SGU Episode 88

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SGU Episode 88
March 28th 2007
SGU 87 SGU 89
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
DS: David Seaman, DC
Quote of the Week
Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.
Andre Gide, French author and critic (1869-1951)
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


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. This is your host, Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society, and today is Wednesday, March 28, 2007. Joining me this evening are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson...

R: Hello, everyone.

S: Perry DeAngelis...

P: Good evening.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey, guys.

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: And I want to wish everyone a happy Teachers' Day to our listeners in the Czech Republic. Happy Teachers' Day, everyone.

R: What?

S: So, Evan, I'm noticing a theme here: every week, you find some obscure holiday or commemoration that happens to be the day we're recording.

R: That one was definitely the worst.

E: I wouldn't call it "every day".

S: Teachers' Day in the Czech Republic?

R: Teachers' Day in the Czech Republic is the best you could do?

J: Rebecca, how do the vegetarians celebrate this now? Where do you go, where do you go with this?

R: Oh, you know, let's not go there. OK?

P: You sure it's the Czech Republic and not the Union of Slovakia, Evan? You know, it's two different places.

E: Uhhh... Slovakia-comma-Czech Republic, so apparently it's both. I guess—so, I apologize to both of our Slovakian listeners out there.

P: Thank you.

E: And happy Teachers' Day to both of you.

P: Get your geography right.

J: Evan, did you spend three bucks on some extra calendar or something? Where you getting these?

E: No, I'm just a font of useless information. That's all.

P: The magic of the Internet.

S: So we have a very interesting interview coming up later in the show with David Seaman, who is a chiropractor.

P: Yes, we actually know it's interesting, 'cause we've already done it.

S: Now, Perry, you're not supposed to say that.

(all laughing)

P: Destroying the magic of the—

R: Don't look at the man behind the curtain! (laughs)

P: Yeah, right.

S: Sometimes we record the interview first. Yeah. Something tells me it's going to be a very interesting interview.

P/B: (Chuckling)

News Items[edit]

UFO News (2:01)[edit]

S: But before that, let's start with some news. Former Arizona Governor Fife Symington states that he was a witness to the huge Phoenix Lights phenomenon ten years ago, and he thinks they were UFOs.

J: Was this the lights—this is the "Lights over Phoenix" phenomenon, right?

S: This is the "Lights over Phoenix"; the Phoenix Lights. Now, ten years ago, it was observed—

J: Ten... years... ago...

S: —at night, over the city of Phoenix, Arizona, a formation of points of light, sort of hovering in the air. They were seen by thousands, tens of thousands of people; there's video and pictures.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: They slowly disappeared, and this was a big UFO flap at the time. Now, it's been thoroughly investigated, and first the UFOlogists thoroughly embarrassed themselves by saying all kinds of ridiculous things. My favorite one is the investigator who did a spectral analysis of a picture of the lights—

E: Uh huh.

S: And used that as—

B: Ohhhhh.

S: —to determine that it was of an unearthly or unusual origin.

P: He discovered they were made out of photographic paper?

S: Right, right.

R: (laughs)

S: And that was likened to doing a chemical analysis of a picture of a rock.

(All laughing)

J: Oh, my God.

S: "That's good work, boys."

P: (laughs)

J: Steve, I was talking to my friend Michael Orticelli that lives in Phoenix about this.

S: Yep. What does he know; was he there?

J: Couple weeks ago. No; We were just—he was actually listening to a local radio and he played—the way the conversation started was he basically recorded on my cell phone about five minutes of the broadcast and it was a total train wreck. These people were talking about the dumbest crap; like, they were switching psuedosciences left and right. You know, they're talking about the UFOs and then they were going into homeopathy; they were going all over the board.

E: Birds of a feather.

J: "You just gotta believe"-type talk, you know?

S: Yeah, yeah.

J: The last thing he said that we were talking about, and this is the one point I want to make, was that there's absolutely no physical evidence. The only thing that they have on this case is some footage. But these people are claiming all of these facts about it, and there's no way to corroborate any of the claims that they're making.

S: Yeah. But actually, Jay, we have a lot more, because we know exactly what these things were, right? At the time, the Air Force was running a training mission, and they dropped a number of flares at that place and time. The flares are on little parachutes; they just float down slowly. And of course, they were in the formation of the jets that dropped them. And the video of the Phoenix Lights, of these lights, shows that they wink out, they disappear, as the flares drop below the mountain range that was right there. And in fact, if you superimpose a day-time picture over the night-time footage, you can see that the flares wink exactly when they drop behind the mountain. So, we have the Air Force testimony; it's absolutely consistent with the footage; it definitely proves that they were behind the mountain range. These were flares. There's really no question about this.

B: Yeah, Steve, even the pilot of one of the aircraft, Lt. Col. Ed Jones, said "yeah! It was me; I made the order."

J: "I pressed the button."

S: Right.

B: "I gave the order. Jettison... the flares." I mean, come on. This guy says—well, of course, he's part of the conspiracy, I assume.

S: Yeah; you have to just dismiss all this evidence as part of a conspiracy.

P: He could have been under hostile alien threat; you don't know, Bob.

E: This governor says it couldn't have been flares because it was too symmetrical.

B: No, he—he also said it's inexplicable.

E: Uh huh.

S: Inexplicable!

B: This little argument from—

P: Inexplicable?

R: Argument from ignorance, perhaps?

S: He made statements to the effect that, you know, "why hasn't the Air Force made any statements about this?" Because you're an idiot. Because they have.

P: (Chuckles)

S: They said exactly what these things were. So, you know, if you're not going to actually even know the facts of the case, then you're setting yourself up to just be embarrassed. Again, he's quoted as saying, "who knows where it came from? A lot of people saw it, and I saw it too." Well, we know where it came from, in this case. So this is explained, explicable; whatever.

P: (Chuckles)

S: Again, this is a good, classic case, in terms of the UFO believers going out of their way to squander their credibility and embarrass themselves.

J: Steve, you know what would be cool? If they did it again, just to show that... "Hey everybody, at 8 o'clock tonight, take a look out your window. We're going to duplicate the Lights over Phoenix. This is exactly how we did it."

S: Eh.

P: Eh, why bother.

S: Yeah, I think that would make it worse, because—and I can tell you what they would say: "Why would they go through all that trouble unless they were covering something up?"

B: Right.

S: That's what they would say.

B: But, the best evidence—

S: 'Cause they've said the same about other incidents. Whenever you try to actually do that, anything you do just proves the conspiracy. Right?

B: I gotta throw one good quote out here that the governor said. This one is pretty compelling. He said, "In your gut, you could tell it's otherworldly." I mean, that's all—what else do you need, you know? If your gut's telling you it's out of this world, then... done.

S: The other bit of UFO news in the last week was that the French government released a massive UFO database. Basically, their government's UFO files.

R: Their X Files.

P: Les Blue Book.

J: The French have a government?

P: (chuckles)

R: The French have a David Duchovny?

S: So, apparently, there's a hundred thousand documents on this database that they basically just opened up and it took about three hours for the server to crash because of everyone accessing it.

R: Or aliens accessing it. I guess; I don't know.

P: Also, it was French technology, so... you know.

R: French technology?

P: At least it didn't surrender.

R: I was about to say, "shouldn't you be saying it surrendered?" (mock laughter)

P: You're a little late on the joke, Rebecca, OK? Back up.

R: Uh, you're a little late on the joke; like, ten years late.

P: Excuse me.

R: It's dead. Stop beating the dead horse.

B: Did you guys hear—did you guys read about what was considered the most credible case in these files?

E: I did not.

J: Yeah, it was a "Lights over Phoenix", right?

E: Phoe-nix

R: French aliens?

J: OK, go ahead, Bob. What was it?

B: Well, just briefly, the most credible case, apparently, was this story from a 13-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl that saw these four small black beings, 47 inches tall, kind of like floating through the air, going through the ship and stuff. And then, of course, they ran home crying to the mommy and daddy, saying what happened. So when the police got there, they found a sulfurous odor and dried grass at the reported place where this sphere took off. Now that is the most credible evidence after how many entries are in this database? 1,600? 16,000 was it?

S: 1,600; yeah.

B: That's the best? That's the crème de la crème right there? Sulfur and dried grass?

E: Smoking gun.

B: OK...

E: Has our country opened themselves up to a whole bunch of documents and stuff? I think we did some kind of recent purging of UFO...

S: They... there was Project Blue Book, which—

E: Yeah, there was that.

S: They made that public, right?

(others agreeing)

S: It's not in an on-line database, which I think is—what this is the first of. Yeah. They've unclassified or declassified a lot of the UFO files as well.

Houdini to be Exhumed (9:14)[edit]


Buddha Boy Returns (12:06)[edit]

  • Wants to be buried alive.

Questions and E-mails[edit]

PETA (16:04)[edit]

After listening to #87, i have two issues:
1. painting all animal right activests with a single brush
2. PETA wants all pets released

as for #1, i am a longtime vegan and animal rights activist, and i completely against the ALF and whatever organization that guy is from who wants to euthanize the bear cub. He speaks only for himself and maybe his organization. i can not find one mention of the name of his group. i am surprised you guys are falling into the same trap as MSM and reporting this as he represents all of the animal activists.

for #2, please site where you got that information from. all i can find was anti-PETA websites that make that claim and nothing to back it up. here is the FAQ i found on petas website, and look and answer #1:
it seems like they are more against puppy mills and cruelty to domesticated animals, and not the release of your pet dog or cat into the wild.

how many logical errors and falicies were created in this podcast?

i am writing this because i am a big fan of your show (yes, even Perry *can* be funny sometimes), but i was really dissapointed in the handling of this issue.

thank you,
Adam G.
Philadelphia, PA

GM Food (28:32)[edit]

S: The next email comes from Sean Safken from Denver, Colorado, and Sean writes:

I have been trying to do research into the big debate over the safety of GM foods. In my research I have failed to find many reliable sources that aren't motivated by political agendas. Are some of them safe? Most of them safe? Are there many that are confirmed dangerous? If you can think or talk about any studies that test food safety with GM crops, I would greatly appreciate it!

S: So G.M. is—

P: What's G.M.?

R/E: Genetically modified.

S: Genetically modified. Thanks, Perry. So, I think that there are people who are against the very concept of genetically modified food, and I don't think that there are any legitimate points on that side—end of the spectrum, to say that we shouldn't be genetically modifying food at all; it's all bad; it's all dangerous. Sometimes it's tied to, you know, mystical notions about what is natural or what is supposed to happen. And somewhat hysterical fears about monstrous crops or whatever. But those are really, you know, unfounded. There are—and actions are—there's already a lot of genetically modified food in the food chain—in the food supply. You know, so you've probably eaten genetically modified food. That means if... scientists tweak one gene to slightly alter one protein in a crop, that's technically genetically modified food. And—

B: Since 1993, people have been eating G.M. foods.

S: Yeah. Absolutely. And if you think about it—

B: In the United States.

S: And actually—and at the most minimalist and benign level, genetic modification, or G.M. foods, is really no different than cultivation that's been happening for thousands of years; you know—

R: Right; we've been doing it; just, it takes a long time and it's not very... it's variable.

S: Yeah. I mean, none of the foods that we eat today evolved in nature. You know, most of the foods—

R: Right; look at the banana...

S: Yeah, right! (laughs)

R: We would never have the banana, which is the atheists' nightmare, if you'll recall from Kirk Cameron's video.[1]

B: (Laughs)

R: Because God designed it, apparently.

E: Artificial selection.

R: But man designed the banana and...

S/B: Corn!

B: How about corn?

S: Wheat.

J: Garlic.

E: So many things.

S: Basically, all cultivated domesticated crops.

B: Twinkies!

S: All domesticated animals; you know, cows and pigs and chickens.

E: Cows.

J: Gummi Bears!

R: I see parallels between the G.M. controversy and herbal remedies, where on the one hand, you've got herbal remedies, which are the supposedly natural and good thing, when in fact, they're just... you know, they're not tested well and they might have some good properties, but we can refine them and we can make them better and we can turn them into medicine, and then that's supposedly what makes them bad in the eyes of the alternative crowd.

S: It's the naturalistic fallacy, basically.

R: And yeah, it's the same thing here, where we're just speeding things up a bit and perfecting what we can do with nature and that, apparently, turns it evil.

S: Yeah.

J: Hey, do we know what, for example, a pig was before we morphed it into a pig.

R: It was a chicken.

S: (Chuckles)

R: Little-known fact.

S: There were pigs that occurred in nature; they were just a little bit different than the pigs that we have.

R: They're called wild pigs. They're still there.

S: They are. There are wild pigs; boars, et cetera. There are legitimate safety concerns to some genetic modification of some crops. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis; you really can't talk about genetically modified as a group, 'cause some are completely safe and benign and others are very experimental. When you get to the real experimental end of the spectrum, then we're, like, inserting new genes into plants to give them some property; make them more resistant to pesticides, or to pests—

R: To glow in the dark.

S: Yeah, whatever. (chuckles) I mean, you could actually do really funky stuff for research. But to give them properties that they probably—you would not develop on their own. The risk is that because of the way that some plants reproduce, they get pollinated, et cetera; those new genes could actually wind up into wild species. So, theoretically, we could insert a gene that would make a plant—a crop—very hardy and resistant and that gene could wind up in some weed, which could then grow out of control, you know. So we basically—

J: Super-weed.

S: —unleash this thing into the wild. So that's a legitimate—

R: Super-weed. That doesn't sound too bad.

J: Yeah. Of course.

P/R: (Laughs)

S: It's a legitimate concern.

P: Sounds like a profitable crop.

R: Sorry; just inserting my resident hippie comment. Go on.

J: Steve, that would be like bringing a plant that's indigenous to another part of the world—bring it to a—bring it to a different—

R: Yeah, it'd be bunnies in Australia.

S: Yes. We've actually—You're right, Jay; that's like an invasive species that is—because we've—people do that all the time; buy trees from China and they plant them and suddenly they're all over the place. It's the same kind of thing, but this is more of invasive genes than invasive species. So again, this is a perfectly legitimate concern. There's evidence that this can happen and even... more widespread than we originally thought. Originally they said, "as long as we have a buffer around the crop then this won't happen", and there have been... there's evidence to suggest that it actually can happen, even given the current safeguards that are in place. But you know, this is all an evolving scientific discipline and the people who are involved with this are certainly not interested in spreading unwanted genes throughout wild species. I think that there's a lot of research being done that—the safety precautions that are being taken are pretty significant. And I think that we just need to let it progress. Let the scientists do their job; make sure that it's monitored; that we are being—erring on the side of safety so that untoward consequences do not occur. I don't think we should shut down genetically modified crop research. This has the potential benefit from this is huge. So as long as we proceed carefully, I think that it's fine. And again, the end result could be crops that are safer, more healthful, better for us.

J: I mean, you know, within 50 years, we're going to be genetically altering—

S: Ourselves.

J: Our babies; ourselves; I know. It's funny that people... I don't know; I look at it like, "yeah, of course they're doing that"—

S: One controversy at a time.

P: Technology will be fought every step of the way.

S: Some steps more than others, though.

P: Yeah.

Satanic Barcode (35:13)[edit]

Hi Guys,

Love the podcast, have been listening for a few months now and I am catching up with all the older episodes too, it help me keep sane at work in my mind numbing boring job, the quality to information is first rate plus the humour between the rouges is ace too!

I have a 'believer' friend at work who has been telling me all sorts of stories about conspiracies and so on, and when I heard you out line the classic red flags and ploys they employ you are describing this chap, amazing!

But one ting has got me wondering, he explained about the brackets on bar-codes and the middle and end brackets are 6 and there are 3 of them, you guessed 666! But I have wondered why this is as a bar code used 1 to 10 and logically the centre weighted number should be 5? However I do suspect there is a reason for this and I just don't know it yet, maybe you could throw some light on this subject?

Did you get the Nikon D80 in the end, as you mentioned you were shopping for one? I've just got into photography and have this model too, not captured any ghosts yet!

Kind Regards Damian 'Shropshire, England'

PS, a big thank you to all involved in the podcast.

Damian Dodd

Interview with David Seaman, DC (38:33)[edit]

  • Dr. Seaman is a scientific chiropractor and is critical of those in his profession who perpetuate chiropractic pseudoscience
    His column:
    His bio:

Science or Fiction (1:01:49)[edit]

Question #1: In order to help relieve China's chronic food supply problems, Chinese scientists have discovered how to process panda poop into an edible fiber rich wafer. Question #2: Scientists have discovered a pair of semi-identical twins who share 75% of their DNA. Question #3: Taiwanese officials have shut down a major highway in order to make way for a butterfly migration.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:09:56)[edit]

This Week's Puzzle

Take a rose
Place it in lime
The outcome is usually death

I am mired by what Doctor Griffin would say
A dimmer version of a baby's last breath

What am I describing?

Last Week's Puzzle

Between us, if I raise my goblet to you, and open my heart, on the grounds of conjecture, what psuedoscientific act am I performing?

Answer: Tea leaf reading - tesiography
Winner: Cosmic Vagabond

Quote of the Week (1:11:49)[edit]

'Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.'-Andre Gide, French author and critic (1869-1951).

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


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