you were like a little kid and you're like a little, like you're like a girl, you're not like a baby girl. Like a real girl.

S: She definitely made a like a leap to the next phase of her existence. Absolutely.

IC: I agree with Evan the private shows were really fun to do. So if a private show comes new, you make sure to get tickets everyone. Jay where can they get tickets?

S: If you want one to come near you just send us a request.

J: To the extravaganza you saying?

IC: No the private show, Jay, the private shows.

C: Jay is done with the show, he's like we're at the quote, why we are still recording?

S: Jay is already mentally checked out, he's in 2022 already.

IC: Go to the it's for private show information. And extravaganza.

B: And I'll say this guys, this is mainly to Steve and Jay working on this book about the future with you guys has been one of the best projects I worked on this year. The best project.

J: Without a doubt.

B: And I can't wait to see you know what comes of it next year and in the year after. So I'm really excited about that.

S: Yeah, so we just had a meeting with our editor today, so we got basically a month to do another round of edits and it's gonna be published next fall the Skeptics Guide to the Future. Fall 2022.

B: Oh this Fall, gotcha.

C: This coming Fall.

S: This coming Fall, the next one we are going to encounter.

E: Coming to a fall near you.

S: It was a fun book to write and research and it's the edits were really really spot on so we're looking forward to like taking it up to that next level. And then we're gonna start out whatever the next book project is, we have to talk about what that's gonna be.

Signoff/Announcements ()[edit]

S: All right thank you guys for an awesome year thank everyone out there for listening to the show and for your continued support and feedback and e-mails we love it really again it's the community and the interaction which makes this all interesting so we're not, we don't feel like we're all just talking into the aether, so thanks for another great year of the SGU we look forward to seeing you all in 2022 and, as I say at the end of every year until next week and next year 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[5]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description



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