SGU Episode 868

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SGU Episode 868
February 26th 2022
868 nanoparticles.jpg
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SGU 867                      SGU 869

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

Charles Darwin, English naturalist, geologist and biologist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction; ISS Decommissioning Update[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 23rd, 2022 and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening folks!

S: Cara is off this week, she's busy with work so it's just the boys.

E: The four of us.

S: So you guys have heard NASA has announced its definitive plans for the International Space Station. We've been following this for a while, they've been saying yes you know basically you know until the end of the decade but now they, NASA is saying the ISS will operate through the end of 2030.

E: Okay.

S: And sometime in 2031 they are going to crash it into the ocean, going to bring the whole thing down.

J: Oh my god.

B: Well.

J: What is that going to look like I mean how much of it will survive past the atmosphere I wonder.

E: Not not much.

S: If they knew what they were doing they would like try somehow to film the whole thing.

J: Well why couldn't they? Why couldn't they film it from space and from from the ground?

S: Yeah they should.

J: They should wait for a clear day you know.

S: They should attach cameras to the ISS filming itself and streaming it.

E: Of course. I imagine they will.

S: I mean how often do you get to crash a giant space station into the ocean?

B: Every 30 years I think.

J: And there's no, there's no plans for a replacement right I guess they're trying to get private industry to do it you know there's not much information.

S: Yeah NASA is going to there they want to seed low Earth orbit to private industry so just like with you know getting rockets into low Earth orbit they're going to also just let private industry do low Earth orbit stations as well. So they're yeah they're pretty much done they have their eyes set on the Moon and Mars which is a good idea, there's already companies planning on putting you know stations up there.

J: Yeah China has their space station in the works.

S: Yeah.

J: You know they man China spends a lot of money on that stuff man they're they're really pushing hard to get into space.

S: So they're they're going to crash it uh they're planning on aiming it at a point in the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo which is the farthest point from land anywhere in this Pacific which is like that's a good idea, minimize the probability that you're going to hit hit land somewhere.

E: Yeah I wonder how much they're plus minuses for hitting the actual point like 100 km plus or minus but even so yeah I think Point Nemo is several thousand kilometers far away from any land so I imagine pretty safe.

B: Did the fish get any vote? Probably not. What about other countries do they get any say, I mean they put a lot of money and resources into this too.

J: I'm sure they all had to agree, right?

S: Yeah.

J: I mean a lot of countries have been wanting to back out or have like defunded it you know it's already.

E: Yeah Russia has pulled back sort of their participation in the upkeep costs and other things having to do with the ISS, we reported on this a couple years back. That that Russia is also moving in a direction in which they're going to have their own station up there. And they pulled resources away from my from ISS in order to start those programs.

S: It is sad it is too bad that there isn't any an economical and safe way to like push it into a higher orbit where it's out of everything.

E: Museum orbit.

S: Yeah museum orbit, exactly.

J: But so why is that because it still requires fuel, right?

S: Oh yeah be really expensive to do that.

J: Yeah it's not it's not a zero-sum game there.

S: Yeah I know they don't want pieces breaking off and stuff. So I guess it is better just to keep keep orbit decluttered as much as possible but.

B: Yeah and if that didn't get hit you know if that thing got hit and you know that could be.

E: That could be quite a lot of debris.

B: A ;pt pf debris, potentially.

E: Yeah there's already massive debris problems in space we don't need to feed the feed the problem any further got to take as much stuff out of out of space as we can.

B: And I'm sure they could they they'll do something fun like like digitize the entire thing so that you could literally like in VR go through pretty much exactly the way it is now just go through the entire space station, even work some of the some of the computers and machinery in VR it's like like you're pretty much right there that would be worthwhile.

S: That's true.

E: Look out the window there's the Earth, hello.

J: That's a very that's a cool idea Bob we should be with our technology that we have today I mean we could do this type of thing we could take you know 360 degree footage and then the computer can extrapolate from that and actually you know make it a 3D space.

E: Sure.

J: We should take historical footage of things like this and preserve them.

E: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

B: Super high-res you know 8-10k you know whatever however many k you need.

S: Yeah that's happening now I mean but yeah definitely they should do a high-res scan of the of the space station. What's funny is we mentioned you know the life span of the ISS in our our forthcoming book and we we just had the final edits accepted. Yay! So we're done like no more changes to the copy of the book. But I managed to to squeeze in some updates including this one because the figures that I had in there from like a year ago were just slightly updated so I was able to get get the updates in there.

J: Oh it's gonna hurt so bad Steve when we have a significant thing that dates the book right that makes it so the book is no longer 100% accurate but there's nothing we could do about it.

E: That always happens.

S: It's constant though, it's constant. I mean even though like in the last you know nine months since our first draft there's been constant news items coming out that would require tweaks to the text in the book and then there was you know Bob you just sent sent us one today where it's like it's not a big deal it's just a little little tweak. But we talked about the price of getting stuff into orbit and you know Elon Musk tweeted a graph I guess that SpaceX put together, it's a logarithmic scale of the cost of getting a kilogram of stuff into orbit showing how much it's dropped you know since the Apollo days to the Falcon Heavy which I think is now the most the cheapest way to get stuff into space. But then also projecting the projected cost for the starship which at least you know they're claiming to be less than 200 a kilogram. That's a massive drop you know considering it was around a hundred thousand dollars 40-50 years ago. The average of the space shuttle was something in the 16-17 000 by the by the end, per kilogram now we're down in the 2-3 thousand dollars per kilogram range. So a huge drop, it's still expensive.

J: Of course it's going to go down.

S: Well I don't know I don't think it's what do you mean by of course like it's inevitable? It's I mean by that much? I don't think so I mean the reason, it was pretty plateaued until you know the reusable rocket technology was developed like that technology had to be developed in order to continue to bring down prices significantly you know.

J: Well that's what I'm saying though like once once the reusable components you know, once that had been put into you know production you know we also have a company that is 3D printing space capsules you know that that technology, and of course you know the the corporate push to get into outer space and everything of course that's going to dramatically lower the price.

S: But there are some, there are certain fixed costs you know like the fuel you know for example and there are certain certain components that are not going to be reusable. So yeah I do we you know that's one of one of the questions that we address in the book like how low will it come, will it go, like how far theoretically can we, can we bring it down and what will that mean in terms of access to space and all the repercussions of that. You know sub 200 is huge, that's like a, that's really cheap that once you get down to that level then a lot of things become more more feasible you know.

B: Yeah it might it might prevent the development of other potential technologies you know to to get into space, like you know the space elevator which we also talked about in the book.

S: Yeah yeah which is not gonna happen basically.

B: Yeah just probably not on yeah probably not on Earth but Moon and Mars different story.

S: Mars I think is the best bet for a space elevator just has the right gravity etc but yeah I don't think it's going to happen on Earth but you know if I remember like the spin thing we talked about like where you spin it up and I don't think that's going to happen either.

E: Spin and fling.

J: Oh really Steve you think that the inertial thing is not going to happen?

S: I just straight up don't think it's going to happen I don't think it's going to again when you can get when you can just rocket things into orbit at less than 200 a kilogram there's going to be no incentive for stuff like that. And that's going to be expensive and risky and it's I don't see that I don't see it competing with rockets. It's like one of the interesting things that we talk about is like the surprising persistence of technology. Using chemical rockets to blast off the surface of the Earth is gonna be you know basically the best option we have for the foreseeable future. Like there isn't really even any advanced technology that gets you away from that, all of the advanced propulsion we talk about doesn't have the thrust to get you off of a 1g planet. It's you really need the throttle, only chemical rockets have the thrust, there's nothing even on the drawing board that will that.

B: Well there was one if I remember if I remember from my research there was one iteration of nuclear rockets that could potentially do it. But I think that the jury is probably out on that. And yeah Steve just looking at this chart I mean if we get if they predict you know sub 200 per kilogram within the next couple of years for starship. I mean I would have to think that over the next 20-30 years they could get it sub 100 possibly when they really make it efficient. Sub 100 dollars per kilogram I mean that alone, would would why waste so much money and on any other way when that is that cheap. You know you'd have to come up with a dramatic new technology to make it worthwhile developing and pumping money in.

E: I mean the R&D cost for that thing alone would make it it doesn't sound like there's really going to be any other way to go. I mean you have to invent the new technology and spend what many hundreds of billions of dollars probably getting to that point oh my gosh.

B: Yeah I mean perhaps yeah and perhaps using things like accelerating small satellites into orbit from the from the surface.

S: Yeah I think small satellites.

B: Thousands of G's, thousands of G's that no human could survive.

E: But no payload no people nothing like that.

B: Right nothing like a people or or delicate satellites or heavy satellites, the lighter stuff I could see that as you know as like an adjunct to chemical to chemical rockets.

S: On that show For All Mankind which is a great like alternate universe look at where the space program could be if we kept it up. But towards yeah their advanced rockets were fission, right they were nuclear.

B: They got into that, huh?

S: Yeah yeah so they had they had fission based rockets which again that by itself not really good for for getting off the Earth because they don't have the thrust but how they got around that is they took off with the with the fission rocket attached to like a 747. Got that got up into you know as high as that can go and then it the fission ship blasted off from there. So I don't know if that's a way to do it like if you could do a two-stage thing like that, I don't know if anyone's crunched the numbers to know that that would work but but yeah fission rockets are great in terms of specific impulse their efficiency but they just don't have the thrust so I don't know I just think that it's going to be chemical rockets forever, you know. Until like really exotic technology comes into play. Which is fine, it's just weird to think about that like we already are using pretty much, and then and the other thing is like the most the best fuel is hydrogen, like we're already using probably the best fuel for chemical rockets that we will ever have.

B: Yeah, right?

S: Just physics, right?

B: It's just the physics and the rocket equation you know hydrogen is like the best stuff, Steve remember when we discovered that if the Earth was only a little bit, 10-15% was it─

S: 1.5g.

B: 1.5g then chemical rockets would not be an option for us.

S: You couldn't get into orbit like we don't have to, we could not get into orbit on a 1.5g planet like a chemical rocket the rocket equation would basically doom it.

B: Slap you in the face.

S: Yeah it's like wow so what if what do civilizations that evolve on a 1.5 or greater surface gravity.

E: That's it they're isolated, they're stuck where they live.

B: Heavy, really you know heavy heavy g planets are or you know if you live if you evolved on there you're in you're in deep trouble. And I wonder if you could like go to the top of a mountain Steve.

E: A 100 feet tall.

S: Yeah you wonder if there's good with what's the workaround in terms of like once you get fusion rockets can you develop a fusion rocket and then again you fly to the upper atmosphere. I mean there might be some way to extend it a little bit but again think about it it means that like we're not going to be to be settling worlds with with surface gravities over 1.5g, it's just not practical.

B: Right, right.

J: And plus why would we even bother going to a world that.

S: 1.5 you can get around 1.5 you could live there but once you once you land on the surface though you're there.

E: You're not space faring, yeah. That's it.

B: Good place to work out.

J: Yeah but I mean christ I'm tired enough as it is you know like do we really have to increase gravity.

E: 200 pounds becomes 300 pounds just like that.

S: I'll just, get your, get your you and your genetically engineered body.

J: All right I'm would, I'm down with that I just you know.

S: Or your android body.

J: I already got a lot on my shoulder Steve so let's not.

S: All right well we have an exciting show coming up for you so we're going to start with Bob your news item is about the dark side of hot Jupiters.

News Items[edit]

Hot Jupiters (14:23)[edit]

B: Yeah hot Jupiters turned into a hot topic this week, with a close with a closer look at their dark side than ever before.

E: Oh I didn't realize they were all evil

B: So this was published in Nature Astronomy recently by researchers consisting of collaborators from MIT, Johns Hopkins University, Caltech, the big hitters there. We've talked about hot Jupiters a few times on the show, basically gas giants like Jupiter or even far bigger that are found near their parent star, very near, typically with orbital periods less than 10 days.

E: That's crazy imagine celebrating a birthday every 10 days I'd go crazy.

B: Right. And then of course you know how do they get so close to the sun, that's still a bit of a mystery you know, perhaps they migrated in. Perhaps they develop in situ.

S: Nah. They got to migrate in.

B: Yeah that's, I think that's the consensus, probably. So this one is about WASP-121b this is a hot Jupiter discovered six years ago, 850 light years from Earth.

E: That's not too far.

B: No, it has one of the shortest orbits ever detected. 30 hours. So if Steve, if Steve was born on that he would be 16 801 years old. Happy birthday Steve.

E: Happy birthday Steve. Oh and tomorrow happy birthday.

B: If you guessed that it's tightly locked you are correct. One side permanently faces its son the other side never sees it. This and this actually makes the atmosphere kind of shaped like a football apparently.

E: Oh it bulges the...

B: The title, the title forces. And and speaking of tidal forces, tidal locking is a fascinating process look it up. That's essentially the tidal interaction between two orbiting bodies and this creates a title breaking where one or both bodies eventually stop rotating relative to each other. Now our moon has already done that it's tidally locked and in in a few months, oh wait sorry in 50 billion years Earth will be tidally locked to the Moon as well but of course that will never happen since the Sun will likely vaporize us way before then. But it's this fascinating process. I remember reading a quote if you really want to see dramatic stuff happening, don't look at gravity, look at tidal forces because that kind of stuff can just rip planets apart. So we've been studying hot Jupiters like this for years but the nature of those studies have recently changed. Thomas Mikal-Evans who led the study as a postdoc at MIT said: "We are now moving beyond taking isolated snapshots of specific regions of exoplanet atmospheres to study them as the 3D systems they truly are", so this is kind of what's new here. So this is what the Hubble space telescope is allowing us to do now using its onboard spectroscopic camera so using the various intensities of the various wavelengths of light that are displayed using this camera. We can it gives us clues to the temperature and even the composition of the atmosphere 850 light years away. Truly amazing. Now that's kind of easy to do on the bright side and we've been doing that for a while but the breakthrough here, the real breakthrough here is being able to do that on the dark side of the gas giant, the side that's always facing outwards and never seeing its parents star. Because you have to look, it's really hard because you have to look for these super tiny changes in the in the gestalt if you will of the entire spectrum of the planet and not just the specific wavelengths. But if you want to track the water in the atmosphere though, you need to look at a specific line or what they call a spectral feature which tracks what the water is doing. So now regarding that specifically Mikal-Evans said: "We saw this water feature and mapped how it changed at different parts of the planet's orbit. That encodes information about what the temperature of the planet's atmosphere is doing as a function of altitude". So, using this changing water spectral feature the researchers could determine a lot of details about what's happening not only on the lit side and the dark side of the planet but also at lots of different altitudes on both sides of the planet. So they looked at, they determined that on the day side the temperature ranges from 2200°C or 4 000°F at its deepest layer. And then if you go up to the topmost layers of the atmosphere on the day side it's 3200°C and 5800°F so that so that's a rise in temperature with altitude. That's a, that's a thermal inversion. The night side is the opposite, it drops with, the temperature drops with altitude so at the highest altitudes it's 1200°C, 2200°F and at its deepest layers on the night side it's 1500°C, 2800°F. Pretty damn hot, pretty damn hot place, so what they were able to do was to track for the first time the water cycle on WASP-121b. No something like that's never been done before. Now we know the water cycle here on Earth, right? What are the hallmarks of the water cycle on Earth? Evaporation, right? Condensation and precipitation. Those three and of course if you depending on what website you can go you go to you could see four four or even seven, seven major elements to the water cycle on Earth but those are the big boys here. Evaporation, condensation, precipitation.

S: What about urination?

E: Rinse an repeat.

B: That's only loosely connected. So water evaporates it condenses into clouds and it rains blah, blah, blah. So the cycle, the water cycle on WASP-121b is I would say a lot less gentle, in the intense, in the intense day side of the planet it's so hot that water molecules are essentially blasted apart right because temperatures are like near 2700 C. Blast apart the water molecules. Now these components then are blown back blown to the dark side of the planet where the lower temperature allows them to recombine into water again. So it goes back into water.

E: Oh interesting.

B: Right? Which is then blown the the winds blow it to the to the light side of the planet again and the process starts all over.

E: Like it's playing pong with itself in a way.

B: So but a very fast pong, because the winds the sustained winds that are part of this process are thought to be up to 5km/s.

S: Oh my goodness.

B: That's 11 000 m/h winds. Now you know how hurricanes are classified as category 1, 2, 3? This would be a category 547 if you if you nonsensically just keep adding the numbers as it's done in one through five. Category 547 which of course is silly but it gives you an idea. They researchers calculate that these 11 000 m/h winds can move clouds across the entire planet in 20 hours. Ad this is a big planet this is like what 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

E: 10 times, wow.

B: Then they found out something else that might that that might be blowing around the planet. And this is even cooler. They put these so they look they have these temperature profiles right they know what the temperature is at various altitudes on the light and the dark side of the planet. So they know that they put those temperatures into the, into models to see what chemicals could exist in these environments. And get this there could be what they're calling metal clouds on the dark side of the planet.

E: Iron clouds?

B: Iron, titanium and the mineral corundum, which makes up sapphires and rubies it's a mineral that that makes up sapphires.

S: So does it rain rubies then?

B: Yes, kind of does but more liquidy. These metallized clouds then would be vaporized on the light side of the planet and then they would reform on the colder dark side and maybe, and maybe on it on its way back to the light side it rains liquid gems before being obliterated again in on the light side. So yeah it's a pretty pretty wicked planet. So in the I'm really looking forward to the future because the James Webb Space Telescope which is going to be looking at this later this year. And they hope to they hope to do stuff like track carbon monoxide as well on the planet which hasn't been done before. And I'm sure that there's going to be plenty more surprises for us on WASP-121b the super hot Jupiter. So can't wait.

S: That sounds really cool. Yeah I know there's some of the exoplanets that we're discovering have really extreme conditions. But I think the hot Jupiters are among the most extreme for the reasons that you stated, because they're so close.

B: Yeah be curious to see if you know what kind of life could even evolve in a place like that.

S: Yeah, nothing.

B: Because typically with those, with those you know with those wins 11 000m/, 5hm/s crazy stuff but I can't wait till James Webb takes a look at that bad boy.

S: All right thanks Bob.

Jumping To Conclusions (22:54)[edit]

S: Jay you're going to tell us about the psychology of jumping to conclusions. Do people do that?

J: They do Steve. Lots of people do it. Let me ask you guys a question to start this─

B: Five.

J: ─though already. Exactly, thank you, end of show. Guys how much energy would you say you spend making a big decision.

E: A big decision, like getting married?

S: I mean it could be months like I've researched big purchases for months.

E: Oh cameras right Steve?

B: I've researched little, little purchases for months.

J: Evan how about you?

E: Sure I've yes I've spent months researching certain things like the the solar panels and things that were recently installed in my house, I did spend a few months uh doing all my research on that.

J: Evan would you mind just giving me the answer to all your research so I don't have to do it?

E: Yep I'll send you my notes no problem.

J: That'd be awesome.

E: You got it.

J: Yeah so you know ask yourself this question it's it's something to just give yourself a quick you know analysis of you know do you put the time in with decisions you know or you are you a quick decision maker. Well this is going to be an eye opener because there's there's some information here that some recent research has uncovered that is not going to be super surprising but the details are are intriguing. So of course like we just you know identified ourselves as over thinkers if anything, there are people who do a good amount of research when trying to figure out like what their next move is. Could be on any decision. However researchers have shown recently that a significant percentage of people barely put any time into making big decisions. And they wanted to understand how this happened why this happened you know get some get some framing around it to so so it can be researched further. People tend to spend more time considering things that please them than things that that need real attention like as an example the how much time do you really put into your taxes versus how much time would you spend planning a vacation, right? I mean it's a no-brainer it's a no-brainer you're going to get by with as little.

E: One's fun the other is torture.

J: Yeah in fact one in five people spend more time planning a vacation say than something along those lines like something that might be moderately painful to deal with. This kind of thinking is related to a term we all know well quick decision making can actually be a cognitive bias, which is a interesting way to frame you know quick decision making I never thought that there was a direct connection between that but let me explain. Having a cognitive bias means that a person is influenced by their own subjective realities, so, what does that mean? Let's say that somebody, someone's world view is that secretive powerful people control everything that happens in the world, Illuminati, right? Or someone's cognitive bias is that all foreigners are dangerous? This kind of thinking distorts that person's perception of reality and it distorts their behavior and the decisions that they make.

S: Yeah that's a, that's a confirmation bias.

J: Exactly.

S: That's just exactly yeah you which we wrote about in our first book that the idea that your brain is really good at first of all perceiving a lot of information and picking out those bits that seem to support something you want to believe or already believe. And you know you explain away and dismiss things that seem to contradict what you want to believe. And then that could create the powerful illusion that there's a lot of evidence to support your position but it's really just all your own internal bias.

J: And as a a well-seasoned practiced skeptic I do this every day. I do it. We all do it. You know like you you can't completely get rid of that even if you made it your life's goal it is a part of the way our brains work. Making quick uninformed decisions is a form of also Steve jumping to conclusions right because you know jumping to a conclusion specifically means what that you're making a decision or forming an opinion with little or no information to back it up. So an individual has a tendency to make the mental mistake of not considering the available information that's out there. And this is kind this kind of thinking is a form of cognitive distortion. So the researchers studied 600 people from the general population looking at their decision-making patterns. They use a game as the basis of the experiment. The game's premise is that someone is fishing from two lakes now guys I want you to do this with me. So here's the premise, someone is fishing from two lakes. You're watching this person fish from you know lake one and lake two. The first lake has mostly red fish and the second lake has mostly gray fish. The research subjects could stop the fisher at any time when they think that they can determine what lake she was fishing out of. Okay do you follow me? Because the fisher is─

E: Based on what they're catching?

J: ─yes the fisher is only fishing out of one lake and you don't know which lake you just know that one of the lakes has mostly red fish and one of the lakes has mostly gray fish. All right so before I go on right here guys and everyone listening to this in your head think about how many caught fish you would want the fisher to have before you make a decision on what lake they're fishing out of.

E: Okay.

B: Okay.

S: It probably depends on what you mean by mostly, is mostly 50%?

B: 51%.

S: Or 99%?

J: That's the only information you're given. To help you guys I personally would want 10 caught fish then I think okay let me look at the fish and I'll come up with what's the percentage inside those 10 fish and I would make my decision from there whether it's the red lake or the gray lake.

S: It depends on what the results are you know. I have that, that's a dynamic decision I can't tell you ahead of time what the number is. If they are pulling out the fisher pulls out six red fish in a row you know that's pretty good evidence that they're fishing out of the red lake.

J: But you're not seeing data as it's coming in Steve you're just saying okay stop you've collected enough fish now let me see what you have and I'll tell you what lake.

S: That's different yeah that's different if you don't you're not able to make that decision dynamically after looking at the evidence you have to decide ahead of time without knowing the percentage just mostly one or the other color.

B: Let's say this is 20 maybe 20.

S: But it's hard to say.

J: The stakes are low Steve, the steaks are low nobody's going to die from your thing.

S: That was my next question what are the stakes if the stakes are high I would want a hundred fish I want a lot of fish if the stakes are low yeah 20 is probably reasonable.

J: How about you Ev?

E: Yeah I think 20 is a good number.

J: I completely expected this kind of response from you guys which I love. I love the fact that you guys are really thinking about it you had you had to like turn it over in your head. Of course Steve did it the most right you know there's a lot of variables that go that what do you mean.

B: I just did it internally.

J: But the idea here is that because we're skeptics and we we're critical thinkers and we've trained ourselves to turn information over in our head to want information, right? First you feel the vacuum of information and then then you're like okay here's the information I'd like to have well if I don't have it then I gotta use what tiny information I have and then you come out with a complicated kind of answer to this, right? This is what I expect a lot of a lot of critical thinkers would do. The research subjects who jumped to conclusions guess how many they required guys?

E: Three.

S: I'd say four?

J: One to two fish.

E: One to two! Come on!

B: That's just stupid.

J: It is what it is this is how many fish they thought that they needed to see or that was enough information for them to make a decision on what lake the fishermen was.

B: Were they five year olds?

J: No.

E: Do they have zero concept of statistics?

J: Evan that's a great question I mean I honestly can't answer that question you would think yes but at the same time I don't think again that they're really thinking, they're just going by their gut. They just what, I think you know a couple fish is good I can make a decision. You know, they're jumping to a conclusion. They're not thinking about all the things that we all.

B: Wow just surprising degree.

E: It's not like name that tune, we have to name it in the fewest notes you you would want to gather more evidence than not gather more evidence to came to a conclusion.

J: That's part of this whole thing which I'll get into a little bit more detail but you think it's really just the convenience of making a quick decision that could be compelling a lot of people as well. They're not thinking about any of this. So follow me here the researchers interviewed the test subjects and found that the fewer fish a person required to make a decision tracked with how many other errors in thinking and reasoning they had. I bet you can guess where this is going, right?The lower the number of fish showed that the person was more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. These same people were more likely to believe in medical myths and the paranormal. It tracks guys isn't that, isn't that incredible?

S: I would predict that.

J: Lower fish test subjects also made a higher number of errors on problems that needed more you know more contemplative inquiry. So let's have fun with a test question they asked the test subjects I'm gonna give you something else. Rounding to the nearest five cents a baseball bat and ball cost a dollar ten together. The bat cost, the bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

B: 5.001 cents.

J: So those who did not take the time to consider the question said the answer was 10 cents because it really seems obvious that it's 10 cents when you just do a quick brush, right? This the baseball bat is a dollar more than the ball so what's left there's 10 cents left over the ball the ball costs 10 cents. But the answer is actually five cents the answer is five.

E: Yeah, nickle.

J: Why is that Evan?

E: Ooh because you're starting with something that's equal and then you're adding a dollar more to to one of the two items and if your cap is 110 you subtract and you're adding the dollar you're left with 10 cents you have to divide that equally among the two things that you're looking at five cents each.

J: And Steve you said you knew the answer to this, right?

S: Yeah this is a this is a classic question to illustrate this very thing where you, the heuristic of going for the obvious answer but not thinking one level deeper. Like there's there's a false but alluring answer you know and that people will jump to. So this is this is a classic example so yeah I knew before once you said baseball I knew exactly where you were going.

J: So quick decision makers showed that they're also poor gamblers because they would accept bets that had worse odds. Again, because they're not thinking about it. The underlying explanation for this behavior is that the quick decision makers accept and act on thoughts that come to mind easily and on the spot, right? So let's call this a low energy state of thinking. Taking the time to find analyze and consider information is a high energy state of thinking, and it is. This explains why I'm so tired all the time. Anyway people who make quick decisions and those who don't both were initially filled with the low energy thoughts, the difference is that people who make quick decisions are less likely to move on to the high energy type of thinking. So they're they're stuck in the rut of accepting the low energy type of thinking, does that make sense guys? It's like a habit almost and it is it pretty much is a habit because you could train yourself out of it. The high energy thinkers were able to move past their own cognitive biases and form stronger conclusions because to put it bluntly they do the work, they do the necessary work to get there. They didn't stop with their initial low energy thinking, they decided to continue and and you know and probe further. The researchers found that training low energy thinkers could help them start to overcome their biases and be more deliberate in their thought processes. This is really cool think about that like they actually figured out a way, it wasn't that complicated but they did come up with a process to train these people to get out of their own way. They use puzzles you know that would focus on specific kinds of cognitive bias and then they show the subject a specific mistake that they made and instruct them how to overcome it, right? It's very specific you know this this this puzzle is specific to this specific cognitive bias. They do it, they make them they make the mistake they show them the exact little mistake that they made. Now they're not saying to them things like you know you're ever the way you think is wrong they're just fixing a little bit at a time you know it's a very stepladder type of process that they have to go through but they did show results where the person could retain the information that they learn to kind of overcome their cognitive biases. Now an extreme version of this like we like I said earlier is you know you're a full-blown conspiracy theorist and you're taking shortcuts on the on getting to answers you know and again like Steve was saying you know because it feels good because it makes it gives you it confirms things that you already believe it makes you feel good about the world, it makes you feel like you have control over things so you go to you know you you default to the the conclusions that you already agree with. It's hard to tell yourself that you're wrong it's hard to force yourself to have intellectual humility you know it's hard to spend the time chugging through and really turning something over in your head it does physically take you burn more calories to do it, it's harder to do. So this is this is interesting to me because it quantifies something that we all already kind of knew. But it kind of shines a bright light on it and explains like what's actually going on in in the thought processes of people who legitimately don't take the time to think yeah.

S: I mean that's the fascinating new bit here is as you say showing you know quantitatively that people who jump to conclusions, who take the superficial answer, how you know that correlates with conspiracy thinking and belief in the paranormal etc. But you know these kinds of studies are so hard to interpret because there's so many confounding factors for example it's already well established that people who believe in conspiracy theories and believe in the paranormal are more intuitive thinkers and less analytical thinkers. So are we just is this a just one more way to measure the difference between intuitive and analytical thinking, right? Because analytical thinkers by definition break things down and analyze them and do the the thinking, whereas the intuitive thinkers are gut feeling thinkers. So this is not new when you just say okay well this is just, they're just measuring intuitive versus analytical thinking.

J: Definitely, yeah I mean look there this entire thing I think makes it a little bit more clear particularly for me what it means to be a skeptic and you know that we take it further that we've trained ourselves to not stop at a low energy state of thinking, which is essentially your gut like, whatever your brain spits out into your conscious mind first we we've trained ourselves to ignore that. You know like it's still there it's still happening you still feel it but we move quickly past it to the point where you almost don't perceive that it's there anymore because we just don't operate that way anymore, we've trained ourselves to to think and consider things on a deeper level. That's it. I mean that is one of the core things of being a skeptic. Do you think it it boils down to that what you just said that they're that the analytical versus more intuitive thinker do you feel that it is at its core?

S: That's a strong signal in the research and right so I guess it's complicated, it's not going to ever be any one thing. Remember this kind of research you develop a construct right you develop a paradigm of research that you think is going to be shining light on a question that you have. But this is the marshmallow test right you think you think you're testing executive function when you're in testing you're really testing how confident they are in their environment. Like if you remember that like they can you think that they're you're measuring can they defer gratification but you're really measuring do they have reliable parents you know. And the behavior effect can be the same. But in any case with this I think this is adding a new wrinkle to it but it does totally fit within previous research which shows you know that there is this correlation. And maybe what this is doing is explaining that correlation further. The reason why analytical thinking correlates with not you know believing conspiracy theories and paranormal and magical beliefs etc is because you don't just listen to your gut you go you know deeper and do statistical analysis and think about plausibility and etc. The only thing I'd push back on a little bit is that I don't think you necessarily have to ignore your intuition, that's data, your intuition is data but you just have to put it into perspective you have to know that it's it's like okay interesting that's my initial reaction so that may be telling me something but let me let me see if I can confirm that with an analytical approach. And right and you'll find that some so the the intuition it gives you like a little bit of a head start but it can't be your final answer, you've got to back it up with and with analytical thinking. And you know and I'll just say the reason part of the reason that I you know have you know read so much about this literature is because this is at the absolute core of medical training right of being a which is what I am you know I teach medical students you know residents etc. You know right at the core of that is the intuitive versus analytical approach to diagnosis and treatment etc to clinically evaluating a patient. And you don't want to completely ignore your like gestalt gut reaction to a patient but you have to understand that that's not the final word it leads you astray you have to know how it leads you astray and you have to you you boils down to what we call predictive value. At the end of the day you need to know how predictive something is not just does this look like a heart attack but what features predict that it is a heart attack you know a heart attack you know what I mean that so you have to back it up with the analytical number crunching analysis. But so there's a more a little bit more of a complicated relationship between intuition and analytical thinking. But yeah the problem that we're seeing is the people who don't do the analytical thinking they stop with the intuitive gut feeling and then so you're basically living in a world of heuristics and cognitive biases.

J: That's right, and it becomes a trap.

S: Totally.

E: It's a trap!

S: All right thanks Jay. So you Bob I know you're into nano technology, right?

B: A little bit, lot of it.

E: Only on a small scale though.

S: Nanotechnology is cool but it is also definitely a buzzword.

B: Oh yeah.

E: Oh yeah, like blockchain.

S: Yeah like space age technology you know anything after 19 what 57?

B: Well that's why they created the term molecular nanotechnology to to distinguish it from just the buzzword of nanotech you know?

Nanoparticles To Stop Bleeding (41:43)[edit]

S: So I'm going to tell you a news item that deals with the non-molecular nanotechnology. It's the medical use of nanoparticles to stop internal bleeding.

E: Cool.

B: Okay.

S: Or at least to slow down internal bleeding. So this is a pretty interesting use and again I think the nanotechnology part of it is almost incidental but again what what counts as a nanoparticle, there is a specific definition and so just to quickly go over that. So so nano, nanostructures or nanotechnology involves anything that has one dimension that's 100 nanometers or less right? So if one of the three physical dimensions is in that scale you know less than or equal to 100 nanometers that's a nanosheet. If it if one of the other two dimensions is a lot longer than the other then that's a nanoribbon. If two dimensions are less than 100 nanometers that's a nanofiber. Or if it's hollow it's a nanotube. And if all three dimensions are less than 100 nanometers that's a nanoparticle. So nanosheet, nanotube or fiber and nanoparticle. So this is dealing with nanoparticles means every dimension is less than 100 nanometers except they're stretching the definition of nanoparticle up to 500 nanometers.

E: Oh.

B: Okay.

S: You know it's like the shorthand is it's in nanoparticle-ish I guess. So but in these nanoparticles, two types of nanoparticles that have been studied basically as an injection that would the idea is it would go to the site of an internal injury and staunch the bleeding from inside the blood vessel. So there's two types of of particles that are being studied synthetic and biological. So synthetic are completely fabricated. And biological are either parts of cells or parts of organelles. There's a recent study looking at a synthetic nanoparticle. Now I say synthetic it doesn't mean it's made of a machine it's still a liposome, it's a fat bubble with protein fragments on the outside, so it's still built like out of the stuff of life but it's completely you know artificially made. So there's been already been quite a bit of research about this but we it's early days and some of the basics haven't been worked out yet. So what the study was looking at is what is the optimal size of an artificial nanoparticle, a synthetic nanoparticle, specifically a synthetic hemostatic nanoparticle for reducing internal bleeding. Say acute trauma setting. That's it just want to know what what size should we we'd be making these things. So they looked at essentially small, medium and large sized hemostatic nanoparticles. You're like so less than 100 nanometers at the low end you know 500 nanometers at the big end and like 150 to 200 nanometers and the medium size than the middle range. And they found that the mid, the medium size the middle of the range like the 150 nanometers was the optimal size for the nanoparticles they were studying you know again made from the fat bubbles with proteins on them. So there's there's a couple of reasons why size matters in this case. One is you do not want your synthetic nanoparticles to be filtered out of the blood, we don't want them to accumulate and the spleen, the liver or the lungs, right? Because all of those organs can filter stuff from the blood, you know the lungs fill throughout clots, the spleen filters out you know dead blood cells for example.

E: So it can recognize it separate from the blood and it would try to take those particles out.

S: Well it's just a matter of, it's again, it's a passive system, it's not, it's so it's just a matter of are these particles big enough that they would get filtered out by these.

E: Oh gotcha okay, right, so physical just the physical size right, right.

S: Yeah and these particles are passive too they're not doing anything they're just going with the flow you know, they're not machines you know it's just a really just a fat bubble. So the the bigger particles accumulated in those organs, the spleen, liver and legs. So that's not good. You want it to accumulate at the site of injury not in these organs. The smaller ones did not get filtered out but the problem was the other main factor. So ideally what you want these particles to do. You guys know what platelets are?

J: Yeah.

E: Yes, blood platelets.

S: Yeah their, blood platelets are self fragments in your blood, they gather at the site of a of a bleed you know if you if you have a artery or a vein or whatever a cut is and it's leaking, the platelets would tend to accumulate at that site and they stick to each other and it basically just forms a plug that blocks the bleeding. So what these nanoparticles are designed to do is to accumulate at the site of a bleed and help the platelets stick together. But you don't want the nanoparticles sticking to each other too much, because then you just get a clump of these nanoparticles and they don't work as well by themselves. You what you what you want is for them to stick to the platelets. So then you have basically a mesh of just some of the nanoparticles but mainly platelets. Like that's the optimal configuration. This so the super small particles just clumped together with each other and they were not as good at incorporating the platelets right into the plug. The bigger ones got filtered out so they weren't good, so the medium-sized ones was the goldilocks just right you know. So they were able to, they they did not get filtered out um too quickly they they mostly accumulated at the site of the bleed and they mostly stuck to platelets and so the in the the clot that form to stop the bleeding was mostly platelets, which is exactly what you want. So they they basically found the sweet spot for the size of these particles. Now how well did they work? Well they studied this in a rat model. What they did was they made a lethal slice in the vena cava of the of the rats, that's the largest vein in the body the one that empties into the right side of the heart. And you know untreated the rat would bleed out right that's that was the point of the of the study, of somebody with a lethal internal bleed. Especially ones where like you cannot slow the bleeding with pressure, they actually even talk about non-compressible injuries or non-compressible internal hemorrhages. Then they, they gave some rats just normal saline as a control and then they gave other rats, the nanoparticles, the hemostatic nanoparticles of the different sizes and they said how long do they live? You know basically this is there any increase in survival. And the the nanoparticles of the optimal size did increase the two-hour survival for the rats. It wasn't a home run in terms of how well they work but they did they did improve survival in the rats that had them. Basically a proof of concept thing again just trying to dial in for future research before we get to human studies we want to know as much as we can about this. But these are these are legit nanoparticles and nanoparticle technology, nanoparticles are becoming definitely an important medical technology. And this is this is a very interesting application, they're being used for drug delivery for example, for to target drugs to a specific location. Okay if you could design the nanoparticle to go to the part of the body that you want and then release you know the drug.

E: Protect the cancer cells only.

S: Exactly, just release it when you hit the cancer cells, that's you know that that kind of nanoparticle targeting is an active area of research. We may have mentioned you know some of those studies previously on the show. And this is again I think this is the where the low-hanging fruit is right because all you gotta do is inject it into a blood vessel and then have it do its thing just passively. And it's just a matter of dialing in you know like calibrating what proteins we want to put on the surface, how big do we want the liposome to be and once we like dial that in as much as possible, then we'll study it in people.

E: And we don't have to worry about like increased rates of infection because of the size themselves like they're too small to be a catalyst for any kind of infection anything like that?

S: No no I mean these won't no these won't cause an infection, what they can do though is cause an immune rejection. But that's where the the biological nanoparticles are more likely to do that, these synthetic nanoparticles don't really provoke an immune response so that's the big advantage of the synthetic ones. The biological ones are easier to make you know because they're just taking pieces of stuff that already exists but they can be they could be immunogenic as we said they can provoke an immune response, the synthetic ones not so much. And you know again we the synthetic ones can we can tailor them more specifically like we could design them down to the last detail. So this is you know this nanoparticle technology is a burgeoning area of medicine. If this all works out again the infamous five to ten years but that's I that would be my estimate of when we would be actually having patients in like an emergency room setting or in an ambulance getting injected with these nanoparticles. Just because that's how long you know the research is going to take. And that's assuming that things go well. So that's like the short horizon it could be longer if there's like unanticipated side effects or other sort of challenges that have to be worked out. And again I think it's the kind of thing where it's going to be an incremental improvement you know like yeah people are ten percent more likely to survive if they get these injections something like that or something like that. It's good I mean you're talking about survival. And of course you know trauma is the number one cause of death in people under 45 you know so for for in terms of lost life years the trauma is huge and it just is completely unrelated I just read today a statistic that that gun related trauma for the first time in the US now has exceeded─

E: Automobiles.

S: ─automobile accident trauma.

B: Oh my god. Of course.

E: Less people driving more people shooting.

S: Unfortunately. But that includes you know death by suicide been on the gun violence and that's right there's still that's like where most of them are.

E: Makes it too easy.

S: In any case yeah internal bleeding is bad because you can't you know until you are in the OR right there's not much you can do about it so anything that slows down the bleeding, that's the idea you just this is not going to be a cure unto itself you're just trying to buy time to get to them that's basically the idea here.

Internet 2035 (52:26)[edit]

S: All right Evan tell us about this vision of the future it's kind of a theme this week vision of the internet in 2035.

E: That was the exact title of a recently published report by the Pew Research Center "Visions of the Internet in 2035". You know whatever now I'm conditioned now guys whenever I see or hear the year 2035 I can't help but think back to our SGU in the future episode.

B: Oh god, that was fun.

S: Yeah, 2035.

E: It was, yeah we've role-played ourselves recording a podcast in 2035 and I think some of the most fun we had in preparing that episode was trying to reasonably predict the state of technology in 2035. And especially so when it came to the internet you know we we came up with the title the AUG, right for augmented reality.

J: I thought that was cool yeah.

E: Yeah it was cool. An and I don't know do you think what Facebook and Meta are doing is taking an initial sort of step in that direction you know VR and AR becoming all incorporated I think you know they were onto something sort of what we were also thinking about. Here's what pew did, here's what pew research center did. They asked several hundred people who are prominent in the fields of technology and industry. I mean these are people who are described as innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists. Also keep in mind this is not a poll as pew described it as a non-scientific canvassing based on a non-random sample. The results represent only the opinions of the individuals who responded to the queries and they are not projectable to any other population. Okay so this is like a closed sort of system, so keep that in mind. Here's what they were asked.

"We invite you to imagine a better world online: What is one example of an aspect of digital life that you think could be different in 2035 than it is today? We invite you to create a vignette of something you would like to see taking place in a “new and improved” digital realm in 2035. Your example might involve politics or social activities or jobs or physical and mental health or community life or education. Feel free to think expansively – and specifically."

That was it, that's what they were asked. And they received 434 responses. And pew analyzed the responses you know as a means of sort of organizing the key themes that were expressed by the respondents. And you know so here here were the key changes that, or the categories essentially that they for the most part fell into or they were able to categorize. There was a lot of feedback regarding these topics, "building better spaces" was one of the categories and basically that meant you know new platforms that codify norms for discourse. And also artificial intelligence to help isolate bad actors. They had another category called "constructing effective communities" which when I read the description it sort of was similar to me as the building better spaces category in a sense, so kind of an extension of that.

S: Although a community and a space could be different because a community could be spread out over multiple spaces.

E: Right.

S: And a space can be used for multiple communities.

E: Yes right so one basically ties in essentially with the other but they are but they are still distinct. Yep, another category or that it fell into "empowering individuals" which means better agency and autonomy and the use of tools to help with those ends such as blockchain, localized mesh networks. Bob you know anything about mesh networks?

B: Yeah they're awesome.

J: I do yeah I have one, I have them in my house, they're fantastic.

B: Yeah me too.

E: So that's for empowering individuals. Another category "changing economic life and work" this one you know working remotely that seems that's the way things are definitely going and and as a result expanding job eligibility. Expansion of jobs based on the fact that people will have more of a remote environment to work in. Two more categories "altering reality" of course virtual reality and augmented reality along with some concerns about unforeseen or unforeseeable abuses which I'm sure we'll talk about. And finally "tackling wicked problems" you know the big ones climate change, human rights, global health issues sort of the the macro problems that we as a globe are all having to deal with. So yeah there was some pretty impressive people on the on the list with some real high credentials and expertise in these in these areas that all gave their feedback. And it went in a lot of different directions. What do you guys I mean you guys have thought about this and I can't imagine and I imagine this also takes up some space in the upcoming book.

S: Yeah I mean I think that there are some big brush stroke trends that we could probably confidently predict. I do think they'll be increasing a corporation of augmented reality for sure. And more VR as the technology improves. I don't think it's going to replace just using a monitor, there's just something really you know easy and convenient about sitting in front of a screen and using a keyboard and you know what I mean? But we will you will incorporate them more into our everyday use. I think they'll be mixed reality right so mixed reality is where all of these things blend together I think that's where we're headed and I know that that's sort of the idea of the metaverse where there's one place where all these things can interact simultaneously and whether that you think that's premature or not I think that's where things are headed. In terms of the spaces you know it's it's still the wild west I think it's still going to be wild west 15 years I think we'll see everything the idea of using AI to make spaces which are more curated or managed is I think we'll see that. Will they dominate? Who knows. Maybe we might see more segregation like there'll be not just like a few giant spaces but there'll be many more spaces that people utilize in different sub-communities or different purposes.

B: Yay more echo chambers.

E: Yeah Bob that's true.

S: We already kind of separate out by age. There's attempts to separate out by world view, well I don't know if that's there's still power and having um numbers you know what I mean, so having a lot of breakaway spaces may not be a viable option. They'll exist but you know I don't know how important that they'll be. I don't think we're going to solve the problems that we have that the internet causes it'll just be more the same. And what I think the real innovation is going to be is something nobody's thought of. Someone's going to come up with something that no one's thought of you know that we'll we'll be talking about in 2035 that we can't even think about right now.

J: I think that's very likely, yeah.

E: Yeah Bob to your point and certainly something I thought about as well are what I vision in my head as these as these bubbles or as you put them echo chambers. I think we're gonna in a way sort of have to see more of that. I mean I like certainly like the idea or the ideal. Coming up with a future product whether you call it the internet or the aug or whatever you're gonna call it that codifies sort of these norms for discourse and allows people to you know have reasonable rational discussions and all that but you know you sort of are counting on human beings changing their behaviors in a lot of ways and I don't foresee that happening in in in a short term like 2035. So in a way you are sort of going to have these people who are only going to want to occupy certain places certain, bubbles as I'm seeing it in my head, in which they can go and spout whatever crazy that they want. But hopefully it will not have a overreaching infection to the entire system at large and it can be contained and isolated, captured in certain segments of of that future I hope.

Quickie with Bob: Plasma Physics (1:00:27)[edit]

  • AI and Nuclear Fusion

S: All right Bob you're going to give us a quickie.

B: Thank you Steve. Gird your loins everyone, this is your quickie with Bob. This week is AI and nuclear fusion. The Swiss plasma center has one of the few operating takemaks, tokamaks for fusion. Let me start over, the Swiss plasma center has one of the few operating tokamaks for fusion research which combines super hot plasma using donut-shaped magnetic fields. We've talked about that a bunch of times. This testbed is special though since it's a variable configuration tokamak allowing for many different plasma configurations, how cool is that? I hadn't heard about that before. But you need to run new plasma configurations on a simulator first because you don't want to melt the walls of your tokamak right when you're testing some new plasma configuration. You got to do your homework on the simulator and then you can go real with it. This is where their collaboration with deep mind comes in which shame on you if you don't remember is a world famous neural net technology that uses deep reinforcement learning. You may remember it from such amazing hits as AlphaZero and AlphaGo Zero which are the literal superhuman champs of chess and go. And also throw an alpha fold I mean it's just like such an amazing thing. So after training on the simulator deepmind can now not only create but maintain a host of different plasma configurations, especially one in which two separate plasma shapes are controlled at the same time in the tokamak which is really sweet, never even thought that was possible. So these dynamic complex closed-loop control systems seem to be yet another domain where deep mind could be amazing, tremendous help to humanity and and help in the transition of cool sci-fi technology into real everyday technology that is really important to me. Loins ungirded, this has been your quickie with Bob, I hope it was good for you too.

S: Thanks Bob.

Who's That Noisy? (1:02:22)[edit]

S: All right Jay is Who's That Noisy time.

J: Okay guys last week I played this noisy

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

All right guys what is this?

E: That's Elrond speaking in you know elvish.

J: Exactly exactly.

B: Yes, the cousin of C-3PO.

J: Any other guesses?

E: It did sound Anthony Daniels-ish.

S: It's like English but not English.

J: That's true.

E: It's not.

J: That's a good starting point Steve.

S: Ye old English or something?

J: Steve.

E: Is it? Is it?

B: Language dialect simulator.

J: A listener named Damian wrote in and said: "Hello I recognized some of the Latin spoken in this week's noisy and I am unable to translate all of it but I'm pretty sure I heard the word sons daughters. My guess will be that this is some sort of religious ceremony possibly catholic". You are heading in the right direction but you are not correct.

Next listener guessed, Michael Blaney he says: "Was this Esperanto?"

S: No.

J: "If not sounded cool either way". That is not Esperanto, the made-up language that William Shatner is one of four people who have learned it. I gotta, I haven't heard that, I forget what that sounds like I'd like to go back and hear people talking in that.

E: Yeah, YouTube it.

S: And listen we know Esperanto is a legitimate language you don't have to email us we're just kidding.

J: We're joking, yeah.

Next listener Joshua Gillespie wrote in says: "Hi Jay, is this week's noisy someone speaking Lojbban, l-o-j-b-b-a-n. Lojban is a constructed syntactically, unambiguous human language created by the logical language group. It succeeds the loglan project. The logical language group began developing Lojban in 1987. So another constructed language which is that's fun yeah so people think that this sounds a little bit like a made up language that's interesting. I'm going to click right over to the winner and I will tell you we had more winners on this one than I can remember in a long time. A lot of people got this right. The winner for this week is Jason Mackey and Jason said: "Hey Jay it sounds like old English to me".

S: There you go.

J: And indeed, it is old English.

E: Old abandoned niggling.

J: So I got an interesting email right after the I read the winning email. I got an email from someone named Jonathan Phillip who happens to be Cara's Lyft driver. Remember that guy?

E: Yeah.

J: So he wrote in and he said: "I'm Cara's Lyft driver from a couple of weeks ago back on the show it was nice surprised to get a shout out on the show" I just think it's funny that Cara's Lyft driver is calling in and emailing the show whatever. Anyway he guessed for this week and he said he had a professor that made us recite the first 18 lines of The Canterbury Tales in old English, this sounds similar to both in the pronunciation and meter. So he did guess correctly so I just wanted to let Cara's Lyft driver know you have guessed correctly my friend, good job. So let's talk about what we just heard though guys.

S: I'd like to see a period piece where all the actors are speaking old English they have subtitles.

B: Yeah that'd be cool.

E: In Esperanto, Esperanto subtitles.

J: So I got a very detailed email from someone who knew exactly what this was and I thought their description was so good that I'm going to read it to you. And this is sent in by a listener named Kevin, Kevin the linguist from Moscow, Russia and he said: "Hope all is well awesome with you, this week's Who's That Noisy is someone reading a text in old English specifically, the west Saxon dialect even more specifically it's an extract from the 10th century Wessex gospels Luke 2:6-7 relating the story of the nativity.", and then he goes on to quote it. And it very interesting so he says the cool noisy and so that's cool so we got a listener from Moscow who who hit the nail completely on the head exactly you got it 100% correct you just missed you know getting it being the winner by a few hours. Old English is the earliest form of the English language it was spoken and written in Anglo-saxon Britain from c. 450 CE until c. 1150. Long time ago. And my god does that speak sound like elvish to you from Lord of the Rings. I mean that is so elven I can't believe it.

S: Well elven is, was based on welsh, right?

J: I think you're right Steve.

S: I know I'm right.

J: Well I have a new noisy for you guys this week.

E: Well.

J: WELL [exhales] you got to put in that noise at the end or it's not legit.

E: Oh the whole [exhales].

J: Yeah you got it like well [exhales].

E: Gotta take the breath.

New Noisy (1:06:55)[edit]

J: All right guys I got a new noisy this week from a listener named Bryce Groves and here it is.

[clinking noise then strumming/vibrating sound]

J: That's it. It's a short one, but it's a fun one. If you guys think you know what the Noisy is, or, and very importantly, if you heard anything cool this week, just think of me! Take two seconds and pop me an email at

Announcements (1:07:24)[edit]

S: So before we go on to our first question we want to remind everybody that we have a couple of Extravaganzas coming up.

E: Yeah.

S: So March 25th we have a private show in New York City, that's where we record a live version of our podcast in front of a live audience, It's always super fun. The next day March 26th we're doing an Extravaganza that's our stage show hosted by George Hrab where we get up on stage, we do a lot of fun stuff, there's a lot of interaction with the audience, you get to challenge us in a skeptical trivia, science trivia game that we came up with all really cool. Then we travel to Boston March 27th we do a private show in Boston and the Extravaganza later that day and we've just added a new event to our calendar April 23rd in Bethlehem, PA. This is no show number two, again with George Hrab. We're going to be doing a live recording of the SGU and then we're going to be, George is going to and his band are going to perform and then we're going to do the first live Boomer versus Zoomer game show that we developed. This is super fun yeah, Jay and Ian and have been working on all the. Converting this digital game show into a live game show and making the podiums, and the lights, and the buzzers, and all that stuff, it's really good, it's gonna be great, a lot of fun. So go to you'll see all of these events listed there and you can book tickets, make sure you get them early before we, in case we get sold out, which happens quite frequently. And you know this is a great way to support the SGU and everything that we do and you get a little something out of it for yourself. Bring the whole family bring your friends. It's a good introduction into the SGU.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:09:11)[edit]

Email #1: Cats are the biggest bird-killers[edit]

S: All right let's move on to some questions and emails the first one comes from Martin from the Netherlands and he writes:

"I've heard you saying that pet cats shouldn't go outside because they kill birds. While I do see the problem here I fail to see why this measure keeping cats inside is the solution to the problem of birds dying. I can't imagine humans aren't the number one bird killers on this planet. Climate change, wind turbines, flying planes. And isn't the cat hunting outside part of its natural behavior? This and the obvious meat eater bias are my only two gripes with the show. Thanks for the great content, Martin"

Ok, so Martin.

B: Meaty.

S: So Martin, you are incarnate Sir! We do have some figures on this, so what is the number one killer of birds?

B: Cats.

E: Cats.

S: It is cats by a huge margin. The the most recent data we have shows that, again this is sort of the middle of the estimate range, 2.4 billion birds killed each year by cats in the US alone. 2.4 billion.

E: It's crazy.

S: These are from both feral and pet cats you know that are outdoor pet cats. What do you think is the number two cause─

J: Lightning.

S: ─of birds dying?

B: Very small cats?

E: Other birds?

S: Not lightning, not other birds.

E: Well it's a predator of some kind?

J: Kung-Fu.

S: Windows.

E: Wow.

J: Damn windows.

B: I would have thought of that eventually.

E: Yeah.

S: And the estimate there is kind of broadened, somewhere between 300 million and 1 billion per year in the US. So at the at the high end of that it's you know it's it's still less than half of what what what cats kill but it's significant. Everything else is pretty much a round-off error. After birds and buildings. You know, he mentioned you know wind turbines, it's like it barely registers like it's like a hundred thousand. It's nothing it's like it's a you think in in the proportion to all the other things. High tension wires is like 150 to 200 million, cars or less than everything else is pretty much less than 100 million. Cars are like at 60, communication towers are like it's 50-60. So you know these are all significant you know, we don't want to have unnecessary wildlife deaths because of you know our infrastructure, our civilization but the two big ones are cats and buildings. For buildings you know the the it's all about the technology of the glass, we can fashion, and we have the technology, it's just a matter of incorporating.

B: We can rebuild them

E: Yeah in fact yeah there are new standards especially in cities I know New York city has regulations about the types of glass you're allowed to install in the buildings, they have to be bird protection, bird, you know reflective enough where the birds will be able to see that what's going on instead of crashing into them. Also Steve what in the days when there weren't these buildings, it makes you wonder what the bird population on the on the planet was at the time, because yeah even though there were cats and things back then still killing them, you know you how many more billions of birds must there had been in pre-industrial times.

S: Absolutely, the bird populations were much greater.

E: And did, and in those days, I mean were the birds having a negative environmental impact, like were they eating too many berries or you know, causing other species.

S: They were in equilibrium with their environment, that equilibrium was just many more birds. There was also many more bird species you know.

E: Yes.

S: It was much more, much greater diversity. Another big threat, see this this is a threat to bird diversity without necessarily being a threat to bird populations, and that's invasive species, so like for example the European starling has displaced a lot of domestic species. You'll see hundreds thousands of European starlings on the side of the road or in these giant flocks, and you know there's lots of native species that they've displaced, like the northern flicker, right? They literally kick them out of their nests. The house sparrow is another invasive species, and they're all over the place. These these are just birds that thrive really well in human civilization. But they're very, they were just aggressive birds that don't have real competition. I want to address the "and isn't a cat hunting outside part of its natural behavior", no, because cats are domesticated animals. They are not a natural part of the ecosystem. They are little predators. And you know we at the very best you can consider them an invasive species, like feral cats are an invasive species. And you know introducing a top level predator into an environment you know one that can you know breed very quickly, and you know can be very very successful, has devastating effects on an ecosystem. So no they're not a natural part, it's not like, it's not like outdoor cats evolved as part of the natural north American ecosystem. That is not true at all. It is something that humans introduced. We did have one listener email and say well what, you know, what about cats farms who are used for vermin control? And it's like yeah that's, that's a fair point and you know I didn't really say it explicitly but the outdoor cat problem is really greatest for the suburbs, right? So in the cities you know, there's there's not that much wildlife to begin with. There's just not that many, just not that many farms you know compared to the population in the suburbs. So, if it was just a matter of cat, you know outdoor cats in a rural setting killing mice and rats that's that would not be an issue. It's the you know the hundreds of millions of cats living in the suburbs, where they have access to nature and there's a high concentration of them. That's where that's where they the damage is being done.

S: Alright, guys. Let's move on to Science or Fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:15:17)[edit]

Item #1: Astronomers have detected two supermassive black holes orbiting each other at the center of a distant galaxy, and are the closest such binary with an orbital period of just two years.[5]
Item #2: A new analysis finds that global farmland use could be cut 37-48% globally with the adoption of optimal farming practices.[6]
Item #3: A new study finds that the impact that caused the K-Pg extinction that killed the dinosaurs occurred at 3 in the afternoon, plus or minus 90 minutes.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Afternoon dino extinction
Science Closest binary black holes
Optimal farming practices
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Afternoon dino extinction
Optimal farming practices
Afternoon dino extinction

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts two genuine and one's fake. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We just have three items this week, no theme or anything, you guys ready?

J: Yes.

E: Ready.

S: Here we go item #1: Astronomers have detected two supermassive black holes orbiting each other at the center of a distant galaxy and are the closest such binary with an orbital period of just two years.

Item #2 A new analysis finds that global farmland use could be cut 37 to 48% globally with the adoption of optimal farming practices.

And item #3, A new study finds that the impact that caused the K-Pg extinction that killed the dinosaurs occurred at three in the afternoon, plus or minus 90 minutes. Jay go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right the first one here, astronomers have detected two supermassive black holes orbiting each other at the center of a distant galaxy and are the closest such binary with any, with an orbital period of just two years. Okay so I'm assuming that there's something novel about the orbital period being just two years. And these are super massive black holes. Yeah I just wouldn't put anything past weirdness in you know in the universe like this. You know like sure there's got to be two supermassive black holes orbiting each other that have some weird properties. So that one is probably science. The second one, a new analysis finds that global farmland use could be cut 37 to 48 percent globally with the adoption of optimal pharmacy farming practices. Yeah this is really cool. So there are farming practices where they are like growing crops on an angle, you know so there's like a crop and then right behind it there's another crop on an angle from the ceiling going down to the floor and it you know they they spray them with nutrient-rich water and they're not using soil so there's a lot of.

S: Well so just to be clear this is, does not include hydroponics or anything like that. This is you know farming in the dirt.

J: Okay all right well that's good clarification because that's what...

S: And also because you're going first I'll make sure, this is current practice, this is not this does not mean future technology or anything this is just with optimal current farming practices.

J: Okay so that being said Steve that says though that most farms are not using optimal farming practices which I wouldn't doubt, but man 37 to 48 percent, that's huge. And we need that right, we're moving into you know a time where arable land is is used, that's it, there is not much unused arable land out there, so if that's the case man I'd be surprised to think that you know possibly almost 50 % of the farming that's going on out there, no I shouldn't say it that way. Bottom line is that this is a big deal and this one is definitely a potential fiction to me. A new study finds that the impact that causes the K-Pg extinction that killed the dinosaurs occurred at three in the afternoon plus or minus 90 minutes. Get out of here, there's no way we know that, how could we possibly know what time this happened. Let me think about this, you see me I see it Steve I went right past gut and now I'm analyzing.

S: I hear you.

B: (laughs) Nice Jay.

J: that's what we gotta do right? You'd lose this game if you if you go with your gut. How could we possibly know?

B: I would disagree with that.

J: At three in the afternoon? What three in the afternoon, in what time zone, what are you talking about, how can this possibly be science, I am going to be so pissed if this is science.

E: He means where the strike happened, right?

S: The Sun position, yeah, where the strike happened, the Sun was in the position that we would consider at three in the afternoon.

J: So yeah it's so, yeah okay, I get that, I understand that, but still Steve I could believe that some researchers, "researchers", did a study that found this, I just don't know if this is true. You know what I mean, like I know you're putting it to us like it's, you know it's science or fiction but I think if this one is considered the science, it doesn't necessarily mean that the study was good, because this is insane. How could I not pick that one, but of course Evan we know what he, Steve's doing, he knew that we were all gonna freak out about that one. Oh my god all right so my gut is telling me to go with number two, the farming one but my intellect is telling me to go with number three. Steve said that you shouldn't ignore your gut so I'm gonna go, I gotta go with the I gotta go with the canine impact, just don't, K-Pg, there's no way, there's no way that anybody came to three in the afternoon with when it happened, thank you, that's mine.

S: Okay Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: I like that Jay, thank you. All right, yeah so in order supermassive black holes orbiting each other, the center of a distant galaxy, Bob I imagine you have a pretty good fix on what exactly is going on here. The orbital period of just two years I mean you know these are some extraordinary things that you know on the surface would seem to be like, what, no way, but the world of astronomy detects all sorts of things nowadays. And why couldn't this be one of those new discoveries? Distant galaxies, sure okay, so yeah even though it's fantastic in a way, but I don't think it's wrong, so I'll say that science. Now the one about farmland use could be cut 37 to 48% globally, with the adoption of optimal farming practices. The problem, if my memory, unless my memory is failing me, it very well could be, haven't we talked a lot or Steve you've talked about optimal farming practices and, oh gosh, I mean where we are currently, we're using, I know we're using just about all the land we possibly can right now on the planet, to do the farming. But sure not all of it's optimized. But to get to optimize it to the point where you would get to almost, 48%, that's doubling your output. I mean really crap, that's a huge and that is enormous, that's an enormous jump you know and I don't think, I have a feeling this one's going to be the fiction because I don't, I think that's too extreme crunch. Yeah we can there are things we can do to make it better, I don't know that it touches that range 37 to 48%. And then on the last one about the extinction and how it could possibly be measured at three in the afternoon. One guess I'll take is that flowers among other plants and things I think have distinguishing features, at certain times of day, and if anything was able to be sort of deemed to have been, seen within that boundary examination, in which they can see that okay some sort, there was some sort of plant that would have had to have been open at this point of the day to receive more sunlight, that kind of thing it would have had to have, been this time of the day. That's where my mind is going on this, they found something, they found some signature in the boundary, that leads to something that was alive, that was able to pinpoint it to that time I think. So I'm gonna say the farmland use one, I'll say that one's fiction.

S: Okay and Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: See a supermassive black hole, I've never heard of of supermassive black holes, a binary pair of them, it's typically you know, mid-sized or small black holes you know in terms of like for 10-15 whatever solar masses but supermassive? Never heard of it. I want it to be true and it it will be thus. So the second one 37 to 48 sounds way too high, perhaps, perhaps when you factor in the the global, global farmland, then I guess that does make more sense. But it still sounds, sounds huge to me and I would normally just pick that, but this, number three though, the extinction, K-Pg Extinction at three in the afternoon. I'm, I'm not buying that, that's fiction.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S:Okay so you guys all agree on the first one so we'll start there. Astronomers have detected two supermassive black holes orbiting each other at the center of a distant galaxy and are the closest such binary with an orbital period of just two years. You guys all think this one is science and this one is science. Yep this is cool.

B: Nice.

S: Pretty much everything out there. What is, this is the second as far as I can tell, this is the only the second supermassive black hole binary discovered.

B: Oh I hadn't heard the, about the first one okay.

S: Well it wasn't mentioned in the write-up of this news item, they just said this was the first one. But I think they said this is the first one in such a close-knit orbit. But they didn't say explicitly, but there's there's another one that's just not in a close-knit orbit. So the I so I searched on it and I found a report from 2017 saying that this is, that was the first time that supermassive black holes have been found that orbit each other.

B: Must have been a merged galaxy, galaxies.

S: You're absolutely correct but that's that's we're getting there.

B: All right.

S: So what do you think the orbital period of that pair is?

B: From 2017?

S: Yeah.

E: 200 years.

S: The first one discovered.30 000 years.

E: Oh yeah so that's like.

B: Oh nice. Wow.

S: They're like, they're 24 light years apart. So this, two years, these are like right next to each other. This is just unbelievable.

B: That's a tango man.

S: Absolutely uh so this is unprecedented in terms of being so close for supermassive black holes.

E: What kind of forces...

B: Can you imagine the gravitational waves when they merge.

S: When do you think they're gonna merge?

E: If they're only two years apart like that?

S: Ten thousand years.

B: Oh that sucks.

E: Bob wants it now.

S: When these two suckers collide this will be a colossal gravitational wave.

B: How far away are they?

S: Oh yeah well, it's ten thousand years as we perceive them, right, so but they are nine billion light years.

B: It already happened! The gravitational waves are on their way! Aaaargh!

E: Quick send yourself an email in the future.

B: I don't want to wait that long man.

S: W will observe them colliding in about 10 000 years and that will be just colossal, titanic gravitational waves across the universe. So yeah so future astronomers can keep an eye out for that. All right let's go to, and Bob they said yeah this is probably multiple galaxies colliding with each other.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right let's go on to number three actually. A new study finds that the impact that caused the K-Pg extinction that killed the dinosaurs occurred at three in the afternoon plus or minus 90 minutes. Bob and Jay you think this one is the fiction, Evan you think this one is science. So I was wondering if any of you were going to bring up the news item that we talked about not too long ago, maybe a year or two ago, remember when they found─

B: Yes, yes.

S: ─the fossil evidence from the very day.

B: I remember that.

E: Yeah.

S: That the asteroid hit obviously, so the asteroid hit you know the ocean and all of that water and everything was sloshed across the land. Some of it settled in a basin and we found that basin with essentially fossils from creatures that died the day the asteroid hit.

B: Yeah it was high resolution, right? High res!

S: Absolutely, it was a high-res picture of the moment of impact and so anyway I was hooked.

E: I did not remember that.

B: You were hoping weren't you Steve?

S: I was because that would have made the whole thing so much more plausible. This one is the fiction. It's the fiction, sorry Evan. But, what is the real news item?

B: The spring.

S: The spring, yes.

E: Bob you saw the news item.

B: I did, I did.

S: It happened in the spring and then they were, obviously in the northern hemisphere where it hit, and then they figured that out because of the bone pattern, the pattern in the bones of the animal.

B: Look at the bones!

S: Yeah so they they essentially grow faster in the spring and then they reach their peak of density and then they they get a little bit demineralized in the winter when they're not eating as much. And so they were on the increase but hadn't reached their peak yet so that's that looks like the spring and because they're able to they have many fossils to look at they could correlate it you know many different individuals and species etc. So they were pretty confident that the asteroid had in the spring. Isn't that amazing that we could know that?

E: There's also a possibility it did happen at three in the afternoon.

S: It is possible.

B: Nobody has shown that.

E: I'm gonna write it, I'm gonna write a study.

S: And it made me wonder like how much more can we tell about that day from all the evidence that we have.

B: Yeah that's true. Especially that basin Steve, that's why I was thinking man. Because I saw the article about the spring and I'm like what are the odds that there was another story that I missed that's they also pinpointed it at 3PM and and that discovery you mentioned a couple years ago could have potentially have done that. And if you got me with that I would have hated you forever.

S: Yeah but I figured that was like one click. That was one definite click beyond what the study was showing you know what I mean?

B: Yeah.

S: So it was definitely pushing credibility. Jay's reaction was perfectly reasonable but again if you remember that fact it's like that.

B: I did Steve and that could have done it that could yeah that could have could have done it I wouldn't have been shocked if that you know that that basin showed it in some way with something that they knew had to be a you know mid-afternoon thing.

E: But scientists need to look closer.

B: But yeah but the odds that there was another article also you know that spring oh and by here's another study that said three that would have been too much to ask for.

S: It could have been another finding from the same study that just wasn't prominently you know talked about in the in the press release.

B: Yeah they would, they wouldn't have said spring, they would have said three in the afternoon on a spring day.

S: That's right, you're right, you're right.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay which means that a new analysis finds that global farmland use could be cut 37 to 48% globally with the adoption of optimal farming practices is science. So global is the key because, this is because of the massively inefficient farming that's happening in many places in the world. So they said that like north America and Europe, pretty much already optimal. Like there's almost no beans to be had.

B: If you said United States I would have said fiction.

E: No way, yeah.

S: Yeah but sub-Saharan Africa there is a lot of improvement. And so if all farming were done at the current technological optimum you know that's where you get the 37 to 48% reduction in land use. And even with that we would have like a 2.6% increase in food productivity, food prices would come way down, there would be more distribution of food so it could have a lot of benefits if we could do that. And we could, imagine if we get to that you know that 40-48% level all of that land could be turned back over into natural ecosystems, which would be a huge benefit to the environment in many ways.

B: It could be raped and pillaged too.

S: Right, you know the probability of that happening, very low. So they said they so the, their analysis, the assumption of the of their analysis based upon, you know but it wasn't just didn't just pull a figure out of their butt. But they they figured that the difference between the least efficient and most efficient farming was about 80 percent.

B: Wow.

S: If a certain number of the farms out there could be four times more productive, then globally it averages out to about almost you know twice as productive for the land being used. And of course we should not go in the opposite direction by embracing less productive you know farming practices─

E: Organic.

S: ─which would, yeah, which would increase our need for land. Land use is the biggest negative impact that farming has on the environment. So minimizing our land use is critical. That's also why I think that we need to maximize hydroponic farming. Not everything can be farmed hydroponically but for those things that can be it's amazingly land and water efficient. And of course you could we talked about this, you could do it, you could have a hydroponic farm in the middle of a city. You know basically in a skyscraper. So right next to where the food is going to be used which then also it has its efficiencies of its own. Lots of room for improvement. That's, that's the good news if you want to look at it in a positive way. Lots of room for improvement.

All right well Bob and Jay good job.

B: Thanks man.

E: It still could have hit it three in the afternoon.

B: Could have.

S: Could.

E: If they find it out someday.

S: There isn't a news item that says that, that's all.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:32:30)[edit]

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882), English naturalist, geologist and biologist

S: All right Evan give us a quote.

E: This quote was offered up by a listener Paul Donkersloot from Perth. That's in Australia. I love that name. Paul Donkersloot. Thank you Paul. "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science." Charles Darwin.

S: Yeah, that cuts the other way too, people who know very little, who think that science has already solved problems that it hasn't you know. Pseudoscience basically. And uh on science-based medicine we call this the arrogance of ignorance. Because these two things tend to go hand in hand, that people who know the least seem to be pretty supremely confident that they know the most. This is obviously a Dunning-Kruger type of phenomenon. Charles Darwin observed that, what, a 150 years ago?

E: Oh yeah it was 1868 is when he wrote that.

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

B: Sure man.

E: Thank you Steve.

S: We'll see you guys on the Friday live stream. Cara will be, will be joining us next week, she'll be back her usual schedule.

Signoff ()[edit]

S: —anduntil 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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