SGU Episode 878

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SGU Episode 878
May 7th 2022
878 sagan, dog personality.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)
SGU 877 SGU 879
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common.
They don’t alter their views to fit the facts;
they alter the facts to fit their views.
1977 Doctor Who, fictional British TV Time Lord
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Show Notes
Forum Topic

Introduction, SGU turns 17, Favorite Memories[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, May the 4th, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: So this is the day when we're reminded that sand is coarse and it gets everywhere.

C: May the 4th be with you.

S: Star Wars day. Which is, which coincidentally is one day prior to the anniversary of the SGU.

B: Oh boy.

S: This episode completes 17 years of the SGU. Heading into year 18, can you guys believe it?

E: Oh my gosh.

B: What the hell man.

E: 17 years.

J: That's been like the majority of my higher thinking life.

S: Sure.

J: You know what I mean?

S: Adult life.

J: Yeah. That's, that's amazing guys. We should really all be proud of ourselves.

C: That's nuts.

J: Except you Cara, I mean you've only been here...

C: How many years have I been here? Now when did I join?

E: 2015.

C: What?

S: Seven years.

C: Seven whole years!?

E: I know.

J: Oh my god, wait a minute, doesn't it seem a lot shorter than that?

C: It does, it's because covid interrupted all of our time understanding.

J: Oh my god.

S: Podcastus interruptus.

C: Oh gosh.

S: We have over 140 million lifetime downloads. 140 million. Wow.

E: Gee whiz.

J: That's good work boys. (Cara laughs)

S: I mean yeah, we haven't missed an episode.

B: Damn.

S: Every, every week, every single week for almost 17 years. At the very beginning there was a couple of weeks that we skipped but then.

E: Yes we were getting our foot.

S: Yeah we got into a weekly schedule and we haven't missed an episode since.

E: Nope. And 17 years by the way is 536 million 112 000 seconds.

B: How very Bob-esked.

S: This is episode 878. 878. So yeah, we're going to be like, we're only two and a half years away from a thousand episodes.

B: A big round number. Yeah, wow.

E: And and I hope we have big big big plans for that.

S: Yeah, but we got a couple years to make them.

E: Yeah, I know exactly.

J: So after 17 years of making these podcasts, if you enjoy this show, if you feel like if you feel like you've gotten something out of listening to this show, please consider becoming a patron of ours, because that allows us to do a lot of, you know, a lot of things that that everybody enjoys. Like you know extended shows, conferences, live events. It allows me to work for the company and do all the behind the scenes stuff that I do to make everything work. You can go to And if not, you could continue listening to the show and you could give us a good review on whatever podcast player you're using. And I'd like to thank you Steve for being an incredible leader and you know and guide and to me you've been you know, you're someone that I look up to and I really appreciate everything that you you do that allows us to make this show.

S: Well thank you Jay, I mean it's one of the things that makes this show fun, I mean I know that I couldn't have done this if I was working by myself for 17 years. I look forward to recording the show every week, it's just a lot of fun hanging out with you guys, for a couple hours, you know?

C: Yeah.

S: And that carries, carries over, you know? To the podcast itself.

E: Absolutely.

J: That's the [inaudible] potatoes man right there, that is, that is why we're all here I think because if we didn't love each other and enjoy doing this work together it would not be here. But sometimes we all get pissed at Bob, you know? Sometimes we get angry with Bob and Bob's, you know, he talks about us behind our backs to the other people and you know, it's the drama, but we all put up with it because you're in the end it's all good. (Cara laughs)

B: Tank you. I think?

J: Do any of you guys have a favorite memory? From the entire ride?

C: There's too many!

E: Yes oh my gosh.

J: I think one of them was when we were all in the van in Scotland.

E: Okay.

J: And the the driver pulled over to ask for directions.

B: Oh god.

J: Now I will remind you that the driver was born and bred in Scotland. Asked, ask this man walking down the street, you know, hey we're looking for this tomb. And the guy answers her and she goes okay thank you, we drive away and she goes: "I have no idea what that guy just said".

C: None of us did either. She could at least understand it.

B: That was thick.

J: I was able to detect that he was using language.

C: Yeah.

J: I just had what the language was it. The fact that she didn't understand him like made everything that happened in Scotland better to me.

E: It was like Scottish Gaelic or something.

S: You remember what she said, what she actually said after he finished?

J: What did she say?

S: She said magic.

J: Oh yeah.

C: Magic, oh yeah. And no he wasn't actually speaking Gaelic, he was just speaking with a really broad accent. Like, that's, so you just said it was really thick, so in Scotland they say broad. So if somebody's super broad, they've got such a thick accent. Yeah.

E: Like that kid stuck on the roof.

C: Like the kid on the roof, yeah. (laughs)

J: And that, that same day some of us had haggis.

C: That's true. I think we all tasted it.

E: I tasted the haggis.

S: Surprisingly enjoyed the haggis it was very good.

E: Yeah they spice it up for the tourists, you know?

B: Yeah I suspect it was tourist haggis.

J: I know right?

E: Bring out the "haggis".

C: Do you know that what you ate is I think illegal in parts of the US?

B: Whaaat?

E: Oh it wouldn't meet the safety codes?

C: Well it's not that that it's, you can't import, okay, yeah in '71 it became illegal to import haggis into the US from the UK because we have a ban on food containing sheep lung. And 10 to 15 of haggis is made out of sheep lung. So we we can't have that here.

J: I don't know where the idea got into my head. But I thought that haggis was like the organ, the internal organs are cooked inside of the of a stomach and then like they literally cut the stomach open and the organs come piling out onto the table. It's minced meat, it's minced meat.

C: It's minced meat, it's just there's a lot of meat is organ meat.

S: It's organ meat, yeah. But the thing is if when you're in Scotland you got to try the haggis, right? You just got to do that.

C: And they do, they do package it in the stomach Jay. So you're, that's why you have that idea. Sometimes generic haggis is like a a casing that's fake.

E: Casing, like these intestines are casings.

C: But the casing is is traditionally stomach.

E: That's all it is.

S: Although I have to say yeah you know, I'm usually like whenever I'm in a location I will try whatever like the most iconic culinary dishes of that region. But I completely went out on the Vegemite, sorry I just.

C: Really? You went out you went haggis but not Vegemite?

B: I tried it.

E: Did you, you didn't, huh?

S: Vegemite is exactly the kind of thing I find disgusting.

C: It is gross. But it's still, it's just yeast extract.

S: I know, that yeasty fermented, bleh, no I can't. (laughter)

B: I tried it. I remember I ate it. I ate it and I'll, I'll describe it in the way that my friend described it when I brought some home and had her tasted at work. She said it tastes like feet. It was you know, it was horrible, absolutely horrible. But you know whatever a lot of people hate peanut butter. But it was just like not for me, oh boy. (Cara laughs) I can't even imagine.

S: Have any of you guys had kimchi?

C: Oh yeah.

E: Oh sour, yeah.

S: It's like fermented.

C: It's just fermented cabbage, fermented vegetables. Korean food.

E: Yeah, stick it in the ground for a year.

S: Not gonna happen, not gonna happen.

E: No kimchi for you Steve?

C: That's so funny. So you don't like sauerkraut either? Do you like pickles?

S: I love pickles, I could eat, and I like sauerkraut that's not, that's a different flavor.

C: Yeah that's true but it's a similar process.

S: Yeah well it's the, I think it's that long duration of fermenting that you know gives it that rotten flavor, it's like rotting vegetable matter, why would I eat it?

C: I feel you, I don't like it either but it doesn't, it doesn't, it's not as visceral, no pun intended, to me the way that haggis is. Like, ugh, yeah.

S: When I was in Vienna i did have the wiener schnitzel and it was awesome.

J: What's that made out of?

S: Well wiener just means like Viennese, you know, and then the schnitzel is...

C: It's usually veal, right?

S: It's veal, it's veal.

C: I think that's one of the main meats.

Special Segment: Jay's receives Critical Thinking Award (8:50)[edit]

J: Hey can I tell you guys something cool?

B: No.

J: So Bob emails me and says Jay, are you gonna respond to this email? And then Cara emailed me Jay are you gonna respond to this email? And it turns out I won an award.

C: Oh yeah. And you, and you took a really long time to respond to the email. Well that's that is a sign that I have so many SGU emails to go through that sometimes you know I can't get to every single email every day.

E: Jay won the 2014, what was it now? (laughter)

J: No so this is from the curiosity foundation and they, you know awarded me the critical thinking award.

B: All right Jay.

J: And I am completely blown away, I really, I don't like to to brag in any way but this happened and I really wanted everyone to know that this this foundation exists, their goal is to promote evidence-based education and teaching critical thinking. They also want to connect with educators or anyone who's interested in developing tools and materials to promote evidence-based education practices and teaching critical thinking. So this is a really, you know, really valuable foundation that they created. And I'm just you know, I told Steve when I was talking to him about this like I never in a thousand years would have thought I was going to win an award, a critical thinking award. So it means the world to me.

B: Deserved jay.

S: Was that for one of your rants that you gave on our live stream or was that for something else? (laughter)

J: Well there was an episode, so the person that I was talking to.

S: I know they mentioned your passion as being one of those.

J: There was an episode that we were talking about, where I gave like a kind of impromptu talk afterwards, you know, on the show about you know how important science is and how you know wonderful it is and that you know the the feeling of discovery. All that stuff. I just said something moderately inspirational. But, you know, I mean I say a lot more on the live stream to be honest with you, right? Like livestream is where it all comes out. But no, I am, I am after 17 years. Like I science to me is way more meaningful right now than it was 17 years ago.

S: Oh yeah. No it's a, you know, it's a lifesaver.

J: It really is I mean it's a big big part of my life and it inspires me, you know, it's one of the things that keeps me interested in our reality and teaching kids critical thinking, and teaching them the love of science I think is is one of the best things you could ever do with your time if you have children. Start with magic and then you know then get them asking questions. Why is it that people like magic? And why is it you know how do you fool people? And why are people able to be fooled? And then you just start rolling it out from there you know that's what that's what I'm doing with my nine-year-old.

C: Nine years old?

J: Yes.

C: Wow. Really he's nine?

J: My son, yeah he's not, I know, he's going by fast, right? He is, he is absorbing critical thinking like you know, I was asking Steve like what's something I could teach him about logic? Like how do you teach someone about logic that's nine year old? So I said, I looked up logic and I looked up reason and they both use each other in their definitions. And I'm trying to like you know give him like the foundation you know the bottom level, like what does he need to understand, so I can start teaching him things out of our book. Logic I thought was one of the key things and I'm like Steve, what can I, how do, how can I possibly teach a nine-year-old who has no concept of logic, what logic is? And Steve's like, well just do the a equals b equals c. See if he could figure that puzzle out and understand, get him to wrap his head around that and then at least you have the idea that you know there's thinking is a process that brings you to a conclusion. And I gotta tell you guys, I said Dylan, let's say that a is equal to b and b is equal to c. So what does that mean about a and c? And he goes dad they're they, they're, equal to each other, it's like they're all apples. I was like oh my god, I was so proud of him. That felt so freaking good, oh my god.

B: But he should have said meatballs but yeah that was good.

E: I got the same question wrong when Jay asked me. (laughter)

S: All right, good work boys.

Quickie with Bob: Solar Lens Update (13:12)[edit]

  • Solar Gravitational Lens update

S: All right let's go on. Bob you're going to get us started with a quickie. Quickie with Bob.

B: Yes thank you, insert name here, this is your quickie with Bob, gird your loins everyone. (laughter) If you watched Episode 812 from early 2021, I entertainingly discussed the possibility of using the Sun as a solar gravitational lens.

E: I called you mad. Mad!

B: The idea is that a modest telescope or telescopes far far far from the Sun could directly image the light from a distant exoplanet that's distorted into an Einstein ring around the Sun and also by the way magnified potentially up to 100 billion times, hello. So with such magnification we could potentially create million pixel images of exoplanets and actually see on their surfaces the continents, oceans, air chemistry, we could map their orbits, we could see the weather we could even make out vegetation in desert and even maybe lights on the night side. And all from a planet that could be a hundred light years away for example. So that's kind of the the possibility of solar gravitational lens, which bends the light from that distance planet and magnifies it tremendously. Now the tech involved is, it's absolutely feasible, there's no nothing crazy that they're talking about to pull this off. A lot of it we have, we have right now or it's actually at least on the drawing board or something like that. It's nothing that's really, really crazy tech that's far far distant future. But one complexity to such a mission is imaging that Einstein ring, that bent light of from the from the distant object around the limb of the Sun. Now each, each image that that these satellites could take that are there would basically be like one image per pixel, right? So they would need to take many many thousands of pictures to build up this image to get to get good resolution. And that's kind of what people have been talking about for years, about how this would be pulled off. And this also includes requiring the lens to move laterally to the trajectory of this of this lens, that's flying through space far from the Sun. You would need to to move the lens laterally, you know, left, right, up, down, whatever. To essentially get an image of this Einstein ring of light around the Sun from different vantage points to create your image. So now recent theoretical advancements however have allowed for much more precise modeling of solar gravitational lenses showing, as the paper says, the reconstruction of the light ring does not require multiple laterally offset observations of the Einstein ring, enabling continuous monitoring of the atmospheric composition and dynamics of other planets. That's, that's amazing that continuous monitoring, that's just, that just blows my mind. So in fact they claim that the entire Einstein ring can be imaged at once and then undistorted. That's a hell of an advancement if that really really pans out. And they have done studies to show, they've done simulations where they, they took an Einstein ring of sorts of the Earth and were able to recreate the image an accurate image of the Earth. So, at some point in the future when such an amazing mission is eventually lost in the decades to come. Doing it, pulling it off will be a lot easier with an advancement like this and of course the many more advancements that will come in the meantime. So, loins ungirded, this has been your Quickie with Bob, I hope it was good for you too. Steve do you have anything to add, I know you blogged about it.

S: Well it's still not going to happen any anytime in in this century. This is a next century project, at best.

B: And you're going to need and you're going to need definitely chemical rockets, would, like it could take centuries, because we're talking about in a distance of say 14 times the distance to Pluto. That's amazingly far away, where you would have to go to find that focal line, that line, that pathway where you can, where you can get that image. So we would definitely need some you know nuclear thermal rockets and that could greatly cut down the travel.

S: Well solar sails, solar sails.

B: Solar sails, yeah that, that's a possibility too but yeah, we're gonna need some advanced rocketry to get that far in a in a period of time that's not like, you know ridiculous. You know decades instead of a century or more. But yeah, but this is the way, I mean we're talking about a lens that would, that would have to be 20 times the diameter of the Earth to replicate. So this is, this is something that we're never going to see unless it's something like this. I mean, to do much better you'd have to get the gravitational lensing effect from something like a nearby black hole or something.

News Items[edit]

Sustainable Jet Fuel (17:41)[edit]

S: All right guys let's talk about sustainable jet fuel. Jet fuel is one of those things where that's going to be very difficult to replace the fossil fuel component of it, because all electric jets won't have the range that we really need because all the electronic components are extremely heavy and you know the battery, batteries would have to be extremely, extremely massive and so, like we're nowhere near having the you know electronic and battery technology we would need for long-distance electronic jets, electrical, you know, all-electric jets to be viable.

E: We don't have an extension cord that long.

S: Yeah so you have to burn some high energy fuel, right? The other thing you might think is, well why not just burn hydrogen, right? You can burn hydrogen with oxygen, make water, no fossil fuel. That may also be like a short to medium range kind of option. But the thing is, even the most energy dense form of hydrogen, like liquid hydrogen, is nowhere near as energy dense as fuel, as like jet fuel or gasoline. So, it also just doesn't work, the numbers don't add up. So the best we may be able to do is biofuel for jet fuel. And I'm not a big fan of biofuel because I think─

B: Takes up too much land right?

S: ─takes up a lot of land, it's not very efficient, all the reasons you know of why agriculture uses up a lot of resources. The net energy you get out of it, I mean there was a while, you know, back when we first started doing this podcast, the question was is it even a net energy producer? Or do you put in more energy than the biofuel you get out of it, right? But at some point we did cross the line in terms of just efficiency and making bio feel like a gallon of biofuel uses less than that in energy to make, so there is, it is a net producer of energy but still not by a whole hell of a lot. So the bottom line is we're not going to run our civilization on biofuel, right? And I don't think it's really a tremendously good option in terms of like if you can if you compare it to hydrogen fuel cells or just electric like battery electric vehicles. So I just don't think it's going to be like the solution to reducing the carbon output of the transportation industry. But jet fuel is the one niche where I think we need the high energy density of actual fuel and that you could burn and biofuel probably is the best that we can do. Although even there we may not be able to get to a 100% biofuel. But anything we could do to reduce the fossil fuel component would be tremendous. And, I learned something else recently. Again, this is one of those situations where you know how like there's a problem you didn't know exist and you learn about it when the solution to the problem is being proposed.

B: Yeah I love that.

S: Yeah it's like, you know that problem you didn't know was there? Well here's a solution to it. But the thing is actually that people don't talk about the problems until they have a solution. Like oftentimes we talk about this, when we, when we're reporting technology news, it's so common to just gloss over the deal killers and not even mention them, you know?

B: Yeah.

S: They want, anyway, so we always have to go searching for that so with, with jet fuel, jet fuel requires something called aromatics as an additive to the jet fuel.

E: So it smells nice.

S: Yeah well the aromatics exist for a very specific reason. And that is to swell the o-rings which seal the different metal on metal components of the combustion chamber for example, that were for the, for the jet engine. Again not, not, again unless you're a jet engineer why would you know about this thing? But you know just something you don't hear about.

B: Yeah I never heard about that.

E: I haven't heard of the o-rings since the Challenger.

S: Yeah it's the same thing, it's the same thing it's with their o-rings, right?

J: But think about the engineering behind that, without just that you know I don't know, I wouldn't say discovery but they had to come up with a way to make those seals function. And you know the the gases that are in those tanks actually transforms those seals to to expand to make them function, you know that that's a feat of engineering that had to be created in order for this system to work.

S: But, there's a downside to the aromatics that they add to the jet fuel and that is that they produce a lot of the carbon and pollution. In fact they're a major component of the contrails, a major component. And, did you know that you know by some estimates the contrails that are produced by jets contribute more to global warming than the CO2 released by burning the jet fuel.

E: We may, we're not going to call them chemtrails because of that, okay, good good okay.

S: Contrails, they're not chemtrails. All right so now here's the solution to this problem you didn't know existed, right? So lignin-based jet fuel LJF lignin-based jet fuel, you guys remember what lignin is l-i-g-n-i-n?

B: Is that like this part of a tree?

S: Yeah it's part of wood.

B: Yeah baby. (Evan laughs)

S: And so they harvest the lignin from agricultural matter you know and again this is like one of the the only time where I think biofuel is really plausible, is if you're getting it like, if you're growing corn to make biofuel, you know that's a waste of land. But if you're just using the parts that you would otherwise throw away or the waste, like wastage, agricultural waste then that becomes more plausible. And or if you're like growing it in vats somewhere, where you're not using arable land, you know, that's okay. So this is using agricultural waste you know they, they harvest the lignin and they make an additive to the jet fuel. And it does a couple of nice things. One is that it has the same effect as the aromatics so it can completely replace them. Which would reduce the pollution and the global warming effects of the the the jets. And two it increases the energy density of the jet fuel.

B: Whoa.

E: Oh you get more bang for your buck.

S: Get more bang for your buck.

B: How the hell does it do that?

S: It's just high energy, high energy chemicals, you know?

E: What's the downside?

B: Causes cancer if you look at it?

S: You have to carry less fuel which again, when you're flying it's all about weight, right? So if you're carrying less weight in fuel then you have to, you burn less fuel because you're not carrying as much weight.

E: Jay we don't have to pay a hundred dollars for that second bag of gear anymore.

S: Yeah anything, yeah, I mean not only is it good for the environment, anything that makes the commercial jet industry more efficient is good for ticket prices of course.

E: Definitely.

S: They recently did a test at 10% lignin based jet fuel.

B: Damn, 10%.

S: 10% blend. But they are, they think think they can get up to 50%.

B: What.

E: Whoa, half? Half? That's exciting.

S: So they're going to continue, they're going to continue testing and do higher and higher blends and again they're planning on testing up to 50%.

E: How abundance is is lignin?

S: It's very abundant, it's just in plants.

E: Okay so, we're not gonna have a shortage someday of that.

S: It's a high amount in wood but it's in lots of plants, it basically gives it like its structure.

B: How could it be, how could they even entertain the thought of 50%? Wouldn't that just eviscerate the power, I mean the energy, the energy density. I mean I would, I mean why not make it 100% then? I mean if if the lignin is so energy dense, can we use that as a fuel for maybe other things? I mean...

E: What kind of corrosion and stuff is this doing to the engine?

S: I don't think that's, I don't think that's a problem but again from my reading Bob, the, they're looking for a jet fuel that could be used in existing jet engines. You probably could redesign the engine to fly entirely off of lignin-based jet fuel. But if you want to use it in existing─

B: Gotcha.

S: ─you gotta do a blend. And of course that would be massive, you can't just say okay we're gonna replace all the engines on all the you know all the jets that are out there in order to use this new thing.

B: Maybe they will some day.

S: Right it's like if you're using a like a corn, an ethanol blend in your car you want it, it wants to be usable in regular cars. Like if you have to have a car, can only use ethanol, I mean they exist, right? There are there, you can make engines that burn pure, pure ethanol.

E: Or propane like a propane engine that you can make.

S: But they're but not your regular car but if you wanted to be to fit cleanly into the existing infrastructure yeah you don't you want to be able to function that way. So I think that's why they want to go with a blend. And they're just seeing well how high can we push this and have it still efficiently. So yeah, so it's this, it's a nice little incremental advance you know and it kind of solves. It has these two effects in one where it's replacing the aromatics which is good and it and also increasing the energy density of jet fuel which is good. And it's replacing up to 50% of the fossil fuel you know in the jet fuel, which is good. So that's more sustainable you know, because you're, yes, it's releasing CO2 and you burn this but that CO2 was captured recently, you know, in the plant that you're making the fuel out of rather than being previously sequestered fossil fuels that were digging up out of the ground and then releasing into the atmosphere.

C: Are there, are they concerned about anything unintended?

S: I didn't see anything you know.

C: Okay.

S: Again as we said.

E: High arsenic levels getting dropped everywhere.

S: For biofuels I think the the big variable is your feedstock. What do you what's the raw material that you are turning into biofuel? Again like if you are using a─

B: Truffles.

S: ─agriculturally intensive crop on arable land and using fossil fuel as your fertilizer base, then that eats away all the advantages of it. But if you're using agricultural waste or if you're farming more sustainably or if you're using a very you know a very efficient crop in terms of land and water use and all that stuff. So it's, I think it really, the big variable is the feed stock.

C: Yes you really have to look at the entire cycle, you can't just look at the sliver and say this is better.

S: Exactly, you have to do a total, total life cycle evaluation. So the other thing with biofuels of course is how you're getting from the feedstock to the fuel. That could be an energy intensive process also. If you have to use very high temperatures or whatever and yes if you're like burning coal to make your biofuel, again, it doesn't really help you. But that's why they're focusing a lot on enzymes and you know and bacteria and things that can do it efficiently and at lower temperatures and without having to to burn a lot of energy. And so that's what they're working on here as well. So yeah you have to look at the total life cycle because again very very quickly your right could turn into a net loser if you're not looking at the whole life cycle carbon efficiency, energy efficiency. So but this looks very promising and again something hopefully we'll hear about this again. You know, I'd like to see how this develops. And it would if it all works out and they do it well it'd be great for just hey let's whack back the fossil fuel footprint of the commercial jet industry by 50%. And get rid of another source of pollution, the aromatics that you didn't even know about.

C: Right.

S: But we'll see how it goes.

Dog Personality (29:14)[edit]

S: All right Jay, this is an interesting item. It's deceptively complicated but tell us about the research into dog personality.

J: Well, you know, how many times have you heard that some dog breeds are dangerous, or some are friendly or whatever, right?

E: Pit bulls right?

J: Exactly, exactly right, that's that's I think the most common one. You know just before we get into this guys. Do you have an opinion about certain dog breeds? Like which ones are friendly? Which ones are not? Which ones are are smart? What do you think?

S: Yes I absolutely have opinions about that, yeah.

C: I think it's more about, I guess trainability. And I don't know and there are some, I think there's some good evidence to show that some breeds on average have higher trainability than others or have more, are like lower energy than others, right?

J: Yeah, without a doubt.

C: There is some evidence.

J: The trainability thing is definitely, is definitely real. But you know there's conflicting research. And you know different research efforts have shown different things. But there are some things I think at this point that we could say there's legitimate evidence for. This most recent research that has taken place is now showing, or the claim is, on the surface that dogs do not, the, I'm sorry. So the most recent research that came out, you might, this is what the news articles are saying about it. Which is like the really really muted and you know I guess showy title that they would use. That dog breed does not predict the dog's behavior. But that's, that is not the whole story here. It's definitely, I think it's a little misleading because it doesn't tell the whole thing. You know keep in mind this is one study and again there's conflicting data. But, this study on dog behavior and ancestry included 18 000 dogs and it shows that a dog's lineage, which is the dog's parents and grandparents and so on does have an effect on their behavior. But not the overall breed. You know in that one point we're talking about the individual dog and not the, not the breed as a collection. Most people seem to like the breed of dog that they grew up with, right? I love poodles because I grew up with one. The scientists say that when you get a puppy of a specific breed you're picking their overall look, right? Hey, I want you know this breed because of this look and these features or whatever. But their behavior is a complete crapshoot.

C: Right, you, there's always room for a bad dog. (laughs) No matter what breed it is you all know that person who's like, man, they did not get a good dog.

J: So let me give you a little bit of the history behind what dogs are to explain to you you know why that you can't use breed as a predictor. This is so because dog breeds don't go back that far. That's basically it. All the information is under debate but the general consensus is that dog domestication started in Northern Eurasia between 14 000 and 29 000 years ago. So the wolves of that time, I know they're not modern wolves, but the wolves will call them of that time, took an active part in their own domestication. Which is really cool, right? Because, I've heard that many times, what they did, what they think that they did was they likely followed nomadic humans and they were eating the remains that they left from their kills. Which does make a lot of sense, right? Some dogs were a little bit more able to be around humans or not as skiddish. And they would just follow the, these humans as they they left a trail of food for them. And that was the very beginnings of it. So domestic dogs came from a gray wolf ancestor that lived 27 000 to 40 000 years ago. And that line of wolves is now extinct. But, just so you know, dogs and modern wolves shared the same, the wolf-like ancestor. Domestication of dogs took thousands of years, right? Now you might think, oh yeah, you know, a lot of these dog breeds came about in relative recent history. Yeah, that's true but the real domestication and the real hard part of the domestication took thousands of years. To get those wild wild animals to become tame and to get features like that all dogs have today. And that is, that domestication manifested in a lot of different things. But in simple terms you could just think of it as their overall base demeanor. It took a long time to get to get dogs to to consistently have these behavior traits. So dogs came to the Americas only about 10 000 years ago. Some dog breeds are thought to have come from the jackal. This is really cool, these dogs which came from Africa might have been the ancestors of some modern African breeds. And you know they're studying the genetics of all this. So there isn't, there may not be one origin of all dogs that exist today. The fossil record suggests that there were five recognizably different types of dogs that existed at the beginning of the bronze age. Which was about 4500 BCE. So we have mastiffs, we have wolf wolf type dogs, sight hounds, pointing dogs and herding dogs. And they, and they all have different significantly unique traits to them. So those five archetypes you can call it are the origin of all modern dog breeds. When we talk about today's dog breeds most are only about, guess, how many years old are most dog breeds guys?

S: 200.

C: I think they're like 200 years old, yeah.

E: 200 years old.

J: Yeah it's 200 years, good job.

E: 200!

J: 200! So this is where all of our dog biases come from. Today's modern breeds. That's really where you know a lot of people think they have information or have a understanding about why dogs behave the ways that they do. You know why they look the way that they do and all that it's from modern breeding. And really only the looks part is the significant part about modern breeding. The researchers surveyed thousands of people who own dogs asking many questions about their animals. They wanted to get a broad range of answers that painted a detailed picture of each animal. The researchers then sequenced the DNA of subsections of the dogs and surveyed looking for any links between genetics and behavior. They found that certain traits were actually more common in certain breeds, right? Which is kind of counterintuitive to what the title of these news items are saying. This means that on the breed level there are some behaviors that actually are common. But if you look at dogs on the individual level, inside the breed, you'll find every variety of behavior that there is. That is found in all dogs in every breed.

C: Yeah more individual, very, more within breed variation than a crossbreed variation.

J: Exactly, so considering many dog breeds German Shepherds for example, like Cara was saying, are more likely to follow commands compared to other breeds. That happens to be true. There are a lot of weird traits that do manifest in modern dogs. Like some dogs actually like have a propensity to rip holes through doorways, because of the breeding. You know, that's there and it's genetically there and there's you know and there is a reason for it to be there. It might not have been deliberate but you know it came to be because of because of selective breeding.

C: Well and a lot of modern dogs Jay are bred for, to be working dogs. So there are certain behaviors that they were bred to have. Like these dogs fish out rats, those dogs retrieve birds, these you know like so it would kind of make sense that they would have some of these kind of weird, what we think of as weird domestic behaviors because they make sense for their work.

J: Exactly, oh yeah, I mean Cara you hit the nail on the head. So you know a lot of the dogs that we have in existence today, especially the breeds were created specifically to do something. Like let me give you some interesting information. So like some dogs have webbed feet, right? Webbed feet exist for swimming. So if you look between your dog's toes, if there's if there's you know skin webbing in between their toes that that you're very likely your dog was originally bred for some type of hunting purpose. Either retrieving, you know, kill or or having something to do with swimming of course.

E: Oh some dogs were meant to play poker, I saw a picture once. (Cara laughs)

J: And that, if you saw that on the internet Ev, that is a 100% true. Just because it's the internet.

E: Oh, that painting is 100% true, absolutely.

J: So other things like you know Labradors, as an example, my my lab, who's part lab, has the herding thing cranked up to ten. Like when my kids run, he like is jockeying them into some position in his head that he wants them to be in. And Steve's dog does it too, right Steve?

S: Yeah so I have an Australian shepherd and I've had a lot of dogs in my life. This is the first time I've had a herding species. And the behavioral difference was stark. He was, from the youngest puppy, when we first got him, at first I'm like, what the hell is he doing? Because I never saw a dog behave that way. And he heard anything that moves. He was herding the car as it pulled out of the driveway. Like he wants to herd the vacuum cleaner. And it was clear, he and he did, its clear herding behavior. Just really hard wired in there. But Cara, I think like the, the classic working dog behavior modules that we brought into them. So herding, guarding, hunting and like pulling a sled. Those are really ancient dog traits not modern.

C: Oh that we just kind of were able to codify.

S: We we bred, yeah, because we, because dogs were initially that we had them to do work not to be show dogs.

E: Beasts of burden.

S: Yeah so those, those are, those are much deeper. I think that looking through the literature myself I found like the deeper the traits, the more they are breed specific.

C: that makes sense.

S: The recent breeds don't really have any, there's no genetic depth to those breeds. It's very superficial, very on the surface and and that's where there really isn't a lot of you know breed specific behaviors.

C: And that's why you see clusters, you see the retrievers, like they all retrieve.

S: You see clusters, exactly. There's clusters around the more ancient work-related breeds and all the modern variations didn't really add anything. The other thing is like it depends on what trait you look at. So if you're looking at like just how friendly they are, that doesn't seem to be breed specific. If you're looking for how trainable they are that is breed specific. But again it does cluster around these more older, the deeper breed categories or clusters of breeds. It's interesting. I don't know if you mentioned but one another way to express like how much of the variability and personality is individual versus breed. They said that the breed only predicts─

J: 9%.

S: ─9%, yeah, it's nothing, right? 9% is the only but again that's, that wasn't looking at the deep worker traits. That we're looking at like just how aggressive are they or how friendly are they or how well how affectionate they are.

J: I question though Steve. Was that 9% specifically talking about the breed traits?

S: No no.

C: It's the variation.

S: No no, individual dog personality as reported by their owners. How much of that was predicted by the breed that they were. And it was only 9%.

J: It is the breed, okay. That's what I meant. Like the breed affects 9% of their behavior.

S: Yes.

J: But, so, the conclusion of that number. Which is basically the most important statistically relevant thing that we said in this entire news item. If you, you cannot generalize a dog's behavior by breed. It's statistically wrong to do that. Every, you have to treat every dog as an individual from a from a behavior perspective.

C: When it comes to things like aggression, I feel like categorically like as a construct we might be looking at it a multiple way. So lots of times when we say like aggression in a dog, we think of it as like that dog is mean. But what if there are certain breeds that have tendencies to be more protective because of their working nature. Or they are more oriented to an individual owner and more distrustful of strangers for example. Could that not kind of make us perceive it as aggression? When really it is a deep working dog trait.

S: Yeah may be context dependent. I think in a lot of the studies I read it was just like just owner reported personality.

C: Yeah and that's so like all over the place. Like when I think about the fox study. The Russian fox study. And they intentionally bred, they took the the ones that were "the nicest" and the ones that were "the meanest". But they only did that in context to people. So that the foxes that were the most comfortable around people and could be handled versus the ones that would snap at people. And the funny thing is, later on when they took the super bread foxes, like the ones that were almost good pets except they pee all over the place and they smell really bad. But they're sweeter, like almost sweeter than domestic dogs. And they put them in the same pen with the ones that were like ultra aggressive and would like bite every person who came near them. They played together fine. It had nothing to do with how they treated other foxes. Which is really interesting.

B: Here come the foxes!

J: Here come the foxes! Right Bob? (Cara laughs) Oh my god. That's from SNL.

B: Early SNL.

S: But they do Cara have registries where they have standardized questionnaires. Where they are asking specific questions about behavior. So it's not just winging it, you know?

C: Right, but I just worry about, I always will. And this is psychological research too. It's like how how well are people self-reporting. What is their own bias. Like my dog is the best dog. And even though he bit my mail man he's not aggressive. It's like wait, what?

S: Who's a good boy?

E: Snookums.

C: The killer is the best dog. Just just so you guys know.

S: In your apartment, that's actually true.

[commertial brake]

COVID and Cognitive Aging (44:19)[edit]

S: Cara, tell us about, this is wonderful news. Tell us about the effects of covid on your brain.

C: Right so there's a there's a study that─

S: Spoiler, it's not good.

C: ─right.

E: Oh, I was hoping like super powers.

C: Where's study that was recently published in The Lancet. Like literally this month. It was based on the, I think it's the covid-19 bio resource. So this is an NIH kind of funded study. So researchers looked at individuals who had been admitted to Addenbrooke's hospital. So either to the ICU or to like the covid ward. And they looked at their cognitive capabilities. On average about six months after their acute covid infection. There's a little bit of range there. Some of them, it was like eight months. Some was four. But they basically did like a follow-up study of these individuals. And they were able to control for a lot, because they had a huge database of people. Because of this kind of cool study that was funded by the NHS foundation trust and using this covid 19 bio resource, which is like a large database. They were able to compare these individuals to matched controls. So just so that we are clear about the model of this study. The way it was modeled. They didn't compare these patients pre and post covid. They didn't have premorbid information on these patients. They looked at these patients postcovid and compared them to matched controls. Meaning same age, same gender, same level of education, same mental health status. All these same variables but that didn't have covid. Does that make sense? Yeah.

S: Yeah but what if dumb people get covid more than smart people do?

C: Right so there is this sort of like self-limiting question here. But, it doesn't really matter, because. Well I guess you're right. In that case it would matter.

S: Because the arrow causation would be flipped.

C: Right. But I think it's pretty safe to say that covid doesn't discriminate?

S: Yeah.

C: Especially because this was, these patients were collected between march and July 2020. So did people have access to vaccines yet?

S: No, 2021.

C: So even if there was any sort of bias here about like vaccine hesitancy or anything, that wouldn't have come into play. So basically that's the thing, causation is a very high bar. And so anytime we do any sort of study, we have to look at how the study was designed and we have to look at what inferences we can draw based on the design. Now this is probably one of the stronger studies looking at post-covid effects. Simply because they were able to compare to match controls. And they were able to compare using this large database. And there's massive norms tables for the cognitive tests that they gave. So let me give you a little bit just on these numbers of people. Relatively small study in terms of the number of people but I have a feeling it's because they wanted to get clean clean match controls. So they looked at 46 people who received in-hospital care. So like I said, either in the ICU or on the ward. 16 of those 46 had been put on mechanical ventilation during their stay. So all of them had severe covid. They were inpatient covid patients. And they compared it to 460 match controls. So again, that's 46 individuals compared to 460 match control. So like a 1 to 10 ratio there. But they were able to look at norms tables that were based on 66 000 people. So kind of a couple levels to make sense of here. 46 people who had covid and had a severe case of covid were tested at about six months after infection. Compared to 460 match controls who didn't have covid. But the norms tables that they looked at was a norms table of 66 000. So, that's how we kind of know that there's a lot of validity and reliability. Oftentimes in these cognitive tests if the psychometrics are really sound. So they were normed on a massive number of people. That doesn't take care of everything but it kind of bolsters it a little bit. And then they just looked at a lot of different variables. They said, you know, how sick were they. What was their mental health status. What was their, did they have, how long were they in the hospital. Were they intubated. Were they mechanically ventilated. And compared to match controls the general outcomes, and this is what you'll probably see in a lot of the headlines. Which I kind of question this. Is that the cognitive, the negative cognitive outcomes of severe covid infection. Even six months after the fact was kind of similar to the effects of normal aging. So not dementia but normal aging. Between the ages of 50 and 70 years. So if you think about the normal decline in cognitive capacity that individuals have from the time they go from 50 to 70. So over that 20-year period. They're saying that's similar to the change in cognitive performance that these covid patients had just out of acute illness. And so that's kind of a big deal. I mean and that's obviously a metaphor. It's an analogy. It's a way for you to think about this change. Because if we just tell you, based on this test the numbers were blah blah blah, standard deviations below.

S: Didn't they say it was basically 10 IQ points?

C: Yeah, that's another way to look at it. About 10 IQ points. So 20 years of aging during 50 to 70. So early but later aging. Ad about 10 IQ points. And we saw this across a couple very specific domains. And most of them seem to have to, they did really poorly. Most poorly on verbal reasoning. And they they're saying that, the researchers are saying that that kind of makes sense. Because a lot of self-reported symptoms of postcovid illness is word-finding problems. Like people are having a hard time tapping into their vocabulary. And there does seem to be some now good evidence to support that. Also slower processing speeds. And there's no real way to know exactly yet what is happening in the brains of these individuals to cause this cognitive dysfunction. It's unlikely the researchers say that it's a direct result of the the virus itself. Like the virus is likely not invading certain types of cells and indirectly causing cognitive decline. It's more likely that the virus is kind of downstream causing either a lower amount of glucose for the brain to consume in this kind of frontal region. Which is going to be involved in problem solving and working memory. But also that there is a large inflammatory response that occurs as a result of this really severe virus. And the inflammatory response could be contributing to these cognitive deficits. The good news is, even though it wasn't statistically significant, even though they couldn't say there is a big enough difference between the people who we tested at like eight or nine months versus the people we tested at like four or five months. All the trends appeared to be in the right direction. People started to get better even if they weren't significantly better between those two time stamps. They did tend to trend better not worse. And so that's a good sign. But there's kind of no way to know yet if these individuals are going to get back to baseline and when that would happen.

S: Yeah that fits with my clinical experience. I'm seeing a lot of these patients. A lot of patients with cognitive symptoms. And they do improve over time. But they so far, you know, a lot of them have not gotten back to baseline. They go like 80%.

C: Yeah right so it's like a slow but steady.

S: But they're not quite back to baseline. So yeah I wonder if they'll they ever will feel like they're back to baseline.

C: And we have to remember too that it's not just these cognitive deficits it's also, because they gave them multiple, as part of this study they gave them multiple tests. And some some tapped into cognitive capabilities and some tapped into like mental health symptoms. So we're seeing in long covid, we're seeing people with depression. Sometimes PTSD, especially in those who were intubated or who had traumatic hospital stays. Fatigue, low mood, sleep disturbances. And sadly it's sometimes hard to tease that away from cognitive deficits. But they did try to model their study by removing any variants contributed by previous mental health complaints. And they actually found that removing even current mental health complaints, that those with more severe illness still had more severe cognitive deficits later on. So regardless of the, if the person is struggling with depression or was struggling with depression, the biggest predictor of lower cognitive deficits was acute illness severity. Above any other factors.

S: It's a dose response basically that argues for a cause and effect. Absolutely.

C: Yeah. It actually, it bolsters that argument. And it shows that even though these mental health problems cloud the picture a little bit, they're probably just exacerbating an actual neurological phenomenon that really is there due to covid.

S: What all this means is get vaccinated.

J: How do you figure that?

C: Oh gosh. And that's the thing. Like we hear these arguments all the time. From anybody who has whatever the agenda that it's not that big a deal or if you're young and healthy or you know blah blah. And they always use like death as the benchmark.

S: Yeah.

C: And it's like no no, look at all of the disability. Look at all of the morbidity that's not just death.

S: Totally. A lot of morbidity with this, with covid. A lot of long covid. We're seeing more and more of it. It's a serious systemic illness. It really is.

J: Be afraid, that should drive you to get vaccinated.

S: All right thanks Cara.

Fertilizer Shortage (54:42)[edit]

S: All right Evan tell us about the impending fertilizer shortage.

E: Yeah I read about this news item over at Bloomberg News but it's been pretty widely reported by other outlets as well. And folks we have a fertilizer problem. When I say we I mean the world. And when I say fertilizer I'm talking about that miraculous source of nutrients for the majority of the food we eat. Not to mention the food that farm animals consume. And when I say problem, I'm saying this is going to negatively affect us all. And like most other things the poorest of people on the planet will be the ones who will suffer the greatest. The first paragraph of the news article sums it up well with efficiency I think. So it reads like this: "For the first time ever farmers the world over, all at the same time, are testing the limits of how little chemical fertilizer they can apply without devastating their yields come harvest time. Early predictions are bleak.". Laws of economics of commodities are called laws for a good reason. And one of the most basic laws is this: when supplies of a commodity decrease the price for that commodity increases. And of course the inverse is also true. For example fertilizer price. I looked at the fertilizer price index. So this is not dollars or currency. This is just a measurement of the cost of fertilizer worldwide. January 31st 2020. This is right before pandemic. 70.84. April 30th 2022, just last week, 254.97. So that's about 3.5 times higher in price. If you're a farmer and you're paying 3.5 times the price of fertilizer, oh my gosh. I mean look prices do go up when it comes to commodities and things. But not usually by 3.5 times over the course of 27 months. That's unusual. They'll go gradually up and down over regular business cycles. And companies can either absorb the hit off their profits. They can show a smaller profit to the shareholders. In many cases the company will raise prices on their goods and it doesn't have to be much. Especially in volume things can go up a few pennies at a time over the course of the year. Nobody's going to raise hell. But farmers who have to deal with these kinds of rapid increases. They not only have to resort to charging more. And it actually is combined with cutting into some profits. But it can create a situation in which the companies that produce the food for the world are going to just produce less of it. A couple of examples: Brazil, world's largest soybean producer. 20% cut in potash use could bring a 14% drop in yield. And that's according to industry consultant MB AGRO. In Costa Rica coffee cooperative representing 1200 small producers; they see output falling as much as 15% next year if the farmers miss one-third of their normal applications. So those are their estimates. And in west Africa the falling fertilizer use is going to shrink the yields for rice and corn by about a third. And that's according to the International Fertilizer Development Center which is a food security nonprofit group. So okay what caused these prices to skyrocket? Well, it's several reasons as you can imagine. A perfect storm of bad things happening right now. Supply chain issues. We all know about those. They've occurred during the pandemic years of 2021. 2020 as well. And it impacted the prices on all things. Including the chemicals such as nitrogen and hydrogen which are the raw chemicals that are used, the starting elements of fertilizer. You combine that with natural gas prices. Steve I know you've got natural gas in the house, right? Natural gas prices are up. They are up everywhere. And you use natural gas to produce two nitrogen-based fertilizers. Ammonium nitrate and urea. U-r-e-a. The natural gas gets processed at an pgrading plant when combined with nitrogen. And the two end products, the ammonium nitrate and the urea, they're mixed with other ingredients like phosphorus and potassium to make the synthetic fertilizer that are used in the crop production. Now why is natural gas up? Well part of its supply and demand. As I spoke about before. And another part is the geopolitical climate of the world right now. Especially with the Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing. It cut off nearly a fifth of the world's nutrient exports that were coming out of Russia which are no longer for the moment available. And some other problems. Sanctions against a major Belarusian potash producer also is having an impact. Here in the United States we're actually slowing down or trying to slow down our rate of natural gas lines and natural gas usage. But those are for carbon emission concerns. And also they said part of the problem is back-to-back late summer storms on the US Gulf coast that shut down some production in the region. And you mix all of that, you want to, you can also add China to the list. They are imposing export limits on phosphate. Restricting outgoing shipments in order to build up a stockpile at home. So you combine all of these things and you get a big big problem in the end. So the answer, farmers. Big, medium and small. What they are doing is they are simply buying less fertilizer. They're trying to do more with less. They're stretching the boundaries of what fertilizer can do for their crop yields. I'm not sure really how it all gets measured. By weight or by calories produced. But I think regardless of how these drop-offs get measured the expectations are subdued at best and panicked at worst. And according to experts 2022 continues to be a year of uncertainties. In which even the most optimistic numbers are still going to result in less food being produced this year than last year. But what's worse. And it gets worse. This is not a problem that can be quickly solved or remedied. In other words if the abundance of fertilizer suddenly came back. Like flipping a switch. And you were to start doing it today. And if the the prices would come crashing down. Great. So you'd start to use the fertilizer again at the levels you were before. But soil needs maintenance over time. And if there are breaks and disruptions in maintaining the quality of the soil in any given year that can have impacts on the next year's yield. So the longer the problem subsists. The longer we're going to have problems with getting our food production back up to the levels pre-pandemic. So we've got some major things here that we have to deal with no easy solutions. But farmers and farms again both large, medium and small, they are trying to do certain things. Some of these companies have stockpiled their own fertilizer. They bought them at less prices a little while, at lower prices a little while ago compared to today. And they're going to start using those stockpiles that they've got. And they're also going to look into ways of making it last longer. And really trying to stretch it as best as they can to try to minimize the the decrease in the food yield that's going to be coming. But they're still forecasting anywhere for 10% drop in yields in in some situations. In Peru they're saying that their rice and potato output could tumble as much as 40% percent unless they can get their hands on more fertilizer. So it also depends on where you are in the world. Some places are going to suffer worse than others. And of course the poor will be disproportionately affected by all of this.

S: And we're getting a double hit from the Ukraine invasion because Ukraine is a major wheat exporter. And this is going to have a significant, just the war itself and Ukraine is going to have a significant negative impact on the world wheat supply. So that's going to be added on top of this fertilizer shortage reducing output. So it's a double whammy there. And that's always, systems can, even resilient systems. Like they could weather one maybe two factors happening at the same time. It's always that magic number. Like when you get to three negative things happening at once where the system collapses.

E: It collapses.

S: It overwhelms the resilience built into the system. That's when you have to get really worried. So yeah it's something to keep an eye on. Something definitely to be concerned about. But it also makes you think about the resilience of the system. Like how fragile it all is. That's one thing that does give me pause. This notion of, yeah, we're producing like just enough food to feed the world. And we have, we're getting close to what eight billion people. And we can't really tolerate like a bad year. Like one bad year of food production means people starve.

E: We don't have margins of error. Significant margins here.

S: I mean there are some strategic supplies but not enough. That's again, that's like where there's a little bit of resilience built into the system. But not when you get a triple hit like this. That is, like it's bad weather, war in Ukraine and the recovery from a pandemic screwing the supply lines up. And people are going to starve. That's the bottom line.

C: Well and the sad thing is that all of these things which seem like totally random rare flukes aren't.

S: Yeah.

C: Like this is just going to keep happening. We need to be prepared for it.

E: Right.

S: Yeah and the worst is the invasion of Ukraine because that was an active decision. That's not something that happened to the world. That was something that was done.

C: What happened by Putin.

S: Yeah. That's definitely that falls on one person's head, absolutely.

C: Yes, yes.

E: No doubt about it about.

S: All right thanks Evan.

E: Yep.

Cosmic Expansion (1:04:13)[edit]

S: Bob tell us about cosmic expansion. What's the update on that?

B: All right researchers may have reformulated the end of the universe. Of sorts. With a new study showing that the universe doesn't necessarily have to expand forever into its heat death. And may actually slow down, stop and reverse. Creating what Douglas Adams called the Gnab Gib. Which is (Evan laughs) the opposite of a Big Bang, yes. (Cara laughs) What used to be called the big crunch. So this is from the the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

C: Yeah. (laughter)

B: Say it. Say it. So this new model the end of the universe of course goes against the prevailing thinking since what? The 90s at least when it was discovered that the universe isn't just expanding. It's accelerating faster and faster. Huge, huge momentous discovery which was essentially the birth of dark energy, right? That's pretty much when we started talking about dark energy. Because why is it accelerating? What's happening? It's an unknown mysterious force that started to predominate in the universe. Perhaps five billion years ago some scientists think. Pushing the universe apart faster and faster. Comprising a whopping 70% of the universe's total mass energy. One common take on dark energy is that it's essentially Einstein's conception of a cosmological constant. Which means that the force, this force is woven into the fabric of space-time. It's never gonna change. It's a constant. They call it a constant for a good reason. Never going to change. Always accelerating the expansion of the universe. And that's it. And that's just going to lead to lots of interesting ramifications. But what if this constant wasn't constant? What other possibilities are there and when would it be noticeable? So now these are the questions that these researchers sought to answer. Now this would require though seeing dark energy not as a cosmological constant because that can't change by definition. It can't. So they are using a term called quintessence. Quintessence. Which is a dynamic field.

E: I've heard that word.

B: Yes. Which theoretically can change over time. So now these researchers built their model of quintessence that could change from repellent to attractive over time. And they fiddled with it until it matched the expansion history of the universe. Then they extended that into the future and showed that this field could then weaken in the future. In fact, they say it could be already weakening now. And we would never know. So some of their findings though were interesting. They said that their models show that the acceleration of the universe could end within a remarkably short time. Say the next 65 million years. Which is basically nothing. And then within another eye blink of only 100 million years the universe could be already stopped expanding. And then at that point what they say that their model showed is that it would begin a relatively slow contraction phase that would actually within just a few billion years result in the universe that's half the size that it is now. Which to me seems amazingly fast. So from there, then what happens? Then at that point it's just, it's going to continue to contract down to either something like a big crunch mega singularity, right? Or perhaps what many of us used to think. What I certainly thought a few decades ago. That there would be a big bounce, right? Just that the universe would essentially renew itself. It would come together and then you've got another big bang essentially. And of course that means that our particular universe could then, would this be part of a cycle of big bangs and big crunches? Which of course is obviously aesthetically and symmetrically pleasing to know that there is no real end perhaps. And maybe who would just continue crunching and bouncing back and forth over and over. And maybe this has already been done sextillion times, who knows? Or maybe this is the first time. But the other bonus of this is that we would never, this is, I like this one because I always find it distasteful that an ever-expanding universe would mean that we would enter a phase where only our locally gravitationally bound group of galaxies really exist to our knowledge. They would become our entire universe. Our local group of say 50 galaxies since we're gravitationally bound. Ultimately that's all we're going to see. We're going to be one mega galaxy eventually in many billions of years. And all the the rest of the entire universe is just too far away and moving too fast for us to ever to detect. Or making it almost impossible to infer the true history and evolution of the universe. I find that very distasteful that we would. You know very future astronomers if they existed could look out and think that. They like, we used to think that we live in an island universe. A galaxy. And that is it. And there's nothing beyond it that's really detectable. So of course testing this theory is nigh impossible. They really don't have too many; any prospects at all to really kind of distinguish these. So perhaps we may never be able to distinguish a cosmological constant from quintessence. Potentially. I guess. Or perhaps peer review will reveal some fatal flaws in this model. I don't know. This is the first time I've heard of this specific model showing that quintessence can basically supplant the cosmological constant. And it doesn't even go into other possibilities. Such as the big rip where the expansion instead of reversing accelerates exponentially to the scariest scenario I've come across. Basically the universe ripping itself apart down to the atomic level. Eventually the Earth and every atom in your body would be ripped apart at some point in the not incredibly distant future. But that's I think that's seen as unlikely by many scientists. But hey, we don't know for certain. So here's just an interesting new way, a new way that is the old way of looking at the end of the universe that this theory has and well I'm curious to see what peer review says about it.

S: It's interesting that because so much of our understanding of the cosmos like the big questions of cosmology is inferred. From what information we can gather. And it's there's still it's interesting that at this point there's still the possibility that some physicists can go hey maybe it works completely differently than we thought. Maybe there's just this other thing that's causing the universe to expand. Because dark energy is kind of a placeholder, right?

B: Yeah, that's why the word dark is there. Because it's mysterious we can't really understand it or see it yet. And what's it's really bizarre to to think that we like in the early 1900s we thought we had a handle before quantum mechanics. We thought that we really had a handle on physics. And we felt the same way it was about cosmology. It's like you never would have imagined in the 90s. Not many people didn't imagine that, no, actually there's the what 90 something percent of the entire universe is basically unknown. Dark energy, dark matter we don't know what's going on with it and we're just a tiny. I think it's 4% of the universe is basically everything that we've been talking about for for decades and centuries. And there's so much we don't know. It's like wow. And it's also fascinating but man I just want to get a handle on it before I'm dead.

E: (laughs) Yeah, you become part of it all.

B: All right thanks Bob.

[commercial brake]

Who's That Noisy? (1:13:12)[edit]

S: Jay it's Who's That Noisy Time.

J: All right guys last week I played this Noisy:

[bird-like siren sounds and whoops]

E: I got it. I got it.

J: What?

E: It's Perry drinking out of his water bottles during the recording of the Skeptic's Guide.

J: (laughs) Oh my god Steve, remember that?

S: Yeah. So I had two reactions to that. One was that it sounded like something from Jurassic Park. But seriously if I had to guess I would say it's some kind of primate.

C: Oh yeah I could see that. I think the easy answer is that it's a bird but I don't know if it's a bird. It could be definitely a monkey call, for sure.

S: Yeah I would say a monkey call over a bird call.

J: So even though I know what it is, I sometimes like to think like what do I think people are gonna guess. And I said I'm definitely going to get a couple of people saying that it's peepers. Like little frogs.

E: Not those stale marshmallow things?

J: And then another guess I thought for sure I would get was seals. Because of their─

S: Too high pitched.

C: Yeah and too whoopee.

J: Yeah there's some whooping going on in there. All right let's dive in here. So Torsten Pihl, p-i-h-l. I think I got that one right. He said: "Pigs of the Guinea kind. Guinea pigs. Specifically mating sounds". (laughs)

C: I would never have a guinea pig as a pet if it sounded like that.

J: Yeah and when I read this I'm like, I wanted to know if if this person like had experience. And it was, I was like oh yeah, I've heard something similar to that. Because if pigs make that noise I don't know why anyone would want one in their house.

C: Right.

J: All right next person wrote in. Trey Chadic wrote in and said: "My son Theo who's seven and Arthur four" right there he had me "talked it over and decided that this week's Noisy is a bird and a siren". Which I thought was both two very good guesses that other adults have guessed this week. So they're representative of a lot of people. But thank you Theo and Arthur for sending in those guesses. And they're good ones because you are correct that those types of noises could be made by those two things.

Sean Rafferty wrote in and said: "Hi, hey, sounds like an injury. The largest lemur trying to salvage from anthropology pride after Evan's story on paranthropology". Evan what's this guy talking about?

E: Yeah para-anthropology, you know, paranormal meets anthropology apparently.

C: That's what he's talking about.

J: Correct, correct, yes.

E: That's how memorable it was.

C: No, I just, I was like what's paranthropology?

J: And then Sean said: "PS. I use your book for a class text".

B: Wow.

J: Fantastic.

E: All right.

J: That is fantastic. Howard Cordingly wrote in. He has a very English sounding last name. Cordingly. He said: "Hey Jay, my six-year-old son laughed for like five minutes straight after hearing his guess last week about the ligers and wants to guest this week." And I had to pick it because this is so adorable. He says: "He hears chipmunks and birds in a hospital. Keep up the good work.". I thought that was so freaking cute.

Okay let's go on the next one. Kathleen Hawks. Kathleen actually won. And she won with a minor, half a point subtraction because she wasn't 100% correct which I will give you of course the fully correct answer. But she was so mostly correct it's ridiculous. She said: "Hi Jay, long time-first time. April 30th 2022 for once I actually know Who's That Noisy. My partner called me in to listen saying I think it might be monkeys. After listening I said no sweetie gibbons aren't monkeys, they're apes. This sounds like the territorial call of a white-cheeked gibbon. Possibly a male female duet."

E: Geez, that's pretty specific.

J: And she also wanted to give you a shout out Cara because she's going to get a degree in psychology.

C: Good luck, that's awesome.

J: Yeah so that was very cool. Very good guess Kathleen. But the absolute correct answer is that these are golden cheeked gibbons.

S: Oh yeah.

C: (laughs) Technicality.

S: What an amateur. White cheek gibbons, come on!

J: So then of course I'm thinking logically down this chain. How skilled do you have to be to differentiate between a white cheek gibbon and a golden cheek gibbon? Like there must be people out there that can sus that out.

C: By their call you mean?

S: Yeah, experts.

C: Experts. People who study gibbons can do that.

J: Oh you mean educated people on this specific topic, right?

C: Yes.

J: So let me play that for you again now that you know what they are. Good job Steve. Steve nailed it. It's all that reading he does I guess. Okay so let's move on to the next one. This new noisy for this week was sent in by a listener named Quinn English. I don't think a last name could get more English than the word English. You follow me on that?

New Noisy (1:18:12)[edit]

B: I think you're right. All right here's this week's noisy:

[machinery sounds, as of a jet engine or train rolling]

J: So if you think you know what this Noisy is, or if you heard something cool this week, email me at

Announcements (1:18:51)[edit]

J: Steve, a few things to talk about.

S: Yeah?

J: D you know who David Copperfield is?

S: Oh yeah the most famousist of magicians.

J: So David Copperfield, dramatic pause, is going to give a keynote at NECSS this year.

B: Wow man. That's awesome.

J: In fact David Copperfield will be talking to Bill Nye for the keynote talk this year at NECSS. We are so unbelievably happy and excited. Yeah, they're gonna talk about lots of things I'm sure because Bill is gonna really want to talk to David. I think that this pair up is really fun. I think that it's going to be very, very entertaining.

S: (inaudible) what will happen.

J: Yeah right, I know.

E: Or who will disappear.

J: Among other things David is gonna talk about his book, he's gonna talk about some history of magic and some other things that that are interesting. But I guarantee you that this conversation will be a lot of fun. So if you are interested in seeing that you can sign up for NECSS at We are still putting together our speaker list. This year's theme is navigating the misinformation apocalypse. There's going to be a lot of good information at this this year's NECSS. And it's very timely I'd say.

A few other things. So we have four events coming up guys. We have a trip to Arizona. We'll be in Phoenix and we'll be in Tucson and in both of those cities we'll be doing a private SGU podcast recording and we'll be doing an extravaganza. These are completely different shows. One of them is us doing this show that you're listening to right now. Except we'll be doing it right in front of you. And we do some other stuff. Sometimes we go off the rails. And we always do something unique that only you'll hear when you're there. But usually these live shows are a lot crazier than the show you're listening to right now. Because we're together, we're excited, we're eating local foods. So the extravaganza though is a stage show. This is a show that revolves around a theme. And the theme of this show is "you cannot trust your brain". Your perceptions are flawed. And among teaching you a lot of things about that we're going to try to fool you. And we're also going to be doing a lot of improv comedy, stand up bits and games that we play with each other where George basically makes all of us look like idiots. I don't know, I mean it's just, it's happened before and it'll happen again. So the extravaganza is a lot of fun. So we hope that you can go to that show too. So if you're if you're local go to and go to our events page. Or you can just go to /events on our website and you'll go right to the page. And we have all the information you need there for those shows.

S: All right thanks Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:21:32)[edit]

Email #1: Lemuria[edit]

S: One quick email. This comes from Timu in Finland. And Timu writes: "Hi, having listened to about 750 episodes by now" well this is episode 878 slacker, so you better (inaudible) (Cara laughs)

E: Catch up, catch up.

S: He says: "I can't recall if the idea or fact about Lemuria has ever been discussed on the show". Well I don't think that is that it has. You guys know about Lemuria?

C: I had to google it. I had never heard that word before.

'E: Yeah, never been there.

S: I think we might have mentioned it on the show. I don't think we did a deep dive on it. All right so here's the (Evan laughs) yeah, right? Here's the, pun intended. 1864 zoologist Philip Sclater proposed the idea that maybe there was a previous continent between India and Madagascar and Africa. Connecting those three things. The main contents of Africa, Madagascar and India. And the reason why he proposed this was because this was before the idea of continental drift, right? So he's like well how are there lemurs in Madagascar and nowhere else. And they're clearly related to primates in Africa and new world Monkeys and etc. So there must have been some kind of continental connection. So he said maybe there was this continent. They also thought that that's where humans evolved. Like the primates evolved into humans on Lemuria. And well it's not there now so it must have at some point sunk into the Indian Ocean. So that was the idea. You know it was just a hypothesis. Again it was kind of you know made moot by continental drift. It was the early days of evolutionary theory. People throwing a lot of crap against the wall. And this was some of that crap.

E: Not unreasonable.

C: Yeah, for the time.

S: Not a crazy idea for the time. It was a serious scientific proposal just turned out to be wrong. But, the idea got picked up by occultists. Specifically the theosophist's Helena Blavatsky and it turned into this missing continent that was inhabited by mystical beings in the utopia. It basically was the Atlantis─

E: Of course.

S: Of the Indian ocean. And that's how the idea of Lemuria. I think Lemuria is because there were lemurs there, right? But in any case that that's how the idea lives on unto today as this occult idea like Atlantis. It's like just another type of Atlantis where yes there's the sunken continent with magical people, etc. But interestingly not too long ago and we talked about this on the show as well. The geologists discovered that there is a sunken continent in the Indian Ocean.

C: Zealandia? Oh wait that's not Indian Ocean.

S: Not Zealandia. It's like Zealandia but it's in the Indian Ocean.

E: We did talk about Zealandia.

S: And it's just again, it's just that at some point where the continent is moving over there was some probably something there that was above the water line. Now it's below the water line. It's not Lemuria but it is, whatever, it's just a curiosity of geology. It's not really the same thing. But it an interesting alignment between this idea and this, the more recent discovery. Yeah there is actually some continental land underneath the Indian Ocean. Which is not uncommon in other parts of the world. So like Zealand is another example of that where there's a much bigger sort of continental plate that New Zealand is part of. And yeah you can call that Zealandia.

C: It's so sad when somebody, or a group of people, take an important part of science history that actually is informative and it's. Almost like phrenology, right?

S: Yeah, exactly like phrenology.

C: At the time it made sense, it's the best that we had. But then then they're like, nope, refuse to evolve with the times. I refuse to look at new available evidence.

E: Yeah they can't discard the old. They have a hard time (inaudible).

C: The thing that's so sad is that it colors the idea. And so the idea itself becomes a joke. When it doesn't historically have to be a joke.

S: Yeah I think, I honestly think a lot of times the occultists, the paranormal gurus pick things because they sound cool. And that's the only reason.

C: Probably.

E: Cause it will sell books.

S: Back in the early days of the NESS we were at, made a field trip to a psychic reading, right? Just to and one of her claims was that either she was in contact with or whatever. There are people visiting their the Earth from the Pleiades. Why the Pleiades? Because it sounds cool. And that's the only reason. Because Pleiades first of all it's a stellar nursery. These are all super young stars, it would not have been enough time for life to have evolved there. You know what I mean? If you're gonna pick a place where an alien advanced civilization came from that would not be the place to pick. But in any case.

E: If you did a little bit of research.

S: Pleiades is a cool name. And that's solely the only reason why I think she chose that as the location of her aliens. But it gets into the, gets into the mythology. So that same thing happened with Lemuria.

C: Yeah.

E: I remember that.

S: All right guys let's move on with Science or Fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:27:10)[edit]

Theme: Critical Thinking

Item #1: A recent systematic review of belief in the paranormal finds a robust correlation with intuitive thinking, increased confirmation bias, and reduced conditional reasoning.[6]
Item #2: A recent study finds that the more certain subjects were about the future course of the pandemic the more likely they were to follow recommended preventive protocols.[7]
Item #3: Research consistently finds that people have an action bias – they will favor doing something over doing nothing even if it worsens outcomes.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction more certain, more likely
Science paranormal beliefs
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
people have an action bias
more certain, more likely
more certain, more likely
more certain, more likely

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items are facts. Two genuine and one fictitious. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. I have a few news items here but there is a theme. It's kind of more of a coincidental theme. I just found some items that all happen to link up. The theme is critical thinking. You should know a little bit about that, huh? All right, critical thinking here we go. Item #1: A recent systematic review of belief in the paranormal finds a robust correlation with intuitive thinking, increased confirmation bias, and reduced conditional reasoning. Item #2: A recent study finds that the more certain subjects were about the future course of the pandemic the more likely they were to follow recommended preventive protocols. And item #3: Research consistently finds that people have an action bias – they will favor doing something over doing nothing even if it worsens outcomes.

Bob go first.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Robust correlation with intuitive thinking increased confirmation bias and reduced conditional reasoning. Kind of makes sense. All right let's look at the second one. So the more certain that subjects were about the future course of a pandemic the more likely they were to follow recommended preventative protocols. That one that doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean who could be certain?

S: It just refers to their subjective certainty. Like if you ask people on a scale of one to ten how certain are you that this is going to happen. If you rated yourself higher on that scale that correlated with higher following of recommended preventive protocols.

B: All right I'm not seeing connection between those. All right so let's look at the third one. Our research consistently finds that people have an action bias they will favor doing something over doing nothing. I'm not, that doesn't sound like human nature to me much either. I think people, I think it might be the opposite. People all of us being equal people might do nothing. And that kind of ties into the whatchamacallit thing. All right so I'm going to say this. So some of these are rubbing me the wrong way. So I'll say. Which one? It's either between two and three. I'll pick the third one doing nothing. I'll say that that's fiction.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Okay let's see. First one about paranormal and a robust, robust correlation with intuitive thinking and increased confirmation bias and reduced conditional reasoning. Well that is certainly been our understanding. And all the discovery we've done over the years seems to point in that direction. I'm not seeing a problem here per se. This one could be a trick but I don't see it. And then the next one about the more certain subjects were about the future course of the pandemic the more likely they were to follow recommended preventative protocols. Yeah I don't think I have a problem with that one either per se. It seems to be linear, it seems to make sense from that perspective. The last one about having the action bias. They're gonna favor doing something over doing nothing. Oh boy. Again with Bob it's like the second one-third one. Seems likely between those two but I can't point to anything here.

S: So choose. (laughter)

J: I will say, I will say. I have to do something, right? (laughter) Damn you action bias. I'll go. Bob I'll split it up. I'll say, I'll go with the second one about the pandemic and the recommended prevented protocols. I'll. We'll split it and then we'll share evenly.

J: All right Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Okay the first one which is about the belief in the paranormal and the correlation. I think that's totally science. I mean I can't, I wouldn't believe for a second that that is not science. Reduced conditional reasoning. This makes perfect sense with everything I've learned over the last 17 years. A recent study that finds the more certain subjects were about the future course of the pandemic the more likely they were to follow recommended preventative protocols. I think that one is the fiction because it just seems logically to make sense that if someone was certain about what the future was that new information is not going to sway them from the path that they're on. The line of thinking that they're on. So I just, I think that one's a fiction. The third one, I mean this idea of action bias makes a lot of sense to me. There are people that have an action bias meaning that they are going to do something even when they shouldn't. It just seems like a lot of the other biases. It yeah. There's some people out there that are gonna that are gonna have this and are gonna fall for this or however you would describe it. So that one seems like science to me so definitely number two is the fiction.

S: Okay and Cara.

E: Oh, definite.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Yeah I'm with Jay on that. I think that unless you're really doing like a weird gotcha and the belief in paranormal has a not robust correlation with; I don't know which of those it could not be correlated with. It's gotta be intuitive thinking, increased confirmation bias and reduced conditional reasoning. So that one seems like science. And then between the two that everybody was kind of, well not everybody but the first two guys were questioning. Action bias seems to me the most─

S: Cromulent?

C: science. Yeah the most cromulent. Thank you, that's exactly the word I was looking for. So it's why we give kids cough medicine. It's why doctors prescribe things even when they don't need to prescribe things. It's why people take things even when they don't really need to take thing. We got to feel like we're doing something about a problem. It's empowering psychologically. And so I think that action bias is real. And I think there's probably a lot of good research to support it. And this one actually about the future of the course of pandemic. Are people who are more certain are more likely to follow recommended prevent. I think that's the opposite. I think that people who are more certain are more likely to do whatever they think that what they would. They're more likely to follow their own confirmation bias and say well it's going to happen this way so I might as well do x. And people who are uncertain about the future and who are worried about how things are going to go are more likely to say I'm going to do exactly what the experts tell me because I want to reduce the risk of things going south. So that's what I'm going to say. That one's the fiction.

S: All right so let's start with the first one since you're all in agreement there.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: A recent systematic review of belief in the paranormal finds a robust correlation with intuitive thinking, increased confirmation bias, and reduced conditional reasoning. You all think that one is science. We want that to be true, don't we? It feels like it should be true. It confirms everything that we already believe. And this one is─

E: Oh damn it Steve.

S: ─science. It is science.

E: Oh, don't do that.

S: We've hit upon some of this research over the years. Especially the intuitive thinking. I mean that's, I've read about that many times that a paranormal─

E: I go with my mommy instinct.

S: ─believe corresponds with intuitive thinking versus analytical thinking, right? Where skepticism is more of an analytical way of thinking. Also confirmation bias, that makes sense. You look for things that confirm your belief. Reduced conditional reasoning. It's just reasoning based upon─

C: It's if then.

B: If A then B.

C: Yeah.

S: ─if A than B, that's conditional reasoning.

C: This is conditional upon that.

S: And you have the antecedent A and the consequent B. And there's all kinds of ways in which that goes wrong. Like for example affirming the consequent. You could say if it's raining I will get wet. Affirming the consequence is when you say I'm wet therefore it must be raining. Which doesn't hold true because you could be wet for other reasons.

J: And Steve you're completely leaving C out of the equation for some reason.

S: I have, that's correct.

E: Confuses me that's what.

S: Anyway which again makes sense all these things have to do with cause and effect. There was another one that were there, the another factor that was robust. And that is a reduced perception of randomness. Think about that. The reduced perception of randomness. They see patterns.

E: Oh yeah they think they're seeing something that's actually chaotic.

S: They're just seeing a pattern when it's actually random. Absolutely. And they said the research has, is generally high quality. Has actually been getting better over the years. That's also something I like to see in a research paradigm. Is the quality getting better, is it getting more rigorous and is the results holding up with the increased rigger.

E: Yep, with the tightening.

S: But yeah like the reviewers said there's a couple of issues that need to be addressed in the research. One, is that over 60% of the studies recruited undergrads. Right? The convenience samples of undergrads. 30% exclusively psychology undergraduates. Which I'm sure anyone who took a college psychology course I'm sure you were a guinea pig in a study. So that therefore that reduces the generalizability of the sample, right?

C: Oh for sure because there's, these people might already have training. They might already think about these things.

S: And the second one was that they did not pre-register the trials. And that's this is more of a newer sort of quality control thing. So I think going forward let's pre-register the trials. Let's try to get a little bit more diversity in the subject. But otherwise the rigor and the robustness of these effects are pretty good.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay let's go on #2: A recent study finds that the more certain subjects were about the future course of the pandemic the more likely they were to follow recommended preventive protocols. Bob you think this one is science. Everyone else thinks this one is fiction. And this one is the fiction.

C: Yey!

B: I knew it. I knew it.

S: Yeah and you were correct it is the opposite. They found that the more certain they were about the future course of the pandemic the less likely they were to follow preventive protocols. Which touches interestingly on your news item Cara. Because you could think that people who were just whatever. They are less skeptical, less critical thinking. They have this certain belief. Maybe that that correlates with cognitive ability in other ways and they were less likely to follow pandemic protocols therefore more likely to get covid.

C: Yeah it is interesting then. I wonder if there's really any way to control for that. You would have to do a longitudinal study.

S: You would have to do a longitudinal, absolutely.

C: Yeah, where you have the pre-post test.

S: Now they also, the same study also looked at people's certainty about the outcome of the 2020 election. And they found that the more certain people were about what the outcome was going to be the more likely they were to believe in conspiracy theories and even to engage in violence in reaction to the outcome of the election if it didn't go the way they were certain it would.

C: Well that makes sense especially given the context of 2020. Like I don't know if that would hold during other elections.

S: Yeah but it does show you, I mean both of these things with the pandemic and with the election again. You're right of course we need to look at this concept in multiple different contexts. But it does show that certainty is a bad thing, right?

C: Right. (laughs)

S: You need to be to be mentally flexible. You need to live with doubt. Live with uncertainty. It's okay, it's a good thing. It means that you can adapt as new information and new things happen. And when you can't, don't be more certain about something than you can be. Because then it forces you to behave irrationally when reality doesn't conform to your desires. Thought that was interesting.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: And then all of this means Research consistently finds that people have an action bias – they will favor doing something over doing nothing even if it worsens outcomes. This is science. There's 50 years of research showing this. So the action bias is well established. The interesting question about the action bias is why do we have that? So you would think that evolutionary forces would push us through a behavioral algorithm that would have better outcomes, right? Taking sort of a simplistic evolutionary psychology approach. So why would we be selected for this behavioral algorithm even if it leads to worse outcomes? And we don't know. But some of the speculation is, one is that there is social positive feedback.

C: Yeah this has to be cultural.

S: Think about it.

C: I mean it'd be so interesting to see. Because like in western society where it's all about accomplishing, doing, making change, affecting change. Like getting more more and more. I think that we get, we reinforce just doing. We don't like just not doing.

S: Not only that but think about it. If like there's a situation where you're not sure whether or not you should do something proactive. If you do nothing and a bad thing happens other people witnessing this situation will say well why didn't you do something. But if you do something and a bad thing happens they say well at least you tried. You did your best, at least you did something, right? Even though he didn't prevent the bad outcome.

C: Even though that's all like stupid post-hoc reasoning.

S: Yeah it's all post-hoc reasoning but there's a social feedback that favors doing something, being proactive regardless of the outcome. And it just feels wrong when people are inactive and allow something bad to happen. Like why didn't they do something? They should have done something. Even though whatever they would have done would have made it worse. We just don't follow that logic.

C: This is literally the reason for the opening scene in Office Space or for every time you're at the grocery store and you're in line and you can't just sit there and wait your damn turn. You're like that one's short, I gotta get over there.

S: They actually Cara use that as an example. Why can't we stay in line.

C: Really? (laughs)

S: We feel like, I want, and then sometimes you get into a different line and it turns out to be longer wait. And then you watch your other line go suddenly go forward. You're like damn, then you go back to that line. Now you're waiting there and the other line goes.

E: I always choose the wrong one.

C: It's so good.

S: Literally use that as an example.

C: And that's why I love that scene in Office Space where he keeps doing it, keeps changing lanes and then it's just like stopped again.

S: Or you do that when you're driving, you feel like you're in the slow lane, you get over it and then that becomes the slowest.

J: It literally screws you every time.

C: I know it's because if you just wait your turn.

S: Oh that's confirmation. It's partly confirmation bias. There's also partly, there is a rhythm to the way things move. And if you wait long enough it will be your lane's turn to move. But if you switch you're going to be switching to it to a lane that has been moving. It's gonna be its turn not to move.

C: Also it makes you wonder how many people other people are switching into that same lane at that same time.

S: I know.

J: Steve I think that's conditional reasoning.

S: You think so? (laughter) All right Evan give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:42:34)[edit]

You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common.
They don’t alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views.
1977 Doctor Who, fictional British TV Time Lord

E: All right this week's quote comes from listener Chris from Whistler, British Columbia. That's in Canada.

C: Whistler.

J: That's a great place by the way.

C: Yeah it's beautiful.

E: Message reads: "Hello Evan, I am a fellow accountant." thank you very much "and I have a quote for you. You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views." And he credits that to Doctor Who, 1977. Who was? Who was the Doctor in '77? Anyone?

S: That was the number five, right?

B: Is it the multicolored scarf too?

S: The curly hair with the scarf guy.

B: Yep.

C: Tom Baker.

E: So there you go. Not altering your views to fit the facts; altering the facts to fit the views. And that is a consistent theme we've discovered over our 17 years of having done the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

S: It's also very Sherlockian. Sherlock said something very very similar. And of course the Doctor is a very sherlockian character but Sherlock said I resist something that, I'm paraphrasing now, I resist the urge to hypothesize before I have facts because then you twist your effects to fit the hypothesis rather than your hypothesis to fit the facts. Same idea.

E: And one that we all should remember.

S: Although it's not literally true in science. You kind of have to have a hypothesis. You don't have to but it's not a negative thing to have a hypothesis then look for evidence that either confirms or denies the hypothesis.

E: Right.

S: As long as you're right following protocol. That is a fun quote . Well thank you all for joining me this week.

B: Sure man.

C: Thanks Steve.

E: I'm looking forward to 17 more years! (laughter)

S: 17 more years.

C: Jesus.

S: You know, I think it's absolutely possible.

B: I'll give you five then I'll re-evaluate.

C: Yeah, exactly.

E: Bob just signed up for five.

S: We'll get up to 20. 20 years will take us to just about a thousand episodes. So that those two things are going to happen around the same time and then I think we'll get to a thousand first and then we'll get to 20 years and then we'll reevaluate. But I mean hey, I'll keep doing this.

J: I'm a lifer.

S: Yeah you're a lifer? All right.

E: I'm a lifer too.

S: All right thanks again guys.

J: You got it Steve.


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

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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