SGU Episode 877
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|SGU Episode 877|
|April 30th 2022|
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|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
There is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well. It is not enough to have freedom of the Press and parliamentary institutions. Our difficulties are due partly to our own stupidity, partly to the exploitation of that stupidity, and partly to our own prejudices and personal desires.
Lizzie Susan Stebbing, British philosopher
Introduction, Surgery Recovery
Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, April 27th, 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: How is everyone.
B: Good good good.
C: I am recovering.
S: Recovering from what?
C: From surgery.
B: Yeah, that's right.
C: I had surgery last Thursday and I'm feeling almost 100% now, I'm definitely have, my appetite is back, I had no appetite for two days, I was super queasy post anesthesia. I'm not quite as weak as I was. I was very weak the first few days, I was sleeping an awful lot. And my head felt really buzzy and just off man, anesthesia sticks with you for a while.
S: Oh yes.
J: That's no joke.
B: That's not normal though, you have, you're, I think it sounds like you have more of an extreme.
C: No, it's pretty normal for total anesthesia. I mean it's why they give you in your discharge instructions like don't operate, you cannot drive today, you shouldn't shower until tomorrow and even then you should take it easy. They say I couldn't lift anything more than five pounds. Ii definitely remember like two days after I got a new carpet cleaner and I got so excited and I cleaned some like spots that Killer had left on the carpet. And it exhausted me. I needed a nap after I cleaned the carpet.
S: Well you know what Bob, you know, part of the reason is so it definitely gets worse with age. And that's just you know the brain.
C: Oh yeah, if you, if the last time you went under you were young, you probably wouldn't.
S: But, there's some pharmacological reasons for that too, I don't know exactly what drugs they gave you or how much or whatever, but when you get, when you get a lot of drugs for that are sedating, because you had prolonged anesthesia or you've been in the hospital for a while getting those kinds of medications. Some of them are fat soluble so what happens is, they give you enough to have a clinical effect, so there's a certain amount in your blood, but in order to achieve that a lot of it gets distributed into your fat. And then over days and weeks that the medications come out of your fat back into your blood, so even though you're not taking the medications anymore it could take days and days for it to clear it out of your system.
C: Yeah some of some of my aftercare said two weeks to be careful about this kind of stuff. And granted for me it was about two-three days but I mean, I remember I couldn't really watch TV. Like, I was like, oh, I'm gonna have a couple days off, I'm just gonna lie about and watch TV and I was like, I can't focus, it's like eyes are crossing. But, but, to be fair I was only under for an hour and a half.
S: Yeah, that's not too much.
C: So I didn't have terrible anesthesia but I do think I was propofol and I had versed which, you know, was like anti-anxiety medication and a fair amount of like zofran and pepcid like things to keep me from barfing, thank goodness, because I didn't barf. But I do think that there are different anesthesia cocktails that, for different purposes, and so you know if people are remembering, oh when I had my colonoscopy it wasn't like that, I don't know if it's quite the same.
S: That's like conscious sedation.
C: Yeah, that's what I thought it's not like the the hardcore stuff. Like, I had a sore throat for two days.
S: They intubated you.
C: Yeah, well, luckily they didn't do full intubation, they did this secondary thing that just like it's supra-epiglottis instead of going through your epiglottis but it still carves up your throat. Yeah, I was like oh god. Yeah, so, fun times.
S: I'm glad you're doing well.
S: that it turned out alright.
E: You sound great.
Special Segment: Shameless Promotion (3:30)
S: So, we don't often do this, so I have no shame about doing this whatsoever (Cara laughs). We're going to do a segment of a couple of things of shameless promotion. Before we get to the news items. The first thing is that we have some shows coming up. Jay, you want to talk about them?
J: Yeah we have a lot of stuff coming up Steve. So, we will be in Arizona on July 15th and 16th. On both of those dates we'll be doing an extravaganza. On the 15th we'll be doing an extravaganza in Phoenix and on the 16th we'll be doing extravaganza in Tucson. We also have two private shows one in Phoenix and one in Tucson. Those dates and times literally by the time you hear this they'll probably be on the website, so go take a look and if not, they'll be there very very soon. You can go to theskepticsguide.org/events to see all this information.
S: Now for the private shows we're doing something a little bit different, so I wanna mention that. Normally we do you record a two hour show, right, and there's a little bit of chit chat around it but basically you're you're you're seeing us record a full two-hour show, episode of the show. But now we're going to be we're starting to do an enhanced private show or private show plus, we're still branding it. (laughter) But it's something like that, where it's going to be three hours, it's gonna be not two hours but three hours. We'll be still be doing a live show in the middle of it, but we're gonna be doing other things just for the live audience, there's gonna be a lot more interaction, we're gonna be experimenting with different games and other events. And, you know, George might do some music or whatever, it's going to be an expanded event with a lot more you know interactive stuff going on and interaction hanging out with us. So, we're going to see how that goes, so yeah, so keep an eye out for that. And don't forget for the extravaganzas we also have VIP tickets where you get to spend an hour with us either before or after the show depending on the schedule of the venue. You get extra swag, you get, you know to to take pictures with us and stuff like that. So if you're not going to the private shows and you you want some VIP time, that is an option for the extra, for the extravaganzas as well.
C: Oh and you get the best seats in the house.
S: And you get the best seats.
Second Book Launch
S: All right and so here's the other, the other half of our shameless self promotion is the our second book just launched. So, not published but it's publishing September 27th but you can now pre-order it. this is The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future
J: Whoa, that's such a cool title Steve.
S: It is. (laughter) Bob, Jay and I are the authors on this one. We had so much fun writing this book─
B: Oh my god.
S: ─and we learned an incredible amount. Ss much as we felt like oh we're steeped in all of these topics, just doing the research for the book, well, it just takes you to the next level.
B: Right, exactly.
S: I actually changed my mind─
B: There's a new layer on that onion.
S: ─I changed my mind on some of these technologies based upon the research that we did.
S: It was really profound. So, a lot of fun, I think the book came out very very well. You can, we'll have the link on the show notes, we'll have the link on the SGU site, it's grandcentralpublishing.com and look just look for the Skeptic's Guide to the Future and you can pre-order it, you can pre-order pretty much everywhere both the hard copy, the kindle version and the audio book. So there will be an audio book, I'll be recording that over the summer. So all of those can be pre-ordered. We really, if you feel like you know you might be buying this book, we really encourage you to pre-order it because that helps us get over that threshold to maybe get on a best seller list. Which of course would really help promote the book. So we would definitely appreciate it if you, if you pre-order your copy, that will help us a lot. And I think the cover is totally awesome.
B: Oh my god I love it, my new background on my phone.
J: Steve I was going to get that tattooed to my face, you think that's going too far or what?
E: Not far enough.
B: Just do one cheek, one cheek.
S: Back? Lower back?
J: The lower back?
S: Or maybe a scapula, I would do a scapula. Yeah, so check that out, we're really excited about that.
J: Steve, now, don't forget, there is one more thing NECSS 2022. It's a lock everybody, remember, I think I said last week or this could have been on our live stream, I said we weren't 100% sure. Now I'm 100% sure. We are definitely doing NECSS 2022. It will be the first weekend of August, that's August 5th and August 6th and we have a keynote. Not a keynote speaker, a keynote situation. (laughter) You ready to hear this? The keynote situation is that Bill Nye will be having a discussion with David Copperfield.
C: That's right copper. Oh my gosh I'm so excited.
S: Good try, good try Cara.
J: We interviewed, I know, you keep working on that accent.
C: No no, I intentionally didn't do that's right copper, because this this needed something louder and more exciting.
J: You guys might remember we interviewed David six months ago, middle of the summer I think it was. It's hard, it's hard to tell, the pandemic has destroyed my ability to tell time.
E: It was last fall.
J: And we had a great time talking to him. He was a ton of fun to talk to.
B: He was great.
J: He has you know an endless number of stories because he's been doing something amazing for so long that he literally like we had to like stop the interview because we didn't have any more time. But we loved talking to him and that was the impetus for asking him to speak at NECSS and he, you know, he very generously said that he would be happy to do it. And you know Bill is now involved with NECSS formally and Bill is going to talk to him. So the two of those guys are going to have a really fun conversation. That's our keynote. It's a, it's a keynote situation that we would like you to enjoy. So you can go to necss.org, n-e-c-s-s dot o-r-g for all the details that you need to sign up. Now keep in mind we're filling in our speaker list as we go. And we have a theme this year and the theme is navigating the misinformation apocalypse. So we will be we will be hitting some themes here during the conference about how how do science communicators deal with misinformation. How should the general public deal with misinformation. How do we deal with it? Because it's everywhere, coming from all directions and that's what we hope to answer during this conference, so please join us.
B: We are doomed.
S: And did you mention that it's an all digital conference?
J: Steve, did you know that NECSS 2022 is all digital? It's live streaming? You can watch this conference literally from anywhere you want in the world.
S: In your underwear.
J: Right. You know, you could be eating cereal as you're watching it. The cool thing is is, you could get your ticket and then you could watch the conference for up to like six months, because it's just there online whenever you want, you can watch it live, if you can't make it you don't have to watch it live, you can watch it basically whenever you want. But if you want to see it live with us, it'll be on August 5th and 6th of this year.
S: All right thanks Jay.
Redefining the Second (10:27)
S: All right guys let's move on to some news items. And Jay you're gonna start with redefining the second. So this is another series of news items about measurements and stuff, whenever there's a significant update to measurements we like to talk about it. this one this time it's the second.
J: This one has a really cool history to it, there's so much more here than I could cover. Look, scientists are about to do something big, to something very small, right? Seconds, right they're small Cara, but they're important. The second is important. So they're gonna change the definition of the second. And I don't mean like we're going to call it something else. They are refining the accuracy of the second and let me tell you the story behind it. Now historically people would track time by the Earth's movement. This is what people have been doing for thousands of years. The Sun's relative position would change in the sky, right? And since the Earth's rotate rotation is slowing, which it factually is, scientists knew that they had to measure time in a way that was considered to be a 100% constant, right? Because the Earth, the Earth's rotation is slowly, slowly slowing down, that means that the amount of time it takes the Earth to rotate is changing. And that's not good when you're tracking seconds and when seconds or even hundreds of seconds or thousands of seconds are important to do scientific measurements. So for example Earth, Earth's slowing rotation lost three hours of time in the past two thousand years. Now I get that that might not seem like a lot but, but to science it's intolerable! Like, right, scientists can't stand that it's not, it's not a predictable measure of time because you know one second is changing if you, if you use that, if you're measuring it via the rotation of the Earth. So, I recommend that you read some history of the way that humans have been tracking time and how time tracking came to be because it's fascinating. But to give you a tiny little bit of information, before 1967 the second was considered one over eighty six thousand four hundredth of a day. That was, that's that was basically what you needed to know. And all this led scientists back in '67 to change how we measure time by looking, now instead of saying we're going to use the Earth or astronomical ways of defining how long a second is, we are going to use atoms, right? Like an atomic clock, I'm sure you've heard of the term atomic clock. Well what the hell does that mean? What is an atomic clock? Scientists needed something back then that was predictable and more constant than the rotation of the Earth. So they used the motion of atomic particles, because they never wear out, right, you know atoms don't wear out. And they never change their properties. Atoms are going to behave the way that they are at the speed that they're going to behave under normal conditions and that's it forever. Until the universe ends so from a scientific point of view, they are the perfect way to measure time. Using atoms and using the movement of atomic particles. So they ended up using, they ended up using something called cesium which you know it's it's an atom.
C: It's an element.
J: It's an element.
C: It's weird to say it's an atom.
J: Yeah, you're right, it's an element made of atoms. Okay. So because that, because cesium, they have a heavier atomic weight and it's its resonance frequency was easier to study and track. They use microwaves to excite the cesium atoms to emit a flash of light at regular intervals and those regular intervals were the movement of the atom itself. They had instruments that could pick up the flash of photons and measure time using these regular flashes that that came from the atom when they hit them with microwaves, right?
B: Right so like 9.2, 9.2 billion flashes in a second.
B: So that number is very precise.
C: How do you count something like, how do you have the resolution that counts something like that? (laughter)
S: Okay, I think, I think I can give a more technical explanation than that. It's tricky and it's hard to find sources that really give it a good description, but here we go. Cesium-133 atoms essentially exist in two energy states, let's just say a low energy and a high energy state. So they use a magnet to separate the two, so that you have a pure stream of low energy state cesium atoms. They then expose it to microwaves at precisely the right frequency, that 9.2 billion cycles per second which bumps the low energy cesium items into a high energy state. They then use another magnet to remove any remaining low energy cesium atoms and they count the high energy cesium atoms. Which then feeds back into the microwave generator so they can fine-tune the microwaves to the precise frequency that maximizes the number of high-energy cesium atoms hitting the detector, right ? So that's how they make that that frequency extremely, extremely precise. Here's where it gets a little tricky and it's hard to find an exact description. I think there's different types of clocks that may use different methods but a common method at this point is then to use a quartz crystal, like a regular quartz time keeper. And they use the resident frequency of the microwaves to fine-tune the oscillations of the quartz crystal. In one description where they get they make it 10 million cycles per second. And then you can just use regular electronics to measure those 10 million cycles per second. Basically every 10 million cycles it spits out a pulse, that's one second. So but I know there's a, there's a Fountain Cesium Clock at NIST which is uses a slightly different method. It gets a little technically complicated at that point but it's essentially they're fine tuning the resonance frequency of the microwaves to the cesium atoms by measuring how many of those atoms get bumped into the higher energy state and then they have to feed that back into some kind of counter which could in one type uses just a regular quartz crystal to measure time.
J: All right so guys the International Bureau of Weights and Measures which I think is pretty cool. They ended up facilitating the official change in measuring the second using these cesium atoms back in '67. But keep in mind that astronomical time and atomic time still needed to be synced up since we're living on Earth and we need to we need our, you know, our day and night and our 24 hour cycle to still make sense, even though it's a little bit longer than 24 hours, they still had to sync them up. So what scientists did is they add a leap second to the atomic time roughly every year and a half. And this accounts for Earth's slowing spin.
C: And this is why like our GPS's work?
J: Yeah right.
S: Part of it.
J: If they didn't if they didn't sync things up like this lots of stuff wouldn't work, right? So they have to they have to sync it up because we are bound to the Earth and we live on the Earth so therefore we need our astronomical time keeping and our atomic time keeping to jive with each other so we have these fix it, fix it little doodads that we do every year and a half or so. So updating the measure of a second is happening because scientists have created new and very sensitive instruments called optical atomic clocks. these work like the cesium time tracking method but the new version can detect much faster atomic movement. So they can, they can use many different atoms today or ions with the latest equipment that they've come up with like like strontium and mercury and aluminum, to list a few. Now none of them have been picked as the new default atom or ion because all of the this is still in the laboratory, it's not ready for prime time yet, you know, they haven't dialed everything in yet. The equipment takes many people to operate, you know, it's not, it's not simple enough or elegant enough to use as the new standard yet. The equipment takes many people to operate and is simply not elegant enough to use as the new standard yet. The equipment needs to be perfectly stable as an example it has to be shielded from the Earth's magnetic field, you know, they need to chill the atoms or ions to near absolute zero. This slows them down and then they shoot lasers at them. And they're searching for the best wavelength of light that works best with each different atom or ion, right, because they want they want that really specific wavelength of light that's going to make the atom do something, like give a predictable reaction. Like it might create photons or you know it might you know give off a certain amount of energy at some at some point that they can detect.
S: Yeah so essentially they're using atoms that have a resonance frequency in the optical range rather than the microwave range. So they're, that resonant frequency is about 50 000 times greater than for cesium atoms and therefore they're 50 000 times more precise.
J: A second type of laser called a Femtosecond-Laser Frequency Comb
B: Oh baby.
J: This is what Bob uses in the morning to comb his hair. A Femtosecond-Laser Frequency Comb. This laser is used to read the wavelengths of laser light that excites the atoms or ions. So this process can detect and measure these pulses of light a hundred thousand times faster than the cesium clocks from 50 years ago.
E: Whoa, that's, that's significant.
J: Right? So that right there is how much more accurate the clocks, you know, the atomic clocks are today than the ones that they created back in '67 or earlier. This means that these new methods of measuring time are are just much more accurate and much more in line with scientific precision. Which is what we want here. So, after all this I would expect at least Cara or Evan to say, hey why do we need the second to be so much more precise? Who cares?
C: For our GPS's
E: Hey, why do we need the second to be so much more precise?
J: Thank you Evan, I'm really glad that you're absorbing this. One reason is that time is affected by gravity.
E: Is it?
J: And you might go okay so what. Well time moves slower when you are near a planet or a black hole, right? So the closer you are to a gravity well, anything that is producing gravity, could be a planet, could be a Sun, could be a black hole. Time is not constant in our universe because of this. Time is constant to the, you know, to your relative position but time is moving faster and slower all over the place in our universe because of gravity. Because atomic clocks are affected by gravity and their time tracking will reflect this, this means that they can detect things like gravitational waves or dark matter. Think about that. Right? Because they are, they're so sensitive to changes in gravity, these these new atomic clocks. They can detect gravitational waves, that is freaking amazing. This was proven back in─
C: Would they be used for that purpose?
J: I absolutely think so Cara, I mean I think that they're so sensitive
B: Wait a second, wait how did that work?
J: I'm gonna tell you right now Bob, I'm gonna tell you right now, check this out, this was proven back in 2015. So physicists at NIST were working on these optical atomic clocks and they noticed that the time was not consistent on all their clocks that that were situated around boulder Colorado. They have multiple, multiple versions of these clocks that they're, that they're working on and that they're testing and they were very close to each other all, you know, all in the same city. But the time that they were representing was off and they're like what's going on, what the hell is this? So it turns out that all the clocks were at slightly different altitudes.
B: Yes! Right.
E: The altitude matters?
J: So why does that matter? A clock that was one centimeter higher than another one, that was a few miles away was reading time differently because it was farther from the center of the Earth which means that it was farther from the center of the gravity well that it was pulling on it. One centimeter guys. And they, and these these clocks recorded the difference.
B: All right, so...
J: One centimeter in altitude, Bob, think about that.
B: I already have, I talked about it like a year and a half ago on this show.
J: What did you think, what was your reaction?
B: You said gravitational waves Jay.
J: Yes. They said, Bob, the article said that these things could detect gravitational waves and dark matter.
S: Bob, Bob, I think this is what jay's talking about. So I'm seeing a study from 2015 "Using Atomic Clocks to Detect Gravitational Waves" they say that if we they, they're pointing out theoretically, that if you had an array of atomic clocks distributed along the Earth's orbit around the Sun, that that would have the sensitivity to detect the time dilation effect of a megahertz gravitational wave. Such as those emitted by supermassive black holes and binary. So you would have to set up an instrument using these clocks to detect it.
S: You're detecting the difference you know between an array of these atomic clocks but they are sensitive enough that they can detect something of the magnitude, the relativity effect of the magnitude of a gravitational wave.
B: So I'm just trying to think how, how it stretched space time by like, by like a thousandth of the diameter of a proton, how that is going to affect an atomic clock.
S: The simultaneous measurement of clock rates at different phases of a passing gravitational wave provides an attractive alternative to the interferometric detection of temporal variations in distance.
C: Yeah it sounds like it's not the clock itself, it's the clock relative to the clock next to it.
B: Yeah yeah, so yeah, oh yeah of course, of course, but okay all right, I get, I get that. But I mean, that just just that just came out of left field for me.
J: They're saying that it's possible that they will have like have finalized this way of measuring time, probably by the second half of this decade. You know, They're, I don't think they're in a big rush. I think they want to wait until they nail it.of course.
S: Yeah they have time. (laughter)
J: But. But we will be someday very soon, we will be measuring, we will be measuring the second now with more precision, you know, once that they master this technique. So nothing has changed other than the fact that it's more accurate and that it can do a lot of cool things that piss Bob off.
S: Okay all right thanks Jay.
C: Love you guys.
B: Love you Jay.
NFT Medicine (24:24)
- Go read this report about the virtual doctors at an NFT clinic who can’t legally give medical advice
S: Cara, what is NFT medicine? What is this?
J: What the hell?
E: Non-fungible token medicine.
J: No way, no way.
C: Guys, okay.
E: Is that right?
C: This is an evolving story that really has kind of hit the news cycle within the last week or so. And, you know, each article is adding something to it and things are changing in the background every day. So if you're googling this on Saturday, we recorded this the previous Wednesday, so just keep that in mind. This is an evolving─
E: So much has changed.
C: ─story. Okay, so I think in order to really dive deep into it, we don't have time to do the deepest ever dive of like what an NFT is and what blockchain is and what cryptocurrency is because these things are all related. But I do think it's important to like make sure we know what those terms basically at least refer to. So is anybody here confused about the concepts of NFT's, blockchains, crypto?
E: I know barely enough.
C: Okay but you, and I think that's how most people feel and it's like, yes we could probably do a super deep dive into it but if we know barely enough we might be okay. So a blockchain is a database that's distributed, it shared a bunch of bunch of, its shared amongst a bunch of nodes of a computer network. So it's, think about that, it's a, it's a database that's spread out a bunch of multiple nodes, usually like sometimes dozens or hundreds or thousands of machines. And then blockchains, as we we know them very often for their role in in crypto. Things like bitcoin, because they're able to make decentralized records of transactions so it's not just in one place, it's across all these different nodes which makes it really really really really secure and have high fidelity, right? So if, that's not the only thing that blockchain is used for but we know it well within the context of cryptocurrency. But another context is the NFT, the non-fungible token which, and I have some concerns and questions even about the, the huge boom in NFTs because I think it opens the door to a lot of scammy activity online. But basically an NFT is a unit of data, that's really all it is. And you can't interchange it. So I love, an article that I once read referred to an NFT like the necklace you made for your grandma out of macaroni at summer camp. There can only ever just be one. And you can give it to her and she can go I don't like this, I'm gonna sell it to somebody else or give it to somebody else but it's never gonna be replicated. You can make a knockoff but there's only one macaroni necklace. Does that make sense? So an NFT is a digital version of that. And so far we've heard about it like photos, videos, audio, like albums on NFT, there's even, Mila Kunis and the guy I think who invented Ethereum, they made like a TV show about stoned cats. There's like a whole thing. And like, very often this stuff is paid for with cryptocurrency and it's ungodly expensive. Like that's another amazing thing about NFTs, is that they represent real world items, they can, because they're like tokens. But very often that's what they are, they are tokens. I mean by definition they're non-fungible tokens. There is like this inflated price that goes along with a lot of them. What's that recent artwork that sold, you guys saw that right? 91.8 million dollars.
C: Most expensive NFT ever sold. In December of 2021 by an artist who goes by the pseudonym PAK it was called 'The Merge'. 91.8 million dollars. So like, yeah. And that's, that's not a one-off you guys. Like, if you start reading and getting into the the weeds on what NFTs are, how much they cost, who's paying for them. There's a lot, there's a lot of money and a lot of potential for scamming. I say all that to preface this very interesting business? I guess you could call it that. Business called MetaDocs. Now MetaDocs were like, hey, we're gonna be a group of internet famous doctors and we're going to offer medicine as an NFT.
B: Oh my gosh.
E: Sounds expensive.
C: And this sparked a lot of concern. Yes, first of all very expensive. In their white paper they were listing it as 0.2, yeah so that's about of at the time it was about 570$ to buy the NFT. But, if I were to sit here and tell you everything the NFT got you I would be lying because all of this is still somewhat theoretical. It feels a little like the Fyre festival to me. Like there's a white paper and there's like a website and everybody's talking about it. But it doesn't exist yet.
E: It's got massive social media momentum.
C: Massive. But it doesn't actually exist yet and so we don't really know what it holds. What we do know is that when the white paper was first published, there were a lot of doctors on board and these doctors were mostly, they kind of came from every different discipline and they came from all over the sort of expertise and credential spectrum. But it seems like there was one thing that they all had in common and that was that they were either Instagram or tik-tok famous. So these doctors came with, I wouldn't call it cachet but I would call it a following. And the idea here was, okay, it was pitched as a way to "cut through the red tape" of traditional medicine. I guess that means for rich people. That's the only way that I can kind of make sense of this. Because if you can't afford this, then what good is cutting through red tape? And the idea here is that this would be a non-fungible token that you could purchase using crypto of these doctors, they are represented by cartoons. If you wanna look this up online you'll see pictures of the cartoons. They are kind of scary-looking. I personally would feel really uncomfortable in the metaverse for example discussing a legitimate medical concern with one of these like creepy little avatars of a physician.
J: What you get? I mean, what, I know it's an NFT but is is it actually providing medical services?
C: Right, so here's the real problem. They don't have a telehealth credential. And this this kind of came out after people started reading about this they were like wait, MetaDocs are a bunch of doctors that are selling their presence, their interaction for a pretty high dollar of crypto on what they want eventually to be the metaverse. They want this to be like a web 3.0 kind of interaction. But, they can't legally dispense medical advice. So basically they're talking about AMAs, they're talking about video chats but they're now all of a sudden as people are asking more and more cleaning up the white paper, removing descriptions on the discord server, removing original videos that were kind of talking a big game about how this was going to disrupt the health care industry. Because they can't make claims about the person who buys the NFT being a patient. The provider actually providing medical advice or treating the patient. They say that's all kind of where they want to go. They hope it'll evolve into what they called a virtual clinic in the metaverse where a patient can wear a haptic suit and be remotely examined in VR by a physician. And although that sounds like a really cool idea a-the technology isn't there yet and b-a lot of physicians have come out saying I am not comfortable with this ethically and I'm very concerned, I'm not gonna say this is a scam but I'm concerned that this has all the trappings of a scam. And so this is where I wanted to, this is why I wanted to talk about this on the show. Because I wanted to open this up to a conversation with you guys like, what are your concerns? Do you see this potentially being the future of medicine someday? Do you feel like MetaDocs went about this the wrong way? Because it was like kind of all glitter, it was all marketing. And the contents really not quite there. Like here's a quote from a physician at University hospitals in Cleveland: "There are a lot of hype words thrown around that don’t really convey any meaning. They don’t guarantee that you could access the doctor your problem needs or even one that has completed medical training." Cause that's another problem here. They found out that since all of this was kind of first announced and becoming public on the internet, multiple doctors have left. A couple of them have said that their names were included in the press materials without ever consulting them. A couple of them were physicians who were still in residency, so they're not fully licensed yet, or they're not fully board certified yet. And here's another a quote from a doctor who's not involved in MetaDocs who said: "If you’re incentivizing doctors to join this [project] based on their community of followers, or generating profit for token holders, it’s hard to reconcile with the ethos of care." And so a lot of people are likening this unto sort of Dr Oz on an older platform, television, promoting all sorts of supplements and unproven things kind of using his clout as a physician to build a following and then to sell stuff. And they're worried that that's sort of this is like a web 3.0 version of that. So what do you guys think?
J: On first blush it sounds completely horrible, I mean first of all it's confusing which is is part of the problem here because I think your average person would be like huh? What, what's happening? Like you want me to like buy time talking to a cartoon version of a doctor, that's gonna do what? And if they're, and if they're like basing some of their ability to to give treatments to people or to come up with a prognosis on someone with haptic feedback. That, that could be 20 years away.
C: Exactly, that's no, they're nowhere near that and so what they keep saying is that it's about offering information and education. And so like based on what you just said Jay, I love this so there's a BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed News blew a lot of this open, but there are like a ton of other articles around it now. But I scrolled down to the bottom of the BuzzFeed News article and looked at the comments, you guys are gonna love this. The first comment, there, there are three that come up right at the top that I'm just obsessed with. The first comment: "Those are certainly all words". (laughter) Which certainly how we're all feeling. The next comment: "Dystopian as hell", which I think we're all kind of feeling that too. But then another comment which offers the alternative view: "Not sure really why this is an issue other than clickbaiting the NFT hate. I’m curious to see if 10 years from now we’re all using NFTs and crypto for everything lol. BuzzFeed come on you guys need to focus on more important things and actually use your audience to make an impact!". So you've got sort of the other side of it which is like crypto is you know is the future and you guys are just luddites because you don't really get it yet. But of course then there's responses to that like calm down, crypto's polluting the environment it's never gonna catch on the way, you want ,it to you know, let's all let's all take a breath. So it's it's an interesting slice of a microcosm of an industry, this sort of web 3 industry, that a lot of people are genuinely legitimately hopeful that blockchain is the future. But I worry that this is very very preemptive.
E: And who wants to be the guinea pig right?
C: A lot of people, that's the crazy thing, like when you when you start to dig into these rabbit holes, reading about crypto and NFTs, you find out that people are spending so much money to get access to artwork, to get access to tv shows that only exist on the blockchain, to get access to things other people can't have. I wouldn't be surprised if they could raise a ton of funding for this.
S: So my concern is that it's not it's not even the NFT aspect of it, it's the service that's being provided which is not a consult but sort of is.
C: Right, it's ethically nebulous, what is it?
S: Yeah it's in that gray zone. There's a reason why we don't do this. Either you're giving a full medical consult or you're not.
S: And that middle zone is dangerous because you're not getting all the information you need, you know what I mean? Like so are you reviewing their medical records, are you doing a full history? Or do you know what all their allergies are? Do you, you know, unless you do a full evaluation you can miss things, you can give bad advice.
C: Right, like when you're talking to a lot of people, like you you do on science based medicine, we do here on the SGU, you see it on the nightly news or even sometimes on, so actually all the time on social media but sometimes it's done ethically. Where physicians are saying here's a topic, this is what the evidence shows, this is the way we tend to approach it, this is general information to educate you. It's not intended to treat any specific illness or to be personalized. But this is personalized, so this is one person, that's where things get scary.
S: But I think the the use of NFTs, I mean there's the whole issue of their bad for the environment, uses up too much energy, it's not sustainable. But that aside, having some kind of a digital ownership system could be useful for things even beyond just owning artwork or memes or whatever. There's there's an article from earlier this year where they talked about using NFTs or some system like that and for so that patients can own their own health information.
C: Right, like your DNA.
S: Like sell it in a health information exchange, oh you want to use my information in the study oh, I own it, let's talk about what you're going to pay me for, you know?
C: I could see that with like a 23 and me, with a you know where it it brings the power back into the hands of the patient.
S: Yeah, exactly, that's what it's intended to do. Yeah so we'll see, we're still obviously it's it's early days, you know, people will explore everything, but that's different that way I'm concerned about the, is this a consult or isn't? Is this telehealth? Then do telehealth. (Cara laughs)
C: I know, don't you feel like they're solving a problem that doesn't exist?
E: What's the necessity, right, yeah, what's driving this?
J: I mean isn't it crystal clear that these doctors are trying to get rich off of this stupid NFT hype?
C: Well that's what I think and so here is a a quote from the I think the guy who started this or he's very high up. His name's Joorbachi, he's, he's an how do you say an ear no, ear nose and throat doctor?
C: He refers to himself as a "medical infotainment provider".
B:' Oh [inaudible] dangerous.
E: What? What is that? That's like someone who sells oil from the back of the carnival.
C: Well, I think he's a licensed you know, I think he's a licensed and credentialed physician who also does a lot of─
E: I'm just saying what it sounds like.
C: ─well he does a lot of infotainment on social media, right? So he says: "Value isn’t just medical care, our deliverable is connecting people with these doctors for a value of whatever they want to talk about or connect with.”
J: What the hell does that even mean? What, do you want to talk about the latest movie they saw? I want to go to a specialist that can help me with the very specific thing that's wrong with me.
C: I know, it's very stra, I mean I can imagine that there's someone listening who's like maybe struggled with chronic disease who has been in the medical system for a long time and has struggled with a lot of the kind of negative trappings that we often hear about within the con like the constraints of our medical system. Not enough time, too short of sessions, too short of appointments that could say, oh my god I would love to be able to just sit and talk to a physician and really like really engage with them and ask them a lot of questions because I often feel like I can't do that when I'm seeking care utilizing traditional medicine. But my, the sad thing is, I don't think that's what this is. And I don't think this would offer that person that. I think that all this would do is open up potential ethical Pandora's box.
S: Yeah sounds dodgy.
C: It's worrisome.
C: It sounds super dodgy, that's why I said at the beginning. And maybe I shouldn't have sort of biased it with like the more I read about this the more I think this is like Fyre festival, but it just has that vibe to me. And I'm concerned about it.
S: Yeah. Let's see where it goes.
C: Me too, yeah, so like I said, evolving story, almost every day there's a new article that says you know they took down this explanation off their website, so, yeah. But their website is still up and you can kind of see see about it yourself and I don't know, see what you think.
LHC Restart (42:29)
S:Bob, tell us about restarting the LHC.
B: Yep, just hit the on switch and they're good, that was it.
J: And they're good, yeah.
E: Here's your problem.
B: So yeah, the Large Hadron Collider, LHC has emerged from its four-year moribund state and is ready for run number three. So, is new physics beyond the standard model finally in the damn cards this time?
B: Okay, well we all know and love the LHC, right? It's the largest particle physics experiment in the world and also the largest machine in the world. Basically rams protons together at near the speed of light and multiple detectors examine the wreckage to learn what makes reality tick. That's pretty much the LHC in a nutshell.
E: That's a big crash test.
B: Yeah, right. So during the first, during its first run in 2012 famously found the Higgs boson, which is a basically a manifestation of the Higgs field which gives mass to things. Anything that has mass thanks to Higgs. And that capped five decades search for the little bugger. Unabashed success.
C: The goddamn particle.
B: Yeah, right? But not long after that the LHC was powered down basically for a couple years for upgrades, refurbishment and then run two started in 2015 with high high hopes. But, that didn't go as well. At least as I had hoped. It looked early on, it looked like they were doing great, they found evidence of a of a new particle and, you know, everyone was saying it was evidence for supersymmetry which posits among other things counterpart particles. So, photons would have cousins called fotinos and quarks would have their goofy cousins called squarks.
C: Nooo, squarks?
E: No way!
B: And actually that would have been real, it would have been really cool because supersymmetry did, would have answered questions and even pointed to dark matter candidates but, that that potential new particle that I mentioned just 12 seconds ago in run two, was just a statistical anomaly. And now I know why, I know why, I know what happened. Because the theory that called those particles squarks and fotinos, I'm convinced the Universe said squarks, really? Well I'm just going to change reality around a little bit. So that they don't exist because you had whatever, okay those names were horrible. But it didn't pan out, didn't pan out. And then run two was put out of its misery in 2018 and since then the LHC has been busy getting ready for round three which started, well let me check my watch, oh yes back on April 22nd. So what have they been doing for all these years since 2018? What was done, what might we expect? So, a lot of what they've been doing is upgrades. One of the big things they improved its luminosity. Now that term in this context means that it's essentially more particle collisions per square centimeter, per second. That said, more collisions means more chances for cool stuff to happen and new signs to happen. And while I'm on this subject, the beam line of the LHC, that you know the the the tube that the beam runs through needs to be evacuated of air, right? Because you don't want these protons to be hitting anything. So it's got to be the the best vacuum possible. And it really is. Pressures in that tube in the beam line are as low as 1/10 trillionth of an atmosphere. Scientists call it the emptiest place in the solar system which is six great words. The emptiest place in the solar system. I love it. A proton can travel for hundreds of hours and it basically has zero chance of hitting an air molecule, fantastic. All right so they improved the luminosity, what else did they do? The detectors they well the detectors had to be beefed up too because they, these detectors had to deal with all these new collisions that are going to that were happening. So, better detectors. And then they needed of course, you needed better data analysis techniques, right? Because you have to go through all that extra data that's being created by the beefier detectors made to handle all that extra luminosity. So all of that happened but also magnets were upgraded, these superconducting magnet magnets can allow for 13.6 tera electron volts instead of just the poultry 13 tev, that they had in run two. So a lot more powerful, this, this one was new, a new detector, a small one called faser, f-a-s-e-r. This detects really low mass particles leaking from the LHC. And the hope here is that these particles that they might detect will be related to the dark sector. Which is not as creepy as it sounds since it just means dark matter, it's talking about like dark matter. So now dark matter is not part of the standard model of particle physics. And if they if this new detector called faser did actually detected it, I mean, oh my god that discovery would have Nobel prizes pouring from it like sauce from Jay's meatballs. So that would be one of the big big unforgettable events of run three if they actually did, obviously if they detected dark you know dark matter, oh my god, okay. But of course there's a boring stuff that they've been doing for the past few years. Like just refurbishing, right? The entropy happens you know, you've got technical infrastructure that needs, that needs to be kind of looked at and fixed and repaired. Cooling, ventilation, electrical distribution, elevators, cranes, fire detect, all that stuff, that was, that's also been done. Okay so so now the hope for run three that started last week, so one of the hopes is there's some things that truly mysterious at this point and they're like okay, we got to look into this during run three. One of these was the result of a recent analysis that showed that W bosons which mediate the weak force, they were shown to have much higher masses than predicted by the standard model. That's, that's really exciting. So a lot of the researchers that worked with this think that this is a definitive pointer to potentially new physics. Like, for example a brand new particle or even better a new force, that could potentially be revealed by the LHC's run three. Based on the fact that this the standard model got this prediction off by you know a fairly wide margin. So this is an opportunity for new physics. That makes, that makes it exciting. You know, the standard model said did these the W bosons for the weak force neat are within this, this range of mass, you know, they analyze these results from another collider from like 10 years ago and they're like oh man these masses are not in line with with the standard model. Why is the standard model predicting, you know, is there is there a new force or particle that's making the mass different. That's, that's really exciting.
C: Yeah seems [inaudible] placeholder now.
B: Yeah, the other thing about it, yeah, but you know been down this road before, you know, I'm trying not to get my hopes up. But this one just could genuinely produce something, but we'll see, let's see, the other thing that I really liked about the hopes for run three for the LHC was thinking outside the box. Which is what, which is I think they're they, they're really doing that here in this one area specifically. And that has to do with the assumption, the common assumption that massive particles are very short-lived. And that's, that's generally, essentially almost always or maybe even always, it's been true in the past. If you're if you've got a lot of mass and you're an obscure particle like say the Higgs, the Higgs boson that lasted for a billionth of a trillionth of a second. It's got, it's got a high mass, it it barely lasts for a flicker of a second. A billionth of a trillionth of a second. That's otherwise known as, say it with me, a sixtillionth of a second, right guys?
C: A sixtillionth of a second!
B: That's one of my favorite numbers. So, but what if the particles, what if particles lasted far longer than a sixtillionth of a second they're calling these LLPs, for long-lived particles, decent initialism I guess. LLPs. So what they're going to do is because the thing is if you're if you live longer if this particle is created out of the wreckage of crashing protons. And it lives longer than you think. Then it's going to be outside of the detector's range. The detector is not going to be focusing on this area, because it didn't think that anything would ever get that, would live that long to get that far. So they are they revised their analysis techniques during run three that are specifically going to be looking for these LLPs.
C: How do they define, like what's the cutoff? Like one thousandth or one millionth of a second? That's still tiny right?
B: Yeah, that's still tiny but that that might be too long, you know, compared to a sixtillionth a million is.
E: Like a quadrillion.
B: So I don't know what the cutoff is.
C: Probably a bajillions.
B: Yeah, bajillion, you got it. So everyone, everyone join me in wishing the LHC the best of luck in making run three the best one yet. Come on we need some new physics, we need the standard model to collapse into a puddle of jelly because it just didn't see it didn't make these predictions that they are now you know revealing in run three. Maybe, who knows? It would be great. I just hate to think that they would go a few years and not really have some really amazing stuff discovered, that would be very disappointing. But you never know what's going to happen. Fingers crossed.
S: That's why it's called research Bob, right? Because we don't know what's gonna happen.
B: I know, I know. But you know, after years and years you just want, I want you know, I want new physics. I'm so tired to the standard model. I want some new shit. Guys the standard model says nothing about gravity, about dark energy, about dark matter. We know that stuff is real and the standard model.
S: Is great, it's just incomplete.
B: Right, it's incomplete. And we want to, we want to get some some theories about the stuff that we just don't know what to ex, how do we describe the 94% of the universe. Dark matter, dark energy. It's the biggest chunk of the universe and standard model says sorry scusi, don't know anything about this. Evan laughs) We need some theories, new physics please.
S: The standard model needs it's Jerry Maguire. You complete me. All right.
B: Somebody has to say it. All right, thank you.
Energy Psychology (52:16)
S: All right here we go. What do you guys know about emotional freedom technique? Cara have you learned this and you're psychologist?
C: No, here's the thing that's really annoying, they call it EFT. There's already something in psychology called EFT, it's Emotion Focused Therapy.
S: Oh they stole the initialism.
C: Yeah, and it's like somewhat legitimate.
B: Good use of that word Steve, yes. The initialism was taken.
C: And so it's frustrating when you see pseudoscience that uses the same initialism as a legitimate approach in therapy. It's confusing to the consumer.
S: Yeah totally.
E: They have an NFT for EFT now.
S: Now it's also called energy psychology.
B: Oh boy.
S: Red flags are popping off there.
B: Yeah, big time.
S: More popularly known as tapping therapy.
E: Oh gosh it's getting worse.
S: Basically what happens. So this is how it works, I'm just going to read you a definition from a EFT promoting website. It says: "EFT works by tapping on acupressure meridians to release blockages. When these blockages are released, the problem feeling can be released and move through the body. The process starts with the beginning statement of what the problem feeling is and includes a complete acceptance and acknowledgement of the problem." So if you are afraid of spiders you would say something about spiders don't bother me while I tap on your face and hand and then the emotional negativity associated with spotters magically goes away, it gets flushed over your body. Because it was trapped in the energy and those meridians. And by tapping these magical acupressure points it releases it and then you are free. You are, you have emotional freedom, that's why it's the emotional freedom technique, right? Pure pseudoscience.
B: That's pathetic. On its face, I mean it's just like not even trying.
S: It's incredibly popular guys. This is a popular─
C: Is it?
S: ─yeah it is.
C: It's not mainstream, the psychologists don't practice this.
S: Yes they do.
C: An actual licensed psychologist?
S: Yes. It's like EMDR just about 10 to 20 years behind.
C: Yeah I was gonna say it's not, because EMDR is problematic because there's some conversation about it being evidence-based.
S: There's a, there is a conversation about this being evidence-based as well. The problem is that the evidence is crap. Here's the problem, so first of all anything that involves accu points is BS because acupuncture points do not exist. They, we could say that as a positive statement. It's not just that we don't know if they exist, we don't know how they exist. They don't exist.
S: As much as we could say anything negative in science, right? It's been researched to death. And there's multiple independent lines of evidence that say that they just are not a thing. There is no anatomical, physiological, neurological, biochemical or biological basis for acupuncture points existing. And if you look at the─
E: It's a belief system.
S: ─literature, and I have. And acupuncturists have. There's actually been a review by acupuncture say hey, let's look at the literature just to decide where, like where exactly are the specific acupuncture points, let's see what the literature says about that. And they concluded, they're kind of everywhere, like they're, if you include the error bars around where the "point" is, it's just this huge part portion of the body with massive overlap, they're basically everywhere. And they essentially don't know where they are.
E: What's the difference between them being everywhere in nowhere. None.
S: Yeah, further, if you look at, like where's, where's the acupuncture points that would be important for whatever, for treating migraine or for treating hypertension or whatever. How do they decide which acupuncture points are are important for that particular indication? They just make it up. They get two or three acupuncturists together and they decide where they are. And if you compare different studies, different acupuncturists pick different points for the same outcome.
E: Sounds like astrology.
S: It is astrology, it's actually literally astrology, because when acupuncture was you know in its deep origins it was there were 365 acupuncture points. One for each day of the year. It was literally astrological projections onto the body. It was the same pseudoscience essentially. Now there are thousands of acupuncture points. There's also different traditions, you know, whether it's Korean versus, versus Chinese or whatever. There's auricular acupuncture. So, we were talking about this before. If you, you know, rerun history, science would be the same, right? You would still have the same physics and the same biology or whatever. It's not culturally or historically dependent because it's reflecting reality. If you reran history that however would pseudoscience be the same, right, would we have the same pseudosciences, we would have the same religions, would we have the same belief systems. No, they would all be different because they're completely culturally contingent. They are not based in reality. And the same thing with acupuncture, it would not be the same. Like we wouldn't there's right, it's not like it's been independently rediscovered multiple times because it really exists. It's just completely a cultural construct. And that's it and and it has no basis in reality. So right there we could pretty much write off EFT because it's based on something that doesn't exist. So the plausibility or prior probability is essentially zero. So what's happening? Why is there a debate about whether or not this is evidence based.
C: Well, this sounds like this is a purple hat, you know, therapy. It's, when you mentioned EMDR that's what's going on.
C: Like there's there is a specific ingredient that's being tapped into, that's not unique to this therapy. It's basically people are doing legitimate therapy while they're tapping on their bodies. And then they're seeing a positive benefit. And they're saying it's because of the tapping not because they're doing therapy.
S: Yeah it's like, here, we're gonna do a little bit of cognitive behavioral therapy. A little bit of exposure therapy. And we're gonna be tapping you while you're doing it. So and is the tapping the you know is that just a placebo effect or is it something real? And unfortunately this the state of the literature is pretty bad. The studies are not really rigorous, they haven't really figured out how to blind them properly. Most of them are small, many of them are single-blinded. Whether they don't really assess the blinding. The best studies I could find, whenever there's a whenever there's a study that has like a group that's a good control it's negative. Like the the comparison between EFT and that good control is not different. It's only when there is some methodological problem and you know essentially allowing for poor blinding. So there are things in psychological, psychological research is hard to control for placebo effects. Because the outcome─
C: Absolutely, because it's not a drug.
S: ─yeah the outcomes are subjective, there's something that you know Cara you know what this is demand characteristics which─
C: Yeah for sure, you wanna please the doctor you wanna please yeah.
S: ─subtle cues that tell the patient how they're supposed to respond. Which is why if the treater is not blinded again, it's worthless.
C: But it's also sometimes, the therapy itself there's no suitable placebo for the therapy because the therapy itself unblinds itself. Like that's problematic because it's not a drug you can't have a sugar pill. So sometimes you're doing a therapy, it's hard to blind that.
S: Yeah they do so you have to come up with a good sham, right, where you're doing.
C: Which is not always easy to do.
S: It's true. And it's also if the, if the treater knows it's the sham then that kills it because they're not going to have the enthusiasm, they're not going again, all those demand characteristics are not going to be there.
C: That's why randomized control trials are usually double blind, not just single blind.
S: Yeah they have to be, but not only double blind they have to be, you have to have an active placebo, you have to evaluate the blinding and on both sides. And if there's a failure of blinding they study with a such a subjective outcome. Especially since there's such thin margins where you already are expecting a huge effect from the treatment itself. You know, the behavioral like the legitimate treatment component of this. There's also non-specific effects just we know that whenever you introduce a novel element into a therapy scenario that has a huge placebo effect. So you're doing that as well.
C: And we also know that even not a placebo effect but one of the non-specific effects, I guess that is technically also a placebo effect, it is just being around a provider.
C: If you're if you're in mental distress and somebody is talking to you.
S: And there's physical contact which is another placebo driver.
C: Yeah that in and of itself is healing.
S: Yeah. So but there's no reason to think that the tapping is actually doing anything. It's just like EMDR, there's no evidence that the moving of the eyes and it has to, oh it's integrating the right and left hemisphere. They make these ridiculous like neuroscientific psychobabble explanations for what's happening. And it's it's just like it's really it's like poetry, it's not science.
C: Yeah and that's why Gerald Rosen calls it a quote purple hat therapy because he has this whole scenario where he's like, let's say you're afraid to drive on a bridge. And you work with a therapist and they teach you grounding exercises, breathing exercises, evidence-based approaches to help you get through this exposure therapy to drive on the bridge. And then they put a purple hat on you and they go this purple hat is going to protect you from your stress. And then you drive over the bridge and you say oh it's the purple hat, that's why I was protected. No, it's all the freaking therapy you just had, and all of the techniques you learned about how to not be as stressed as you drive across the bridge. That's EMDR, it's the purple hat.
S: Yeah it's basically a gimmick.
C: And it sound like that's the tapping.
C: But sadly EMDR, I mean it's, I don't think it's better because you're right, they base it on like neurobabble and just made up stuff but at least they're not basing it on like chakras.
S: Yeah this is, yeah it's hard to know what's worse, I agree it's like there's no flavors of annoying. But this is like explicitly endorsing energy medicine and acupressure points and all that stuff. It's just complete nonsense.
C: And for that reason I do want to say, just to kind of like defend my field, of course they're probably psychologists who do this but the APA is not like, yeah do this, they didn't list this as anything evidence-based, they don't promote this or say you should be using this therapeutic approach.
S: Yeah. Give it, give it time.
C: No, they're pretty good. Like APA tries to be really really.
S: What do they say about EMDR?
C: That one's questionable. Yeah see, that's right, I think this is heading in that direction. But we'll see. The problem is they're not getting to the right threshold of of clinical research. You know where you have, remember we talked about you have to pre-register your trials so that you can't have a final drawer effect. You need adequate effect size, you need they need to be powerful enough, you need a large study, it needs to be properly blinded, you need to assess the blinding. And it needs to be, you need to have a replicatable protocol. If you don't have that, you, again if you don't have a real phenomenon, you cannot demonstrate that phenomenon is real. And when the basis of it is magic you need to be especially skeptical and they're not. A lot of, a lot of practitioners are not, a lot of people who are promoting it and saying, oh it's evidence-based etc, it's not really evidence-based, it's not. It's, you are accepting a too low level of evidence, so it's very very problematic.
Researching the Paranormal (1:03:41)
S: Okay, Evan, you're going to tell us about another paranormal pseudoscientific thing. This one in anthropology. Tell us about that.
E: Yeah pair anthropology. So like para anthropology put together.
C: Like ghosts and shit?
E: Yes. (laughs) All right, I read about this one at the Harvard Gazette in their science and technology section.
E: Yes. Hey these are the facts. Colleen Walsh was the staff writer who handled this one. Anthropologist, here's the headline: "Anthropologist describes supernatural adventures. Studying the paranormal can contribute to the field of anthropology, says Jack Hunter in a recent Harvard talk.". Oh yes, and he did give a talk online for about an hour. This was back in late March and it got reported on. Unfortunately for the purposes of the news item the talk's available that, you can watch it on YouTube and that's what I did, I watched it. It makes, well let me jump to the news article first and I'll go directly to the video and tell you what it says. But the news article makes some observations, a couple basic things. So again, the subject of the article is dr Jack Hunter, here are some of his bona fides, I grabbed them directly from his website. He's an anthropologist exploring the borderlands of consciousness, religion, ecology and the paranormal. He holds various teaching positions at the university of University of Wales Trinity Saint David and at Newton College. His PhD at the University, his PhD at the University of Bristol took the form of an ethnographic study of contemporary trance and physical mediumship.
C: Wait, what? Was that even mean?
E:PhD in mediumship.
E: Yeah, like physical mediumship.
C: But like okay.
J: Very professional.
C: But wait wait, so like just like theologians are scholars of the literature and the cultural norms around religion please tell me this guy it's just an anthropologist who studies how supernatural experiences shape culture and how stories around this.
S: Wouldn't that be nice if that's the world we lived in?
E: Oh Cara we were all thinking I think exactly that.
E: Right, which would have some bearing.
C: Yeah, that would be perfectly legitimate to study as an anthropology.
E: Absolutely, absolutely to better understand past civilizations by the by those cultural influences and and and and their belief systems.
C: Yeah, and how we got to who we are right now.
E: Absolutely but, yeah, so he, he's a research fellow at a couple different places among them the Parapsychology Foundation which we've heard of before I believe. And oh here's the more interesting one he's a member of the Fairy Investigation Society.
E: Fairy, f-a-i-r-y, Fairy Investigation Society.
J: So he investigates fairies, like what the hell?
E: Yes he does.
J: How? (Cara laughs)
E: He investigates fairies. And the fairy investigations aside, they missed an opportunity here they should have called themselves the Fairy Investigation Guild or FIG and that way you could give a FIG about.
E: But I digress.
S: So essentially this guy, and this may be there may be some racist history to this term. But he as an anthropologist, he has "gone native" meaning that he's not studying about something from the outside, he now believes in it and is part of it from the inside.
C: Right so that's the difference between an etic and an emic perspective which interestingly we usually want a more emic perspective, we want to know like the inside view but we want to ask people who are inside of it for that view.
E: Instead he inserts himself into it and goes into these experiences himself and gives his own, relays his own information about the experiences that he had.
S: From a believer's perspective again, not from an object, he lost his objectivity. It's like the other Harvard you know professor the psychologist, psychiatrist─
E: John Mack.
S: ─John Mack who believed the delusions of his own patients. No, as a psychiatrist you're not supposed to believe your own patients delusions.
C: Right, right and that's I think also the difference.
S: UFO abductions and whatnot.
C: It's sort of like a misappropriation of the emmick and etic perspective because those usually just refer to the cultural viewpoints of the individuals. It's like, you don't want to have this colonialist like, I, white man from the west I'm going to tell you about these peoples. Like you want to really understand the people from their perspective. But that's not really, that doesn't translate to I'm going to believe in pseudoscience.
S: Yeah, right.
E: I'll give you, I watched the whole hour presentation and I'll give you a couple pull outs that I found, that I thought were interesting. Here's three of them, all right, and then we can talk about each one. Here's a quote: "The paranormal is perfectly natural, it makes sense when you look at the data where people claim to have these experiences all over the world, all through time and they seem to be normal and natural in that respect.".
S: Meaning what though?
C: Yeah, so what?
S: Having those experiences is normal because everyone has this, we, our brains are flawed, right? Because our brains are glitchy as I like to say. And so it's natural for humans with glitchy brains to have experiences that are unusual but they are internal. It's not natural in that it's not an external experience. But he is saying that it is of course that this is like the universe is paranormal.
C: Right he's ignoring the fact that the interpretations are culture-bound.
S: Yes, right.
E: Steve do you know what it reminded me of? It's an expression that I like to use which I stole from you and you stole it from John Nickle. "There are no haunted places there are only haunted people". (Bob laughs) Doesn't that kind of sum it up? Like the constant here is the human, the human brain, throughout time, all over the world. I mean you have these cultural differences right and descriptions of what's going on that's, that differs. But the constant here is the people and the human brain no doubt about it.
S: The same is true of sleep and dreaming, that doesn't mean your dreams are real.
E: How about this one, here's another quote. He described his first extraordinary experience, which was under the effect of magic mushrooms. He saw fairies, small entities and they seem to appear as 2d beings in the wood grain pattern on a chest of drawers. They looked at me there seemed to be some sort of intelligence or agency behind this aspect of the experience.
C: Okay so he hallucinated.
S: Yeah he was literally admittedly hallucinating.
C: He just said he took up hallucinogenic substance.
B: That's a way to do science, sure. (laughter)
E And but it it kind of went beyond. It would be one thing if he said, because this experience happened before he got into his academic pursuits. It was from what he described in his teen years or his late teen years. So I'd like to take a little bit of charity with that. So it wasn't during his academic career. But, he never said or he never suggested that something like, oh I came later to realize from my studies I was seeing patterns and random noise. Or this was my first experience with inter-subjective entry into archaeology and now I have a better understanding of the cultural practices of those societies. No, he all but outright said that it happened. And he, and he never he he never came off of that or he never suggested that that it was what he what he experienced at the time but now since then he's moved on from that. No he, he embraces it. It sounds like, it, he says it cannot be accounted for by the standard models of science and psychology─
C: But it can!
S: But it can.
E: Which is a recurring theme, I know.
C: And also he's not a scientist or a psychologist. So maybe he should be doing some consultation.
E: Yeah well, this is the problem and that's a constant theme throughout the hour-long talk is that where's the neurology, where's the psychology─
E: ─where are the hearts, where's the physics, where's the hard science. It's all missing. It's all absent. Here's, here's one more, I'll give you guys one more and then we'll move on. "The nature of these", this is this quote: "The nature of these kinds of experiences, supernatural or paranormal experiences, from the mainstream perspective they say these experiences must be delusional or explained away in terms of psychopathology or whatever but there is a way we can look at these experiences without breaking them down, treating them seriously on their own terms. And then what happens if you treat these experiences seriously it leads you off into different areas and that includes anthropology.". So I think what he's talking about here is removing the boundaries or as he actually puts he uses the word the brackets, the brackets that separate the world of physics and standard models and breaks it away from the human experiences of spirituality, faith and other subjective experiences. In fact he says at a couple different times you specifically have to bring ,take down those barriers if you're going to be a para archaeologist.
C: Well yeah, you have to believe the crap you're spewing.
E: But guess what? When you do that it ain't science.
C: No, it's, well, it's definitely not an attempt at objectivity. I mean we know we can never be fully objective but at least we try, her' not trying.
S: Here's one there's almost a more problematic statement. So in the interview you know he was asked what do you think about the mediums where they've been shown to be fake. And he said that doesn't mean that everything else is fake.
J: Of course, yeah.
E: Oh logical fallacy, hello.
S: Yeah it doesn't mean they're, that any of them are real either. They all could be fake so you know it does put the onus on you to show one that's objectively not fake and nobody can do that, forever. I wonder why that is? Then he says well then you're taking out out of the real world experience in the lab. So it's the unfalsifiable framework, right?
C: It's sad too because it's like there is a world in which, I mean look at Susan Blackmore, like there's a world in which you are credulous of this and then you realize right, or maybe you were never credulous to begin with, where you can still study this in a deep phenomenological way. Like in a very constructivist way and try to understand it from the perspective of the experiencers and still get a richness of your of your literature and your research without also condoning or believing in or being credulous about the practice. And he just he blows right past that. And that's what takes it from science into pseudoscience.
S: All right thanks Evan.
E: Yep yep.
Who's That Noisy? (1:14:30)
S: Jay it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: Last week I played this noisy:
[in and out puffing sounds similar to heavy breathing]
All right what is this?
S: It's Darth Vader on an exercise bike. (laughter)
C: Yeah is it something breathing?
J: So many people wrote in Darth Vader.
S: You have to.
E: Well sure, because it has a bellows, right? It sounds like a bellows of some sort.
C: Oh bellows would make sense, that would give it that breathing vibe.
J: Well Howard Cordingly, Howard, he said: "My six-year-old son wants to guess this week and he said it's a tiger, no a lion, no way a liger, that is out of breath." (Evan laughs) How very six years old of his son, it's so adorable. Yes, it is, but it is not any of those things, but it sounds like that, hmmm.
Next person wrote in, name Camilla and and this person said: "Please tell me that's a rotary phone. Sounds like they're dialing zero-nine-nine-two-six-four-eight-two-one or something like that.".
C: No it doesn't. (laughs)
J: It's remarkable what people hear in their heads.
E: Camilla thank you for listening and tell Charles we all say hello by the way.
J: Evil Eye, who has written in many many many many many many times.
E: Since the, he's year one listener.
E: Evil Eye.
J: You don't get more classic than this listener. He said: "No clue but taking a shot it sounds like someone either filling or regulating a hot air balloon.".
J: I could see that.
S: I like that.
J: Another listener Ben wrote in said: Hey guys Ben here from Kyoto. It sounds like someone cutting a big chunk of wood with a handsaw and it feels very similar to a growling beast." that, that actually you know, that part of what he said is not 100% off and you shall learn as we progress here.
Another listener named A.E. Coleman wrote in said: "Hi Jay long time listener, here is the noisy from episode 876, a big cat of some kind. A lion, a tiger, a puma, etc. breathing through its nose into a paper towel tube".
C: That's very specific.
J: My house cats and I eagerly await the answer. That is not correct but but hold on.
Another person here wrote: "Hi Jay, interesting one this week. Is it someone using a handsaw on polystyrene? Alternatively it's Bob on the night before Halloween. Cheers, Phil.".
C: Why are you so excited?
J: So there's lots of thematically, there is a lot of people here saying things about big cats, right? Or you know growling and things like that. Now there there is no winner this week because this one was very hard but I found this one to be fascinating. Let me explain to you what it is. So do you guys hear the growl of an animal in there at all?
C: I hear chuffing.
C: I hear breathing of an animal. I don't hear growling.
J: Listen to this [plays noisy], does that sound like a big cat?
C: Yeah it sounds like a big animal chuffing.
J: Okay, all right so what this is is this is a method that old, that old-time hunters used to use to call jaguars. All right so this is a constructed noise.
E: It's a jaguar call?
J: So they would, they, this is from Kelly who sent the original noisy in. That they would float down a river making the noise waiting for a response and then once they once they see a jaguar they would release their hounds and they would they would hunt them. So what this actually is, is you know like those big like a big plastic tub that like like you can get at Home Depot or something? You know just like a you know like a big, these tubs like you could buy these and like taping compound comes in them or whatever. Like those deep tubs, they typically have pictures on them, like don't let your kid fall in here because they could suffocate, right? You know what I'm talking about?
J: You drill a hole in the in the middle bottom of the of the tub and then what they would do is they would take leather lace and they would pull it through the hole, right, so it's like a shoestring say of leather. They'd pull it through the hole and drag it on the perimeter of the little hole that they they drilled in the bottom.
C: Wow, it really sounds like breathing.
J: Yeah and it, and then it it vibrates the entire bucket, and then also because it's inside the bucket, that bucket makes a very throaty kind of sound. So visualize that as you hear this sound, now they're pulling it back and forth and they're using different tensions on it to make inflections, you know the inflection sound different. But listen again [plays noisy]. See it now? You kind of visualize it. I thought that was really cool because you know it's a hunting call that they used to to fool jaguars into thinking that other jaguars were nearby and the jaguars would come and check it out. But it just so happens to have a very big cat kind of, you know, what did you call that Cara? What kind of sound is that?
C: A chuff.
J: A chuff?
C: It's like a pleasant, it's like what they the sound that they make when they're safe. It's like a pleasant sound when they breathe.
J: I hear that, I hear that, I also hear something more aggressive at the same time.
C: Yeah it doesn't sound that aggressive to me. Do, you can I tell you like a little tidbit, something that's evidence-based that does absolutely attract jaguars, and scientists use it, they mark their camera trails with it or their trail cameras with it.
J: What is it?
C: Calvin Klein's Obsession for men.
J: I don't, I don't disbelieve that because you know people who create perfume use real world sense to.
C: Yeah they use civet oil or now it's synthetic but it used to be made with civet oil. And it turns out that that is like really attractive to jaguar. So don't go on a hike through the Amazon wearing Calvin Klein's Obsession for men.
J: Unless you have one of these buckets with a hole.
S: Safety kit.
J: Yeah be careful.
E: Real world, real world application of skepticism.
New Noisy (1:20:39)
J: So that was a cool one. I have a new sound for you guys this week and good luck guessing.
[bird-like siren sounds and whoops]
J: That sound was sent in by a listener named Louis Goldberg, thank you Louis. If you think you know what you heard this week or you heard something cool because you're a cool person and you're in cool places and you do cool things, send me a cool Noisy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob, less attitude. (Cara laughs)
S: Thanks Jay.
Correction #1: Native vs. Endemic
S: I'm just going to do some corrections for the email segment this week about the Bermuda discussion from a couple weeks ago. Got a couple of emails, one from a biologist from Sweden─
E: Did I get science or fiction right?
S: ─Sorin. No you didn't. This is all about the chat chatting that we had around the discussion, it wasn't about any of the items. Anyway so I'm not going to read the email but there's a few things correcting some specific things that I said during it. So one was, we were talking about Australia, remember? So with the Bermuda science of fiction one of the things was which animals are native to the island. And I said there were no native bats, there were no native mammals, that was the fiction because bats made it to the island because bats can fly. And I said that's similar to Australia, when we were Australia we heard that bats were the you know the only placentals that are native to Australia. So he was pointing out that that's in fact not true. That because there are rodents that are also considered native to Australia. So it's bats and rodents, not just bats.
C: Oh there are non-placental, or sorry, there are placental rodents? Oh okay, because I know there's also non-placental rodents, right?
S: They're not rodents, but they're they are─
C: Oh right, they wouldn't be.
S: ─analogous to rodents, they're marsupial, yeah it's like the Tasmanian tiger too, you know, it is similar to like a big cat this is there are marsupial mice basically but they're not rodents, right? But that sent me down a rabbit hole of that whole issue of what is considered native to [inaudible].
C: Yeah and that's why I was asking about the word endemic too like what how do we?
S: We'll get to that.
C: Okay, okay.
S: So that's the second thing you corrected. What is native, right? What is considered native? So you know essentially, it actually depends on whether or not it's an animal or a plant or a person. But there's the differences between native, indigenous and endemic, right? So native means that the species is naturally, it's part of the natural ecosystem of that area. But here's a question though, how long ago would an animal species or would it would a species have to have been introduced to an area before we consider it to be native?
C: I know, that I think, there's probably no hard fast rule about that, is there?
S: There's no hard and fast rule about it. So, bats were introduced into Australia 15 million years ago?
C: Yeah that's probably indigenous.
S: Yeah, so they're now considered native. Rodents five to ten million years ago.
C: Probably still indigenous.
S: No problem, they're considered native. What about, here's the, this is controversial, what about dingoes?
C: Where did they come from?
S: Four, four to five thousand years ago. They were introduced by humans as domesticated dogs four to five thousand years ago.
C: Oh they were already domesticated.
S: But now they are a wild species and that are self-sustaining within the ecosystem of Australia. And it's it's currently controversial, now legally they are not native. And that's partly because Australia then has more freedom to control their population. Because they're technically an introduced species. So from a legal perspective there may be a motivation to say that they're not native. But scientists are like all right that aside, where do we draw the line? I actually found a paper by a scientist who is saying, I think we should follow these three criteria. You know, one is that they evolved, right, like the species actually has demonstrably physically evolved since being in the in the region where they are. Two is that they exist independent of humans, right, they don't need to be fed or in any way interact with humans in order to be self-sustaining. And that they are integrated into the ecosystem and like they would actually damage the ecosystem if they were removed.
C: That's where all the controversy is. Because you don't know that unless you do it.
S: But, she said, if you but if you, you can, you can infer that though, you can say yeah they're they're they're integrated into the ecosystem in such a way that it would be disruptive if they were just removed.
C: Right but we've learned that that even happens when we disrupt when we remove invasive species.
S: Yeah, that's true but you have to have all three of these at the same time, right? You have to be self-sustaining, independent of human activity, you have to be integrated into the ecosystem and you have to have evolved in this location. Dingoes were definitely you know a invasive species when they were first introduced. They drove the Tasmanian devil in Australia to extinction, right? That's why they only exist in Tasmania now. But now 5, whatever 4 000 years later are they now a native species? And again it's controversial, there's no answer to that. I'm just saying that there are a range of opinions and some people say if you know you can you can come up with criteria to say that yeah they should be considered a native species to Australia now, they've been there long enough. Obviously rodents and bats, millions of years, fine. That's like way past the line. But there's no objective demarcation line. All right now endemic, so I, you asked me what does endemic mean and I gave you the medical definition of endemic. Which is that it's a self-sustaining population in an area. Because like we would say measles is endemic in the United States so that would mean that it's self-sustaining, it doesn't have to be introduced from the outside.
C: Right, but in an ecology sense it's just a smaller range, right?
S: No, what it means is that well sort of it, but it means you're you're endemic to a region it means you're only in that region. So something that's endemic to Bermuda exists only in Bermuda. If it exists anywhere else and it's native to Bermuda but not endemic. So endemic is native but also restricted only to that location that you're talking about.
C: Right the Galapagos whatever finch is endemic to the Galapagos, like you can't find it anywhere else, yeah.
S: Exactly, right, so that was the thing I got wrong, I didn't know that that was a distinction between the medical and the biological use of the word endemic. It's a little confusing which is why there's another term to refer to that. Yeah so the, in fact the word, there's a more technical term for it called precinctive, precinctive. That was created by a biologist because he didn't like the fact that the same word had two different meanings in two different specialties, biology and medicine. So said, we should, we need to come up with a new term that's not endemic so people will get confused. But I've never heard that term before and I think, I don't think it gets used that often. But it does exist. So if you want, if you want to say endemic and not be confusing you could say precinctive but nobody will know what you're talking about. All right, so, interesting. Things are always more complicated than you think. And I think I did talk about the difference between introduced and invasive. An introduced species becomes invasive when it extends beyond the location where it was introduced. So it starts to spread into you know into the environment then it becomes invasive, it's invading other places.
C: Oh it's not also just defined by its ability to kind of like overwhelm a balanced ecosystem?
S: Well that's that is a typical feature of invasive species. Because they don't have natural predators you know they they're they tend to have advantages to survival because they yeah they because they are disruptive and they and their, others like native species don't have um resistance to them, you know, so yeah, they tend to be very disruptive. All right well guys let's go on with science or fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:28:43)
Theme: Future technology
Item #1: Using a quantum 2D material, scientists have produced the highest temperature ambient pressure superconductor, at 250 K (-23° C).
Item #2: NASA Scientists have developed a metal alloy that has twice the tensile strength, three times the ductility, and at least 1000 times the durability at high temperature and stress as existing superalloys.
Item #3: Using machine learning and genetic modification, scientists have created a bacteria-produced enzyme that can rapidly break down PET plastic (which makes up 12% of global solid waste) so that it can be reused, and is practical for industrial scale use.
|Fiction||Ambient pressure superconductor|
|Science||Scalable plastic-eating enzyme|
Nasa metal alloy
|Nasa metal alloy|
|Nasa metal alloy|
|Nasa metal alloy|
|Nasa metal alloy|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and one fake, then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Although we have three news items this week there is a theme to these news items. And the theme is future technology. See how we circled back to our book.
C: Not fair.
S: These are all things─
C: Evan and I are in at a distinct disadvantage here.
S: All things that you might read about in our book or they involve those things. Okay, here we go. It's not going to help them Cara, don't worry about it.
C: (laughs) Cool.
S: Item #1: Using a quantum 2D material, scientists have produced the highest temperature ambient pressure superconductor, at 250 K (-23° C). Item #2: NASA Scientists have developed a metal alloy that has twice the tensile strength, three times the ductility, and at least 1000 times the durability at high temperature and stress as existing superalloys. And item #3: Using machine learning and genetic modification, scientists have created a bacteria-produced enzyme that can rapidly break down PET plastic (which makes up 12% of global solid waste) so that it can be reused, and is practical for industrial scale use. Cara go first.
C: A quantum 2D material that doesn't even sound like a thing. What is a 2D material? It's flat but nothing's actually flat.
S: So I'll give you that, one molecule thick material, even though it's not physically 2D, it's considered 2D. Like graphene is a 2D material because.
C: Right, that makes that more believable now. Okay, so I don't know what that means it's a quantum material. Isn't everything subject to quantum for like this is confusing to me but okay science.
S: That's what they're calling it, you might might make it a meta material.
C: Yeah I feel like that's like marketing. They've produced the highest ambient pressure superconductor. So the idea here is that they figured out how to increase the ambient pressure so not not like.
S: No I'm sorry, I let me.
C: Do you mean temperature?
S: Yeah it's the highest temperature, it's the highest, let me, I left that word out. It's the highest.
C: Oh good, okay.
S: Temperature ambient pressure superconductor.
C: Okay okay so so an ambient pressure superconductor is a type of superconductor and they've managed to now increase the temperature at which it functions. Because I know that yeah, superconductors happen to be, have to be very very very cold.
S: So the ambient pressure basically means one atmosphere, right?
C: Okay, yeah yeah. Like they can do it here they don't put it back or whatever. Okay yeah that makes sense. I have no idea if negative 23 degrees Celsius is like way off target and really this has to be close. I don't think it has to be close to absolute zero though because I've seen superconductors at like science fairs before. Like doing that thing where they look like a air hockey table. So like clearly if they can figure out how to make it cold just like out on a table. I don't know, negative 23 degrees, sure, that still seems pretty cold to me. NASA scientists have developed a metal alloy, this one has so many caveats. Okay so it's a metal alloy, so it's multiple metals, that have improved the tensile strength by two times the ductility by three times and the durability, this is the main one, by a thousand times but only at high temperatures.
S: No no no I mean, not only at high temperature, even at high temperature, that's the whole thing. This is for like rockets and plant, jets right, if you if you expose it to high temperature and stress, it doesn't get destroyed you know, it lasts a thousand times longer than existing metals.
C: Right. And then this last one is that machine, both machine learning and gm produced an enzyme from bacteria that can break down p-e-t. Okay that doesn't seem that unreasonable. So it can be reused and oh and they've also figured out how to scale it, that's the big question. Because we've seen a lot of issues, like we've seen a lot of different, even bacteria that they didn't have to produce in a lab. But I guess they wouldn't be scalable. That's where the machine learning comes in. So that one seems reasonable to me too. They all seem reasonable so I guess I'm gonna say the quantum 2D material. Maybe they were able to figure out, or the thousand times the durability at high temperature. Maybe it's a hundred times. Yeah I'll say NASA didn't figure out the the metal alloy thing because we've been working on metal alloys for forever and it seems weird that they would be like, oh I never thought to combine these two metals, look at all the great properties, like you would think that they would have already tried a lot of different combinations. So I'll say that that one's a fiction but who freaking knows.
S: Okay Evan.
E: I guess the one that makes the most sense to me is the plastic one, the created a bacteria produced enzyme that, that can break down the plastic. Haven't they been working on that for a while? I could have sworn have we covered news items about that in the past, I seem to have some recollection of that. But this one is a, the new feature would be what? Using machine learning and genetic modification. So sure, you take a concept you've been working on a while you use the latest greatest other pieces of technology to make it even better. And that would be great. So the, so I think that one's science. The other one's, shooting in the dark here. Quantum 2D material and now what, the highest ambient pressure, nobody knows this. (Cara laughs) I mean what, unless you're in the field, how would you 23 degrees Celsius, negative 23 degrees Celsius. I mean who knows that, nobody knows that. (Cara laughs) So what, I mean okay sure I wouldn't know if that was news if it came up and smacked me in the face like Will Smith.
E: Too soon? Too soon? Too soon?
S: No, too late. It's like oh my god, you missed it, you missed the Will Smith wave there Evan.
E: I was busy doing taxes, thank you. Actually being a productive member of society. Now, the one Cara says is talking about the middle alloy twice the tensile strength, three times the ductility and a thousand times the durability at higher temperature.
S: At least.
E: At least a thousand times. Well, those are some pretty impressive numbers especially that thousand times. So it's a coin flip. Cara, I'm gonna, I'm gonna ride with you on this one, I'll say it's the metal alloy one but it's a total guess.
C: Yeah, total guess.
S: All right well we'll see how my fellow authors did see if they're knowledge in writing already help them out. So Jay, go ahead.
E: No credibility pressure here, go ahead.
J: You know the one about the metal alloy, you know, to have a thousand times durability at a high temperature that, that's freaking remarkable. I mean what's a high temperature though?
S: The temperatures at like 2000 degrees─
C: Like rocket launchers.
S: ─like temperatures that you would experience in a jet you know cone or or by not or whatnot, in aerospace. Relevant aerospace temperatures. Well this is definitely something that NASA would be continuously working on, is trying to come up with with better materials. I mean I just think a thousand times the durability is so much, so much more durable than what you would think they would be able to achieve with the same old metals, you know what I mean? Because you know, Steve's not saying anything here about exotic metals or you know anything crazy. So that one's a maybe. The third one here, using machine learning and genetic modification scientists have created a bacteria produced enzyme that can break down the plastics. Yeah I mean I'm not, there's really no reason to think that this one is that big of a deal. I've read tons of things about this type of stuff. You know I would imagine that the problem here would be to scale up the creation of that bacteria, because it's always a scaling problem. So I'm going to just say that one science, move off to the first one. Using a quantum 2D material scientists have produced the highest ambient pressure superconductor. Yeah it has to exist at minus 23 degrees Celsius. So between that one and the thousand times durability I mean, I'm, you know they're both on the edge there because I could see, yeah, they made it, they made an advancement in a superconductor at one atmosphere. That one doesn't seem that crazy either. I think I'm gonna say that the it's the, the metal one because the thousand times durability seems too high for me.
S: All right, Bob?
B: Oh my god all three of you guys are just adorable. (laughter)
C: Yes, please tell me you know this.
B: So all right the pet plastic sounds, sounds feasible and we need a win there so I'm going to say that science. All right 2D material, this is extraordinary because you've got high ambient pressure, you've got one atmosphere and at the same time minus 23 is nothing, that's damn near room temperature (Cara laughs) that's amazing, okay. So that's that's fantastic right there because usually, usually it's, it's ambient temperature but still damn cold or it's crazy pressure, you know, crazy pressure between two diamond anvils but also a great of room temperature, so you never get both at the same time which we have here. And Steve knows that I know this, so he knows that I'm going to say that's bullshit, and so for that reason, and of course this that act in and of itself is a is a role that died because who knows how deep Steve went with his mind screw screwing that he's doing to me here. So but so what, I don't care, I don't think we're, because that's huge that's really big news. I did a look at the news, you know, lately, I didn't see, I didn't see that. That would be really really amazing so I'm going to just go with the with the metal and ductility.
C: No, really?
B: Yeah, yeah. It's so funny you guys just stumble on that and I try to reason it out because I happen to be familiar with some of these and it's like, it's still a goddamn roll of the dice here.
C: Oh I wanted you to have a solo win.
B: It doesn't matter how much you know this is all just total random bullshit.
J: It's very nice of Cara, I particularly didn't.
C: I did, because he's like, this is like his his world you know?
B: Yeah but normally I would say the 2D material is fiction but Steve knows, he really know, he knows for certain that I─
E: He's laying a a trap for you Bob. Specifically for you.
B: ─find this, yeah he could be a trap.
C: It always bites me in the ass when I play science or fiction based on what I think, how I think Steve is effing with my head versus just─
B:' I know.
C: ─what I think is the right answer.
B: That's problematic, that's problematic but I mean I was looking at the news 10 minutes ago you know it's like when we you know wow so based on you add those together you're not with 10 minutes, I mean 10 minutes before this segment started. (Cara laughs) As soon as this segment starts of course I would never go anywhere near any news. But I looked at a few things so this thing didn't pop up. So when you add those two together, all right so I'll say the ductility one, the metal one, that one, that's not a, that's not a shoeing either because it could have all of these characteristics, no problem. But oh, by the way at room temperature it explodes, you now? (Cara laughs) Something crazy could be wrong, we're not looking at all the characteristics here but so I'll say that that that one's fiction.
B: Go with the crew, I'll go with the crew.
B: And see what the hell happens.
E: All aboard.
C: I mean Steve could have swept us this week.
B: Oh yeah.
S: So you're saying yeah the NASA scientist material that's the fiction, you're going to agree with everybody else?
B: Yeah I think, I think there's something, I think there's so, I think the first one could be true but there's some major flaw, major flaw. I'm hoping.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: We'll start with number three since you guys were the least conflicted about that one. Using machine learning and genetic modification, scientists have created a bacteria-produced enzyme that can rapidly break down PET plastic (which makes up 12% of global solid waste) so that it can be reused, and is practical for industrial scale use. You guys all think this one is science.
C: Yeah that's the caveat that get us.
S: This one is science. This is science.
C: This is great.
B That's awesome. That's big, this this sounds good.
S: Yeah, I mean and the the new bit here is the practical for industrial scale use. Because this is not the first bacteria that eats plastic.
C: No this is like, this is like college student like science fair. I've seen so many bacteria that can eat plastic. We've been talking about this for years.
S: It's not eating plastic so much as it's breaking it down to its components, so that those components could be reassembled into new stuff.
B: That's big.
S: So the purpose of this is to have a, you know, closed loop of plastic production, right? So it's, it could be infinitely reused because you just break it down into its components, reform it and you could do it again.
B: Yeah, it makes it like aluminum, aluminum cans.
C: Yeah but so, sorry, you may not know this but I'm actually really excited and curious about this, so I could see a system in which people return their plastics to the manufacturer, there's some sort of like new recycling portion where they you know save those types of plastics to go back to the to the factories where they do this. But what about the plastic that's already in the environment? Is there a way that this would help that?
S: We'd have to get it to a factory, yeah, so it's just trying to make a circular process for plastic. And so the thing, the advantages here this is where like the machine learning came in, because they had to predict what the structure of the enzyme should be and then they had to use genetic modification to make it. So that's the new the future technology.
B: And that's big too.
S: That's huge it's totally huge.
B: What a team up, what a team up.
S: Years of research and weeks, all that stuff, all those promises happening guys. We are living in the future that's amazing the that's happening right now. Wait till I get to the other one. So here, so it's fast, it's very fast, it could do this in a week, so it doesn't take months to break down the plastic. And, it could operate at like 50 degrees Celsius which is fine, it doesn't have to be superheated or anything. So it's practical for industrial scale use. So you could build the factory tomorrow doing this, right? This is, there's no deal breakers here, that's the, that's really the new bit. So we'll see how it works out but I mean from everything that I'm reading there was that they think this is ready to go, like you could, this could be an industrial process. So and you know again it still creates the problem of you have to recycle the plastic but if if you can create a stream for that plastic that is economically feasible, then that make, that creates a huge incentive for it to happen.
C: Well yeah because then more manufacturers will use PET, like we'll move over from other plastic types.
S: It'll be cost effective to recycle it.
C: And it's, it's individuals already mostly incorrectly recycle plastic. You know, so if we can just it's about modifying behavior away from us, it's a slight modification, it's not about teaching people to recycle, which is good.
S: Yeah so they do say that they're trying to prepare for industrial and environmental application Cara so it's possible─
C: Oh, okay.
S: ─they may try to, I don't know, put this in the water and just have it eat all the plastic, I don't know if that would work.
C: At the very least put it in a landfill.
S: Yeah landfill is probably where it would get used.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: All right let's go this will go in reverse order, go down number two: NASA Scientists have developed a metal alloy that has twice the tensile strength, three times the ductility, and at least 1000 times the durability at high temperature and stress as existing superalloys. You guys all think this one is the fiction. And this one is science.
C: No way.
S: This is awesome.
S: And NASA hit it out of the park.
B: You got me.
S: I watched a half an hour video on this and the guy is so mellow throughout the whole thing and I'd be like oh my god. (laughter)
C: Oh and I take absolutely no responsibility.
E: No I blame Bob.
S: How do you think they made this amazing alloy? This is part of the futures technology thing Bob and Jay. They 3D printed it.
B: Machine learning and genetic modification.
J: They 3D printed it Steve?
S: They 3D printed it. They did use AI to predict what would work.
B: Oh my god, right there.
S: And again it was like─
B: There we go kids.
S: ─years of research in weeks. All right so─
B: Six months of research over the weekend.
S: ─the basic alloy that they use, so you guys, so you know, obviously but NASA and the aerospace industry has been working on you know metal alloys that can withstand high strain and temperatures for their jet engines and rockets and and whatnot. So, the the current sort of best that we have are these super alloys, nickel based super alloys. And, what they were doing was adding another process to that, oxide dispersion strengthened nickel based super alloy. So what they do here is they use a, an oxide in this case yttrium oxide and they disperse it throughout the alloy so they it tends to collect at the edges of the grains. You know how metals have grain sizes you know, determines physical properties? So these form at the at the green brown boundaries and makes it stronger. Now how do they, how do they do it? They take the the basic alloy that they're using in this case they used nickel cobalt chromium, right so that's the, that's the their starting alloy nickel cobalt chromium. And they coat it with nitrium oxide. They coat the particles, now you have this you know this powder, this powder of the metal alloy which you then coat with the yttrium oxide. And then they use a laser 3D printing method right where it basically melts it together to create whatever it is they're building out of it, right, in this case they were building a combustion chamber out of this alloy with the atrium oxide. And they, you know, they examined it all sorts of ways looking at all the structure and everything. And then they they did the stress testing, so they found that it had all of these capab-, all of these capabilities you know that higher tensile strength and ductility. Normally those don't go together, like if you increase one you decrease the other.
S: This increased both at the same time and the guy's like which is a pretty interesting property it's like yeah that's really interesting.
B: Oh my god dude.
S: Like it was such an understatement. And then they did the big test was they they put it actually at like twice the temperature that the normal alloys can tolerate. So normally you need to have some kind of insulation, even with the current super alloys in order for it to survive a combustion chamber on a jet, right? And you still would, so like jets will burn like 3000 degrees, normal alloys can withstand maybe 1000 degrees. This can withstand 2000 degrees. So it's like, it's much hotter. And then they they also do like the they look at the formation of stress cracks at high temperature and strain and they showed the curves of like when they happened. They had to actually alter the scale, like they had to squeeze it all─
B: Oh my gosh, alter the scale.
S: ─the way down so you could see and at least a thousand times because the experiments are still running, they're still going. This is that's when they stopped looking, they were at a thousand times the duration of the of the other previous best super alloys.
S: So these things, yeah they're incredibly incredibly durable. Which of course for, you know, a jet engine that's being used over and over again and going up and going down. That's what we want, we don't want our ships to fall apart. So, yeah, I mean it's just a huge advance, again and it's the 3D printing of the metal, 3D printing you know where they use the metal powder and then they use a laser to melt it.
J: When did this happen Steve? This is very recent that you know, just this year. The video I looked at was from February, this year.
C: The AI is kind of a game changer here right, because like helping to determine which combinations could potentially have a more positive outcome.
E: The quadrillions of types and combinations.
S: It's a lot less trial and error.
C: They're using materials they've been working with for ages.
S: It' s a lot less trail and error, exactly. Now it's not just this one metal too, right? This is just one of the ones that they're working with. You can use the same technique, this ODS technique with different you know super alloys to strengthen them. And here's the other thing, so like you look at like well I didn't give you all the information because I had to cut it off somewhere. But the other information is also all good, Bob. So for example if you look at the strength to density, it's better. So in other words you get more strength at a lighter total lighter construction, which of course for aerospace is huge.
B: That's fantastic, lighter materials.
S: But they could also, they could emphasize that. They could say, all right, now let's take a super light material and just try to make that strong enough to function maybe not in a combustion chamber but somewhere else. And just so we could you could optimize the lightness of the material that we're using versus optimizing the durability, like we need in a combustion chamber.
B: Right right, so this is super light like predator metal.
S: So this is a technique that could spawn a hundred super alloys, you know, with this ODS strengthened.
B: Yeah it's the ODS technique that, that's the the game changer. Not this new this new material.
S: Now ODS is itself like 20-30 years old, it's this new way of doing it with the 3D printing that's better because the previous techniques were expensive and time-consuming and difficult. And they figured out a way of just coating the part the powder particles and doing it in 3D printing, that's the innovation, it became.
C: Os so it's not the metal that they're using to coat it?
S: No so it's the metal is the powder that they're making the thing out of. And they're coating the metal with the yttrium oxide which is the strengthening agent.
C: But it's not the yttrium oxide that's necessarily an innovation here it's how they're doing it.
S: It's using the 3D printing to make it much faster, cheaper, easier. And better. You get a better distribution, better microstructure characteristics, everything is good. So it's not only better it's faster or cheaper, easier. So now it's like you could just start printing your planes you know and your rockets out of this stuff. You know? But we know they're already using like SpaceX is using 3D printing for a lot of their components.
[talking over each other]
S: It translates right over, yeah it translates right over.
C: They've been doing it for years and years and years. They used to call it additive manufacturing.
S They still do, yeah, throughout this they call it AM or additive manufacturing.
C: That's not new.
B: All right Steve.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: All right so Using a quantum 2D material, scientists have produced the highest temperature ambient pressure superconductor, at 250 K (-23° C), that is the fiction but it's morphed from an equally cool news item.
B: I doubt it.
S: They used well hold on. They did use a quantum 2D material, so that's part is real. A quantum 2D material to create a new superconductor. It's just the the new advantage to the superconductor is different than just being at a higher temperature. It's still a super low temperature superconductor but, and you may not immediately recognize the importance of this, it's a one-way superconductor. One directional superconductor.
B: What do you mean?
C: I don't even know what that means.
B: The current only flows in one direction.
S: The current flows in only one direction. Why is it?
C: What, it usually flows in both with the superconductor?
S: Yes, it always inflows in both with all previous superconductors.
B: That's weird.
S: This is the first superconductor in which it flows in only one direction.
B: What the hell man?
S: And that is necessary for superconducting computers (Bob gasps) so with this you now can make a superconducting computer. Now you're not going to have it on your desktop because it's still at super low temperatures, although ambient pressure.
B: Liquid, liquid nitrogen level.
S: Liquid nitrogen temperature, yeah so so it is at a temperature─
B: Which is cheap.
S: ─yeah so you can you can have it in a in a server farm, you know? And superconducting computers are huge, that's a huge innovation. When you think about the amount of electricity like the amount of electricity being used to run server farms now was like the the electricity output needed to run countries. And this could make a significant impact on that, yeah.
E: Oh no, here comes more bitcoin.
C: That means NFTs are here to stay.
B: So Cara you were right, I should have, should have, I should have.
S: Bob I was rooting for you like Bob, go with your gut man.
C: You almost did too!
S: I wanted you to do that. Here's the title of the paper: "The field-free Josephson diode in a van der Waals heterostructure" (laughter)
E: Right and anyone would know what is.
B: Tell that to Brian for the next.
S: And the other bit is they were able to do it without a magnetic field which apparently is important. You know so they were, so they demonstrated even without a magnetic field that they could have one directional super conductivity using this so-called quantum 2D material. So, again will this turn into super conducting super computers in 5 years or 10 years, who knows? But it could. It, this was something that we've not been able to do before and now they were able to do. So in the end, not only did, not only that, they thought it was impossible before they did it. Some physicists─
B: Even better, even better.
S: This could be impossible, there may be no way to do that but they figured out a way to do it.
C: Man I'm just realizing I almost picked this one, it was like a coin flip for me.
C: I even said it out loud and then I was like, so I'll go with NASA.
S: I know I didn't know which way you were gonna go.
B: Oh my god.
S: And this is the kind of stuff you'll read about in our book, because it's all super cool. Right? But there's so many jigs and jags and left turns, I think we're like we're trying to predict the next step, you know, even just I said like if you can predict the next step in one technology you could become a billionaire. Now try to, now try to predict the next 20 steps in a thousand technologies, that's the future.
E: AI and 3D printing.
S: Yeah, well we definitely talked a lot about those thing.
C: And genetic modifications.
B: Can't go to forlong with those predictions.
S: Absolutely. All right. Evan, give us a quote.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:55:15)
There is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well. It is not enough to have freedom of the Press and parliamentary institutions. Our difficulties are due partly to our own stupidity, partly to the exploitation of that stupidity, and partly to our own prejudices and personal desires.
– Lizzie Susan Stebbing (1885-1943), British philosopher, from her 1939 book, Thinking to Some Purpose
E: This week's quote was suggested by a listener Jamie from Wellington, New Zealand.
J: Welly, welly, welly.
E: We've been to Wellington. Wonderful place. Jamie says: "While reading the excellent book Thinking to Some Purpose written by Lizzie Susan Stebbing in 1939, I came across the following which is as relevant today as it was in 1939. Here's the quote: "There is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well. It is not enough to have freedom of the Press and parliamentary institutions. Our difficulties are due partly to our own stupidity, partly to the exploitation of that stupidity, and partly to our own prejudices and personal desires.
S: Could have been written today.
E: Yes, and why don't and thank you, why didn't I know about this book before? It must go on my to buy list, Thinking to Some Purpose.
E: Well yeah, maybe.
S: It's a bit reassuring though, isn't it though? That it was, things were that bad back then? You know maybe and obviously survived you know?
E: On the cusp, right the World War on the on the, you know, just around the corner.
S: But it's absolutely true, absolutely true. And I think that's one of the things that really hit me over the head in the last four or five years. It's that the, I, you know, I naively thought that the institutions themselves would protect us. You know democracy of everything, you know? But they don't, they absolutely don't.
E: Not enough.
C: No it's like we all have to have a a ladies and gentleman's agreement for these institutions to work.
C: We have to want them to work and pull our weight.
S: And and, yeah, and that means you have to do the maintenance work of democracy, which means protecting the quality as well as the freedom of the press and things like that. And when those things deteriorate when you have too many people believing in conspiracy theories and outlandish things then democracy falls apart.
C: Right and when you have leadership sowing that distrust.
E: Oh yeah.
S: Yeah the system only works when the voters hold elected officials accountable to some point. But if there's zero accountability elected leaders become shameless and the system collapses and that's what we're seeing. You know we're not past the point of no return yet, some people think we are, I don't think we are.
C: What was I? What was I watching the other day? Did you guys see the Uber series? The the dramatization of Uber with Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
B: How was it?
C: It was good but I mean he, very unlikable character because I think apparently very unlikable guy. But there's a scene where, he's talking about being this disruptor and he wants to break the system and blah blah like all the stuff you usually hear. And the guy from Friday Night Lights who plays, Kyle Chandler who plays the VC who funded him, is talking about how the disrupters very often can't become the leaders. Like he's saying Uber is my thing and I need to be the leader ,they're trying to take him out of the, out of the company . And he's like revolutionaries never make good democratic leaders. Revolutionaries always become dictators. And it was such a, he was like name me one time, like they do good work but then they have to step down.
E: George Washington is probably the only example I can think of. He stepped down and it could have been a dictator.
S: That was a very unique part part in history. Where you had a group of leaders all steeped in the age of enlightenment. It was just like the perfect storm of things happening then I don't think you can you can extrapolate that.
C: And it doesn't translate to any other examples.
S: That's an outlier, it's an absolute outlier.
C: It's interesting, anyway.
S: All right well, interesting show guys.
E: Very good topics.
C: Yeah, learned a lot.
S: And thank you all for joining me this week.
E: Thank you Steve.
C: Thanks Steve.
B: Sure man.
J: Don't you ever ask me to do this again. (Cara laughs)
E: Yeah well next week right?
S: Don't forget about the Friday live stream.
S: Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern time. You can watch us streaming on the interwebs. So check it out.
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
- NYT: Get Ready For the New, Improved Second
- The Verge: Go read this report about the virtual doctors at an NFT clinic who can’t legally give medical advice
- Space.com: Large Hadron Collider restarts to push physics to the edge
- Science-Based Medicine: Emotional Freedom Technique – Acupuncture for the Mind
- The Harvard Gazette: Anthropologist describes supernatural adventures
- Nature: The field-free Josephson diode in a van der Waals heterostructure
- YouTube: NASA's Additive Manufacturing Alloys for High Temperature Applications Webinar
- Nature: Machine learning-aided engineering of hydrolases for PET depolymerization
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]