SGU Episode 875

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SGU Episode 875
April 16th 2022
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(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 874                      SGU 876

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.

John Adams, second president of the United States

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Live from Boston, Accents[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. (applause) Today is Sunday, March 27th, and we are live from Boston. (applause) This is your host, Steven Novella and joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody! (applause)

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy. (applause)

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys. (applause)

S: Evan Bernstein.

E: Hello Boston! (applause)

S: And, not just a special guest but a regular rogue and our brother in skepticism George Hrab

G: Wicked live podcast lot! (applause) Let's pod, let's pod this bastard.

C: They're all shaking their heads.

J: Thank you George. Does anybody in here have a really thick Boston accent?

C: Please.

J: Anybody, please.

C: Come on, you might not know it about yourself. Does anybody point to somebody else?

J: I think you're laughing so you do, don't you?

S: No that's the girl from Virginia Jay if you remember from five minutes ago. So last night we were in New York so of course we were thinking, all right so which city is better? New York or Boston?

J: Throwing down the gauntlet.

S: Just throw it down. So what do you guys think? (laughter)

Special Segment: Overrated/Underrated? (1:39)[edit]

S: All right so we're going to start off with it with a fun bit that George came up with.

C: Oh you gonna open with this?

G: Guess so. It's just, I've seen other people do this and I wanted to get the Rogues take. This is something called over/under. I'm gonna just list a bunch of random things and the Rogues are going to say whether they think it's overrated or underrated or properly rated. And hopefully it'll foster some nice conversation and debate. Not that that, you know, you guys ever debate about anything in particular.

C: No, agree on everything.

B: We do, we debate on stuff. (laughter)

G: What we should probably do is just do a quick whip down the line and then we can maybe have a conversation about it. So we'll start from Cara and go down. And again say overrated, underrated or properly rated, okay? I got a bunch here.

Avocados (2:25)[edit]

G: Let's go with, here's the first one, Avocados.

C: Oh, overrated.

S: Overrated, 100%.

J Properly.

E: Proper.

B: Overrated.

C: We're an anti-avocado bunch over here.

G: Really?

C: Well I live in LA, it's like they they put avocado on everything.

S: I know, it's freaking everywhere. And I hate avocados.

C: Me too they're weird.

J: Yeah that explains it.

C: They're weird soft fruits.

S: Even if I liked them I think they would be overrated.

E: Guacamole?

C: I don't like guac.

S: No, guac is poison.

E: Guac is poison?

C: Okay I grew up in Texas, I eat Kesos, it's gross, I'm gross.

J: You're course of supertasting, you probably [inaudible].

E: Right, you're talking to two supertasters over there, it's a little skewed.

J: I love it, it's great in sushi, it's great in salads, right?

C: It's fair, it's fair.

S: But you want it on everything?

J: No, I don't want it on everything.

S: So it's overrated.

E: Okay, how nutritious, what's what's the nutrition you get out of the avocado compared to [inaudible].

S: It actually sucks nutrition out of your body.

G: It's good fats, right? It's a good fat.

C: And it's got chlorophyll, I mean clearly.

J: George you clearly like avocado.

G: I love it, yeah, I could, I could eat guac every day.

C: So are you properly rated are you underrated?

G: I would say proper or under. I'd say yeah, I'd say properly.

J: Right I mean on a on a ginger salad.

G: Oh forget about it.

J: Oh god, forget, it's awesome.

C: This is fascinating.

Minecraft (3:42)[edit]

G: Minecraft.

C: I don't know anything about Minecraft. It's rated. (laughter) Children love it right? I don't know. Skip me, I don't know.

S: I think it's properly rated.

G: Okay.

J: Properly, fr sure.

E: Overrated.

B: Overrated. That blocky graphics like [inaudible] we're passed it.

G: Okay. Evan, why is it overrated.

E: Overrated, well, frankly I don't play it. I think it's cool kind of what people are able to do with it but I still don't find it impressive enough to devote the apparently thousands of hours you need to do to achieve these kinds of artistic expressions.

J: So my my response to that Evan is it's a, it's a wonderful game to let your kids get into as like, as one of their first video games because there's a lot of creative, an enormous amount of creativity. Like if they're playing World of Warcraft for example, you know, they're running around, they're going on missions or killing things and stuff and there's nothing to learn. But in Minecraft there is so much to do, you have to really be leaning on your creativity.

B: Yeah but can we have high res creativity?

J: Well Bob, this is the problem.

B: Is that too much to ask for?

J: The premise behind Minecraft is, it's pretty simple, right? Is, there's a simplicity to it. Now think about it, the smaller you go, with, like let's call it the building blocks. The smaller you go in the building blocks the harder it would be to craft things, right?

B: Yeah but I'm not saying you got to stack pixels but make the smallest block made out of a lot of pixels instead of three, you know, that's all I'm saying. You could you still be creative.

J: There's a give and take, there's a pros and cons to that and I think they would.

S: It would slow down the process. Massively.

B: Slow down the processing?

S: Yeah.

B: With our computers and video games in today's technology, I gotta wait for this block to settle down into that spot.

S: Now Bob you have to understand, you have to understand the engine. It's like, it's a game where you can control any block in a world, you know what I mean?

B: Right so all right you can interact with anything, I get that. That will up the processor but still you could up the res a certain amount. To me it's like, what is it, I'm not playing a video game that looks 35 years old.

S: That's not the important part of it.

B: Visuals are not important for a game? If I'm looking at a computer screen visuals are important.

C: So this is what the none of you hear this on the actual show because it all gets edited out. But what I love about this group of people is that it doesn't matter what the topic is they're equally, we are equally passionate about avocados and Minecraft.

S: Minecraft is like a digital box of crayons, are crayons overrated? People spend too much time drawing stuff or crayons it's like whatever, it's a it's, it's a mechanism, it's a vehicle for creativity in the digital realm. There's a little bit of a playing aspect to it if you want to. But you can also play in creative mode but that that's not there at all. All you're doing is just building and creating stuff.

B: All right, so here's a box of three crayons and here's a box of 20 crayons, which one are you gonna draw with.

S: Bob, do you know that you could build a working computer in Minecraft?

B: Yes I know, I know that for sure it's, the creativity is awesome it's wonderful.

J: We get it.

S: We got your point. You don't have to keep making.

B: Then stop asking about it.

J: Sorry George. (laughter)

G: No no no, it's great, this is why we're doing it we're doing it, I love it, the passion is essential.

B: Yeah, I've got to answer your question.

New Year's Eve (6:50)[edit]

G: New Year's Eve.

C: Overrated.

B: Overrated.

S: Overrated.

C: I have to calculate in my head the right answer every time.

G: Jay?

J: Overrated, it sucks.

C: Yeah, like grossly overrated.

G: Evan?

E: Double overrated.

C: Yeah.

G: Everyone's saying overrated, I agree, overrated.

S: It's generally a disappointment.

J: Can we ask the audience? I'm dying to hear, what do you guys?

'Audience: Overrated.

G: Why do we keep spending money on New Year's Eve?

B: When you're young adult, remember we were like young adults like yes, New Year's Eve, not wanna hang out with our parents, let's go out and have fun. And we pay money, good money to be some place─

E: Overpriced.

B: ─and like this really sucks, you try that for a few years and like that's it, we're just going to have impromptu get togethers and and make nothing special about it.

J: We play games at my house.

C: See that's fun, I feel like a lot of New Year's Eve is just about like how drunk can people get before the ball drops and that's not fun for a lot of people. It's an unsafe holiday.

E: Steve and I have written─

S: Three LARPs.

E: Yes, LARPs murder mystery kind of.

S: It's a party LARP, yeah, we had like 20-30 people over (laughter) and we write a game. One of them, a couple of them are period games. We have to come, we give them characters, they come in like 1910 or something.

E: Solve the mystery.

S: You have to solve the mystery, one you have to go out.

[talking over each other]

E: Driving around town to find signs.

S: Tons of fun.

B: I wouldn't be invited to that.

S: Those are good, but you could do that anytime, right?

G: We all agree, good.

College (8:12)[edit]

G: College.

C: Properly rated.

S: That's a complicated question, actually.

C: Yeah. I think, yeah, I think if all things given, all variables properly rated.

S: Yeah I think I would it's, I would say it is sometimes overrated sometimes or underrated and it comes out in the washes sort of an average. But it's not like always properly rated.

C: No, it's definitely not.

J: I'm gonna go with underrated, simply because I would want, I want people to make a bigger deal out of it. I want it to be more of a priority, I think, as a like everybody gets to go to college for free and we are pushing the youths into college.

S: The youths?

C: The youths? (laughter)

G: The youths gotta be smarter.

E: I have to go with under, overrated because return on investment dollar for dollar. My college edu, I have four years, I have four year, a bachelor's degree, I went from 1988 to 1992. State school. For those four years I paid 13 000 dollars, for the all for all four years. And I feel like that was a very good return on my investment.

B: Wow, that's like books cost that for one semester.

E: I don't know, I don't and you see the problems we're having today with student debt it's so beyond out of control. It's bankrupting families.

C: But the thing is there are ways to do college in an affordable way but I don't think culturally, I think we stigmatize community college and we stigmatize local commuter colleges and I would love to see a more of a celebration of that. Like why do we play─

S: And trade schools.

C: ─yeah and trade schools, vocational training. Like why do we put the really expensive private and Ivy Leagues on such a pedestal, I think that's part of the problem.

S: They're over priced.

C: Yeah.

S: I think there's a multiple reasons [inaudible].

C: M undergrad at a state school, I went to the University of North Texas and I had a State of Texas grant, we didn't have money, my family didn't have money and so we were able to get like a waiver. So it was, I got to go to college for free which was really cool. And then my master's was 30 000, that I paid for myself. Actually I took out loans so I paid them off. And I would say my PhD though because it's a, it's, you know, most PhDs, research PhDs, you're on fellowship. So you're using the grant money of your major professor. But if it's a practical PhD like medical school or, that's an MD, or a law degree or clinical psych. I want to say it's averaging out to 150. But I, yeah, but I was very lucky, this is why I went to school late in life. I told myself, I will not take out student debt so I amortize it and I pay a monthly fee, I pay a second mortgage basically, every month, to pay for my University education. It's a lot. But I also think it is a good investment in my future.

B: I think it's over on the whole, I think it's overrated.

C: If we take sort of the financial and that makes it a hard question, right? When we're talking about over and underrated, you have to put the financial consideration into it. But the education and the opening of your mind and the critical thinking skills and, you know, especially if you go to if you have like a liberal arts education, right? Like I think there's almost nothing that compares to that.

S: I agree, that's why that's the underrated problem.

E: I agree with that.

S: It's they're too expensive, but I don't think we need to have this narrow conception of everybody goes to a four-year you know standard college. It could be like, I agree that the the value of─

C: Two years community college.

S: ─a liberal arts education maybe two years is baseline then if you want to add flesh that out to a full bachelor's degree. Or maybe then go into a trade school or whatever. Let's make it more tailored to what people actually need for their life rather than just party for four years and then, you know, you have massive debt and you get into, you know, a job.

G: I think trade schools are tremendously underrated. Some kids should go from high school to a trade school there's no need to to do two two three four years by the way.

S: The European model is basically what we consider high school to for them is like a six year. So it's basically like our high school and the first two years of college are basically one six-year education. And then you go into whatever. You're going to medical school or trade school or whatever it is you're going to do your master's program. I don't know if that's better but that's what they do.

C: The thing about it that's nice is that everybody gets the access to that liberal arts. Because the thing about, if we only did trade schools is that sort of philosophy that, you know, critical thinking it's like missing. Because we don't have that, our high schools don't, I mean, you know. We got overall [inaudible].

J: I have, real quick, I just want to throw this idea out there so hopefully somebody will hear it and maybe do something about it. And it's the beginning of an idea, but I think it would be very interesting if we set up, when I say we, the United States sets up a free a free online college for anybody, I know you're not getting the social stuff.

C: I think that's happening.

S: It basically exists already. You have to cobble it together but it's out there.

C: And you can also Khan Academy and like Coursera, there's like some options. But you might need the self-efficacy to like figure it out and build it yourself.

J: I just think like, like put like if you can't afford college then just do this like go here─

C: And actually get a degree.

J: ─you'll get a degree, you know, at least a good enough education. You're not going to have the social stuff and all that but at least you can get yourself educated, why don't we do that?

S: I think again, it already exists but you want to formalize it.

C: Yeah why don't we have national, I mean that's the thing like most developed western nations have free college. Or some form of that a way to like whether you're doing community service in exchange or enlisting in the in the military.

Bacon (13:31)[edit]

G: Here's one, here's one similar to that, bacon. (laughter)

C: Underrated. Bacon makes everything better.

G: Okay.

S: I think it's appropriate. I think bacon's appropriately rated.

G: Properly rated, okay, Jay.

J: I think it's but I think everybody perfectly understands how awesome it is, it's appropriately rated.

E: Kevin Bacon's underrated (laughter).

B: Properly, yeah, I mean everyone knows how awesome it is.

S: It's not like it doesn't have a reputation for being awesome.

G: But is it too big of a reputation for being awesome?

S: No.

G: It's the health benefits or the health [inaudible]

C: That's terrible.

E: Everything in moderation.

G: Right, that's what I mean.

J: It's not that hard, it's freaking awesome.

C: We gotta have things in this world that we just love.

Radio (14:06)[edit]

G: Let's do two more here.

S: All right.

G: Radio.

C: I think it's properly rated. I don't think it has a rating anymore. I don't think people have much of an opinion about it.

S: It's interesting. Radio.

C: I'm going with FM though, don't ask me about AM because that's the whole, AM is definitely overrated.

S: Yeah again, I don't think it's massively over or underrated. I think it's, you know, again it's, it feels it's a niche and people use it for what it is. I think it's proper.

G: Properly rated. Yeah, okay, Jay.

J: I think it's underrated and I'll tell you why. There's something about the collective sharing of a collection of music as an example, like growing up, like there was a couple of radio stations that I listened to. And and I like the the communal idea that a lot of people are listening to the same music. You also get to know the personalities of the DJs and all that and there's something kind of really good about it.

C: And I don't like that, I don't like being told what I'm supposed to, oh this is popular, this is what you're supposed to listen to.

J: I know but that's why today like we are so on demand, like we can be like everything could be so unbelievably tailored. But, but the thing is, with the radio station you will hear things that you normally wouldn't. I don't know.

C: But the thing is you don't. You just hear the same top 40 over and over. That's the problem.

S: If you listen to a top 40 station.

C: Sure but there aren't that many terrestrial radio stations that are doing cool, like it's like maybe late at night there's the one hour slot.

J: It's just another chip in the whole like, we're less of a community, as much as we're connected on the internet I feel like we're less of a community as a species now because of, because of the internet.

S: We lost a lot of the shared experiences.

J: Yeah like, I just, I remember talking to friends and being like did you hear the thing on the radio, yeah, and it's like it was a it was like a newspaper almost, that everyone was sharing with each other.

C: Yeah it's a generational thing.

J: I like that.

G: Evan.

E: Definitely under under underrated. I grew up a radio junkie, you know, a friend Perry he and I would get in the car, drive around just so we could listen to the radio. And we didn't listen to music, we listened to a lot of talk radio, we listened to a lot of comedy radio, we listened to morning radio ensemble cast. Which is kind of what I like in the Skeptic's Guide too, we are not exactly but sort of like an AM morning show radio format. In which there's a main host and a supporting cast of people around the main host. I've always envisioned us and I think and I know I've learned a lot about my communication skills from having listened to a lot of talk radio having grown up. And it's, it also brings me back to a connection with my father that I had who also enjoyed talk radio. So I, it's, I'm very biased.

C: I think there's a nostalgia factor that you guys are talking about. That's not what talk radio is like now.

G: What does Bob say?

B: I don't, I don't have an answer for this one. I don't I don't know what to say on this one. It's I don't know what anyone, I never talk about radio, I never listen to radio.

J: You listen to Howard Stern.

B: Oh god no. (laughter) I did, I did years ago and now I got I got a new car like, oh I got free XM so I listened to him for a half hour or so. But it's great to pop around to some of the XM radio stations, you know, the types of types of music.

J: That's not FM though.

B: No no no.

C: But now you can just do that with Spotify.

B: I'm on audiobooks, I listen to audiobooks or my music that's it. So I have no idea what people think about radio these days, I can't tell you if it's over or under.

E: It's also universally accessible, in other words you need very little money to get into an opening of all [inaudible]

C: True but also I will say, and this is like an LA bias, so it probably doesn't relate to anybody, but there's so many mountains in LA that like terrestrial radio is garbage in LA. Like it's just constantly going in and out when you're driving around the city, you have to be in the right pockets, it's annoying.

G: What's really curious though is that with the proliferation of podcasts, podcasts are essentially radio broadcasts, are radio shows and it's amazing that the popularity of podcasts once you once you change accessibility and the way you can receive it, they just exploded. Because people like this audio content.

[talking over each other]

C: They're free, there are million ways to listen, yeah.

G: They're not interrupted by mountains and by clouds and things like that.

S: And it's on your time, yeah, you can stop and pause and all that.

G: All right one more, here we go, let's end with something light.

First Amendment (17:58)[edit]

G: First Amendment. (laughter) Overrated, underrated, properly rated.

C: Under, I mean well properly, under, I don't know, it's awesome. I don't know what else to say, it's awesome. When when when appropriately interpreted, yeah (laughs).

S: There's caveats, I mean I think overall it's underrated.

C: Yeah.

S: Because, you know, countries that don't have it, have a problem. But it's also massively abused which is kind of tangential to you what we're talking about. I would say underrated but complicated.

J: I would say we have, I'd have to label it as underrated because just how epically important it is. You know we should always act as if it's underrated. Like we need it, it has to be there. The government cannot and shall not take it away from us and we it needs to proliferate around the world.

E: Yeah what Steve says, what Jay says, definitely underrated. Yeah there's a reason why it is the First Amendment, there's, leave it at that.

B: I agree with everybody.

G: My only thing about it is is, you look at the Second Amendment, and a lot of the arguments for modifying the Second Amendment is that because when it was written, weapons were what they were, you didn't have, you know, automatic weaponry and things like that, you had you had musket you know barrel loading things and weapons were used in a very different way. As soon as you try to apply that to the First Amendment of saying well you didn't have internet, you didn't have web accessibility of information. Like that's the only thing that makes me sometimes take a pause and go, does it need to be reconsidered on some like because I think that's the Second Amendment should be.

C: But it is, that's the thing, there's are limits on the first one and we forget that. Like it's not just free and open.

G: Well that's the thing is it is it seen as being like it is absolute and it's like─

C: By some people.

G: ─by some people, right, and it probably shouldn't be as, you know, especially in sovereignty.

C: Also I think we forget that it's not just about freedom of speech but it's freedom of assembly, it's from the press, it's also freedom not to put one religion over another religion and like there's a lot of good and it's all about the government's actions you forget what it is.

S: Yeah George your comment makes it seem to me that you're conflating just freedom and open speech with the First Amendment. First Amendment's about the government, right?

G: For sure.

S: Like you know I've had this conversation with my free speech attorney, right, which I unfortunately had to have at one point. And he also has a blog where he writes about this kind of stuff which I read all the time. And he's like, the first question you always have to ask is is this a First Amendment question. Is this a First Amendment question? Usually the answer is no. And then you're done. Because if it doesn't deal with the government's relationship to the speech─

C: The government abridging speech, assembly, religion all this things, yeah yeah yeah.

S: ─punishing speech or whatever, then it's not a First Amendment issue. If it's a private company regulating their own platform, it's not a First Amendment issue.

C: It's like I have the right to block comments on my own blog or to block you on twitter.

G: But if you let's say have a government that's going to say you know you like the, you can't false advertise, like you know, you can't run an advertisement that's promising something that's not right delivered. And that's a government can kind of step in and do that. So what is the premise that that's necessarily false? Is false information, the whole thing kind of expands from there. You know so someone regulating social media, let's say government jumping in and saying you can't say that because it's not true or what? Again it it, it's a, it's weird, it's weird.

C: But that's why we have a judicial system.

G: Sure.

C: You know, to help interpret these things.

S: I know and then we talk about this it's like well if we have the big tent companies do it, is that really better than having the government do it. Because they're like not beholden to anybody but themselves, they're shareholders. So it's it does get complicated. I agree, I read, I probably read the same article you did about the fact that, you know, yeah the First Amendment's a couple hundred years old and you know basically free speech has been weaponized. In a way that could not have been anticipated by the framers of the constitution. And do we have, does that make us reconsider this relationship with with freedom of speech and access to information etc etc. I just think the risks of of allowing government regulation of speech is so massive we have to always err on the side of not doing that. But I think what we need to do is just educate people about what it actually means.

C: Yeah because I think the weaponization is the is the missing also the misinterpretation.

S: It's the misinterpretation of what it is. It's like, this is censorship, this is, this is a violation of free speech.

C: You de-platform someone that's yeah that's the First Amendment issue.

S: This is an editorial decision about quality. It has nothing to do, you don't have, you don't deserve to be on my platform or whatever it is.

J: Steve apparently though that nuance is beyond a lot of people.

S: But that's the problem, that's why I wanted to clarify. That is the problem, is that people conflate it all to freedom of speech.

C: I have the right to say anything anywhere to anyone under any umbrella without any consequences.

S: You don't have that right, it's no, that's not at all.

J: I think it's important to just say something, I don't know if everyone's seen this but like this was this is mind-blowing to me and it's horrifying. Like so I see reporters in Russia very recently and they're talking to a woman, she literally held up a sign, I think they had like 2022 on it.

G: No it said it said, she was holding up a sign that said "two words". It literally, there's an expression in Ukrainian, I'm gonna give you two, it's like my two cents basically. She said, can, if I hold up a sign that says "two words" do you think I'd be arrested? And the cameraman was like yeah probably, and she holds up a sign and it says "dva slava" which means two words and the cops came in or whoever, the the soldiers came in.

C: Basically I have a voice, that's all she was saying.

G: Basically yeah, yeah.

J: Within like 10 seconds, within like 10 seconds.

G: It wasn't like no war it literally, it literally said two cents.

C: Yeah it was like I have a voice and they silenced her.

J: Now imagine living, could you imagine?

G: What's amazing with that clip, if you saw the if you keep watching. Another woman comes up after the first woman gets taken off because she holds up the sign that says two cents, two words. Another woman comes up and she's like, you know, I think, you know, the war is fine and we should be in Ukraine because there's a lot of awful stuff going on. She gets arrested. So they pull her off into the van. So she's literally pro, she's like for Putin and for the war but because she's talking to a camera the cops come in and take her off. So it's this weird like schadenfreude.

C: So they're equal opportunity, yeah.

G: It's like just no speech at all, at all, it doesn't matter.

C: Yeah, they don't have a First Amendment.

E: Brutal.

G: Do you think I'd be arrested if I held up a sign said two words, two words.

S: Yeah so it's this strange hybrid where like you have to jealously, you know, defend the First Amendment but not over apply it to situations to mean like anything goes, there's no editorial policy, there's no quality control. Like abuse it. And essentially it's always a, being abused so that people, you know, say I have the right to be an asshole whenever and wherever I want.

C: Yeah it's like people call, they yell censorship when they don't want to be censored. And then...

S: Then they ban books.

C: Then they ban books, exactly.

G: Anyway, that's over-under nicely done.

B: Nice.

S: That was fun.


News Items[edit]

New CRISPR Mechanism to Turn On Genes (24:50)[edit]

S: All right we're going to try to power through some news items. We're gonna start with a CRISPR update. There's so much CRISPR news out there. Again, to remind people, CRISPR is a is a fairly recent genetic technology. We've developed from bacteria actually, that your bacteria use this system for─

B: Go bacteria!

S: ─for their immune system. And we were able to leverage that as a way of doing relatively cheap and fast and precise genetic modification. And just the technology's a platform and it's evolving really quickly. So there's so much CRISPR, we're only, we only occasionally talk about it. But for everyone we talk about like 20 papers where significant papers were published probably on the technology. So this was one that I thought peaked up above the background that I would mention. So what the researchers did they they were trying to figure out a way to use CRISPR in order to turn on the expression of a gene. Now we've spoken previously about CRISPR-off and CRISPR-on. That was a use of CRISPR to turn off the expression of a gene, to silence a gene, without altering its code, right?

B: Which is powerful because if you make a mistake and you you cut out a gene and there's a problem, like, oh we got to get that gene and put it back but with the off you're just like, oh, we want to reverse it so you─

S: Just turn it back on.

B: ─it's a switch basically.

S: Which they figured out how to do too. So there's CRISPR-off and there's CRISPR-on, so you could silence a gene then you can unsilence the gene, right?

B: Right.

S: So it's of course it's a it's a way of doing─

E: It's like a mute button.

S: ─yeah, it's a way of doing genetic modification, it's a way of doing research. Say I wonder what this gene does? Let's turn it off and see what happens, you know, it's a great research tool. B ut this technique is different because this is figuring out how to increase the expression of a naturally silenced gene. So it's not turning it off and then on, it's turning on a gene that had been turned off as the natural part of developments, right? So it's a different mechanism. So we all know that you know as as we develop from a totipotent stem cell, right, an egg into a person. Cells develop along different pathways and that's largely done by genes being turned on and off. You know liver cells become liver cells by turning on the liver genes, right? And then heart cells turn on the heart genes and brain cells turn on the brain genes. So if I go to a liver cell and I want to turn on a brain gene, how do I do that? So that's what they're looking at. So of course, right?

J: Because you're saying that all the, it's all there all that.

S: Every cell has every gene, right?

C: As long as they're still totipotent, you're talking about stem cells.

S: No no, this is any cell now.

C: Okay so you're just talking, but you're just talking about in the genetic code.

S: Yes.

C: And they don't necessarily have all the right proteins and stuff if they've already.

B: But if you turn it on.

S: No no no.

C: Yeah yeah yeah.

S: So in fact...

C: If they've already differentiated though things become problematic.

S: But I'll give you a little preview because you could use this to make a differentiated cell into a totipotent cell.

C: Right you can backward.

S: You can back it off by turning on it's just a couple of genes.

C: And you probably have to do that before you can then become a newly differentiated cell.

S: But that's not even what they're doing. So what they're interested, they're, what they're interested in is saying would take a cell and turn on one gene. So that we could know what that gene does, right? That's really the goal.

C: Huge. Because we have yeah we've like gone through the genome, but we still have so many things where we're like, we don't know what that does. Yeah we're really confused about this code.

J: And to clarify like when we say what it does, typically aren't we talking about.

S: What protein does it [inaudible]

C: What protein does it go.

S: But also what effect does that protein have in this in the organism, right? We can go to a mouse turn on a gene and say what protein now gets made and also what happens to the mouse.

C: What does that protein do, yeah, exactly.

B: [inaudible]help us with the proteome.

S: Absolutely.

J: Can I ask a quick side question? When it, when a cell makes a protein, it's ejecting it out into the bloodstream, right?

C: No, not always.

S: Well it gets, so if it's like a eukaryotic cell, like multi, multicellular animals have. The RNA comes out of the nucleus and then it goes to it, it translates the RNA sequence into a protein that's the cytoplasmic reticulum. Or endoplasmic reticulum. And then yes, then something happens to that protein─

C: But that protein may stay in.

S: ─gets further modified it may stay in the cell and they go to the membrane or it may get excreted. It has whatever fate is destined to it based upon its function.

C: And remember proteins do almost everything in your body. Proteins are like all your not all your enzymes some are nucleic acids. But most of your enzymes are proteins, so they catalyze almost every reaction in your body and yeah yeah. So they can't, but they can go into the bloodstream but no a lot of times they'll stay in the cell.

S: They'll be in the transmembrane.

J: It's so unbelievably profound to think that like these proteins are being created and somehow the cell knows when I say "know", right, but somehow the physics of a cell and the way things are set up it's going to stay here, it's going to interact with that.

S: Based on the property of the protein.

J: I just find that to be...

S: It's a system.

J: It's remarkable.

C: And everything is reliant on the step before, that's the thing there's all these steps that teach other steps to do. But yeah, you're right, I mean this is Sagan, right, when he's talking about molecular machines and he's like holy crap, like this is mine blowing stuff.

S: We are grabbing a hold of the machinery of life, it's what it is.

J: But it's doing it without a mind.

S: Yeah, it's just, it's just chemistry playing itself out. It's just really complicated chemistry. Let me finish with what they actually did.

J: Sorry, go ahead.

S: So, often the way the genes turned off is through methylation, which is just, you know, you you have methyl groups bind to it. And also you could bind it up in the histone. So histones are proteins, very highly conserved, that basically coil up DNA. DNA is a really really really long molecule. You want to coil them up into nice manageable chromosomes, the histones do that. We have the same histones that like bananas do, right? Like pretty much all life has the same pretty well the same, similar if not identical histones. Very highly con─

B: If your histones get messed up you're done.

S: Yeah, it's incompatible with life, so it's why it don't exist. What they wanted to do is target a gene and then turn off a protein that silences the gene, right? That's responsible for binding it up in such a way that it doesn't get expressed.

C: So they want to inhibit inhibition?

S: Yes.

C: Okay.

S: Right, so they want to block the inhibiting protein the silencing protein. So they said okay so we're gonna take CRISPR, remember CRISPR is, you remember what the acronym is?

C: I never remember.

B: I used to know it so well.

S: Clustered.

B: Palindromic repeats.

S: Regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.

B: I knew couple of those letters, damn it.

S: Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.

B: I even like remember when Steve embarrasses me on the show like Bob, what does CRISPR mean? Like oh I forget and I wrote it out I'm looking, I gotta remember it next time Steve says this on the show. And that was three months ago. Now of course I forgot.

C: But really think about that, but I also love these kinds of names in science. These kinds of names, I love that we've moved into this type of nomenclature in science. It used to be, especially in like anatomy and physiology. Things were like named for the people that discovered them. You're like, there's no meaning in that. And then we did the whole thing with Latin which is great if you know Latin, and that can really be very helpful, you should learn Latin if you're trying to learn about physiology. But when it comes to like okay clustered, you said regularly.

S: Regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.

C: It it tells you exactly what you're looking for.

J: It doesn't tell me anything. (laughter)

C: But remember that DNA, it's just a series of letters. It's just a series of letters, a base pair.

J: Yeah, I get that.

S: You know what palindrome is? It's the same forwards and backwards.

J: Sure.

C: Yeah and so these are clustered, they are regularly interspaced, they are short, they're palindromic and they repeat.

J: Yeah. (laughter)

S: All right.

C: No but you do get that, Jay come on you got it.

B: [inaudible, I get annoyed with number designations.

S: What does the CRISPR itself do? It basically, you insert a genetic sequence into the, this CRISPR, you know, these, the palindrome repeats. And then it will go to, it'll find the matching sequence in a genome. So this is a way of targeting the sequence in the genome that you want.

C: Down to just a few letters. It's really really specific.

S: But it doesn't do anything, it just finds it.

C: Yeah then you have to cut.

S: But it has to deliver a payload.

B: It's like a google maps.

S: So that's like, yeah, it takes you there but it doesn't do anything. So you often, you may have heard like CRISPR-Cas9, what's the Cas9? That's the payload. Cas9 is scissors, right? So it will, it'll splice the genome wherever the CRISPR takes it. So the CRISPR takes it through the sequence and then the Cas-9 slices it.

J: I have a great way to describe this.

S: Yeah?

J: You guys know that Santa Claus that goes up the chain and then it goes down the chain, you ever have one of those hanging in your house?

S: Yeah.

J: The chain is the DNA and Santa Claus is CRISPR as he's like, you know, he is reading it─

S: Yeah, sure.

J: ─except he pulls out a pair of scissors.

S: That's the Cas-9.

J: That's a Cas-9.

C: That's a horrible analogy.

G: What's the Santa on a chain?

C: I know.

E: It's like an elf on a shelf?

J: It's like a toy, it looks like Santa and he's got like these hands that go like this but the chain is is going through─

C: So you have to know this Santa toy.

J: ─and then when it gets to the top some mechanism gets triggered and it climbs back down.

S: If you're spending that much time explaining your analogy it probably didn't help. But anyway, anyway. So but there could be other payloadsthat do other things, right? And if you want to insert a gene then you got to repair the cut in such a way that you insert the new gene, it gets more complicated.

C: We've got Cas-9, Cas-x.

S: Yeah the Cas-10, but anyway if you just want to destroy the gene, there you go, or just want to kill the cell, you could cut, slice it up a bunch of ways so like they're making CRISPR to go around finding sequences that are unique to cancer cells splice them up and kill the cancer cells. Really, it's working out well. What these guys did was they they changed the sequence of the Cas-9 so it doesn't work. And they called that dCas-9 for dead Cas-9, right? So now you have CRISPR with an inactive Cas-9 attached to it. Why did they do that? Because they want the Cas-9 to basically be a connector. Then they attach a protein to the d-Cas9, which is like now your new payload. Which is a protein that is designed to block a receptor, the receptor protein that they want to block.

C: So you're finding on the DNA the repeating sequence. You're bringing the scissors but instead of snipping you're like sticking them there and then you're sticking something to it.

S: Yeah but they're, you're using it just as a payload connector. So think about like if you're assembling a rocket. You have your engine and you have your assembly thing and then you have your capsule, right?

C: Yeah yeah.

S: So it's the same kind of thing. So essentially what it this is.

J: Wait so that was more descriptive and better than Santa Claus? (laughter)

S: Absolutely.

C: Way more.

J: So you got a rocket, oh rocket, then there's a payload, that's CRISPR. (laughter)

S: So, it's not CRISPR, it's CRISPR plus the dead Cas-9 plus the payload.

C: So what's the payload again?

S: The payload is a is a protein that was designed with artificial intelligence, right? AI designed proteins, make me a protein that will block this receptor. They take that protein, they attach it to the dead Cas-9, which is attached to the CRISPR which finds the sequence they want to reactivate. They introduce it and it turns the gene on.

C: So it's not about the specific receptor, it's about the function. We're not talking about blocking a specific receptor.

S: No. Yeah, right.

C: We're talking about the fact that this could block us, yeah, that's cool.

S: This would work for any gene, that's why you need the CRISPR to tell you which gene to turn on.

C: Gotcha.

S: So CRISPR targets the gene, Cas, the dead Cas-9 just a connector and now you have the AI built designer protein which blocks the thing on that gene to turn the gene on. And it worked. About a third of the cells that they exposed to it got had their genes, this target gene turned on.

G: So what's the practical application ideally.

S: The most immediate application is just research. We want to study what that gene does, so we turn it on. And now we know what protein it's making we know what it's doing. So just it's a way of just supercharging genetics research, right? But of course you could think about therapeutics if you have for example a mutation, that means you under produce a protein, you can then, you know, activate, you know, activate genes to produce more of that protein to counteract the genetic disease for example.

J: Steve can we use that to make genes make a protein that we want to use in other applications? Like I wanna, I need a protein.

S: Yeah, sure.

C: Like for medicine or something?

J: Yeah a bunch of this particular protein.

C: Yeah you have an animal model.

S: Yeast or bacteria yeah just crank up this gene, so that we make what we wanted to produce. But the thing that I liked about this story, again this particular application was not really for me. That was not the lead of this story. The lead of the story is, we have a modular designer CRISPR system that could do whatever we want, you know? That's the key, they figured out how to make a designer, right? Because they could design whatever payload they want. Modular, because they just could just attach these things together and using CRISPR to target whatever gene that we need. Now you could, just think about that, we could, you know, do what, you could target any gene for and whatever you designed to attach to that payload could do whatever.

J: But it's important to know that you can't just like inject this into someone and have it happen throughout their whole body.

S: That's not, that's a different issue, that's how. So that that's the vector, right? So the vector is how we get this, the CRISPR system to the cell. Now if you're doing it in a Petri dish it's easy, right? So for research, you're done, right? If you're doing it on blood or something you could take out of the body and put back into your body you could, yeah.

B: What about tumor in the body?

C: But that's where things get weird.

S: Tumor, you could inject it, that's, that's easier if it's a solid tumor.

C: But also this wouldn't really, I mean this might be interesting for a for a tumor suppressor gene, not necessarily for an oncogene.

S: For oncogenes you want to turn them off.

C: Exactly. The tumor suppressors you want to turn off, so it could be one one half of how we treat cancer.

J: But they, but they use CRISPR to to treat somebody's eyes, like it was a fully a fully grown organ and they were able.

S: Then you have to use like a viral vector, the retroviruses are one way but there's a couple other newer methods that are probably better. But there's the, the vector we talked about this before on the show, that's a separate issue. That's part of this whole system though, is being able to deliver this to to which cells you want to get them to.

J: And do you think that that is an incredibly big hurdle or do you think we can, we'll solve that pretty soon.

S: It's a hurdle but we're solving it already, it's partially solved.

C: And also if you only want to target some cells and not other cells, yeah that gets complicated because the body is [inaudible].

S: And there's off-site's, you know, CRISPR's not perfect, there's off-site targeting, you know, it's not, we also figured out how to like speed it up or slow it down. Make it fast and inaccurate and slow and accurate so we're sort of, technology is on the steep part of the curve. This is a whole system of controlling genetics that every couple of weeks we see another CRISPR you know tweak or thing that they figured out about it.

C: But for the most part it is a research paradigm right now. Like we have some clinical applications.

S: There's some clinical applications but it's super charging genetics or genetics research.

J: George, CRIPSR, underrated-overrated? (laughter)

G: I'd say properly rated, I would say properly.

S: It's underrated.

C: By those in the know.

B: Steve, leap ahead 50 years, what do you think we could probably do with this?

S: I mean 50 years it's hard to tell. I mean it's─

J: What we say in our book.

S: ─I know.

C: Basically, personalized medicine. I think that's probably the most umbrella term that we use.

S: That's always the thing that the reporters are going to say, this will lead to personalized medicine. It's kind of an easy answer.

C: But if you really think about it.

S: But it's true, to an extent.

C: It's true, it's understanding a genetic disease that's personal, like especially when I think of cancer, such a good model for that. Because cancer is not one thing and it's not even lots of things. Breast cancer in and of itself is not one thing, because there's HER2-positive and HER2-negative and there's, and so understanding one person's disease model genetically and then targeting their treatments. Which we're getting better and better at but we're still doing it at a chemical level. But being able to do it really at like a molecular level I think would be really.

J: Two questions I want answered are, is CRISPR gonna be able, are we going to use CRISPR to design, you know, babies where they're just gonna.

C: Well that's an ethics issue.

S: It's already been done.

[talking over each other]

Doctor Hey the chinese guy.

J: And then the second thing is is this go, is CRISPR going to be used on living people to extend life?

S: Well again, it's hard to talk about specific applications because that that thing, what exactly are you going to change in the genome to do that.

C: And life extension is a function of disease mitigation. I mean that's a big how, that's how.

S: Let me tell you this, this is what I will tell you. I can't, it's hard to answer specific questions about 50 years or specific applications but I will say that like definitely over the rest of this century and beyond. Very rapidly we are gaining greater and greater control over the genome. The fundamental code of life. To the point you know where our ability to control it is already profound, compared to like where we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50, it's already massively profound. But it's going to get only even more profound. To the point where we're going to have near total control over genetics. And in a way, it's not just that we can do it. We can do it quickly, cheaply, designer, modular. Like it's just there, you plug into the computer, this is what I want, there you go.

C: The limits will be ethical in this [inaudible].

S: Yeah, it will be ethical, and sort of basic knowledge about what stuff does. Well we're sorting that out.

B: Steve, this, I think this is one of the most important advances that's one like the top three and most important advances in the past generation.

S: CRISPR. And all the realted technollogies.

C: Yeah we used to say CRISPR is kind of like CRISPR is like the, it's like CRISPR did for like molecular biology what PCR did. But I think it surpassed PCR tons.

B: There's no comparison.

C: There is though. You really don't understand what laboratory work was like before PCR.

B: PCR is a great tool but it doesn't, the effect is not as profound.

C: It doesn't have the outcomes.

J: I would think the only thing that would beat this would be nanotechnology.

C: The promise of nano technology.

B: And I read a lot of science fiction, this is science fiction right here, the CRISPR, it's amazing. It's, it's just it's an amazing advance and it's accelerating because it's so cheap and anybody can do this.

S: It's going to challenge our concept of what it is to be human, of what is life. And it's going to challenge the ethics of our technology.

B: In a century everything's going to be different because just because of CRISPR. And you're not even adding the other technologies. AI, quantum computers that are going to have that are going to also─

C: We're already utilizing them.

B: interact, and that's crazy. This alone, our society is not going to be recognizable in my opinion.

S: Yeah.

B: We wrote a book about it.

S: Coming out this fall. It's, no, it's true, you think about it and more and more we're reading news items about. And they of course they used AI to design the thing. Which would have taken years previously, now they just said make me a protein that binds to this receptor and boom there it is. I mean that's just amazing that they could do that. So it is underrated George.

B: Oh my god. (laughter)

S: This whole this, this is going this is going to change the world in ways that we do not, have not currently wrapped our head around. It's already happening. And again it's going to be that thing where like, I'm, we're hyping it now. And 10 years from now, you know, what happened all that stuff Steve said was going to happen. In general the short-term progress is a lot slower than you think it is. But then it inflects and the long-term progress is orders of magnitude greater than you think it is. We are on the inflection point right now. And yeah be 5-10 years, I mean the world may not look different but you know 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, now you're going to turn around a total change.

C: Well and we also won't really necessarily, some people might not realize the difference because you know for for many like regular consumers of medicine for example or technology. Like what happens inside of the machine we're not privy to.

S: It's a black box.

C: And I think for this too, it's like we'll see all these amazing outcomes but we won't realize that was all because of CRISPR.

S: Lay person might not realize that CRISP made this possible. Right, exactly.

[commercial brake]

Acrhomatic X-Ray Lenses (45:05)[edit]

S: All right let's move on. Bob, you're going to tell us, recently you told us about plasma lenses. Now you're going to tell us about X-ray lenses.

E: Oh I got those in the back of the comic book, you know, right, you signed, two dollars.

B: Yeah but in between then Steve, I talked about the anti-universe, which is really cool.

S: You did.

B: But I'm not talking about that today. So scientists have made, recently made a breakthrough of creating the first X-ray achromatic lens. And I read that I'm like, okay. So? Why is that such a big breakthrough, I mean, I know what, you know, chromatic achromatic kind of knows, I know what that word means, but but an achromatic X-ray lens, why, why is that something that is dramatic. And it really kind of is dramatic. Now an achromatic lens or an acromat, acromat essentially is great for making imagery, it focuses different frequencies together either on at a point or on a plane instead of having all the different frequencies kind of disperse out.

S: If you have an expensive camera, you have an achromatic lens in it, so you don't get chromatic aberration.

B: I tried to find out if like iPhones have it and they don't. I mean you could probably get an attachment but it basically gives you superior image, imaging. So it's really important now we've had achromatic lenses for optical imagery for 200 years. 200 years we we've basically had this technology. And what it does is, it I mean what's happening is this you have two different lenses. One say, for example concave and convex, you put them together. The first lens disperses the light kind of like a prism. The second lens focuses it all into a point or in a plane. Whereas without, if you just had the one lanes, the different frequencies of light like the blue would focus here, the red would focus here and then so you get you wouldn't get a superior image.

S: The focal point would spread out based with frequency so this brings up to a point.

B: So and you can get say 200 nanometer optical resolution, which is, which is good, which is really good, but that's. So that's what how, that's the situation with an optical achromatic lens. Now X-ray chromatic lens, achromatic lens, that could focus to 20 nanometers. So in order you have an order of magnitude greater optical resolution, you could zoom in on stuff and see amazing details with it. And you could also it's, it's X-ray, you could see in some substances, you can see inside it as well. So this is, you know, an amazing imaging technology, that you could use.

J: Bob, just to clarify though. Is this for actually taking just regular pictures?

B: Yeah. Pictures, high resolution images of the of the, of the the nanoworld, the micro world, the really small images, high resolution images of tiny things that an optical, that optical imaging can't really do.

J: Can you can you give me a comparison, like 4k, 6k, 8k? Or do you have any idea like words?

S: It's more the resolution of the pixel size go. It would go from 200 to 20.

B: So 200 nanometers to 20 nanometers. So nanometers, billionth of a meter, right? Super-super tiny.

J: So that's that's that's hugely more.

C: It's an order of magnitude.

B: It would be a great tool but we don't have an, there's no achromatic, why am I looking at them? There's no achromatic X-ray lens. They don't exist and that's because there's, they couldn't find two materials that you could then stick together that are different enough, that could disperse the X-rays and then focus them down those two materials like the concave and convex lens just, they don't, they didn't exist. So what you had to do, if you wanted to take a resolution X-ray, you know image, you'd have to go to like a lab or something. And go to a synchrotron which is basically a super bright X-ray source. Very very bright. And then, and then you would use that and you would take your image. But then you would have to filter out all those all those frequencies that were outside of your plane. You'd focus, you'd filter them out and then you'd focus, filter those out and you would have just your tiny little frequency. Like a monochromatic X-ray image and, and that would be fine but it would be very inefficient. And it would be dim because you're you're taking away most of the frequencies, you're just focusing on just that one frequency that that happened to focus because it's monochromatic. And it would be very expensive. Now it would be bright because you had, you went to this big synchrotron and but it would be expensive. You would have to plan it, you would have to call them and say all right I want to take this image. When can you fit me in? Three months. Like you know you can't do quick nimble research with a device when you're counting on something like that. You need something smaller cheaper that you could just have in your lab in your, in your company. They didn't exist until these guys started really trying to develop an achromatic X-ray lens. So what they did was they figured out, let's see, they said the trick was to realize that we could position a second refractive lens in front of our defractive lens. So they, what they did was they had to look at not similar materials but different optical principles and put them together. So refractive, diffractive. And the other critical component that only recently became available was, they did using 3D printing with a special polymer. They were able to create, they were able to build the specific lens component that they needed to refract the X-rays.

E: You're saying they couldn't do it until 3D printing was able to do it?

B: Yeah, right, they couldn't they had that the mental breakthrough that you could put the refractive in front of the diffractive. And then they needed to build that refractive piece, where they needed to build the component using 3D printing.

J: Bob they 3D printed something that was, because 3D printing you know, it's not super precise like that. Like I thought lenses had to be like molecularly like damn near perfect.

B: Right but so they used, they used two photon like, lithographic techniques. So this is not this is not a printer that, that you and Ian are messing around with for the SGU.

C: But it's still using a polymer?

B: Yes so─

C: Is it optically clear?

B: ─two well it's, two well what's happening is that you, I didn't go too deep into that aspect of exactly how the 3D printing aspect worked but it's basically it's called two, two photon lithographic laser. Like laser designing and it basically uses that to, to harden the polymers, right? So you shoot the laser to harden the polymer and that hardened part is what is being used in additive manufacturing.

S: That the highest resolution type.

B: Right, and what we're talking nanometer resolution. I mean crazy, crazy resolution. So this really didn't exist until recently. So so they designed it, built it and then now when they put that all together. They prove that they have an achromatic X-ray lens that they can now use to image the nanoworld in very inexpensive nimble devices that most, many companies can now use. So you'll be seeing, doing, people doing research for microchips, batteries and Cara material science. Lots of material science research using this now. So this could really, just open up a whole new world to researchers to really develop these technologies a lot, as before.

J: So Bob, as an example like they would look at the innards of an old battery, right, and they'd use this and they'd look and say oh now we can really see like what's going on inside here, like they're looking for this is an information gathering.

B: Right and they could if they really wanted that information before, they kind of could do that but it would be slow and expensive take a lot of time. Here they can be, they could just do it but you know in their lab with the machine that they bought or whatever. And they wouldn't have to go to these big these big places. It's like CRISPR where now every─

S: Every lab could do it.

B: ─lab lots of, lots more labs can do this type of research so cool, cool stuff.

S: Yeah I wonder how far off medical applications are. Obviously X-rays, you know, something that's used in medicine to this day.

Cleaning Solar Panels (52:20)[edit]

S: All right, George this is one of those things that sounds, sounds simple or not that important, but when you think about it it could be really profound. Tell me about cleaning solar panels.

G: Yeah so solar panels are becoming more and more ubiquitous on the planet. They're estimating that by 2030 about 10% of the planet's power is going to come from solar panels. And solar panels tend to work really well in desert areas because obviously the sun is beaming down much more consistently. And the problem that arises is in desert areas you tend to have a lot of desert. (laughter) And that's dusty and that's sandy and that starts covering.

J: It's everywhere.

S: It gets everywhere, it's coarse.

C: This is also a problem like on Mars.

G: Sure, absolutely, right.

C: What do we do once they get like they don't work anymore.

G: Right so the idea is well you have to clean this, so you have to clean the panels somehow. Well you could, you could develop some kind of brush system that would remove dust and dirt off of the panels. But the panels tend to be of a sort of a sensitive nature, so you can damage them pretty easily if you're physically brushing dirt off of them. They can scratch it, it can do stuff. Plus you have to sort of have some kind of a device or people to do that.

C: That's why we don't have just like wiper blades and like the rain-x. (laughter)

G: Well here's the thing, rain-x is great but rain-x basically water and so to bring water to these solar panels tends to offset the money you're saving by using solar energy. Because you have to have hundreds and thousands of gallons of water to be brought into these locations. And apparently like, you know, like the dust of one month can affect the the efficiency of a solar panel by like 30% like just within within a month or so. So the boys at MIT, the the people at MIT, the researchers over there at MIT, were developing─

S: That's over in New York, right?

G: ─it's in New York, yeah. (laughter) You can't park anywhere near the place. But it's, they're working on this is not a new idea, but electrostatic repulsion. This idea─

J: A force field!

G: ─sort of a force field, sort of, yeah. Waterless cleaning. How can we clean these solar panels in a way that's not going to use water, that's not going to use brushes and that almost, most important is not going to touch the panels so as to affect their efficiency or to just screw them up.

C: Well it's not even really cleaning, it's like pre-clean, it's like prevention, right?

G: Yeah, I mean, sort of.

C: It prevents the dust from sticking to begin with.

G: In essence, in essence. But it can also actually sort of remove it─

S: Remove what's already there, they use it intermittently.

G: ─so there's there have been systems developed where they've tried to interlace into the, into the meshing of the panel, some kind of electrostatic system that basically puts a charge in it, that doesn't let dust sort of settle on it. The problem is, that tends to lend, let moisture in. Because you've got this moisture barrier that has to be, you have to get stuff through. So that stuff tends to get affected then by water. So the the crews at MIT developed this touchless system which in essence is a metal bar, that kind of if you picture a solar panel, and picture a thin metal bar that then is going to sort of pass over the top of the of the entire panel, that it sets up this charge and can remove dust that's there by doing this little electrostatic repulsion.

C: It's not in it, it's above it.

G: It's above it, it's not touching it. So it never actually touches it. Not really touches the screen. So in practice each solar panel is fitted with a railing on each side, with an electrode spanning across the panel, right? A small electric motor, maybe using some of the, some of the energy that's in the solar panel itself.

C: Wouldn't it be funny like if it wasn't a solar panel, it's like you got to put a battery?

G: That's right, it runs on on kerosene and gas. (laughter)

J: It's diesel.

G: So look at this this little belt system, it moves the electric from one end to the other and it causes all the dust to fall away. So the whole process can be automated or controlled remotely, ultimately thin strips of conductive transparent materials could be permanently arranged above the panel, eliminating the need for moving parts. So not only could you have a thing that's moving sort of doing it but if you can get sort of translucent or transparent material that can carry a charge, you set that on top of it, you never actually touch the panel and it removes all the dust.

E: And they're saying it doesn't interfere with the effectiveness of the.

G: And that's it, yeah, and once you've removed, once you've removed the sand and the dust and all the all the Anakin material that's there, you're good to go and so you can save, you know, what are the numbers here, a 1% reduction in power for a 150 megawatt solar installation, which is not a huge installation, but it's a pretty decent sized one. It's like 200 000 dollars a year you lose just from 1%.

C: Just from 1%? And you said the dust often is 30%?

G: It can, it affects them 30% in just in just a month, so if you can change this globally 3 to 4% reduction in power output, that's like billions of dollars. 3 to 5 billion dollars. So it's this simple sort of thing, so they're going to try to start having this work across. It's one of these again, you have to so think of every potential problem of a solution that you may have. Like we'll put up solar panels, great, oh dust, oh crap, you know?

E: Well this is our discussion of solar roads, remember we came up with so many ways in which the solar roads were just not going to work.

B: Ridiculous.

S: Dumbest idea ever, solar roads.

C: George, I think, I think in LA they did like a solar or maybe not LA but─

S: Bike path or something?

C: ─somewhere or something, no solar river.

E: Was it Oregon?

C: Solar river. It was like these, these things that they floated on top of the water which is kind of cool.

S: As long as you don't have to drive on top of it.

C: Exactly.

S: What could go wrong there? This is what I loved about this news item is again, it's the idea that sometimes these simplest little problems can torpedo and otherwise stellar technology. And we don't realize that.

B: Here's a problem, here's a solar panel, here's another solar panel.

S: You want to, want to describe verbally what you're doing over there? (laughter)

C: For the audio podcast.

B: Two solar panels that are kind of facing each other. So this one electrostatically repels the dust and it goes and it lands here. Then this one repels it and goes there and then lands back on the original.

C: No it just floats in the middle.

B: Back and forth forever. But I'm sure they can think of a way out.

C: Yeah, then we figure out how to extract that energy.

S: Above all you have to do is orient all the solar panels towards the Sun. (laughter)

C: Yeah why would you have them facing like this?

S: And then that won't happen.

B: That's an easy solution, we gotta think about that stuff.

J: George, theoretically do you think we could put these things in showers, so we don't, we could just get clean walking, you know?

G: Well I've heard of cars that have electrostatic systems that repel dust on them.

C: Like, in the paint or something?

G: Yeah it's either in the paint or it's it's in the, it's in the surface of it somehow. Sort of done like really high-end cars. Or just portions of cars that are more susceptible to dust and dirt.

C: But Jay is the reason that you need to shower because you're covered in dust? (laughter)

J: I don't know, you don't want stuff, you know, when Star Trek─

S: It depends what kind of day you had.

J: ─they have water it showers in Star Trek. As you were describing like this sounds like the waterless showers in Star Trek. Like they get in and like bleee.

C: I think we mostly showered for bacteria, right?

S: Oil.

C: Like to reduce the smell. Yeah yeah, but I think it's, you know, from a hygiene perspective.

J: Will that lift oil too you think?

C: No it's particulate matter, dry particular matter I think, yeah.

S: Cool.

G: Just neat.

S: Yeah I mean I think solar energy is going to be massively important and you know it is already, and increasingly so. You know it is one of those game-changing technologies. And again like the last 20 years, remember first doing the show we're talking about solar. I think the average efficiency of a commercial solar panel at that time was like 12%.

C: Wow.

S: And here we are, you know, a decade later, it's 21%-22%, we're probably going to hit 30% by like the mid 2030s or so.

G: Are you happy that you have your roof full of solar?

S: Totally.

G: It worked out for you, right?

S: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah I just basically just knocked 20% off my solar bill.

C: And I think we're seeing municipal chain, like, like in LA there was a while where it was like. Unless you were grandfathered in, new builds had to have reflective roofs. Like white white painted roofs. And now there is a new initiative, after a certain year, and I think it's coming up soon, all new builds have to have solar. It's just part of the build plan.

G: I like the white, the white roofs is so such a no-brainer. I love that the new UPS trucks, oh yeah school buses and UPS trucks will have white roofs as well. Because that that you know affects it just a little bit so.

C: A lot I think.

G: A whole fleet of trucks.

Public Media and Healthy Democracy (1:00:45)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about the effect of having a free media on democracy.

C: Yeah so I think─

S: This goes back to freedom of speech.

C: ─really relates back to yeah our kind of unplanned and I think important conversation at the beginning. Two researchers Victor Pickard and Neff, Timothy Neff, they have been doing research for quite some time. Sort of their bread and butter, in their area is like democracy and media. And sort of how do they relate to one another. And they recently did an interesting study where, and Victor Pickard by the way is the, I love his title, he's the whatever, C. Edwin Baker Professor of Media Policy and Political Economy and Co-Director, of Media, Inequality & Change Center at Annenberg.


C: Yeah, CRISPR. (laughter) They are proposing, based on their research, that one of the ways to counteract some of the struggles that we have been seeing, especially here in America with our democracy. And especially the struggle with the fact that we have this phenomenon of basically news deserts. Like we've heard of food deserts, we see news deserts. Like local newspapers have shuttered across the country and so you see more like corporate media kind of trying to take over, but we're not seeing a very large local response. And also a massive spread as we know, we talk about this all the time on the show of misinformation, of disinformation. And so these researchers based on many of their studies but this also most recent study, are sort of kind of speaking out for the role that government funded media can have. So they did a study called Funding Democracy: Public Media and Democratic Health in 33 Countries and they looked at the economist democracy index. And they looked across their seven global regions and they specifically only focused on democracies but they wanted to look at a range from full democracies to flawed democracies. Which were all ranked by the economist so they kind of had this these standards already worked out. They didn't want to look at authoritarian regimes at all. Wanted to look at functional democracies but but from full to flawed. And then they looked at their democratic rankings and they correlated those, they compared those to their levels of public media funding. But also they looked at regulatory structures which allow for a free press, right? Allow for independence in journalism. And they found that, I mean as you might expect, really robust public media is very predictive of functional democracy. But what they also found was that America is a deep outlier in that we do not fund public media at all. We're talking─

S: Okay what about NPR and?

C: Yeah, that, that accounts for 0.002% of our gross domestic product which amounts to about one $1.40 per capita. And by the way we─

S: So it's not at all.

C: But when I say at all, get this, $1.40 per capita while places like the like UK, Norway and Sweden spend close to 100 or more per capita. It's abysmal. We are a massive outlier when they. When they look at all of their statistic we're like way over here, but, we also have the highest GDP. So the country with the highest GDP among these flawed to functional democracies is spending the lowest amount of money on public media. And sadly we also know that we now are ranked within the economist democracy index as a flawed democracy. We we are falling in in that area, we're no longer a full democracy.

S: Didn't cross the line after January 6th?

C: Wouldn't be surprised if it happened, yeah, several yeah, in the last several years.

J: No surprise there, you know what I mean?

C: Yeah. Their research looks at the correlation between strong public media and strong democracy but they're obviously looking at the larger body of literature and there is a lot of literature that shows a correlation between a strong public media and a well-informed political culture, high support for democratic processes, increased levels of civic engagement. These are all like outcome variables that they find in societies where there's a large funding into public media.

G: How do they define public media, is that news source, or is it are we talking full public media?

C: Full public broadcast news.

G: Art support and stuff like that or it's just media?

C: Media though, I think it's think it's specifically like information, yeah yeah yeah. And so they, yeah, mostly there I think they're looking at like print and broadcast news and maybe probably also, what do you call it, like I worked for PBS or I still do work for PBS but I've done several shows at PBS KCET in in the SoCal market, we also do, it's like public affairs. It's not always news but sometimes it's kind of like what's happening in your community. And they're showing that there are these outcome measures across the board that are highly predictive. And of course there are, there's some pushback that you see. So one of, in the write-up that I was looking at, one of the questions which I think is a legitimate question is like, what are some of the criticisms? Because I think a lot of people, especially in the US and they actually said especially in the US, you see this like resistance to fund a lot of public media because of a fear of state-sponsored media yeah, right? Because of course we've seen this. And that's the thing, it, you have to have both. You have to have the the public funding, the monies available and then an independent media being able to use those funds to utilize good journalistic practices and inform the electorate. And the problem is, you know, obviously with, and they don't talk about this, but with the fairness doctor like with the changes that we've seen basically since the Reagan administration on, there have been and then with the fact that we've sort of got a corporate structure to our media. So the stories that make the most money are the stories that rise to the top. Which is fundamentally incompatible very often with informing the electorate. We have very good scientific data to show, that if we put more money into public media we will have a healthier, literally a healthier democracy.

S: Yeah I mean it's hard to deny that, I mean we have to say this is a correlational data.

C: Of course.

S: And you can make a reasonable argument that healthy democracies are more likely to fund the media, it goes both ways.

C: Absolutely, it probably very likely goes both ways, it's not causal.

S: Yeah, exactly.

C: But but the correlation is very strong, yeah.

S: It's strong, there's lots of other supporting data as well. Like you know, my favorite news show is PBS, you know, like the news hour or whatever because it's just the best quality.

C: Also Frontline is my favorite television show of all time, which is a documentary series on PBS, it's oh, it's so good.

S: And when you and when you look at the data, like they've, you could rank news outlets based upon their objectivity and attention.

C: Yeah you can find those things online.

S: The PBS, you know, NPR ones always rank the best.

C: And what's the other one, BBC World News which is also publicly funded but in the UK.

G: What's the, what's the negative? Like if this isn't true let's say, if there isn't a correlation between these two, what's the negative of funding public media. Like this is, it is the money.

S: Just the money you spend.

C: And that's always the argument and that's why it's been chipped away and chipped away and chipped away but couldn't we buy more tanks.

G: Yeah like what's that money going towards instead of going.

[talking over each other]

J: Cara, I don't know if you know the numbers but like, are we talking, like what would it cost a year? Like we need?

C: Well like I said it was, I only know it at a per capita number. So we would have to write that out, oh, no I have the number, I have the number. Last year, two years ago, 2020 we paid 465 million dollars for federal.

S: That's nothing.

C: For public media.

E: So it would have to jump to 46 billion annually?

J: So yeah, would you have to go, it would have to go pretty high.

C: Well they're talking to most other functional democracies are two orders of magnitude more. Yeah but still, that's nothing. I mean that's the thing, when it comes to arguing again, that's point 0.002% of our GDP. We spend more of that funding NASA, and we all argue that it's like if we can only do another half a percent for NASA because that's 0.5%, right? But like think about how public media impacts everyone. Literally everyone.

S: The other thing is, we, because we talked about the free speech thing. We're not talking about taking something away, adding something, just giving people more information. And again but it's absolutely critical that the funding and the is separate from the other independent media cores, it's not state run media.

C: And that's the thing, and in these measures we already do that, we have a strong independent public media. NPR, PBS, we think about like Sesame Street, we think about all of these different initiatives. Children's television workshop. Did you guys see that documentary about Sesame Street? So good.

G: So stinking good, watch it, it's so.

B: So what made it so good?

C: It just tells about the origin story and the hurdles and like what their mission was and it's beautiful.

G: The consistency of the effort and the encouragement of not just creativity but creativity in the guise of informing children in the best way that children can be informed, about what they need to learn.

C: And reaching the kids who nobody considered reaching. Like their whole intention to Sesame Street was to reach kids in urban centers. Like it was like we need to reach kids who live in the city, who are very often forgotten, who are very often not spoken, people, you know, kids of color kids who are coming from like a wide variety of backgrounds.

G: But also the the point, the pointedness of it of like, we're gonna have these puppets and they're gonna be multi, multi-colored. To, to so that they're not, and it's not even that they're like they would be Caucasian puppets or whatever, but this idea of like we're going to mix it up from the very beginning and and have them interact in their and their characters, it's just like it was like well thought out.

C: We have a puppet that's dealing with homelessness, we have a puppet that's dealing with a parent who died, we have a puppet, you know, it's very good, real issues kids deal with.

G: Yeah like Mr., Mr.─

C: Rogers?

G: Like when Rupert, Mr Hooper died, yeah.

C: Yeah when Mr. Hooper died that was a beautiful scene.

G: Mr. Hooper died.

C: Cast member died.

G: The cast member died.

C: What do we do about it?

G: And it's like, how are we going to pro, you know, do we do we say something, you're not saying. They're like yes, we're going to talk about it, so Big Bird has to be taught─

C: About death.

G: ─that when a person dies they go, they're gone.

C: They're not coming back, yeah.

G: Oh my god, it's amazing.

J: Did they get into how much did Jim Henson have to do with?

G: Everything.

C: Everything.

G: It was, it was him and then two of the executives that worked, I forget the executive's names. But that they saw what he was trying to do and they said you know what, here's free reign. And for 30 years he did it. Like for whatever 28-30 years.

C: This is like his greatest [inaudible].

G: It's his absolute legacy.

C: But it was his baby, like he loved.

G: And he kept saying like, kids are smart, they will get this, they will understand it. If we, they will they will appreciate the humor. And not just that the kids will appreciate the humor, the parents will appreciate the humor so they're not going to go ape as they're watching this stuff time and time again.

S: It's not Barney.

G: They can, it's bright, you know, they can, it's just watch it, it's called─

C: Right and that's the thing about public media too is that it's stratified in that way you know good robust public media is reaching people at different age, it's helping them learn but it's also helping them be critical thinkers. I mean these are the goals. Like the same things we do in the skeptic community, I think our fundamental goals.

G: When was this cut? Was it was this a was this a slow decrease of funding or was there was there a time that it was like oh all of a sudden─

C: Well, the fairness doctrine, that was a massive cliff and then I think it just.

G: Less and less and less and this idea that oh we're funds for [inaudible] basically.

C: But it used to be literally required that a certain percentage of air time was dedicated to purely educational or informational content. And then once that was repealed it was like what makes us the most money. You know the the news used to be a money loser and the programming funded the news and once that was disassembled it became really problematic.

S: Once the news is a profit center.

G: that's in the 70s? Early 80s?

C: Regan.

S: 80s, 80s. That created a feedback loop where it's like well what gets the most clicks, eyeballs, views. And it's outrage─

C: And that is now the model for social media like that is the Facebook.

S: And not just social media, like Fox News. Fox News, their business model is keep our audience as maximally outraged as possible.

C: And let's be fair to some extent it's also the model of MSNBC and CNN and like every, it's all profit driven, right? It's what are we going to talk about the things that keep the eyeballs glued to the TV.

S: You know, dividing people, creating, you know, targets, I mean it's just─

C: Things they're going to engage with, they're gonna cling on.

S: ─the other side whatever it is fear, culture war, that's what we're living through. We're living through the this feedback loop of media making money off of outraging us about everything and each other.

J: Why is it so hard to just communicate what you just said to people who are being affected by the media this way like.

S: Because they say yeah you're right, the other side does do that right, that's what they immediately say.

C: And also but also that's not that that's not how you fix the problem, I mean yes.

S: Oh oh, you want the government to actually do something.

C: It's funding public media in an evidence-based way, like look at the data, right?

S: Start by funding good sources of information.

J: Well at least daylight savings has been settled, right? We're good. They did something this year. That was awesome though, they actually did something.

C: Yeah but they did it wrong. And so says every e-mail we keep getting it so funny they're all like we're gonna convert Bob, we get like an e-mail every day about like we don't want to do that.

S: Yeah because the people who agree with us don't bother emailing. It's a biased sample. Self-selective, not randomized.

[talking over each other]

Pareidolia and Gender (1:15:17)[edit]

B: What's next Steve, where do we go?

S: All right, next we have Jay.

J: Bob's like, I'm done with that, move on.

B: I see he was coming, I saw him scrolling.

S: Jay's gonna tell us about pareidolia.

J: Pareidolia, so we talk about it all the time. We love pareidolia. So as a quick reminder in case you don't fully─

S: We like it so much we have two of them.

J: ─we do.

C: Pareidolia, that was like an Evan joke right there. I love it.

J: Pareidolia. Can I go now? Pareidolia is a type of apophenia. Apophenia is the tendency to perceive patterns and connections between unrelated things that are typically random or ambiguous. And this is, you know, a typical brain function. Like we all have apophenia happening. If you have too much of it happening, I don't know if like, how would you refer to the having too much apophenia.

E: Hyper, hyper apophenia.

B: Seeing significance in random stuff everywhere.

S: But this is an aside, the question is is the problem too much pattern recognition or too little filtering of what's not meaningful.

C: But that can be a pathology.

S: That's an open question, like the people who have paranoid schizophrenia where they see connections everywhere, is it that they're seeing more connections, or they're just not filtering out the all the ones that are not meaningful. It could be both.

C: Well and it's also a lot of other things on top of it.

S: Yeah, but that's without that one question is still an area of active research. And I don't know exactly where the balance is right now, but it, bottom line is both, but it's probably mainly a filtering problem because we all have the pattern recognition.

J: Could CRISPR fix that? (laughter)

S: No.

E: If it is a filtering problem it does sound like it's something that could be worked on and and improved upon with techniques and methods.

S: That's critical thinking, that's critical thinking is the filter.

C: Yeah I mean that's what therapy is, right? That is what, you know, intensive psychotherapy.

S: Yeah that's not real.

B: Yeah I think achromatic X-ray lens could fix it. But, it's in the future.

S: Nice try Bob. Go ahead Jay.

J: It's very very likely that conspiracy theorists have a, you know a lack of filtering of apophenia because, you know, if you ever read things that conspiracies theorists say it's like massive weird connections on everything. Especially like with numbers and all that stuff. So it's all─

C: Like the movie Pi.

J: ─this is all in play here. But pareidolia is specifically for human faces, right?

S: Well it's for visual.

J: Visual.

S: The most common one is of human face.

J: Yeah because our brains are so hard wired. So we see human faces a lot because we are epically hardwired to recognize that pattern and that's why when you know you see two dots and a line, we interpret that as a human face, right, which I, which I think is really cool. I mean you need basically three marks on a piece of paper and we're interpreting faces.

B: Even babies, they've done tests on babies and if you put you know objects that kind of make a face the baby's eyes will linger on that longer than those same pieces but not in the arrangement of a face.

C: And chimpanzees and yeah, it's yeah.

J: A new study on pareidolia appeared, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which was led by Susan Wardle.

C: He didn't say PNOS? You have to say PNOS.

E: That's yours, that's your.

C: He didn't look to me.

E: I looked at you.

C: You did, I know. Jay, come on!

J: I'll say it again and you can yell out penis, okay?

C: Thank you. Here we go, here we go. Say it again.

J: A new study on pareidolia appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

C: (chuckles) Penis.

J: Led by Susan Wardle, not to be confused with Susan Worlde.

S: Oh I didn't played wordle today.

C: I haven't yet either shalalalala.

S: No spoilers.

B: Go ahead.

J: This new study suggests that not only do we see faces but those faces have a gender. This is so cool, right? So their studies showed that most people perceive a gender here, now stop, I think audience, I want to ask the audience because I'm dying to ask you guys. So, do the clap thing George. Clap if when you see pareidolia. If you can, if you can answer this. Do you typically see a male face?

G: Altogether?


J: Now do it for female.

(smaller claps)

C: Yeah.

J: You guys, you guys are, you guys are trending with the study. The new research shows that most people are are seeing a male face. When you see a face on a potato chip it's, it's using the same regions of the brain that perceive human faces, which is really cool. It's not like a different part, like that same mechanism in your brain. You see it face on a potato chip it's the same human face software.

S: What if it's on pringles?

J: That gets a little iffy there's, they're not sure yet. So the researchers wanted to know, these are the questions that they ask, they want to know if faces appear to be a certain age, do they have a particular emotion or gender. And the research team collected a huge array of images on their own that have like face pareidolia. They had 3 800 test subjects which is a really nice number and they they acquired 250 photos. And the researchers found that it was four times more likely that people see the illusory faces of males.

S: So 80:20.

J: 80:20.

C: So this was done in the US? Not that it matters, but.

J: It did not say. This track the same for male and female test subjects. And the researchers said that there's no reason for us to perceive faces as one gender or another, there's no like hardwiring.

C: Oh there's no biological reasons.

J: They don't think so.

C: Massive social reasons.

J: It's a social social perception and another reason is that female, female faces need more information.

C: No. Socially.

S: They have more information.

C: We are primed to think female faces need more information. When you look at a cartoon, a man cartoon face has eyes and a nose and a mouth. A woman cartoon face has eyelashes. But, we could have just as easily formatted our society where a neutral eyes, nose, mouth is a woman and the man has a mustache. We didn't do that because our society has the default gender as male yeah and female is the other.

G: How would kids do in this survey, that's what I wonder like like four-year-olds.

C: Even a four-year-old is deeply, deeply socialized. Yeah I think by by the time they're four.

G: Would it be 80:20 though would it be that?

C: Highly likely, highly likely.

J: I was thinking about this, like because when I read that it's like a social thing I'm turning the wheels in my hand, how the hell did that get into our head.

C: Look at the signs for a bathroom. The male sign for a bathroom is a human body that could be easily male or female. What is the female sign for a bathroom?

S: It's in a skirt.

C: She's in a skirt. There's nothing intrinsically female about wearing a skirt, you know what I mean?

S: It could be a kilt.

C: But I'm saying like we have two legs, two arms and a head. Like there's nothing about that but that has been our social convention for all of human history.

J: Right so is that it's a thousand examples of that.

C: Over and over and like, I think I've given this example before. I remember going to the gym once and there was the skeleton or the musculoskeletal system. And it was like a, you know, like the posters you see, like the anatomical posters. And it said the musculoskeletal system. And it was a man's body. And next to it it said the female musculoskeletal system. And is a woman's body. The default was man. It didn't say the male musculoskeletal system. And something as simple as that, I know it sounds so small, it's so fundamental. And when you're saying it's equal in men and women I am not surprised. Because we have implicit bias.

G: Think of like female and male clown faces, you know, not to freak anybody out if you don't enjoy clowns. But yeah it's like to, for a free female clown to identify visually as a female clown she has to put some kind of extra female things to it. Even though it's all a facade anyway.

J: It's such a weird thing to think about. Like defaulting emojis to male.

C: But we default everything to male. That's the thing, male is normative in our culture and female is other. And we have to change that.

E: 50 000 years of societal living, right?

C: 50 000 years of male dominance.

S: Yeah, there's no question about it.

J: Well, look, we are seeing legitimate signs that things are starting to at least begin.

S: Listen, things are better than they've ever been before. They're just nowhere near good enough.

E: Oh can't stop, I mean.

C: But yeah it's definitely social there's no way that's biological.

S: Well, think about like, looking at emojis. Like Asian cultures smile with their eyes and their emojis. And western culture smile with the mouth, right? And the emojis, why is that? It's just cultural. If you grew up in that culture and that translates to emojis, you know, it's the same thing.

B: Yeah but what if what if they had the the strength that that, I guess the testosterone which is, kind of doesn't make a lot of sense. But what if women were the powerful─

S: More physically stronger?

B: ─physically, physically powerful.

C: That is an interesting question that I think anthropological kind of, feminist anthropologists and sociologists often grapple with. It's like what was the thing that allowed men to take power.

J: It has to be the physical.

C: Ii think that's a large part of it is the physical dominance, yeah, at least early on.

G: We were just talking last night about like how men would not be able to live as women for any extended amount of time. Between this this fear of safety we're talking about dinner last night.

C: We talked about a study, I love that study.

G: About yeah this idea of like you know what what steps do men take to ensure their safety. Versus what steps do women take to ensure their safety. Men tend to like, I lock my door at night. And then women will have 35 steps of when they're leaving the thing and keys in the hand and make sure you're not alone. And guys are clueless.

C: It blows their mind when we talk. It reminds me of almost like, I remember when the whole me too thing was happening and I had all these male friends who were like can you believe, can you, I can't believe. And I'm like, you know, it's been happening this whole time, you're only just now finding out about it. Like that's the differnce.

G: Guys in power were abusing, there's sexual impropriety, can you believe that?

C: Yeah.

S: All right, thank you Jay. So we're gonna go on with Science or Fiction (applause)

Science or Fiction (1:24:44)[edit]

Theme: New England Geology

Item #1: New England is primarily composed of volcanic island arcs.[6]
Item #2: Plymouth Rock geologically originated in northern Canada and was deposited in its current location by the Laurentide glacier 20,000 years ago.[7]
Item #3: New England was adjacent to modern day Morocco in Africa when part of Pangea, evidenced by their identical lithographic sequences.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Plymouth Rock origin, glacier
Science Volcanic island arcs
Once adjacent to Morocco
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
Once adjacent to Morocco
Once adjacent to Morocco
Volcanic island arcs
Volcanic island arcs
Plymouth Rock origin, glacier

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

S: We have a theme this week. It's the theme.

G: (sings) Science or fiction.

E: Is that our new theme song?

G: I've been working on that whole afternoon, sorry.

S: It's not Boston. But the theme is New England geology. New England geology.

C: I thought the theme was Not-Boston. And I was like no no.


E: New England geology.

C: New England geology, we're going to not do well in this.

S: It's Boston adjacent but it's not Boston. All right.

C: But you guys live in New England.

S: Yeah, that's true.

E: That's why you're going first Cara. (laughter)

S: All right here we go. It's not going to help them, just relax. (laughter) Item #1: New England is primarily composed of volcanic island arcs. Item #2: Plymouth Rock geologically originated in northern Canada and was deposited in its current location by the Laurentide glacier 20,000 years ago. And item #3: New England was adjacent to modern day Morocco in Africa when part of Pangaea, evidenced by their identical lithographic sequences. All right so #1, New England's made of volcanic islands, #2 Plymouth rock was moved down by, from Canada by the a glacier and 3, when when part of of Pangaea, New England was next to Morocco.

J: George goes first.

S: I don't want to, George doesn't have to always go first. I think we're gonna start at─

J: Bob.

S: ─Jay. (laughter)

B: Nicely done.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right so a volcanic ark.

S: I'll give this to you, so, you know, Hawaiian islands where you have like─

C: Like an archipelago but of volcanoes?

B: This is stationary hot source, the crust moves over it.

S: Yeah, you have the crust moving over a hot source so you get those chain of volcanic islands. So basically New England was composed of these volcanic islands. Basically clumped together.

C: And that's what made this.

J: Right, so I'm going to apologize right out of the gate to any geologist listening to this podcast. Please don't judge me on how horribly I'm gonna. So I would argue that everything comes from volcanic activity, right? At some point, right? I don't know. So everything is coming from a volcanic ark, so that's science. Plymouth Rock is geologically originated in northern Canada, it was deposited. All right, so a glacier pushed down this giant, you know, land mass, right? It's not, it's not an actual rock you're talking about, right? You're talking about land?

C: Plymouth Rock is a rock.

S: No, I'm talking about a rock Plymouth Rock. It's a rock.

J: Okay it's huge.

E: The boulder.

C: It's a boulder.

J: And that's where they landed the boats and they were like, they called it Plymouth Rock?

S: Well that's the myth. Yeah.

J: All right so this is a gigantic boulder. Now this is no no stretch of the imagination. Like, tons of rocks got pushed by glaciers. This one has to be science, it makes perfect sense, how that rock got there? And you know how you could tell?

B: Has to be Jay, has to be? Have you learned nothing?

J: If a rock is a glacier rock?

C: How?

J: Do you know how you could tell?

C: Because it's round?

J: No, because because there are lines on it that show that it was pushed, that's pretty cool.

C: Anybody seen Plymouth Rock up close?

J: So by by default I'm gonna say that the third one is fiction because I have absolutely no idea where...

S: Morocco is?

J: No.

S: Africa?

J: No but you're saying like─

C: Northern Africa.

J: You know, you know 10 billion freaking years ago this landmass was touching this whatever─

S: Couple hundred million.

J: ─you know, whatever, same thing. The, they were touching each other and you know Pangaea and the whole thing. Who the hell knows? I have no idea it's─

C: Lots of people know I think.

Evan's Response[edit]

S: Go Evan, all right Evan.

E: Well I think I'll start with number two actually. The yes, originated in northern Canada was deposited in its current location by the glacier 20 000 years ago. I believe that is right, I think that's true of not only Plymouth Rock but a lot of other features of, you know, New England and the area. I believe the island of Long Island is in fact a series of those kinds of rocks that were all pushed down by by the glaciers, is my understanding. So I have no problem with Plymouth Rock being one of those. I'll jump to the first one. For no reason, I'm jumping around. Primarily composed of volcanic island arcs. It's probably the one I don't have the greatest sense for. I'd not heard that before but I wouldn't be surprised. Not too distant from kind of what Jay was saying. A lot of things at some point may have had some sort of volcanic attachment to them the third one is the one I think also is the fiction. New England adjacent to modern day Morocco. I don't think that's right, I, when we took, am I allowed to say this, am I giving away too much if I state something?

C: What do you know the absolute thing is true?

E: Well no, I don't know the absolute thing is true but what I do know when we took our trip to England in 2018 and we went to the Scottish Highlands, remember what we talked about there and why a lot of the features and things are similar to what we kind of see in in the New England area, is because they were at one point connected. So I don't think it was Morocco, I think it was more of a northern.

C: You think it was only connected to one other landmass?

E: Well no I mean but no, it could have it could have been multiple. They could have all joined at one point.

C: I mean Pangaea was one landmass.

J: The Appalachian trail, those mountain line continues in Scotland.

E: So that's why, that's why I'm thinking the Morocco one, sorry about that, is fiction. So I agree with Jay.

S: Okay Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I've seen the image before of Pangaea and where all the modern continents and countries are all smooshed together. I have no memory of, you know, any of those details, so that's possible. Plymouth Rock, for sure. I mean if you see an isolated gargantuan boulder somewhere, just like kind of by itself, the glacier deposited it. So that that makes perfect sense as well. I mean I have a knee-jerk problem with this volcanic island arc. I've seen images and then and read a lot about Hawaii and how how they the crust moves over the stationary hot spot and the islands forms. And then as it moves off then the volcano dies and then the actual island it gets weathered away to below sea level and it's it's really fascinating. And if you see images of the of the seafloor you could see all these bumps that are going up and you know up and north. But I don't see any compression of anything, I'm not so that's, and I'm sure there could be a geological way that they could compress. But in the images that I've seen of Hawaii of other volcanic arcs I don't see that. So I'm just going to say, because that's all the information I have that that's fiction.

S: Okay. Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Yeah I mean, I, so I visited Morocco so you said modern-day Morocco in Africa. So part of Morocco is the Sahara desert. So geologically that doesn't make a lot of sense. But I think a lot of people maybe don't realize that part of Morocco is also like these massive Atlas mountains and I could see some similarities but also it doesn't look that dissimilar to the Scottish islands, there's definitely something going on there. But when I, it's true, I'm trying to think of like South America and Africa and I thought maybe Morocco was down here, like closer to like halfway through South America. But then I'm like, maybe it was this way and not this way so that one's kind of, it's interesting.

B: Good thought.

C: Plymouth Rock I like with that what that one is seems cromulant, which means it's probably the freaking fiction because he just made it up, because of course that's what he does. The volcanic island arcs is probably science because it's like whoa no way, everybody's gonna think that's the fiction. I guess when I think of of historical volcanic things, there's usually some sort of dormant or act like dormant volcano there. Or like a crater situation and I don't, I don't know enough about New England to know if there's a famous crater or if there's anything like that. But I don't, I don't associate volcanism at all with New England. I associate it with like the west coast, you know the pacific northwest. And and so I don't know it's, that one, but that's probably why it's the freaking science and not the fiction. But I think I think I have to go with my gut and say that, yeah, the it's it's not composed of volcanic island arcs.

S: All right, even split George break the tide.

C: Oh is it really even what did you guys do?

E: Jay and I are Morocco.

C: Oh you guys are Morocco, gotcha.

George's Response[edit]

G: You know as the host of the geologic podcast. (laughter)

E: Oh that's right, damn.

G: You would think I would want to answer this question and I, to me it feels like all three are fiction and it's really confusing me. And the thing that the one that feels the least fictiony to me is the, is the Plymouth Rock one. Because it seems so obvious. So it feels like this was a big big scam here, that Plymouth Rock is like, Plymouth Rock isn't that big, it's like historically, when you hear about it as a kid you think like, oh they landed Plymouth Rock and then you finally make that trip and you go and you see.

C: Oh you've seen it?

G: Yeah, you're like oh okay yeah, that's it.

E: Looks like the Prudential logo.

G: It's not big, it's like not even a, it's not even a VW, it's not even right, it's like yeah it's not that big. So I think it's not it might not be big enough to be one of those glacial things. So I'm gonna to go with that.

C: No sweep, no sweep, no sweep.

J: Don't move forward, don't move forward. Now George isn't it correct that you've gotten every science or fiction wrong?

S: No, he's got, he's got.

G: Almost everything, almost.

C: 0.002%.

[talking over each other]

J: Let me talk to George a little bit more, settle down.

C: He's locked in. I put it to you George.

G: Yes.

J: Costanza your decision and just change it.

C: No! Lock it. Lock it.

J: Statistically I think that's correct.

E: George.

B: Just go with your gut.

E: George if you're right that's an epic victory.

C: I'm that asshole at the poker table, all in, all in.

Audience's Response[edit]

S: All right, let's see what the locals think, all right? So if you think that the volcanic island arc's making New England is the fiction, clap. (lots of claps)

E: That's a lot of people.

S: If you think that Plymouth Rock is the fiction, clap. (claps) And if you think that the New England being next to Morocco is the fiction, clap. (lots of claps)

C: Even split.

S: One and three, even. The least, the least was for George.

C: There were fewer people but they were more emphatic.

G: They were very confident.

C: Yeah, exactly.

G: Very confident clap.

S: Enthusiasm doesn't count.

G: A very confident clap.

S: Enthusiasm doesn't count. It's a numbers game, enthusiasm does not count.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right, so we're all spread out. So we'll take them in order. New England is primarily composed of volcanic island arcs. Bob and Cara, you think that's the fiction. A few people in the audience think that one is the fiction. And that one is...

B: Say it.

S: Science. Because you don't think of New England being a volcanic part of the world but it is. And there's, there is an Atlantic hot spot, just like there's a Hawaiian hot spot in the Pacific. It's dormant now. But in ages past it created these island, volcanic island arcs, which then got smashed into the core of the north American continent. Building it out from the sides. And New England is all of these volcanic island arcs.

C: Wouldn't then by definition make the last one fiction?

S: Why?

C: Well I'm trying to think geologically, if it's volcanic island arcs.

S: It's independent of where they ended up when they were in Pangaea.

C: Well if it's in the middle of Pangaea, okay, okay, we'll see, we'll see, we'll see.

S: I don't understand.

C: I'm just trying to, I don't know the timeline.

S: Yeah that's it, that's the one would be more when there was an Atlantic Ocean. Remember the continents come and go together and apart multiple times. We're talking about four billion years.

J: So didn't all land mass come from volcanic?

S: So yes and no. The, you know, continental shelves basically are on top of the oceanic shelves.

J: Magma. (laughter)

S: Yeah. And so in fact one of the things, what happens (laughs) what happened here in fact, was that when you had an oceanic crust diving, subducting beneath a continental one. That drags down water which gets progressively squeezed out of the rock. That water rises up, causes the magma to then come up, the heat to rise forming the hot spot, which gives you the island chain.

B: Really?

S: Yeah, so that's what's happening, that's when that's what happened in the Atlantic.

C: And what I'm saying is if there was an Atlantic ocean this was geologically likely new or Pangaea had already split.

S: Or it could have been before.

J: If we go back far enough was the Earth ever just a water planet?

S: Yes.

C: Oh yeah.

S: And we still don't know how the first continent's formed, like why there are continents. But these, there are there are theories about the different things that happen but basically the ones that are stable now, they're the ones that are floating on top. Then there is the core of the continents where the rocks got compressed over and over and over again, so they're so rock-solid, you know, they don't go anywhere. New England's not that. New England is more than more recent volcanic islands getting compressed onto the core of the North-American continent.

C: But still not so recent that it's still pre-pangaea.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right so let's go to number two.

G: I'm so anxious.

C: I think you got this George.

S: Plymouth Rock geologically originated in northern Canada and was deposited in its current location by the Laurentide glacier, that's the most recent one, 20,000 years ago. George, you think this one is the fiction. The rest of the rogues think this one is science. Most of the audience thinks this one is science. And this one is the fiction. (applause)

C: Go George.

B: Nice.

C: It was awesome.

J: I was just trying to help.

C: You were just trying to help? I was just trying to help sabotage you.

G: I would have had to reconsider our relationship.

J: Are we still on for tonight?

G: We are so on. It's gonna be better than ever this evening.

S: They're talking about the extravaganza I hope. So yeah so this is it was the obvious one to make a fiction. Now the so the Plymouth Rock is made of local rock, right? It's it originated you know it was moved by the the glacier but a little bit. Not from north, not from northern Canada.

J: How do you know how do you really know?

S: Because we know that. Because you can tell where the rock came from. (laughter)

G: It says 'Plymouth' on it.

S: Like it was literally like maybe 100 miles north in Massachusetts. Like it was moved a little bit. But it was not, didn't come from Canada because they could tell what the source of the the rock is.

J: Why don't they call it Massachusetts Rock then?

S: Well, what to you're what you were saying Jay is going to well you're taking George. It's smaller than you think, that's because it's a lot smaller than it used to be. Sm so you know the early on the story came again whether it's literally true or whatever, that that's the rock they stepped on you know when they landed but so since then people have been chipping away at it for souvenirs.

C: (gasps) Bastards.

S: I mean massively decreasing its size. Then at one point it split in two and they took half of it away and put it in a museum. And then I think they brought it back and they kind of repaired it. And now it's covered so you can't touch it. But yeah it's a lot smaller remnant from what it was originally, so that's part of why it's unimpressive.

E: Oh Plymouth chip now.

C: Do you also, even if it was much bigger, do you think there's a thing about like back then just things weren't as big? Like how big were there, was their boat?

S: Why does that have anything to do with the rock?

C: I just, no, I think there's a perspective thing here. And maybe I'm just working with this in my mind but like I think things are really big now, like engine, from an engineering perspective. Like we're used to seeing really largely engineered. And so great things in nature.

S: Oh I see what you're saying. It was more impressive to them than it would be to us.

C: That's what I'm wondering. Did they see it and go what a big rock and we're like what, it's a rock, you know, because we've seen everything.

J: Cara, the farther back you go the smaller people get.

C: What?

J: I mean the farther back you go people were smaller.

C: That is true.

S: That's not really true.

C: But not that far back. That's kind of true. Nutritionally and yeah.

S: Medieval people were had the same average height as people that around 2 000. It's very recent that the average European height has exceeded.

C: But we're not talking about that long either anyway, we're only talking a few hundred years.

E: But I digress.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All this means, New England was adjacent to modern day Morocco in Africa when part of Pangaea, evidenced by their identical lithographic sequences is science. So yeah so let's imagine Pangaea. So again but there was Gondwanaland, there's like all different, you know, those when the the different continents smashed together. Partly totally and then came apart again. Pangaea is the most recent one. So if you, if you look at the the way it was, so yeah, so Africa was next to South America and then North America was on top of northern Africa, right? So that's where North America and then and like England and Scotland and Europe kind of squeezed right in there. So we we are close to Scotland but but New England was adjacent to Northern Africa, adjacent to Morocco. And we know that based upon lithographic sequences, like if you look at the layers of rocks they exactly match. And there's a and there are the same types of rocks yeah, you see what you're saying? Yeah it seems a little counter-intuitive because it's so far south and and then it was Evan, I was hoping you guys were like, no wasn't it supposed to be next to Scotland, because that kind of makes sense. But no, it's Morocco.

G: Well done Steve.

S: All right, George, well done.

E: Yeah George.


S: I tell you George, it's having confidence and sticking with your guns often pays off on science or fiction. When you go with the crowd sometimes you get burnt.

G: Right Jay?

S: So resisting Jay.

E: The majority of this audience learns something.

S: That's true.

J: I really thought I was helping. (laughter)

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:42:42)[edit]

Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.
John Adams (1735-1826), second president of the United States

S: All right, Evan give us a quote.

E: All right, let's bring it back to Boston, shall we? "Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." John Adams. And if I have to tell you who John Adams is.

S: You're in the wrong time.

C: We need more public media.

S: All right, thank you.

B: And X-ray lenses.

S: Thank you all for joining me this week.

Everyone: Thank you Steve.

S: Thank you Boston for hosting us. (applause)


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

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[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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