SGU Episode 879
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|SGU Episode 879|
|May 14th 2022|
"NEW HIGH RESOLUTION SCAN OF “EXTRAORDINARY” UAP IMAGE - is this the most compelling image of UAP to date?"
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
Scientific research involves going beyond the well-trodden and well-tested ideas and theories that form the core of scientific knowledge. During the time scientists are working things out, some results will be right, and others will be wrong. Over time, the right results will emerge.
Lisa Randall, American theoretical physicist
Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Tuesday, May 10th, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening folks!
S: So how is everyone's. We're starting to finally get some spring weather. Not quite there yet.
C: Oh really? It's like it's been spring since January (laughs)
B: I hate you. Yeah we had a rough winter.
C: I'm sorry.
S: Well the winter wasn't bad. This year like the last two years it's been a mild winter but a cold long spring. And then it jumps right to summer. Like there's none of that cool. There's none of that like 60-70 weather. Goes right from 50 to 80.
B: Maybe you got less snow than we did we seem to be we hit with an amount of snow that needs to be shoveled more than usual.
S: (inaudible) nothing.
B: Yeah we got a little bit more than you I think.
Nostalgia at the End of iPod (1:10)
S: So it's the end of an era guys, did you hear this?
C: What era?
S: Apple is ending the iPod.
B: Wait is it that even still that was still a thing? Geez.
C: I love my, I'm so glad I still have one.
E: I still have one.
J: I still have mine too.
S: I have a few.
J: Why would they be killing it now? Do you know what's the deal?
C: Because probably nobody's buying them.
S: I mean most people I think just keep their music on their phone or their stream. They don't really have a separate dedicated device.
C: Yeah but it's just like on Spotify.
S: Who has one touch cameras anymore it's your phone that's your one touch camera.
C: But I will say the time, the only time I use my iPod, but I'm still glad I have it. Because I have the, is it the nano, the one that's ultra thin?
S: Yeah that's a small one.
C: Yeah, it's not the shuffle, not the teeny tiny one.
E: I have the shuffle.
C: You have the shuffle. It still has a screen but it's like crazy thin. It's like half the size of a credit card.
B: What's the capacity 50mb?
C: No it's big.
E: My shuffle is 2GB, which is not huge but.
C: Yeah and I was saying, so my nano is probably bigger than that. But I like it on planes. Because─
C: ─I don't have to if I'm not online I don't have access to my whole Spotify library because I don't have the whole thing downloaded to my phone. And then I don't have to think about it. I already have playlists curated. I have like an airplane playlist. I also have like a dentist's office playlist for when I'm getting my teeth drilled into.
B: You are crazy, wow.
S: Yeah that's exactly what I do. I have an iPod touch still and I use it really only when I'm on planes.
B: I actually have older phones that's got stuff that I never moved off. And I use that for like; I've got like some awesome podcasts that I've got saved on there. And some of my music. So when I need to listen to that I just grab the old phone and play that.
S: That original iPod when it came out that was a revolution.
B: Oh that was magical.
S: 2001. So and it was the Sony Walkman of its (inaudible).
C: Oh the Walkman.
S: It was also a revolution when that came out.
B: You had portable private music. That's, that was nuts.
S: The original iPod could hold a thousand tracks of music.
C: That's funny that was a big deal.
E: Which back in the day it was huge.
S: That was a lot.
C: Bob I just looked it up. My iPod nano has 16GB.
C: So that's enough to hold a lot of music. It's 4 000 songs.
B: I'm sure they've been increasing it all these years. I just haven't been paying attention to anything about iPods.
J: If I'm remembering correctly like when you buy one today they look exactly like an iPhone, right?
C: Oh gosh hope not, that's enormous. Oh the touch? That's why I like my nano, it's teeny tiny.
J: Oh you know what Cara though? I couldn't. When I own things that small they get washed. (Cara laughs).
E: It's true.
J: I need it to be a device. It can't be like a little doodad.
C: I have my pair of like Bose over ear headphones that are like the most comfortable headphones I've ever owned. And they have a carrying case like a hard case. They fold up they get small and they fold up in it. And inside that case I have my iPod nano. And this thing called the iFly which is like the greatest invention ever. When you're on an airplane you plug it into the headphone jack and it turns it into a Bluetooth device so you don't have to be corded into your into the TV on the airplane.
E: You can go to the bathroom you still be listening to your music.
C: Yep. You don't get tangled up in the cord. You don't have to pull it and like fall over the person next to you. And so I just keep all those small airplaney devices all in one place─
E: Sure why not.
C: So they don't get lost.
E: Like many other medium when it comes to audio listening in 10 years apple can reintroduce it as the retro iPod and they'll sell another 15 billion dollars worth of that product. You know cassettes came back. Vinyl certainly made a huge comeback.
C: You know what I have? I have the at the re-release of the NES, the Nintendo.
E: Oh gosh.
C: It's great.
E: Does it have a bunch of pre-loaded games?
C: Yeah that's how it works. It looks exactly like the old one but it's like a quarter of the size. Because you don't have to put games in it. It's all digital.
J: Yeah well it has all the games already like loaded into it.
S: In the software, yeah. It's awesome.
E: It's what Atari did years ago with their console.
J: I'm looking at iPods right now and they look exactly like an iPhone. And you know the 219-300 bucks.
C: Yeah people probably just aren't buying them.
J: Yeah I mean because you do have; with streaming today I mean you basically have everything at your fingertips at this point. So having a dedicated music and app device doesn't seem; you know why would you have that and it doesn't have any of the things that the phone can do as far as calling people.
C: And it being the size of a phone it's like I don't wanna carry two phones. I know people like a lot of people I know have to carry two phones for work and it's annoying.
E: The iPod I think in a way relates a little bit to this show as well because of Apple's iTunes which came out when we were and then we came out.
S: Just before.
E: Yeah, right. iTunes had come out just before we started podcasting. And it, that was it. It was the iPods that people were listening to the Skeptic's Guide on earlier than you know using that portable player more than anything else. That was it.
C: Oh how funny.
E: There's definitely a nostalgia effect.
J: Without a doubt Evan. I totally agree. I mean I remember loading our podcast into my iPod and having it be like a huge thing. Like it was a monumental thing for me.
E: It was a moment definitely.
J: Yeah, definitely.
S: But now you could stream 90 million songs on Apple's streaming service.
C: Right right.
E: How far it's come oh my gosh.
S: But clearly it's like all the things you were talking about Cara. There's better technology. A better platform. People will move to it. But then there may be nostalgia for the older tech. And there may and people may say you know there was this one time when you can't stream and having my dedicated. So sometimes there's just there is a niche for the older tech. It doesn't completely go away and then people get (inaudible).
C: Totally agree. Totally agree. Like like my big ass over ear headphones. People make fun of me they're like why don't you just wear your air pods? And I'm like because they hurt my ears after a while. I mean I like them, I wear them for certain things but I don't wear them on 10-hour flights.
J: No way yeah. Forget it. It's got to be over your ear.
C: Gotta be.
S: Yeah it works better plus if you want like noise cancellation that works better over ear.
C: Exactly, yeah.
J: So I like the vintage looking one here like the fifth generation used vintage classic. It's the one that has the wheel.
C: Oh the wheel.
E: Makes that click noise. Click click click click.
J: Yeah I like that. I would definitely like to have one of those.
S: You can you can buy them on Amazon. I'm looking at one right now. Apple iPod classic 160GB, seventh generation. 300 bucks.
E: 300! Yeah you know but then right I mean you know spending 300 bucks right now for an iPod?
C: I know. That's a luxury for sure.
E: That's a little tough.
S: Yes I don't know if I would buy one but I'm just sort of hanging on to my old ones until the batteries are gone.
C: Yes same.
B: Surprised they lasted this long.
C: Yeah mine's still going super strong. Yeah and I think that's part of it too. We don't use it that much.
S: And that's the other thing is that when you're on a long plane trip having a device; the more devices you have with the fully charged battery the better you'll be able to get through the flight. I don't necessarily I don't wanna drain my phone's battery just listening to music. I'll just use my iPod for that.
B: That's true.
Cara's Car, Interesting EV Features (8:40)
C: And I don't wanna have to keep it plugged in the whole time and have all those wires everywhere. I completely agree. Hey guess what?
E: Tell us.
C: My car finally got to go back to the shop. You guys will be so excited for me. I don't know if you remember my saga of my car being in the shop for like two months. But when I got it out my charge port was broken.
J: How that happened?
C: It's sure happened while it was in the shop. I don't know. And I just didn't notice. And so I went to a different dealership because I was over that dealership. And I was like my charge port's broken and they're like we've seen this before. We have to order you a whole new charge port just because it wouldn't click into place so I can charge my car. And they're like they're back ordered it's like of course they are. So the for the past several weeks I've been driving only very short distances. And every time I drive somewhere I'm like oh no I'm losing mileage. And so I was really starting to get worrisomely low. And they called me yesterday night and said it's in you can bring your car in tomorrow morning. I was like yes.
B: Oh my god.
S: That's interesting. That's something I didn't think about. One little piece of your electric car breaks you cannot use the car.
C: Yeah well and it's really just if that piece breaks. The piece that the charger connects into. But I have been driving electric for now 10 years and this is the first time this has ever happened.
E: My car works great I can't open the gas lid though.
C: Exactly. That's exactly the same thing.
S: Wonder if they will eventually put in like an emergency backup charging port. Even if it's smaller and it you can't charge as quickly but just something to use if (inaudible) is broken.
C: I know because it's all in one place. And the really annoying thing is the only thing that's broken about the port is this little metal clip. So the it's like the charger has to clip into place. And if it doesn't snap it doesn't recognize that it's there so the car doesn't start charging. And that little clippy thing just doesn't clip into place.
S: One little clip, the whole car.
C: And they have to replace the whole port. And the car's bricked. Exactly. So I'm like texting with the with the guy and I'm like hey I have to drive a lot tomorrow when you're done with the service can you plug it in for me because it's dead. He was like yeah I got you girl.
S: I'm loving our Tesla so far I mean it is great.
C: Yay I'm glad.
S: It's very nice you never have to go to a gas station like it says. The car is just always charged.
C: That's amazing.
S: Right, you just plug it in when you get home.
E: Where you're gonna to buy your egg salad sandwiches if you're not going to a gas station?
C: It's true. Frozen burritos.
S: You realize how how behaviorally programmed we get. Because even like when you're in that car. Like whenever you drive by a gas station there's one little part of your brain that goes what's my gas? Do I need to stop for gas?
C: You'll lose that.
S: Still happens.
C: How long have you been driving it now?
S: Well I you know it's not my primary car it's my wife's primary card so I only drive it occasionally.
C: That's why. So you're always going to have that until you go fully electric.
S: Until I go. Yeah.
E: Steve there's an upgrade for your car it will put in a fake gas gauge that will always show full. And you can put it on your display and satisfy that urge.
C: (laughs) That hilarious. Like a little sticker there.
J: Steve do you have trouble going from a gas pedal to the regenerative braking gas pedal?
S: No I mean it just took me a couple of times driving the car to get that module in my brain and now I click over immediately when I do it. Because what Jay's talking about is when you have the regenerative braking when there's an even point when you're pushing on the accelerator where you're not braking or accelerating. And then if you push it down you accelerate and when you let up you engage the regenerative braking.
C: Yeah your car straight up breaks.
S: So your car actually brakes.
C: When you take your foot off the accelerator.
S: It's very effective so you can't because like your initial instinct is to take your foot entirely off the accelerator and go for the brake. But if you do that like you stop short herky jerky. And so you have to learn to just ride the accelerator. You never like almost never apply the brake which is great it saves your brake pads.
C: I only break when somebody cuts me off it's like literally I one foot drive my car all the time.
S: And it's actually more it's more energy efficient to do that. You have much more control because you don't have to move your foot. There's no delay. You are right at that transition point. You can accelerate decelerate your car with much greater control so it's superior. But you gotta first of all learn how to do that. It doesn't take long and then it's like I'm going back and forth between a gas car and an electric. I have to just always click over to which one I'm doing.
C: I find that electric cars are so much more responsive.
S: Oh yeah my god.
C: Like the gas like I remember the first time I was driving the gas car again and I was like is it gonna break is it gonna stop oh my god. I was like scared because I had to push so hard on the brakes for things to happen.
B: Oh my god.
C: It felt so odd.
S: All right guys let's go on to our news items.
Dumbest Thing of the Week (13:35)
- Best UFO Picture
S: Evan you're actually going to start off with a Dumbest Thing of the Week.
E: Yep. Dumbest Thing of the Week. So just when you thought it was safe to go back in the waters of the internet. That digital ocean where hydrogen are ones and oxygen are zeros. Swirling with the salty brine of everything good bad and ugly about homo sapiens in one unfettered morass of information and disinformation of inflammation and incubation my fellow human beings of the English-speaking world I humbly present to you the SGU's Dumbest Thing of the Week. And this is where I sing the song it's the dumbest thing of the week, the dumbest thing that I speak, in a world full of fools, this story rules, the dumbest thing of the week. This week's honor goes to UAP Media UK. As in Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Media UK. May 6th 2022 they lit up Twitter with the following tweet. This is all in caps by the way "NEW HIGH RESOLUTION SCAN OF “EXTRAORDINARY” UAP IMAGE - is this the most compelling image of UAP to date?". Yeeh when I say they lit up twitter it has about 126 retweets. But I think 125 of those retweets were from tabloid media. And now they took it on to a whole new level and it of course did go viral. A lot of people talking about it on the internet. So yeah is this the best UFO photo ever? That's the caption below the photo that they put up. Well, as you know there are dozens of UFO stories to read every day on the internet and as the old adage goes. Quality over quantity. It is not about quantity. It is about quality. The quality of UFO evidence since I'd say well the late 1940s is the very recipe for the modern day condiment better known as wheat sauce. And especially when it comes to the one of the main ingredients in that sauce photographic evidence. So when something's being touted as the single most compelling photo of a UFO or UAP or whatever you want to call it. It's worth pausing to see what they believe by their standards is the best photographic evidence to date of something genuinely they believe of extraterrestrial origin. So I took a look at the photo and I shared it with you guys. I hope you guys took a look too. And I'm sure we will link to it so that you can also take a look at the photo. The original photos from yeah from 1971, right? And it's a photo taken from a small propeller airplane with the camera pointing down to the Earth. It's at taken, they said at 10 000 foot elevation. It was for the National Geographic Institute of Costa Rica. They were studying the potential impact on surrounding land and water of a hydroelectric project. So in this photograph the image; what appears to be kind of this shiny metallic little disk on the right side of the photograph appears. And over the years the object size has been estimated by people looking at this to be between 120 and 220 feet in diameter. How they came up with that? Who knows.
C: Right or it could just be really close to the lens.
E: The reason this; now this is an old photo. 1971. But that's not why this is news right now per se. In fact this photo has been circulating for a while and been studied for a while. It's among the archives of UFO and UAP organizations and they deem the photo to be authentic. Okay fine. Well what's the news item? The news item is that they enhanced it. They get an enhancement of this photo newly released. If you want to download this photo now at its resolution that they enhanced it to 1.7 gigs. That's the size of the photo. So you can go ahead and take a look for yourself. Here are my first thoughts and then I'll give you a chance and you tell me what your thoughts are. Here's my very first thought when I saw this. I said where's the UFO? I mean really I had to look at the back. I looked at this shot and I'm looking around like okay I'm not seeing it immediately. It doesn't stand out. It's not like something where it's so obvious. You find it off to sort of the either which way it's framed. Either the very right or very left side of the photo. Okay once I found it my second thought was it looks like a crash symbol on a drum kit. It's the way I kind of described it but I guess I've been going to too many concerts with Rachel lately.
S: It could absolutely be a symbol. It could be a hubcap.
E: Right, exactly.
S: It could be nothing.
C: It looked like a symbol to me, that's the first thing I thought.
E: Right because of the how it's the lighting hits it and everything. My third thought was is this it? I mean is that the picture that's supposed to represent the highest quality photo ever taken of a UFO? And then right on the heels of that my fourth thought was is this a joke? I thought maybe someone was trying to Poe us here, right? Poe's law? We've talked about that before. Something's apparent like parody something so ridiculous that it can be mistaken as some as something real but it's actually kind of a joke. It was someone playing a prank on the meteors? I went and did some research to see if that was the case and it's not. these people are serious. This is all real. So they are not pulling a Poe. So that's kind of what I was left with my first four initial thoughts on this thing. What did you guys think when you saw it?
C: Yeah it looks like a look I guess somebody threw a symbol up in the air.
J: Yeah I mean basically196
B: Looks a little fake to me.
J: ─we have to default to all the other things that could have produced a picture like this, right? It's just a picture. It's valueless when it comes down to what it is and what it's representing because there's no proof behind it.
B: Has anyone done and like a forensic analysis of the original image?
E: Yes, UFO organizations and these people affiliated with these groups claim that they have. That they've seen the negative.
S: But technical analyses are always crap. Like I have seen so many. Like we did a forensic technical analysis of this video or this picture. And they come out with the most bizarre ridiculous conclusions. They have no idea what they're doing. They have no idea what they're talking about. It's just all motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. It's worthless. This is a dot. This could be anything. You have no frame of reference. You have no reference for size or distance. You have no idea what that is on this two-dimensional image at all. And there is no details. There are no details to this to distinguish this from again like as you say a symbol. It could be just it's just a little piece of metal. It could be anything.
E: It could be anything. Jay you hit on it. It could have been faked. I mean certainly that's always the case somebody could have doctored this.
S: And even if the photo itself is real it could have been something like fell off the plane.
E: Absolutely Imean you got to think about it. A camera shooting down from the bottom. Supposedly the bottom of the aircraft because the aircraft's designed to be taking these photographs. It has other layers of clear plastic or whatever it is in front of it. I mean gee whiz we already know what just the camera lens on its own will do. You start introducing more elements between the camera, the imaging block of the camera and the image is trying to shoot you can come up with all sorts of artifacts, reflections of of something else, picking up dust particles or water droplets there's or so many other different things.
C: That's like every ghost ever photographed.
E: I mean so so they took blobsquatch which is what we commonly referred to these things as. And they made it high resolution blobsquatch is effectively what it really comes down to. Also they said that this thing was if it's flying. If it really was flying craft of some sort. And they got it that clear. What does that tell you? Does that mean that that thing was in motion and how was that determined? If it was; that means it was also moving at the exact same speed of the aircraft itself for it to have remained in that crystal clear focus? And also in this in the same direction. There's no streaking, there's no...
C: Yeah it's like just it's like completely static.
E: Right. Exactly. Which lends you to believe that it's some kind of artifact happening at that point of the lens.
S: Totally. If the ground is in focus it would be very difficult for whatever that is to be in focus.
E: And I'm no expert on lighting patterns okay? But I know a couple, I know a little bit about lighting and I know about lighting and how it hits surfaces and the direction of lighting and things. You would see there's no way that the sunlight hitting that object. Assuming in sunlight and assuming that is an object actually floating out there. Would have come through in that photograph that way. Sorry it wouldn't have. That thing would have been hitting. The Sun would have been hitting that metal object and blaring back at that lens and probably blown out the image that you would see absolutely no detail. But instead it has these subtle shadows and it looks like light coming in from from one particular direction sort of split across the disc and into in two ways. As if it were if you were to hold up a metal disc. If you have a symbol or drum kit at home which I do and you hold it up and you look at it how the light's reflecting off of it that's what you would see. Is that sort of interior controlled environment situation of lighting that would be playing off of that particular object.
S: Also if I'm seeing the photograph correctly it looks like the shadows are going in the wrong direction.
E: Yeah it looks like that to me as well.
S: Looks like it should be lit from the opposite side that it is apparently lit from.
E: Correct because you can tell by the shadows from the trees on the ground which direction the Sun. Right and the Sun's on what the other side. How does that square?
S: Yeah it does
E: And it doesn't. And when I went to look to see what Mick West has to say because you know we've had Mick on the show before and we've talked about UFO and analyzing photos and video footage before with him. And he's basically essentially asking the same questions that we're asking here. He says this is supposedly an object viewed from directly above, this is directly from his tweet, illuminated by direct sunlight from the top right direction. What shape/material could make such a pattern of light. So he's basically asked the same questions that I thought of that you guys also thought of. And this is the best. They're saying this is the photo to end all photos that they've got of for UFO.
S: I'll give them that. This is the best UFO photo I've ever seen because they're all equally crap.
E: All equally zero. That's right the sum of evidence is zero.
S: Right. All right thanks Evan.
E: All right.
AI Artist (24:03)
S: All right Bob we talked about artificial intelligence doing art before but you're gonna give us an update.
B: This is cool guys. Gird your loins a little bit. A GPT spin-off called DALL·E has released version two of its AI product recently that can create from scratch almost any detailed image in high resolution based on a text description alone. So think about that.
B: I mean graphic arts even the art industry itself may really never be the same again because of this. So now this is a new deep learning application. It was released originally DALL·E was released originally January 2021 by Open AI an artificial intelligence research laboratory based in San Francisco. And so 2, DALL·E 2 just came out just recently. Now you may have heard about the grandfather of DALL·E called GPT which I just mentioned. That's an initialism standing for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. And this is fascinating itself as well. The latest iteration of this GPT-3 is it's a neural network learning model using deep learning to essentially ingest millions and millions of documents to learn the patterns of word flow. Which words are likely to follow others. We briefly mentioned this a while ago on the show. So if you ask GPT-3 a question it can then produce a very high quality text output response with little further tuning or training at all. Just like out of the gate it's so good. So this allows computers to write with such fluency that it's almost impossible to tell whether a person or a machine wrote it. It's being used today to write articles, dialogue, customer service chat boxes, computer code. Now DALL·E and DALL·E 2 does with images what GPT does with text, okay? So now DALL·E uses what's called clip for a contrastive language image pre-training. So essentially very superficially it takes millions and millions of images that people have vetted and looked at and classified and labeled. The all these images. Ordinary people like all over the web have done this. And it's then these images and the human created descriptions that the neural net is trained on and the result is pretty stupendous from what I've seen. I mean you could say things like this or you just type in show me a skeleton with leather pants fighting a terminator robot. And that's what it does. That's what you get─
C: Oh that's so cool.
B: ─so bam! Bam! High quality, high resolution, excellent detail. Especially now with DALL·E 2 with much higher resolution. It's really amazing. There's also a new feature called inpainting which just brings us to the next level. Which means that once you have your image then you can just tweak little pieces of it. Like you circle a little area and you could say replace the robot with an alien wearing a t-shirt that says Bob is awesome. And bam you got it. You could say put a dog over here. No change that dog to a cat. And it's and all the updates are seamlessly integrated into the environment. It's like basically a text controlled version of Photoshop at this point. You just type in what you want to tweak and it does it. And you could even start with a picture of Jay for example and have it change Jay's position and then in any other position that you want. Or you can say make it into an impressionist style or an anime style or a meatball style whatever that is. And it will do it. But the real power of this technique though is the understanding that's generated of the relationship between the objects in the image and the relationship of the objects to the to the environment to the background. So for example if you moved the alien near a pool if you say put a pool or you. I keep saying say it's not really voice it's text based. If you type in put a pool of water near the alien it will automatically put the appropriate reflection in the water. Because it knows that water is reflective and that anything that's near it at a certain angle is going to be seen in the reflection. It just knows that. So you can change elements in the picture over and over. You can keep adding different things in different positions and in different orientations and without impacting the realism. And that's critical that's critical. Because if you think about that you're changing all these different elements in the picture and there it still looks real and something that is genuine that's being created. And it just reinforces the realization that this system understands. It understands the images and the elements locally and globally at a very deep level. And if it didn't. If it didn't have a solid understanding of what this environment is all about and the elements in it. Then in this inpainting aspect of DALL·E 2 would not work. It would not work at all. Because you would tell it to make a change and it would be like whoa what happened. That makes no sense. That's not realistic or it just doesn't make sense at all. And it doesn't do that really. And to me that understanding is impressive and I'm really curious to see where that's going to go in the future. Sam Altman the CEO of Open AI called DALL·E 2 he said: "the most delightful thing to play with we’ve created so far … and fun in a way I haven’t felt from technology in a while." So the advancements from DALL·E to DALL·E 2 just one year. The advancements are really staggering. It's really an amazing leap. But it's not all smooth sailing as you might even predict if you're familiar with some AI some of these AI products that are coming out this technology of course can be used for nefarious purposes. You can use it to make porn. You can make political deep fakes. There's that. But there's also many people and even the creators are claiming that this technology has a stereotype bias for example. So when DALL·E 2 was asked to make a picture of a flight attendant just say show me a flight attendant it showed image after image of basically Asian women wearing variations of the classic flight attendant clothing. That was it. Just like all Asian women. And I saw like 10 images. All subtly different but all exactly similar in that regard. So now this is not uncommon in similar AI systems. Even GPT-3 there's going to be racial, there's going to be gender and other biases and that's because those biases and stereotypes are baked into the corpus of materials that the systems are trained in. That's that whether it's text or images or whatever it's baked into our society and into the training materials.
E: Oh gosh it's a reflection back of our [inaudible].
B: Exactly. Exactly Evan. The AI is a reflection of us and that one sentence alone I probably find the most scary thing going on. And they try to change it. It's not you can't just pull on that thread and think that you're done. Because they tried to do that. They tried to fix that and then something else goes wrong and so it's it's a trade-off so it's not an easy thing. Like I said even the Open AI researchers are aware of this and they seem to be very open about it as far as I can tell. One reason I say that is because they actually delayed the full release of DALL·E 2 to study its risks and limitations of such a powerful model. They actually are not releasing it the way they had planned because they want to examine this and try to deal with these potential problems and these bias limitations that are that are part of the model. So I that's to me that's encouraging. Okay so what are the implications of this technology? We can only guess how far it's going to go and what impact it could have. No one's going to really make you really know exactly what's going to happen here. What could this mean to the art world when so many people can quickly produce high quality art? What's going to happen to illustrators, graphic designers I mean their jobs going to be in danger because of this. And when might that happen? There's also intellectual property rights. How is this going to be handled in the future? Who really makes the image? To me that question isn't really that hard. I think the person who dictated the description will be considered the creator. And DALL·E x whatever that x might be DALL·E 3, 4 whatever it's going to be seen as a very very powerful tool. But still a tool. But this is really weird territory, right? This is kind of new territory and with these AI products that we're seeing. And the nuances of cultural reactions to it are obviously impossible to predict. So it's hard to say what's going to happen. So what's gonna happen and you can even go back a step and say what's going to happen to artistic image creation just in and of itself? What's gonna happen to that? It's easy to say well yeah anything that's got real meaning and create in the creativity of really high-end art will always be the domain of humans. But I mean I think a lot of us would think that's that's pretty naive at this point. And if you've looked at some of these AI images I think you may have second thoughts about that as well. Some of them are very creative very thought-provoking and I think that it's this is just yet another pedestal that humans are going to be knocked off of. When? Who knows. It's pretty powerful right now and we know how this technology is accelerating. So it could be sooner than you think. But I don't think people will stop creating art ever. That's never gonna happen because in a way we wouldn't I don't think we would be human if we did that and stop creating art just because a computer can do it also extremely extremely well. But the playing field is changing dramatically and this is yet another one of those things that I refer to when I say it's going to be a hell of a ride and I'm really curious to see what happens. What do you guys think of this tech?
S: Clearly it's coming it's only going to get better from─
B: Oh yeah.
S: ─here. And it'll definitely get to the point where like you won't be able to tell if it's human-created or AI.
B: I mean Steve we're at that now. I mean look at some of these images.
S: We're at that now for, yeah, you're right. But it just it'll be like there'll be more and more sophisticated artistic images where you can't tell. You know what I mean? That bar will just keep raising. But I do think that it'll be seen mainly as a tool.
B: Yes. That's that's pretty clear. That's clear I think. It's this is a tool. It's not like we're going to say you didn't do that it was DALL·E 3 or DALL·E whatever that well that really doesn't that's not gonna fly. But I mean when it's so easy. Like for example like it like with GPT when it's so easy to create a high quality article say that GPT-3 or 4 say created. And all you did was set up the question that resulted in that response or that image. And when it's so easy is that going to diminish the appreciation of the end product? I mean it's I don't know. It's hard to say how people and culture will react.
S: Think about it this way. Cameras are getting so sophisticated now that for many people you can take pretty high, technically high quality pictures and not have any idea what you're doing technically. In other words you're not setting the ISO and the F-stop and the aperture.
C: It's all automatic.
S: Measuring light levels and whatnot. You're just letting the camera do all of that you may be saying I think I'll use my night setting and then everything gets done. All the technical stuff gets done automatically by computer by software. And so it kind of frees you up from the technical aspects of the art. And you can focus on the composition and the subject matter or artistic aspects of it. And so this technology is just going to do that for other things. Where you don't have to be able to master brush strokes in order to convert your artistic vision into a masterpiece because the software will do all the technical aspects for you. But it's still your artistic creative vision. So I think that's a good thing.
C: Yeah I think of like a Photoshop as something similar. Like you know Photoshop really changed the game because it democratized the ability for artists to do effects on their work. And it but it's still complicated you still have to learn a lot of skill. Like people can be very skilled in software. And this is one step further because you don't have to have that kind of skill. But I think we see aspects of this across social media platforms already. The difference here is the AI. It's the ease of saying make me something that has these components and then it just happens. As opposed to coding it yourself or tweaking the parameters yourself. But I also think there's a massive difference between fine art and commercial art. And I feel like we're kind of throwing it all into the same bucket. Because I do think this will massively change the commercial art game.
C: Hiring graphic artists for things. Hiring you know.
B: But what about the other end of the other side of that coin. Are you saying it's not gonna have any impact?
C: No I think it'll have an impact but not the same way. Because so much of commercial art is about the tone of the marketplace. It's about how hot the artist is. It's about the provenance and the backstory. And it's much more. Because there's so much art out there, right? There's like and there's all these documentaries about like what makes something fine art and oh my kid could draw that and all that kind of stuff. So it's like it's so much more than just something being technically interesting. So I think the fine art world is more complicated in terms of the parameters of what makes something valuable.
C: Whereas the commercial art though this blows the I mean because anybody can be like I need a new podcast logo. I don't have to hire somebody. I can just tell the software to make it for me.
B: That's the low that's a low-hanging fruit I think. But I think that this is going to have a dramatic impact on all aspects of of art no matter what you no matter where. Whether it's commercial or high-end it's going to eventually have a dramatic impact that we can't quite predict.
C: Yeah probably. But I also think about AI and music. We've seen these like engines that can write new song lyrics and that can put together new poetry. And I think there's a place for that and I think it works but I think also people are going to want to buy music from their favorite artists. The same way people are going to want to buy art from their favorite artists.
B: Sure but sometimes I think those artists are going to just be digital or and just not people.
C: And that's the thing now. We're seeing NFT's going for ungodly amounts of money. We're seeing digital art going for I mean it's a part of a game.
B: Japan! Japan has pop stars that are purely digital.
C: Yeah I did a whole segment on vocaloids they're fascinating.
B: Vocaloids, I love it.
C: Yeah that's what they're called.
S: Yeah so they're music artists that that are not real people they're 100% digital creation.
C: Yeah but there's also a component to it that a lot of people leave out which is that they're based on these like midi software. It's called vocaloid software and it's a package. So it has a voice and it has a persona but you can compose and so there's a lot of crowdsourcing with these digital. Like usually they look like these kind of young like a little too young like women who are wearing you know scantily clad. But they're like cartoons. And they do whole concerts where they're holographs in front of the concert hall. But the cool thing is there's a crowd-sourced component to it where people are writing their own songs and they're swapping outfits and they're sharing. So they're engaged in the development of the artist that they love. It's really it's actually pretty fascinating.
S: Yeah that's what I was talking about. It's you don't have to have the technical skill. You don't be able to sing and play instruments you just need to be able to [inaudible].
E: You just need ideas.
S: Thanks Bob.
Molten Salt Battery (39:21)
S: Jay tell us about molten salt batteries.
J: As you know Steve we have an energy storage problem, right? The demands for electricity are skyrocketing as we move into relying on electricity in a way that we never have before. It's getting to the point where everything is using electricity and having batteries be an incredibly key component to the whole thing. It's just the world that we live in. And in an ideal situation we could generate electricity from wind and solar and store all the energy that we gather and it'll last. It'll just sit there waiting for us for an indefinite amount of time. But as you guys know that's not you know the reality that we're in right now. And as you guys know a lot of energy is wasted because the crit; our grid today doesn't have a way to store all of it. And particularly over longer periods of time and without technology that can safely store large amounts of energy we won't be able to completely get away from fossil fuels. So batteries are an absolute key element to the future of getting away from fossil fuels and to being able to fully embrace an electric economy. And keep in mind that renewable energy sources like wind and solar they have dis discontinuous availability which is another problem. All the more reason to have batteries. Consumers use rechargeable batteries like the Lithium-ion but those kinds of batteries are not practical for grid level storage. We need a new type of battery. So this is an interesting news item because there is something I think very compelling here to what they've come up with. So let me get into the details. So researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory called PNNL. This is a department of energy national laboratory in Richland, Washington. The team recently published a paper that shows how freezing and thawing molten salt solution can act as a reusable battery storage. That they're saying is cost effective, efficient and able to store energy for months at a time. And their salt based battery retains 92% of its capacity over those three months. And that's pretty significant. Today our batteries use stored chemical energy and that energy is converted into electrical energy. So electrons are stored in one part of the battery. I'm gonna oversimplify just to get to the point here. Electrons are stored in one part of the battery and when those electrons flow from their location through the circuit and to another part of the battery that flow of electrons is what's creating the electric current that are that our products run off of. Batteries typically lose their power over time and this is called self discharge. Bob knows a lot about that.
B: Oh boy. (laughter)
J: I had to go there. It's largely caused by small unwanted chemical reactions that are happening inside of the battery. So the speed in which a battery loses its charge varies from battery type to battery type. And scientists have of course been working on this issue for a very long time. And it's a hard issue to deal with. There are also a host of other issues that need to be overcome as well. And one of them is heating and cooling. Te heating and cooling cycle can atrophy the battery and they have to find novel materials that can handle the fact that when you heat something it gets a little bit bigger when you cool something it shrinks down a little bit. And that can do wear and tear on a battery over years. And the researcher's battery they use a liquid molten salt electrolyte solution. That is a solid. Guess at what temperature guys?
C: Room temperature?
S: What's its melting point?
J: No. It's a solid at room temperature.
C: I got it!
S: Okay. It'll liquefy at somewhere above 150 to 180 degrees Celsius. And when it's in liquid form the battery operates. So during the times when the salt solution is a solid all the chemicals that are that hold the electrons they're locked in place. Just because it's room temperature don't let that; it is frozen, right? It just because it's at room temperature we think ice in that temperature doesn't matter. Some things actually can be frozen at normal room temperatures that humans are used to. This is considered this frozen state is considered an inactive state and effectively prevents a significant amount of this self-discharge that happens. So you get the concept right there. The battery has to be at temperature meaning at like 150 to 180 degrees Celsius in order for it to charge and discharge. And when the battery is active the cathode anode and electrolytes separate. The molten electrolyte is there as a highly conductive medium for the ionic exchange. And they use nickel and aluminum and sodium aluminum tetrachloride as the molten salt electrolyte. These are inexpensive Earth abundant materials. That's a very important thing that I just said because a lot of batteries can use materials that are expensive. Or expensive and hard to get or just simply hard to get. But you want, what we want is something that's called Earth abundant. Things that are found everywhere. That aren't hard to deal with. That aren't toxic. And this battery concept that they've built is using those common things that are easy to get and that aren't expensive. Their current version of the battery has to spend 10to 15% of its equivalent capacity. So whatever 10 to 15% of the energy that it's holding. It needs to spend that to heat the battery up to the operational temperature. The team's goal is of course to lower that operational temperature as they evolve this. And their goal is to have this battery sold commercially by 2030 to 2035. Now again it's right there it's five years plus out. It's in that sweet spot that we always joke about. But it's true that there are so many things get pushed into that zone. But I will tell you that they picked this time period because their job is actually to rush technology to market. They want to expedite the things that need to be done. They want to get rid of red tape they want to supply the funds that need to be there in order to get technologies like this to market specifically to make the world a better place. So I think this is a little encouraging that they're not saying that it's the five to ten year thing. They're saying that that's how long it would take to develop this thing and get it to the point where it could become viably in a commercial venue.
E: I mean they're not the only ones who have a say in that when this product you know comes out. There are commissions, there are standards and other government agencies and other things that have a say in those kinds of time schedules, don't they?
J: Yeah there is Ev. The good thing about what they're there to do as a department of energy. They're there to try to grease everything and make things happen faster and help companies adopt this technology when it's gotten to the point where it's good enough. So it's a good thing what they're doing and it's it's a cool way that this department is being managed because they're specifically there to hurry things up and get this out the door and not let it be bogged down by nonsense, red tape and a lack of funds and all that stuff.
E: But they don't want a catching fire either on airplanes for example.
C: Right, exactly.
E: So they have to make sure of those things. And that alone I mean you can't I don't know how you can rush those kinds of aspects of the entire chain of the production.
J: The good news here is that this concept is it's simple enough and it make and it's working. They have a prototype that's working. It's in a good position. There isn't a lot of the the scale up issues that are normally there with so many other things that we talk about. Let me tell you a cool thing that they were saying about this. Like what would be the first application of it. There envisioned that a tractor trailer truck size battery that would be on a tractor trailer. This would be driven to energy farms. They could charge right where the energy is captured. Then the batteries can be cooled or let too cool and they would go down into their frozen state. Then they can move them to power stations and feed the grid. And this would be for utility scale projects to start. And then the later goal is to allow industries like I said to bring this technology to the commercial market. Being that the researchers are part of the department of energy their job like I said is to prove the technology functions and then pass it along to get it out into the market. So it all sounds promising. Of course we have to wait and see. But it is you know, we're within 8 years. 8 to 15 years of this happening.
S: Yeah. So wait from what I'm reading it sounds like the initial niche is gonna be seasonal shifting of energy. Because it's, that's it's one real big feature is that it could freeze that energy in place for months. Which you can't do with a Lithium-ion battery lithium ion might be better for as like a rapid dispatching of energy. Like to for peak shaving and things like that. You know what I mean? Like we're just balancing the load over a few minutes. Or 20 or 30 minutes or something. Whereas for this it's like we want to gather up solar energy in the summer and use it in the winter.
J: Yeah they were saying like regionally there's sweet spots where a lot of air conditioning isn't used in the summer months. But there's a lot of energy to gather in the summer. And then they could use it all winter. So it in the most provocative thing here is how long the energy will last in its solid state. Which is which today's batteries just straight up can't do. So this is there is a novel thing here that we have to we have to really look at it closely and I'm going to follow this. I mean I would love to hear in a few years that they're making huge progress on it.
S: Yeah but we need we're probably going to need like a patchwork of grid storage options to make it all work. But this may have a role just because of that one feature. And the good thing about grid storage is that it doesn't have to be energy dense, does it? Because you're not carrying it around anywhere. Could be it could be heavy and it could be big. It doesn't have to have a lot of energy density or specific energy. But what it does have to have is that you could make a lot of it. It's got to be cheap.
J: You mean that the grid storage itself has to be inexpensive?
S: Yeah the materials. The raw materials. There's got to be a lot of the raw material around. And that's the big problem with the Lithium-ion batteries. It's like okay you could either have a fleet of EVs or Lithium-ion grid storage. Pick one. We don't really necessarily have enough raw material to do both. Although I think probably what's going to happen and we talked about this before as well is that when Lithium-ion batteries for cars start to get down to like 60-70% of their capacity. Or the car is just done. And you could repurpose those older batteries for grid storage.
C: Also we could hopefully make it so that and we're starting to see this so that they're two-way batteries on your car. That you can give it back to the house and you can take it. And that will I think take some of the burden off the grid.
S: Yeah just like home batteries would.
C: Exactly. But your car you it's like for a lot of people they already have a home battery in the shape of their car. It's just that they didn't build some of the earlier ones with a two-way battery. But we're starting to see that change.
S: Well the battery storage is a huge problem. What I debate, discuss the energy policy a lot online with a bunch of different people. And not getting totally down this rabbit hole there's people tend to fall into different camps. And one of those camps is let's just do a 100% renewable. No nuclear, no fossil fuel and they just say we'll have grid storage. Like that's the thing you cannot gloss over. We do not have the ability to have grid storage right now. We do not. And the thing you have to realize it's not just about the capacity it's about the duration. It's like you know what you know how many batteries it would take to provide the country with energy for a couple of hours? Let alone days and weeks or whatever. It's impossible. We don't have the technology to do that right now. You cannot gloss over that point. We really are only going to be using batteries for the next 20 years. Or something like that. For very temporary dispatching advantages balancing grid loads, you know what I mean? Like we might have just hours like a couple of hours. Like I read one estimate like we really just need six hours of energy storage in order to, for grid storage, in order for it to balance supply and demand on the grid. And that could be doable but we're never going to get to days or weeks or whatever. But this kind of thing could. If you have like salt batteries or something where it's an abundant cheap resource. It doesn't matter how big they are or how heavy they are because it's not moving anywhere. You just you can make a building sized battery. It doesn't matter. And but we just needed to store a lot of energy for a long time. So we need something like that but we don't have it like we don't. We're working on it. There's lots of avenues of research but we're not there yet. Can't gloss over that point.
Trolling Science Journalism (53:33)
S: All right let's go. Cara you're going to tell us about trolling science journalists.
C: Yeah. You know. We've been there.
S: Did that happen?
C: We know what this feels like, right? But I did I came across an article on Undark. And it's actually like an op-ed piece but it was written by two experts in this area. Lisa Palmer who is the National Geographic research professor of science communication at George Washington university in their school of media and public affairs. And she's been writing about science, climate change, the environment and SciCom for like 20 years. And it was this article was also co-written by Silvio Waisbord, I hope I'm pronouncing that right, and he is the actual director of the school of media and public affairs at George Washington university. Written a whole lot about journalism, politics, media policy. And he's actually actively writing a book right now called, sorry not called, but about global violence against the press. And so this op-ed that they wrote was sort of like how not just is trolling harassment and even violence or threats of violence against media across the globe affecting the institution. But how it's but specifically let's look at what what's happening to science journalists. They want to understand how is the online harassment that we know is happening. Because that is now established. Not just from anecdotes but it's established in the literature. There's a growing body of literature describing the type of harassment that journalists and specifically science journalists are facing. They said okay we want to really understand what's going on. What is it like. What are they hearing. What are they experiencing. What is the content of those attacks. How bad are the attacks and how is it affecting these individuals themselves. And so I think what we're starting to see and they cite a lot of other literature and a lot of other writings in this in this op-ed piece what we're starting to see is that sadly there's a sort of misinformation bias in these targets. Where individuals who are literally writing as we know fact-based, uncontroversial, scientific journalism are being targeted by individuals who have an ideological bias. So we're seeing that journalists are being targeted by people who deny covid or deny climate change or are believe in certain types of conspiracies. Like one person in their interview said I'm getting messaged by people telling me that I'm pushing a liberal narrative and I'm part of a conspiracy about climate change. And this is like a common claim towards science journalists. They're finding that science journalists who tend to write about politically or polarizing beats like climate change are getting more targeting. They're getting obviously a lot of hate. Whether it's through email, whether it's through doxing, whether it's through threats. Even sometimes calls to the newsroom. And sadly we're seeing that the consequences are relatively dire in that a significant number of journalists only in recent years have left the profession altogether because they simply can't handle it anymore. They don't want to work in this high stress environment anymore and it's really starting to affect them psychologically. So one reporter that they interviewed said “To be very honest, the harassment works to a degree. To the degree where it silences me on Twitter and limits the number of stories I want to write on these topics — it works.” Like they're harassing me and I'm responding by not doing the work anymore because it's too much. And one of the things that the that the authors really grapple with here is ultimately where does the responsibility lie and are we doing enough? So there so let's first look at the group of journalists who are employed by newsrooms. So these are staff reporters. Individuals who maybe even work in an active newsroom although sadly a lot of this has gone remote because of Covid-19. Their claim and what they're hearing from a lot of these journalists is they're just not getting support from their newsrooms. They're not being taught how to handle this, they have no idea what they're supposed to do. They feel unsafe. They're getting burned out. They don't know how not only how to talk about it but what the recourse is so they list some resources that are available for journalists but they more often really focus on things like legal issues, security issues but not coping mechanisms not ways to react or respond. And so very often they're stuck having to make personal choices like at an individual level about a larger institutional problem now. Do I just stop posting on social? Or do I avoid writing about certain topics because I don't want to get sucked into this problem. Or do I not quote these people because they're in this sort of cultural war battle or how do I go about my job tiptoeing around on eggshells. And then of course there's a conversation about freelancers which is like an almost even worse situation because they really are rudderless floating without an institution to back them. And having to make a lot of decisions about how to react without any guidance whatsoever. Even though those who work in newsrooms often do get limited guidance. So this is a problem that so far doesn't seem to have a very clear solution. And so I thought it would be interesting to take at least a little bit of time with you guys to inquire what you think? How do we solve this?
E: Turn off the comments section?
C: So that's one thing that they talked about is sort of a a knee-jerk reaction that very often news rooms will do. So there will be you know an article a bunch of hate comes in and they go okay let's just shut down the comments. And these researchers kind of describe that I don't think they exactly put it this way but they describe that as sort of like putting a band-aid on the problem. It doesn't actually do much.
E: But that's how you I mean that's more of a traditional flow of news back in the day when there were newspapers. I mean yeah you could write op-eds and do that but other than that there was no way for people to comment on this stuff. And directly impact the job that the writers were trying to do.
C: Right and so so if that's the case then why not kind of institute those policies across the board instead of constantly like playing catch up and doing it after the fact? So that's one you're right that is one approach. I don't I think it's one it would have to be multifaceted because it really doesn't necessarily solve the problem when okay so now the comment thread underneath is no longer full of vitriol but people are still getting emailed directly or they're getting phone calls directly or they're getting these direct threats through other avenues.
E: We need some AI to help the reporters do filters or active specs "spam" filters for their emails to to take away the obvious trolls. That would be a good use for AI.
C: And I've grappled with that before. Like I but I actually like to keep a I keep a stalker file in my inbox. Because I've been in the public eye for a long time and I've gotten my fair share of sometimes innocuous and sometimes really scary messages. And so and I was told very early on. We had like an FBI training about this that you have to document document document. Because sadly if they're if any of these threats are legitimate threats you don't want an AI filter just catch them and delete them or make them inaccessible to you. So it's sort of a double-edged sword there. Like I have to read them to know I got them but now I've read them so they're going to affect me really psychologically and traumatize me.
E: Oh no you have to have somebody read your your comments for you and and basically be the punching bag as it were instead of you instead of the reporter being the direct punching bag they have a surrogate in a way to take the slings and arrows.
S: Some reporting sites you they have a comment section but there's absolutely zero expectation that the author of the article is going to be reading and engaging with those comments. Like if you read a New York Times or Waypo article and there's three thousand comments the author's not in the comments section they're probably not reading it. And there's no real reasonable it's that's for people to talk to each other.
C: I can almost really I shouldn't say I can almost guarantee you but unless that's a personal boundary that an author has set and is really firm with they probably are reading them. They may not be engaging in them but they're probably (inaudible).
S: They're not engaging who knows if they're reading. But again there's thousands of comments and they're all over the place so it's not like they're you know what I mean they're getting hammered. And then they are moderated. So I think there's a lot of little solutions. There's no one big solution in my opinion. One is that if you hey if you're a writer today and you're you're putting your stuff out in on the interwebs you have to have a certain amount of thick skin. That's just to come to the territory─
C: Ugh, that's just so.
S: ─but it's but it's true.
C: It's not but that doesn't I mean here's the thing though. There's a difference I think between not being easily offended and being─
C: ─harassed. Abused. And that's the thing.
S: Oh totally. This is just one element of it. That's this is like the solution. It's just that you have to expect that there's no system that's going to be in place that's going to completely shield you from harassment. You have to have a little bit of resilience. However then we need to moderate comment sections and we need to just to get rid of the trolls. Not to to silence one opinion or viewpoint or anything. But there are people who break the discussion because they're trolling. It is a type of behavior that we can define. You can set rules where you say if you do these things that is considered trolling you will be banned for it. You can moderate comments of that. The really like blatant like hate and misogyny whatever doesn't get through the initial filter. That's fine as well. And again you have to have a system in place when things rise to a level of stalking of cyber stalking or the actual threats of things where you need to be concerned. And writers for if it's a major media outlet whatever they need to be backed. The company needs to back their writer.
C: And they're very often not. I think part of the problem because I agree with you and I think that the truth of the matter is many of those things are already in place as you mentioned. But we're seeing two components to this that I think are really really important. Number one women bear the brunt of these attacks. Hands down. And they write about this in their study. They're seeing that by and large women are getting the the worst of the harassment. And number two almost everybody they talk to reported that they are getting harassing phone calls, emails, twitter messages, Instagram messages. Any place that they can figure out how to reach this person that's happening. And it's not just a matter of oh that one article I wrote, oh I got one person who is. It's daily, multiple times a day, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands. And how do you? How do you handle it when it's a barrage like that?
S: Yeah I mean I agree. I mean I think that again if you're going to be at that level. Like not our level we're like I get we get like a couple of negative emails a day. But if you're getting like literally thousands of negative interactions a day on social media and phone whatever you need to keep your your email and your contacts all that stuff needs to be secret like it should not be published.
C: But then you're not doing journalism anymore. I mean that's the really scary sad thing.
S: You have your journalist email that's just not your personal email.
C: Yeah but that's where I mean that's probably where they're getting through.
S: Yeah but why is it getting through? That's where you have somebody look at it for you or filter it or whatever. Anything important here you go you're not wading through all the crap.
C: Right. But I mean we say that as if that's an easy thing to do. And we've got to remember that newsrooms...
S: No, none of it's easy.
C: Newsrooms are so broke. Journalists are. It's like that horrible story that we always know about the company that downsizes and the people that are really really necessary to the company they keep their jobs for longer and longer but they just start doing more and more crap for the same amount of money. And that's really the weight that we're seeing on journalists right now. And this is a smaller microcosm of a larger societal issue which I think is the important point of this. Which is that journalists and science journalists are an important part of that represent speech. They represent holding truth to power. They represent the first amendment. And because of that they are so subject to violent threats. They're so subject to harassment and we can't just say that's the way a society works. We have to support this this institution and we have to figure out ways to protect this institution.
S: Yeah of course.
C: Because otherwise this I think kind of the outcome of this is the trolls are winning.
E: I wish there were a better way to identify the trolls and figure out exactly who they are. It doesn't seem like technology has gotten to the point where it can get through the IP address changes and those kinds of things to really figure out and identify who these troublemakers are.
S: Well should we dispense with online anonymity?
B: I like that.
E: That's a great one subject that's a great subject for discussion.
C: But is it really about the fact that we can't figure out? Because I think very often we can. We do have some tools for that and there are situations in which we can figure it out but we don't have a legal framework in which to do anything about it. Like, they're not braking the law.
E: No like but a private company can block their but you can block their any IP messages coming in from that.
C: Yeah but again that's just to the one avenue. We live in a world now where we can be contacted 15 different ways digitally.
E: Yeah. I get that. I get that. I'm not saying I have a solution I just wish there were better tools in place.
S: Here is an anecdote here's anecdote. So skeptics in the skeptical community for years were cyber stalked, harassed, threatened, given death threats by this one online person.
E: Oh yes.
S: We only knew their username. Nobody knew who they were. Multiple different people reported him to the their local police to the FBI. Built a real database of his harassment of multiple individuals especially if you were anyone who had was a known person in the skeptical movement you got harassed. Eventually they ditched they did get this guy and shut him down. It did get to the point where and he literally was living like in his mother's basement he had mental illness and they were able to say ban him from the internet. And though then he went back and they had to do it again. But I think there is there's got to be levels. Obviously you shouldn't get banned from the internet for making one snarky comment but if you engage in a campaign of threats of the stalking of harassment. Just because it's virtual and not in meat space doesn't make it any less upsetting and disruptive. Then there should be a legal framework in place as you say that should make make it fair but quick and plausible to do to have remedies in place. Like if you do that you can literally get banned from the internet.
C: Yeah yeah yeah.
S: It's like it's basically like a restraining order.
S: Why can't we get digital restraining orders? You absolutely should be able to do that.
C: Or it's like losing your license if you've driven too many times drunk. Like you just can't do it anymore.
E: (inaudible) TV on the internet. Interesting.
C: But this is so and I think that you're right that there's one component of this problem that that would really really solve and is absolutely necessary. The sad thing is another component is the idea that that is the bad apple scenario. And there are lots of bad apples and we have to weed out the bad apples. But there's also a component where one of the co-authors of this article wrote a piece in digital journalism last two years ago in 2020 called Mob Censorship: Online Harassment of US Journalists in Times of Digital Hate and Populism and it's really about this phenomenon of people glomming together and forming these large mobs. These like troll mobs that then attack. So it's not individuals. It's not bad apples. It's this like it's this thing that happens.
S: That's a conspiracy to harass.
C: Yeah yeah.
S: Now you're talking about conspiracy. People are coordinating their efforts in order to to deprive somebody else of their free speech, of their livelihood, their career by harassing them off of out of the public square. I'm sorry but there's no you don't have a right to do that.
E: That's right.
C: That's an interesting phenomenon where there's like a snowball effect that happens. Where some people have more power yet they they eschew that. They say like I'm not responsible for the actions of this mob even though they are the de facto mob leader in this situation. And that's a really interesting phenomenon.
J: Cara after all of the conversations that I've had online all of the modding that I've done online for SGU properties I have to tell you that I don't think anyone has ever when you confront them I don't think I've ever seen anyone ever just do what I'm sorry I shouldn't have done that.
C: Oh I have.
S: I have I've encountered that.
B: I heard about it.
C: I think that's because those people were not trolls I think those were the people who had bad days.
E: Yeah, they just had a bad day or something.
C: And I've had men say horrifically sexist things to me before and for whatever reason I felt the need to point it out.
E: Yeah trolls applies a pattern behavior.
C: Yeah and they were like I'm so sorry a: I didn't think you would read this b: I was being an asshole. Like when they were called out they actually were like oh crap.
E: Yeah we've gotten some emails of people apologizing for having sent the email they sent, sure.
J: I'm talking about I'm talking specifically about like in the social media worlds. I find that it drives people to be meaner. To be darker to say things.
C: I think you're right. When you're the target of the attack and you speak up. I'm more talking about let's say that there's a powerful influential person online who says so and so is a piece of crap. And then their minions go after that person. If that person then says guys that's not what I would like I actually disavow you doing this. It's sort of like the January 6th insurrection. That's why there was such a push to be like Trump you have to tell them to stand down. They're gonna do what you tell them to do.
C: Like it's necessary because you sort of incited this. Now you have to put the the kibosh on it. But very often it's like oh I'm not going to accept responsibility for inciting it. So therefore I'm not going to do anything about putting the kibosh on it. And that's a really dangerous amount of power that these individuals have.
S: Yeah I've had people say oh I didn't think this was going to an actual person.
C: Yeah all the time.
S: What did you think?
B: And why would that make a difference?
C: Oh think about how many times we get emails where they're like hey guys you need to get your girl in line. And I have to respond and go what makes you think I don't also have access to the SGU email? I am one of them.
J: I know, oh my god.
S: Silly. Tell that woman on your show. Listen it's obviously it's a problem and the thing is that for the people who cry free speech whenever we talk about putting remedies in place the thing they have to realize is that trolling is shutting down free speech.
C: That's the point of it.
S: Yeah yeah that is the point. It is weaponizing your free speech to take away somebody else's free speech.
E: That's a no no.
S: So yeah if you want to maximize conversation exchange free exchange of ideas in the marketplace all that kind of stuff you need to have guard rails. Like there needs to be moderation so that like it's as if someone is literally like shouting so loud that nobody else can engage in conversation. It's like no that's not free speech that's disruption.
S: You're just disrupting other people's free speech.
C: And these people are doing their jobs. It's like if you went into a store and you just started pulling everything off the shelf and you pooped in the aisle and you were like you know dude like being super disruptive you would be removed by the police because they couldn't do their jobs anymore. And what we're seeing now is that we're just people are pooping in the aisles and the tellers are going I can't work here anymore I have to quit. Like that's the outcome. It's not that we're removing the pooper.
S: All right we're not going to solve this problem but it is (inaudible).
B: We got close.
J: We'll try.
C: But we will hopefully inspire many a dinner table conversation.
E: Oh yeah there's a lot there to unpack.
Solar Thermochemical Hydrogen Production (1:14:49)
S: All right guys I'm going to talk about another energy related item. Solar thermochemical hydrogen production. Anybody familiar with that?
E: Oh boy.
B: Solar thermochemical.
S: Solar thermochemical hydrogen production.
E: Well we've talked about haven't we talked about producing hydrogen?
S: Yeah we've spoken about hydrogen before. Hydrogen is like this in this interesting limbo when it comes to our energy infrastructure. Hydrogen could be potentially a good energy storage medium. It's not a source of energy because there's no significant amount of free hydrogen on the Earth. You have to put energy into something to make hydrogen. Then you can store the energy as hydrogen and then hydrogen can be used to make energy. As like a hydrogen fuel cell. Or it's feedstock for a lot of high energy chemicals like fertilizers or biofuel or whatever. So it feeds a lot of industries. So if we could figure out a way to make green hydrogen that's carbon and energy efficient. That could have a huge impact on our civilization. It becomes a long-term storage medium for energy. It becomes it could be a source for a lot of other things as I just said. The problem is that most of our hydrogen today comes from fossil fuels, right? It's dirty hydrogen it's not green. And very little of it is "green" meaning that it's made with a renewable energy. One of the most common methods for making hydrogen one way is we strip it off fossil fuel but again we'll set that aside that's what we're trying to get away from. One of the ways to making green hydrogen is electrolysis. You basically use electricity to break water up into hydrogen and oxygen. Store the hydrogen and that's your energy storage medium. Problem is that's hard to scale up and it's not very energy efficient. And you where you're going to get all that energy from? So if you're making if you're burning coal to make your hydrogen that's like gray hydrogen. So that it's not really really bad or but I think they call it blue hydrogen where it's yeah you know it's sort of green but not completely because the source of electricity is not clean. So if you're but if you have using solar energy or wind energy to make you electrolyze your water into hydrogen that's green hydrogen. The problem is we're just not making that much of it. It's a very tiny percentage of it. So what we're looking for is a way to mass produce energy efficiently produce a lot of green hydrogen and that's where solar thermochemical hydrogen comes in. This method uses sunlight or it uses the waste heat from a nuclear reactor.
E: I like that.
S: Those are the two main methods and a lot of the newer designs for nuclear reactors build this in. It's like yes and we're going to shuffle off the waste heat and make hydrogen with it.
E: Oh cool.
S: So that's kind of built into the process. It is very cool. But the way to do it with solar is not with photovoltaics but with using mirrors either a parabolic mirror or you know how they can have those you basically have a whole plane of mirrors all pointing redirecting the Sun at one location. So you can use solar energy now that way you could use it to melt salt Jay, right? To store energy for example or to heat water to boil steam and turbine and energy. That's how you make probably make all of our electricity. Well here you can use the same kind of mirrors to reflect the sunlight to heat chemicals that then break water up into hydrogen and oxygen. So the advantage it over photovoltaic is that it uses the full spectrum of the sunlight. It's not just using the frequencies that react with the photovoltaic cells and make the electricity so it could have a higher solar efficiency in that way. This is mainly a review. There was there's not really a breakthrough with this technology but there was a recent review article that looked at the as they say the techno-economic analysis of solar thermochemical hydrogen production. Now the reason for the analysis is that there's literally thousands of potential chemical reactions that you could use in this kind of a system. And what they wanted to figure out was well what's the best ones? What's the ones that we want to focus our research on and development on? If we're going to make a lot of these factories cranking out green hydrogen in this way we have a lot of different choices so we want we want to pick the best one. So they did they did an analysis basically to help guide future research and development into this technology. The goal is; their parameters for the studies they wanted to get down to see if they could to get a system with all the costs involved where you were making hydrogen at two dollars per kilogram of H2. That that was the goal. Although some economists think that we really want to get down to one dollar per kilogram of hydrogen. But of course the cheaper the better. There's no real threshold or limit. It's just you want to get the price down as much as possible but they're saying that's kind of about where we want to get to where this will really take off. So essentially they use chemicals like metal oxides for example. They heat them up to a pretty high temperature. About 1400°C. So that's a lot. So any industrial process where you have to heat something up a lot becomes very energy intensive. And in this that this is no exception but that's where the sunlight comes in. If you're using solar power then you're not burning coal to make that energy to heat it up. You're just converting the Sun energy into ultimately into that hydrogen. And then there's essentially a two-step process where you heat up the chemicals and then you allow them to cool and you mix them with steam and in that process it basically reacts with the the water and the steam and produces hydrogen. So that's very again oversimplified kind of schematic of how this technology works. But that is that high temperature that really is the limiting factor here. And but what they said was in their analysis depending on the chemicals that you use in the whole set they use they said you can't get down to very low price. Even you can theoretically get down to that two dollars per kilogram. And again the Department of Energy like Jay was saying Department of Energy their job is to make all this stuff happen. Their goal is to get down to one dollar per kilogram of hydrogen in a decade. So that would be cutting the cost of clean hydrogen by 80%. 80% reduction to get it down to that level. So you know this is probably something that we're going to be hearing more of in the future. And I don't think there's any one energy solution. I think we're going to be doing a lot of things. And I just been it's been so interesting following the hydrogen story for the last 20 years because it had so many ups and downs. It always seems like it's right on the edge of making a major breakthrough but it never quite. It's remained on the fringes. It's just not really breaking through. And again it's one of those things like we like we often say. You can't gloss over the and then we'll scale it up. Or we'll all we have to do is solve this one little problem where we need to get the cost down by of a huge chunk. Okay but until you do those things you don't have a workable technology. You have a curiosity. You have something that maybe operates on the fringe or may only have a niche application but isn't going to revolutionize. We're not all driving hydrogen fuel cell cars and the EVs are winning because we didn't solve the hydrogen storage problem. And because we aren't making massive amounts of green hydrogen the whole thing is a fantasy until we actually fix these issues. So this may be one of the technologies that helps get us there. And again we like we Bob, Jay and I talked about this a lot when we were writing a book. In 50 years are we going to have a hydrogen economy? Think about it. I don't think so to be honest with you is where I came down but it was one of those questions where we don't know the answer to that. We could it's possible that it'll be a much bigger piece of our energy infrastructure than it is today and not again not just this fringe thing. But there's no way right now to confidently predict that it will be. It's interesting. But we'll continue to follow it but this this is the kind of thing that could make a big difference. To reinforce the main point here we're not going to get there until we could mass-produce green hydrogen. We cannot do that right now and this is one of the technologies however that might be able to get us there.
Who's That Noisy? (1:23:48)
S: All right Jay it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: Last week guys I played this noisy:
[machinery sounds, as of a jet engine or train rolling]
Do you guys have any guesses?
S: It sounds mechanical.
C: No idea.
E: Sounds like a saw blade of some kind.
J: Well let's get into the weeds Carolina Des-cha-pe-lez. I don't. Wow. Cnnot pronounce the last name. I'm sorry. "Hi Jay I'm a relatively new listener I found your show when Bill Nye played an episode during one of his podcasts. My daughter Charlie seven years old wanted to guess this week's Noisy. She thinks it's a herd of T-Rex which the internet tells me is called a terror of T-Rex." So this is a nice guess.
S: But how would we have a recording of it though?
J: That's the first thing I thought of but Steve.
B: Simulation based on the fossils, come on.
C: She's seven.
J: But to be seven years old again to be seven years old and being able to think in those terms. I think it's awesome. What would they sound like? I wanna know now. But that is not correct. I'm sorry Charlie I you know you didn't get it but please continue to guess because that's what helps your brain grow.
S: Sorry Charlie.
J: Sorry Charlie. Another listener Corey Ferris said in the subject: "Drone race". I guess Corey was too busy to write a complete sentence but I still (laughter) I still included it because a drone race is a very provocative guess. It's not correct but man yeah yes is good. No that could very well be the sound that a bunch of drones make. I've never heard a whole bunch of drones or a group of drones racing in the real world so that that's interesting.
Another listener named Micah Woodward from Seattle said: "Hi Jay after first hearing the noisy the repeated sound made me think of a subway train going through the tunnel. Then I realized there wasn't any track noise so I'm going to guess maglev train" and then he said "if that is the correct answer please keep Bob to a maximum of 30 minutes in his discussion of how cool maglev trains are." (Bob laughs) I already talked to Bob before the show about maglev train so he doesn't have to do it again here. That's a cool guess and I consider that a close guess. So let me tell you what what this is.
William Steele wrote in and said: "Hi Jay my guest for this─
B: William Steele.
J: ─is the sound of a train up close. The only thing that William got wrong was he said it was slowed down. And I do understand that because it does sound a little bit like it was slowed down. But it wasn't slowed down and you got it perfectly correct. So this original noisy was sent in by Queen English and this is actually a cargo train passing right in front of the car. They recorded it that's the sound you get and let me play it for you again real quick.
Okay now I think a lot of people wrote in other things because it wasn't an overwhelming clackety train noise. A lot of people guessed formula one or formula e-cars because of the lack of train typical train noises. And that's why I picked this noisy because it was a train that was going on tracks. Apparently like they weld the track so there's no spaces between the tracks so they're much smoother and that's why it's possible that that train wasn't making that that typical noise. But yeah, that was just a bunch of trains going by really fast.
New Noisy (1:27:16)
J: I have a new noisy for you guys this week this noisy was sent in by a listener named Justin Porteous and here it is:
[chirping birds sound]
J: Hmm. What could that be?! If you guys think your know what this week's Noisy is, you can email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org
J: I got a few announcements guys. One: if you enjoy this show it would be wonderful if you wanted to support us by becoming a patron of the SGU. If you go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide there's lots of different levels that you can contribute . Anything that you do to contribute to help us to help us pay for this show and keep going we all appreciate. So please consider it especially if you've been a long time listener and you've gotten a lot out of the show.
We have a store. You can get to our store by going to theskepticsguide.org/shop. We have a lot of different items in there and I swap items in and out from time to time so you should visit again because things change.
We have four shows on the books coming up. And a conference. Let me quickly go through all of this. The four shows are all happening in Arizona. We will have a private show plus and an extravaganza. These are two different shows. They will both of them will be in Phoenix and then again we will be doing the same two shows in Tucson. The private show plus is an SGU private recording of the podcast. Just like you're hearing right now except we're live. We're in the room with you. And we do lots of other things and there's usually every time we do that there's content that only you'll hear. And these shows are a little bit more off the rails and a lot more funny because we're all giddy and and in the room together. That's number one. But we added the plus to it. We all talked about it and we wanted to give a little bit more. So what we did was we raised the price a little bit but we're giving you an extra hour of time to hang out with us take pictures with us. There'll be some games. There'll be lots of conversations. There'll be music. Lots of different things can happen but we just wanted to have a little bit more time to socialize because we're always in such a mad rush to get out of the room to get to the next gig. So we all agreed let's let's expand on this. Make it a little bit more social and have more time to hang out and that's exactly what we did. So you can go to theskepticsguide.org/events and you can find out about our four upcoming events. Please join us because we really want to see you. We want to sign books and we want to meet as many people as we can so please come and check out one or more of our shows.
S: Thank you Jay.
S: We have a deceptively interesting question. A few people wrote in to ask this.
Followup #1: Action Bias vs. Omission Bias
S: Here's one: "Just a quick question. I have heard several times on this show that there is this mentality that doing nothing is safer than doing something when it comes to vaccines. But the science or fiction episode 878 says otherwise. What is going on here? Thanks for all that you do." So we talked about the action bias, you guys remember the action bias?
C: Right yeah. But that doesn't say otherwise.
S: That well the action bias is that we have a bias towards doing something rather than doing nothing.
S: But a lot several people wrote and said what about parents who don't vaccinate their kids because they think it's safer to do nothing than to do something because if they don't want to be the direct cause of harm you know to their kids.
C: Right because it's all about risk it's not black and white.
S: Yeah so there's actually a literature on this. I discovered there are published papers trying to reconcile this apparent conflict between the action bias and what's the there's actually a name for the bias to not do something. You guys know what that is?
C&E: Inaction bias?
S: No. It's the omission bias. The omission bias. So this is in technical parlance. There's a conflict between the omission bias and the action bias. And in fact the parents not vaccinating their kids is a classic example of the omission bias. It's often given as like the type example of the emission bias.
C: Yeah we've talked about a lot on the show.
S: Yeah we've talked about quite a bit. And so how do psychologists in the technical literature resolve this apparent conflict. And again it's a it's technical. There's a lot of papers on it but it seems that there's two main ways. And it depends on context as you might imagine. These are all context dependent. So first of all a lot of the psychologists point out the line between action and inaction is fuzzy. It's not as crystal clear as you might think. And so we have to include that in our thinking about this. You guys remember the trolley problem? That's a classic you know kind of omission thing where are you going to kill people by not doing anything or by doing something? And people would prefer not to do something rather than doing something to actively kill somebody.
B: That's still that's why I got that damn thing wrong in science and fiction last week. (laughter)
S: Yeah that's what some people said. Hey I got that wrong because I was thinking of the omission bias. Whether they named it or not they were saying that I thought that's what what you were saying. But there is an action bias and there is an omission bias. Part of the resolution is that we compartmentalize. We can have both of these biases at the same time.
C Yeah of course.
S: And again they come out at different moments. So one way to look at the omission bias is that we regret it's how much regret will we have if there's a negative outcome. Where we have greater regret if we did something or if we didn't do something. And so that depends upon how like are we doing something that might cause harm? Or are we doing something that is supposed to have a positive impact.
C: Yeah it's all about risk. This is a massive risk analysis.
S: For example yeah if you're an investor and the question is should I just let my investment ride or should I switch my investment to something else that's you're trying to create a positive outcome. And so that's where the action bias will predominate. Like you want to do something to make that positive outcome happen.
C: Or giving your kid um a cough medicine because you want to help them get rid of their cough.
S: Exactly. But if it's you're what's the greater risk of doing nothing or doing something that might cause harm. Are you more afraid of the harm. People who tend to be more afraid of active harm than passive harm. That would lead them to the omission bias. But then another way to look at it I found another paper that basically said it's all about what is the normative behavior. So the default we so whatever the we tend to be biased towards the default normative behavior. If the default behavior is action then we we take that. If the default behavior is to do nothing then we're then the omission bias takes over and we do that. So but it is all it is complicated because we do have multiple simultaneous heuristics and biases etc. And motivations and influences. And sometimes we compartmentalize sometimes they just sort of vie against each other and one wins out. Sometimes they are completely context dependent. They may manifest in one context but not another. And then there's also normative behavior which comes into play. So that's not a clean answer but that's it's we're talking about human behavior here. There's no clean answers. So that's how that all gets resolved and if you're interested there are papers written about this if you want to do a deep dive on the technical discussions about how to resolve these two things. But yeah great questions. I didn't think about it at the time but yeah absolutely you need to think about that.
All right guys let's move on with Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:35:00)
Item #1: In a recent study subjects were 30% less likely to choose a chocolate chip cookie that was described as "scientifically developed."
Item #2: An examination of eye control of fruit flies in flight follows a similar scheme as eye control in primates, suggesting convergent evolution across phyla.
Item #3: Astronomers report that for the first time they have examined a star with spectroscopy and identified every known stable element within it.
|Fiction||Every stable element in a star|
|Science||Scientifically developed cookie|
Eye's convergent evolution
|Scientifically developed cookie|
|Every stable element in a star|
|Every stable element in a star|
|Every stable element in a star|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and one fake and then I challenge my panel skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. No theme. Three regular news items. You guys ready?
S: On we go. In a recent study subjects were 30% less likely to choose a chocolate chip cookie that was described as "scientifically developed." Item #2: An examination of eye control of fruit flies in flight follows a similar scheme as eye control in primates, suggesting convergent evolution across phyla. And item #3: Astronomers report that for the first time they have examined a star with spectroscopy and identified every known stable element within it. And what i mean by that they didn't just identify all the elements in that star. They identified every known stable element in that star. I couldn't figure out a way to how to write that without it where we couldn't be interpreted the other way. All right who should go first? Evan go first.
E: Recent study subjects were 30% less likely to choose a chocolate chip cookie that was described as scientifically developed? I would not be one of those people. I'd say you had me at chocolate chip. Give me the damn cookie.
S: Just to clarify. To clarify. Versus a chocolate chip cookie that was not described as being scientifically developed. You're choosing between two different chocolate cookies.
E: Okay. All right right right. Geez people are interesting. 30% less likely to choose it. Okay what a fear of technology? I don't know about that one. How age might have a factor I don't know if you asked older people maybe you'd get to the 30% but if you're gonna if it's a spectrum of people and ages and demographics and the whole thing I don't know that you'd get 30% less likely at that point. Especially younger people who aren't as afraid of the word science in their descriptors in a certain sense. I don't know about that one. The second one about the examination of eye control of fruit flies in flight. Oh my gosh. And it follows a similar scheme as eye control and primates suggesting convergent evolution across phyla. The brain of a fruit fly, right? Is that what I have to sort of figure out essentially here is. And primates and everybody on all levels. Everything at all levels are sort of working the same. Convergent evolution across phyla. I have a feeling that one's gonna be science. It sounds fantastical in a certain sense but in another way it it does seem to fit I think a pattern that would not be out of the ordinary here. So I have a feeling that one science. And the last one about the star with that they've identified every known stable element within it. Yeah so I don't know if I have a problem with that one. They are you know they're seeing more and more about learning more and more about stars and better methods of identifying things. And spectroscopy continues to improve over time. So I'm not I don't find that one. That's very cool. I don't think that one's that out of the ordinary. So I think it's the chocolate chip cookie one that I'm having the most problem with here. I'll say that's the fiction.
S: Okay Cara.
C: Can I and you may not be able to define this for me but can you define like what is a stable element?
S: Yeah so in other words not the elements that exist for only microseconds, right?
C: Oh okay yeah yeah yeah.
S: Not the ones that are like─
C: Not that they're not radioactive.
S: ─artificially created. Exists for moments in a lab. All the stable elements that could exist for a long period of time.
E: Twelve picoseconds.
C: You got it you got it.
S: It would about 121 you know whatever.
C: Yeah that was my first thought actually. So I think, did you go with the cookie Evan?
E: Yes I did.
C: I don't know that one. I feel like that one's got to be science.
E: Oh no.
C: I feel like I don't know I've done enough TV shows where I've gone and sort of interviewed people out in the real world about like would you eat this genetically modified salmon and would you and people are always like NO like I don't want anything if science got near it. I want it "natural" and you're like really do we actually having this conversation.
E: Yeah, how do you put the word like genetic modification or something a little more buzz wordy like that─
C: I don't know.
E: ─scientifically developed I don't think.
C: I think scientifically developed is just as scary to people. So for me that one seems like it's got to be true. And so really it's between the eye control and the every known stable element. So I'm gonna ask another question that you may or may not be able to answer. When you say eye control you mean like muscular control like control of the eyes and how they move or do you mean─
C: ─like not the lens or.
C: Oh okay.
S: It's the muscle control how it's basically gaze stabilization.
C: Gotcha. Gotcha. Okay I that one seems like it would be true too because I think we when we talk about convergent evolution we're almost always talking about a means to get a similar outcome. And there's often a reason. There are usually environmental pressures for needing a similar outcome so I wouldn't be I wouldn't think that like a crop even across really vastly different species or phyla as you mentioned. That there would be vastly different protocols for certain things considering that we all have eyes. T hey might be built differently but they might kind of work. There might be some things about them that work the same. So the one that bugs me is the stable element. Even though you knocked out the idea of all of the like high up numbers on the periodic table. There's got to be certain I don't know. When I think about the nuclear furnace of a star and I really don't know much but I going back to my basic physics courses that I took my astrophysics courses that I took. This idea that like you start with the lightest and then the it kind of like moves through the periodic table. There's got to be a point where the star just doesn't produce certain elements. Where it just stops and or we haven't found a star that's capable of producing elements that are much higher up. Even if they're stable. So I also think we have to have been able to create something in a lab but also make it stable. So I don't know if something about that one doesn't sit well with me. So I'm gonna say that one. The star one is the fiction.
S: Okay Bob.
B: Okay wait did Jay go?
S: No. (laughter)
E: I love it.
B: All right I figured you threw me last here for various reasons. All right so 30% less likely to choose chocolate chips scientifically developed. To me my knee-jerk reaction even me was like you know scientifically developed and chocolate chip just doesn't seem to go right. Just doesn't seem to go together. Just I could see how that would turn off people to that extent for something so just so delicious and so something like a chocolate chip cookie. So that makes sense to me. Let's see. So now and Cara I think was fairly spot on with this. Is like yeah even though it's across violet and you got basically a compound eye and a primate eye there I could see some similarities in assessing gazes and eye movement. I'm not sure how much I'm how does the eye move in the insect with with compound eyes. And maybe it's not like the eye or eyeball itself. Maybe it's the actual head movement. I don't know. But I could see how that would make sense. The number three though makes less sense with this spectroscopy and Care I think did a really good job with this─
B: ─yeah there are there are elements beyond which like lead you can't really lead is─
B: ─I mean iron. Oh wow. Of course iron. Yes. Iron is very special and you can't really produce that you need crazy pressures and temperatures that conventional stars can't create. So you those elements are created through supernovas and kilonovas and I'm surprised that they would find those stable elements heavier elements in a in a star. But there's also this conception of star generations.
E: Yeah what generation star?
B: Right so you know could they have more elements in them from the previous generations of stars and it's very important because those metals are important because it means that the rocky bodies could have elements that are needed safe for complex life. So maybe can you detect them in the star in a sufficient amount that you can see them spectroscoply? Using spectroscopy.
S: Spectroscopically is what you're trying to say.
C: I like spectros- spectroscoply.
B: I know exactly what I was trying to say Steve. Thank you very much. And so but I think this may be a gotcha. This could be the gotcha one because again I could see how they it's detailed enough where they can finally pick up these minute amounts of those more stable elements because they're population three stars. And I think I'm going to get totally screwed on this but that kind of thinking─
C: Didn't you just do this Bob?
B: ─yes that kind of thinking got me screwed last time. And I'm now I'm thinking and that's why Steve didn't make me go third because now he thinks I'm gonna get Bob on this one because if he thought I really would have insight or could suss this out I really think he put me he might have thrown me last. Especially considering I went first last week. So now I'm like totally second guessing all this crap and really screwing myself up. But I figured go doing a GWC with Cara is never a bad decision or generally not a bad decision. (Cara laughs) So that so I'm going to go with that one and say the spectroscopy is fiction.
S: And Jay.
J: Since Bob used up all the time Steve. (laughter)
J: Very quickly.
B: I think I think other people did that for this show because it's way late and it wasn't me.
J: I'm gonna go quick Steve. Watch me go. All right the first one about─
B: Done yet?
J: ─scientifically spoiled cookies. There's nothing delicious about science (Bob laughs) so that one that's science.
C: It's not true but yeah.
J: No but you know what I mean when they say it that way they're not talking about the you know, blah blah.
B: Jay means what I said. That's what he means.
J: All right so an examination of the eye control situation. I would definitely say this one is science as well because we're all connected. Yes I believe it and I'm going to move on to the last one. This one this last one is absolutely ridiculous. There's absolutely no way that any kind of science could look into a star and see everything that's inside of a star. Impossible I disbelieve and I'm going with Cara.
B: Oh boy.
E: I like it. Like you channeled your inner Perry. (Jay laughs)
Steve Explains Item #2
S: All right so you guys all agree with the second one so we'll start there. An examination of eye control of fruit flies in flight follows a similar scheme as eye control in primates, suggesting convergent evolution across phyla. You guys all think this one is science. Despite the fact that fruit flies fly and primates don't because the eye stabilization requirements are much greater. This one is science science don't worry. This is science. But there is something that a fruit fly and a primate have in common. They have eyes a head and a body, right?
S: Think about it that way. They're very different eyes heads and bodies but they have an eye a head and the body. And they and broad brush strokes those three components exist in similar ratios in terms of size. In other words the eyes are really small, the head's a little bit bigger, the body's much bigger. So what they found was that when they looked at when they modeled how the brains of these fruit flies were controlling the eye movements what they found was that they were leveraging the different physical properties of the eyes, the head and the body in a certain way. Specifically with the head it was essentially tracking the acceleration of the head. So the big broad brush stroke is that the way brains stabilize your eye movements is that it counteracts your head and body movements with eye movements so that it─
B: Oh nice nice.
S: ─stabilizes the vision. But also that you can. There are if you want to change what you're looking at. You could either move your eyes you could move your head or you could move your body, right? You could do any of those three things. So what they found was was that the brain tracks head movement by following the acceleration of the head. But body movement by following the velocity of the body. And that that scheme is exactly what primates do. So they said it's conver- basically the physics are the same. Even though you're dealing with flies and gorillas. The physics of the interaction between how the brain controls the eyes given the head and the body movements follows the same math. The same physics basically. And the author said this is suggests convergent evolution across different phyla. I think it's a great example of that physics or physics and even completely unrelated evolutionary clades are going to find the same solution because they're all constrained by math and physics. And that's a great example of that.
B: I wonder where that breaks down Steve in terms of like body mass and size. If that would break down much smaller than the fruit fly.
S: Yeah I mean they suspect that it is pretty much in all animals what they were saying. But there might be some that there's always going to be exceptions in evolution.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: Okay let's go I guess we go back to number one: In a recent study subjects were 30% less likely to choose a chocolate chip cookie that was described as "scientifically developed.". Evan you think this one is the fiction because you think science is delicious. The rest of you think this one is science and this one is science.
B: Yeah baby.
S: Science. But there's a lot of nuance here and again human behavior is complicated. So they found a bunch of different things this was only the sort of the top level finding. is that when they asked their subjects to choose different cookies that were described in different ways controlling for all the different variables but when he when they altered the variable of would you like a chocolate chip cookie that has a luscious chocolatey taste versus that was scientifically developed to have a luscious chocolatey taste. So one option is would you like a chocolate chip cookie that has a luscious chocolatey taste the other option was would you like a chocolate chip cookie that has a that that was scientifically developed to have a luscious chocolatey taste. 30% of the people did not there was a 30% reduction in people choosing the scientifically developed versus just the chocolate taste. So the question was why. Well they did further studies to try to isolate different variables. Now if you ask the same basic question the same research paradigm but instead of talking about chocolate chip cookies you're talking about shampoo and you're talking about a shampoo which cleans your hair versus scientifically developed to clean your hair─
C: Then they want the shampoo.
S: ─they want the science. So the question is why would they want the science when it comes to your shampoo but not the chocolate chip cookie.
C: Isn't it kind of like the difference between getting cheese and getting pasteurized cheese product?
S This is what was their hypothesis. And the studies that they did were consistent with their hypothesis. That there was a disconnect between the hedonistic pleasure of eating a chocolate chip cookie and science which a lot of people see as being practical but cold. And so that because of that disconnect it didn't feel right. Versus something you purely pragmatically utilitarian like shampoo it's like yeah science up my shampoo no problem that seemed to go together. That was their thought. My thought was that okay that makes sense but I also could see that people might have that GMO kind of reaction where they're like─
C: Yeah the naturalistic phallacy.
S: ─yeah I was like you're manipulating it's not just that it's the manipulation. It's like by telling me like really so how would you scientifically develop something to be luscious and chocolatey? That sounds like again that's like the franken food kind of thing. It's like what do you how did you manipulate it to exploit my taste buds? Like yeah it gets creepy.
C: Right yeah because also if the wording is really specific there. They said would you like a luscious and chocolatey tasting, right? Cookie. Or a scientifically developed luscious and or to be luscious and chocolatey tasting. And you add that thing and there is a part of you that goes so is it not real chocolate? Am I not eating chocolate then?
S: But to test their interpretation they did what good scientists do. They developed hypothesis and they tested it. To test their hypothesis that it was the disconnect between science being practical but cold and doesn't match a hedonistic pleasure versus a pragmatic application. They broke up their sample their people into different groups. And one group was basically working scientists another group was people who rated their trust in science very high. Versus the general public. And for those two groups scientists or people who rank science very high basically do not feel that science is cold. They would take the scientifically developed luscious cookie. So that is they said that supported their interpretation.
C: Yeah that makes sense.
S: Yeah people who don't have that sort of cold bias about science they did not split out that way they were happy to have them. They're like wow they might they use science this must be an awesome freaking cookie, you know?
C: They maximalized the lusciousness.
S: Which is the other way you could react. That's how I would I think really they completely tweaked the hell out of this chocolatey taste? Like they maximized it by gimmie that I wanted I want to know what that would taste like.
B: Yeah I would definitely try it.
S: What would a scientifically formulated chocolate chip cookie to be maximally luscious like what would that taste like I would want to know.
C: Yeah I've had a million regular chocolate chip cookies. Give me the science cookie.
B: I want all variations.
S: So I was so Evan when you were saying that you would not be biased against the scientifically developed cookie you're right because you're a science enthusiast and by this own study you wouldn't be but the general population was. That makes sense?
E: Yeah it does. I wonder how many you know 80 year olds (laughter) but it's fine.
S: But it's interesting. And then I like when you do these psychological studies where you have multiple multiple parts in order to try to zero in on an interpretation because one piece of data like just the very fact that 30% did not choose the scientifically developed chocolate chip cookie. You can't interpret that. You need to put it into multiple different contexts in order to know how to interpret it.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: All right and then so let's go on to the third one: Astronomers report that for the first time they have examined a star with spectroscopy and identified every known stable element within it is the fiction. Not as much as you think though because Bob you're correct that stars can form out of dust clouds from previous stars that went supernova.
E: Like our Sun.
S: Or the other the other main source which you talked about Bob on the show is colliding neutron stars.
B: Yeah. Kilonovas.
S: Yeah so they those can produce all the heavier elements.
S: And those elements will get into next-generation stars and they can be detected. What the actual news item is is they found they've identified 65 elements in one star. Which is the highest number. And 42 of those elements are heavier than iron.
B: Really yeah so that's okay.
J: So you're saying I was wrong on this one Steve?
S: Yes you were wrong in your justification for you yeah the right you were right but for the wrong reasons.
J: That's all that matters thank you. (laughter)
S: But that 65 is different that's only about half like there's 118 so I figured.
E: Well 92 naturally occurring elements.
S: So yeah so but 65 that's the record right now. Including a lot of a lot of the again heavier elements like gold. They had to say oh there's gold in that star.
S: But there's a lot of the other ones as well.
S: Now here's the other thing. The reason why they're doing this part of the reason was because the exact elements that they were able to identify so they did a really thorough spectroscopic analysis. Tried to find every element they could selenium, silver, tellurium, platinum. And they said now that we've done a really thorough analysis of this star we have essentially created a signature. And so this star must have been made out of a cloud that came from something. Whether it was a supernova or kilonova or whatever. And whatever so that this is the signature of that process. And if we find another star─
B: With a similar signature.
S: ─yeah it should have the same signature if it had the same source. So they and they may be able to if they keep examining other stars they may be able to identify distinct signatures of heavy elements in these stars. So yeah that's the for astronomers astrophysicists that's the cool part of this. Good job guys.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:57:36)
Scientific research involves going beyond the well-trodden and well-tested ideas and theories that form the core of scientific knowledge. During the time scientists are working things out, some results will be right, and others will be wrong. Over time, the right results will emerge.
– Lisa Randall, American theoretical physicist
S: All right Evan give us a quote.
E: "Scientific research involves going beyond the well-trodden and well-tested ideas and theories that form the core of scientific knowledge. During the time scientists are working things out, some results will be right, and others will be wrong. Over time, the right results will emerge." Lisa Randall, an American theoretical physicist the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science Physics faculty of Harvard University.
S: Yeah I mean it's obviously a basic description of how science works because I think so it's important to emphasize this to the public because a lot of people act as if they don't understand this. Like the idea that scientists are always trying to change what we think we know. And it is a messy process and you really just have to inch crawl towards a slightly less wrong answer over time.
E: Slightly less wrong answer, yeah.
S: All right well thank you guys for joining me this week.
B: Sure man.
C: Thank you Steve.
S: Don't forget about the live stream. Most Fridays. You have to sort of pay attention to the our website. Most Fridays at five o'clock Eastern Time we do a live stream for about 90 minutes hour and a half. Please join us for that.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- ↑ Tech Smart: Dalle-2, the Artificial Intelligence that draws anything you ask of it
- ↑ Scientific American: Rechargeable Molten Salt Battery Freezes Energy in Place for Long-Term Storage
- ↑ Undark: Opinion: Trolling Is Taking a Toll on Science Journalism
- ↑ Renewable Energy: System and technoeconomic analysis of solar thermochemical hydrogen production
- ↑ Journal of Consumer Research: Get Your Science out of Here: When Does Invoking Science in the Marketing of Consumer Products Backfire?
- ↑ PNAS: Complementary feedback control enables effective gaze stabilization in animals
- ↑ Arxiv Astrophysics: The R-Process Alliance: A Nearly Complete R-Process Abundance Template Derived from Ultraviolet Spectroscopy of the R-Process-Enhanced Metal-Poor Star HD 222925
- ↑ [url_for_TIL publication: title]