SGU Episode 867

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SGU Episode 867
February 19th 2022
867 Psyche asteroid.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 866                      SGU 868

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

We take kids in elementary school and teach them math is important. Junior high, math is important. High school, math is important. And then all of a sudden, as adults, for whatever reason in our culture, math disappears. It strikes me as odd that if math is so important, why are we hiding from it in our pop culture?

Bill Amend, American cartoonist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Bread-making, Wordle[edit]

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, February 16th 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening folks!

S: How are you all this lovely evening?

B: Doing well.

C: Doing well doing well.

E: Keeping it together.

S: This is that part of February where you're like, is it gonna be like another month of winter hell or you're gonna get an early spring.

E: Depends on the groundhog.

S: And it's all over the place.

C: Unless you live in LA.

J: As long as it's not slushy you know I don't mind it snowing and I don't mind it being like springtime, I just don't, I hate the slush.

S: Yeah.

J: (laughs) I hate that so much but listen guys I had a great week and a half because I started baking homemade bread.

S: Yeah?

C: You're late to the party.

J: Yeah I look I start, it's an adventure that I've been wanting to do for a while and I just said that's it I'm gonna, it's time you know some little check box got ticked in my head and I just said okay this is it I'm gonna start doing it. So I got very very lucky and on the fourth recipe I tried I hit the mother lode. And I you know last night I made three loaves and they all came out amazing. It was like real like rustic Italian style bread, flavor was incredible and I learned a lot you know just watching YouTube videos and reading about all sorts of things to do with yeast and flour. So I've just had so much fun and I loved seeing my wife and a couple of people that we had over and my mother-in-law like I love seeing them eating the bread and their reaction to it because everyone was really excited.

S: Nothing better than fresh baked bread. But bread is it's tricky I mean I got I got pretty good at making the sourdough bread. I was doing that for a while like the beginning of the pandemic, I do want to get back into it. I got a dutch oven so I want to use that to make some some bread in. But you got to really stick to the recipe, you know?

J: Yeah.

S: Baking's not like cooking. Cooking you could fart around do whatever you want and experiment, whatever. Baking is like chemistry you know like the exact stoichiometry you know is critical.

J: Stoic.

S: Stoichiometry.

C: Did you guys see that meme going around that was like wordle is the sourdough of 2022. And like it makes such sense but go back in time to like 2018 if somebody said that to you you'd be like what in the hell are you talking.

S: Today's word was hard cock.

C: Oh whatever this will be like a week late, right?

S: It won't matter.

C: Yeah it doesn't matter.

E: Oh you can't play prior words or it can't go back into the?

C: No it's one a day.

E: There's one a day.

C: But I did hear that the New York Times because you know New York Times bought it and they're folding it over some people are still on the old site and they have a different word.

E: Whoa double your word.

C: Yeah like until it switches over for you, you're you're on a slight, you're on a different word it's weird. Like that's not cool.

J: Well you'd figure that they would just forward the old address to the new one so anybody yeah I don't know it seems yeah but they're easy to do.

C: It's yeah I don't get it.

B: Well Jay I can't wait I mean I had I had Jay's bread the the first batch and it was real, I really liked it it had a nice crust it was nice and chewy and inside you know hearing him and his wife go off on this fourth batch was like the ultimate I can't wait to taste it Jay.

C: You gonna bring some to our show when you guys come to when we're all meeting up in New York?

J: Yeah if I have if I have any you know the thing is it it really does take a lot of time like you know this isn't, it's timely because there's a lot of like, do this for five minutes and then wait an hour, you know what I mean? So you're kind of tied to the kitchen which is fine you know like on a weekend when you're hanging out at home or whatever it's no big deal. But yeah right before we do those shows if I have time Cara I'd be so happy to make you a loaf.

S: Well Jay you'll have to have a bake off with our friend Bruce Press who basically became an expert bread baker over the pandemic.

E: Yeah oh an expert.

J: Yeah Bruce Bruce would destroy me Steve, he's like crazy.

S: But you're missing the point, that the rest of us get to eat all the bread.

E: Yeah but there'd be twice as much bread.

C: Exactly.

S: Either way whoever wins or loses we win.

J: With my bread you know my one loaf that I know how to do now.

E: Jay here's what you do show up with your own churned butter with your bread that'll put you over the top.

J: Well I lost my mind because I realized that my bread is absolutely the perfect companion to my meatballs, which I mean the two of them together, I don't know I might travel in time if I eat them both at the same time. I love it.

S: Are any of you into any other rustic skills like old-timey skills.

C: Oh I have so many you guys I knit oh god.

E: That's right.

C: I didn't say ing at the end I know now to not say that─

S: I'm knitting.

C: ─full frame (laughter) I know a lot of like craft kind of things you know that are helpful in the post-apocalyptic world.

J: Well I was gonna make a stone wall you know by hand but I got carpal tunnel instead so that project got delayed indefinitely.

E: Instead of a wall you got a tunnel.

B: Last year last October I made a big graveyard that's an old-timey skill for sure.


S: I garden I guess that's an old-timey skill. But I like think a lot about doing it it's just hard, I don't have the time to like really. I do the research like yeah this is a good thing wait one time at one point I'm like I wonder how hard it is to make cheese? I think that that would be fun, right? I mean─

E: Oh my gosh.

S: ─and it's you know so I learned all about how to make cheese it's like yeah I'll do that sometime and I never did it, you know but.

C: Yeah.

J: What kind of cheese would you make would it be like a blue cheese?

S: Well, so the the easiest cheese to make is the buffalo cheese which is basically mozzarella, right? So it's you get this whole milk it's overnight like the next day you have boots you know that's it it's very it's very easy. But in Parmesan you have to age for like six months.

C: Yeah any hard cheese would probably be really hard to do.

S: You gotta like keep it under a bowl in your refrigerator and just have to keep it moist and whatever. Any cheese makers out there let us know if you're doing it at home as a hobby let us know how it's going.

C: I once for my birthday my best friend and I emulated one of our favorite dishes from a very expensive nice like Michelin-starred restaurant here in LA, and we made our own sausage like we got all the different types of meat and all the spices and put it through the meat grinder.

S: Did you grind the meat three times?

C: Uh no.

E: Twice?

C: Were we supposed to?

S: Yeah.

C: We ground it as many times as the recipe told us to grind it.

S: You don't understand that reference anyone anyone?

C: I do not. Shit.

S: Grind the meat three times.

C: Eww, no.

S: That's from Sweeney Todd.

J: Oh yeah.

E: Oooh.

S: Gotta get all the the toenails out of the meat.

J: Oh my gosh.

E: So gross.

S: We have to keep up our rustic skills so that when the the zombie apocalypse happens─

C: Yeah for sure.

S: ─we'll be able to do things like you know bake our own bread and make our own cheese.

All right well let's move on with our actual show Jay you're going to do, I guess this is a new segment you're going to do a segment about something you learned today that is interesting.

Special Segment: Today Jay Learned (7:29)[edit]

  • The first scientist

J: Yeah, I'm going to talk about who was the first scientist. And of course this is all up to opinion there you know, how do you define who the actual real first scientist was I mean you know it's really just you're it's up to you. But historians do tend to to agree on at least a few people who kind of you know fit the fit the mold here better than others. You know the history of science what goes back very very far depending on who you ask but I think a really good place to put the first flag would probably be ancient Egypt you know around 3000 BCE. Right the Egyptians created a numbering system, they had a methodology to their healing practices that included examination and diagnosis and treatment and prognosis. Like you know they had some stuff going on you know that was that was noteworthy. But you know we're gonna we're gonna zoom down first to Aristotle quickly. He was born in 384 BC in Greece you know you probably have heard of him he was the first to use logic the first human to use logic think about that. He also you know was heavily into observing right he was just he thought observation was very important. Inquiry and demonstration are also things that he is known for. And imagine being the first and only person guys to use you know methodological logic think about that.

S: Well we don't know that he was the first person to use logic, he was the first person to develop a system of logic.

J: Right that's what I mean.

S: Operationalizing.

J: That's that's what I mean.

S: I know that's what you mean but just to be clear because you know.

C: There were logical people prior to Aristotle.

J: But just imagine like and we think we have it bad today like imagine like I am the only person that uses logic oh my god.

E: Sometimes it feels like that.

J: Yeah right? So Aristotle took inspiration by observing the natural world. You know he at some point it occurred to him you know that there is a seeming order to things and and he wanted to understand how it worked. Now keep in mind, to be fair, most of what he concluded was wrong. Straight up wrong. Like the things that he said okay so if this then this then this and this is what I think and this is how I think it works most of those ideas were just factually wrong because you know he just didn't have a lot of ways to gain real information or very useful information that could give him the the you know a better truth than what he was thinking. But still you know it wasn't that's really not the point here. His curiosity about the natural world led him to want to understand how our reality worked and that's that's what's cool about what was going on in his head.

S: But again I feel the need to defend Aristotle a little bit here. So you're correct in terms of his conclusions about how the natural, the physical world works.

J: Yeah.

S: His philosophy was like he basically figured everything out like right at the beginning you know what I mean? In terms of the big ideas of philosophy and thought you know they they kind of worked out the basics you know right there at the very beginning of it all.

J: You know Socrates came to the conclusion that thinking was really the only way to understand reality and Aristotle straight up was like no observation is the way to to gain understanding about how the world worked. That's huge. Now how well he did that that's another thing to discuss.

S: Yeah.

J: So he was legitimately formulating theories based on observation that is remarkably close to the scientific method today, right? I mean it's a part of it, and it was there he he had the he had the bones of it. And as a quick example Aristotle observed that the mast of a ship was the first part of the ship that could be seen when it approached from the sea, right? So he was able to discover from that that the Earth was round and he said it the Earth was round because of that observation. Damn that's, good that's good man if I was with him I'd be like you're a smart guy dude you know what I mean like very good you know me of course you know thousands of years in the future with all the things that I got to learn. But the the point here is that you know there's a good, you can make a very good argument that he was the first scientist, right? You know not lab coat scientist but at least scientific thinker. Another person who I thought I should mention he's frequently considered the first scientist and his name was Ibn al-Haytham, have you guys heard of him of course you have. He was a Muslim Arab mathematician, astronomer and a physicist. And he was born in 965 AD. So he extensively studied light and vision which you know when you think about all the way back then he is spending his time trying to figure out like how does light work you know how how do we perceive things with our eyes. These are pretty profound questions. He's also thought to have invented the camera obscura as well as the pinhole camera. And if you're interested look those up and read about them because there's quite a bit of information about those. He conducted legitimate experiments with candles and described how an image is formed by rays of light, rays of light, that's cool as hell. Traveling in straight lines that's real legit right there and he was the first person to develop a hypothesis and then he tested it with verifiable experiments. So you know between those two they they were definitely people who who pushed the ball forward. Look like you know the truth is this guys it took thousands of people, you know you know undetermined amount of number of people but a lot of people to slowly push the concept of science forward you know enough to take the form that we understand it today. But you know there was there was landmark people in there that that came up with with very important concepts on their own and these two people were definitely in that list but there's more there's more moments in time and people that that were significant which is fun to read. One more quick fun thing Steve if you don't mind.

S: Go right ahead.

J: For your information the term scientist dates back to only 1834 a philosopher named William Whewell, right? W-h-e-w-e-l-l came up he came up with the word to include all practitioners of the ever-expanding fields of science.

S: What was science called before then?

E: Natural philosophy.

C: Yeah but I think scientists I think science is still older than what year did you say scientist was dubbed?

J: 1834.

C: Yeah science as a word is definitely older than.

J: Oh yeah yeah because he took that word and put 'tist' on the end of it.

S: We don't know who coined the term science but William Whewell was first one to coin the term scientist.

C: Yeah science is probably from the mid 14th century and yeah before that it was natural philosophy before that it was philosophy just like generally philosophy.

S: Part of philosophy.

C: Yeah, which is why you still get a PhD in science.

E: And before that it was religion.

C: It just was it was just looking around.

E: Religion and science were pretty much the one in the same, it wasn't good science but that's what it was.

News Items[edit]

S: All right. We're going to start off the News segment with a pair of astronomy news items.

Psyche May Not Be the Iron Giant (14:25)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to start us off by talking about Psyche, which is an asteroid, and what's it made of?

B: So guys, famous asteroid 16 Psyche has been reevaluated in terms of its composition and future belters the world over are in tears. So what the hell am I talking about? Well I'll tell you. This is (laughter) based on a study, this is based on a study published in Geophysical Research Letters and it's a classic example of how science can lead to disappointment no matter how much closer it gets to get you to the truth. It happens. Psyche in this context isn't that thing in your head that gets shattered by horrible science news. It's also not Psyche the Greek goddess of the soul who married Eros also known as Cupid. The Psyche I'm going to talk about was named after this classical Greek figure and is what I'm sure she'd consider an insult since it's a class M asteroid. Now this doesn't follow the Star Trek convention of class M planets being habitable come on it's an asteroid of course it's not habitable, but it's class M and in here it means that it has a higher proportion of metals I guess perhaps the M stands for metal, makes sense like iron and nickel. And it has more of those metals than most asteroids which contain mostly the more pedestrian silicate rocks. Its diameter is 220 km, 140 mi. Big, pretty dam the biggest class M asteroid out there. And basically you know about the size of the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego, Cara that was for you.

C: Wow that's really big.

B: Yeah and now M-class specifically refers to the spectra of an asteroid, that's what it's dealing with, and in this case it shows that there's a lot of exposed metals on the surface. Now based on that astronomers made reasonable extrapolations, you know based on the sheer immensity of this thing if the surface is metal then you know it's pretty much mostly metal probably. So they were saying things like oh it's 90 to 95 percent metal, making it the core of a planetesimal or protoplanet, a very early planet from billions of years ago. So that would have to mean then that it was likely produced from a titanic collision with another object that literally ripped away the crust and mantle leaving just this this exposed core of a planet. Now imagine that the exposed core of a planet from billions of years ago, you know the potential to learn about the early solar system and fill in a lot of blanks is huge, which is part of the reason why there was so much interest in this. But from an avaricious point of view think about it, a 220 kilometer block of mostly iron but also nickel, platinum and gold is a treasure pretty much beyond imagining. This could this could make everyone on earth a billionaire which really really realistically of course wouldn't happen since the gold market would collapse.

C: Yeah I was gonna say.

B: We'd have major financial instability and lots of other bad things but you know but the point remains the sheer quantity of wealth that we're talking about, Forbes put Psyche's worth at 10, wait for it, 10 quintillion dollars. 10 quintillion that's 10 billion billion, or, it's 10 times a million cubed. Or, it's a hundredth of a sextillion and I'll stop now.

E: (laughs)

C: Or it's the amount of money Elon Musk makes in a month.

B: Let's put it in this perspective then Cara, the global economy is 94 trillion, so Psyche, Psyche would be worth about a hundred and six thousand times the global economy.

C: That's insane.

B: So that's exciting right I mean NASA even created a mission specifically to visit Psyche, this mysterious asteroid with so much metal in it and you know it's leaving later this year. But but, Psyche gives us mixed signals, much like when Jay is on a diet and he's got 10 meatballs within easy reach.

E: It's pyrite it's not real gold.

B: So if you if you measure its mass, all about mass and density in this story, if you measure its mass and density based on its gravitational tug on nearby objects, it doesn't act like a gargantuan lump of metal. If it were mostly metal still it would have to be about 50% porous, 50% porous, which I guess is not impossible. So the good scientists like like all good scientists or most of them they ran models. And so these models were based on the known thermal properties of metallic iron, right, you'd kind of need to know that, to make these models work. And also what we knew about the early solar system. And so as the model of psyche evolved over time in the model they determined that such a lump for such a lump to remain porous it would have to cool down to below 800K fairly quickly. Otherwise right imagine if it if it cools down too slowly then that the weight the the sheer weight and gravitational pull of this of all that metal in, this porous malleable metal would collapse on into in itself. So, bottom line, there's no way Psyche cooled that fast, so that it could remain porous, even if the porosity was induced later in life later down the road by an impact for example. It can't be that porous. So then, what do we got left now? So the only reasonable option then is and the conclusion of the paper is that Psyche has a metallic surface right because the, it's class M it's got the you know, the spectrum says that this is this is a metal surface. But the core itself probably a metal as well but the interior, the mantle if you will, has got to be normal silicate rock like most other asteroids which and that is what's driving its density down. It's that. So so now I think you appreciate why future belters working in our main asteroid belt mining for precious metals are are very very upset because you know there's still of course there's still probably a lot of metal out there, even just on Psyche but nowhere near the amount that would that people have been talking about literally for years and would make these you know hundreds of belters trillionaires in the future. But there's more, there's more because this all begs the question, right? Why is the surface metal and the mantle is not? How did that, oh I dropped a robot okay never mind, moving forward.


E: That was not a non-sequitur either.

B: So why? Why? So then how did that happen? That's kind of you got a metal shell, what's going on? So one possibility is ferrovolcanism. Yes iron spewing volcanoes. So how cool is that? So we know of two volcano types, there's silicate volcanism and that's what we see all over the Earth and on other planets and other moons silicates, rocks, right? Just magma spewing out. Then there's cryovolcanism and we see that on Enceladus and Triton and maybe Europa and that's essentially magmas made of liquids and gases that would be otherwise frozen on the surface of the moon that we see this on. Okay that's cryovolcanism, now ferrovolcanism has never been observed but it seems like it probably has happened based on the surfaces of other of other bodies in this in the solar system. And what you would have you'd have flowing liquid metal instead of the more viscous rocky magma, right? Theoretically that could occur on all metal worlds or hybrid metal rocky worlds like six like 16 Psyche, how cool is that? Ferrovolcanism never heard of, that that's fascinating.

E: Something that small can have that can have a volcanic feature to it?

B: Yeah I mean yeah I mean it's dense, it's big enough and so sure I mean yeah I can see what I see what you mean that it doesn't seem like there'd be enough, I mean if this was the core of a planet then this was under a hell of a lot of pressure for a hell of a long period of time before that even happened, so that that heat just doesn't go away. So now the future of Psyche is now essentially in the hands of its NASA mission, which will launch this year and arrive in 2026. And of course you know we probably won't find a place reminiscent of that very cool Disney movie called Treasure Planet, seriously check it out, it's the best fusion of pirate and science fiction that I've ever seen a fun fun animated movie. But I'm sure that 16 Psyche is going to offer many many surprises and I really can't wait to see what happens when we get up close. Speaking though of science fiction and I will end with this. Now remember I said that the only reasonable option for a low density asteroid was that it had lower density rock inside? There's another slightly less reasonable possibility, that I would like to explore. I coincidentally finished a very very cool short story last night called Owner Space by Neal Asher, Owner Space really cool, he's got a few books off on that riffing off of that too which I recommend. So in the story in it was a moon that wasn't as dense as it should have been, similar to Psyche, right? In the end it's revealed to be a mind-bogglingly massive ship created by some superhuman whose name is the Owner. So NASA maybe when NASA gets there I'm just saying. (laughter) That's it. Just saying.

J: What are you saying?

E: Just saying.

S: So what's the new estimate of Psyche's value?

B: Oh I've, I people I think are just too depressed to calculate it. It's certainly not going to be uh 10 quintillion, but it you know it would be you know it could be many many trillions or you know or maybe even low quadrillions I don't know. But it was this was the crown jewel though you know I've seen these beautiful you know artists interpretations of what Psyche looks like and I don't know who drew the this his impression of Psyche but they they drew an amazing looking asteroid. Really funky and weird too because of all the metals that are on the surface. It's beautiful, and people have been talking about this for years of how you know can you imagine an asteroid that's all metal and now it's just like ah it's just you know it's it's just the surface really and and probably not the interior and it's not worth 10 quadrillion, it's just kind of a bummer. I mean because that industry will happen in the future right, I mean that's pretty almost guaranteed that we will have an industry in the asteroid belt that will have access to crazy amounts, crazy amounts like economy-ending amounts of materials like gold and platinum and iron.

C: And we are so stupid.

E: Well...

C: So stupid.

B: Well I mean I mean if you have if you have the if you have the resources and the wherewithal to get there and mine it and then bring you know you wouldn't be stupid about it you would bring it back judiciously, you'd bring it back in small amounts and you wouldn't flood the market. Especially with gold and platinum. The iron's a different story I mean you can come back you know you could still damage the economy if you came back with 10 mountains worth of iron. But the iron, iron, we need iron for steel and steel is still the man you know steel is still it.

E: Right Steve with our swords?

S: Absolutely.

E: I looked up a picture of the asteroid Psyche. All these pictures you know what they have in common they it's from the perspective of the two craters which look like two eyes, I mean we're so human when it comes to some things.

B: Yeah that crater looked cool.

E: It is but it but really I mean you know we couldn't see it from a different side, no we have to have the side which looks so it looks like a face.

B: And if you looked at what we actually can see it's like this blurry blob that's totally I mean it's all made up all those details. And when I first saw it I thought oh man that's a pretty damn good close-up. How did we get that?

E: Bob as we get closer what if it's more like a human skull in features.

B: Dude there is a there was a skull asteroid out there─

C: Yeah that was cool.

B: ─and from, in under certain lighting from a certain angle it looked absolutely you know like the top of the skull and it was so such an interesting picture.

S: Looked very good but you're right I mean it's incredibly, it even has like the the ridged middle of the nose.

B: Yeah it was really cool but of course you know just a trick of the light really, just like the face on Mars.

Possible Planet Around White Dwarf (26:20)[edit]

S: All right what do you guys think of this headline, this comes from BBC News from the science correspondent at BBC Life could exist on planet orbiting 'white dwarf' star what do you think about that?

E: Life could exist on the planet orbiting─

J: That's BS.

E: That's, that's that's a big claim.

C: This is a habitable zone?

B: Yeah if it's tidally locked it you know it could be in the the the far side.

S: Habitable, habitable.

C: I love that word. The Goldilocks zone. So I think it's BS but here here's what they did find. Astronomers have found a possible planet orbiting a white dwarf star. What's a white dwarf star? That is the stellar remnant, it's a it is the core of a medium-sized star, a star like our own Sun after it throws off its outer layers, right, so our Sun is going to expand to the point where the it takes up the beyond the orbit of Mars, right?

E: Yeah.

B: And we'll be in trouble.

S: Yeah it'll expand, yeah so we'll be burned crisp at that point. It'll be like a red giant, like Betelgeuse is today. This is the normal life cycle of a star. And and then after that you know as it's going through its fuel burning hydrogen to helium and then helium at the heavier elements bow until then it gets to the point where it's it either gets the iron, which is the last thing it can get to, you can't go beyond that, or it gets to whatever however heavy the heaviest element it confuses based on its mass, right? The more mass the heavier elements that you could fuse. When it can no longer fuse stuff there's nothing to keep the the star propped up, the the core will collapse, the outer layers will fluff off. If it's big enough it'll supernova, our stars are not big enough to do that. And then, depending on the size of the core left behind, it'll either be a white dwarf, beyond a certain limit it'll collapse to a neutron star beyond a certain limit and that will collapse into a black hole, right? A white dwarf is not burning fuel and it's not producing energy, it's just a glowing ember of the of the star that it was a part of.

C: So it's considered a dead star?

S: Well it's it's a stellar remnant, they don't use the term dead. It's still very hot though.

B: Cara just like a neutron star and black hole are you could say that they're dead stars.

C: Yeah they're dead stars.

B: In the sense.

C: They're no longer doing that furnace.

B: Yeah they're not fusing.

S: They're not burning, they're not fusing.

B: That major fusion anyway. Nothing essentially next to nothing.

S: All right so when a white dwarf initially forms, it's gonna be around, it's gonna be pretty hot though, it's gonna have a temperature of about a hundred thousand Kelvins. That's hotter than you know the surface of our Sun, right? Which is a little bit less than six thousand Kelvin. Because it's not in any kind of equilibrium, it's just cooling, right? So it's going to from that point it's going to cool. After about two billion years that 100 000 Kelvin will cool to about 8 000 Kelvin. Still hot. Still you know hotter than like our Sun but it will continue to cool from there you know, it get, the cooling slows because you know the hotter it is the more heat the more the more heat you radiate away and so the faster you cool. There's a question of how long will it take until it cools down all the way, like to the background radiation. So it'll get close in 15 to 20 billion years but getting all the way down could take quadrillions of years because─

E: Whoa.

S: ─that has a long long long long tail, and there may be quantum effects going on that are producing a little bit of heat, and the Universe is cooling too so it's kind of a little bit of a race.

B: Quadrillions?

C: That sounds like it could support life.

S: It takes longer, it takes longer than the age of the Universe for a white dwarf to cool to that point so we don't know there aren't any white dwarfs that have cooled that far. When when you when the─

B: Black dwarf?

S: ─yeah cools to the point where it's no longer visible we call it a black dwarf but you know there aren't any out there yet.

C: But there's a brown, what's a brown dwarf?

E: There are brown dwarfs.

C: We have brown dwarfs.

B: That's a planet, that's a big big big planet.

S: Yeah it's a failed star.

C: Very confusing naming system.

B: Get used to it.

S: Yeah, black dwarf is, yeah the brown dwarf is not quite big enough to ever be a star. This is a black dwarf is a white dwarf that's cool to the point where it's no longer visible. So yeah so it's it has a habitable zone but here's, the there's a couple of problems here. That habitable zone is close to the star, close to the white dwarf.

B: Tidal force is nasty.

E: Like Mercury is?

S: There's two problems, there's two problems one is like any small dim object it's it's so close that you would probably any planet that's close enough to be in the habitable zone would be tidally locked. That's not a deal killer not a deal.

C: Just have life on half the planet.

E: A ring around the planet.

S: In the terminal in the terminus or in also a world where ocean and atmosphere could actually very effectively redistribute heat and it actually wouldn't be as bad as you would think. Probably you wouldn't want to be on the the the point directly under the sun or or directly opposite but there could be a pretty sizable you know reasonable you know livable zone there.

'E: So the planet itself has a Goldilocks Zone.

S: Yeah exactly. So from that perspective and that's this perspective that they're talking about it's in the Goldilocks Zone and what do we consider that that's the the range at which you could have liquid water on the surface. And of course that depends on your atmosphere because the more carbon and you know greenhouse gases you have the farther away you could be and still be in you know in the habitable zone whatever there's sort of a maximum you know range you could have for for any star. But but the problem comes from imagining a scenario in which you have a planet orbiting a white dwarf in the habitable zone that has life. Because first of all remember what I said before that star turned into a white dwarf it would have been a red giant. So any planets close to it, any planets in the habitable zone would have been inside the red giant you know that it was before right it died. And so it would have been burned to a crisp, no life would have survived that transition.

C: Yeah but after that it could have started, a biogenesis could have started, I mean we only need what a couple billion years.

S: Yeah but thing is, you need a couple of billion years, right?

C: Yeah.

S: And in those couple of billion years─

B: Planetary migration?

S: ─the habitable zone will have massively moved─

E: Shifted.

S: ─that planet would not be in the habitable zone for two billion years, it the habitable zone will move quickly through the planetary orbit you know as the as the white dwarf cools. So you know maybe it would have a half a billion years or whatever. So one other scenario is that the planet may be migrated in.

B: Yeah.

S: So maybe the planet was farther out.

B: Hot Jupiter.

S: It was a frozen world you know a moon or whatever a frozen planet that was in the outer reach of the solar system and then with with all this going on the orbits were disrupted and one of the small planets spiraled into the habitable zone where it melted and became you know had liquid water on the surface and then life evolved.

B: But remember guys when Steve says "habitable zone" that's that's life as we know it─

S: As we know it.

B: ─it could be chemosynthetic life that has a huge habitable zone.

S: Yeah but that's all bets are off with that.

B: Why?

S: Because that's not what we're talking about, as I said by definition this Goldilocks or habitable zone that we're talking about is liquid water on the surface. If you if you assume life that doesn't require that then the guys I said all bets are off then what then we're not even talking about.

B: Just just keep that in mind though it's not like oh you can't be yeah there can't be any life.

E: Bob don't move the goal post.

J: Yeah you're talking about bacterial life right Bob that type of life?

B: Not necessarily.

S: There could be critters in the oceans of Europa, that's not in our technically in our habitable zone you can't have liquid water on the surface of Europa but because it's next to a gas giant and because it had could have liquid water under the surface there could be life there but you know again it would have to be chemosynthetic because it wouldn't be getting any light. But we're putting all of that aside and we're just saying Earth life that requires liquid water.

B: We're such chauvinists.

S: Yeah if if you take that criteria, that's what they're talking about in this article. This planet is in that habitable zone. But the again, this is even assuming this planet exists, we'll talk about that in a second.


J: Steve did they mention Cthulhu because Cthulhu could live anywhere.

S: Yeah that's true. The thing is it's just there's no scenario where it's likely that a planet is going to be in a white dwarf habitable zone for any length of time. Because it's such a moving target. Because the star is const, the white dwarf is constantly cooling and then. Initially it's cooling you know from a stellar system a life-evolving perspective fairly quickly. Again you go from a hundred thousand Kelvin to eight thousand Kelvin in two billion years. That's a massive difference. That's a complete, there's no planet that's going to just stay in that habitable zone throughout those two billion years. And then it gets cooler from there and so you're going to be outside you know you're going to be you know on the other side of the habitable zone you're going to be you're going to freeze in another half a million years or whatever. So I guess it's possible that if we like we're able to explore that planet we would find frozen fossils of life that briefly flourished in its brief sojourn through through that habitable zone─

C: I mean that's still be pretty col.

S: ─before the world froze. Yeah but there's not but it's not like there's going to be a thriving ecosystem there. You could think about well maybe an alien civilization settled that world because it was in its habitable zone. They don't care like oh in a million in 10 million years at this planet's going to freeze who cares, 10 million years yeah okay we'll live here for a couple of million years and then we'll move on, right? We won't we don't have you know civilizations─

B: Just shrug it off and not even care.

S: ─you don't you don't even where you don't worry about the millions and billions of years so from it from that perspective. Not I don't think there'd be enough time for life to evolve but you know it may be subtle but then we were looking for techno signatures, right? They were talking about a civilization that could probably terraform and and settle an alien world. Also there's a couple other problems though, one big problem is what kind of light is that star putting out? And it all depends on what temperature it is right it's putting out you know the frequency of light based on temperature─

B: White dwarf like.

S: ─they tend to put out a lot of ultraviolet and x-rays.

C: That's healthy for life.

S: Well, so I guess─

E: Life as we know it.

S: ─life could evolve to tolerate that you know or there might be some super ozone around the planet or whatever.

C: Or maybe just like evolves super fast because of all the mutations.

B: Yeah right. Or they live in an ocean and they don't won't care about UV if they live in the ocean.

S: Yeah but if you were a surface dwelling you know civilization why would you go there you know what I mean?

B: For the tans?

S: Some strategic importance but then you probably build shelters and stuff. So just it's not wouldn't be a great place for life you know for for all of those reasons. But and emphasizing that in the article I thought was a huge red herring. Like it's that's not what's cool about this news item, it's just that this would be only the second planet that we've discovered around a white dwarf, and it's just interesting that white dwarfs can have planets around them, it's interesting that one would be so close to it because where did it come from? Why wasn't it completely destroyed when the when in the red giant phase? So it probably was captured or migrated in or whatever. But here's the thing the evidence for this is it's interesting but it's not direct like there's this is not like transit method or anything. The the astronomers were looking at the movement of other things orbiting the white dwarf and their orbits were more stable than they should than should have been than the models predicted that they would be. Ad that stability could be explained if there were a planet in a close orbit around the white dwarf. So it's a bit removed you know, it's a bit inferential.

C: But even if it's true like that's as you mentioned interesting in and of itself like why, I mean I feel like this is just another example of science editors or science writers underestimating the interest level, the curiosity, the intelligence of the reader. You're like we have to make something else up otherwise people won't even care.

S: Right. Yeah they have to they have to play the life angle and it's not really a very plausible angle. And it gives people the wrong impression because there's so much. And figuring out the answering the question what are the prospects for life around a white dwarf you learn a lot about white dwarfs in the lifetime you know the life cycle of a white dwarf and there's a lot of good reasons why it wouldn't be a great candidate for life.

C: And they could even write it that way. Why this potential planet probably doesn't harbor life?

S: Yeah.

C: And then you get to learn about it all.

S: Right, but it's so cool you know it might be planets around white course, it doesn't, and every time we you know this comes up it's it's good to think about like what are the probabilities for planets we would find comfortable you know out there in the galaxy out there in the Universe. And I know we've talked previously about, there are several Goldilocks zones, right? There is around any individual star but also there's a Goldilocks zone in the galaxy. You want to be far enough out where you're not going to be constantly bombarded with gamma-ray bursts but not so far out that you don't have enough metallicity to form you know complex organisms so there's kind of a zone in the in the Milky Way where stars are most likely to have planets that could form life.

C: Yeah I mean it sounds like there's also a temporal Goldilocks zone that this very story illustrates.

S: Totally. And so the temporal one so that and we talked about this but─

B: Early universe population one star.

S: ─well in terms of like in terms of which which kinds of stars you know if we had a survey of all the life out there what would be the most common type of star that has life out there.

B: Population three, population three right?

S: Yeah well it will definitely want you wouldn't want to be a first generation star because then you don't have any metals you have to perform out of the cloud of an older star but I'm talking about like how massive the stars. The more massive the star the the the hotter they burn but the shorter they live.

B: They live like a few hundred million years.

S: Yeah, right the big ones the blue ones few hundred million years nope those are not good candidates for life. At the other end of the spectrum we have the red dwarfs and they last the longest, they might last for trillions of years, we think okay, well you know the most stars are red are red dwarfs and they're stable for a really long period of time so maybe they have a lot most of the life. Problem is they're unstable early on in their lives and they probably would blast the atmosphere away from any close planets close enough to be in in their habitable zone. Also their habitable zone which probably will probably be tidally locked but again not a deal killer as we said but not ideal. But then it's again we get back to maybe planets migrate in after their angry phase when they've settled down, so there's still a possibility there. But still they're not ideal, it's possible, astronomers go back and forth. Yellow stars like ours are they're solid they're good they last 10 billion years or so and you know they are have a generous habitable zone. But the sweet spot is probably the orange stars.

B: Really?

S: Because there are many more of them than yellow stars they live much longer like 20 to I think it's 20 to 50 billion years. And and so therefore there'll be more of them right because they have a longer life span. So that's probably most of the life out there is lives on planets around orange stars.

B: So where, so we're minorities?

S: We probably might be in the minority having a yellow sun.

C: Cool.

S: Yeah cool so that's it there's lots of, lots of Goldilocks zones in terms of like where are we most likely to find life. I wouldn't waste a lot of time looking around white dwarfs for planets with life.

B: No.

S: It's just the numbers don't add up.

Falling Birds (43:04)[edit]

S: All right Evan tell us about this crashing flock of birds is this real?

C: I saw this video.

J: I saw it too.

E: Aah everybody has finally seen it yes. I'm going to describe it as an upsetting video, I don't think that's right too far afoul. Oh can't say that.

C: I like it how many are there.

E: All right all right I had to get one out of the way now my it's out of my system. All right so yeah now this video, this video hit the internet last week. The video is a static shot super, a surveillance camera of some sort capturing a street and homes in the early morning hours of daylight. And it was recorded on February 7the, 2022 in the oh boy here I go pronouncing words in Mexico that I'm sure I'm going to botch. All right the Álvaro Obregón neighborhood of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc city in the west central part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

S: Chihuahua?

B: Chihuahua. Chihuahua is chihuahua.

C: It's so funny because to me it's by far the easiest because it's a completely phonetic language.

S: Once you get the rhythm and the you know where the action is going.

B: They don't even have spelling bees after like you know something like third or fourth grade because it's like it's too easy.

C: All right the Álvaro Obregón neighborhood of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, that one's harder because that might be like Aztec word. Cuauhtemoc, city in the west central part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

E: Yeah what Cara said and what I failed to properly say, thank you Cara, I appreciate the assist there. All right so you've got this static shot. Nothing's happening in the video until suddenly hundreds perhaps over a thousand birds plummet into the frame and crash to the ground hitting the houses, hitting the street, hitting the sidewalk. To me because I'm again I'm trying to describe this video on an audio podcast which is a challenge but you know for those of you who want to see it you can go look at it. But for me it looks like someone had what would be a gigantic bucket of birds the size of two houses and suddenly dumped them onto the ground like water thrown from a bucket. It has that sort of suddenness and splashing effect to it, hopefully I described that pretty decently.

C: Oh god, to me it looked like a murmuration that started to kind of lose course.

S: It was totally a murmuration yeah.

C: Yeah and it's it's almost like they flew into the ground.

J: Yeah they did.

C: They probably did, they probably fell.

B: What were they murmuring?

S: No, they flew well you're right Cara, they flew, there was a murmuration that flew into the ground.

C: That's what it looks like, for sure that's what it looks like. Like a bird crash.

E: That's right.

C: A big bird crash.

E: But you see when it first came out and I know this news report is being finally carried sort of on all of the mainstream news outlets now today and yesterday primarily but the video came out again on February 7th and there was a report made by a local news organization, there that day and I'll talk about that in just a second. But again you can look for you can look at the video yourself. Now some of the birds, most of the birds managed to survive and they flew off however there were many dozens of birds maybe a hundred or so that did not survive, you can still just seeing their you know their bodies on the ground there. And like I said it's been making the rounds in the broader news so after the video started to circulate last week there was, correctly so, speculation as to whether or not this was authentic and that was what Steve was asking at the top of this news item. Now it was able to be authenticated pretty quickly, like I said a local news organization came out to the scene and ran the first story about it only hours after it actually happened. And there were witnesses that they, that they had and police were there and so it was verified that that this did happen. The name of the paper is el Geraldo which is the herald I will assume, not Geraldo Rivera right, h-e-r-a-l-d-o Harold. But here's their headline to their story, again this is the first report: "Migratory birds affected by cold and pollution". That's the headline and here's how parts of it read: "According to local media reports police investigated the scene and found hundreds of dead birds that had been migrating south from Canada. The birds appear to be yellow-headed black birds or Xanocephalus. I'm sorry Xanthocephalus, you ever heard of those Steve, yellow headed blackbirds?

S: Yeah I love it when birds are named that way like their name that's just a description of what they are yeah they're yellow-headed blackbirds, that's exactly what they are and who's reminds you so when you know you know my young my now older daughter who's out of college but when she was young like four or five sex we were into birding together. And great way to teach kids science by the way. And so she figured out you know at a young age that this was a pattern that a lot of birds are named in a descriptive fashion. So I we saw a bird at the feeder and I asked her what the name was, she didn't know what it was but she followed the convention she was like "it's a two-winged one beaked brown bird".


B: Was she right?

S: Well it wasn't the name of the bird but that was an accurate description, yeah.

E: They the reporters on the scene who were there, they they captured the thoughts from a veterinarian who was called to the scene I believe came in with the authorities and when the police arrived. And according to that veterinarian his opinion was that these migrating birds were suffering from high levels of air pollution in the region due to the use of wood burning heaters, agrochemicals and even low temperatures. So temperature also apparently played a role. And another reason is that they were supposedly, reportedly all perched on power lines or many of them were and there was an overload that affected them and sending them crashing to the ground. But then they said, and again this is all from this news article, they they end with this: "However it's not possible to determine exactly what happened to the birds". All right I get it this is a local paper, you know they're first on the scene and they had to rush something into their system sort of to lay claim to be the ones who reported it first. But it also explains I think why news reporters should be doing kind of the exact opposite of what they did. You you don't rush into these things I mean and you don't speculate the way you do, you don't rely on a single line of information or one expert. And you certainly don't make hard claims such as it's not possible to determine what happened. So all that, all that sort of a side that's what first got reported but then it wasn't long after that that the internet turned to the 5G boogeyman.

J: Oh boy.

E: Oh boy.

S: Oh yeah right. Sure those birds weren't vaccinated Evan?

E: Right yeah or had microchips and all of their yeah the chips took over there and their bodies, my gosh. Boogeyman 5G's that's 5Gs in the word boogeyman. In my searches today guess what conspiracy theory for the last several years accompanies every report of flocks of birds crashing to the earth?

J: 5G.

E: 5G, yep. So that's really become more I think of a joke than anything, I don't really know who's taking that seriously.

S: How about chemtrails?

E: Yeah right it's just good boy but 5G is the boogeyman, it's the cause of everything wrong out there. So yeah the video is real but all right but what actually happened to the birds? And that's where the the more current news reports you know a week later come out in which there have been times for experts and specialists to study the video and get their opinions as to what this was. And now it's pretty much the universal conclusion that this flock was attacked from above by another bird, a raptor. And due to the angle of the attack and the flock's proximity to the ground the birds instinctively took flight in the opposite direction of the attack which happened to be the direction of the ground. Boom. Sent them crashing down into the ground. And you know again depending on the size of a flock you can see how how the higher birds would force the lower birds into crashing, they just all start to move in that direction and unfortunately the lower birds take the brunt of it.

S: Yeah their flocking algorithm failed. It's not perfect, and it didn't it didn't work this time and it is occasionally birds flying to the ground, this is not unprecedented.

E: Correct.

C: It's just a lot of them all at once.

S: Because well because as you said you could have thousands of birds flocking together, you know they're sort of following they're not following a leader there's again there's like sort of a behavioral algorithm there in terms of how they just sort of flow around, the murmuration as you say. And there's there is there is nobody directing traffic they're just all following these algorithms and sometimes the events conspire to make them fly into the ground it happens.

E: They do and there's plenty of documented reports over many years of this happening. And all not for the exact same reason but certainly attacks by raptors on these flocks is one of the primary causes for these for these kinds of bird strikes where people wake up in the morning and all of a sudden there's 5 000 birds on on the ground. Now cameras you know are more ubiquitous now than ever, we're capturing more video footage now than ever we will start to be able to witness what these kinds of events more readily. And that was you know in a way I think almost the remarkable part of this is that the the camera was on at the right point looking in the correct direction to witness this thing exactly happen, so that that in itself was sort of remarkable but you know think about how many ring systems houses have or other you know exterior security systems now on houses it's it's become you know rather common in life.

S: There's so many cameras.

C: Oh yeah you watch any true crime like almost anything that happens in public, there's cameras on it you'll be able to like forensically stitch them together and have like a film like a feature Hollywood film about what happened.

E: Before I wrap up I do want to say a couple of things about bird populations in general just food for thought, speaking of food, feral cats kill between 1.3 billion and 4 billion birds alone in the united states every year.

B: Wow.

C: It's so sad. Don't let your cats outside. And it's not just feral cats it's people's pets.

S: Pet cats, both.

C: Yeah it's pet cats that people let wander outside which is not okay.

E: No it's not okay, 2019 study in Science, Science magazine found there were three billion fewer birds in North America than in the 1970s that is a 30% decline.

S: All right thanks Evan.

[commercial brake]

HIV Cure (55:07)[edit]

S: Cara I understand they cured AIDS.

C: In one woman yeah one woman's AIDS was cured, which is very very cool. It's not even a published study yet this is very interesting. So research that was shared at a recent conference one that's actually going on right now called the CROI or the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections tells the case study of a woman of unspecified age, who is actually mixed race who was cured. And I'm intentionally using that word cured of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. She is from what I understand from the literature and I think most of the write-ups are saying as well the third person that has been documented to completely be cured of this disease. Just for a little bit of background uh there are about 38 million people living with HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus worldwide and about 73% of them are in active treatment. There are two kind of interesting and rough reasons that this is so exciting. Did you know that more, more than half of HIV cases worldwide are in women, but only 11% of clinical trial patients have ever been women.

E: That seems like off-kilter.

C: Also, when we look at the two examples of individuals who have been previously cured of HIV, they followed a, of AIDS, they followed a similar pattern. Both of those individuals received bone marrow transplants because they were simultaneously diagnosed with cancers that required that type of transplantation so they would not have gotten that transplantation just for their their HIV/AIDS they would have only received it because of the cancer. In both of those cases the individuals got super sick, they both got graft-versus-host disease which is dire. One of them almost died and they got very very sick but ultimately they were able to get past it and were deemed cured. Sadly one of those patients did die a year later from the cancer but I think the other patient survived for some time. Now here's the other reason so I mentioned, I mentioned that this patient is a woman and there's some kind of not so fun stuff when you look at the history of HIV/AIDS research that most of the clinical trials were run on men. So it and also it is apparently the case that HIV has a different course in women's bodies and we still don't fully understand that but that seems to be sort of the takeaway from from a lot of HIV/AIDS researchers. But the other thing is that the vast majority of individuals who are actively waiting for a bone marrow donor are or the vast majority of people who get a bone marrow donor successfully are white and they're northern European white and that's because there aren't enough matches in the registry.

S: As an aside there's a study I was looking at today I didn't I chose not not to be the item I talk about but it was researchers have figured out a way or they're in the process of figuring out a way to make organ, organs for transplantation into a universal donor blood type.

C: Yeah it would have to be. That would be a huge step forward.

S: The purpose of that is for you to give everybody equal access you know to to organs you know so that because right now like if you have a rare blood type it's really hard to get an organ transplant because at the first level you need to match the blood type.

C: Yeah at the very first level and then you start to match different aspects of the tissue, right?

S: You go deeper yeah but that's like if you don't match the blood type forget about it. ]=You know but this this could take care of that problem.

C: Yeah yeah so I found a study that was highlighted in HemOnc today a couple of years ago titled: Tremendous racial and ethnic disparity observed in access to matched donor stem cells and the they were specifically looking at the stem cells from bone marrow transplant and the director of this program at Memorial Sloan Kettering said

"We've identified tremendous racial and ethnic disparity in transplant access. What's more it's been thought by some that if you just increase the number of registered adult donors that it would resolve this problem but it hasn't. This study provides a clear demonstration of how important it is to fund initiatives that will improve outcomes of alternative donor transplantation kind of like what you're already talking about including the use of unrelated donor cord blood."

So that's very prescient because this specific case that we're talking about today the woman who was cured of HIV/AID, she did not get a bone marrow transplantation, she got cord blood. And there seemed to be some real benefits to a cord blood treatment as opposed to a bone marrow transplant. And so first what's interesting is that the researchers who saw these miraculous kind of recoveries in the two patients who happened to be getting bone marrow transplants for their leukemia. They both had host versus graft disease, right? And or graft versus host disease. And interestingly researchers thought maybe there's something going on during that disease process that's necessary for the the utter obliteration of this retrovirus. Like the utter obliteration of HIV/AIDS but this case the woman did not get graft versus host disease. She actually was able to leave the hospital 17 days after her cord blood transplant. And she was well. And so yeah it's it's it's not just great but it's like it's like a whew moment for researchers because they're like okay good we now know that that they don't have to go through that horrible process in order for this to work. So the other thing that's that's interesting is that because it was cord blood they think that she was able to better a - take the transplant and b - it allowed for her to do something cool. Cord blood takes a while I guess to repopulate. It's a slower process when you get transplanted with embryonic cord blood so a - the cells within it or are less differentiated right because it's going to be much more infused, obviously bone marrow is also infused with stem cells, but embryonic cord blood is infused with very young stem cells. It takes a while for them to sort of anchor and populate. And during the time that she was waiting for the transfusion or the the transplant to take she also got a transfusion or a transplant from a matched relative. She was able to get these half-matched what they call haplocells from her relative and they think that's what made the transplant a lot less dangerous. Because so it sort of protected her immune system while it was going through the process of having these grafted cells take over. Because these these uh bone marrow transplants that cancer patients get knock them out.

S: They're very high risk.

C: They're super high risk, you basically have no immune system for a while until the new immune system takes over. And so having this intermittent step where there was an engraft from from a half-matched relative that seemed to be helpful and so this kind of opens up not just future directions for HIV/AIDS treatment but also potentially for cancer treatment as well, especially in African American or mixed race individuals who don't have access to bone marrow matches. So even though this is very likely not a sustainable or tenable solution to HIV/AIDS worldwide, for those who are sadly unlucky enough to both have HIV/AIDS and leukemia and require this type of treatment this really does show if one already is in that position, there's a chance to be able to transplant cord blood that already has a mutation that prevents HIV/AIDS from entering the cell. And if you're able to transfuse that cord blood you can potentially cure AIDS in those patients, which is very cool.

J: That's amazing.

S: It is.

C: It's amazing right?

S: Yeah and that's you know this the bone marrow transplants the first stem cell and you know clinical application in existence it goes back decades and it's really still the the only one.

C: Absolutely but but to be able to transplant cord blood from these umbilical cells they just simply have more properties, very likely because they're so young and so undifferentiated. And they're not carrying, you know even though we have stem cells in our bone marrow we're we're still carrying all of the sort of hallmarks of age. The donors who are giving this stem cell material, it's still coming out very often of an older donor right. And if we're taking embryonic stem cells that have not differentiated, that have not you know undergone any sort of disease processes, they've not carried all these mutations and carcinogens and all the things that we are exposed to throughout life, there's just something really kind of magic about about this cord blood that could could open things up in the future.

S: Yeah very cool.

Who's That Noisy? (1:04:35)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Tiger "talking"

S: All right Jay it's who's that noisy time.

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

[kids and adults talking to an animal lowing and making other low grunts]

S: Jay is that Andre the Giant?

C: Deep voice whatever that creature was.

E: Hello lady.

J: Hello lady. So lots of people wrote this in but one person the first person that wrote it said: "That sir is a Tauntaun". That is not a Tauntaun. Although it does kind of sound like a Tauntaun.

Another listener named Adam Hepburn, Adam has written in many times he said: "My man Jayseph, is it a camel?" and I did say that it was an animal. No it is not a camel but man camels make noises like this too. So that's not a bad guess.

Next listener wrote in Cameron Wood and he just said the word "cow".

E: It does sound bovine in nature.

J: Yes, it is not a cow.

S: Yeah but you know most of people have heard cows and that's not what they sound like. If you had no idea what a cow sounded like I guess that would be a good guess.

C: Dang.

S: Well you could think of...

E: There are different kinds of cows, aren't there?

S: Yeah but you could think of something like maybe like a buffalo, a bison, a yak. I don't think it's any of those.

E: An ibex, what are they called?

S: An ibex?

C: Yeah I would say ibex, also that's not cow like.

E: Well what if that turns out to be the right answer though.

J: All right another listener guys named Asia wrote in said: "Yauty howdy Jay, I'm guessing this is the sound of a reindeer. This is based purely on the spelling of the name of the person who sent in the noisy as I don't know what reindeer sound like because I don't live at the north pole." But it is not a reindeer, these are all perfectly cromulent guesses.

Another listener wrote in named Shane Hillier and Shane said: "This week's guess is a hyena".

C: That is not a hyena.

S: That is not a hyena.

E: I saw the Lion King that is not a hyena.

J: We actually, we have a winner, I'm very excited because we haven't had one in a little while. Listener named Clark wrote in and he said in the subject line didn't even get to the email in the subject line he wrote: "Betcha that's a tiger". Indeed that is a tiger listen again.

[plays noisy]

B: So obviously a tiger.

J: I know that's, Bob, that's why Who's That Noisy is interesting because you just never know.

C: Only when it was chuffing, that's the only time it sounded like a tiger, the rest of that sounds weird.

J: Yeah I know but you know he was kind of talking to them in a way you know like just reacting to them being there and wanting to be pet and all that stuff because it was you know the tiger was was definitely like able to be around people because it just seemed like you know this was somebody's pet be honest with you. Could you imagine?

C: No, no pet tigers, don't do that.

J: Could you just imagine though having a you know exposure to a cat of that size that was friendly and to you in any capacity.

C: But none of them are friendly that's the thing.

J: Yeah I'm not look, everybody knows how dangerous it is Cara but there are people who live with these animals.

C: I know and those people are bad.

J: But I'm just marveling at how amazing it would be to interact with a cat of that size as long as your life wasn't you know imminently endangered.

B: It's nice to imagine it but.

C: Yes it's nice to imagine a fantasy world in which your life would not be intimately or yeah in danger but it would be.

J: Cara I want to be a cat okay no I'm just kidding.

C: I know no but this is sadly this is why these people exploit, this because so many people want to be close to these animals and so they, people pay to go and stand next to them and take pictures and pet it and it's very sad for the animal.

J: Yeah I know I-I really wanted, I just love I love lions and I you know but I know you know I know the whole thing it's just not cool but they're you gotta you gotta really just you know appreciate them from afar.

C: There are ZOOs where you can get quite close where they are still kept very safe and they're cared for and they you know these are animals that were bred for these programs where they do very good intervention and research, so, you can get close to them just you know don't go, don't go see the Tiger King.

J: I agree.

S: You can watch the tiger king but don't replicate what they do, the thing that is like the dirty little secret of it it's like they they pace that people can you know snuggle with tiger cubs, there's way more tiger cubs than adult tigers. They're basically churning out cubs to defeat an industry you know of tiger cubs and then they just destroy them.

C: Well and and the really I mean the outcome of that is you guys know that there's significantly more tigers in captivity than in the wild. Yeah there are only 3 900 tigers remaining in the wild.

E: Crazy and there are more than five thousand just in the US in captivity.

New Noisy (1:09:58)[edit]

J: All right guys I have a new noisy, let's get, let's get over to something a little bit more happy. This is a a noisy sent in by a listener named Manu and here it is:

[Male tenor voice reading an old or fictional language in an oratory style]

What is that, what are we hearing right there?

B: That's a cat.


E: It's some form of some form of Elvish.

Announcements (1:10:32)[edit]

J: So guys as you know we have four shows coming up we have two shows in New York City and two shows in Boston.

S: New York City!

J: That's right they all start on March 25th and they're over that weekend. You can go to the to see everything. And you know guys, we are you know we're having these events, we know that Covid we just had a spike but things are starting to get you know very safe now. Numbers are dropping dramatically. You also do need to be vaccinated to even come to these events so it's going to be very safe.

'S: And this is the venues are demanding this, like in New York that you have to you have to bring like proof of vaccination.

J: Yeah I put all that information you know when you when you buy your tickets you could read about that but just basically you need to be able to prove that you were vaccinated. And in New York you definitely need to bring your ID as well. But most importantly we're you know we're going to be in New York we're going to be in Boston and it's very likely that we won't be doing these cities for another two or three years you know just depends on how the wind blows but we're not going to be there, we don't, we don't do this that often so please do if you're interested please do come to those shows because it could be quite a while before we're in this area again. Go to

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:11:49)[edit]

"Girt" in Australian National Anthem[edit]

S: All right quick email, every single person living in Australia emailed us to point out when we were talking about gird your loins.

E: What is that a city in the middle of Australia?

S: Makes an appearance in their Advance Australia Fair national anthem here are the lyrics it begins:

Australia's sons, let us rejoice,

For we are young and free;

We've golden soil and wealth for toil,

Our home is girt by sea;

C: I guess the past tense of gird.

B: Is that the past tense?

S: Meaning surrounded by, I don't know, I don't know if that's the past tense.

C: Maybe it's the Australian tense of gird.

S: Just a form of gird, girt by sea, maybe it's the poetic use of the word so that's cool. So they all know they all knew what girt meant.

C: Yeah they're making fun of us the whole time.

E: Wow.

Name That Logical Fallacy (1:12:42)[edit]

  • Discussing formal vs. informal logical fallacies, Unstated Major Premise

S: All right but we also do have a name logical fallacy this comes from Pul and the email is a little meandering so I'm gonna pull the what I think the question is out of it I'm just gonna read the whole thing first. Paul writes:

Been a listener for years and finally decided to stop freeloading and become a patron, you guys have taught me so much and are the number one reason I have become such a critical thinker and for you I thank you. I was having a conversation with my dad today and he was telling me about a conversation he had recently regarding vaccine mandates. This other guy's opinion was that vaccine should not be mandatory. My dad asked well what about restaurants to which he responded if you don't like it don't go to a restaurant then. My dad told me that just makes no logical sense, then he retracted that statement saying that well no wrong choice of word it isn't logic it's more of just a statement or something to that effect. This then launched us into a conversation about logical fallacies and I argued that this guy's response was a logical fallacy but I couldn't articulate why, let alone what the logical fallacy was. So my first question is what is the logical fallacy. If it falls under the category of being one. And secondly what would you have said to my dad had you been in the discussion in response to the logic is a lot is the wrong choice of word statement.

Well the answer is kind of the same once you say that yeah it's a logical fallacy but so let me just answer the question of like what is a logical fallacy. Actually when we talk about logical fallacies in terms of arguments and defending a position, we're mostly talking about informal logical fallacies. And because they're informal, there there is no real strict definition, it's just really when an argument fails because of its structure. And without necessarily committing a formal logical fallacy you know where the statement has to be wrong. An informal logical fallacies are very context-dependent, they don't have to be wrong, it's just how you're using it.

C: Although we often call a non-sequitur an informal fallacy even though that is technically a formal fallacy.

S: Yeah that is a formal fallacy. It is also vague it just means that it doesn't follow.

C: Yeah it doesn't, but that's the whole point of a formal logical fallacy right it's like proposition one, proposition two, conclusion. And if there's something wrong with the propositional logic there the conclusion doesn't follow so you end up with a false conclusion. So there's very strict rules about pointing out formal.

S: Yeah well the formal, the formal logical fallacies are very specific. Like if you're saying that a equals b and b equals c, a must equal c, right? That's, that's formal logic and if you're saying that a is, doesn't equal c that's a formal logical fallacy. I just say it must be wrong by its very structure. All right but let me pull out I think what's going on here. So the he wants to know what is this a logical fallacy and if so what is it saying that you know vaccines should be mandatory and then another person's saying well I don't I don't think vaccines should be mandatory to which you know the first person says well what about restaurants second person says well if you don't like it don't go to a restaurant. Then so what they're saying is that you know if you don't like the fact that that there may be people at the restaurant who are not vaccinated then then the onus is on you not to go to the restaurant that that's not a justification for vaccine mandates. So I think there's an informal logical fallacy in there.

C: So the guy who's saying don't go to the restaurant is the one committing the informal logical fallacy?

S: Yes.

C: Okay got it.

S: You're basically saying we don't need mandates and the fact that people can't go to restaurants is not a reason because you can just, if you don't want to go then don't go. If you don't want to expose yourself then you just choose not to go to the restaurant.

C: Yeah but then how are you supposed to participate in society if there are no mandates?

S: So you're kind of nibbling around the edge of what I think is the core problem here. So I think this is a very subtle logical fallacy and it's one that is listed you know typically when you when you look at list, in my list you know of the common logical fallacies. It's been in most of the lists that I've seen you know circulating within skeptical circles but it's one we don't hear a lot about because it it's it's hard to detect because it's something that's absent, let me say that. It's always hard to know what's not there, so what's a fallacy based on what is not present, not being stated.

E: Oh unstated major premise.

S: Unstated major premise.

C: I feel like we're playing one of those games.

S: Often there's an unstated major premise here there's probably multiple unstated. So you know this is again why it's so good to have at least some basic education and in logic and and philosophy because you know if you don't understand what this is like what a premise is and and a logical connection in an argument then you have no hope of sort of navigating the complexities of statements like this. So when the person says if you don't you know want to expose yourself to the vaccine then you then the solution is you don't go to the restaurant, so what's the unstated major premise here? I think it's what the purpose of the mandates are. He's, he's, the unstated major premise is that the purpose is to protect you from people who are not vaccinated. But that's not the only purpose.

C: It's also to protect others.

S Yeah it's to protect everyone but also the purpose of a mandate is for example as you said Cara it's to allow businesses to function.

C: Yeah to protect the waiter.

S: And the restaurant itself if you say well don't go to a restaurant, it's like yeah but what about all the restaurants now that can't function because people aren't going there because because it's unsafe because there's no vaccine mandate. That's not the purpose of a mandate the purpose of the mandate you know and often explicitly meaning that when when it's being defended it's like because we, in order for businesses to operate there needs to be a certain amount of uniformity during the middle, during the peak you know we want there has to be a certain level of safety. Now again you may still disagree with the mandate, I'm not saying that you know, I understand this is a complicated political question but the point is then you have to address the actual reason for the mandate. And if you're not addressing it, you're just answering something else so first of all it could be a straw man but you know if if you were explicitly state this is the reason for the mandate but if you just don't state it then it's an unstated major premise. That again I think this is one of those the most often missed problems with arguments because it's again it's hard to detect what isn't there unless you specifically think about it. So it's always good to back up and say and deconstruct an argument to say what are all the premises and does this cover all of the necessary premises for the argument. What's the logical connection and what is the conclusion that we can therefore draw from it. When you break it down like that it becomes a lot more obvious and a lot easier. And sometimes when people are disagreeing and they just can't seem to get on the same page, part of the reason for the failure to understand each other's arguments, is that they're starting with different premises. But they never explicitly state their premises so it's not even clear to each other that they're proceeding from different premises. So it's hopeless. Until you resolve that difference which is the beginning of the argument, the premises. Until you resolve that difference you have no hope of resolving the conclusions, right?

C: And you're just going to be running around each other.

S: Like that's when you get super frustrated like oh my god yeah.

C: I found a great example Steve online by I guess, I don't know if he's a philosopher but somebody named Tim Harding, who wrote a short article on the fallacy of the unstated major premise by the way also known as begging the question.

S: Yes.

C: That's what that means and so he was saying an invalid version a place where the unstated there is an unstated major premise would be somebody trying to argue murder is morally wrong therefore abortion is morally wrong. But there's they're unstating their major premise. But if they instead argued abortion is murder, murder is morally wrong therefore abortion is morally wrong, they they are now making a logical argument. It doesn't necessarily mean they are correct but at least there is internal logic.

S: The structure is valid.

C: Exactly.

S: Right so that's the difference yeah a valid argument and a sound argument. A valid argument means that there it structurally works right the end of the logical connection works. A sound argument means that that's true but all the premises also have to be correct and sufficient. Right the whole argument worked from premise to logic to conclusion. Whereas valid just means the logic works but you could still be you could still have be starting with bad premises and get to a wrong conclusion.

C: But when they're stated at least you know what you're arguing about.

S: Exactly, exactly, that's a great example, yeah. And again if you don't realize you're doing it and it's like but my logic is unassailable, you're right the problem's not with your logic, it's the problem is you with your premises or you're not even you're not examining your premises, you're not even unware of what all the premises are you're just assuming one premise. So and this is like when I get into political arguments this is what's happening this is the rule not the exception this is what everyone does all the time just to exaggerate a little bit. But just this is this is sort of the standard operating procedure is everyone starting from their own premises and selecting the logic that they're using. And them never examining them and then declaring the other side either immoral or stupid or whatever.

E: Right ad hominem attack.

C: It speaks exactly too I just did a talk on science communication, I just recorded it yesterday actually and you know I did my like I do like a standard top five of science communication and the very first one is always know your audience and a big part of it is to try at least to understand their unstated major premises. You know what are they coming to the room already thinking is true. And then what are you coming to the room saying is true and where are we missing each other.

Joe Rogan vs. Spotify example (1:23:08)[edit]

S: Yeah so I'll give to give you another example we because we talked recently about the whole Joe Rogan hubbub, I wrote about it on my blog and there's been a lot─

C: Oh god, we got so many emails about that.

S: ─but you know the comments are running into the hundreds on that and it's there's two sides basically. And talking completely past each other because they are proceeding from different premises. I mean I now of course I think the side that I'm on I'm explicitly stating my premises I'm saying this is this is the scenario that I'm talking about. So essentially it's the difference between free speech and editorial control, right?

C: Right.

S: And they keep saying if you tell somebody if you take away their platform that's censorship. It's like but you're assuming that they had a right to that platform in the first place.

E: Right.

C: Yeah, this isn't the corner square, like the town square.

S: There's somebody, they bring up the town square and announced okay if you want to go with the town square analogy but this person's not standing in the middle of the town square. Somebody gave them access to a private balcony overlooking the town square where their voice carries above everyone else's. And they don't have a right to that balcony they don't own it.

B: Aaaah, nice.

S: Somebody else gave them access to it and they could take it away because it's a private balcony. And they could decide to have criteria to to admit people to that balcony.

B: What do they to that?

S: Nothing that's the thing they never respond to my actual points, they just go off on irrelevant tangents or they restate their premise which is that. It's censorship so yeah but I just showed you why it isn't.

B: I hate humans.

S: Or they say first amendment first again this is not even a first amendment issue because the government's not talking about the government talking about private companies. So again they just never challenge their premises they never they just you know get to their conclusion as quickly as they can but they're often backfilling from the conclusion.

B: They got their narrative and nothing else matters.

S: Right.

C: Well yeah we're seeing also just a lot of weird sacred cow stuff about like this specific cult of personality like no you're the ones who aren't being skeptical enough, he's skeptical because he brings on the people who are out of the mainstream and they you know they're blowing holes in the major narrative and it's like oh god that's not the definition.

S: That's contrarian.

C: Yeah, exactly.

S: The other thing that's interesting is that in that article I didn't even propose a solution. Like I didn't advocate for anything. All I─

C: Did you even talk about censorship?

S: ─I didn't, all I said was this Joe Rogan described his own editorial process and I quoted him. He basically said I have on interesting people and I talked to interesting people and you know he also said I don't, I'm not an expert and I don't really you know prepare to the point where I can hold them accountable for what they're saying. They're the experts I just have interesting conversations with them. That's his editorial process that by his own description and at the only point that I was, I made a few points but basically they were related to the fact that when you follow that algorithm that lead, that turns you into a fire hose of misinformation. That leads to you spreading misinformation. There's no firewall there's no quality, interesting yeah if interesting is your only criterion interesting usually means wrong.

B: It's National Enquirer, that's what National Enquirer is.

C: Well that's also what the media channels are.

S: I was just pointing that fact out, I didn't say anything that should happen, at all. And and the the people who think that who think, Ii don't think they really are but who think who like to think that they're defending free speech assumed all kinds of things. Like because there's only two sides either you're a hundred percent down with free speech and you know everything that even hints at limiting it is an abomination. Or you're completely against you're you're a fascist.

E: Binary.

S: That's it, and they explicitly state that like that completely binary thinking, yeah. And explicitly they're not even you don't have to even infer it from what they're from what they're saying.

E: No subtlety whatsoever, none, no.

S: Yeah it's just well it's just again they're not examining their logic they're not breaking down their arguments they're not saying all right let's figure out what our premises are and then go from there they're not examining their own premises. It's just you said something bad about Joe Rogan you're a Nazi.

C: I also saw some real hate coming from individuals who I made the statement because I quoted the first letter that was written to Spotify that a specific portion of the listenership is vulnerable. And I made that statement because that portion of the listenership is representative by demographic descriptors. There's a lot of crossover with that demographic and the demographic of individuals who have refused to get vaccinated. But we, I got a lot of hate on social media from that and also in emails from people who are like you're calling me vulnerable you're calling me stupid I am not stupid, I'm making an active choice not to get vaccinated. And that's a really hard thing it's a hard conversation to have with somebody to say you've been duped.

J: Of course.

C: Like that is very painful─

B: Pride kicks in.

C: ─here of course.

J: It's not only painful but you know 99% of the people that hear it are going to reject it no matter what you say.

C: Absolutely.

S: One of the core dilemmas of skeptical activism is we deal with people who have been victimized by con artists or by conspiracy theories or by cult or whatever. And how do you point that out to them without them feeling bad about themselves you know for because they're obviously going to reject this notion that they've been duped, nobody wants to feel that way. Con artists bank on that that's like one of their─

E: That's their stock and trade.

S: ─they count on the fact that the victims are going to be too embarrassed to go to the police or to call them out on it you know. So it's a very tricky thing to deal with very tricky thing to do.

C: Right then you yeah you have the backfire problem yeah you've got to be careful that they don't just double down and dig in heels.

S: Which often which often happens.

All right guys let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:29:18)[edit]

Item #1: Surgeons successfully implanted the first wireless electrodes that bypass the retina and optic nerve and directly stimulate the visual cortex with information received from an external camera.[5]
Item #2: Scientist have used data from radio telescopes to finally shed light on an enduring mystery – what initiates a lightning strike – supporting the theory that it begins with propagating streamers of cold plasma.[6]
Item #3: Scientists have observed untrained orangutans in captivity that, when provided with a hammer and rock core, spontaneously used the hammer to create sharp rocks that they then used as a cutting tool.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Untrained orangutans
Science First wireless electrodes
What initiates lightning
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Untrained orangutans
Untrained orangutans
First wireless electrodes
Untrained orangutans

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

Evan's Response[edit]

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts two real and one fake and then I challenge my panel of sceptics to tell me which one is the fake. Just three news items this week no theme. Ready?

J: Let's go.

S: Ready let's go. Evan go first.

E: Aaaa.

C: That's always the worst.

E: It is a terrible feeling. All right I don't, I did not read any of these so I'll start with that. Number one surgeons successfully implanted the first wireless electrodes bypassing the retina and optic nerve. Bypassing? Directly stimulating the visual cortex with information received from an external camera.

S: Yeah so basically when I say bypass the retin and optic nerve because they're going from the image and then communicating that directly to the visual cortex they're not sending the information through the retina or through the optic nerve at all.

E: It sounds very cool and it also sounds plausible I'm trying to think of you know beyond it being what's the inherent problem here. I'm not seeing it so I'm tending to think that one science. The next one about scientists have used data from radio telescopes to finally shed light on an enduring mystery what initiates a lightning strike. That's an enduring mystery, huh? Supporting the theory, supporting the theory that it begins with propagating streamers of cold plasma. I don't know, I-I didn't know that, I didn't know that that was the theory of of what initiates the lightning strike. Cold plasma, huh? Don't know. Let's see and then the last one scientists have observed untrained orangutans in captivity when but when you provide them with a hammer and a rock core they spontaneously use the hammer to create sharp rocks that they then used as a cutting tool.

S: So I'll add that you're going first I didn't want to cram everything into a sentence. They had food that they could only get to by cutting through like string. So they had a they were highly motivated you know to solve that problem just for the context.

E: Gotcha, gotcha.

S: They just aren't cutting themselves or something they had they were trying to get to food.

E: Untrained orangutans in captivity oh gosh I don't know about this one, it's either the radio telescopes or the orangutans. I'll say the orangutans I don't know that they put all those steps together being untrained. Just to guess.

S: Okay Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Let's see I totally want to believe number one directly stimulating the visual cortex so I'm going to say that one of science. I wonder going directly in raw I mean I know that like the retina to a certain extent does some low-level processing of the image first. I wonder what that means in terms of this this type of research that you're talking about here. I'm going to say that that's science. The radio telescopes and the plasma I don't know man just got nothing to say on that one I'll say that science. The orangutan one I'm not buying I mean orangutans using a hammer and rock you're getting sharp rocks and using it as a tool I don't think s, I'm not buying that at all.

S: Okay Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: That's funny because I'm thinking that the third one about the orangutans is true. I believe that because they they are very very intelligent. Now go to the second one here this is the one about the radio telescopes. I mean this is you know I wouldn't be surprised that plasma has something to do with lightning. I just don't understand why it's cold plasma, I'm not and I'm not even really clear about you know hot and cold plasma.

S: Those anybody who went already object object if I tell what cold plasma is?

B: No go ahead.

E: I don't object.

C: I don't know what it is either.

S: So plasma is of the most common form of regular matter in the universe, right? That's what happens when a gas gets so hot that it strips the electrons off the proton so you it's charged gas right, it's an ionized gas. So cold plasma is when is when that happens when it not because when it's colder. And it's not that they're being stripped away by heat something else is happening that's separating the electrons from the protons to at least some degree that you have a plasma but it's a not that hot, so it's a cold plasma.

C: So it's like ionized gas. Without heat.

J: Okay all right for some reason what you said makes me think that's even more true. So I'm gonna say that the first one about the the optic nerve is the fake because I don't think we're there yet.

S: Okay and Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I mean I want the... okay so the first wireless electrodes, pretty cool, bypass retina and optic nerve, so basically these electrodes are being implanted directly into the visual cortex into the occipital lobe and information from a camera is being fed to that and then the brain is processing that information at that level. It's it's kind of and I mean I think you kind of hear about this because you know about cortical blindness this is an actual thing where people have damage to their, it's like the opposite effect right they have damage to their visual cortex but all the other structures are intact. And even though they don't think they can see they'll do things like catch balls and walk off steps and things like that and so this is sort of like turning that on its ear we're gonna just send the information directly to the. And I don't know why that wouldn't work. I think it's probably not quite like vision it's probably something akin to vision but it doesn't say here that they can see as well as somebody who has fully intact retina and optic nerve so I don't know I want this one to be science so I'm going to say that science. I think that I don't understand the lightning one at all, I didn't know we don't know what starts lightning. I figured that was something we already understood.

E: That's what I said.

C: Yeah. And the weird thing is right the orangutan one was I was like oh yeah sure whatever that I buy that and then of course the two guys started talking about and really breaking it down and I'm starting to be skeptical about this one as well. Mostly because I feel like if they were, if orangutans spontaneously could use hammer-like objects and yes I know those are human made but there are things in nature that are hammer-like. So if an orangutan could spontaneously take a rock core and a hammer-like object and make sharp tools and then cut things open I think they would have done it already more often and we would have seen this behavior in nature. I could definitely see them learning how to do something like that and I bet you that's the twist here I bet you they were taught how to do it but I don't know because he said untrained so I think I'm gonna go with that one being the fiction also.

S: All right so you guys all agree on the second one mainly because you didn't understand it but we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Scientists have used data from radio telescopes to finally shed light on an enduring mystery what initiates a lightning strike supporting the theory that it begins with propagating streamers of cold plasma. You guys all think this one is science and this one is science. This is science. So no sweep for me. And yeah the the thing that I found most interesting is that we didn't know what initiates lightning.


We still don't really know but this like is a strong support for this theory. Did anybody know what the alternate hypothesis is for how lightning strikes?

B: Well Thor and stuff you know.

E: Yeah. Zeus.

S: I think we've mentioned when I read it like yeah that's I think we mentioned this on the show at some point in the last 17 years. Cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere.

E: Yeah.

B: Oh yeah I remember that.

S: Triggering yeah right, that's a vague memory there. So that's the other theory is that it's the cosmic rays so versus just like something happening spontaneously within the cloud itself. So this data, which is like basically using multiple different radio telescopes examining multiple you know lightning strikes especially that critical phase right before the lightning initiates trying to figure out what's happening there, supports the intrinsic theory this notion that the lightning is being initiated in the cloud itself, is not being like has to be hit by cosmic rays or anything. And you know they what this what they found was this before the lightning bolt itself goes off you have this propagating and multiplying like streamers. So these streamers are like little, little lightning bolts of cold plasma right. And they keep branching and branching and branching so you get more and more and more and more of them although they're moving at a constant speed which they found was odd but that's what the data is showing. And then it gets to a critical point where then the lightning bolt initiates. So Jay remember the who's that noisy from a few weeks ago.

J: Absolutely yeah yeah.

S: The sound before a lightning? Because I wonder if that's the streamers or cold plasma, I don't know. I couldn't find if that there's an actual connection there but that's made me think of that. Yeah so that's interesting. Probably not the final word on this controversy but you know the data does support that.

Okay let's go back to number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Surgeons successfully implanted the first wireless electrodes that bypass the retina and optic nerve and directly stimulate the visual cortex with information received from an external camera. Jay you think this one is the fiction everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science.

B: Yeah.

E: Oh it it.

B: How does it work?

S: Yeah so well I didn't say that it works.


E: Oh that's rude.

S: If you read very carefully you'll notice that I never say anything about it working.

E: No they just implanted that's all they but oh boy.

S: Yeah this is basically at the proof of, it's at the proof of concept stage. And they did successfully implant the electrodes that's the news items, that they they implanted the electrodes. The so the electrodes are wireless which is that so that is good for a couple of reasons, one, so there's no wires crossing the skull right so there's no source of infection that could get through you know into the brain.

B: Oh yeah that is pretty cool.

S: They are powered by the wireless signals too so they don't need to be have their own power, they don't need batteries that could run out or whatever. So the wireless signal both can get the images directly to this the the visual cortex and can also power those electrons.

B: How deep can that go though? I mean, I mean.

S: These are surface electrodes.

C: Also like would you have interference if you were like walking by other wireless?

S: That's a really good question. So the electrodes themselves are called wireless floating micro electrode arrays or WFMAs, they receive their power and their digital commands over wireless link and sent to an extra from an external camera which has this signal. Now they make it very clear that this is not going to provide normal vision, right? It's not like the person's going to be seeing what the camera is imaging. Part of that I think one of you alluded to the fact that a lot o, Bob that I think it was you, that a lot of the processing occurs even before the signal gets to the process that occurs in the nerves and in the brain stem and you know the more primitive pathway. It's not just getting raw signal to the visual cortex. Now of course you could argue that we could we could maybe duplicate that process so it's also not delivering raw signal to the cortex. Part of the problem is going to be mapping it to the visual cortex where we have to make sure that the the visual cortex is getting a signal it recognizes right knows what to do with.

C: The right neurons are seeing.

S: Yeah exactly. There's like there's like what we call somatotopic mapping that happens. But in any case the the the goal of this setup is not to provide normal vision, it's to give visual feedback that people can use to visually interact with their environment. Even though what they're seeing may not be what we see you know what normal vision.

C: Yeah yeah did you ever see the the the Brainport it's like it's like a thing they put on people's tongues.

E: What?

J: What does it do?

C: It's really cool it's like a multi-electrode array that goes on your tongue and you wear these glasses and the glasses take a video and it it sends that information, very crudely to a sort of low res, almost like a 64 channel or like a a low bit image on the tongue. And for people who are totally blind they with time are able to start translating that pattern of electricity on their tongue to a visual image. It doesn't look like vision though. I interviewed a woman who used it to make art and she was, she was learned how to weld with it, it was really cool and she said it felt like she was sewing with light, like that was her experience. But it didn't look like vision, it was kind of like vision. It's a very cool.

S: Yeah right, not like normal vision but it can benefit the user for performing visually guided tasks.

C: Right like you can see edged detection and really important things like that.

S: Right and why would you bypass the retina and the optic nerve?

C: Well what if you don't have one?

S: If you don't have, right, so for people who may not even have a functioning retina or nerve to use this is the only option. But this is you know once you get this to work so that people can actually use it functionally then you know in a way there's mostly incremental improvements between this and Geordi La Forge right with the visor. Where, I mean just eventually we will get more and more detailed and processed and whatever you know mapped out information to the visual cortex and we could people could you know maybe theoretically see with a device like this.

C: And also do it early do it when they're young yeah our brains are so plastic it's so cool like they'll learn how to work with it.

B: And eventually it'll be even better than natural sight.

S: Even better.

J: Bob I love I love your freaking enthusiasm man.

B: Yep amazing shit's coming and I'm going to be dead and I'm going to miss it.

S: But you won't know because you'll be dead, so don't worry about it.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Scientists have observed untrained orangutans in captivity that when provided with a hammer and a rock core spontaneously use the hammer to create sharp rocks and they then used as a which they then used as a cutting tool. So this is the fiction but so you guys were correct that something did happen just not this. This was just beyond what the orangutans did. So they so they did have untrained orangutans in captivity. And they provided them with a hammer and a rock core and what did they do?

B: They put it in their butt.

E: They used the hammer, they ignored the rock and used the hammer.

C: They smashed the rocks with the hammers.

S: So they took the hammer and they began to smash stuff with it right, so they not not the rock and not the food whatever but they did sort of bang on parts of their their their environment you know with the hammer. So the these the scientists you know being very positive in their interpretation being very optimistic that the orangutans they knew how to use the hammer even though, they didn't use it in any directed way, they knew that it was a percussive tool right so there's that.

C: They picked it up and hit things things with it.

S: Exactly they picked up and hit things with it. And again keep in mind the purpose of this study, of this observation was to try to look at the most basic routes of primate tool use of human tool use. So we're going back to like what might the common ancestor of orangutans and humans, what might they have been able to do. And so how much distance is there between that and human tool use. So they were able to pick up a tool that they did not create but that they and they they knew that this was something that you hit stuff with. Okay that's not a big leap but still they did it. But they they did not make, they did not fashion rocks. But they did smash rocks together. And some of those rocks that they smashed together did give off sharp flakes. They didn't do anything with that, but that happened. The other thing.

B: So they abandoned the hammer and then hit rocks together?

S: Yeah.

C: They probably just did all of that, all of those things.

S: Then when they were given a sharpened rock, so they didn't make the sharpened rock but they were given a sharpened rock they used the sharpened rock to cut open the food.

C: Ah that's cool.

S: They were untrained and uninculturated, never heard that one before.

B: Yeah. Uninculturated, I like it.

S: When provided with a human-made sharp stone one orangutan spontaneously use it as a cutting tool, okay so without being shown. So what you want yeah so of the five orangutans that they were studying they were given these sharp stones, one of them spontaneously used it as a cutting tool. So there you could see that the most primitive like elements of stone tool use are there they they didn't they didn't spontaneously make a sharp stone tool, they didn't mod, they did not even modify it. But they did use it when it was provided. So if there were stones that were accidentally created. Because all he's talking about is like flaking a flint stone off of a core you know that could happen without deliberately doing it you know what I mean? I'm sure you guys you guys have probably played with rocks that had a sharp edge to them.

B: Of course.

S: They happened spontaneously you know just you don't have to necessarily make it. So that could certainly have been the the seeds you know of doing that like they they pick up their you know they can they they, orangutans can use sharp rocks to do stuff right. They can use the tool if it's there in their environment. So it's not, and they can bang stuff together right right so there's the whole idea so it's not that far.

C: No they just have to make the connection between banging stuff together and how to use it.

E: How to make the sharp tool.

S: I can make a sharp tool yeah and then I can use it I can have it on demand.

B: You just make them a little smarter give them a million years and they'll do it.

C: Yeah.

S: Totally.

C: And the funny thing is I'm sure, I mean I shouldn't say I'm sure but there have probably been a million studies where you just showed them how and then they did it right?

S: Totally, that's why they yeah they had to say untrained and uninculturated.

E: Untrained is a key.

C: Cause they're really good at mimicking behavior.

S: Totally if you show them how to do it they would totally do it. They wanted to know what they would do completely spontaneously just if this is in your environment what do you do with it. Because they want to know what's there inherently not what they were mimicking. Because there is a so there's kind of like the innate level and then there's the cultural level. Like you remember like the monkeys that learn how to clean potatoes from other monkeys?

E: Oh they washed the right yeah they watched it with salt water.

S: Yeah they washed, and there's a culture of that yeah washing them. At some points one of them figured it out somehow and then the rest it's all culture. So once that happens then it's learned you know and you can't say what ability was sort of inherent or was sitting there. They want this the purpose of the study was to figure out without any you know training at all what would they do spontaneously.

E: The monkeys in India they'd steal stuff and then sell it back to the people they took it from.

S: They trade it back for food.

C: Oh they're amazing.

S: And they learned what the high value items are.

B: That's awesome man.

S: If they take cell phones they get more food than if they take something else.

B: I love it.

S: That is incredible.

E: It is, it's remarkable.

S: All right Evan give me a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:49:25)[edit]

We take kids in elementary school and teach them math is important. Junior high, math is important. High school, math is important. And then all of a sudden as adults, for whatever reason in our culture, math disappears. It strikes me as odd that if math is so important, why are we hiding from it in our pop culture?

– Bill Amend, cartoonist

E: And that was asked in an interview by Bill Amend who's a cartoonist known for the known for the comic strip FoxTrot, do you guys remember FoxTrot? I do. It's one of my favorites. And definitely had a very geeky nerdy science bend to it and that is because Bill has a degree in physics.

B: Awesome man.

E: So he he parlayed his uh physics degree into into his love for cartooning and made that rare leap going from that from you know the world of academia over to over to cartooning and bringing some certainly a lot of that flavor. If you're familiar with FoxTrot, I highly recommend it. Definitely the characters are especially the youngest of the of the kids in the family Jason who's the brainiac so much physics and math and things going on there. As far as the quote goes I agree with him certainly to an extent. This interview that I saw him in was is about eight or nine years old, so there have been some improvements I think in pop culture in that time. With mathematics certainly especially in the cartooning area you know we can point to certain shows that we love Rick and Morty among others that have made those efforts to try to infuse more more science into it. Phineas and Ferb I think is another one that that does that as well and there are other examples. But you know overall I think I think his point in the broader sense is sort of correct in that we it is taught all throughout schooling. It is made to be important and then it does and then a lot of people do sort of fall out of practice with it. And you just would think you know how much better informed and better decisions might people be if they were to maintain their math skills their math cred.

S: If they weren't innumerate?

E: It's a good way of putting it.

S: They didn't suffer from innumeracy? Yeah I agree, that's right that's one of the things we talk about that you know the people don't understand like basic statistics and it leads to bad decision-making.

E: Yes it does.

S: Entire gambling industry is based on.

E: Oh my gosh absolutely.

S: All right thanks Evan.

Signoff (1:51:56)[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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