SGU Episode 864

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SGU Episode 864
January 30th 2022
864 beetles restoration.jpg
SGU 863 SGU 865
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
I love science. I hate supposition, superstition, exaggeration, and falsified data. Show me the research; show me the results; show me the conclusions; and then show me some qualified peer reviews of all that.
Bill Vaughan, American columnist
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


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, January 26th, 2022 and this is your host, Steven Novella. (applause) Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening folks!

S: How's everyone this lovely Wednesday deep winter cold frigid day?

C: Oh no it's cold?

J: Oh god Cara.

E: Super cold.

J: It's one of those days Cara, you go outside for about 2 seconds and you're like oh my god it's cold.

S: Nope.

C: The high today was 72 I think in LA, so that's like 22 for all you Celsius listeners. Yeah, it was nice.

E: Yeah, -4 here, right now, -4 Celsius.

COVID-19 Updates[edit]

Florida's Surgeon General Nominee (1:01)[edit]

S: So get this, we retweeted this on our Twitter account, by the way if you don't follow us on Twitter, do. We do put some information there for you. We retweeted this thing. Ron DeSantis, he's the governor of Florida, he's nominee for surgeon general refused to answer four times, yes or no, do the Covid vaccines work. Wouldn't answer the question, yes or no.

B: What? He would not answer that?

E: How did he answer?

S: His first answer was, the question is a scientific one. That was the entirety of his answer.

E: Yeeeees...

C: Yeah, and you're a scientist or a physician or you should be if you're being nominated for this position.

S: He was pushed to answer yes or no, and his answer was 'A scientist who can answer any specific scientific questions'. So he's saying that he was a scientist who can answer any specific scientific questions. Go ahead, give me your questions, I just did, yes or no.

C: (laughs) Except that one.

S: He did say, reasonable effectiveness for the prevention of hospitalization and death and relatively low effectiveness for prevention. Which is not really true.

C: No it's not true at all.

S: Yeah.

B: So what role is is he trying to fill?

S: Would not, could not, just didn't feel comfortable saying yes, the vaccines work. Just did not feel comfortable saying that.

E: Interesting.

S: That's where we are. Politicized science.

B: What's he's gonna be, surgeon private?


J: All right so the bottom line is that he doesn't believe it or refuses to acknowledge it.

B: Or he's pandering.

E: Politically speaking he can't acknowledge it.

S: He did not feel comfortable saying no. Like it was politically incorrect to say yeah the vaccines work, they're effective, that was politically a no-go.

B: It's pathetic.

C: What goes on in the mind of somebody who hopefully, I mean he must know the truth, right?

S: Of course he does. He's a doctor, he knows.

C: Yeah like it must feel not good in his heart, you know to be sort of struggling with that.

B: Assumes he has one.

J: But Cara it shows you, in the order of importance, in certain people's minds─

B: Right, right, say it.

J: ─you know everybody has that politics is much more important than science. Unfortunately his paycheck is tied to him keeping his mouth shut.

S: The thing is, the surgeon general, a surgeon general should be like an apolitical position.

E: Correct.

C: Absolutely.

S: He's a science advisor.

C: Not just bipartisan, apolitical.

S: Apolitical, totally. We need those people in the government, people how can provide from a neutral, apolitical, non-ideological point of view. Here are the fact, this is what the experts say, this is what's true. So we can't even agree on what's true anymore, even when these are basic established facts. That's the problem.

C: Right. We can all point to outcome evidence, solid outcome evidence that's been reproduced, that we wish weren't the case, right? Like that doesn't align with something that we want to be true but the fact is, it's true and we have to be comfortable, we have to have the neuropsychological humility as we always talk about to say, I don't like it, but this is what the science shows.

E: Right.

S: Now at a recent, guys there was a recent anti vaccine rally in DC. And it was kind of all-purpose conspiracy rally, you know, even though─

C: Got some Q Anon thrown in?

S: ─ostensibly anti vaccine but everything was there, you know. Guess who was like one of the big─

E: Kennedy! Robert F. Kennedy.

S: ─yeah Robert F. Kennedy jr.

C: Of course.

B: He's been around?

J: Oh come on what's the matter with him Steve? (laughs)

E: Oh my god, vaccines causes autism right?

J: I know I know.

S: This guy is, again I'm trying to figure out what happened to this guy. He started out as an environmentalist and somehow he went down the rabbit hole of anti-vaccine and I suspect he is just completely buried in a process of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. Now he's found so much evidence to confirm he's belief that he's done, he's just done. He said at the rally: 'if you take the vaccine you have a 25% increase change of dying over the next 6 months'.

E: What?

S: Where did that come from? Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere, but what he does, like, a lot of anti-vaxxers do, he does what we call dumpster diving in the vaers reporting, database.

E: Oh the vaers.

S: Which is just an open unfiltered you know voluntarily reporting system. It's not scientific information, you can basically, its a Rorschach test, you can see what you want there.

E: Sounds like can read anything into it.

S: Yeah. Meanwhile, the CDC data found in during October November, guess how much more likely were you to die from Covid if you were unvaccinated versus somebody who is fully vaccinated?

E: 18 times.

B: 20 times?

C: Probably 45 times.

S: 53 times. 53 times the risk of death, 53 times the risk of death, can you imagine?

B: Yeah but those are your facts.

C: (laughs)

S: Right, but if you can't trust, you can't trust the CDC, right, so you get up to make up your own facts by doing unscientific observations and a completely unscientific database.

E: It's like a flat-earther mentality.

S: Yeah totally.

E: They're so so steeped in it and they can never come out of it, they don't want to emerge from it, it is their reality and they're so comfortable in it, they'll never leave it, ever abandon it.

C: Problem is this is one of those situations in which reality not only does reality exist, reality has, it's violent in this situation.

J: It's pounding on the door, reality is that people are dying and tons of people are catching this virus and the vaccines are so unbelievably clearly benefits anybody who takes it. And if you turn a blind eye to that, you are intellectually compromised. On some level.

C: And you're harming public health.

Vaccination Good News (6:37)[edit]

S: Here's some good news. Couple of recent studies I wanna point out. One showed that if you either were infected with Covid and then later got vaccinated, or you were vaccinated and had a breakthrough infection you got this hybrid super immunity─

J: It's a hybrid.

S: ─with 10 times the antibodies as being vaccinated alone. Or being infected alone.

C: What?

B: What?

S: 10 times the antibodies.

C: So wait...

B: Jay man you're superman dude.

J: That's awesome. For how long?

S: We don't know that.

B: 5 minutes.


E: Yeah there's a half-life.

S: Time will tell. That's good in that with the spread of Omicron and with the spread of vaccines this is one of the paths that we can get to the pandemic burning itself out and just turning into another flu/cold sort of endemic respiratory virus. Now I do have to emphasize this doesn't mean like if you're fully vaccinated go out and get Covid, it doesn't mean that at all, the whole point, is to not get Covid. And getting Covid is a really terrible way of not getting Covid.

C: Right (laughs)

S: It's a really, it doesn't work.

C: By definition.

S: I really studied this extensively and I'm pretty sure that getting Covid is the worst way to avoid getting Covid.

B: But, but, that begs the question, how can you induce that super-immunity without getting Covid?

C: Boosters probably?

B: No, I doubt that.

S: The thing is, if you could fully boost it, you're fine. You have good effectiveness against even the new variant.s

B: But I want super immunity!

C: (laughs) Wear a mask?

B: I do! I want more!

S: It's still important to avoid Covid for a few reasons, first it's not a benign illness even if you are, if it's a breakthrough infection and you're vaccinated, you're much much better of being vaccinated but you can still get some annoying long Covid symptoms. I know people who have lost their taste and it's taking a long time to come back─

E: That sucks.

S: ─or it doesn't come back fully or the same it was before, like there's something off about it.

E: Frankly some people never had taste to begin with but go ahead.

S: That's true. But any case it's not so benign that you should seek it out, just for the extra immunity so that you don't get it. Again that doesn't even makes sense. And don't think that this is gonna help end the pandemic cause every infection is adding to the probability of more variants emerging.

C: Yes.

S: So just, still try not to get infected, wear a mask, social distance, avoid people who are known to be infected etc. Get fully boosted but if you do get it you're likely to have a very mild illness and it will give you enhanced immunity beyond just being vaccinated or just getting infected alone. The other bit of good news is that the Pfizer CEO just announced that they are ready with an Omicron version of their vaccine.

C: I'm so excited.

S: Will be released in March.

C: I wonder how long you would have had to wait.

S: Yeah that still remains to be seen.

B: So the next booster then, it will be the next booster.

S: Yeah next booster will cover Omicron.

C: Right. We were boosted, I was boosted in October, I want that Omicron booster gimme gimme. I'm feeling like by the day it's been too long you know I'm scared.

S: Well I think so boosting created higher antibody titers than just being fully vaccinated. Hopefully it will also produce longer immunity, which tends to happen, the more number of times you get boosted the longer lasting your immunity is. That's probably true. Again I'm hoping and I think this is reasonable that we'll settle into and annual Covid vaccine. With the flue vaccine. And they'll track the variants just like they tracked the variants with flu and that'll be, that's it. I'll be just one more flu-like, again this is what happens populations just build more and more and more immunity to an infection until it becomes like the cold or the flu, you know.

E Can they combine the two into one? The flu vaccination and the Covid vaccination?

C: Probably.

S: Theoretically. I don't know if they will.

C: It may not be worthwhile.

S: There may be technical reasons why they don't, in mRNA might need different preservatives, unless they make a mRNA flu vaccine that's compatible. But getting two jabs is no big deal, you go, here's your flu, here's your Covid. No big deal.

C: Yeah I got mine at the same time.

E: Yes, but wouldn't the rate be higher if it were a one shot as opposed to two for most, for people? I would think that's how the numbers would work out.

S: Yeah, if they can do it, they probably will, but I wouldn't count on that. Especially with the fact that there are different kinds of vaccines.

C: Don't like elderly or immunocompromised people often take a different flu shot.

S: There's a high dose.

C: Yeah there's like a high dose flu shot, and then there's...

S: There's the quadrivalent versus the trivalent, I always, when they ask me, I'm like give me the high dose quadrivalent please I want the whole full both [inaudible]

C: Why don't, that's a good idea, so we can just ask for the quadrivalent?

B: And sprinkles and [inaudible].

S: Because I'm a hospital, I don't know if it's because of a healthcare work, you probably can get it Cara, so because you're a health care worker you can get a high dose if you want like give it to me.

E: ♪♪You take the high dose, I take the low dose♪♪

C: Sure, I don't want the flu, flu is horrible.

S: They're both fine, it's just you know if I, I'll take the, I want the extra, I'll take it.

B: Fine shmine.

E: You look at the menu, I think I'll have the high dose today.

S: Well now they have the quadrivalent they basically just have, they permanently added the swine flu, the H1N1 it's not the permanent part of the flu vaccine.

E: That makes sense.

C: It just makes sense.

S: There's just gonna be more and more vaccines in our life that's gonna give us immunity against these you know increasing zoonotic infections and you know the anti-vaxxers man, they're not going away, we know they're not going anywhere. We've got to marginalize the hell out of them.

C: Make it like uncool.

S: This is our primary weapon, it's gotta be, oh you are anti-vaxxer, you're weird.

C: Right, exactly.

What’s the Word? (12:30)[edit]

S: Cara, you're gonna do a What's the Word this week.

C: I am, it's been a bit, so it's time for a new What's the Word and this one is a little bit different than usual in that I found the word I liked, realized there's a bunch other versions sort of of it, or alternate forms, wanna dig in to all of them so I know we've recently been talking about evolution as in we're always are talking about evolution, one of our favorite topics on the show. And did you know that many evolutionists and ecologists actually look at speciation and categorize speciation differently based on different characteristics. Most of these categorical systems fall into five different types of speciation: allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, sympatric and artificial.

E: Not Saint Patrick.

C: Not Saint Patrick, yeah. So will start with artificial cause that not really etymologically interesting, at least not for this discussion. Artificial speciation it's just speciation made by human beings, right maybe in a lab we are inventing a new species in order to be able to utilize it for laboratory studies. We do this a lot with fruit flies and things like that, that's artificial speciation, we put that one on the shelf.

But the other four types all have the same suffix, patric, do we know that patric comes from?

E: Ireland.

C: But you're right, you're kind of on the right path, what do we think of when we think of patric? Paaater.

B: Father.

E: Oh, patronus, right.

C: Yes yes, so all these different patrics are referring to 'the fatherland' they're refereeing to the ecological geographic region where these organisms exist. And so allopatric speciation which is one of the most common, one of the ones that I think is the most recognizable for us because we think of Darwin's finches. It occurs when basically one group, one specie separates into two groups because of a physical barrier, geographic barrier, isolation. So a mountain, a river, an ocean. And when we look at the word allo-patric, well what does allo, the prefix mean? It comes from the original Greek and it means 'other'. And here's an interesting thing that I'm sure Steve you know and maybe many of the guys on the show know but I came to because I was not steeped in the skeptic dictionary the way you guys were for so long, when we hear the term allopathic. Allopathic medicine, which is an antiquated word and not a good word.

S: A derogatory.

C: A derogatory word. It was actually invented by Samuel Hahnemann

E: Oh, homeopathy.

C: ─the inventor of homeopathy, yeah, so he coined the term allopatic to mean other medicine. Other.

J: Ooooh.

E: As in non-medicine.

C: As in non-medicine when really it is medicine.

S: It's more of it's like homeopathic is like working with the body and allopathic is medicine that works against the body. I think that was more the idea.

C: But the word allo.

S: It's from the outside, it's other, yeah.

C: Other, yeah, exactly, the other, the outside the kind of, so when we think of allopatric not allopathic but allopatric speciation it's when one group is othered form it, right? So you got this one group that splits off into two and they are othered from each other. Of course the classic example is Darwin's finches. this finch has this type of beak because it has this type of food source on this island. This finch has this other so they are now different species because of that.

S: Yeah so they're in different locations, I think is the simple way to put it. They evolved into different species because they were geographically separated. As opposed to─

C: As opposed to being together.

S: ─sympatric, they're in the same place, but just in different niches, right.

C: Right, but peripatric and parapatric are sort of in between. So peripatry, peri, the root for that meaning around, about or enclosing. And you know we've heard that with different scien peri whatever. And so peripartic is a situation where there are still physical barriers that make it hard for this groups to interbreed but one group is much smaller than another so you don't really see equal groups, you see the main species group and then you see the small offshoot. That's peripatric.

And parapatric which what does para mean, what's that route? This ones brutal it means besid, alongside, between, around, surrounding, adjacent, parallel, near, but also opposite, on the far side. This one's kinda frustrating because you can kinda use it a lot of different ways but parapatric speciation specifically is when the geographic area it's just so big that's it's hard for different groups to mate with one another, so there may not be a physical boundary, like a mountain range or a river. But it's just so far spread out, that even though they're technically are in the same like biome or the same ecological area, they're just not mating because they're physically far away from one another.

S: Just far away, that would be like orca in different oceans.

C: Exactly.

S: They're connected but they're just far away.

C: But they're just really far away. And then you mentioned Steve sort of the opposite of allopartic which is sympatric speciation and sympartic speciation is sort of controversial, like some scientists don't think this is a cause of speciation. They think there's other reasons behind why these species and these situations would have speciated. But the idea here is that there aren't any physical barriers, they're in close proximity to one another and the new species spontaneously emerges. Maybe because of different characteristics a different food source, different mating choices. And some researchers say no, we think there has to be boundary or a barrier or a physical reason and it could be that something happened a long time ago and they came back together or there's some other reason that they're now cohabitating, that's not the right word, occupying the same space that they're now sympatric. And sym of course comes from together, joint, right like sin or sym.

So yeah, this is one of those fun situations where the science makes sense, you see this a lot in anatomy, where you're like I get why that is called that, because that is the Latin or Greek root and that is a perfect...

S: Adrenol is on top of the renols.

C: Exactly like what an easy label to understand. I love it when it's like that. So this is a really interesting example of that but now you know five different sources of speciation: allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, sympatric and artificial. And if you can't remember which is which just think back to that root.

S: Cara I think of the sympatric as the snitches, maybe some of them just have stars upon tars, they don't mix with the other ones. You can think of it in terms of culture, there is assortative mating [inaudible] status, that's sympatric in a way. If it got to the point where it's like the Elois and the─

B: Morlocks?

C: I have no idea.

S: Morlocks, yeah the Morlocks and the Elois.

E: Time machine?

S: Yeah, that was kind of a commentary on the class society when they became so separated they actually became different species.

C: Right right.

S: The workers and the haves and the have nots.

C: And so that really is the question I think for a lot of ecologists, behaviorists, evolutionists, is there a cultural behavioral basically a choice and interest and attraction that can occur within a species that's in the same geographic region when they just say I would rather mate with this option and that is such a strong that ultimately leads to speciation. Some thinks that that's the case some think, no there's gotta be a different mechanism in play.

S: Yeah, I mean the reason to be skeptical of that is we know that even different species are gonna hook up.

C: Right.

B: Uh baby.

S: When humans and chimps divided into two different lines for millions of years there were some hanky-panky going on.

C: Oh for sure.

S: If that's the case why wouldn't the same species be willing to mate, you know, there has to be something. It does makes sense that there would need to be some kind of.

C: Something else is going on. Like maybe the case that it happened sure in individual pairs or like in a certain generation but think about how long it takes for speciation to occur in a sexually reproducing species.

S: For example Cara if you have like if one individual has a chromosomal mutation and they have enough close relatives with that mutation where they can create a genetically incompatible sub-population of their species. The only reason that they become different species is genetic incompatibility. Not distance. But then again we're introducing a new reason [inaudible]

C: Exactly then it's a mutation for sure.

S: All right, cool.

C: Yeah, fun one.

News Items[edit]

Carbon Signatures on Mars (21:29)[edit]

S: So guys we're gonna have another, another discussion about, it there life on Mars? Which one of the big scientific questions of our age, if we eventually answer it in a positive then we'll have an answer. If it's negative it'll I think always be a question mark, it's always only as good as how deeply we've been able to look. But in any case, there's a new study which is once again compatible with the interpretation that at one time there was life o Mars. Doesn't have to be extant life. But of course compatible with is not the same as evidence for. because there are other interpretations. this one has to do with carbon. Going back now to the Curiosity rover, Curiosity rover is still working even though we have Perseverance up there. Curiosity rover concluded an analysis of martian rock, they basically pulverized the rock, heated it up to release gases and analyzed the gases looking for the carbon signature in those rocks. They looked at 24 different powdered rock samples including some that came from rock beds that are known to be ancient and that's kinda the point. You know they wanted to make sure they were looking at ancient rocks cause they wanna see if there's ancient life on Mars. That's what they're looking for. And they're looking for the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13.

Now I know you all you guys know what isotopes are. Isotopes are different versions of an element, an element is defined by how many protons it has. But an element can have different numbers of neutrons. So a carbon-12 would be a carbon with 6 protons and 6 neutrons, carbon-13 would be 6 protons and 7 neutrons. I know you guys know carbon-14 dating that involves a different isotope. Carbon-14 is not stable, it's made in the Earth's atmosphere because of cosmic rays hitting carbon in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide. Creates carbon-14, carbon-14 has a half life of over 5000 years. 5730 years to be precise. And so it decays into a nitrogen isotope and you can look at the ratio there for plants breeded in. Plants incorporate the carbon into their substance, we eat the plants and so the isotope ratio of C-14 to C-12 and 13 in our bodies tells us how long it's been since we've been metabolizing stuff, right? So if we died and 10 000 years goes by, the C-14 that we had incorporated will decay and the ratio of C-14 to C-12 were down. That's carbon dating.

But now what I'm talking about has nothing to do with any of that, that's nothing to do with carbon-14, that's to do with carbon-13 and carbon-12 both of which are stabilized isotopes, they do not decay. But there is a slight difference. Isotopes generally speaking are chemically identical, carbon is carbon. So carbon-12 and carbon-13 are chemically the same but they are a little different. What do you think the difference is?

E: The size and the number of neutrons.

B: Well the extra neutrons.

C: Yeah the reason it's 12 or 13.

S: Which makes it a little...

B: More massive.

S: More massive, right.

C: Ah, size.

E: Size!

S: C-13 is a little heavier than C-12 that means that when plants breathe in carbon dioxide from the air to incorporate, fix it into their sugars, they get a little bit more carbon-12 then carbon-13 cause it just moves into their pores a little bit easier, right? There's a ratio of C-12 to C-13 in the atmosphere and in the ocean which is about the same. The carbon cycle in the atmosphere is 98.8% C-12, 1.2% C-13. But the carbon in living things 99.2% C-12.

B: Yeah, but that's Earth, that's not Mars right?

S: Exactly, that's Earth, that is not Mars. Exactly correct. There is a carbon cycle on Earth and we can know if when we're looking at a ratio of C-12 to C-13, if that came from the atmosphere or the ocean. Or if it came from a living thing which includes fossil fuels, right fossil fuels also have a what they call a C-13 depleted ratio, there's a little bit less C-13, cause it's a little bit harder to get into plants just because it's a little bit slower moving. It's all physics, it's moving around more slowly so by chance alone C-12 just moving a little bit faster a little bit more energy is gonna get into the plant with slight advantage over the heavier C-13.

So on Earth it's easy to tell when life has been involved, cause if it's C-13 depleted if there's a higher ratio of C-12:C-13 than in the air then that that's because it's concentrated by a living process. Now we're trying to apply this to Mars. And as Bob pointed out, Mars ain't the Earth, we don't know what the carbon cycle is on Mars.

B: Oh, we don't?

S: If we knew what the carbon cycle was on Mars, then we could say what the ratio should be.

E: So but it might be the same, it may not be the same.

S: But it might be the same! So what they found in the ancient rocks, to put it this way, what they found in some of the samples had depleted C-13 ratios and they were all from the ancient rocks. I don't think all of the ancient rocks had depleted but all of the depleted samples were ancient. One of the possible processes that could deplete C-13 in the samples is life. Just lie on Earth. But there are two other processes that can also do it and this is the problem, right? If life were the only think that could do it, then we would be done. Then we will go yeah had to be little critters crawling around a billion years ago depleting the C-13 in these samples.

Another one is methane, if methane gets released into the atmosphere it gets broken down at ultraviolet light releasing carbon and that carbon will have a depleted C-13 ratio as well. Now on Earth most of our methane comes from life also methane is another signature of life and we've talked about this on Mars too. Hey, there's methane in that plume on Mars, but the question is, is it organic methane, is it coming from a living source or is it coming from a chemical process, cause chemical processes could make methane too. And so haven't ruled out that the methane that we're seeing in the martian atmosphere, we haven't ruled out that it could have chemical source. In addition that methane could be responsible for the depleted C-13 ratio in the soil if there were enough of it in the right place. We don't know but that's a possibility. The third possibility and this one seems really speculative to me, but they said if the, if our solar system passed through a molecular cloud containing carbon-12 sometime in the past, that could've incorporated into the soil the ancient soil on that time period in Mars.

E: Major cosmic contamination.

S: Cosmic contamination with C-12 might have affected the ratios.

E: Wow.

S: That you know, it could've happened. Those are the three possibilities: life, methane, molecular cloud from space. And because we don't understand the martian carbon cycle we can't say which one it is. However this is where the Perseverance probe comes in. Because now Curiosity is like, all right dude, we have C-13 depleted─

B: Take the baton.

S: ─in the rock samples here, now over to you Perseverance. What Perseverance is doing─

B: Persevering?


E: Hopefully.

S: Persevering, absolutely, you know that it's packaging up samples and preparing them for possible return to Earth with a later mission. Once we get those samples back on Earth then we can start to untangle the carbon cycle on Mars in more detail and also scientist can ask questions and propose hypothesis to try to tease apart which one of these three sources is responsible for the depleted carbon-13 ration on Mars. So it's too soon to declare that this is evidence for life as we know every time this has come up so far for an extra-terrestrial source of life, is it chemical or is it biological, it's turned out it's not biological. Again, so far, we know that the Venus thing that we talked about couple years ago was a bust.

E: Right.

S: You know evidence for mars it's tantalizing, we're still left with this tantalizing hint, that there could be signs of ancient life on Mars but nothing definitive. I also feel the same way about every time astronomers go there's something weird happening here, aliens could be one of many possible explanations but we always find a non-alien explanation. So far we've always found non-biological explanation but as we all know Mars is a great candidate for once having had life, it had liquid water on it's surface, in the ancient Mars before the atmosphere got stripped away by the solar wind cause it lacks magnetic field. But it's possible and this will give us another data point on how likely it is for life to arise. If life independently arose on Mars in the short period of time where it had liquid water then it tells us a lot about how likely it is and how common life is likely to be in the universe. So this is a question worth pursuing to the end, you know.

E: Get those samples home then, get'em.

S: These data points are coming very slowly, cause yeah, one of those samples gonna get back to Earth that's gonna be a long time, that like the next mission, hopefully. But it's good that NASA's prioritizing this and there may be some things that Perseverance could figure out in situ, like on Mars, with the instrument that it has there. But the real deep science is gonna happen when we get those samples back to Earth. So let's hope NASA can make that happen soon. But cool, I thought the whole carbon cycle thing was interesting.

B: Yeah.

E: Very interesting.

Schoolkids and Conspiracy Theories (31:51)[edit]

S: All right Jay, this is kind of a tricky topic, I read this whole article it goes pretty deep, you're gonna tell us about what to do about these crazy school kids today and all their conspiracy theories.


E: Get off my lawn!

J: Yeah so I read a really good article at Scientific American by Melinda Moyer. So the article's called: 'Schoolkids Are Falling Victim to Disinformation and Conspiracy Fantasies'. And it's a little alarming─

B: Why should they be any different?

J: ─especially conspiracy fantasies, I don't know. Today teachers are faced with students who deny basic facts of science and history. That's happening all across United States, probably, this is also probably a global phenomenon. But definitely happening in the United States. Over the past 20 years misinformation has been growing and it has become growing problem with students in particular. Now they're easy targets for fake news and misinformation because they're young and they simply lack the skills to assess the credibility of information. This is something that all of us has been working on most of our adult lives, it's not an easy thing to do. You know typically around the age of 14 students will show signs of believing in conspiracy theories. That's pretty young, you know I have a 9-year-old son.

S: Yeah, 14.

J: You know he's 5 years away from that. Ad that goes by in the blink of any eye, it is young. So let me give you a perfect example of what's going on. In 2016 Stanford University study that included 8000 students reveled that 80% of middle schoolers thought that a sponsored advertisement on a website was in fact a real news story. they couldn't see the difference, you know weren't able to detect the clues that are there to show you that it's an advertisement. You know it could be the word 'advertisement', right underneath it and they're just not seeing it. They also concluded that less than 20% of High School students questions falls claims on social media cites. Wow, you know just reading─

B: Less than 20.

J: ─and believing everything. So issues like this go all the way up to the college level by the way. It's not just in that age range. False information is commonly targeted at young users that in it of itself could be a long conversation. Now check this out guys. YouTube is what it's one of the most popular social media sites. Yey YouTube, right, YouTube's fun, I enjoy YouTube. Well it was found that search terms looking for legitimate information directed users in fact on YouTube to misinformation. So if you use YouTube, you know it recommends videos for you after you watch something and then a video stream will pop up and it will show you watch these, check out this stuff. The problem is, these recommendations typically lean the user towards more extreme and false content as it goes along. It get more extreme and you know more bullshit. So for example researchers tested the search term 'lunar eclipse' what would you guys think would show up in your YouTube if you search on 'lunar eclipse'?

S: Flat-Earthers.

B: Loony conspiracies.

E: I just wanna see lunar eclipses.

C: Exactly.

J: Exactly, right Evan, that's what I say.

E: That's all I want.

J: Somebody said it, the result show a video about flat Earth.

C: Ugh.

J: Doesn't even have anything to do with a lunar eclipse. One researcher said that YouTube is, and I quote: 'one of the most powerful radicalizing instrument of the 21st century'. That's YouTube.

B: Yeah man, optimized rabbit holes.

J: I'm on YouTube every day, I use it all the time.

E: So what's the responsibility of YouTube to make their algorithm work better in a case like that?

J: Evan it is working the way they wanted to.

E: Oh, OK, if it by design then YouTube's evil, I get it.

C: Feature not a bug.

J: Of course it's by design. This is not by accident, this is all, I mean they put so much time and energy into fashioning the way that their algorithms work.

S: Yeah this is not a whoops, this is o look at this, radicalizing videos get more views, let's do that.

C: Right it's not about the fact that they are trying to radicalize people it's about the fact that people want to watch this, like this stuff compels more eyeballs. It works.

J: Exactly, exactly. So look, I'm not surprised, I thought that Facebook was more of a problem than YouTube I guess it's hard to even judge.

C: I think Facebook is more of a problem for older people. YouTube for younger people.

J: But it's good that social media is being researched I completely agree that we should be researching social media. And we should also be researching, we should quantify the effects that it has, right. We should have a better understanding this. What do we do in social media's wake? What are we gonna do about it? How do we deal with this? How do we educate people to handle what we're faced with right now? And this happens to be a very highly debated question.

B: There's nothing we can do.

J: Bob there is things that we can do.

B: Sure but we won't.

C: (laughs)

J: Well, OK, but that's a different thing.

S: That's a different questions.

J: but this is a very highly debated question among some researchers and educators. I say some obviously because we're talking about a slice of all the researchers and educators out there are actually paying attention to this. But the ones that are paying attention are very much involved in it. So well of course, I come out of a gate and say learning about critical thinking is key, right? Number 1, it's gotta be the most important thing here, you have to understand how to think and how to do the things that we talk about on the show in order to wade through the Internet. Schools could teach something called media literacy and some do. The goal here is to give students mental tools to identify fake or bad information. Now the scary thing is that some of this misinformation is coming from the parents themselves, right? It's coming from their families, who are also misinformed by fake news and social media sites.

C: Some of it's coming from the teachers Jay.

J: I know this is a very difficult thing to talk about because of how complex it is. And I'm trying to paint a picture here so we can dig in a little bit.

C: It's so sad.

J: Let me give you a few more things to think about, school seem to be the only place that most kids can learn about critical thinking, right? If there's any place that the average kid is gonna learn about critical thinking it's not gonna be at home, it's not gonna be in the ballpark, it's gonna be at the school. As most skeptics know, there are amazingly few classes that teach critical thinking. you know some teachers who have a love and understanding of critical thinking, yeah, they'll incorporate it into their classes. But that's rare, very rare. There are some resources on the web, absolutely. Some are actually very helpful like I like or if you have children and you wanna know can I show my kid this particular this, commonsensemedia is great while has some really good resources there if you're curious go check it out. But even with these resources it's not even close to being enough.

We need critical thinking inserted into the common core at the right age range. Couple stats for you, in 2021 the US state of Illinois was the first to require high school students to take a media literacy class. Other states they have 'media literacy' laws but they're largely ineffective. Some for example require media literacy information to be put on their websites. Or the information to be made available to students whatever the hell that means. The quality of that media literacy and if it's even getting in front of the students of course is the big question mark here.

Overall Universities have a better track record of teaching media literacy but by the time the students get there it's already too late. Researchers who study issues like this typically don't agree on what should actually be taught to students learning media literacy. Some researchers believe students should focus on where the information is coming from. And other believe they should get their information from journalistic sources. The fact is that there is not a lot of data at all about what method is best here and that is one of the core problems. There's also something called news literacy, this focuses on the spread of conspiracies and students ability to identify real news from fake news. This focuses on reliability and credibility of news and online information. And again, the researchers have very different perspectives on how the skills should be thought.

To sum it up here the researchers and the educators all acknowledge that there isn't enough data to make a really science-based decision on how to move forward. What is the best method, what is the best information to teach. They don't know, nobody knows, everybody has their own opinions on what they think is the right way to do it. What the researchers are trying to do now, is get more information. As you know it takes a very long time to do it and it cost a lot of money. The majority of research that exists is been conducted on college students which really doesn't help the age range that we want which unfortunately that's just where the research has been conducted. Now after being involved with critical thinking for 30 years, right guys? 16 years co-hosting a podcast about critical thinking. Co-authoring a book about critical thinking. I think that this is actually a pretty clear situation. The students should be learning a broad spectrum of critical thinking skills. This is all my opinion. It should just be about media literacy or news literacy, that's like you know, it's too narrow. We've talked about developing a boloney detector in your mind, right? What is that boloneytector? It's actually having a foundational understanding of many critical thinking skill sets. Right? That's why we wrote the book. We had to put it all in one collection because all of it is kinda co-dependent n each other, you need this foundation of critical thinking. And I also detect that the researchers are so dependent on 'data and research' that they're missing the bigger picture. Which is, it's already out there, we already have the information, we already have the information on what students should be learning. I know that it hasn't been turned into classroom lessons and all of that, I mean some of it is out there and we haven't stitched it all together but come on, what is the actual question? They say that they don't have enough data. I think we have the data, we know exactly what people need to learn.

S: Well, all right but it is a reasonable point to say, do we have like scientific studies showing us that the outcomes actually work and that it is lacking. That's what's most concerning to me so first of all, I agree with you, saying does teaching media literacy work or what method or what method of teaching media literacy works the best is kind of already starting with the wrong premise, because I over the years, it's like saying how do we teach scientific literacy and does that work, does teaching scientific literacy keep people from believing a conspiracies. It has nothing to do with how you teach scientific literacy. it's that scientific literacy by itself is not enough. You need to teach scientific literacy and media literacy and critical thinking skills together and I do think that there's evidence to back that up. I don't think we can say that their point is not correct, they're getting more granular, they're saying not does teaching media literacy work but which method of teaching media literacy is better.

C: Right but not having that data shouldn't preclude you from teaching I think that's the real questions we should be doing it anyway and we should also be studying it.

S: We should be doing it and studying how to do it better.

J: Yeah I hate to think that they're being hung up you know they're kinda like...

S: I don't think so Jay, I don't think that's the case, I think it's just at the academic level they're doing what they should be doing, they're being skeptical and they're asking questions they're not making assumptions. it doesn't mean you do nothing in the meantime it's just like again with medicine, just because we don't know what the best treatment is doesn't mean we do nothing ant let the patient die. You go with the evidence you have.

J: Of course but Steve with critical thinking though are there really like unturned stones here? Like we do have our thumb on it, we know how to teach people critical thinking.

S: Yeah but they weren't even, Jay they weren't even talking about critical thinking, they were talking about media savvy. Media literacy. And that is distinct, they're distinct. Yes there's overlap, there's a lot of overlap but they are distinct subsets.

J: I know, you're right.

S: My problem with the whole approach was not that they were questioning which method of media literacy is most effective or more of a long-tern outcomes, that's great. My problem was they didn't even challenge the premise that media literacy is the problem and they didn't mention at all that you need to combine it with broaded critical thinking skills and scientific literacy.

C: Where's the conversation about basic philosophy and basic psychology curriculum. Like very few students have exposure to psychology or philosophy except when they get to college if they choose to major in it or to take those courses as part of their core curriculum. But you can get through a PHD having never taken a single psych cause and a single philosophy course. And these are I think vehicles for teaching critical thinking.

S: I agree though I kind of in my own categorization I include them under critical thinking. Understanding philosophical basis of science and understanding psychological basis of belief that's all of the broader, which again Jay, goes beyond media literacy. Which it has to be noted separately.

J: I know that media literacy is, it's a subset, right? It's kind of if we had a tree of critical thinking, media literacy is a leaf on a branch of that tree. Too small, it's too narrow. I think teaching people critical thinking, the foundational part of critical thinking it would give them such a boost up in so many different ways and so many different areas, you know the media literacy thing it's just a tiny part of this whole thing.

S: Oh I agree, I totally agree I see this the same as 30 years ago when and we fell into this we were talking about we have to teach scientific literacy and that's the answer to pseudoscience and conspiracies. No it's not true, it's a tiny slice. You have to combine all three together.

J: There are people who have philanthropic desires, right? If we threw a billion dollars at critical thinking how would you spend that and I would say first thing I would do is get a few lobbyists pushing this agenda because it's so important.

C: Where's Bill Gates!?

S: This doesn't happen at the federal level, it happens at the state level, you need 50 lobbyists. But in any case yes it's challenging we need to get it into the curriculum, how do you fundamentally change the curriculum? That is a hard generational battle. The best I think we could do our movement could do is to provide the resources ans much as possible to have lifelong education even outside the educational system as much as we can on YouTube on Facebook i adult learning scenerios. As a movement that's what we gonna do. I would like you asked previously how do we interface with the academics, I've been asking myself that question for 20 years. I think unfortunately our movement is looked on as a popular, like a popular movement and not academic and that's unfortunate.

C: Even though a huge percentage of us are academics.

S: Are academics, I know!

E: I know it's not, it's not correct.

C: But even you're right even with the academic circles it like oh, they do that skeptical work.

S: Yeah, I know.

C: It's not essential to the department.

S: I had somebody asked me the other day, just indecently from what they saw of me online 'so you investigate ghosts?' and I'm like oh total face [inaudible]. (laughter) I gave them the elevator pitch on like what I actually do but the idea that this point in skeptical career somebody could see my online persona and boil it down to 'you investigate ghosts' again just so disappointing. But that's the problem that we're dealing with, right?

J: Steve I get you, I see you, Steve I see you.

S: You see me Jay?

E: I see people. I see skeptics.

J: God help us. All right.

S: It's like no I investigate the people who investigate ghosts. As a way of teaching science and critical thinking blah blah blah but it was, yeah we still have a lot of work to do, still a lot work to do.

Peter Jackson and AI (48:42)[edit]

S: All right Bob tell us how Peter Jackson is using artificial intelligence to bring us this great old footage that he's been doing.

B: Well I finally finally got up to speed in the past few days and was transfixed by Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back doccu series, wow. So impressed, so impressed. So immediately went to YouTube I typically do that, right to YouTube cause I wanna see commentary, what are people saying. And I cam across an angle I really hadn't fully appreciated and that's the extensive use of cutting edge technology to make the visuals and the audio as amazing as it was in that show. I wanna discuss the tech a bit, and maybe at the end I'll throw in a little extra like how a critical tenet of skepticism could have potentially scuttled the entire doccu series.

So OK, we had Michael Lindsay-Hogg, January 1969 he filmed the Beatles writing the songs or developing the songs, creating the songs for a big live recording that never happened as originally planed but eventually culminated right in their iconic Rooftop Concert on London Savile Row, their last public performance ever. Hogg created 60 hours of video footage and more than a 150 hours audio. It was all created in that month of January'69. Some of it was used for the 1970 Let it Be movie. The rest was in storage for almost as long as Jay has been alive─

E: Oh my gosh this stuff must've decayed.

B: ─a really, really long time.

J: (laughs) Thanks Bob.

C: (laughs) That's mean.

B: Oh my god so then, recently maybe four years ago or so cue Apple CEO Jeff Jones and Director of Production Jonathan Clyde. They saw Peter Jackson's pioneering 2018 restoration of that World War I documentary, do you guys remember that?

C: Oh yes we all saw it together.

(talking over each other)

S: That was amazing.

C: Mind-blowing.

B: So yes what he did to that footage is like I said he pioneered this restoration ability like nobody else had before him. So they contacted him and said hey, you wanna apply your skills to the Beatles footage?

E: Yeah.

B: So and of course, I didn't know this, Jackson is a huuuuge fan, huge Beatles fan, crazy fan. So the first hurdle was the video itself. And this is remember this is 16mm film from 1969 not in good shape you know, I mean at its best it's still 16mm it's not great. But a half a century ago Peter and he's buddy I forget his name, they describes it as being chunky and grainy with a desaturated look to it. All the colors were washed out, not in really good shape at all. So they brought they video restoration experience from They Shall Not Grow Old to bare and so they were able to do things like they were able to degrain it, they were able to upscale it, they were able to soften the video and other techniques to make it to a dramatic degree I think. And we've all seen that de-aging technology on many actors in various movies and those techniques are good, they're getting better, certainly getting really better, getting very impressive. So what they did was kind of de-age the film in a way as well. But also, but also in addition to de-aging it, they made it more life-like then it ever was so they actually improved it beyond what I think what it ever was. If you had watched it in February of 1969 it would not have looked anywhere near as good. It truly was impressive. Now some people are complaining that the video has a distasteful like ethereal quality to it, and that it's too soft. I don't know, I disagree. I think what they have accomplished, especially if you compare if if you look at it side by side it's an amazing difference and looks wonderful and I felt like I was there. It felt like a modern movie, it felt like it was made yesterday.

C: People were actually complaining? There were like 'oh it didn't look like I shot it on my iPhone'.

B: Like what's that weird thing maybe they see some weird optical, some fleeting optical effects that I ever noticed, there's always gonna be complainers.

C: Oh, jeez.

B: But the video though, the video restoration was actually trivial compared to the audio. In many ways, in most ways that I can think of the original audio was far worse than the original video. Yeah it was horrific. And that's because of two things, what I call the tyranny of mono, and the guitar subterfuge, OK? Now the tyrant of mono I mean that the mono recording of the early rehearsals were problematic for storytelling and that's why Peter Jackson was there. It was recorded that way, because it was just rehearsals, right, you don't put rehearsals on A-track. Throw the microphone in there and just record what you can, it doesn't have to be this high resolution awesome stuff. So it kinda makes sense. But if it's mono that means that all the instruments, all the singing voices, all the speaking voices, they were all on one track. There was no balancing, there was no mixing, nothing. So this left many of the important conversations between the Beatles inaudible, because they were just buried within all the other louder noises going on, right you know they're playing or whatever, they're making comments, they're talking while they're playing and you can't make out the audio. Hardly at all. And its mono, you can't pull out the audio track in isolation and just listen to that, can't do it, cause it's not there. Now that of course would've been a major problem for Jackson since those conversations far less than the music, the conversations were the meat of his narrative, right? The story, that he wanted to convey was in those discussions and not necessarily nearly as much in the music itself. So on top of all that mono, the tyranny of mono there was the guitar subterfuge.

Now the Beatles and especially John and George did not like having their conversations recorded. Especially some of the conversations, cause they're private conversations. They've been doing this at that point for what 15 years and they're used to having privacy and saying whatever they want. They agreed to the filming but they didn't like the conversations being recorded. So Peter Jackson said the following so what John and George used to do is 'If they were in a conversation,they would turn their amps up loud and they’d strum the guitar'. They'd just be strumming, not playing anything, no tune, so all microphones were recording was this loud guitar but you'd see the Beatles talking having some private chat. And you can't make out what they're saying.

C: But doesn't that sort of implicitly then imply that we should not be hearing what they said? Cause the chose for us not to hear what they said?

E: But they were being filmed.

J: No but they new that they were being filmed for this and they...

C: Right but they didn't know that film had the capability in the future of decoding what they were saying.

B: Yes.

E: Caveat emptor.

B: Cara you are right it absolutely does imply that but everyone signed off.

C: Oh they signed a release? Yep, yep.

B: Everybody signed off on it. They saw the videos, they saw what Jackson had done and they all signed it off, that was Paul, Ringo, and then Harrison's wife and...

S: Yoko Ono.

B: And Yoko, Yoko for John.

C: OK, OK.

E: [inaudible] walked in a bathroom I suppose and have a private conversation.

B: They all signed off and they even had to sign of on just starting this entire process. They of course had to sign off that which of course I will mention later.

S: And I think it makes sense because you're at the time even though you could argue about whether or not they should have, they didn't really have a sense of the historical significance of the whole thing.

C: Of course, they were just musicians.

S: And now I think hopefully they do and they're saying yes conversations that thy might want to have kept private 50 years ago they appreciate now should be in the public domain.

B: And also there are some things that were recorded that are tragically, tragically if it did come out at that time, it could've changed everything about the brake-up of the Beatles. Cause at one point you've got George talking to John, and they're saying you know, you know we could do, George if you wanna just go do your own thing, make an album, go ahead but then come back we'll do another album with the Beatles. And then somebody else could go out an do their own thing and then come back. And when Peter Jackson told that to Paul, Paul was like wow, if I knew that at that time, things could have been very very different. And that was so tragic to think that things could've been very very different. But they OK'ed it, they signed off on everything so that's the important point, of course they had to do that. They're material and this is their decision and they made it. All right. So we're talking about the guitar subterfuge. So that made it especially hard for Jackson to listen to what they were saying. Whether it was mono or not, these guys were hiding their conversations and were making them pretty much unretrievable at that time. So this of course is when machine learning comes in and saves the day. These techniques have been improving for years, this isn't brand new technology, but what they did was essentially de-mix the mono recording and create multiple tracks that could be isolated from the mono, using machine learning.

J: Wow, that is a miracle.

B: That is fantastic. Jackson said that he had his people tweak the existing technology specifically for what they needed to do. And so Peter said the following:

"We developed a machine learning system that we taught what a guitar sounds like, what a bass sounds like, what a voice sounds like. In fact we taught the computer what John sounds like and what Paul sounds like. So we can take these mono tracks and split up all the instruments we can just hear the vocals, the guitars. You see Ringo thumping the drums in the background but you don’t hear the drums at all. That that allows us to remix it really cleanly."

J: Oh my god.

B: I mean fantastic.

E: Visual cues, right?

C: So cool.

B: Fantastic. So when Jackson says that we taught the computer what John sound he means that they fed it the training data, right, cause that's the bread and butter or should I say the toast and marmalade of deep learning. I threw that comment in there for people have watching HOW MUCH TOAST DO THEY EAT and marmalade, every damn day, there's our toast─

E: They're British Bob.

B: ─there's our jelly jam marmalade whatever the hell you wanna call it but I did want some as I was watching. Kinda delicious. OK, so this has been compared in some ways to deep fake technology specifically Jason Perlow is a senior technology editor ZDNet. He calls it deep restoration which I kinda really like except it's problematic since it's based off of deepfakes.

S: You can't do one without the other, right? Like if you're gonna develop the technology deep restoration it's probably a lot of overlap with deepfake.

B: Oh there's tons of overlap and my concern is the it's just the nomenclature, you don't have to call it deep restoration. And I like the term deep restoration, I don't know if it will take, maybe it's already taken, but it's unfortunate that it's associated with deepfake which is so such a horrible thing in a lot of ways.

OK, so the big breakthrough for us was actually not restoring the pictures even though that was obviously looked at even though that's what you obviously look at it was the sound. So the sound for Jackson, that's what made his day with this entire project, the breakthroughs they made with the sound. For him, the video restoration was actually probably much easier than even the World War I restoration cause that video was even in worse shape. Probably was relatively easy for him, but the audio was the challenge and they came out with some amazing stuff.

So that's it for that technology but this also is related to an interesting aside and I'll say it in Peter's voice this is related to skepticism and memory. So in December 2017 McCartney came to New Zealand on tour and was invited backstage to discuss the project.

“I had an iPad, and so I went into the dressing room and shook his hand and said, ‘So, Paul, I’ve seen all the outtakes from ‘Let It Be.” I could see the nervousness on his face… He was there in 1969, but he hadn’t seen the footage. And he said, ‘…yeah?’ And I could see there was trepidation on his face. I just said, ‘Look, whatever you think it is, it’s not what you think it is. Because I thought it was going to be miserable, but I’m amazed at how funny and happy it is. It’s completely different to what imagined.’ … He said, ‘Yeah? What? Really?’”

He just had no realistic appreciation of Peters appreciation of the footage. Because this is 50 years ago to Paul, Peter has just seen it and his takeaway is not, did not sync up with Paul's memory.

C: Well Paul's gonna remember the tone of the era, he's gonna remember how he felt about his band mates at the time, what he was, he's gonna have a very biased memory of what that exact snippet in time looked like, because it's gonna get lost in the larger picture.

B: It's more complicated than that.

E: First person to the third person.

B: No it's more complicated, you'll see what I'm talking about, so then what Peter Jackson did he showed him the clips on the iPad, later he did the same for Ringo and he convinced them than Let It Be filming was not what they thought. And so Jackson continues here:

But they had somehow imposed all their memories of the ‘Get Back’ sessions from January 1969 on the May 1970 release of the film [Let It Be].

So Let It Be for them is a symbol of a very unhappy time that they were personally experiencing when the band was braking up and they transposed all of that emotional energy, that emotional memory onto the Get Back sessions. Which obviously is unfair because that was 15 months earlier.

I have had to sort of just gently kind of show Ringo and Paul that it’s not quite how they remember it. It’s not May 1970; this is January 1969.

So I think Peter Jackson nailed it here, it an example of comments from any skeptics, right? Memories change over time, depending on many things. This case this appears to be the case of memory contamination and definitely an unusual form of that, but that's kind of what it is, cause they were taking their memories from over a year later and kind of throwing them onto the memories of January'69.

S: That makes perfect sense.

C: That was I was trying to say, they're remembering the tone of the era, there was a bad time for them.

J: Yeah and you know, 50 years.

B: January'69 wasn't but yes, later when it was and that was leaking into the '69. So now some say that Jackson is kinda suppressing or camouflaging the true tone of that January in 1969. I mean I don't think so based on what I've read. But I can't be sure. But I do know this, two guys that were there, there's Michael Lindsay-Hogg who filmed it and producer Glyn Jones the guy who wore those crazy wacky awesome clothes. Both of this guys, from the get-go have always said that this was a wonderful January, there was some tension, of course there was some tension. You know people quit band all the time, I see that all the time. They quit for a month or a few days and they come back it happens all the time, no big deal. It was a wonderful, it was a wonderful month. And producer Glyn Jones had a, his specific quote is ‘I don’t know why people have this thought about the “Get Back” sessions. I was there and I was laughing all day long every day…’

So these two guys have been saying, they have not been contaminated by the slow morph of peoples memories of January'69, they were like, it was an awesome time, we had a blast and look what we've accomplished. But everyone's memories over the decades have been kind of morphing into this like oh it was such a depressor it was such a downer and they broke up but it's really it seems like it's reasonable that it's a contamination from that Let It Be video which was played during a bad time, you know? But it wasn't bad when the footage was filmed. And that's why it's so fascinating that this video footage has reveled this that and even Paul was like skittish and scared. And he may have just deep-sixed this whole project if Peter didn't convince him like no, this footage is inspiring in a lot of ways and it's hilarious. And John Lennon how funny was that bastard, I was laughing at him so much, he's so funny, such an amazing guy, just all of them, all of them were. But Paul and John of course were just real standouts for me, oh my god. But the technology, as awesome as it was, the technology behind it made it all possible.

S: And that's what I love about this technology it really is bringing past points in history to life, I'm still amazed at the World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, because you don't realize how ingrained in you the weird timing of the footage everyone's moving.

C: Yeah cause it's not in sync with our eyes.

S: And it makes it seem so unreal. And then just having them move naturally is like suddenly oh my god these are actual people.

J: They're people.

S: They're people that was a guy that was there doing that at that time makes it feel like it was today, it was really transporting.

C: Oh and the fact that he gave them a voice, remember, he actually hired voice actors to speak for them and it them dialects that they would've had depending on where they were for the UK.

B: Oh my god.

C: Like he did all this work, and I think the thing that, you know that exactly what you're saying Steve that they came to life, one of the big things for me that made them come to life is you saw how young they were. They never looked young when they're black and white. But the minute that they came to life with the camera speed and everything was like timed to be more modern you're like oh my god they were children.

B: I thought the same way about Get Back I mean these guys were musical geniuses and they're like 25, 26, 28, I think 24 to 28 actually that is mind blowing cause─

S: They were kids.

B: ─I was in my mom's basement in my mid 20s, Jesus Christ.

C: (laughs)

B: I'm such a loser.

J: Cara you know I auditioned to be a voice actor for that film.

C: Are you serious?

B: What?

S: No.

E: As Ringo?

J: Just kidding, yeah, what would I say.

C: I mean whatever you could audition doesn't mean you'll get the part.

J: [in Dick van Dyke's accent] How you doing gov'ner?

E: [in Transylvanian accent] This is Jay Novella trying to, trying to become one of the Beatles.

S: You know at least one guy in that movie talked like that.

J: One thing that that movie showed me was that everybody had bad teeth back then.

S: Gave me an appreciation for modern dentistry. Seriously it was like oh my goodness.

B: Did you see George's hair? He didn't have hair, hair had him.

J: Yeah. They're all, like you said before they were all geniuses and they were all in their prime prime prime during those years right there I men it was it was irreplaceable, non-dup, you can't duplicate that, I highly doubt there will ever be a band that does what they did.

S: It's a perfect storm that is like historically unique it'd be hard to imagine that happening again.

B: Watching the creative process and the birth of songs like Get Back is just like wow that's an amazing find.

S: Let It Be?

B: Yeah, that as well, multiple songs.

S: When Paul McCartney sits down and just starts playing Let It Be, holy crap.

E: Historic.

B: And I really appreciate Peter Jackson.

S: I wonder what's next, Bob─

E: Yes, any other projects.

S: ─anything come up in your research about what's, is there a new any projects on the horizon?

E: Star Trek TOS all the outtakes.

B: You mean in terms of Jackson and the Beatles or Jackson and some other hidden footage?

S: Yeah just this technology what's the next project.

E: Yeah, what are they're going apply it to?

B: I didn't come across anything other than just Beatles Beatles Beatles so I don't know what else he's gonna do in terms of restoration if anything, I mean I'm sure he loves it, but what else. He's got a lot of iron in the fire.

J: Who knows what's out there, look thank god that Disney didn't give this Beatles documentary to JJ Abrams, that's all [inaudible].

E: You'll have more light flyers that's for sure.

J: That's right.

Human Remains Locator (1:09:28)[edit]

S: All right let's end with some good news Evan, you're gonna tell us about exciting advance in forensic *ekhm* science


E: That's right, you guys ready for the hard science part of the show? All right, have you ever heard of a device called a Human Remains Locator? either has anyone else.

S: The HRL yeah, absolutely [sarcasm]

E: Yeah yeah, the HRL.

B: Zombie detector?

E: And the new model HRL and the HRL2 is right around the corner, stay tuned for that one [sarcasm]. Nobody's heard of this thing, that didn't stop the NBC affiliate in Knoxville, Tennessee though from running a news report on a local inventor who have claims to have created a device the way investigators uncover human remains. So let me describe the device for you. Picture in your mind if you will a thick stick from the branch of a tree about half a meter in length, but it's metal, OK? And there are three pairs of little twigs branching of, symmetrical, three tiny little twigs per side. That's the human remains locator, that's it. That's the whole device.

J: It's a twig.

E: It's a twig, it's metal, but it looks like a twig, so think about that it's metal but it's a symmetrical twig is effectively. That's about as good as I can describe it on an audio podcast. The inventor's name is Art Bohanan, he is a forensic investigator, and he showed of his device for the NBC News cameras and NBC decided about 5 seconds of actual footage of the device being used in their 2 minutes news report but thank goodness for the pause button where I can get kind of a decent view of it and try to describe it as best as I could. Now in those 5 seconds you could see Bohanen using the device by holding the metal branch in one hand, palm up with this thumb on the end of the device, sort of the classic 90° bend in the coat hangar wire if you can picture that. The device dangles loosely while the branch is held a few inches off of the ground. And he claims the device swings when it's held over the piece of land containing human bones. Hmmm.

C: That sounds familiar.

E: Yeah sounds a little bit familiar, right? He demonstrated his human remains locator at a early 19th century cemetery in Knoxville, and the specific claim was this: this device can find unmarked graves. And the remains therefore.

S: What's the probability of there being remains in an old cemetery?

C: Right.

E: Now now Steve.

C: You and your logic.

S: What are the odds?

E: Oh gosh. The inventor Bohanan says "I feel like Alexander Graham Bell when he had two tin cans on a string, we have proved it" it being his device "we have proved it works". OK well, how does it work? According to the dowser, I mean this forensic annalist here the Human Remains Locator uses technology similar to how dowsing rods are meant to work.

C: Oh they actually admit that?

E: Absolutely admits it.

C: Oh damn.

E: Responding with swinging oscillation whenever it's pointed in the direction of an unmarked grave. So if you're just watching the NBC clip on this they jump cut, I mean they literally right of the dowsing rob and they move Bohanon the same man and his other amazing inventions. Now this one doesn't have a name to it, a cool name but it's an orb that hangs from a fishing line, which Bohanon holds in one hand using the tips of his finger to once again dangle the orb at the end of a fishing line. This device helps him determine whether remains are male or female.

C: What?

E: If the orb moves clockwise, the remains are female, if it moves counterclockwise, they're male.

C: That's like the thing they hold over the pregnant ladies bellies.

E: Yes that's exactly.

C: Is that have a name? Is that also a dowsing rod, or it's like a dowsing string?

S: It's dowsing.

E: Yeah it's basically another form of dowsing, yeah, basically. And the size of the circular movement helps determine the age of the remains so the bigger the circle the older the remains apparently. Which you know what. What's the mechanism by the way, how does this thing work? Well here's the quote: "It's picking up energy from the ground" supposedly there's an electric field associated with bone that gets picked by the dowsing rod, I mean the Human Remains Detector. Not this intrepid team at Knoxville NBC they managed to find another dowser, this fellow named Arpad Vass or Dr Vass, I'll come back to, I'll explain who he is in just a moment. But he claims, well he's a scientist, he's a forensic anthropologist and also an inventor of his own Human Remains Location device which he calls the quantum oscillator.

C: Oh no.

B: Oh of course.

E: So we have dueling dowsers all in one report I love it. He's quantum oscillator works by placing, here's what you do with this one. You place, you place someone's DNA, you know a tooth or a lock of hair for example.

J: A tooth (laughs)

E: Inside a frequency blocking chamber in the base of the device with the help of the technology inside this black box it uses frequency waves to probe the environment around to find a match. And not only that, his device works over very great distances. Up to 75 miles. And it's not just good for finding human remains, it can find all sorts of things.

S: Why not?

E: It could be gold, it could be dinosaur bone or whatever I happen to be looking for at the moment he is quoted as saying.

C: You don't even have to tell it what to look for, it just gonna know this?

E: As long as you have a piece of a thing it's looking for, you stick that in there.

C: Oooooh.

E: Silver, whatever, ibuprofen.

B: Gold!

E: It'll point to the ibuprofen 75 miles away. He says for all the dowsers out there well they can dowse all they want, I mean go get a patent see how hard that is, that was his defense to the skeptics out there.

C: You can have a patent for anything, it doesn't have to work.

E: (laughs) Look I'm just telling you what his defense is. He says this has the potential to revolutionize forensic science.

C: In 1840.

E: Yep, yep. They're using each of this, each of this forensic scientists are using their tools to help investigators find missing people, look they quality though, they say nothing works a 100% all the time but you need to have a fallback and that's what these devices are meant to do. So you see what he does there in that sentence? Basically gives like the trapdoor out but in a way reverses it saying other things are not 100% but when you can't count on those, count on us, and our dowsing rods essential.

C: See this guy is brilliant, because he knows that police departments are gonna buy this stupid thing.

S: Oh and they do, they absolutely do. Yeah plenty of, plenty of stories about how they have been called in but authorities, police, FBI and others and of course we know this from skeptics and all our work that we used to do with James Randi, the James Randi Educational Foundation and the headbang against the wall that he used to do with the FBI, with CIA, with law enforcement when it came to all this kind of crank devices. And he showed them how basically useless they are but that didn't stop them from making big investments of taxpayer money into theses pieces of garbage that have no basis in science whatsoever.

C: What year is it? It makes me so sad.

E: Yes, exactly, oh and this fellow Vass, now he's been around doing this for decades. In fact when I did some research on him there are comments about him and his various, various types of tools that he's been promoting since the early 2000s so he's been around at least for 2 decades. At least his presence online has been. Trying to sell this product, this is just the latest version of his product that he has at his website which is available and of course, you know there's plenty people out there calling him a dangerous crank frankly.

S: Fair, it's a fair cap. Totally.

E: Absolutely, yep, dowsing, alive and well and media eating it up, not a bit of skepticism about it all and that's where we are in this world.

S: All right, thanks Evan.

Who's That Noisy? (1:17:51)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:

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

J: All right guys last week I plays this noisy [crackling, reeling sound]. Remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they go sit on that vehicle and he's pouring soda into it and then they get like squeezed, dried.

S: Yeah.

J: That's what it kinda reminded me of.

E: Oh right right the original Willy Wonka you said Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, vs the Johnny Depp.

J: Yeah no no no I'm not talking about that.

E: Right it doesn't exist. But the original yes I do remember the Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory and that scene specifically, absolutely.

J: So listener named William Steel, William Steel very cool name, he said: "Hi Jay, I think this week's noisy is a fishing rod reel unravel, trying to be more specific, the recording sounds very close to the reel and potentially in a swamp at night". That is not correct but he was the first person to write in about the fishing rod and a lot of people wrote in about the fishing rod reel, so apparently there are fishing rods that sound like that out there in the world that nobody new about except them.

Next listener wrote in and said Jack, his name is Jack Davis: "Hi Jay you were broadcasting this on my birthday so I thought I better guess, this noisy is a Geiger counter being moved over a radioactive source.".

C: I like that.

J: That's I thought that was a good guess, yes definitely, I definitely hear Geiger counter in that, it's not correct but definitely some of those sounds are in there.

C: Happy Birthday!

J: The next listener gave the name as Hunk Pilled. I don't think that's their name.

C: I think that's their name.

J: He said "Hello Jay" oh and then he says "my name is Damian" OK, there is a name field my friend. He's name is Damian and "I think this noisy sounds a lot like a zip-line or some other type of cable pulley system." he says he loves the show, he's absolutely addicted. So this is not a cable and it's not a pulley system and I've never been on one of super modern, super fast zip lines so I don't know what they sound like. Has any of you guys have done that?

C: Mhm.

E: I have never done a zip-line, no.

C: What? So fun.

J: Did they sound like that? I wanna do it.

C: No they don't sound anything like that.

J: OK so apparently that's not a good guess. But thank you for sending that in. The winner from last week Jonas Firmback he said: "Hi Jay, this week's noisy sounds to me like the atmospheric static buildup of electricity which sometimes can be heard prior to a lightning strike. In short if you ever in a mountain and hear that sound get down fast."

So this is the sound that was recorded on a mountain as a lightning strike was about to take place, now listen to it again [plays noisy].

C: That is scary as shit.

J: Yes it is, it makes the hair stand up a little bit, doesn't it?

S: Especially when you know what it is.

C: Yes, yeah.

E: Electrons.

S: You're about to get fried.

J: You could hear, like I don't know the physics behind the whole thing there is something that is about to be released, right? It's the buildup.

E: It has a sizzle to it.

C: Or like a buildup, yeah, it's like a buildup of energy, like a rubber band that's about to snap.

J: So we had a winner which is fantastic. I love that. So thank you Jonas for sending that in.

New Noisy (1:21:29)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy for you guys this week. The noisy was sent is by a listener named G. Sterminator.

C: No.

J: Yes. G. Ster-mi-na-tor. G. Sterminator, is that something I should know, I don't know.

C: It's just amazing, this persons name is Sterminator?

J: Yeah, I love it. All right so this person sent in the following noisy:

[bang, rumble]

J: That is the sound, that you must guess. So, guys, if you think you know what that is or if you heard something cool this week, do me a favor: just take the moment right now and send me that information at

Announcements (1:22:15)[edit]

J: Steve guess what time it is right now?

S: 10 o'clock?

J: If you live in New York City or Boston what time is it?

S: It is extravaganza time?

J: It's extravaganza time, yes. We booked two new extravaganzas. Just so you know, we are also booking private shows in both cities, New York City and Boston. The dates are on March 26th we will be in New York City and on March 27th we will be in Boston doing the extravaganza. If you're interested, you could to and I will give you the two dates and then you know hopefully by the time that you get this the other dates will be up there but if not it'll be next week. OK, that's number one.

Number two, some of you I have found out recently don't know that the SGU has a store, well we do and you can go to our store at Please go take a look if there's anything that you would like to see in that store, let me know. Like many of you have said Jay what's up with these awesome trucker hats? I'm working on it. I have two samples being shipped to me right now. They're coming and I will let you know. I'm gonna be very picky about this, I'm very picky about our swag, the hats are gonna be amazing once I finally do it, but we're not ready yet, they're coming.

If you would like to support the show, you can go to our Patreon, that's we absolutely appreciate any patronage that we get and we definitely can use your support so please do help us if you can. And one other thing that you can do, cause lots of people are cash poor right now, you can give us a rating at whatever podcast player you're using, so please do think about giving us a rating, cause it helps us, it helps other people find us which is important.

S: Thanks Jay.


Correction: 5G and Airlines (1:24:00)[edit]

S: All right we got a couple e-mails this week, the first one is a correction from last week, Jay you gave us an update about controversy about using 5G and it's potential effects on airplane instrumentation but there's a little bit of more nuance to this, tell us what the difference is.

J: Yeah so the they're not talking about the altimeters that are found on the actual airplane, they're talking about I guess the altimeters that are being used at the airports, that what, instrument will be affected by the 5G. Now I'm also reading as this continues to unfold, that experts are chiming in and they're saying that they do not believe that there will be any interference with 5G and the altimeter instrumentation. You know there's lots of information coming in around the world from all the different countries that have implemented it and eve though there is like some frequency differences at it's core they're saying that it's not gonna be an issue It really was a safety concern and apparently there wasn't hard and fast evidence that is showing I guess that there was going to definitely be interference. So that's basically it, you know, I was confused about whether or not the instrumentation was on the plane or if it was ground based. I assumed it was on the plane because they said that planes would have to be landing with VFR which means with visual ques and not instrumentation so I figured it was the planes equipment that wasn't gonna be functioning.

S: Yeah but that's not true, the planes altimeter will not be affected by the 5G, only the towers.

J: OK, and even then they're not sure, yeah, that's not gonna happen.

S: OK, thanks.

Email: The Effects of Climate Change (1:25:44)[edit]

S: All right so we got a question, this is John in the UK and John writes, I'm gonna skip through the e-mail cause it's rather long, just get to the meaty parts, John writes:

"What has prompted me to write is the discussion of the impact of climate change you had in your 2021 review show where you all agreed on the dire consequences for humanity, that it would inevitably bring. With one person suggesting it could wipe out human civilization and you referencing 650 million climate refugees, it crystalized in my mind, a concern I had for a while that on this topic you're discussions fall below your usual high standards of rigorous skepticism. My impression is that because you are rightly convinced on the evidence for human induced climate change ad understandably frustrated by the fools who deny that fact you have a strong preference for evidence that climate change is going to be important to the future so don't seem to question modeling of its impacts as much as you would modeling on other topics. For example the most basic observation of the impact of warming over the past few thousand years is it seems to have brought some material benefits to humans as a species, I was born and raised in Northern Ireland, which at the last glacial maximum was under a mile of ice. Warming since then has turned it into fertile farmland where people thrive in a temperate climate. There's no reason why the same can't happen for parts of Canada and Siberia on the coming decades. More generally temporary periods where the gradual warming trend of the last 10 000 years reversed have seem to create reversal in economic growth of the people they've affected. I believe a little ice age that affected Europe in the early 1300s provides an example of this."

He also talks about carbon an the deep past. So I wanted to talk about this one, because this is a common talking point among climate science deniers, again I don't think John is being a climate denier, I think he's just you know misinterpreting this, he's falling for essentially this talking point, not realizing that that's exactly what it is and the argument may sound superficially compelling but when you delve a little bit deeper it becomes obvious that the logic is not sound.

So, the idea is, remember, climate deniers often use motte and bailey defense where they will deny different levels of anthropocentric global warming, they might say at one time, oh see global warming isn't happening and then when presented with iron clad evidence that it is, they'll say well it's warming but it's not human, man-made, it's natural cycle. And then when presented with evidence that it is they might say well OK, it's man, we're causing the warming but it's not gonna be a bad thing.

E: Goal shifting?

S: Yeah. So this is sort of that level where you're saying all right it's clear that the world is warming and humans are contributing to that but maybe this could be a good thing, you know, it ended the last ice age, there's nothing perfect, another sort of corollary to this there's nothing perfect about our climate that we have to preserve it exactly in it's pristine state, the climates have been all over the place historically and that's gonna keep happening. Climate is going to change.

C: But it's also committing the fallacy of saying what's happening now is comparable to anything that's happened in the past. That the pace is comparable the extent is comparable which is not.

E: It's the short span which makes this drastic.

S: Yeah there's two things I think that render this arguments not valid. One is, it's the time course of the change, yes, the climate has been dramatically different at different times in the past but what's really different based upon the best evidence that we have it seems that this rapidity of the climate change is unprecedented and whatever that we could detect in the last million of years.

B: It's an adaptation, right.

C: Yeah we can adapt to things that happened over, exactly over what do you call, geologic timescale, it's much harder to do it over generational timescales.

E: Correct.

S: The other I think really core problem with or unstated major premise here which John is conveying is that there's objectively good or bad climate. That's kind of a straw man, the idea isn't that the climate has to be what is is now, it's that we're rapidly changing it and there's something different now that has never been the case previously on the Earth, you know prior to 200 years ago. And that is, that we have erected an elaborate civilization around our current climate. We have built our cities on existing coast lines. We are farming pretty much all the arable land in order to produce enough food to feed our population.

E: Right, and we're about to loose some of it.

S: Yeah. If those agricultural sweet spots start shifting north or south, depending on what hemisphere you're in, shifting away from the equator, it's not like we can instantly adapt to that. That means we would gonna have to be converting new land, new ecosystems to farm land, for example. We're gonna just move inland? That's what we say that, it's not that we're gonna die and this is where I think there's a legitimate point to this. Is that and sometimes when we get lazy we way say things to that could be overinterpreted, I do think we have to be very careful not to overstate the case technically because the deniers will jump on that to say that we're not being scientific.

C: Right, that we're being climate 'alarmists'.

S: Alarmists, right. I never say anything like we're all gonna die.

B: Yeah it's not an existential threat.

S: Or this is gonna be the end of civilization, I mean saying it's an existential threat is complicated, cause it lands itself to misinterpretation. Cause I don't think that the evidence says, makes a strong case for this is going to lead to the end of humanity, that may be the worse case scenario but I don't see that there's, that's the reasonable extrapolation.

C: Oh rich people are gonna live through this.

S: Oh yeah yeah, people with resources, you don't even have to be rich, I just think people, I always think of that quote from titanic, when the person says "half the people of this ship are gonna die"─

E: Not the better half.

S: ─"Not the better half" the rich aristocrat is like totally the villain you wanna hate, "not the better half". It's the same thing, not everyone's gonna die, you know─

E: Just the poor.

C: Yeah, right, just the people who are already struggling.

S: ─good chunk of people are gonna be displaced, yeah, not the well-off, not the well-resourced half certainly. But in any case, it's gonna hit everybody though but it's gonna hit the developing counties 10 times harder. The thing is you can't just move a city inland and will we adapt to it, sure, but it's gonna cost trillions of dollars. And it's going to displace a lot of people, there's gonna be climate refugees, which is gonna cause political havoc, and it's gonna cost trillions of dollars. but we will adapt to it, we will have no choice but to do that.

C: But even beyond that I do think it's important, we don't wanna sweep under the rug the actual existential threat or even I could say eschatological threat that lots of species are gonna die and are dying already.

E: Oh the oceans are in so much trouble.

S: Totally or we, this is another, this is another separate question but it is tied up with this, are we in the middle of a mass extinction.

E: Right the 6th extinction.

S: I depends how you define "mass extinction". We're certainly experiencing an increased extinction rate above the background. There is a legitimate scientific question as to how much. But the real concern is that even if it's not that dramatic right now, there's a range of opinions at the upper end of that range it is dramatically increased now. but even if it's only at the modest end of the range, it's really not a question of today it's a question of a 1000 years from now or 2000 years from now which is a geological blink of an eye. But we are setting the stage for a mass extinction for basically habitat loss, climate change, etc, loss of biodiversity. When species biodiversity declines below a certain rate, they're like almost certain to go extinct in the next 2000 years.

C: And you add to that Steve the negative feedback loop this like runaway process that the consensus is in on that, we know that it's not as it's going to be, because the actions that have taken place up to this point have yet to play out in the climate.

S: Yeah, that's right. And again it may be a 100 or 200 years before we see like the real catastrophic see level change, etc, etc, but yeah we're setting the stage for unavoidable, inevitable consequences down the road. And multiple teams of economists have crunched the numbers and conservatively come up with, yeah by the end of this century climate change is gonna cost the world trillions and trillions of dollars and therefore even if we spend billions of dollars to try to mitigate it, that would be payed off a thousand fold in the future. But this gets back to what we're talking about before abut it's hard to get people to spend money now for that future generations could save it later. Or to deal with things that are really slowly evolving in the background and not like right in our face. There is a point that we have to be careful not to overstate what we're saying or give the wrong idea. But I think the consensus is, and he came back I e-mailed this to him and John came back but there's uncertainty in the miles. Of course, there's uncertainty, the point is, how certain do we need to be in order to make common sense chances that are probably, even if it's not certainly going to save us a lot of headache in the future. I like to take a medical approach and say if the doctor told you all right you've got a mass in your liver. But all of our techniques are not perfect and there's a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not this is cancer, so should we do nothing about it and see what happens or do you wanna do a biopsy now, even though I can't be sure that it is cancer. Sometimes you have to make decisions witch uncertainty and─

B: Sometimes?

S: ─with imperfect information. Because you have, because time is your enemy, because you have to act now, if you don't not only it becomes "too late" or it just becomes harder and harder and harder to treat the more time you let go by. And so again it's like the asteroid thing, yeah, there's only a 50% chance it's gonna hit the Earth but our models are really imperfect, do you really trust the models? I trust them enough to deflect that asteroid.

C: Right, and you add to that that even those analogies aren't perfect because error bars are both on the side on bad crap happening. Like there's no model that says everything going to be OK, you know what I mean, the models are really like how bad is it gonna be.

S: Even if you take the 2 standard deviations which is like a reasonable approach to things like this, yeah there's a range of outcomes. But if you take the 2 standard deviations it's all bad. It doesn't cross over the line of oh, it's gonna be fine.

C: Yeah, there's no point where the asteroid doesn't hit us in this model. Like, the climate still warms and we still got downstream effects of it, it just how bad are they, I don't wanna gamble on that.

E: Yep, Jor-El tried to convince the politicians on Krypton, that the planet's gonna explode, they did not listen to him. Guess what happened.

S: Thanks for the question John.

Science or Fiction (1:37:33)[edit]

Answer Item
Fiction regrown rat leg
Science independent echolocation evolution
Science laparoscopy via robot surgery
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Cara regrown rat leg
Bob regrown rat leg
Jay regrown rat leg
Evan regrown rat leg

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

Item #1: Researchers report they were able to successfully regrow a functional leg in a rat following treatment with a five-drug cocktail.[5]
Item #2: A new study of the neuroanatomy of bat hearing finds that bats fall into two groups with distinct anatomy for echolocation, suggesting that echolocation may have evolved independently in the two groups.[6]
Item #3: Scientists report the first successful laparoscopic operations, specifically intestine repair, performed entirely by a surgical robot without any human control.[7]

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. 3 regular news items this week. You guys ready?

J: Yeah.

C: Yes.

S: OK here we go. Cara you haven't done first in a while.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I have not, all right so, regrow a functional leg in a rat following treatment with a five-drug, so just drugs, just the chemical change which I assume would like really boost some trophic and tropic factors and maybe even almost like a cancer drug. Or actually the opposite of a cancer drug, something that like increased cell division. Although I think that rat would then be just like full of tumors. I don't know, this one seems kind of far-fetched, a whole leg? I a mammal? OK, neuroanatomy of bat hearing, bats fall into two groups with distinct anatomy for echolocation, suggesting that echolocation hat it may have evolved independently. Pff, why not? I mean convergent evolution happen all the freaking time. And the first successful laparoscopic operations, specifically intestine repair, performed entirely by the robot, but I think to caveat here is without any human control. So no joy sticking, no computer inputs at all.

S: None, entirely on their own.

C: I think it could happen, why not, I do think it could happen, I think especially if they really really mapped the crap out of it in advance. Like they have a ton of imaging in advance and they were really able to rehearse and map this thing out and then have the robot actually perform it. I think it could happen, so yeah, I think it's the leg of rat leg? Just completely regrown? Like that's a lot of really amazing science that would have to go into that and that has massive implications for human medicine so it might be a little too good to be true. I'm gonna call that the fiction.

S: OK, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Let's see I'll start with 3, robotic laparoscopic operation, I watch a lot of medical shows with mom, intestinal repair, Cara you were right without any human control is impressive. But intestinal repair is also mighty mighty impressive. That's very tough to repair for even a human. I hope that's true that's really cool. Let's see, oh the echolocation, yeah, convergent evolution. See, will go to 1, yeah no, no no no, growing a leg in a rat, a mammal? That's what's getting me on this one, that's just too awesome, I'll say it's fiction.

S: OK, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Yeah, you know I'm just gonna cut right to it, I think that growing the animal limb with chemicals I just don't think that's real, it gotta be the fiction.

S: And Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Well I suppose concerning the rat if they were able to regrow that functional leg, it would have gotten back into the rat race.

C: Hiyooo.

E: That's all I have to say about that. Functional leg, huh? Yeah that seems oh boy little far-fetched there. These other ones, you know, the bat one, neuroanatomy of the bat, two groups, distinct anatomy for echolocation, yeah sure why no. Oh gosh the only other one that could be is the one with intestinal repair, no human control whatsoever? Urgh, oh gosh I don't know, do I buck the trend─

B: Prometheus baby.

E: I will OK guys I'll stick with the team, I will go with the rat leg, we're all in the same boat now. Steve's gonna sweep us or we're gonna sweep him.

B: We're good.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: OK you guys all seem to have the easiest time with #2 so we'll start there. A new study of the neuroanatomy of bat hearing finds that bats fall into two groups with distinct anatomy for echolocation, suggesting that echolocation may have evolved independently in the two groups. You all think that one is science and that one is science. This is pretty cool.

B: Yeah that is pretty slick.

S: There are the two main groups of bats are─

B: Fruit bats?

S: ─literally called Yin and Yang, so Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera, so they use different methods of echolocation and this is the first time which has been known previously but now the new study was looking at the neuroanatomy and showing that that is also different and kinds makes sense once you know what the difference is. So the Yang bats are the more common type of they, they use variable frequency noise to echolocate. Whereas the Yin bats use a steady frequency.

B: Pretty fundamental difference.

S: It's pretty different, so what they found is that the Yang bats have a spiral ganglia, where hearing cells are is essentially open with lots of nerves coming off of the spiral ganglion. And that allows for lot greater possibility for anatomy which they think, anatomical variation, which they think maybe the reason why there are so many more Yang bats because it just allowed for this adaptive radiation much more freely. Whereas the the Yin that have a closed boney surrounding which is similar to all other mammals, tight, so the Yin bats are like every other mammal in anatomy of their inner ear. And that maybe why they're more narrow, there aren't as many of them because they don't have as much freedom to experiment anatomically so they have just a few holes through which the nerves go from the spiral ganglion but the open pattern just allows for a lot more variability in the anatomy. So because they are so fundamentally different anatomically these are distinct groups so the two possibilities are, the simplest possibility is that they just evolved independently but we can't say that's the only possibility cause it is possible that they share a common ancestor which is no longer alive. Whatever group that they had in common is no longer represented in either the fossil record or in extant species. And so they look like two separate groups but really they connected. Anyway, but I thought that was interesting.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Let's go back to #1 Researchers report they were able to successfully regrow a functional leg in a rat following treatment with a five-drug cocktail. You all think that one is fiction. Let me ask you a question. What would you say if I have instead made this regrow a functional leg in a frog let's say.

B: Much more reasonable than a mammal.

S: Would you by it?

B: Yeah.

C: Compared to the other two I still might not but─

J: I don't think I'd buy it.

C: ─maybe, in an amphibian, if you'd use a straight reptile probably.

S: So this one is the fiction.

C: Yes!

S: But because they did do it in a frog.

C: Oh, cool.

S: And I changed it to a rat.

B: Which is nice.

C: Yeah you might have got me with a frog.

S: Yeah it's always a question of which one to make a fiction but yeah I mean mammal is like, that's totally different ballpark. So you focused in on that correctly. But frogs, not adult frogs but tadpoles can regenerate a lot of reptiles can, lizards, but not mammals. So it would be a much much bigger deal if this was a mammal.

C: And would have huge medical implications.

S: The hope is that it still will Cara, it's just few steps removed, now that we can do it in an adult frog, which they can't do without the drug treatments. It was a five drug cocktail, they basically cut off their leg, they put this like little cast on with this five drug cocktail on the end of the severed limb for a day, only 24h. And then over the next few weeks they regrew a leg. And it was able to function and don't think it was perfect but they said it was a functional leg.

B: Yeah it could swim I think it was the bone the toes were missing some bones.

S: Yeah it wasn't perfect.

B: But otherwise it was mostly there and it was functional as a swimming leg it was exciting, it's an exciting advancement.

S: Yeah, definitely, just not a rat.

B: A rat would be much better.

S: Not a mammal. Yeah, OK.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: And this means that, this was a real gotcha, Even I almost got you on: Scientists report the first successful laparoscopic operations, I say operations, cause there were 4, they did it 4 times, specifically intestine repair, which is a very tricky surgery by a surgical robot without any human control is science. The thing I left out is that it was done in pigs. Of course it was.

C: They're not gonna do that on a person the first time.

S: Yeah you're not gonna start on people, you're gonna start on an animal, so this was done in pigs but the robot actually did better than a human surgeon at repairing intestine.

C: Oh dang, really?

J: That is incredible.

E: Better, better. Wow.

S: Yes, absolutely.

B: That's awesome, like no I want the robot to [inaudible].

S: Totally, totally.

C: So wait did it make decisions?

S: Yes, yes.

C: Or was it all completely preplanned.

S: Nooooo.

C: Oh I was envisioning the situation where it was so rehearsed.

S: And I didn't wanna correct you cause it would made it seem like I was pushing in the direction.

C: Right.

S: Yeah it was no the software, that's the whole point, cause you can't map out a surgery like this from beginning to end and then just blindly follow a procedure.

B: It's soft tissue.

S: You gotta make decisions as you go and do that's why you always got the human intervention to try to make top level decisions about how to proceed with the surgery depending on how things are going. But this, the software here was able to do it, it was able to make decisions about how to proceed, to visualize the intestines, what it was doing, and to you know to pull it all together. And what this was anastomosing or connecting together two ends of an intestine, right so that hey have a good tight seal, they don't leek and they have blood supply and it's all good. Now they said that, this is like the purpose of this, why would we want to have this, why just not let people do it. Even if it's as good as the best surgeon let's say not better but this was like in fact cold be even better, the robot just had such precision and also consistency and accuracy that you just can't it's hard to get with a human operator. But this would democratize is the term that they use, this kind of surgical procedure you no longer basically at the mercy of whoever whatever the surgical skill of the surgeon that happens to be in your area.

B: Or how much coffee they drink that morning.

S: How much money you have to pay for like a high-end surgery. If you live in a rural are that's undeserved and you have to make due with what surgical skill, or if you're in a poor country or whatever. If you have robot that could do a perfect job essentially.

J: Steve can it handle an emergency? Can it handle a curve ball?

B: Within reason, sure.

S: You're going beyond the research now, so I don't know what the answer to that is to be honest with you. it did what it did, it was able to plan out and perform this surgery, not just carry out a route set of movements but to actually─

C: It's amazing.

S: ─design it's way through a procedure. Very impressive and the fact that the results were so good, you know, so you know it's gonna be how long will it take before this gets approved to do it on a person.

C: Yeah how many times do you think it needs to do this surgery and do exactly what Jay said, like handle emergent emergency situations during the surgery.

S: Yeah I mean I don't know if the next step is gonna be or they did human cadavers already, that's another sort of inter surgical tool that surgeons use to, a lot of surgical techniques are developed on cadavers. A lot of also developed on animals, dogs or pigs or whatever. And then once you perfect it, i remember watching this documentary about what on the first cardiac transplants and the guys said my first 14 patients died, the 15th was a success. Of course the first 14 were dogs, so that's why, or whatever the first 13 were dogs. Once you perfect it, then you do it on people. Yeah this is like Prometheus when they had like surgical bots basically, robotic surgeon you go into the chamber and the arms come out and do whatever the surgery is. It's completely plausible, you know, we certainly have the robotic technology to do it and now we have the AI technology to do it too.

C: Yeah and we already are doing a lot of robotic like assisted like hybrid surgeries for sure.

J: It's a hybrid.

C: That's a thing.

S: Yeah so it's interesting they said they grade robotic surgery based on LOA - Level Of Autonomy. And that ranges from pure tele-operation where surgeon is 100% in control of what's the robot's doing. All the way to pure autonomy, you know full autonomy─

B: What did they do here?

S: ─so this is the first to go all the way to full autonomy.

C: That's cool.

B: Right baby that's sweet.

S: Right, and I'm sure for a while there's gonna need to be human surgeons there, surgeons are also, they are doctors, their decision makers, they are deciding who and when gets the surgery and when to use different techniques, this is just be one more technique for a tool that surgeons will use. This isn't gonna replace human surgeons.

C: Right there's not gonna be like noone in the room, that would be scary.

J: Could you imagine? Like, you know, as much as I am totally into the technology and appreciate it and think it's amazing, this is a very semi-unsettling thing that's happening.

S: It is a little bit─

C: I think it's great.

S: ─just emotionally having a robot operating on you.

B: Not at all, it's not unsettling at all. Cara it's not a matter of like, when there will be no doctors, imagine intermediary step, you have one doctor but ten robotic surgeries going on at the same time and he's just like checking them out for worse case scenarios where it exceeds the programing level of the robot.

C: I want there to always be like a person within a running distance to my body.

S: There's still gonna be anesthesiologist there, there's still gonna have the skin crafted─

B: Roboanesthesiologist.

S: ─there's gonna be people in the room.

C: Exactly.

S: It's not about not having people there and involved. It's about what this is is another example of what we've talked previously on the show of how artificial intelligence allows you to replace the technical aspects of doing something. So like if you wanna create a work of art for example how do you translate your creativity to the final product. Well part of it is the creativity and the other part of it is the technical skill to make it happen. But if you can remove the technical skill part because a computer could do that for you, then more people can express their creativity. And this way you can have the medical, the surgical medical care is gets separated from the technical skill of like doing tiny surgeries with the needles cause robot will just optimize the technical aspect of it and you're managing the more creative intellectual aspects of it. So in that way this could be a very good thing. And again it will democratize surgical outcomes. And they chose this procedure for a reason because it's tricky and the outcomes are variable and highly dependent on the skill of the surgeon and if you gonna eliminate that technical skill component to make sure it's always optimal, that could have a huge impact on a practice of medicine.

C: And that's why it's not scary to me it's actually really exciting. Because like you said there's still somebody in the room there's still somebody making high level decisions but you know user error is not gonna be why you had a surgical problem.

S: Right.

B: Right. Plus you get super-human suitors.

S: But there will be transition period the same thing happened with just laparoscopic surgery itself where it was very scary for everyone involved so we're gonna be poking around in somebody and they're not gonna be open? And if something goes wrong we're like, we're not there to fix it? It was scary for a while and there was a learning curve. Until we got comfortable with it. This is also part, this was done laparoscopically keep in mind and that's this is a good thing too, because laparoscopic surgery, when you can do it is so much better than having to open up a body cavity.

E: Yeah the infection rate goes way down.

S: Everything goes, the recovery goes way down, everything goes way down. So this would also the purpose of this is to expand the number of surgeries that can be done scopically you know whether laparoscopically or thoracoscopically or arthroscopically or whatever just operating through a small camera cause robots are good at that.

B: Superscopically.

C: Uberscopically.


S: All right, pretty cool, good job everyone, first sweep of the year.

C: Yey.

E: Uhhh, yeah, I needed that one.

C: Glad it didn't lead you astray, it's a lot of pressure.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:55:30)[edit]

I love science. I hate supposition, superstition, exaggeration, and falsified data. Show me the research; show me the results; show me the conclusions; and then show me some qualified peer reviews of all that.
Bill Vaughan (1915-1977), American columnist and author

E: And that was written by a gentleman William E. Vaughan, whom I have never heard of before today. American columnist and author from St. Louis, Missouri he wrote a syndicated column for the Kansas City Star from 1946 until his death in 1977.

C: Wow.

E: He was published in Reader's Digest and Better Homes and Gardens under the pseudonym Burton Hillis.

C: Good for what a great, that means he reached so many eyeballs.

E: Yes, the Reader's Digest, used to be oh my gosh.

C: It was everything.

E: What coffee table didn't have Reader's Digest on it back in those days.

B: I used to love the vocabulary quiz, I used to keep.

S: I liked, I used to read Reader's Digest all the time, I liked it.

J: I liked it too.

E: I did to.

J: I remember reading a ghost story in Reader's Digest that had me enthralled.

B: Really? Cool.

J: Where the family was like beds were shaking and stuff and somebody in the family decided to talk to the ghosts and say please stop doing that and then the ghosts became friendly.

B: Awesome.

S: And they called him Casper.

E: That's right Casper.

S: All right guys well thank you all for joining me this week.

E: Thanks Steve.

Signoff/Announcements (1:56:59)[edit]

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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[8]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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