SGU Episode 876
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|SGU Episode 876|
|April 23rd 2022|
|(brief caption for the episode icon)|
|SGU 875||SGU 877|
|S: Steven Novella|
|B: Bob Novella|
|C: Cara Santa Maria|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
|Quote of the Week|
|Stupid entropy ruins everything.|
|Jennifer Ouellette, American writer|
Introduction, Bermuda Vacation
Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, April 19th, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone!
S: So I am back from Bermuda, I had a little vacation last week. It was my 30th anniversary 3-0.
C: Oh yay.
E: Wedding anniversary?
S: Yes my wedding anniversary.
J: So you you what, you flew out to Bermuda?
E: You called how long Jocelyn, you said, hey, I'm here. (laughter)
S: We got a direct flight from JFK, it was 90 minutes.
E: Oh beautiful.
J: That's really close.
S: A little faster than average but less than two hours basically from New York to Bermuda. It's a lot further north than people think. It's actually not in the Caribbean, it's not a Caribbean island.
C: No it's the, it's the outermost point of the "triangle".
S: Well yeah, by definition.
C: It's far up.
E: You said the magic word.
C: I mean the triangle is made up of what? Like it's Miami or the Keys, Puerto Rico and Bermuda. So it's like really far away from those two places.
J: Steve did you see any planes like actively being sucked into the ocean?
S: I didn't see, I saw very few planes. So the planes land on the east side of the island, that very tip, like very end of it. And they don't fly over the island. So when you're on the island, you're not really seeing a lot of planes. I don't know if you guys are familiar with it, it's shaped like a J but tilted like 45 degrees on this side. So it's a very very long skinny island.
C: What's the water temperature out there in the middle of the Atlantic?
S: So it's in the jet, it's in the gulf stream, right? So that's why it is semi-tropical, right, because even though it's so far north, it's basically like equal to the Carolinas but it's subtropical because, it's because of the gulf stream. So it gets a lot of warm water. However at the end of the winter is when the water is at its coldest and then it warms up in the spring. So when we were there actually the water was warming up while we were there. We go from day to day it was a little bit warmer. But when we first got there it was fairly cold. The locals tell us that they start swimming in the ocean in May. So by then it's swimmable. And then through through the summer of course it'll be swimmable.
C: Nice. Yeah, Atlantic waters can be, well I guess it all depends on where you are, but so warm. I remember going to Puerto Rico and being like oh my gosh the ocean feels like bath water.
C: And I'm so used to the ocean out here in California it's like frigid, you can't get in it unless you're in a wetsuit.
S: Yeah I think it's just all the gulfstream.
J: So did you ride scooters?
S: We didn't, you know, so it, it's again, getting around the island was interesting. So here's my quick skinny on Bermuda especially if you're in the northeast of the United States, it's actually a it's the closest, you know, like tropical paradise you can get to. It's beautiful, you know, we had a great time there. On the plus side it's, you know, they definitely, like tourism is one of their major industries, the whole place is set up to be tourist friendly. They make it very easy to even though it's a foreign country, you know, it's very easy to get in and out of. And they accept the American dollar one-to-one with the Bermuda dollar. I think they must just fix the Bermuda dollar to the American dollar, so everyone just accepted the American currency one to one. And everyone is super friendly, like everyone is incredibly friendly.
E:' That's their, that's their industry.
S: And not just like at the hotel like I mean we were, we were at one point we walked up like the middle of the island on the old railroad trail, there used to be a railroad that goes there, and, but that's gone, there wasn't even any railroad ties or anything, it's just a path now, it's just a trail. But it's basically going mostly through residential areas and we would walk by people in their backyard and they would be super friendly to us. Also like like when you ride in a taxi like the taxi driver like beeps and points and waves at every other driver. Because, you know, obviously there's like 60 000 or something people who are─
C: A small town.
E: Oh everyone knows them.
S: ─yeah live permanently in Bermuda, yeah, residents. And yeah but they say, all the taxi drivers chatted with us while we were you know getting a ride and they said yeah it's a small small place. And not that everyone knows everyone but, you know, especially if you're like I guess all the taxi drivers know each other. Sometimes they were shout out by name. But it was just like a super friendly environment and culture. Very, very nice. The downside is it's kind of expensive.
B: Oh really?
C: Well you when you said that they fixed their dollar to the dollar one to one that definitely right there tells you, and plus you're going to be paying a, well hey it's it's a remote island, so shipping is expensive, just getting supplies there.
J: You can't drive anything there it's like all imported.
E: Yeah for example, do you have a for example Steve on that?
S: On the, on the expensive thing?
S: Well yeah, just everything, the restaurants were the worst. They were like twice as much as what you would pay for the same food here.
S: I don't think that's a shipping, think about it─
C: There's also a tourist situation there too.
S: ─all of our food is shipped in too. Like even in Connecticut, we're not, we're mostly eating food that is shipped a lot farther away than getting to Bermuda, so I don't really think that's the issue.
C: Well there, I do think there are some like if you think about Hawaii that is a real, supply chain issues are real.
S: That's different yeah, that's different Bermuda is close.
C: Yeah it's further away, that's true.
S: It's not that big a deal you think about it, you buying, you're eating your potatoes from Idaho, does it matter? It's closer to Bermuda than probably to some parts of the United States.
B: What about fish dinners?
S: A lot of seafood, of course, it's an island.
B: You'd think that would be cheaper.
C: No but you're also paying for tourist prices.
S: So here's the thing, it's not, it's actually not tourism is part of it but here's the big reason and─
B: Aliens right?
S: ─no it's in the 90s I think finance eclipsed tourism as the number one industry in Bermuda. And the guy, so one of the taxi drivers who's been born and raised or lived there his whole life he gave us the whole history like financially at Bermuda is like. It was great in that it brought a lot of money into the island. But he said but that was the inflection point where everything became expensive. Because now you have a bunch of millionaires buying up 10 million dollar homes and willing to pay lots of money for everything and so everything became expensive. So that was, that was the point at which it really got out of control. And to the point, to the point where like a lot of younger Bermudans had to leave. They couldn't make a living there. Just became too expensive to live there.
C: So even when you like leave the the hotel kind of areas─
S: Oh yeah, everywhere.
C: ─yeah unlike when I was, I was just in Puerto Vallarta and it's like you know the peso is is weak compared to the dollar, I think it's 120th. And when you're out in the city everything's really cheap. But of course when you go to like tourist trap areas, thing were more expensive.
S: It wasn't just a tourist trap. Although that that did add a yet another layer to the expense. But it was it was basically just an expensive cost of living is expensive there, that's the problem.
C: That's unfortunate.
S: Yeah, yeah it is. So it's kind of a double-edged sword, you know, that the finance coming in because it did, it did bring money to the island but it raised, raised the cost of living there. The, so getting around the island so if, you're if you're not a permanent resident you cannot rent a car, right, it's not an option.
S: So there was a bus system we used that a few times, it was fine, you know, the bus system is fine. They have, the taxis are fine. We were happy to, to give money to the locals who were driving the taxi, so we didn't really care about that. If you really, if you want to rent something to get around, you could rent scooters or twizzies. You guys ever heard of twizzy?
B: Nope, never.
S: That was I think the most popular thing for visitors to do, so it's basically an all-electric vehicle, it's one person wide so you're basically sitting in the middle of it and it only sits one person across. But it's it's two people front to back. But it like barely fits two people. It is small.
J: It's kind of like a quad, right? It's like a quad that has a cabin.
S: Yeah, kind of, it's four four wheel but it's two people─
C: But not big crazy off-road tires.
S: ─the person would have to squeeze into the back. And the thing is the traffic, there's there's no highways, right? I mean the traffic is all slow everywhere. And it's, you know, it's a it's a British colony so everyone drives on the left. You know you wouldn't, I wouldn't feel like the traffic is not dangerous but here's one thing about it. It's not very pedestrian friendly because, you know, it's a volcanic island, right? And the, you know, geologically it's basically all volcanic rock and it's not a huge cliff or a mountain but it's very hilly and so the roads are essentially cut out of the volcanic rock. And they made them just wide enough for the two lanes of traffic, there's no shoulder there is no place to walk.
E: Nowhere to walk.
S: And some of the bus stations are literally a pole on the side of the road. Like I don't even know where you're supposed to stand.
B: Jesus, wow.
S: No so you really, so a couple of times, now some of the more residential areas did have shoulders and did have there were a couple of sidewalks here and there, but you couldn't really walk the main roads. I mean you could but you have to just count on cars driving around you, because you're walking in the road you know you there is no side of the road and sometimes it's literally a wall, you know, on the side of the road. So it's not very pedestrian friendly, so that's why we generally either took a taxi or took a bus. We did do a little bit of walking then it was a little bit scary at times. We would look both ways for traffic and then run to the next sidewalk, you know, before too many cars had to go by. But very very nice, I definitely think we'll be going back. It's, you know, just a very close, quick. You could, you could take a long weekend there, you know what I mean? Like it's so close.
C: Did you get a tan?
S: I did. I got a little bit of a tan, more than I wanted to but yeah.
B: UV sucks.
S: Yeah, I just don't, I don't like to expose my skin to UV light.
J: So what was your absolute favorite thing about the experience?
S: I probably, there was, there was some birding there, you know, so we went to this, is called Spittle's Pond and it was, that was, that was a fun day. So it was yeah, there was lots of good pictures, just good nature walks. We went to the, we were there on Good Friday and Good Friday apparently is Kite Flying Day on the island. They flight─
C: Kites? Fun.
S: kites on other times but that's like the big day. And there's a traditional Bermuda kite. It's like round or octagonal and it's called a hummer because it has a thing in the middle that spins it makes a humming noise when you─
S: ─when you fly it.
C: I haven't flown a kite since I was a child. I don't think.
C: How fun.
S: Yeah it was a lot of fun.
B: Last time I saw a kite it was on Reddit and it was lifting a little kid up in the air. I mean.
B: I mean it was crazy. And I think it was real.
E: Right. 70% chance of it being real.
Vaping and Brain Inflammation (10:55)
S: All right let's move on to our news items. We haven't spoken about vaping on the show, I don't think. Cara, you're going to tell us about the effects of vaping on brain inflammation.
C: Right, so, you know there's a lot of literature out there on vaping but when you read most articles about vaping one of the main things they say is there's not a lot of literature out there on vaping. And I think it's it's because it's new and because very often we're comparing it to the bananas huge body of literature on cigarettes, right, and on the the detriments of cigarettes. So there's a study that was published in a journal, I didn't know this journal before but I have to admit I really like it, it's an open access journal called eLife and so anybody can read this study and this, I'm gonna take a quick aside because this was my favorite part of this, reading this study. It's got all these different sections right like most scientific articles have the abstract, they have the introduction, the results or the materials and methods, the results, the discussion, the different appendices with all the data. They also have all of the raw data available to you. But, they fully, openly publish their editor's notes. So basically when scientists submit there's always like something that the editors don't like. So they say hey we'd like for you to do like this much further investigation or can you explain this better or we think your language was strong here. And then the scientists reply and say thank you for that, this is how we think about it and here's a change that we made and there's a back and forth. This journal publishes that entire back and forth.
C: I know, it's really cool.
B: That's cool, I like that.
C: Yeah, so you can really see like what, they maybe were a little too, their language was too strong at the beginning or where they needed to clean up and add a little bit to make the study more robust.
B: Remove curse words, you know.
C: (laughs) Yeah, you know, some of some of the f-bombs we should take out. So this was a a study with a lot of authors it looks like from like VA San Diego, UCSD, so University of California San Diego. In this study they said okay we would like to know how one very specific type of vape affects the whole body. And so they, you know, they say in their introduction, a lot of studies look at specific organ systems but they were like we want to see what happens if we expose mice to vape. And we want to do both an acute model and a chronic model so they do this, it's a twice a day paradigm in one group for one month. Oh sorry, it's a three time a day paradigm, I apologize, three times a day daily. In one group they do it for one month and then they also do it for three months. Because they want to see the difference. And they look at not just the brain, because you did mention neuroinflammation, but they also look at the lungs, the heart and the colon. Mostly what they were looking at were inflammatory markers. So although they didn't often see direct evidence of inflammation, they saw upregulation of genes or proteins that are responsible for inflammation. And that's, that's mostly what they reported on. There were some examples where they actually saw. And there were some examples where they actually saw a reduction, which is why very often the, the authors use the word in their, in their discussion immunomodulation. As opposed to just inflammation or upregulation because there are some places where they actually saw down regulation. If I could kind of generally summarize, oh and there's another really interesting thing about the study but we'll get there, they looked at two different flavors and they saw different outcomes. So that's kind of weird. But there's a possible explanation here. So, the thing that they were really interested in. It was, they wanted to look at one of the most famous products on the market, JUUL, and they wanted to look at their sort of fourth gen, their most recent style of vape which is these pods. And these pods are interesting because most studies a, are done with like the older version of the vape pens. But these pods actually have more nicotine than basically anything on the market. I think at one point they described it as a single pod, because you both, I guess you basically just vape off of the pod until it's empty. A single pod has more nicotine than a whole pack of cigarettes.
J: What? Wait, how long would it take to use a single pod, like is it?
C: It probably completely varies based on the person. But you know given that there's no marker, the way that, with cigarettes there's a marker. Like people can say I smoke a pack a day or I smoke a half a pack a day or I only have two cigarettes a day. But with this it's like they just smoke it until it's empty. And I wonder if there is a psychological difficulty there in in being able to modulate your own use. If you don't have any of those, you know, I'm not lighting a new cigarette. And so you know I think we very often hear conversations about e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools. And although sometimes the literature I think kind of poo-poos on that a little bit more strongly than they could, I think the concern is that if we really think about this in a binary way. Either they're good for you or they're bad for you, this becomes really dangerous. Because of course there are e-cigarettes on the market that don't have nicotine. And of course there are some good papers that show that people who slowly but surely drop their nicotine level until they're no longer smoking nicotine at all and then quit, but it helps them quit. But what these researchers were looking at were pod-based e-cigarettes. These JUUL devices that only came out in the last five years or so, that have high levels of nicotine in them. And there are a lot of users of these and sadly the, I think it's 12 million adults that use e-cigarettes totally, and the highest rates are among 18 to 24 year olds. And they're flavored, right? And so that's that's a whole other conversation, a regulatory conversation. So here they looked at mint flavor and mango flavor. But get this, at the time they were the most popular choices, that's why they chose them. I know. Now they're no longer made these two specific pods that they were doing the research on. And so they modeled the use, like I said by exposing young adult mice three times a day for three months. But they also looked at changes after a single month and then they looked at the aggregate changes after three months. And they did see neuro inflammation after three months. They specifically saw it in in the nucleus accumbens, both in the core and in the shell. And they saw it in the hippocampus. And the reason that these two regions are important and the reason that the researchers talk a bit about these two regions being important with this gene expression of inflammatory markers, is that uh they're involved in behavior modification and and heavily in, you know, reward, drug reward, drug seeking behaviors, addiction behaviors. And even some, I mean they call it like anxious or depressive behaviors. I think they're more referring to mood in the nucleus accumbens but there is a concern here that that if there is inflammation in this area that that could have some bearing behaviorally on addiction levels and on mood which can sort of be associated with addiction. They also did find some changes to cardiac tissue and the weird thing is these alterations to the inflammatory state were not very easy to point to. There was actually some down regulation at the three-month part in the cardiac tissue. And so you might think sort of on the surface maybe that mean, you know, it's reducing inflammation, maybe that's heart healthy. But what they found or what they're concerned about is no maybe that actually means that it's it's depressing an immune response in the heart. And that's, you know, disconcerting as well. So we don't know how these things translate to actual health in human subjects. Because we're looking at gene expression in adult mice. But what they found again was that the nucleus accumbens both the core, accumbens, both the core and the shell and the hippocampus saw some neuromodulation. They saw changes in these inflammatory markers in the in the heart. They saw changes to inflammatory markers in the colon and they also saw some changes in the lung. But they were not what they expected, they expected pathophysiologic changes in the lung and they actually didn't see them. So they didn't see alteration to airway response. They didn't see some of the expected alterations that they, that they thought that they might see. And I think that's an interesting outcome in and of itself. They didn't see emphysema and they didn't see overt inflammation. But of course there are massive limitations to this study. Number one, three months is their chronic condition, that's not really that long. So you know it's like there's always going to be limitations when you're doing laboratory work because it doesn't directly translate to people. And then lastly there was this interesting effect that they saw, where the mint pods seem to have a stronger inflammatory effect, especially in cardiac and colonic tissue. Compared to the mango pods. And when they looked they recognized that the nicotine concentrations were the same, but the flavoring compounds the chemicals that actually make the flavorings were different. One of them was based on something called ethyl maltol, that's how they made the mango flavors. And then they actually used menthol concentration to make the mint flavor. And there is a concern here that there is a negative outcome simply from the flavor ends not specifically due to the nicotine.
E: And is that consistent with tobacco.
C: I was gonna say, it kind of jives with the idea of all those different carcinogens that you would see in tobacco. When you would burn the paper and the glue and there was like so many different compounds that were discovered over the years. And so yeah it's an interesting study because it's not as clean as you would think. You know, they had some hypotheses and not all of them were confirmed. Their, their sample size was small and that was one of the concerns from the editors. But they also replied that they did do a power analysis in advance and they didn't want to collect more data beyond what their power analysis told them to collect, you know, because they didn't want to alter those outcomes.
B: What's the power analysis?
C: Oh power analysis is is, there's different software programs that you can use but it's a statistical way to in advance to say okay, I'm going to do this type of statistic. Like I'm going to do a chi-square or I'm going to do an ANOVA or an ANCOVA and I want to make sure that if I'm looking for a difference between groups that the difference is large enough to recognize. Right? Like it's going to be 25% difference or 5% difference. And you set all those parameters and then you calculate how many samples you need to collect in order to achieve that power in your study. Because if you're doing let's say 20 contrasts, you're going to need way more, a much higher n than if you're going to do one contrast.
C: And so a power analysis allows you to set your statistics in advance so that you don't end up inadvertently p-hacking for example.
B: I was going to ask about that. I like that, if it's trying to deal with that, even indirectly.
C: Yeah that's one of the things that I thought it's funny, because this study is interesting and of course the write-ups around it are interesting like hey, vaping is not great you guys. Like look at these things that we're seeing, we're seeing inflammation in the brain, we're seeing changes to cardiac immuno response, we're seeing changes in the colon, we're seeing changes, you know, across the the body of these mice. This is not, this is worrisome at minimum. But the other thing that I thought was interesting was this study is a very cool explanation of how science is done. Because the curtain is completely peeled back. And so for those of you who are interested in reading more about the process of doing science, this this allows you to kind of peep into that in a cool way.
C: eLife, yeah. Very cool.
S: Yeah so it's, it is complicated, the whole vaping thing. It may be helpful in some situations but it's not entirely benign itself. And there's been a lot of hand-wringing in terms of like public health policy should be before it or against it.
C: Right and in some ways it may be, it may be worse, you know, in some ways it may be better, like we said, helping people quit smoking if they follow these protocols and they do it appropriately. But for some people, you know, I think they make a false dichotomy. They go, well at least I'm not smoking cigarettes and it's like or maybe you should not be smoking at all.
S: Yeah, right.
C: Because a lot you know vaping is attractive to younger people, it doesn't make you cough as much it does it's not as aggressive like it doesn't feel as aggressive so it probably feels safer there are these psychological issues that come into play.
S: And it does lead some people to to smoking tobacco.
C: Oh for sure, for sure. And also like one of the, the mint ones that I was telling you that they had different effects in the lungs specifically. They found that some of the changes, the gene expression changes, actually are correlated with sensitivity to downstream infection. So for example the changes after they used the mint vape as opposed to the mango vape made those mice more sensitive to catching and becoming sicker from bacterial pneumonia. So so it's it's it's even more complicated than just is it or isn't it bad for you in and of itself.
J: You know, I think a good rule of thumb is breathe in air only.
E: Yeah you kind of wonder if there were no tobacco or no none of those products, would would vaping have ever come into existence, would they've ever stumbled upon.
C: Right, like it's just the, the faster horse, right, is this the car. And I think there was one other thing that I didn't mention because it wasn't directly studied in this study but they did mention it in the introduction, so it has been studied before. Apparently the size of the actual molecules when you vape are smaller so they get deeper into the lungs.
S: And of course you have to you know emphasize that because of the way they did this research these results should be considered preliminary and need to be confirmed. Because they were kind of shotgunning like looking for everything and just to see what was out there. So until these results get replicated we really can't say you know if they're real let alone what the implications are.
All right but thanks for going over all of that Cara
Projectile Fusion (25:20)
- Nuclear fusion breakthrough: 'Holy grail' of power production closer to reality after UK start-up develops new technique for accelerating fuel at 200 times the speed of sound
S: Jay, tell us about projectile vomiting, I mean projectile fusion. (laughter)
C: Oh man.
S: Projectile fusion. What is this?
C: I love projectile vomiting.
E: No, stop Cara. (Cara laughs)
J: Okay guys this is awesome. Only if this is true though but you know this is this seems to be legitimate. (laughter) Scientists have now crafted a new way to achieve nuclear fusion. Guys, a brand new way to do it.
B: What the hell man?
J: Today yo let's give a quick description here. So today's concept of a fusion reactor is you have a a very very powerful magnetic field that's shaped in this very odd shape it's called a taurus.
J: Doughnut, right, right it's, doughnut's close enough. It's like a bent doughnut. And then they, that is containing plasma which is fantastically hot and it's very complicated. It's an, it's a feat of engineering in a bigger and more complicated than probably anything other than maybe the hadron collider. I don't know, probably more complicated than that.
B: So yeah Jay so that's the tokamak method and but there's also another way using inertial confinement that's also showing some promising success so there's definitely more ways to skin that cat. But now you've got another way to skin the cat.
J: Here's another way, you're ready Bob?
J: Just to give more info, so this company originally came from the University of Oxford. I guess a team that was working there branched off and started this company. So they have a new approach and it's called, like Steve said, projectile fusion not vomiting.
C: (laughs) Damn.
J: Although if vomiting could help the world I would, I would encourage it. And this idea guys, the original idea here came from the pistol shrimp. Remember that dude? They can punch your socks off─
J: ─that shrimp that could break the glass. It can shoot its arm so fast that it's like a bullet.
S: Yeah this is the pistol shrimp, it's similar. It's like snapping its claw, right, then and that it moves so fast, it's the fastest moving I think animal appendage in the world.
B: Right, that was science or fiction.
S: And it causes like a cavitation in the water with a little mini boom there.
J: Cara let me put it to you like this, he could punch your mouth loose.
C: I don't wanna loose mouth.
J: Yeah, all right, so anyway, so this procedure is less complicated than than the fusion reactors that they're building today. And you know everyone is scrambling to build these things and who's going to you know figure out all the engineering first. Well according to First Light Fusion their reactor is not only less complicated but it's less expensive. And it's more energy efficient. Now let me get into some details here. They believe that their technique is going to be the fastest way to commercial fusion which essentially means, you know, selling electricity to the world. So how does it work? They shoot a hundred gram projectile. 200 times the speed of sound from a two-stage, get this, hyper velocity gas gun, right? So they're shooting this little projectile only, only 100 grams. And they're shooting it at a pellet that contains the fusion fuel. You follow me so far?
J: Now we're talking about to get back to the speed here. 200 times the speed of sound. 14 540 miles per hour or 23 399 kilometers per hour. That is fast. I think we all agree on that. When the projectile hits the fuel target it accelerates the fuel to 156 586 miles per hour or 252 000 kilometers per hour. That's fast.
E: Pretty fast.
B: Wait, wait, how could it something going, what, 11 or 12 000 miles an hour accelerates something to go and 10 times that speed?
S: From what I understand to explain that Bob, so you have the target that the projectile is being shot into. That target contains the pellet of fuel like deuterium. And but also it's designed in such a way that when it gets hit, again, like the pistol shrimp, it causes this shock wave from the cavitation of the material, right? Just like the pistol shrimp causes cavitation in the water. Then you get these overlapping shock waves bearing down on the pellet of fuel compressing it even further and accelerating it to these crazy speeds. You know, 10 times the speed of the projectile itself and causing the fusion.
J: And this, and that, and what the company says is this brings about a pulse of fusion. Fusion energy. So let me give now more details. This new method absolutely does it does sound much safer and simpler than traditional fusion reactors that have to create the how is powerful magnetic field, you know, that's holding in the super hot plasma. So when this technique is used in a large scale fusion reactor. And what I mean by that is when it goes commercial, when they build the big one that's going to really do it, they will first drop the pellet that contains the nuclear fusion fuel into the reaction chamber, right? So they're just dropping it down, it goes down into the reaction chamber, then the projectile is shot down the same hole, that that the the fuel pellet was dropped into. And it'll be timed perfectly, so it hits the fuel at the exact moment it needs to. And this will create a pulse of fusion energy, because the energy from the projectile is transferred to the pellet which ignites the fuel. The reactor chamber is filled with liquid lithium, that's there to absorb the heat that's created by the reaction. And then of course it goes through the same process as any other reactor goes, right? So the chamber, this giant release of energy happens. So the lithium actually protects the chamber from the gigantic release of energy. And this is important because in the other fusion reactor designs this stage actually is very difficult to engineer to make everything work and to make it safe. So, you know, collecting the energy from the magnet based reactors, they haven't even fully figured it out yet. They then transfer the heat from the lithium to water and then what happens guys? Water generates steam, the stem turns the turbine, the turbine generates electricity and there you have it, that's how every single, you know, power plant ends up just turning water into steam. So this process would repeat every 30 seconds. Even though the pellet of fuel is super small, only a few millimeters. Like I said that energy that's released could generate enough power to, all right guys, let me ask you this. So we have this tiny little millimeter size pellet of fuel that gets hit by the the projectile, it ignites, creates fusion and releases enough energy to do what? I'm curious to know what your guess would be?
S: Light a light bulb?
E: You mean what can we power with this?
J: Yeah, how much power does it generate.
S: About a hundred?
J: A hundred. A little bit more than a hundred. So it could power a UK, an average UK sized home for over two years.
B: Wait a second man.
J: So every 30, every 30 seconds.
B: Are you sure?
J: That's what they said.
B: Millimeters, a millimeter sized amount of fuel.
J: Every 30 seconds.
B: For two years?
E: That's a lot of energy.
J: It sounds like a lot, I know, I'm that, but look, we're a skeptical podcast. Your skepticism is appreciated. (laughter) People need to read further into this, this is what is being said. I'm, I'm just a messenger here, don't get angry with me. Bob, I thought that was a lot too.
B: The energy density of nuclear fuel is too far higher than chemical energy that's one of the benefits of fusion.
J: They've proven that the physics works and that the thing can function the way that they've designed it. The company is saying other things like, every time that they hit a wall like like an engineering wall, they quickly figure out how to get past it. The engineering that they have to come up with isn't, isn't that bad and it's achievable. They're saying, you know, they think that by the 2030, let me give you the quote from the company just to say in their words. First, they, they've only spent 45 million pounds on their, on their design and that's not a lot of money. And they've gotten a very long way in the process here. They're saying, and I quote First Light is "working towards a pilot plant producing ~150 MW of electricity and costing less than $1 billion in the 2030s." So, you know, this is a decade. Decade plus away, that's not that far. And, you know I think that if they haven't thought of the things that are going to stop them from getting to the finish line it's it's unlikely according to everything I read that they haven't been able to forecast everything. That's the beauty of this this simpler design.
E: And no replication yet?
J: I don't think so Ev, I mean this is one company that you know this is their idea. They came out of a legitimate institution, you know, the idea was so good that they, you know, that they're pushing it to go to market you know they're trying to get there as quick as they can. I'm excited, you know, I like hearing stuff like this because it sounds promising. Until I, you know hear and read more you know it just right now it seems really great. Just a really cool thing that that was discovered.
S: So Jay it sounds like each time they drop the fuel and then they they hit the target and it fuses, it's like a pulse of energy.
J: Yeah, it's like this big pshh, right there's a huge explosion.
S: It's a putt, yeah so they're not creating sustained fusion.
J: No, that's that.
S: They're just getting a, that's that's probably where the simplicity comes in. Because creating sustained fusion is why it's really hard. Every 30 seconds. So what's happening is they that the, you know, so there is more more complicated physics here than I described. But it is essentially what I said. And you know they do it, they do it after 30 seconds and you know Steve, maybe they have 10 000 of these things, you know, happening all at the same time.
S: All right but here so, the thing is, what all I'm reading so far is that they made fusion happen, which is nice, you know, because that's a prerequisite for all this working. But you know, when did the first like tokamak or─
S: ─get any fusion at all, it was like 40 years ago yeah. And and we're still 20 years away I would say at least from, if the other, you know, methods, any of the other methods working. So just the fact that they made fusion happen is actually not that big a deal. So the questions that I have that I'm not seeing answered in any of those, I still think we're at the like press release level in terms of the information that we're getting, is, are they generating more energy than it takes to make this happen in the first place. So until they get to that point this is not a useful process. And I didn't see them say that which makes me suspicious, right, why would you not say that, if, unless you, did you read that anywhere, that it produces excess energy.
J: No it's not, you know, you're right Steve, it's not producing excess energy yet.
S: That's a big bragging point if you get to that point and and the absence of saying that─
B: That's telling.
S: ─that they're not there yet.
J: Yeah, I agree, like they're, they they're not there yet because they haven't built the facility to to handle that yet, right? But who knows, you know, how this goes, right, we hear lots of stuff like this. I mean we're skeptical, I'm skeptical of it too but the, you know, that's part of the exercise here.
S: It's an interesting idea it's an interesting idea because, you know, obviously the hard part with fusion is getting the pressure and temperature necessary to make it happen. And it's it's real, that's what's really hard to do that. So here they said okay, we're just going to make it happen for a moment and make it produce fusion, get the energy out of that to produce electricity and then move on, rather than trying to have sustained fusion. And that, that's a very interesting idea. So we'll see if it works out. But you know, this whole all we have to do is scale it up thing we know how that goes.
J: In five to ten years Steve, five to ten years.
S: Yeah, five to ten years. So I'm not hearing anything that tells me this can't possibly work. I think it's a great idea. I'm glad that they're researching it and they seem to be making progress, but we can't pop the champagne quirks yet.
S: Until they actually are producing excess energy it's still theoretical.
J: Cara what, what do you got Cara? (laughter)
C: I just wanna know, this is probably the most naive question but like, is this dangerous? Are there ethical considerations around doing this?
S: There's only 10% chance that the world will blow up. (laughter)
E: Oh yeah and 1% chance of a black hole.
J: No, I mean Cara, from my understanding, the second that a fusion reactor like the ones that we've been reading about for the last 20 years, you know, if their magnetic field fails the whole thing just shuts down and it's like you know it's not going to like do anything like it's not going to have a gigantic explosion or anything.
S: It's, it's hard to make fusion happen, so it's not like you're going to get runaway fusion.
C: Right, right. But when you do make it happen, is it like, you know, is it perfectly contained? Is it like, are there concerns around that?
B: Fusion classically has as much much much lesser of a you know radiation, radioactivity footprint than than classical than fission.
S: Than fission yeah.
B: Fission is dirty as hell, fusion is is much better in that regard. Not perfect but it's much much better in that regard. And, I do wanna say that this is a form of inertial confinement. So if you've got tokamak and then there's inertial confinement and inertial confinement has been done by many, by some labs where they basically shoot like dozens of lasers at a pellet and they make it all heat and compress into into a tiny little, you know, into a tiny dot that causes the fusion. So this is a variation on the inertial fusion technique. Which is, it sounds cool to me, I love how simple it is and I definitely want to read more about it.
J: And Cara, jazz fusion is perfectly safe, don't even think about it.
C: I don't know that, that shit is dangerous.
J: Thank shit will know you out.
E: There's this fusion restaurant down the street, oh my god, it's so good.
S: What about Asian fusion?
J: I love it. Now I'm hungry.
S: All right. Thanks Jay. Hopefully we'll be reporting on this in the future and it just made our book obsolete, okay.
J: Steve, I know, right? Curses.
S: We're gonna be, one of our plans is literally, because like it's painful, because you have the book like the, actually today I sent them my final approval of the final edits of whatever.
E: Oh it's so outdated.
S: It's like it's slowly becoming outdated as every new things come in, I'm like oh I want to add that to the book.
E: The book medium is though.
C: I'm just finishing an, an academic book, like I'm co-editing so I didn't write the whole thing right, but we're editing and bringing in all these chapters so it's put so much work into it. And I'm pretty sure the new DSM like just came out or it's about to come out. I'm like, oh god, we have to change every single chapter.
S: Yeah, I know.
E: And then finally in 2014.
J: It's the only thing, it's the only time that progress in the world hurts a little bit.
S: But we're gonna maintain a website where we keep updating the stuff in the book though.
C: Yeah that's smart.
J: That's easy for you to say Steve.
S: It's easier, that's the plan.
E: He's not doing it.
Facilitated Communication Still Pseudoscience (41:30)
S: You guys remember facilitated communication.
J: Oh yeah.
B: I don't wanna talk about it.
S: First introduced in the 1980s. It was all the rage for a while. So, the idea of facilitated communication is that some people who have cognitive problems, either like some types of autism or other types of developmental difficulty. That they can't communicate, now it may be that they can't communicate because they don't have the ability to communicate, meaning that they don't their brain that can't process language in words and they can't understand it. But the but the thinking is that there may be some people who have more ability to communicate than we can see because they have other things that are keeping them from using words, from speaking.
C: Right so there may be psychological or other types of development or whatever they have but their language centers are intact.
S: Or if not intact, they're good enough that they have─
S: ─they have an inner, like a hidden inner intellectual life. They can understand words but for whatever reason they're physically not able to speak and or or type or whatever. And so the idea of facilitated communication was that we're going to break through their physical limitations in order to communicate with them, right? So classically the way I've seen works is that you would hold the hand of your client and you would help them point to letters on a letterboard. And spell it out.
C: Yeah, is an Ouija.
S: Exactly, it's like a Ouija board.
E: Not even.
S: Unfortunately this became popular in the late 80s and early 90s before it was really studied. And when people started studying it appropriately, meaning that they were putting the proper controls in place, it became very quickly obvious that the facilitators were the authors of the communication, not the clients, right? That they were pointing the finger at the letters through the ideomotor effect, you know, subconsciously. And the client who they were allegedly communicating with was not doing any of the communicating. And that was it was really scandalous at the time. They were like sincere speech therapists and people involved who were who genuinely believed that it worked and they were devastated that it was all self-deception.
C: Yeah it reminds me a lot of the whole like memory regression hypnosis phenomenon.
S: Totally, false memory syndrome, absolutely.
C: False memory syndrome and like the court cases.
E: Around the same time.
C: Yeah, and there were you know relatively legitimate practitioners who just hadn't done their research sadly. They wanted to believe it.
S: Yep yep They didn't do their due diligence and horrible things happened, people were sent to prison based upon facilitated communication testimony.
S: One, one famous, yeah. one famous case of a facilitator who basically fell in love with her client and had sex with him.
J: Oh my god.
S: And she was essentially seducing herself through her own subconscious.
C: Saying oh but they consented.
S: They consented, they consented through FC. So it's dangerous, it's dangerous. It actually steals the voice of of the client. And it's, and so since it was proven, you know, that there were issues with authorship, the professional organizations have really warned against it, they're they're very hard against the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for example has a very clear position paper. They are against FC in all of its forms. Now you would think after all of that that it would have faded away or at least gone to the fringe. And it's sort of on the fringe but it's actually a lot more mainstream than you might think.
B: Oh, come on.
S: It's never really gone away. I, I've brought it up a couple of times over the years. The one time, remember the the the Hoben case or the the, I believe it was a dutch person who was in a in as an adult, was in an accident and and was now is now non-communicative, non-verbal. Not persistent vegetative but pretty close. And and the neurologist thought that oh this, you know, person actually has much more intellectual capability than we than we thought. And that was all based upon a facilitated communication, you know, specialist. The video there is extremely enlightening, if you and and, I linked to this when I wrote about it, I linked to it again on science based medicine.
B: Steve is that the one where you is that the one where you could actually see that the person that was being facilitated wasn't even looking at the keys.
S: Yes, yeah.
B: Not even looking.
S: Yeah so that, which is also, was, you know, that's also the classic you know FC that that was one of the case, that was a lot of the cases were like that. Where they're, they're not looking at the board, which makes it impossible. But even if they were, this person, so that the idea is that he's subtly cueing the facilitator to tell them which letter he wants to point to.
C: He was minimally conscious?
S: Yes exactly.
C: Yikes, yeah, yikes.
S: Which I, which a neurologically intact person could not do, the way, and on the video you see the facilitator like rapidly typing on the board, like super fast and they're intently looking at the board, the other the client is just barely looking at it, or not looking at it at all. It's just absolutely, it's impossible, it's physically impossible for that to be happening, right?
S: So anyway, so there are cases like that where like it's a 100% that client is not doing the communication. And then of course the simple thing you do is you blind it. You give information only to the client, you give different information to the facilitator, and you say which information gets communicated. It's always the information you give to the facilitator. All right.
B: It's trivially easy, I mean it's really like a joke how easy it is.
C: It's almost like James Randi's test, like it's that simple.
S: It's a simple test, it doesn't have to be a complicated study. All right, but, there is essentially a cult of FC that exists within the medical, speech therapy, you know, and psychology world, right? And so how do they keep alive the idea of facilitated communication? Well they've morphed it, they've morphed it into different forms. They they do a few things. So one is simple rebranding─
S: ─they've rebranded, rebranded it into something called Rapid Prompting Method or RPM, right? Rapid Prompting Method. It's FC, that's just what it is. So the, here's the big difference. They don't hold the client's hand, they hold the board in front of the client, right? So now, instead of moving the client's hand, they move the board!
E: Oh my gosh.
C: (laughs) I love how you just said that.
E: It's like the Ouija board you're moving the board instead of the [inaudible].
S: They could say, we're not touching the client, so we're not doing FC. It's like yeah but you're still. (Cara laughs) So the thing is if the client is doing the pointing, if they're the author, why isn't the board on a stand? Why are you holding it at all?
C: Yeah why isn't everything stationary.
S: Yeah so anyway, so professionals call that facilitator dependent communication, right, so they essentially, any method where it's possible that the communication is facilitator dependent is not real. And it's not valid and it should be looked at with extreme caution. Now I watched a lot of videos of this, of RPM, one of them was just apps, it was so bad. And it's a mother working with a daughter so it's obviously very sad. And the daughter's very alert and interactive and smiling and everything and emotionally, you know, there's definitely some interaction going on. But they, they're you know they're they look non-verbal or non-communicative, and it's so obvious watching this video that the mother is forcing what the output that she's looking for. But let me give you the most blatant example. She asks her daughter a 50:50 question, right? Is it A or B? And the correct answer is A. She clearly points to B, like insistently points to B. The mother doesn't react it just look just keeps looking at her and then she gives her another nudge, like you tell me and then she switched, the daughter switches her answer to a which is like that's correct you are correct─
E: Oh my gosh.
S: ─she whisks away the board to the next task.
C: I mean this is like the age old.
E: That's ridiculous.
C: Ugh it's like.
E: Clever Hans.
S: It's clever Hans, that's it.
C: It's clever Hans, it's every police interrogation that ends up getting thrown out later.
S: It was the clever Hans effect, right? She just kept, she just didn't react until she got the answer she was looking for and then she reacted and gave the the positive feedback.
B: I think with Hans was easier.
S: That's what we're talking about, that's what we're talking about here. It's a completely invalid method we had recently written about this on Science Based Medicine, we got a flood of angry emails─
S: ─from from supporters of FC, and you know you know like really and they were all using the same kind of language. I think somebody must have posted a link on their on their message board or something yeah so we got this flood you know of these angry emails. Which prompted me to like update my research on it and write about it again. So one of the things that they pointed to was a study that used eye tracking to show that the clients were looking at the letters before they pointed to them. But it, so there's two problems with that. The methodology of that study has been, you know, highly criticized because it's still facilitator dependent. But the the thing is, this is another method they use. So the rebranding is one, the sort of hiding and plain sight or hiding in the herd is the other way. And this is very clear, it was good to get these emails because like, I like to hear what the true believers are saying. Like how they're justifying their own beliefs. So one of the things that they did was, they didn't talk about FC or even RPM, the Rapid Prompting Method, they talked about augmentative and alternative communications. And you guys are against AAC, right, augmentative and alternative communication.
C: Wait, what? Like adaptive technology, of course not.
S: Exactly, of course, I know. Yeah so AAC is basically an umbrella term for a host of legitimate communication methods with people who have impaired communication.
E: And they're elevating themselves into that class?
S: Exactly. They're slipping themselves into this broader category and then they say you guys are against all of this. It's like no, we never even mentioned it. We were talking only about, I think in this case it was the RPM. There's also this speech to communicate, S2C so that was another one that we might have mentioned. But we we're not talking about AAC at all. So there it's complete bait and switch, a complete bait and switch.
E: That's like a, it's like a homeopath saying oh well you're against all pharmaceuticals.
S: Yes, exactly, that's exactly what it is.
C: The thing about that specifically is that if it's coming from providers─
C: ─it's especially insidious.
C: There is a part of me that really can't help but empathize with a parent─
S: Oh totally.
C: ─who wants to believe that this is how they're connecting and communicating.
E: Oh gosh, of course.
C: And of course in their mind this is just another adaptive technology because they have been hoodwinked into thinking it's evidence-based. And that's the sad thing is that it would be an easy narrative for them to follow that you just want to take away this technology that's allowing me to communicate with my daughter. That's not the problem.
S: Here's the other way they hide, yeah absolutely. Here's another way they hide, so one is by trying to pretend like is this part of this this wonderful breakfast, right, part of this complete breakfast. But it's also, they use evidence of non-facilitator dependent communication. So you take a relatively high functioning individual who can communicate entirely on their own by pointing to a letter board or typing. And say there that's evidence that it works. It's like no but that's not, that's not facilitator dependent. If you can show me facilitator independent communication where the authorship is verified, that that person is the author, that's great. But that doesn't prove that facilitator dependent communication, where you can't prove authorship is real. So they miss the actual point that we're making.
C: They miss the active ingredient there.
S: Yeah exactly, yeah.
J: I'm curious have you ever thought about this before but wouldn't this be unbelievably easy to disprove if they.
B: Oh yeah, it is.
J: Just ask. Okay, so who is, who is the person that is being facilitated it's my brother you know five years ago he got in a horrible car accident. Okay but you're communicating with him, okay, what did he call me as a nickname when we were kids?
S: They've done that, and they can't and that always fails, right?
J: Well there you go.
S: If it's facilitator dependent.
J: I've just disproven the whole thing.
S: But this is, they have an answer for that because again it's a cult and no amount─
C: They have motivated reasoning.
S: ─yeah the motivated reasoning is profound, so this is what they say about that, which again is why I love to get these these emails. They say, you can't expect somebody with autism to communicate in the same way that we all communicate─
E: Special pleading.
S: ─and you're actually, you're asking, it's a total special pleading, you're asking them to understand what you know and what you don't know and to give you the information you're looking for and you can't reasonably expect them to do that. So all of those studies are flawed.
C: That's what physic would say.
S: So it's untestable. But here's the thing, but then they point to studies where that's exactly what's happening when it gives them the results that they want of course that's that's facilitator independent communication. So they're not even internally consistent in the criteria they use they are just dismissing the negative evidence out of hand and it doesn't even make sense.
C: I feel like there should be an informal logical fallacy, maybe there is when somebody uses science in their argument when it benefits them and then rejects science and their argument when it doesn't benefit them.
S: Well it's internal inconsistency, so that's, it does make the list. All right the final thing they do which is really gets you, this one's really distasteful. Is they take the moral high ground, so they say you're denying that these people are people and you're denying that they have you know a meaningful existence or that they have any potential you know to have an inner intellectual life, you're, so you're you're erasing them. Like they're using─
C: That's disgusting.
S: That's disgusting.
E: It's like a human shield.
S: They're using all of that language.
C: It's like no, you're erasing them by giving them your voice.
S: Yes, exactly.
E: Yes, you're hiding your pseudiscience behind these human beings.
S: Exactly. But then they get all high and mighty about how terrible we are and but that's the cult, right, that's it. So anyway, that's what I learned recently about what the current state of FC is. It really is disgusting. It's still a pseudoscience as I say, FC is still pseudoscience but the the professional organizations that were all over it. And they really have, this is that's the good news in all of this. They understand what it is they really understand the nub of what's wrong with it and they are they are dead set against it, they call it out by name they are not having, there's no shruggy problem, there's no wishy-washiness. Like this is bad, it's pseudoscience, it's hurting our clients, you should absolutely not do it, this is harmful.
B: That's encouraging.
S: Similar to the approach to the false memory syndrome.
C: False memory syndrome, conversion, remember conversion therapy? Very similar to that too, past life regression, primal scream therapy. All of these things that are they're detrimental.
S: Yeah they're actively harmful, they're actively harmful, absolutely.
E: FU FC. (laughter)
S: But it's so disappointing that, I mean this is something that should have gone away 30 years ago.
B: I mean you were ripping that apart in the 90s.
E: Oh I remember Steve you wrote articles in our newsletter.
S: This is old school.
B: This is one of the first big things you really took on.
E: Yes. I remember that too. ' C:' And it's just another example of the vulnerable being taken advantage. And then there being a difficulty extricating the practitioners and the people who have an agenda from the, I guess the people who are victims of this. Mash together.
S: It's not enough to mean well, I'll even buy that these people all mean well. It's not enough. When you're a professional you have to do due diligence. If you're a cop who's investigating a crime, I don't care if you want to catch the bad guy. You have got to follow protocol, you have got to make absolutely sure that you are not eliciting a false confession. Or, whatever, you're doing a bad investigation. If you're a physician, you have to do due diligence to make sure that it's evidence-based. If you are doing this you have to make sure that you are not the author of the communication. If you don't do that that's on you, that is a violation of your professionalism.
C: It's a violation of your ethics code and all of these fields have an ethics code that says that they have to uphold what is it beneficence and reduce maleficence. Like that's fundamental to the ethical ethics code.
B: I love that movie.
E: Sleeping beauty?
Gamma Rays and Gravitational Waves (58:56)
S: All right, Bob, what do gamma rays have to do with gravitational waves?
B: This is fascinating Steve. Not as good as the anti-universe topic but this is up there. I just love gravitational waves. Okay so recent research shows a new way to leverage Fermi Space Telescope data to get finer details about gravitational waves trillions of miles long created by colliding supermassive black holes. Lots of awesome words in that sentence so let's say all right this was published in Science by an international that iconic international team of scientists. It seems like there's roving bands of international science scientists doing awesome stuff. Including, I'll point out two of them Aditya Parthasarathy and Michael Kramer from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. So here we go. We all know gravitational waves, right? Right?
B: If you don't, you're probably one of those people that fast forward through my segments. So, gravitational waves are ripples in space time caused by accelerating masses in space. So now these ripples actually compress and stretch the fabric of space on a scale orders of magnitude below the diameter of a proton. So yeah, they are amazingly, amazingly hard to detect. But we can do it. Now these these ripples are totally new window into the universe allowing us to learn about what the really big boys in the universe, black holes, neutron stars are doing without needing any type of light at all. Light is completely unneeded. Now these gravitational waves, these ripples, they're similar in a lot of ways to electromagnetic waves though, right? Now imagine, in your mind, this is the task, imagine the glorious electromagnetic spectrum as one continuous wave, right, increasing in wavelength from left to right. Okay you got the small wavelengths on the left and gradually they get bigger and bigger towards the right. So those are, those are all the electromagnetic magnetic waves that are, that are possible. So on the left of course you've got the high frequency short wavelength gamma rays, okay? Then, then after gamma, then you got the x-rays and then a little bit longer you got UV, then visible light is longer still, infrared, microwave and finally you've got the long radio waves. Now long is relative in this case, they go from a millimeter to more than a hundred kilometers.
B: A hundred kilo, radio waves are crazy long. But these are all weight, these are all electromagnetic radiations, right, these are all em waves, but different events in nature create them, you know? Different things create gamma rays and create radio waves essentially so but they're all, it's all essentially the same thing. So the same is true for gravitational waves as well. But, to them hundreds of kilometers is the short end of that of that spectrum. So let's take a look, let's take a look at that at that spectrum of gravitational waves, what do we have? Now the ones that we can detect now, the wavelengths that you read about in the news almost every week. And I heard estimates saying that we're going to be making discoveries of, gravitational wave discoveries like every day and every hour of the day, within a couple years. They're coming fast and furious. So we can detect them now, these are hundreds to thousands of miles long. The wavelengths, crush the crest of these gravitational waves thousands of miles long, those are the ones that we're detecting. We do this, we detect them using our terrestrial detectors, right? You've heard of LIGO. That's, that's, that's one of our famous terrestrial detectors of gravitational waves. These wavelengths are created by things like very close pairs of stellar mass objects that orbit each other, right, they're orbiting and they get closer and closer faster and faster eventually merging. Things like black holes, not the big black holes but smallish black holes, neutron stars, neutron stars are orbiting each other or maybe a neutron star in a black hole or any permutation you can think of. Those are the things that we're detecting. They create gravitational waves thousands of miles long. Okay, now we go up to the next group. The next grouping of gravitational waves are millions to billions of miles, crest to crest. Much much longer, we're talking 1 AU from the Sun to the Earth or even the Sun to Pluto. That's how long these gravitational wave crests are. Amazingly long. So, we're going to be detecting them within, I would say within a decade. You may have heard about the space based detectors that they're talking about. They're on the drawing board right now, like LISA is one of them. Some of the designs that they have now, imagine three satellites in a triangle shape separated by five million kilometers. Huge, hugely separated but communicating with each other detecting bigger and bigger gravitational waves. Gravitational waves that long, millions and billions of miles, they're created by what they're created by also by pairs of stellar mass objects. But they can, but they're farther apart, they could be farther apart. And, you could also have mixed pairs of stellar mass and supermassive black holes. So you have you could have a black hole orbiting a stellar mass black hole. So a big one and a small one. So these can be detected as well using these space based detectors, creating huge millions to billions of miles long wavelengths okay that's pretty big can we go any bigger. Okay, how about trillions of miles, gravitational waves that are trillions of miles long. We're talking the distance from Earth to Proxima Centauri. 25 trillion miles long. That's how long the wavelength is. These are created by some of the biggest things that can happen in the universe, supermassive black hole mergers, so we're talking black holes that have many millions of solar masses inside. These are in these are in as far as we can tell they're in pretty much every every galaxy and when galaxies collide you've got two supermassive black holes that will eventually settle down together, orbit each other for quite a bit of time and get closer and closer faster and faster. And these, when these movements, these orbits and these collisions create gravitational waves, trillions of miles long, these are the ones that we cannot, we cannot detect them now, but, we think we theorize that we can detect them using something called pulsar timing arrays. Now these, these pulsar timing arrays, we already are using them but we haven't discovered these gravitational waves yet. But the idea behind them is fascinating and I hadn't been aware of, aware of them. So the pulsar timing arrays, they need a little explication. So we can we can never did really build a detector big enough to detect wavelengths trillions of miles long. I mean even a Kardashev II or III would have trouble doing this. It's just, it's just way too big, way too big. Imagine, you know, detectors encompassing the distance from the Earth you know from the Sun to Proxima Centauri 25 trillion miles away vastly different beyond any technology that we can really you know barely think of or contemplate. So what you got to do is you need a detector, you need something that's already in nature, something that you could use in nature that will all that will let you detect those gravitational waves. And it turns out that it's pulsars, pulsars should be able to help us do that. So now pulsar, talked about it a billion times, rotating neutron stars, right? They ping the Earth with radio waves in an amazingly accurate and regular manner. Some of them spin very fast, millisecond pulsars can rotate hundreds and hundreds of times per second. So what they do is is they take groups of these millisecond pulsars. So imagine in space, you've got three or four or more of these pulsars separated by many many trillions some, you know, vast distances in space and they what we do is we correlate those pings, each one is pinging the earth with radio waves. And we correlate and even anti-correlate those pings in such a way that we can tell when those pings are off by a millionth of a second. So we can detect and like hey that pulsar, that pulse that we just got was a millionth of a second delayed. And we, and we could we know that it was delayed so what do you think could mess with the delay of those radio pings?
E: Gravitational waves.
B: Gravitational waves. Gravitational waves.
E: Yes, 10 points for me.
B: And not just any gravitational waves, amazingly large gravitational waves that are caused by colliding supermassive black holes. Those are the ones that they are theorized that we can we can detect. Now this pulsar technique has actually existed for years, so that's not even the new bit. And it's even a little bit anti-climatic but the new bit here is that the researchers have discovered data from Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and in that data they found that they it was able to pinpoint pulsars that emit radio and gamma radiation. So these are, these are gamma radiation pulsars. The gamma radiation just happens to be more accurate than than just the radio waves, because the radio waves can be interfered with rogue electrons and interstellar space. Those rogue electrons and that's not the official name of them, these electrons in space can actually mess with the radio waves and throw some fuzz into into the data and kind of could mess it up a little bit. So the the main discovery here is that this data this this treasure trove of information from the Fermi Space Telescope, that nobody anticipated the data being used for this method but they realized that within three to five years they could actually have enough data from this telescope so that the the gamma-ray edition, the gamma-ray radiation edition on top of that pulsar can help us get become even more accurate and even better, the gamma-ray data will be even better than the pulsar data, the radio data. But together they they can create much more detailed information and that hopefully let us detect these amazingly long gravitational waves created by collisions of galaxies essentially. But, it gets even better. I wasn't aware of this, this was really cool. Gravitational waves that huge you know when you when you're talking about trillions and trillions of miles long, they should be permeating the universe because galactic collisions, you know, galaxies collide all the time, the Milky Way has collided dozens of times, we just gobble up galaxies dwarf galaxies and and eventually Andromeda is going to gobble up us because we're you know we're the, we're the smaller galaxies so they're gonna be gobbling us up eventually. But don't worry, that's only, that's in a few billion years it's gonna be a while before that happens. These galactic collisions have happened endlessly throughout time, you know, many many times, millions billions of times. And theory predicts that that the gravitational waves that all of these collisions have have created should have joined together, meshed together into what they call the gravitational wave background. Not unlike its more famous cousin the cosmic microwave background radiation, right. So there's this background of gravitational waves that they think this pulsar timing array technique should also be able to detect. Not just the the crazy huge gravitational waves created by a single supermassive black hole collision but the countless collisions that have joined together to create this amazing gravitational wave background as well. So, at some point we may read that these pulsar and radio timing arrays have detected and proved for the first time these these vastly gigantic gravitational waves that are that are bigger than the distance from the the Sun to the to the nearest star Proxima Centauri and eventually and possibly even longer wavelengths that I haven't even gotten to because this is way too long and that's all I got. Thank you. (Cara laughs)
C: Love the ending. All done, I will not be taking questions. (laughter)
B: Walks off stage, drops mike.
J: Giving you all the information that you need.
B: Just think about what I've said, I've said it all.
E: That's right, you have all the data you need.
AI Emotion Detection (1:10:32)
S: Hey yeah let's move on then. Evan, tell us about artificial intelligence being used to detect emotions.
B: Oh god.
C: Oh god.
B: There's no emotions on zoom.
E: Can I? Can I set this up with a question? That may seem non-related but it may be really?
S: Only if it's that question you just asked. (laughter)
E: Damn. All right. What's the world's oldest profession?
C: Oh gosh.
E: All right what's the world's second oldest profession, how about that. Sales! (laughter) Which I think can be considered part of the oldest profession but regardless, I mean sales people have been around for as long as there's been trading commerce.
C: But don't you think maybe farming predates that?
E: Well trade and commerce, you know, but it's still, you know, hey you know if you're not just going to buy any pig you want the shiny pig for that for that bunch of bananas. One aspect of sales is know your customer, you've heard that trope before. And in knowing the customer a salesperson must determine what that potential customer is thinking. And hopefully it's in line with what the sales person is trying to sell. However, more often than not a potential customer is thinking they don't want that or they don't need whatever is trying to be sold to them. Part of a salesperson's job is to convince that person to want or to need whatever is being sold. So compelling people to buy things regardless if they need or want it that is a time practiced art. Now today's sales are all around us everywhere we look, we are saturated with it, it's not just any person trying to sell us things. Corporations, advertisers, investment firms, social media figures, news organizations, politicians, mega companies throughout the world, the most powerful government organizations. They are all trying to sell people services, products and ideas when you're that when you're so saturated in it all you think well what's left, I mean there's nowhere else you can go like what what stone is unturned that a salesperson could use. Aha! In that context we have the headline for this week. It reads: "Companies Are Using AI to Monitor Your Mood During Sales Calls. Zoom Might Be Next". Software makers claim that AI can help sellers not only communicate better but detect the emotional state of the people that they're selling to. So the idea is this, now since the early days of the lockdown many sales meetings have gone virtual. And you could make the argument it was sort of heading that direction prior to Covid, but at a much slower pace. But here we are 2022 and virtual sales meetings, they're here to stay. While the tech of the zoom call and other similar services allowed people in sales to stay employed it also hurried in this obstacle which is inherent with the technology. It's made it tougher than ever for salespeople to "read the room" and to use many of their interpersonal communication advantages of the in-person meeting. So, what's the best way to deal with a technical obstacle? More technology of course, so enter artificial intelligence. Let the AI help the salesperson analyze the, well as they say, emotional state of potential customers. And there are companies out there who are doing this and have been doing this actually for some time. Sales and customer service software companies including Uniphore and Sybill are building products that use AI in an attempt to help humans understand and respond to human emotion. And here we go with zoom, they are planning similar features in the future of their product however this has some people concerned. Now one of the companies I mentioned was Uniphore and Tim Harris he's the director of product marketing there and he said this regarding virtual meetings. He says it's very hard to build rapport in a relationship in that type of environment. His company sells software that attempts to detect whether a potential customer is interested in what a salesperson has to say during a video call alerting the salesperson in real time during the meeting if someone seems more or less engaged in a particular topic. Now zoom is reported to have plans to use AI and obviously it's been met with this criticism, especially from rights advocates who think that such technology will pretend a major breach of users trust. But they don't stop at just being a matter of trust. For example there's an advocacy, there's an advocacy group called Fight for the Future and they put out an open letter to zoom saying you may want to rethink this plan because they're calling their attempt to use AI manipulative, discriminatory and pure pseudoscience.
C: That's what I was waiting for.
E: Yes exactly.
C: It's pseudoscience.
C: We know, I mean there's so much investigation into tools, "tools" to help police investigators understand when somebody's lying to help, we've talked about this so many times on the show, nothing works. We don't have any reliable way to read somebody's mind.
E: That's right and it's yeah, it does come down to the pseudoscience. But they do say it's also manipulative and discriminatory. Manipulative because by tracking headspace it becomes a major breach of user trust and they say the software will be sold to schools and employers who will use it to track and discipline us. Okay. Discriminatory and this is serious. Emotion AI like facial recognition in general is inherently biased. And this feature will discriminate against certain ethnicities and people with disabilities. Yes, absolutely. And of course the punctuation on this is pseudoscience. They call it a marketing gimmick, experts admit that it doesn't work. Because, the way we move our faces is often disconnected from the emotions underneath. And the research has found that not even humans can measure emotions from faces some of the time so why add credence to this pseudoscience is what they're asking of zoom. And yeah, I agree, all that is correct. Are there fears founded though, do you think, I mean is there do you think there's a real legitimate concern here that zoom is might be using AI in this, in this manner?
S: I mean I think they're going to try to use it again the question is you know does it work. And it's not necessarily like a hundred percent it does or doesn't, there may be some utility to it, but are, is the average sales person going to be using it correctly or are they going to be using like a magic eight ball you know like where they just want to get a straightforward answer.
C: And I guess the question is less about are salespeople going to be using sales AI in a sales call which is probably not that egregious but are you know advertisers or these these different firms, these like dark firms that trade in people's data gonna be collecting information utilizing AI to then later sell them things on other websites, you know, targeted ads all that kind of stuff. That's the more I think pernicious and gross use.
S: And we could also just ask the question,if we assume it does work is it is it ethical and is it the kind of thing where people would need explicit consent to allow it to happen.
C: Probably not. Because I mean I think most people use zoom the way they use Facebook the way they use Twitter and we all agree to the terms and conditions, we know our behavior is being tracked.
S: Yeah but is there some fine print that you're going to agree to at some point without ever reading it. But that's not explicit consent.
C: I know but that's how it works right now, right? Terms and conditions apply, yes, you agree to these terms and conditions before you use our software. Everybody just agrees because they need the function out, like what, you're not going to go to your job now because you can't use zoom? And that's a problem.
E: Or in the zoom window is is there going to be some sort of reminder window, I don't want to call it a warning but saying hey, by the way we're using this technology. And for more information click here about this technology.
C: I just don't see why it would when when there's no precedent for that across any of these other platforms. That all track our data all the time.
S: Yeah but I mean I'm saying, should there be regulations─
S: ─that keep this from happening.
C: But I think the industries that don't want there to be a check box are going to work really hard in lobby for their not to be a check box.
S: Sure, yeah doesn't mean there won't be. I mean I do think this is a conversation that's happening, you know at least in the United States, I know that these this conversation is happening. And of course, yeah, companies are going to not want to be you know shackled by any restrictions but I do think it's one of those issues that we have to keep on in the public consciousness is like we shouldn't just be clicking away our rights and our privacy, because we're too lazy to read the fine print. It's not even laziness, it's really like, you couldn't function if you had to read all the fine print of everything you interact with every day, you couldn't function.
C: Yeah, the burden is on the user.
S: Yeah it's not reasonable to make the end user read pages of fine print for just everyday activity that they can't really not do and do their job for example.
C: Obviously it's written in legalese too, we can't even understand it yeah, even if it is written.
E: And it reminds me of the infamous South Park episode about that, so you can go ahead and look that one up if you want to be horrified one of their more graphic probably. (laughter) And it doesn't work, that's the other part of all of this, because this has been studied and they've, look, they they assembled not a few years ago the journal of psychological science and the public interest. They did an analysis, they read a thousand papers, one thousand papers about this this very topic. And after two and a half years the team reached their conclusion. There was little to no evidence that people can reliably infer someone else's emotional state from a set of facial movements. That's the bottom line.
S: All right thanks Evan.
Who's That Noisy? (1:21:05)
S: Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: All right guys, last week I played this noisy:
[somewhat creepy beeps, chimes, and vibrating strings with intermittent whirs and synthesized chords]
You know it's not the happiest thing I've ever heard. All right, enough of that. I don't want people to be depressed.
E: It's like a calliope breaking down or something you know.
J: It's weird, right? But any ideas?
J: Well Joe Streckert said: "Hey Jay, first time guessing, obviously this noisy is from the soundtrack of the 1970s sci-fi horror movie about alien vampires who secretly invade Earth. This is what's playing when the heroes are investigating their ominous foreboding starship which just so happens to also be a flying space castle. Love the show, keep up the great work." Of course Joe was kidding here but I put that in because that's what it sounds like.
C: Was he kidding about that like that's not a real movie, because that sounds like a real movie.
J: Is it? I don't think so.
C: I mean it sounds like a terrible movie.
J: He didn't give a title so I think he made the whole thing up but yeah. George del Portillo said: "It's the music of the original Zelda slowed down. Love the show, keep up the great work." That's a cool guess, that's a cool guess, but no, that is not correct. Because I don't think the Zelda music is even that depressing. Some rando guy named Visto Tutti wrote in and said: "This noisy just screams the early 60s. I hear analog synth with some real chimes overlaid. Guessing it is from the soundtrack to the movie Forbidden Planet. No wait, that was from 1956 but too late, I already guessed." Well that's not a bad guess because there are there are definitely, you know, Cara's favorite instrument is being used in Forbidden Planet. That is the the theremin.
C: I love the theremin.
J: Yes. I don't think it was ever used better than in Forbidden Planet to be honest with you. But it is not, it is not what you say Visto, you're wrong, you're wrong.
C: Jay you realize you're about to be inundated with emails of people "playing the theremin better" or using the theremin better.
J: I know, I know.
C: You set yourself up for that one.
J: I can't, I can't edit myself that strongly. Stuart Harrington wrote in said: "Sir Jay the diligent, this is the sound of a jack-in-the-box in slo-mo. The dramatic flourish is the pop, it's probably so slow because the person turning in a too many jack-in-the-box burgers and needs a post lunch nap.". I thought that was kind of cool too, you know, you play like the, yeah a little as a slowed down music box. That is not correct, the answer is going to come from the winner from this week, which is Andrew Farentinos and he said: "Hello, I know that sound because I recently listened to an interview of Ariel Ekblaw, director of MIT's space exploration initiative. She mentioned the invention of the first musical instrument designed specifically for playing in outer space.". And he looked it up and he and he went to their website so that, you are correct Andrew. This is what is called a telemetron. It's a musical instrument that was specifically designed to be played in zero gravity. Or you know close to zero gravity. The sound it makes is freaky and awesome, right? I mean they could program this thing to play whatever kind of sound they want to, but that is this noises that the person chose. Probably because it's floating in outer space making these crazy noises. So I thought that was cool, it's an instrument that plays sounds that are weird.
New Noisy (1:24:37)
J: Now that's done let's move on to this week's noisy. This noisy was sent in by Kelly Smallwood and here it is:
[in and out puffing sounds similar to heavy breathing]
J: If you think you know what this week's Noisy is, or if you heard something cool like the sound that you just heard, then you should just email me very quietly and very sincerely to Who's That Noisy, WTN@theskepticsguide.org. That's all you have to do.
J: Now we have some some announcements. Few things happening that you probably should know about. We have two private shows and two extravaganzas all happening in Phoenix and that's happening on what date Steve?
C: Well it's not all happening in Phoenix. Half are happening in Phoenix and half are happening in Tucson.
J: That's correct Cara, thank you for paying attention to the details.
S: Yeah so we're going to be in Phoenix, probably the night of July 14th, we're planning an event then, so keep that open on your calendar. The extravaganza will be in Phoenix on July 15th at 8 p.m. then we'll be traveling to Tucson where we're going to have another like we'll do a private show thing but we'll that schedule, will be out soon. But we were already booked for an extravaganza 8 p.m. Tucson, I didn't say that, Saturday the 16th.
J: And there you have it folks. Thank you Steve, so precise. (Cara laughs)
S: All right thanks Jay.
Email #1: Communicating Skepticism
S: We've got a couple of emails here, I think we can get through these pretty quickly. The first one comes from Wahid Shafique in Toronto and they write:
I work at a not-for-profit (https://www.digitalpublicsquare.org/) and one of things we try to create are interventions when it comes to things like public health. In terms of vaccine misinformation, we have a site that offers information in a quiz-like format (https://knowitornot.com/). Now, I know you all have discussed the efficacy of these types of interventions and wanted to know your thoughts. I've heard that sometimes these types of true/false paradigms might not be the best and don’t do well to "vaccinate" folks against mis/disinformation. Personally, I can see how such a paradigm talks down to someone who's deep in the hole, and it might not communicate the "skeptical" mindset. I'm wondering what the Skeptics think of strategies like these, and if there are any particular insights you could offer based on your experiences. Love the show, thanks!
– Wahid Shafique, Toronto
So that's a very complicated question that we've talked about at length multiple times on the show. But we can give a quick summary of some of the of the big points. So the question boils down to, what's the most effective strategy for correcting misinformation or disinformation about a public health topic or any other you know any other topic like that. So there's a few principles that we've talked about as studies come out about this over the years. One is that it may not be a good idea to introduce a myth just to debunk it. The data on this is, yes, in other words saying, if you say vaccines don't cause autism some people will remember vaccines and autism and they'll forget the don't. The interesting bit about that, neuro psychologically, is that we remember facts and then we separately encode the source of the fact. And we separately encode whether or not the fact is true. And so you can remember those three things independently. That's why we often say, oh you heard this somewhere but I forget where because yeah you forget the source but you remember the thing.
S: And but it's also true that you might forget whether or not it's true.
C: Right. And science or fiction is a great example. (laughs)
S: Exactly. So it but if if the thing is already out there then you're probably not adding to the misinformation. But I wouldn't lift something out of obscurity. You know what I mean? Like don't mention a myth that nobody believes anyway or ever is heard of just to debunk it, because you may actually be spreading it inadvertently. But again the data on that's actually mixed. It's not that strong a phenomenon to be honest with you. But you have to think about that. We typically don't address things that are really obscure, just because we don't want to give them more light than they deserve. The other thing is that you really have to go topic by topic, because some topics are amenable to the knowledge deficit paradigm, right, where you just correct misinformation and that actually changes people's minds. One of the topics where that works is anti-GMO attitudes because they're based on factual information misinformation. And so when you correct that factual misinformation people do change their minds.
C: Right because people don't usually even know what GMO stands for. So, there's a void there.
S: It's a huge void of information. But something like global warming, not gonna happen, you're not going to change people's minds by giving them facts. It's not a knowledge deficit problem, so it is an ideological problem. So it's, a lot of it is actually solution aversion right, you don't, they don't like the implications of what we might do to correct climate change so they deny its existence. So you have to you have to understand the topic you're talking about, you have to understand what the literature says about the topic you're talking about, why people believe it and what corrections strategies may work better than others. Couple other just general rules to think about you can't just take away somebody's comforting belief you have to replace it with another world view. You have to give them a way to make sense of their world. They're not you're they're not going to let you throw them into into epistemological chaos, right? You have to take one set of explanatory system away and replace it with another, you know, hopefully better more powerful, explanatory system. That's what skepticism is, we always try to do that, it's like this is science and skepticism. This is an explanatory world model. It'll actually give you more control over what you believe and what you think and your life etc. And we emphasize that because it's not just about saying no and you don't know anything and taking stuff away, because people don't respond to that. And they will cling all the more tenaciously to their belief systems.
B: Join us.
S: Right. So anyway, I mean this is a very quick hit. Cara, I don't know if there's any you know top level thing you want to add to it but it's it's a very complicated area.
C: Absolutely. I mean, I think the two things that kind of came to mind while you were talking, because the context of the email did seem to be around like vaccines and public health and I know it's a really hard question to say how can I make a single website that speaks to literally everybody and changes as many minds as possible. And, or, you know, encourages as many people as possible to get vaccinated. Like that's a huge order, because we're always saying know your audience, tailor to their belief system, you know, and you can't really do that on a basic website. But one thing that really comes to mind and the reason this comes up to me and I'll try and keep it quick, is that earlier today I happened to attend a lecture, at the hospital where I work, about medical decision making. And a lot of the cognitive biases that come along with medical decision, decision making. And one of the things that was really salient to me was the conversation about active and passive choice. And we talk about this a lot on the show but when it comes to vaccines it seems like one of the things that gets in a lot of people's way is this very understandable cognitive bias that if I do nothing it's less risky than doing something. And so working to undermine that bias kind of showing why when it comes to things like vaccines that's not the case can be I think really meaningful for a lot of people. The other thing that I would bring up is, there's a book I wanna recommend, I'm always recommending books. And it kind of sounds self-helpy so look past the title a little bit, the book is called Your Life Depends on It: What You Can Do to Make Better Choices About Your Health, but it's written by a woman named Talya Miron-Shatz, who is a psychologist who studied under Daniel Kahneman, she got her PhD in psychology with this sort of neuroeconomic focus. And the book is all about the neuro economics of making medical, like healthcare choices for yourself. And all the biases that get in the way. And all the different ways that we can empower ourselves to make better choices given all of the constraints that are in front of us. And, I think this book is not just good for people who find themselves navigating the medical system but people who find themselves communicating within the medical system. Within the health care system, and public health falls into that. This book could be very helpful to you as you're drafting up those messages.
S: Yeah. There are other books on science communication and public communication as well that are that are helpful. It is, it is a skill set unto itself and there's a deep body of research and knowledge in it but those are like tips you know like top level tips it's good to keep in mind. All right thanks Cara. Guys, let's move on with science or fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:33:44)
Item #1: There are no native mammals in Bermuda, only introduced species such as mice, rats, and feral cats.
Item #2: There are more than 300 shipwrecks in the waters off Bermuda, making it the shipwreck capital of the world.
Item #3: When Bermuda was first discovered in the 1500s and later settled by Europeans, it had no native or indigenous population.
|Fiction||no native mammals|
no native population
|no native population|
|no native mammals|
|no native mammals|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There's a theme this week any of you wanna guess the theme?
J: The theme is...
C: Not Easter? Passover.
S: Wrong. Bermuda.
C: Oh, of course.
E: Of course. Totally biased.
S: Okay. Are you ready?
S: Item #1: There are no mammalian species native to Bermuda. Item #2: There are more than 300 shipwrecks in the waters off Bermuda, making it the shipwreck capital of the world. And item #3: When Bermuda was discovered in the late 1500s and later settled, there were no native or indigenous people living on the island.
Evan go first.
E: Oh no mammalian species native to Bermuda? Okay, so this would be interesting, trying to think of why that would be the case. Why would there be nothing on Bermuda. No mammalian species. So there's other non-mammalian species, certainly. No mammalian species, okay. I have a feeling that one's science. And then the second one 300, 300 shipwrecks in the waters around Bermuda making it the shipwreck capital of the world. Well, so I think you're trying to maybe get us here with a little Bermuda triangle kind of bias here, you know, the Atlantic does have a lot of shipwrecks. Look, people have been sailing from Europe to this to the, you know, the Americas and the these islands and things for quite a long time, what, since the late 1400s. So over that amount span of time you would have probably more shipwrecks there than anywhere else. But what about the Mediterranean, why wouldn't there be like 300 shipwrecks in the Mediterranean which they've been sailing for thousands of years. So I don't know that that one's going to be right so I have a feeling it's a Bermuda triangle bias, I'm leaning towards that one being the fiction. But on the last one here, discovered in the late 1500s later settled no native or indigenous people living on the island. Yeah, it's volcanic, right? And usually with these volcano, you said it was entirely volcanic Steve and I don't know if that's the determining factor because you can't grow things and therefore people can't be there to have sustained themselves. I have a feeling the 300 ship for x1 is the fiction.
S: Okay, Jay.
J: Okay, there are no mammalian species native to Bermuda. I mean I could see that, I mean I could see it both ways of course. I mean the island is tiny, it really is . If you look at the airport in Bermuda and you get the sense okay that's about the standard length of a you know of a runway for you know big jet planes. And then you zoom out and you look at the rest of the island it's not a big island because the airport is huge compared to the rest of the island. I could see that there would be no, okay, I mean I'm not, I'm not too down on that one. Next one is number two, there are more than 300 shipwrecks in the waters around Bermuda making it the shipwreck capital of the world. I mean I could kind of see that there would be a lot of shipwrecks there because it is an island meaning that it's surrounded by water so there would you know there'd be a lot of ship activity there, you know, if you know Bermuda at all there's tons and tons and tons of like ships coming and going there all the time. I could see, I could see like lots of shipwrecks happening, bad storms and whatnot. The last one when Bermuda was discovered in the late 1500s and later settled there there were no native or ended. Now this one, the first thing that occurred to me is that people went everywhere. I would find it hard to believe that you know long time ago some people didn't find their way to Bermuda. I don't know, I think that, I believe this one is the fiction because I think that people ended up going everywhere on the planet.
S: Okay Cara.
C: Wait so we've got one for the shipwrecks and one for the indigenous people?
C: I think I'm going to go with the, with the mammals.
E: Cool, I love it. Steve loves it.
J: He's smiling right now.
C: Well that means he also didn't sweep us, so this may be some strategery lock box, so... No? Nobody gets that? Okay. The 300 shipwrecks, I feel like, I feel like there are, yeah there was that SNL sketch and it was yeah he was up against Al Gore and Al Gore had the lock box. No? Okay. So he, oh 300 shipwrecks. This one, this is the one that was like maybe if I were to make a left turn, I think I would go for this one because I feel like you're trying to get us with the triangle thing but then maybe this is why the triangle thing persists. And also like some place has to have the most shipwrecks, right? I don't know. So like maybe it has certain features that you know, you said it's volcanic maybe. I don't know, I don't know. But I feel like this one doesn't bother me that much. The indigenous people one, I know there are places on this planet, I don't know, I don't know you know with absolute knowledge at all whether Bermuda is one of those places. I don't think I know much about historical indigenous Bermudans though. Do they call themselves Bermudans? The people who live there Bermuda ins?
C: Bermudi, yeah, I don't know.
S: I don't know.
C: You know the history prior to colonialism in Bermuda, I don't think, I'm, I think it's like a little bit of a of a black box there. So it wouldn't surprise me because I know there are places in this in this country where just people didn't settle. And again it could be because they were resource poor or whatever. Now the mammalian species, when it first I was like, well of course there are rats and then I was like of course native native, rats come on ships, every place on the planet has rats, dang rats. But then I was thinking, okay, yes an island it's not that far away but it is, you know, it's, there's a lot of water there. Many islands don't have native species, native mammals, because mammals couldn't get there readily. But then I was like, what about bats. Because bats can fly. And then I was like, I'm pretty sure there are bats most all over the most of the globe and I don't see why an island wouldn't be able to have bats. And so that one is bothering me, that there would be no bats either. I could see no terrestrial mammals but definitely I couldn't see that there aren't bats. There are bats everywhere.
S: So that's your answer?
C: That's my answer. Bats. Bats in Bermuda.
E: Jay says there's people everywhere, you say they're bats everywhere.
C: That's true, there are probably more people than bats.
S: Bob, they're all spread out so you get to.
C: But maybe not the 1500s. (laughter)
B: Well the past five minutes I've, I've gone with each and every one of these. (laughter) Like oh yeah, that makes sense, oh yeah, that makes sense. But the the argument that's really swaying me though is is the bats.
B: I can't wait for that show to come back, please come back. So I'm going with baaaats, I mean Bermuda, I mean mammal species native to Bermuda, fiction.
S: All right all right so since there are two people on number one, we'll take these in reverse order, we'll start with number 3. By the way, it's bermudian or bermudin.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Okay, so when Bermuda was discovered in the late 1500s and later settled there were no native or indigenous people living on the island. Jay you think this one is the fiction because there are people everywhere. Everyone else thinks this one is science and this one eels science. Science. Sorry Jay. So yeah.,there were no people living there it's.
S: There's no fresh water on on the island.
C: Ooh, that would screw you.
S: We keep saying the island, it's actually an archipelago of many islands. The Bermuda government says that there are 123 islands presently. Of course that number, I see different numbers because it depends on how small a rock are you going to consider an island.
C: And also sadly is it underwater.
S: Yeah so there were actually more previously, some American and British naval bases were put on some which are now essentially destroyed. But in any case yeah their current count is 123 so it's actually an archipelago. And I think there's like seven main islands where the most of the people live.
C: You probably would have gotten us on that too Steve. That could have been number four.
S: Okay, could have been. So yeah, so the first people on the island, now don't read too much into this, but the first people on the island were there because they were shipwrecked and they were stranded on the island. (Cara laughs)
E: There were seven of them?
J: Steve was it, was it a three-day chronic cruise?
S: And then they actually like built ships to get away and then they left a few people behind and then another shipwreck was there and more people. And eventually they said we should just settle the place.
E: Call it shipwreck island. Archipelago.
S: And yeah, so it was called, it was named after captain Bermudez, I think he was the captain of the first ship that that shipwrecked there. They eventually settled it in the early 1600s. I think 1609 is the official date when it started.
C: Were they British or Spanish or you know?
S: Yes Spanish and then British yeah. Then it eventually became a British colony.
E: I say.
S: So but there's no indigenous people living there, there's no native or indigenous Bermudans. I mean now there are people who are permanent residents, you know, Bermuda but there there was nobody living there before essentially Europeans colonized it. And again it's not, it's not, it was it's very lush, you know, there was a lot of native plants and animals not a lot of fresh water.
C: How plants and animals survive?
S: Well animals, yeah, there's rain and animals can live off the water they get from fruit like if they eat a lot of plants. Like remember koala bears get most of their water from the eucalyptus leaves. They do drink a little bit of water that's kind of a myth it's 100%, but it's close it's actually close to 100%. So yeah there wash nobody nobody there.
C: You know what else likes, likes fruit Steve?
S: What's that?
C: Bats. (laughs)
S: All right let's go number two.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: There are more than 300 shipwrecks in the waters around Bermuda making it the shipwreck capital of the world. Evan you think that's just too many. The rest of you think this one is science.
E: I didn't say that.
S: This one is science.
C: Yey Bob!
E: I disagree, I disagree. You're gonna, you're gonna tell me that there's, you're gonna tell me that that 300 there's less than 300 shipwrecks in like the Aegean sea in Greece.
S: I just said it's the shipwreck, shipwreck capital of the world. I didn't say it's the most number of shipwrecks in any arbitrary sized body of water. It is considered. (Cara laughs)
E: What are you implying?
S: It is considered to be the shipwrecked capital of the world. Now why are there 300 more than 300 shipwrecks there? Would, Cara you kind of hinted at it but you didn't get, you didn't zero in on it. Maybe some feature of this archipelago that makes it amenable to shipwrecks.
B: It's gold! Pirates!
S: It's trap, it's a trap for ships.
E: It's a trap!
S: It's surrounded by coral reefs.
C: It's not the volcanoes?
S: It's surrounded by coral reefs. Now─
C: Oh reefs.
S: ─coral reefs, yeah.
C: Right, they're just under the surface.
S: To the south of the islands, again remember it's this sort of j-shape leaning to the right. They consider, they consider it east to west like the long way around the island. But then there's the south shore to the south and north shore to the north. And the south shore the coral reef essentially hugs the island. But to the north it extends way out. And yeah it's it's basically, you could see it just under the water, like when the water is the waves are coming in you could see it hit the reef it. So it is this is trapped just under the water and and if you don't have an accurate map and accurate navigational methods you will not be able to navigate your way through the reef to the island. And a lot of ships just got wrecked on the reef. And they eventually sank. In fact, we didn't have time to do this but there are companies that will take you diving to the shipwrecks.
C: That's cool.
S: As an activity.
J: I did that, that's great.
E: What did you get Jay?
C: What did you get?
J: There was no more treasure but there was definitely stuff to look at.
S: They're picked clean, but I thought they should seed them with like sketch, like stuff, fake coins.
C: Oh yeah like that like when you go hunting "fossils".
S: Just put them there for people to find, you know, what the hell. There's a lot of, we did see the the naval museum which is basically all stuff that they recovered from shipwrecks.
E: A lot of belly buttons.
S: Yeah, a lot of buttons. There were a lot of buttons, there a lot of cannons, a lot of cannons. Interestingly and this makes total sense, the bronze cannons were considered superior to the iron cannons because they were more durable, because the iron would rust in the sea air, so the bronze cannons were better and more expensive.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: All right so that means that there are no mammalian species native to Bermuda is fiction. And you know why?
S: Because there are bats there, you totally nailed that Cara. There are four species of bats considered native to Bermuda. They're all migratory so they're not permanently living on the island.
C: But wow, only four?
E: Does that count?
S: Yeah, they're native, they're considered native to Bermuda.
C: Yeah they still come home to Bermuda.
S: Yeah, they migrate through this part Bermuda is on their migration path, right? A lot of birds are migratory too, you wouldn't call them not native to whatever place there they happen to be at any given time. There's a ton of bird species, there's only a few native reptiles. Couple lizards, couple turtles.
S: A lot of amphibians, a lot of insects. A lot of introduced animals, a lot of introduced animals. I mean and as you might imagine with the steady stream of ships going there, so they have rats. Rats all over the place. They have mice, they have feral cats unfortunately.
C: They must have farm animals too now.
S: They do. They have to, there are, yeah, there are farm animals. In fact before the island, the islands, the archipelago was really settled, one of the Spanish ships I believe left pigs deliberately on the island.
C: That happens so often, so there are semi-wild pigs now?
S: Yeah so that people who were later shipwrecked on the island would have something to eat, basically. Or if ships needed to stop there to resupply there would be a ready supply of food.
S: There's a lot of invasive species, or here's one interesting story, so there's. One of the most common, so almost every bird that I saw on the island are birds that are recognizable from the coastline of the United States, right? I mean they're all transplanted not that long ago from the mainland. So you know we saw a lot of familiar species. There was one I've never seen before, it was a kiskadee, kiskadee. Named because of the noise that it makes. It's kind of sounds like kiskadee. And this was an introduced bird, it's very beautiful it's got a yellow belly, brown wings. Very pretty, a white stripe on his face. And you could you instantly learned to recognize the sound, it's very distinctive. So they were there. They would come up right onto our deck and like onto our table─
E: Did you record it?
S: ─and eat the bread. Yeah we do have some video of it.
E: Cool. They were introduced, they're not native to Bermuda, they were brought in deliberately, not accidentally but deliberately introduced in order to control the lizard population because the lizards were invasive, they were introduced. One species accidentally, one deliberately they are like a noli lizards. And they said okay well they're getting out of control these birds eat the lizards in other places in Trinidad, so let's introduce the birds they'll eat the lizards. So guess what happened? The birds decided not to eat the lizards and instead they were going to eat fruit and insects and the eggs of other birds.
B: The good stuff.
E: Oh great the stuff you need.
S: And so they became an invasive species.
C: I feel like this happens all the time yeah. We keep doing it.
S: It was a massive fail, massive fail. So Bermuda is yeah, is just tons of invasive species and introduced species there. Just too much traffic, you know, for that not to happen.
C And it is so small, do they have any sort of protected national parks or kind of protected areas, they may not even.
S: There are parks but they're not protected. It's not like Zealandia, remember that, when they wall off that area to try to make it [inaudible].
C: And in Galapagos, I think something like 90, it might be 70%. But it was a high number of the of the islands you can't go on without a guide. Literally cannot go there.
S: I didn't think there was any place that we couldn't go. We walked, we were all over that island, you know, the main islands. But then there's there are places where there are like preserves, but they're not protected from in any way, I mean just anything can go anywhere. Very clean island. It was, it was very you know, very beautiful, it was adorable. The buildings like they had these a lot a lot of the buildings were colored with pastel colors and just it looked very tropical and vacationy. And you guys said we were all over the island there was no like conspicuous poverty or areas that you're like, I don't want to go over there. That doesn't mean there aren't, there isn't any on the island but it was, I do think that the government does take care of their citizens and again one of the taxi drivers is telling us that. Last, during covid they were wiped out because there's just no tourism, tourism is so critical. Yeah so the government had to basically give everybody unemployment whose job is dependent on tourism throughout the, throughout the pandemic.
C: Well it's good that they were able to survive that, and come back.
S: Yeah they were able to survive, yeah, now they're making a huge comeback, so, anyway, it's an interesting little ecosystem there you know, it is very interesting, you know. A mix of things that are just you know you can you, feels like you're on a distant sub-tropical island, but it really is just off the coast of the US and like a lot of the animals there are you're going to be familiar to you but there's some weird ones mixed in. Yeah, very interesting.
All right good job Bob and Cara, you exactly nailed that. I thought, is this fair, is this fair because it's you know because there's only a few mammalian species there. And all the other species are introduced like rats and everything. But I figured, they should know that bats would fly to the island. That's how they're going to get this one, so I was glad that you got exactly figured it out the way I thought you would.
B: Bats rock.
J: Yeah that's those guys [inaudible].
E: Yeah Evan and Jay suck?
J: What about us?
E: Talk about the backhanded compliment.
S: If you remember from our trip to Australia that the fruit bats in Australia are the only placental considered native to Australia.
C: Oh it's interesting. I wouldn't be surprised if there's more islands like that though. Where the only mammals are bats. Mammals aren't very common.
S: Yeah in this case the only placental mammal, because there are obviously a lot of marsupial mammals.
S: Remember one of the guides we had said that the fruit bat was genetically closer to humans than any other animal.
S: And I'm like, yeah, that's no, that's not correct. That is completely incorrect but then I figured out, okay, he means native to Australia because then it is correct, because it's the only placental so by definition it's the closest related to any other placental versus a marsupial. So if you throw in the caveat native to Australia it's correct, but he was, he didn't know that.
C: I think that, I think that Galapagos is the same way. And that might be why I was inspired to say that. Because the only mammals native. There are a couple endemic rats on Galapagos, I'm just looking it up, but most of them are, I mean endemic, I think doesn't that mean that it was introduced that became?
S: That just means they're there all the time.
C: They're there all the time, yeah yeah, But other than that it's all marine mammals in the Galapagos, you know, it's sea lions and fur seals and whales and stuff. They don't, they don't have any just mammals walking around on the island except for farm animals. Yeah, it's interesting.
S: And there's no snakes, similar to New Zealand, no snakes in Bermuda.
C: Yes that's a paradise for somebody who has like a horrible snake phobia.
S: But there are lots of spiders, I got a good picture of a crab spider.
B: Sure man.
S: I'll show it to you.
E: Nasty big things?
C: Those are cool.
B: They balloon there, I'm sure they flew there too.
S: Yeah, yeah, probably. [sarcasm]
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:54:41)
Stupid entropy ruins everything.
– Jennifer Ouellette, American writer
S: All right Evan, give us a quote.
E: Tonight's quote is four words: "Stupid entropy ruins everything." That is Jennifer Ouellette from her book The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.
B: That quote is literally 100% true. (laughter)
S: It reminds me of the riddle that Gollum told Bilbo. You know, this thing devours all things, turns hard stone to meal grinds, mountains down. And the answer of course was?
B: Time! Time! Give me time!
S: Time. Time devours all things.
B: Yeah, time is a bastard.
C: It is entropy really.
B: Exactly. Yes, thank you entropy.
S: All right guys well thank you all for joining me this week.
J: Yeah Steve.
C: Yes Steve.
E: Welcome back from Bermuda.
J: Welcome back.
S: Thank you.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to email@example.com. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
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- [url_for_TIL publication: title]