SGU Episode 880
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|SGU Episode 880|
|May 21st 2022|
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|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
This image is a testament to what we can accomplish, when as a global research community, we bring our brightest minds together to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Language, continents, and even the galaxy can't stand in the way of what humanity can accomplish when we come together for the greater good of all.
Intro, "Blood Moon", Eclipse 2024, Door on Mars
Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, May 18th 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening folks!
S: How is everyone? So who saw─
C: Did not wait for the response at all.
J: How is everyone? Hey move on to what I wanna talk about.
S: So who saw the lunar eclipse?
B: I don't wanna talk about it.
J: What do you mean by lunar Steve?
C: I saw everyone's pictures of it.
S: The blood moon.
S: Blood moon. How was it Evan?
E: It was great. It looked awesome. Now the clouds came in soon after it actually went into full eclipse so I only got a couple minutes of being able to see it in its totality. But it was great. The thing I love about lunar eclipses is that it looks it has this fake look to it. It's it's almost like it's a prop up in the sky.
S: Special effect.
E: Right. There's something wrong. It's not it looks artificial in some way. And the other another thing I like about it is that you can see the stars right up very close to the Moon the background. Where usually on a full moon you get all washed out. You can't see any stars any practically anywhere near the Moon. But here you could see every last little star that was poking out and around the Moon. It was very very cool.
B: You know Evan I'm real happy you enjoyed it because for me what happened is what always happens.
C: Oh no.
B: I go outside. Here we go. I'm excited. Clouds everywhere. Can't see anything because something interesting was happening in the sky and therefore I can't see it.
E: I don't know why you have such a string of bad luck.
B: The string is years─
J: It's years Bob, it's been over a decade.
B: ─years and years right it's been nuts.
E: Would you call it a cosmic string?
S: It started with the worst viewing of Hayley's comet in 2000 years.
B: Yeah that was a cosmic slap in the face. Yep it was. That was wow thanks for reminding me Steve that was a major disappointment.
E: Was that 1986?
B: That was pathetic. Not only was it crazy far away.
S: We were old enough that we knew we weren't going to make the next one, you know what I mean?
B: Oh yeah that ship has sailed.
E: 78-79 years later right?
B: We're gonna be way dead.
E: What about Hale–Bopp we all saw Hale–Bopp because that was in the sky for several days.
B: Yeah that was yeah I remember that.
S: We've actually seen few comets but nothing special you need binoculars you know or whatever.
B: Yeah the naked eye ones are always great but I want naked eyes daytime. That's what I want. Make it a comment or even better a supernova.
S: See Bob that's your problem is that your standards are too high. It's not that the cosmos starts conspiring against you so you're just too picky.
B: Too picky.
C: He's so picky that he is smited.
B: Yeah I just wanted to see a lunar eclipse that's all. I'm not asking for too much. But I could dream oh yeah I could dream about a daytime supernova. Abso-effin-lutely.
C: When's the next solar?
S: 2024 right?
C: The one that's gonna be over Texas and Buffalo?
B: And I don't think you guys are going to want me to go but I think we're going to go anyway but I think we should go to Texas.
E: We're going to Texas.
C: Come to Texas. Come hang out meet my family and we we'll go to all my favorite restaurants and we'll it'd be so fun.
E: I'm so there.
B: Guys seriously man we got it's a couple years now we gotta like start talking about this.
J: Yeah I'm in let's just make it.
J: Steve we were talking about having an SGU event. like a viewing event.
C: That would be fun.
J: Do a podcast make it make it like a two-day thing or something.
B: And I think two years I think we'll be hopefully between variants at that point. (laughter)
S: We'll be on to the next pandemic. A completely different virus.
B: Oh geez.
S: In two years. Don't worry about it.
B: The mouse door?
S: The pareidolia on Mars?
E: Oh gosh.
E: Yeah they took images and like so many other things misidentified on Mars. This particular picture looks like sort of a doorway etched into the side of a rock.
J: It's gotta be.
C: I mean it does look. I mean to be fair really does look like a doorway.
S: How are the martians going to get into their underground bunker?
S: They need I mean there's a door cut into the side of the stone hill or whatever that is.
E: I mean yeah it's rectangular in shape we're not placing it on...
S: Sort of. On of the pearls in medicine is that there are no straight lines in nature. It's like when you're reading an X-ray there's nothing natural in the body should be a perfectly straight line. So you know if you're seeing that you're seeing something artificial. So it's just it's sort of the same thing but it's not exactly true because there are like cleavage planes and things sure could be relatively straight. Here it's not straight. These things are naturally look closely like they're a little curved or there's a jag or a doodad that looks like stone. Looks like a natural stone formation.
B: And if you look at the doorway as a gestalt in the geography of that area it makes perfect sense of what's happening.
C: Yeah you just have to kind of like zoom out.
B: Right it's not anomalous it's not like what the hell. It's just like yep. This makes sense right there.
C: Yeah and there's some great pictures online where it's like it shows it in that really perfectly cropped shot and then they zoom out and you're like oh it's just like a weird hole in the rock.
E: And of course everything is human size, right? That's a six and a half foot doorway.
J: Of course! Yes!
E: Because I'm a human and that's what it would be for me. No actually it's quite smaller than that.
S: Less than three feet.
S: I didn't really realize martians were so small but it's always just it's just pareidolia. There's people pouring over all the NASA photos and looking for anomalies basically.
B: And yes and sometimes it's blob squash effect as well. Like look at that thing it look kind of looks like this until you get close up like oh not at all.
S: Like the Bigfoot on Mars which was like sideways and teeny. You rotate it and don't don't tell people what the scale is and because it's reminiscent of the silhouette of Bigfoot. It would be amazing if there was nothing like that online. You know what I mean? Like that would be that would be remarkable.
E: That would be remarkable.
Arizona Announcements (6:33)
S: All right so guys our next event coming up. I want to talk about this. Is Arizona we are going to be in Phoenix on July 14th that's a Thursday, July 14th. We're gonna be doing a private show plus. This is a new thing that we're doing. It's basically an expanded and extended private show. We record a podcast like we've been doing for a long time. These are always super fun we do get a little bit off the rails and have bits that are only for the live audience. We're going to expand it by at least an hour. Like there's going to be three hours of content where we're doing songs and games and interactive stuff. But also we'll spend as much time as we can there to interact with everybody. Sign books, take pictures, just chat and hang out. We won't be rushed. We basically like rent the room for the evening or the half day or whatever. So that'll be Thursday night. Then Friday we have, Friday evening in Phoenix we have an extravaganza. Then we go to Tucson for a private show in the afternoon extravaganza in the evening. So listen we if you're thinking of going we are asking you to get your tickets now because we need to plan this event. We really need to know what the ticket count is going to be for all of these events. So these are always super fun. We really enjoy going but we strongly encourage you to get your tickets now. We really appreciate that. Jay tell them how to do that.
J: Hello? (laughter) Steve they can go to theskepticsguide.org/events and you will see all four shows right there listed in front of you and the information is there as well.
S: Right. And don't forget for the extravaganzas there are also VIP tickets where you get preferred seating and you also get to hang out with us if you again want that picture or sign a book or ask us questions or whatever there's time built in for that as well. But these are completely distinct from the private show events which are much more elaborate.
C: You also get swag, VIP swag.
S: You also get the special VIP swag.
S: All right, guys, let's go on with our news items.
Health Benefits of Clean Energy (8:42)
S: So guys let me ask you a question. That's why this is like a thought experiment. Imagine if there was something about how we run our society where if we altered that thing it would save fifth, this is the United States alone, although these numbers would be similar but proportional to other like developed nations. But in the US alone it would save 50 000 lives every year. And would save would save society 600 billion dollars every year. Think about that we could save 50 000 lives and 600 billion dollars every year. Those 600 billion dollars are in direct health care costs and lost productivity which is basically how all medical issues are measured in terms of their societal costs. What's the direct health care costs and then lost productivity from being out from work, dying early whatever it is. So how much do you think it would be worth investing every year to prevent that from happening? I mean think about that.
J: Well we would say at least half of what would be saved?
S: I mean you would yeah at least half. So the 600 billion dollars is what's lost to society. How much of that will be lost to the government? Well the government pays for a lot of health care costs. Was it like 30-40% or something? And then they would also be losing all the taxes from from all the lost productivity. So I don't know exactly how that much would translate into but probably a 2-3 hundred billion a year of like revenue lost to the government. But then the economy would lose 600 billion. So that's per year. So you think usually we budget things over 10 years. Like we had the recent infrastructure bill was that 1.2 trillion over 10 years. So if you think half of that would be basically three trillion a decade. Three trillion dollars. That's three times the recent infrastructure package that was that was passed. And that would only be investing half in order to save this amount. Not to mention the 50 000 lives a year, you know? It's like even if you're looking at it just as a zero-sum money economics game it still would be worthwhile investment but also saving 50 000 premature deaths every single year.
B: Seems like a no-brainer.
S: Seems like a no-brainer, right?
E: Seems like it. What are we giving up in exchange?
S: So here's the thing. We're giving up nothing.
E: Oh that's great!
S: So let me tell you. So this people listening at home I know you guys know what I'm talking about. But people listening at home if you haven't guessed I'm talking about burning fossil fuel, right? This is a recent analysis where they just looked at the healthcare effects of burning fossil fuel.
B: What took so long?
S: Forget about... well this is not the first one. This has been done previously and they looked in particular at the particulate matter that gets released when you burn especially coal and gas and gasoline you know oil. Natural gas is much better much much better in terms of the particulate matter. It releases a small amount of particulate matter but not nearly as much. That's why you can burn it in your home right on your stove.
C: Yeah but it's still not great.
S: It's still not great. It's not great. But and for other for mainly for other reasons. But in terms of the health care costs I mean as I say like coal is worse than oil is worse than natural gas. But we still moving toward away from coal is like the no-brainer. That's the huge 90% thing we have to do as soon as possible. And to the point like would you would if you could get rid of all coal today and replace it with natural gas, would you? You'd have to say yes I mean you'd want to go to nuclear and renewables but if you could go to natural gas─
S: ─it would or fusion or whatever or matter antimatter whatever is available. But it would still be you can't deny that it would be a massive improvement from the health perspective and from other perspectives as well. But obviously the goal is to ultimately get completely away from fossil fuels. So yeah this analysis look at the healthcare process what they find this is in line with similar analyses. I also looked up because I know this we have talked about this before I think. There was many studies just looking at what about the climate change effects of burning fossil fuel. And the most recent analysis I could found that the United States would, again just just looking at the US, would gain three trillion dollars. The economy would grow by three trillion dollars and add one million jobs over the next 50 years if we rapidly decarbonize our industry. And this would also save an estimated 14.5 trillion dollars in mitigation costs just mitigation costs over the next 50 years. So that's another 290 billion a year. So we're getting close to a trillion dollars a year 900 billion or so a year for the cost of burning fossil fuel. And you could think of this as like this is the externalized cost that we are allowing the fossil fuel industry not to pay for. To just put that─
B: Giving them a free ride.
S: 900 billion a year that we're just going to put on the rest of society and we're going to kill 50 000 people a year.
C: Pretty much the amount of people that the United States loses every year on the roads from cars.
S: Yeah more like the average is like 30 something thousand. A little bit more same order magnitude.
C: Plus all (inaudible) they don't pay taxes just saying.
S: They get subsidies but and like they get they get direct subsidies and then they get indirect subsidies through allowing them to externalize the costs of using their product as directed. This is not like people are doing it wrong. Like if you do use gasoline as it's meant to be used this is an unavoidable consequence/. And it's not like people have that much of a choice. We're starting to get choices and it's mainly for people who are wealthy enough they have enough resources they have the privilege to have the choice. But for many people don't really have a choice. Like this is the infrastructure of our society. If you want to go to work or do whatever you are going to be burning fossil fuels just to go about your day. Like you can't really avoid it.
C: To be clear that is also a direct consequence of fossil fuel industry lobbying. Like there's a really and if you guys haven't seen it yet there's a three-parter on front line right now about big oil like the the cost of big oil and it like goes through the history. It basically compares it to the tobacco industry. Like what did they know and what were they saying to the public when they knew that.
S: It's the same people Cara. It's literally the same individual people who were running the PR campaign for the tobacco industry who then moved over to the fossil fuel industry.
B: Aren't they dead by now?
S: And so you think about it now there were legal cases where the legal system the justices decided that the tobacco industry needed to pay states for their health care costs that were incurred because of people using their product because they hid what they knew to be the healthcare risks of using their product. And it's just so it's just you could make the same case for the fossil fuel industry. You really can make the same case.
C: There is direct evidence in company documents especially they focus a lot on Exxon that several decades ago Exxon made a big push to become an alternative energy company and then they like backtracked. Like they we could have been in such a different place if they continued on that route.
S: They would make more money by pulling oil out of the ground.
S: So here but let's put this into some this is again we're just talking about healthcare costs. If of course if you include all of the climate change stuff it becomes much huger. Think about a couple of other layers as well. Now that because of the war in Ukraine and gasoline is going through the roof etc. There's been a lot of articles a lot of analyses about what what does energy security and independence really look like. Because even though we're produced, the US produces more oil more fossil fuels than we burn we don't set the price of oil. It's set by the world market and we're not the big player in that. We're not the people who actually decide. It's really the Middle East. The Saudis and whatnot. They can dial up and down the price of oil much better than American oil prices.
C: Because they're a larger supplier?
S: Yeah they're they just have they're holding the cards. They're just they because for various reasons they have the ability to turn it up and down a lot quicker a lot more than we do. And you know one authoritarian guy going on a war of aggression can dramatically affect our energy prices and our economy. We don't have energy, we don't have energy security or independence even though we are already producing more fossil fuel than we're burning. The only way to really get there is to not be dependent on fossil fuels. Not be dependent on energy that is mostly coming from dictators and authoritarians around the world in unstable countries not on democratic countries. So there's that. And then you can also think about the renewable economy is coming. Which side of this curve do we want to be on? Do we want to be on the leading edge or the back edge? Do we because if this if we don't manage this transition correctly we may go from being dependent on Saudi oil producers being dependent upon Chinese rare Earth producers, you know what I mean? Like they already we already allowed China to corner the market in cobalt. They bought up all the mines in Africa. And we were like asleep at the switch when that happened. It's like okay so now we are completely dependent on an another authoritarian government for our for the raw material for the batteries and solar panels and─
C: Ugh, getting depressed Steve.
S: ─magnets for wind turbines. I know so but it's not too late it's not too late. I mean it's but it's like we really have to this is a really should be a wake-up call. We really need to think all right not only do we need to invest trillions of dollars in over the next 30 years accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels as fast as possible. And we will make this money back many fold if we do that. It's a good investment. It's an infrastructure investment. We shouldn't think about it as an expense. Not only that but if we manage it properly we can get to true energy independence where we are not behold into supply lines controlled by authoritarians in other countries.
J: If only if something wasn't blocking us from doing this.
S: Y eah because we have a technology.
S: Or here's the other thing. But so when you talk about one other layer to this when you talk about global warming it's global and so what we do people say oh but if what if we bite the bullet and and invest money to change the economy. And take the short-term hit, which I don't think you even necessarily need to do but let's say that's what the way you're thinking, and China and India don't it'll have no effect. So why should we take the hit and not them? There's a sort of a point there and I think that yeah the everyone needs to do this. And our ability is limited to what we can control but of course it's not global warming's not black and white. Every thing that you know if we go to you know net zero by 2050 it will help a lot. Even if other people will still be better than if we didn't do that. Regardless of what other countries do. But here's the thing. When it comes to the health care costs most of the benefits are local they're not global. And it varies state by state. So California actually Cara is because of geography and population distribution and industry whatever there's all these variables. But the reduced healthcare costs of of transitioning away from fossil fuels 95% of those benefits would be would remain in California. So if California reduced their burning of fossil fuels they would maintain 95% of the benefits. The range goes from about 35% to 95%.
S: An average of about 60 or so percent. So like even in Connecticut we maintain about 60-70% of the benefits in Connecticut. So even on a state level it would still be cost effective.
B: That's encouraging a little bit.
S: Because states spend a lot. They spend a lot of money on the health care of their own citizens. So it actually makes sense at the state level to spend money. To reduce the burning of fossil fuel in your own state because you will reap the health care benefits. And again to the tune of 600 billion dollars a year. So I'm hoping that we amplify this information. The idea that it's not act globally, act locally think globally. It's like act locally and you'll benefit locally. You will reap the immediate benefits of your own investments. You don't have to depend on people halfway around the world doing the same thing or whatever.
C: But what this is going to take is politicians saying I'm more concerned about my constituents and about the future of our country than the payola that I'm getting directly from the fossil fuel industry.
S: Yeah and well the only thing the only way that will happen is if voters hold them accountable. That's really the only way that that works and the only way for that to work is if voters are informed. And that's why misinformation is so dangerous. You know dis and misinformation is so destructive to our democracy because it takes away the it takes away our power. It takes away the only mechanism that we have of holding our representatives accountable. And if you know if we're living in their fantasy world based upon their reality then we don't have a democracy really. That we're living in a mental dictatorship. Think about that. If you're swimming in total misinformation you're living in a mental dictatorship. Which is I mean what's worse than that? Your vote means nothing because you're voting based upon mis and disinformation. You don't have the information you need to make an informed vote. Functionally you are not living in a democracy if that's the case.
J: Steve if only there was a conference that was going to talk about misinformation. I mean.
J: What I'm saying is NECSS which is happening in August. necss.org we are having a conference specifically about misinformation.
S: Surviving the misinformation apocalypse. Yeah it's going to be all about these themes. We're going to have experts talking about misinformation and talking about specific topics about it generally. About it politically. It's going to be really I'm looking over the list of our the people that we're asking to be speakers. We can't list names yet until we get confirmations from everybody but it's like oh I want to hear that talk that's exciting. And of course our headliner David Copperfield. Bill Nye is going to be interviewing David Copperfield. That should be fun.
SIDS Study Hype (24:04)
S: Cara tell us about SIDS, what is that?
C: Yeah so I don't know if you guys have been following the news cycle but if you have you've probably seen a lot of articles hyping a new study that was published. And the hype is hyped. It's up there. So the study was published in eBioMedicine which is part of the Lancet. The publication date is June 1st. Isn't that weird? How is this published oh here we go open access online was published May 6th but it'll be in the June 1st edition. And the title is probably not one that anybody would well maybe those in the know would find interesting but of course the coverage is what has gotten most people excited. So the title is butyrylcholinesterase all one word butyrylcholinesterase is a potential biomarker for sudden infant death syndrome. And right there I mean you do start to get kind of you start to hear okay SID Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Something that I think we all kind of generally know about. We don't know much about. But the reason we don't know much about it is because there's not much to be known about it. We can talk about statistics we can talk about incidence rate but when we really talk about why SIDS happens why do suddenly infants die we still don't know. It's about 3 400 according to the CDC. It's about 3 400 babies each year who die unexpectedly and they actually call that sudden unexpected infant death. S-U-I-D. That's sort of the umbrella term for Sudden Unexpected Infant Death. And then SIDS is a is a portion of that. That's the unexplained portion. But we also know that infants do suddenly die because of accidental suffocation in their sleeping environment and for other other reasons. And we also know when we look at the incidence rates historically that there was a massive campaign in the 1980s-1990s to reduce SIDS. And that campaign was an educational campaign about safe sleeping practices. Having your your baby sleep on their back. They actually called it the Back to Sleep campaign. That was in the mid 90s was the Back to Sleep campaign. But many of these educational efforts started before that. Removing blankets, pillows, soft toys, bumpers from inside the crib so that we reduce the risk of suffocation. There did seem to be a decline after that but really what we now understand is that that decline was in babies who were dying of suffocation related you know accidental suffocation and strangulation. But SIDS itself that sort of unknown. We don't know why the babies were dying. The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that we can't explain by accidental suffocation. That number has maintained the same. It's really kind of held for quite a long time. And you know of course clearly parents are desperate to understand. Both parents of young infants who are afraid of this outcome and of course parents of of infants who sadly did die but whose deaths were labeled SIDS deaths. Here's the rub though. This article butyrylcholinesterase as a potential biomarker for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is interesting. And it's important. But it's been really really really overhyped. So what these researchers did is they looked at a very small sample. Only 67 unexpected deaths and they compared it to 10 gender match controls. The interesting thing that they did is they were able to look at blood that was taken soon after birth from all of these babies so this was prior to the death. And they compared the levels of butyrylcholinesterase. I mean they didn't look at that at random. They knew that there had been some let's say hypotheses circling that autonomic dysfunction. So the autonomic nervous system is the part, the branch of the nervous system that's responsible for things that we don't consciously do. So like breathe. Our heart beats. We digest food. We can't control that consciously. And so there's long been a hypothesis that maybe there's something wrong with these babies autonomic nervous system and that's why they're suddenly dying. Like something's going on in their brain or in their body that tells them not to breathe or not to have these core bodily functions that are necessary for life. And so they uh they were like okay butyrylcholinesterase is an enzyme that's within the cholinergic system which is part of the autonomic nervous system. This could be a good candidate. And so they looked and they they did find a difference. They found that the children who died of SIDS had lower levels of this marker than the children who didn't. But there were cri- it wasn't super clean. Like they all had some amount of it.
S: I think a good way to say that is that they overlapped, right?
C: Yeah. I was gonna say there was some crossover effect but that means something different. Yeah overlapped is a good word.
S: Yeah so and that means that it could not really be used as a clinical marker. Clinically.
C: At least not as it's not based on the evidence that we have right now.
S: Right yeah because yeah because whatever level you have you could be either at risk of SIDS or not at risk for SIDS.
C: There's too much of that variability right in the middle. And so it could explain some cases of SIDS for example but not all. It could be a good place to continue with the research. Let's collect more data. Let's start to understand exactly what's going on. But basically what most experts really started to say quite vocally after this article got so much press coverage. And so much sort of unskeptical press coverage of look we finally figured out what causes SIDS now we're gonna have a treatment for it. Or now we're gonna be able to screen for it which is like way overblown. We're nowhere near that. Is that unfortunately it's pretty well I don't wanna say understood right now but it's pretty well accepted that SIDS is not one thing. And it's a multi-factorial issue. There are probably multiple causes for this.
S: It's a garbage can diagnosis.
C: Yeah it's a catch-all diagnosis for all the stuff we can't really explain yet. And it's kind of like when we saw the drop in cases that wasn't really a drop in cases a couple decades ago. It's because we started to reclassify those deaths as strangulation and suffocation deaths. We now know that that percentage of SIDS deaths weren't SIDS. They were strangulation and suffocation.
S: Which we did prevent.
C: Which we did prevent. Which was great but we still can't prevent these remaining SIDS stuff because we don't know what they are. So I'm not saying that this article isn't incredibly important. I'm not saying it's not incredibly exciting. But it's not the end-all. And very often the coverage around it has been written like it's the end-all. Like we finally know what causes SIDS and so we're going to be able to develop screens and treatments for it. And that's just simply not the case. To the extent that an organization called First Candle which is an advocacy group to protect families or support families and try and understand SIDS better wrote a statement, a press statement that basically said this week this study was published and quote:"While this is encouraging, the headlines that are coming out are deeply problematic. This is a potential biomarker that might be used in the future to design a test (perhaps at newborn screening) to identify babies that might be vulnerable. This is only one piece of a very big puzzle. Researchers believe that SIDS has more than one origin. This is progress, and for that we should be optimistic, but it’s not the entire answer." Which I think is a very measured reaction because the worry here is false hope. It's excitement. It's these families who are deeply invested in trying to understand this.
S: And Cara and wait for the crack remedies to treat this, right?
C: Exactly. Because we already know that anytime we have something in healthcare that's not well understood it just opens the door for pseudoscience. And so there I mean if you just google like vaccines and SIDS there is so much quackery online trying to pin Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on early childhood vaccinations. The good news is if you google it on Science-Based Medicine or Quackwatch or many sites that work to debunk these kinds of claims. There's a lot of good explanations for why the arguments are inappropriate and do not kind of hold up to scrutiny. But it's just another example that we often see where the sort of pseudoscientific quack/charlatan/ snake oil approach that sort of community preys on vulnerable parents who are grieving.
C: And it's horrifying.
S: Yeah and again to put things into perspective like it's a potential biomarker. So first of all we have to confirm that it's an actual biomarker. Then we have to see if it actually means anything. It may just be a downstream effect that has nothing to do with mechanism it may not─
C: It could have been a sampling issue.
S: ─it could be wrong yeah.
C: So few people in that study.
S: Even if it's real it could really tell us nothing. I mean I've must have there are hundreds of potential biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease. None of them have led to a test or a treatment or anything. It's because it's complicated. It's biologically complicated. And the reporting around this was beyond hype. It was grossly irresponsible too.
C: It really was.
S: Like to the point of lying. Like it's like that's not even true. It's not that it's overstated what you're saying is not even true. And then people then distrust scientists. Oh those scientists said they've cured SIDS 10 years ago what happened? No they never said that. Some reporter lied to you about what the science said. And that's why you were led to that false belief.
C: And the truth is it's an egregious problem that happens like there are multiple reasons that it gets this bad. It's like first the article itself doesn't do as good a job of using balanced language and hedging. Second the press release around the article is a little bit hyped. So then once you have a hyped press release then you've got the journalists who are uncritically looking at this hyped press release. Who are taking it to an even farther place and then ultimately you end up like you said with coverage that says cause of SIDS found treatment on the way.
S: Yeah, exactly.
C: And it's like what!? You have to take so many steps back. The scientists who are talking about their research can do a better job of being measured. The press release and PIOs the Public Information Officers at the different universities and hospitals can do a better job of being balanced and hedging. And of course science journalists need to do a better job. And I mean we all have to work together to kind of be careful around this hype because hype can have direct consequences that are actually really really really dangerous for the public. It can backfire and it can make it so that the public just doesn't trust us anymore.
Growing Plants In Lunar Soil (36:32)
S: All right let's go to some good news. Jay tell us about growing plants on the Moon.
J: So during the Apollo Moon missions, this was years ago Steve, okay? (laughter) NASA astronauts brought back 382 kilograms or 842 pounds of lunar rock dust. Basically anything that they can get their hands on. And since then many experiments have been done to lunar regolith. Determining what is it made out of and how can we use it. Overall like what is this good for? Because when people go to the Moon there's a lot of it lying around. Researchers at the University of Florida asked NASA for lunar regolith for years and finally they were given 12 grams. Only 12 grams but they put them to good use. So those 12 grams of regolith came from three different Apollo missions that was Apollo 11 12 and 17. And they tried to go grow plants in lunar regolith and I'm very happy to tell everybody here that they were successful. They were able to grow plants. They grew a plant called Arabidopsis thaliana which is a small flowering plant native to Eurasia and Africa. I t's related to cruciferous vegetables. They chose the plant because its entire genome happens to have been sequenced. This allows biologists to analyze what's going on inside the plants on a molecular level. And this will make sense in a minute when I tell you what's going on. So going into this experiment the researchers wanted to answer two questions. Can plants grow in lunar regolith and if plants can be grown on the Moon how could that help people who are staying on the Moon for an extended amount of time. This information is so important that the plant research will continue all the way up to and during when people are living on the Moon. So they will be continuing to do this research for a very long time. Lunar regolith is so rare.
S: How rare is it? (laughter)
J: This material─
C: How important is it?
J: It's important. That they only used a gram of it for each plant. That's how little they were trying to use.
E: Twelve plants, that's it.
J: The researchers planted the seed in the regolith and they watered it with nutrient solution every day. Two days after they planted the seeds they sprouted. Which that was a moment to celebrate because who knew what was going to happen, you know? After six days they noticed that the lunar regulus plants were not as healthy as the control group of plants that were growing in volcanic ash which is a simulation lunar soil. And they had another group that were planted in soil from Earth but they they picked soil that was from harsher climates. The lunar plants were also growing slower and had shorter roots with a few of them having smaller leaves. There was different pigmentation in some of these. So clearly things weren't 100% right. After 20 days the researchers harvested the plants before they flowered and then they analyzed the proteins found inside the lunar soil plants. Now this is when them knowing the genome of this particular plant comes into play. They found patterns of genes that were showing signs of stress. The plants were reacting to the more severe environment of the lunar soil. Which again not that hard to predict but it was important that they could specify exactly what was going on. In fact among the samples that came from the Moon, and this is my favorite part─
B: Say it.
J: ─the Apollo 11 samples did not grow as well as the other two Moon regular samples from the other missions which were taken from other locations. They found that the lunar soil was different depending on where it came from. Which I found to be really shocking. I didn't realize that the lunar soil was going to have some significant differences in it depending on where you get it from. So that they call the lunar soil mature if it was exposed to solar wind. This mature soil did not grow plants as well. The other two locations had better soil for growing seemingly because they were not as exposed to solar wind. Now this is an important finding because when astronauts do one day grow plants on the Moon, what are they gonna do? They're gonna use lunar soil that has already been proven to grow healthier plants which is probably soil that hasn't been exposed to the solar winds.
S: Or they'll grow them hydroponically.
J: Or maybe a half dozen other ways Steve, right? There's lots of other things that could come into play here. The research results of course solicited even more questions because when you successfully conduct a study then you should end up with more questions that need to be answered after you do it. So the researchers want to know if there's anything in the lunar soil that's causing the stress to the plants. Or maybe there are things missing from the soil, which we already know that there are, but what are those things and how much of an effect are those missing things having on the plants. We already know soil is very different on the Moon compared to Earth. Also maybe different plants would fare better in lunar soil than others. They may need to cultivate plants so they have certain properties that would handle the Moon terrain better. Or we genetically engineer plants to grow on the Moon. Which was the very first thing I thought about when they I read the study and they said that they were not having the plants grow as much as they'd like to. There's no doubt that plants are going to play an astonishingly critical role in our ability to have people live on the Moon and eventually to Mars. Now we recently talked about this guys, remember how plants can be engineered to produce certain chemicals? Which means that they could be drug factories if we want them to. Plants also can create oxygen. They can remove CO2 from the environment. They can also be eaten. These are very useful things.
C: I really like how you say that word Jay.
E: Not on the Moon.
J: How do you say it?
J: Oh no I don't pronounce T's.
C: Love it.
S: That's for suckers.
B: Too much word.
J: That's my Connecticut accent at play.
C: I love it.
J: And they're delicious. As you know it costs a lot of money to bring anything into space. Bob loves to say this every time something comes up it costs so much money so this is it's really expensive to get things into low Earth orbit. It's even more expensive to get things to the Moon. I said that like William Shatner a little bit. It's even more expensive. This is why research is being done to find out what we can use that's already on the Moon. We want to go there and use whatever we can that's there to help us. NASA is exploring the Moon's south pole hoping to find water and that would be freaking amazing if they really could squeeze water out out of the regolith somehow. If they do this it can save an incredible amount of money that would have that it would have cost to bring water to the Moon. Also the Moon is the first step in a much larger endeavor to have people living in space on the Moon and on Mars. Pretty much permanently. Once we once we pass a certain point there's always going to be people out there that are living in on these different, in these different places. If we can successfully harvest resources from the Moon. Like water, oxygen, food and the big one - fuel. This will make all of our efforts a lot easier. And my last thought here is research like this is essential as we move into the time when people will be living on the Moon and Mars and someday plants are going to serve as a huge food source for those people that live off planet. Steve said in his blog which I liked that it's not just all of these mechanical things that we would be doing and these utilitarian things but being around plants also is good for your mind.
C: Yeah it is.
J: Gives you peace of mind.
C: But what's interesting is that studies show that the plants don't have to be real.
J: Of course it's the aesthetic that is important. That's hardwired in there.
E: Do they even have to be plants then? Do they can be pictures of plants?
J: Well how about VR Ev? You know what I mean? It could be.
E: Yeah just put on your goggles and run in the forest.
C: Yeah that would probably help.
J: But in case anybody out there is going why are they spending all this money blah blah blah. Let me give you another motivator here. Now a lot of NASA accomplishments and technology get passed on to the private sector and benefit people. Duct tape you know what I mean? What would you do without it? I don't know. But the the thing here is if they figure out better ways to grow food or to help with crop density and all of the things that they'll learn. All of this can apply to the Earth. And let's face it you know our population is exploding. It's a good thing for us to spend money and time into figuring out better ways to grow agriculture essentially, right?
S: Yeah yeah, right. Would this apply to extreme environments on Earth? We don't know. That's why it's research. But and again well I'm serious that I think hydroponics are probably going to be the primary way that we grow plants off Earth. But knowing that having as an option growing in martian soil or lunar soil is interesting. And there may be plants or applications for which that's necessary. Hydroponics aren't good for everything. It's hard to grow corn hydroponically.
J: Steve you know one thing they didn't mention of course they couldn't do this but like low gravity could have a major effect. I was also thinking there might be at some point in the future. People might be walking around soil on the Moon. That's in some type of enclosure. That begins to look a lot more like Earth soil.
S: Yeah of course. So once you grow plants in it over and over again that soil gets enriched by the organic matter in the plants themselves etc. And or there may be some way to treat the soil you know the regolith to make it into more amenable soil for plants. They were just using straight, I was surprised, they just used straight lunar soil. Like just straight lunar regolith.
E: Well they had to see I mean exactly what you're working with in a raw [inaudible].
S: Yeah yeah. As a proof of principle. Obviously they put water and nutrients in it.
B: Two big things.
S: Yeah they had to I mean that's─
E: Yeah to spur it on to grow.
S: ─obviously they needed that. But I mean but it was the but the it was really more about they weren't expecting the regolith to feed the plants it was because they─
E: It's not a source of nitrogen.
S: ─they just wanted to make sure it wasn't going to kill the plants or keep them from germinating in the first place. They were excited just that they germinated. Because they didn't know that was going to even happen. Definitely interesting. Where exactly it will lead is is too early to say. But it was encouraging and I like we've been keeping track of NASA's research. They're doing a lot of research meant specifically to support having a permanent presence on the Moon and eventually on Mars.
B: And Jay real quick. You mentioned water on the Moon. Just saw earlier today about this theory that there may be even more you know frozen you know ice water on the Moon than we thought released from volcanic eruptions really a long time ago when the maria were created. They think five to ten meters below the surface there could be like thick sheets of ice thicker than we would think. So that's─
S: That would be amazing.
B: ─so yeah there's so many. I think there's going to be a lot of water there because this is so many different ways we think it's already there that and it's been detected. It doesn't matter how much.
S: And water may be the biggest single resource to have locally on the Moon.
B: Hydrogen, oxygen.
S: Yeah, hydrogen, oxygen. You get your you get your not only water─
B: Drink, breathe and fuel.
S: ─if you need water you can get to grow grow your food you can make fuel, you can make oxygen. You could make manufactured drugs and other things like that.
S: Water. Yeah water is it absolutely.
Milky Way Black Hole (48:01)
S: All right Bob tell it this has been going around. Even on John Oliver he made mention of this. We got a good picture of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
B: Yes. Our very own black hole, as Steve said, the center of the Milky Way called Sagittarius A* now has a face and we need to talk about it. And we've known something as weird as at the center of the Milky Way. 26 000 light years away for a long time. The first hint what had to be I would think the blasts of radio waves that were detected from a tiny source like what's going on, where's all where's that coming from and how could such a tiny source produce that? And then 40 years ago astronomers were mapping the actual motion of stars near the galactic center. Some of them moving at one-third the speed of light around an unseen object. Oh what could it be? So yeah little doubt really that there was a black hole with a mass of about four million suns. Sagittarius A* is about 26 million kilometers or 16 million miles in diameter. So this is just an amazing thing. So but you may remember three years ago the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. The researchers there using a global network of eight radio dishes. They revealed the very first picture of a supermassive black hole. Now this was 50 million light years away in the M87 galaxy. It's an astonishing 6.5 billion solar masses. A gargantuan. Now the system that they used what it does actually is determine how much light is bent due to gravity. And that visual bending is apparently the official confirmation that a black hole exists there. Like that you need that official you got to see it. You got to see that bending. Because it's a compact source of gravity throwing stars around. And one-third the speed of light is not enough for confirmation I guess. You got to like see the light bend. Which is because we always saw that as weird. Like wait you're it's throwing stars around at one third the speed of light based on this tiny volume of space. Well of course that should be confirmation enough. That's my point. All right so to continue. So May 12th, this past May 12th, 2022 the same cool team of astronomers unveiled the severe bending of more light. It's the second image of a black hole. Our wonderful if relatively small supermassive black hole at only seemingly paltry four million solar masses Sagittarius A*. So now google if you google the image right now. And if you can - do it. Google the image right now. What you'll see is a dark central area that has a glowing ring of light around it. And also three almost equidistant bead like areas glowing even more intensely. The ring itself that little that doughnut ring of glowing light. That's the glowing gas that's in orbit. The beads are gas as well but they're just hotter and glowing more brightly. And they actually may drop into the black hole at some point. Also by the way some of that glow that you're seeing is coming from behind the black hole which of course we can see because of our friend gravitational lensing. In case you didn't know it's not a clear shot from here to the center of the Milky Way. You just can't look with anything and say there it is. Not in visible light. It's very dusty and so don't even think about looking for details in visible light. It's absorbed to an amazingly huge extent. Like one in 10 billion photons of visible light can actually get out. Radio waves are the radiation of choice here because it's longer wavelengths and it penetrates much better because of that. And in fact the light ring that you may be seeing on your monitor right now that you're seeing in visible light was constructed from radio waves. Now the creation of the image itself is interesting story. So we're talking about those the EHT. The Event Horizon Telescope the eight radio telescopes that are across the globe. Apparently the observations filled up so many hard drives that, these were nightly observations, they filled up so many hard drives that they had to be shipped to the final destination for processing instead of just uploading. Because like it would break the internet or something. It was just way too much data to upload. And who knows the old school term for that?
E: What? Breaking the internet?
B: No I mean physically bringing the data yourself in hand essentially.
S: Oh! Sneakernet.
B: Sneakernet yes good Steve. (laughter)
E: Oh no.
B: Sneakernet, yes that is the term.
E: What? That's a term?
B: Oh yeah well nobody really says it much.
S: It's like snail mail, right? It's the same.
B: Exactly, same idea. Okay so still though even with this data. Putting the data together is was is not like your camera putting together an image of a picture that it takes. Very very different because there's tons of uncertainty going on here. I mean this thing is far away it's very hard to see. There's lots of problems with getting a full picture here. And this is true more so for Sagittarius A* than M87 which weans that you could take all that data and create an image of the black hole that is absolutely justified based on the observation and the math and physics. Like yes this image makes sense. The problem is that you could also literally create tens of thousands of other images. Each a little bit different but equally justified based on the observations and the math and the physics. The differences though boil down to what? Educated guess is made because of incomplete data. The data is not complete so the image you can't come up with. This is exactly the image of what we're looking at because of all that incompleteness. So the solution has been described in various ways. How did they get around this? Some people described it as combining all those pictures into one most accurate image. Essentially taking tens of thousands of images putting them all together and forming the final image out of that. That's one way to look at it. The American Physical Society described the process as narrowing down those guesses to recover the most likely underlying structure of Sagittarius A*. That's how they put it. Princeton black hole theorist Alex Lupsasca had my favorite description of the process of creating this final image he described it as: "a probability distribution over many possible images compatible with the data". I really like that one as well. So and then another quote from him was "This breakthrough pushes the boundaries of our present technology and opens the door to future observations with even more exquisite precision, both from the ground and eventually from space." Which would be cool. So there you have it. The image of our very own massive, supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Sagittarius A*. Congratulations to the astronomers who put in a ton of work. This one this image was much more difficult than M87 for various reasons. One being is that it's so small that the gas is orbiting so fast that once when you observe it when you have one observing session, a session of the of our black hole the gas like pretty much did an entire orbit. So basically you're taking these blurry pictures. So yes their algorithms had to be fine-tuned over many years to try to get it so that they can infer what this object looks like. So I'll, definitely go online check it out it's beautiful and it's it's amazing to think that we're essentially taking a direct image of a black hole.
S: Yeah, totally cool.
B: Yeah I love it.
Gullible Acupuncture Article (55:23)
S: All right Evan tell us about this acupuncture article in Time.
E: Yeah Time magazine. I think we're all familiar with Time magazine.
S: Oh yeah.
B: Hard copy is that?
E: Yeah right. Way back when. Apparently it is. They still have Time person of the year and people pay attention to that. They have a health and medicine section of Time magazine and here's a headline from the most recent one: "Why Acupuncture Is Going Mainstream in Medicine" written by columnist Elizabeth Millard. She begins her article explaining the reasons why acupuncture remains prevalent among the choices of treatment for people's wellness. She says a blend of anecdotal studies, researched back results and growing level of openness from the medical community are the reasons why. And then she cites a 2021 World Health Organization report which claims that acupuncture is the most widely used traditional medicine practice globally and it's gaining traction in the United S8tates. Maybe you should say right off the bat for clarity and the nature of the WHO when it comes to unscientific medical guidance. This is an organization that recently endorsed acupuncture and powdered rhino horns as covid-19 therapies.
J: What the hell.
E: So kind of good to keep those little facts in the back your mind when you talk.
S: Listen the World Health Organization is a mixed bag. It's obviously critical, it's very important, it does great work. But it's also a political organization. And their their huge blind spot is in traditional medicine.
E: TCM, yeah.
S: It's not just traditional Chinese medicine but just any local medicine. Like we don't want we want to respect what every culture thinks their medicine is whether it's science based or real or not. Sucking up to acupuncture all happened when the director of the WHO was Chinese and was very much in favor of doing that. Against the evidence you know basically.
E: So yeah good to keep in mind when thinking about the World Health Organization. Like you said it's a mixed bag. And the Time article also references a Sage journals report which describes the growth of acceptance by patients and doctors in the United States. And it does so in a general sense. It's part of the report's introduction which I read. So it didn't really provide hard data saying here's our source, here are the numbers, here's how much prevalence it has today. I did some research on my own data for that and what was often brought up was this the article that appeared at PubMed said that it showed in 2002 there were eight million people who participated in acupuncture, who sought out acupuncture. 2007 - 14 million. Now the Sage journals report also makes an interesting point it credits one of the main reasons people lately have been turning to non-pharmacological treatments is due to the over prescription of opioids. All the abuse and injury and death that has been reported in recent years about it. And they're saying that that's a key component as to sort of the recent increase in people's interest in obtaining acupuncture treatments.
S: And believe me the acupuncturists and the alternative medicine gurus were all over that. They were promoting it as an alternative, that's why.
E: Oh sure another reason why. 2020 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began covering acupuncture for chronic low back pain. Which covers I'm sure a lot of the cases in which people seek out that particular treatment.And when you have basically government paid for health care for our medicaid and medicare systems cover all the senior citizens in our country among other people. I mean that can really only further increase the demand. And I also looked up how much money acupuncturists are making. They expect that in 2022, by the end of 2022, they'll see almost a 7% increase in their revenue compared to the prior year 2021. So all these are indications that acupuncture is definitely on the rise especially in the United States. Now the Time article also continues and she writes "Although scientists don’t yet understand all the nuances of how it works, research indicates it can have a significant effect on certain conditions, and it shows promise for others.". I find that to be problematic. For a lot of reasons. I mean do we need to explain what acupuncture is?
S: Yeah I mean let me give the bullet. I mean basically it is sticking acupuncture needles, which are needles, into alleged acupuncture points, which don't exist in order to modify the flow of the life force which doesn't exist. So yeah acupuncture is pre-scientific superstition based healthcare. That's what it is and that's not even what it's not ancient that's not even what it was prior to about 100 years ago when it was completely retconned into the modern version of Traditional Chinese Medicine. If you go back even into the 19th century acupuncture was like using these giant needles and sticking them into organs. I mean it was like brutal barbaric therapy. It really was. It was the east's version of bloodletting.
S: But it was sort of you know anyway it was sort of updated and given a nice more friendly modern kind of patina to it. But it's it's 10% nonsense, you know?
E: But the article says Steve though that the research indicates it can have a significant effect on certain conditions.
S: It's not true. It's simply not true. And this is where you have to get into the details and you need to do like a science-based medicine evaluation of the relevant literature. The bottom line is that acupuncture has not been demonstrated to be effective for anything. In meaning that you have a consistent effect that replicates, that is clinically significant, that doesn't go away when you when you do better and better blinding etc. It just it hasn't risen above the bar for a single indication. It really hasn't. It's just that there's just a lot of low-grade crappy studies. And every single time I see another study that says oh acupuncture works for x the study is crap. It's utter crap. And they basically stopped doing the really good studies because they were showing that it doesn't work. That's always again you always have to look at the arc of the literature. The arc of the research. Where is it going. When you get to the best studies and they show that it doesn't work and then the proponents back off to less rigorous studies which show whatever they want to show that's what tells you the story, right? That's what tells you you're dealing with something that doesn't work. Plus I just have to point out that acupuncturists can't even agree where the acupuncture points are and what they do. It's random. It's astrology. It's literal astrology. That's literally its origins.
C: The only measurable positive benefits for some people from acupuncture are due to non-specific effects. It's like─
S: It's the interaction with the acupuncturist.
C: ─yeah it's the interaction. It's like subjective measures like pain reduction mood. Like the types of things where an individual might feel pain reduction simply because the hands were laid on them. Simply because they had a relaxing hour. Simply because somebody touched them.
S: Yeah it's all placebo effects.
C: Yeah exactly.
S: Yeah so it's an invasive elaborate placebo that's all it is.
C: And expensive. And one that annoyingly our health care dollars often cover. Like more and more we're seeing that insurance companies reimburse acupuncture.
E: Yeah more now than ever, that's right.
S: There's a political pressure. And because of gullible articles like this. This is sort of a self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of article. You notice that like there's you're saying oh it's more popular, people are more open to it, there's anecdotal evidence. And then just completely glosses over the utterly unimpressive scientific evidence. Rather than, and there's not a hint of skepticism like and there's entire leagues of professionals who think it's crap. How about that? Yeah and this article could have been written 30 years ago is the other thing. It's like yeah this is we've been hearing this tune for decades. It's still on the fringe scientifically. It's just that the more people beat the drum for it politically the more it gets used but that's it. It's not there's no scientific revolution here. This is completely a triumph of marketing over science. That's what's happening here 100%.
E: What this article also does is it is taking references and it's citing studies. For example they linked to the BMJ article from February 2022 they said it analyzed more than 2 000 scientific reviews of acupuncture therapies. And they write: "the science is strongest behind acupuncture’s efficacy for post-stroke aphasia; neck, shoulder, and muscle pain; fibromyalgia pain; lactation issues after delivery; lower back pain; vascular dementia symptoms; and allergy symptoms.". Are they re- is is that what that BMJ analysis is truly saying?
S: Yeah but listen it's not that it's been established for any of them. Just that if you take if you look at a 2 000 different possible uses those are the ones that are at the far side of the bell curve, right? It's like you're going to get a random distribution and these are the ones that randomly were trending in a positive direction. If you did those 2000 studies all over again it would be a different bunch of random things that─
E: What does that tell you?
S: ─that we're at the right end. And also what do those things have to do with each other? Nothing. So what's the mechanism that underlies post-stroke aphasia? And post-surgical nausea? There's no commonality of mechanism there. You have to believe in magic. You have to believe in magic. It's just ridiculous.
E: So that's the danger with articles like this. They'll cite things that sound impressive.
S: By a non-specialist who has no idea what they're talking about.
E: Eight, exactly. And it's but it's becoming more prevalent. And it's, for all the effort that organizations like ourselves, science-based medicine and others are doing out there who are providing the correct information on this it's, we're fighting an uphill battle.
S: Yeah, totally.
E: We just are.
S: All right thanks Evan.
Who's That Noisy? (1:06:06)
S: Jay it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: All right guys last week I played this noisy:
[chirping birds sound]
I don't know. I don't know what it is. Anybody have any guesses?
S: Is it a boy? (laughter)
J: It's not a bird.
B: Creative flatulence. (laughter)
E: Perry's a bottle of water.
J: That's exactly what it sounded like. So Danilo Escobar wrote and said: "Hello Jay my two boys guess this week. Kai who's age four guessed it was a it was robot birds shooting lasers." And then he made the pew pew pew sound. "His brother Gael age six guessed people playing laser tag but one of the laser guns is almost out of batteries". I think that those were two very cute guesses. I appreciate them guessing at Who's That Noisy. Guys you're not correct but you've made very good guesses. You should be proud of yourselves.
Amy Brunigan wrote in said: "Hi everyone but yes I know it's Jay that handles Who's That Noisy. Now Who's That Noisy for today sounds a lot like the genetically hybridized singing mice from episode 284." That it's a hybrid. That is not correct although yes they did they do sound like little mice a little bit. I can hear that in there.
Kurt Welling wrote in said: "Purple martins". When I first read it I thought he said purple Martians and I'm like what. Anyway─
S: It's a bird Jay.
J: ─he said: "the only wild songbirds completely dependent on human provided housing.". I have never heard of purple martins but apparently they exist.
S: I have a martin house. I put it up like three years in a row and I never got any martins that I kind of lost track of it and somewhere in my basement.
J: Maybe they don't live around here, I don't know.
S: They're supposed to find and I think what happened was is I missed to the very narrow window. Like every year like when you're supposed to put it up I just by the time I thought about it. Because it's like early in the Spring and like if you miss the window like it's too late they found their house.
E: Steve martins. (laughter)
J: Another listener named Lenka Luglerova wrote in and said, she's from Sweden, and she said: "Hi Jay, I wonder if this week's Who's That Noisy is an ocarina". Do you guys know what that is?
E: Yeah it's that song from the 90s.
J: You guys ever play Zelda?
E: Yeah of course.
J: Yeah one of the one of them he played in ocarina. So it's a little like clay kind of hamburger kind of shaped flute type thing that has holes on it that has a really nice soft kind of round sound to it. But it is not an ocarina. But that is a great guess. I think I actually still own one of those. Now we have we have not only one winner. We have two winners from last week. Aren't you curious like why would we have two winners? [dead silence] I'm gonna explain this to you.
B: Same second.
J: They they sent in the answer at 4:52 p.m. on the same day at the same exact time. So I'm like yep that's that qualifies, this is the first time. The winners are Shane Hillier and Jasmine Wirth and basically they wrote pretty much the same thing. They said this is a bird-shaped whistle. You fill it with water and it plays that warbly kind of.
C: I had one of those.
S: I have one, I have. Each of my daughters has one of those.
C: Yeah I remember that.
J: Yep I actually have one in my house as well. It's also called a warbling whistle. Let me play it for you again. Keep in mind that what's happening here is there's a mouthpiece that you blow into and then you're blowing down into like a bubble that has water in it. And that bubble of water is moving over the whistle part. And that's why it kind of feels like it's the sound is moving a little bit. It does make a pretty good bird sound.
C: Yeah it's pretty, yeah.
J: So anyway I like this one because it did remind me of being a kid and my kids have it. And guess what a lot of people guessed this right. So apparently a lot of us have run into these things during our lifetime at one point or another. So thank you Justin for sending that in.
New Noisy (1:10:25)
I have a new noisy for you guys this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Jeff Chapman and here it is:
[perhaps an oscillating, long, taut cable making strumming, chirping vibrations]
J: So we've been doing Who's That Noisy for a very long time. I actually can think of several things that make sounds like this. And that's why I think that what I've learned from doing Who's That Noisy and then also listening to Evan run it for years is that there is it is remarkable how many things can sound like other things and context is very important. And that's what's interesting about this because you don't get the context. You just get the sound. So if you think you know what this week's Noisy is or if you heard something cool, you have to email that to me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
S: All right thanks Jay.
Email #1: Language and AI (1:12:48)
I'm a new listener to the podcast, and I appreciate the time and hard work you've put in creating this content and doing research. Currently, I work for an AI company that helps the largest companies (the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons of the world) create and deploy their machine learning solutions. It is a groundbreaking industry, which I think you know well enough and highlight on your show. One thing that I specifically appreciated was that you, unlike most other commentators, touched on the fact that there is prevalent bias in these large models. This brings me to my main point, which is that there was a huge emphasis in the latest episode placed on the idea that DALL-E "understands" and "knows" things about the image and contexts within. This is actually a super dangerous idea to perpetuate. While GPT-2/3 is a different technology, I believe that the research outlined in Dr. Timnit Gebru's paper, "On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big", is relevant and can speak to the issue better than I ever could, specifically: "However, no actual language understanding is taking place in LM-driven approaches to these tasks, as can be shown by careful manipulation of the test data to remove spurious cues the systems are leveraging [21, 93]. Furthermore, as Bender and Koller  argue from a theoretical perspective, languages are systems of signs , i.e. pairings of form and meaning. But the training data for LMs is only form; they do not have access to meaning. Therefore, claims about model abilities must be carefully characterized.
I appreciate the consideration and hope that you will be able to find some free time at some point to review Dr. Gebru's paper who, if you are not familiar, was ousted from Google's AI ethics division for bringing up bias issues. [Here is] her full paper.
– Cheers, Noah
S: All right we got a couple of a couple emails here. One Bob is is a response to your piece from last week on─
S: ─AI and art. I'm not gonna read the whole thing but this is this comes from Noah and Noah writes that: "Currently I work for an AI company that helps the largest companies create and deploy their machine learning solutions. It is a groundbreaking industry which I think you know well enough and highlight on your show. One thing that I specifically appreciated was that you unlike most other commenters touched on the fact that there was a prevalent bias in these large models. This brings me to my main point which is that there was a huge emphasis in the latest episode placed on the idea that DALL·E understands and knows things about the image and contexts within.". He goes on to describe that some more and some criticizing. His point basic point is that you have to be careful with language and no the algorithm doesn't "understand" or "know" anything. And so Bob basically was criticizing your science communication. What do you have to say about that?
B: Yeah it definitely has so has a point there. What he was saying in some of the other details and quotes that he offered in the email was essentially that, you know, that language models that are used as training data for these various things, they use a combination of form and meaning. I mean they don't use it but language is often a combination of form and meaning. But DALL·E 2 uses only the form part. It's not really using the meaning that are attached to the words. It's just the form really of that. And with no meaning attached. And so therefore when you use the term understanding it's very fraught with problems because when you use the word understanding it's just a it's got a lot of baggage. It implies that the meaning component. And he's saying the meaning component is really not there so that problematic to use the word understanding in any context. Because they really don't understand the language or the words or the text in in any meaningful way.
S: Well no current AI understands anything. I assumed you were using those words as metaphors, and you were.
B: Right. To a large extent. But his point was that that it's actually risky and it's not worth it to even throw around that kind of terminology─
S: That's fair.
B: ─with this specific thing. And that's absolutely fair. My point was that that I was very impressed with especially the inline the in painting image aspect of it. Where you could take a piece of it and wipe it away and say now put this in there and the way the way that it can replace parts with other parts based on the the text that's input. And without affecting the realism. So in some sense it has it, I was trying to say that it has some understanding of the image and the components and how they relate to each other. Because it seems to quite often create an image that still makes sense even though you're changing it kind of willy-nilly here and there. But and but his point is well taken that using the term understanding doesn't really apply in this context and that is just really kind of risky to even say that because people just take that and run with it. And believe me I mean I read a lot about artificial intelligence on Reddit and people are just running with stuff. It's like aaaah. So I absolutely get it and I will definitely be more careful about using the word understanding in this context in the future.
S: Yeah of course AI understands nothing but it acts as if it does. It's mimicking understanding it's─
B: Right, right.
S: ─the whole point of narrow AI. But it does highlight the fact that we need language. We need a language so that we can communicate like not in technical language but in a colloquial language to the general public so that they can understand what's happening. And when you rely on these metaphors it gets the job done but it does create, it opens the door for misunderstanding. So what I would like to explore is, and maybe we should bring on somebody to talk about this at some point, is what how do we talk about narrow AI in a way that's efficient. That conveys meaning but that doesn't lend itself to to misunderstanding or confusing narrow AI or general AI. Like that something that might actually have human level understanding.
B: Yeah we definitely need to do that we should pull somebody in because there's I don't know if you've noticed it as well Steve but there's a lot going on in AI. It's really ramping up it seems. I mean so many amazing tools are coming out. Not just GPT and DALL·E 2 now. There's lots of things that are coming out that are just amazing tools now. Not just DALL·E 2 but GPT as well that we've talked about and other tools that are going to definitely be part of future discussions that I won't go into detail that are just really not only the amazing tools but there's also amazing opportunities for people to really go crazy with it in terms of like exaggerating possibilities and time frames and all sorts of stuff. So yeah, things are happening and you'll be definitely hearing more about it on the SGU. But more responsibly maybe. (laughter)
S: Okay, thanks Bob.
Email #2: Eating Raw Foods (1:18:01)
I recently came across this Instagram post of a person just eating raw foods for over a hundred days. Curious as to how much raw food is humanly acceptable to consume?
Cheers from Singapore too!
– Chuan Hao
S: Okay all right another quick email. This one comes from Chuan Hao and they write: "I recently came across this Instagram post of a person just eating raw foods for over a hundred days. Curious as to how much raw food is humanly acceptable to consume? Cheers from Singapore too!". Oh well thank you. All right so raw food obviously is on cook uncooked food and there's a raw food diet and craze etc. Making all kinds of claims most of which are are utterly ridiculous. I've written about this at least once on Science-Based Medicine there's probably a couple of other articles there as well. So there's no like magical special benefits to eating a purely raw food diet. I mean they make statements like oh you kill the food before you, yeah what do you think happens when it hits your stomach? I mean like there's some magical essence in the food that you're killing when you cook it. Cooking is actually a fantastic innovation. It so the the things that they say that at least sound scientific are like you're degrading the nutrients. Like that's actually quite negligible for unless you boil the crap out of things before you eat it but if you're just like normally cooking food it's very modest any like actual degradation of nutrients. What you're actually doing is making the food more digestible and allowing yourself to extract more nutrients from the food. When we started cooking that's when humans dominated the world. When we literally that's when our remains are scattered about the world and went out of Africa when we were at when we started cooking our food. It was probably also necessary to support our growing brain. Our very very hungry brain. Cooking is good for food. It helps you eat more things and extract more nutrients from more different things. But this is the other question is eating just raw food dangerous for you. Not in and of itself you could survive on eating only foods that are that are not cooked. The challenge is getting insufficient nutrients.
C: Right it's a similar challenge you see when you go like super vegan. Anytime you restrict yourself.
S: Yeah any restrictive diet, any restrictive diet. And we have to ask our patients this all the time. It's like a standard question now you want to do you have any kind of dietary restrictions. Because it highly correlates with nutritional deficiencies that we then have to check for and may need to treat.
S: Usually not scurvy. But it's mainly the B vitamins that we see.
C: Like B12 if somebody's vegan they might not be yeah that's common or iron or whatever.
S: Yeah iron, B2. There's a lot of ones that we can see. Yeah it's just very challenging if you don't know what you're doing. And of course people say you can yeah of course you can. I'm not saying you can't. I'm just saying that you have to be really knowledgeable and careful and really dedicated. And that there are plenty of people who can't pull it off. And they end up being malnourished. Or they end up having poor nutrition as a result. So there's no there's no reason for it and it is risky so I don't recommend it. But there's no but you could live on you could theoretically live on a raw food diet. There's nothing directly harmful to you about it. It's just challenging again to get a good broad nutrition from it.
Okay guys let's go on with Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:21:23)
Theme: Which is bigger?
Item #1: The world-wide gaming industry grossed 9.4 times as much revenue in 2021 as the world-wide film industry.
Item #2: The largest adult tardigrades are larger than the smallest adult fleas.
Item #3: The largest known star in the Universe is UY Scuti, with a radius larger than the average distance of Pluto from the sun.
|Science||Gaming > film|
Tardigrade > flea
|Tardigrade > flea|
|Tardigrade > flea|
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 fakerooney. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. I like this one. We have a good theme this week. The theme is: which is bigger?
C: Does that mean we get a 50:50 chance of getting this?
E: Of each one.
S: Each one. Each one's either right or wrong.
E: Oh gosh what are the odds? I gotta calculate these odds now.
S: All right here we go. Item #1: The world-wide gaming industry grossed 9.4 times as much revenue in 2021 as the world-wide film industry. Item #2: The largest adult tardigrades are larger than the smallest adult fleas. And item #3: The largest known star in the Universe is UY Scuti, with a radius larger than the average distance of Pluto from the sun.
Cara go first.
C: This is gonna be, this is crap shoot time.
S: You could logic your way through these. You can.
C: You think I can reason my way, really?
S: Well give it a try.
C: Okay. Gaming industry goes 9.5 times as much revenue in 2021 as the film industry. And so when you say revenue you're literally just talking about box office sales, selling the things. You're not talking about minus expenses. We think of the film industry as being like the big thing. I think this one might be a little confusing to me because when I think about like YouTube for example they've had to actually adjust their algorithm so the only thing you don't see is gaming videos. Because it's like orders of magnitude more gaming videos than other things on YouTube. So I wouldn't be surprised if the industry. I don't really know how we define the industry. Like what is that inclusive of? But I'm sure it's enormous. And the film industry is like there's Bollywood and there's films that come out of countries but the American film industry dominates. Whereas the gaming industry is probably more spread out. Okay the largest adult tardigrades are larger than the smallest adult fleas. So basically we know tardigrades are microscopic. But there, you can see them with light microscopy. Like I could just pull out the microscope that's in my closet right now and get some pond water and see tardigrades no problem. You don't need like an electron microscope to see them. And fleas we're used to the ones on our dogs that are visible to the naked eye. Naked eye there Bob, naked eye. But I don't know there's probably really tiny fleas. Would they still be called fleas? Are they lice? I don't know but I'm sure there's like microscopic fleas. Is that even a generic term? Or is that a real scientific term? Flea?
S: It is a type of animal.
C: Right, okay, all right. And then the largest known star in the universe UY Scuti, Scooty?
S: Yeah, one of those.
C: With a radius larger than the average... A radius. Not even a diameter?
S: In other words if it were in our solar system where the sun is it would extend beyond Pluto.
C: Yeah because the center of it would be where the sun is and then that one side.
S: Its radius would be the orbit of Pluto, yeah.
C: And this is where I, this is going to screw me because I suck at like astronomical scales. I just cannot think in terms of numbers that big. And nothing surprises me when I hear. Like you could add or subtract multiple zeros to things like when Bob is telling his and I'm like I don't know. Sure. Seems right. (Bob chuckles) So I mean this one seems impossible but maybe that's the why you put it in there. Gaming. And they all seem like science. I'm gonna say. I'm literally throwing a dart at a dartboard here. I think the gaming industry one is definitely science. I think the tardigrades are definitely science. I think the sun could be so I'm gonna say the tardigrades are the fiction. I don't know.
S: Okay Jay.
J: The world gaming industry grows 9.4 times as much revenue than the worldwide film industry. I think this is science. I think that people spend a lot more money on gaming than they do movies. If I use myself as an example this is clearly what reality is. The I'll go down to the third one. The largest known star in the universe that has a radius larger than the average distance of Pluto from the Sun. So I agree with Cara. I mean I would say even something like that's it? You know what I would think that the largest known star would could even be bigger than that. And you ever see those things where they show you the star, then they show you the next size─
B: Yeah. I love that. I love that shit.
J: ─one and the next size one and it's keeps on going and going? So I mean I the part of me thinks that there would be stars that that are like well you know that's a pretty big size (Cara laughs) that's really big. (laughter) Pluto is very far away from the sun. So I would tend to think that this one would be science over the tardigrade one. Because from my understanding fleas are visible. And tardigrades basically are not. To the human naked human eye. Tardigrades are microscopic animals and fleas are not microscopic. So I mean I just don't see the variation between the adults and the smallest version that these things would come out in when they were born. I just don't think that there would be that much crossover. I think they're in two different size categories. So I think number two the tardigrades ones is the fiction.
S: Okay, Evan.
E: The tardigrades one I have no idea. I get they're microscopic. Smallest adult fleas. I think I know what a flea size is. But I don't have I have no sense for really this comparison. Whereas the other two I kind of have a sense for. The gaming industry one. 9.4 times as much revenue as the worldwide film industry. Which seems incredible. And it is incredible. That it, the gaming industry is not to be underestimated. And that would be underestimating that if I were to choose that as fiction. So that one I think is science. This last one about the star UY Scuti-Scotty. Radius larger than the distance of Pluto from the Sun. As Jay said, Pluto's far. I mean it is very far. Isn't, I have this vision in my mind of Jupiter being sort of the halfway point between the Sun and Pluto but it's not it's not even that. Like Pluto's way further out than Jupiter is not even the halfway point. So you're talking about something that I don't know, that that seems to defy what I know, what little I know about the size of stars and even with those graphics Jay that you mentioned and stuff. Gee whiz I don't see it being that big. Oh my gosh. The star has to be the fiction. How could it be? How could it be?
S: Okay Bob.
B: All right the gaming industry? Yeah. It's gargantuan. That makes perfect sense it's so big. Tardigrades? Yeah that one doesn't seem quite right. Especially when you think of the Ant-Man [movie], remember when the older guy was shrinking down? And he's shrinking, shrinking, shrinking. Oh, there's a tardigrade. Like they're small. And I didn't think adult fleas would it could potentially be there. I guess it's gotta be because I mean Scutties, you know, yeah Pluto's too big.
C: Damn it.
B: That's way too far, that's way too far. I'm thinking more Jupiter-Saturn type of distance not Pluto. That's I mean that's. So fiction.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: All right you guys are split so we'll go back to #1: The world-wide gaming industry grossed 9.4 times as much revenue in 2021 as the world-wide film industry. You guys all comfortably think that this one is science. And this one is science. All right you're all safe so far.
E: Big money, big money.
S: So remember, 2021, pandemic. People were at home playing video games. Not so much going out to movies. But even on normal years in the last decade the gaming industry is four times the film industry. Even at baseline. It's massive. It is absolutely massive. And like if you've played one of the high-end games. The budgets are similar. Like you get named actors, voicing characters and their production value is absolutely off the hook. So yeah they're in yeah not a surprise to anybody familiar with the gaming industry. But the idea but I like this you're comparing two things that you but you know they're both big. And it's kind of interesting to try to figure out which one is bigger. All right let's go. I guess we'll take these in order.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: The largest adult tardigrades are larger than the smallest adult fleas. Jay and Cara you think this is the fiction. Bob and Evan you think this one is science. Now this one's interesting because fleas are generally considered to be barely macroscopic. Barely naked eye visible. And tardigrades are barely microscopic, they're barely not visible.
C: There's gotta, oh crap. I'm sure one of them crosses over the threshold.
S: So fleas. The smallest adult male fleas are smaller than adult female fleas. The smallest adult male flea is about one millimeter long. One millimeter, right? That's how small they get. Tardigrades. Remember tardigrade is it I think it's not a species, it's not one thing it's I think it's a family. It's pretty high up there, would it─
C: Yeah you're right it's not even a genus. I think it is higher than that. You think order?
S: It's definitely higher than a genus. Phylum!
C: It's a phylum?
S: Phylum tardigrada.
C: Jesus. That's King Phillip that's only the second thing after that it's the animal kingdom.
C: That's cool. Well then, then I know I'm wrong.
B: Don't forget the D Cara. The domain.
C: Right there's a yeah this is I'm going back to my elementary school education in the 80s.
S: Tardigrades can range from point 0.05 millimeters at the low end, a small end to 1.2 millimeters. So they do overlap in the middle which is interesting, the largest tardigrades are bigger than the smallest fleas. But they're right, that one millimeter is right at the cusp of macroscopic to microscopic. And so that's interesting. It gives you this sort of this. It's that boundary thing, right Jay? And we talked about that. It's like they overlap but you think of fleas as macroscopic and you think of tardigrades as microscopic. But some tardigrades are you can see with the naked eye. Interesting.
B: Which means? (laughter)
C: Shut up.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Which means that the largest known star in the Universe is UY Scuti, with a radius larger than the average distance of Pluto from the sun is the fiction. Now what's fiction about that Bob?
B: It's doesn't have a radius as large as Pluto, it's smaller. (Even laughs)
S: Yeah what would you guess?
B: Well I guess like like Jupiter-Saturn type of distance not all the way.
S: Yeah, you're closer. So UY Scuti is recognized as the largest star in the universe but there's a there's an asterisk next to that because─
B: There's an asteriks or an asterisk?
C: ─an asterisk next to that because there's uncertainty in the size and there's estimates so the uncertainty overlaps with other stars but if you take the average estimated size of the star it is the largest at average estimated size of a star. Whatever. But it's possible that there's like one or two other stars that if if Scuti is actually at the low very very low end of its uncertainty range and these other stars are at the high end of their range they could actually overtake it. But anyway, but the average estimated size is 1708 solar radii. So 1708 times the size of our sun. Or 15.9 AU, astronomical units. 1au being the average distance of the Earth to the Sun. So 15.9 AU so Evan you said Jupiter's far out there but it's actually not that far. It's 5.2 AU on average. 5.2 Earth is 1. Mars is 1.5. Jupiter is 5.2. Saturn is 9.5. Uranus is 19.2.
E: Yeah it goes crazy far out.
S: Would be between Saturn and Uranus. But Pluto is 39.5. It's like almost three times the distance. Pluto is way way too far out there. So.
C: I gotta go with my gut more.
S: But you're Cara you did pretty reasonably think your way through these items. It was just, come came down to a couple above tricky things. But they were tricky by design. I tried to make these these thought processes difficult but yeah.
B: That's just so immense. oh my god.
C&S: I know.
S: 15.9 AU.
B: How long does it live? A century? I mean it must burn through its fuel so fast.
S: Now Bob these are red giant. He just happened to be at the end of their lives.
B: That's true that's true yeah.
S: They're not blue stars that big. These are red red giant stars. They expand at the end of their lifespan they become massive.
B: Yeah so it's kind of like a it's like a mask.
S: Right because it's very, it would be very thin.
S: That was a fun one. I like that.
S: I hope you guys enjoyed it.
B: I mean our sun itself when it's red giant phase it could─
S: It could go beyond Mars.
B: Yeah I mean that's so that's going to be pretty damn big.
S: And those astronomy stats were courtesy Fraser Cain at Universe Today so I'll give him [inaudible]
E: Hi Fraser!
S: Here's the articles that came up when I was looking up the the details.
All right Evan give us a quote.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:35:18)
This image is a testament to what we can accomplish, when as a global research community, we bring our brightest minds together to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Language, continents, and even the galaxy can't stand in the way of what humanity can accomplish when we come together for the greater good of all.
– Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the National Science Foundation
E: The quote this week comes recommended from Catherine who's a listener from North Palm Beach, Florida. Thank you Catherine. She calls this one an inspiration quote from an article featuring the black hole image which we talked about earlier. "This image is a testament to what we can accomplish, when as a global research community, we bring our brightest minds together to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Language, continents, and even the galaxy can't stand in the way of what humanity can accomplish when we come together for the greater good of all.". And that was said by National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. So nice.
E: Nice little tip of the hat to the amazing science behind the Sag A picture.
S: The Sagittarius. Yeah it's always good to remind the public of how absolutely amazing science can be at its best.
B: Oh my god yes.
S: People get together and just do amazing projects. Just unbelievable the power of what we can do now.
B: It's all because of the process of science. People are imperfect. Make mistakes a lot. But when you've got a good process like science it just reinforces itself and it just produces the wonders of the world.
S: Absolutely. All right guys thank you all for joining me this week.
J: You got it Steve.
B: Sure man.
C: Thanks Steve.
E: Thank you Steve.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at 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
- CNN: 1st image of supermassive black hole at the center of Milky Way galaxy revealed
- Space.com: 'Dog door' on Mars found by Curiosity rover is a rocky 'doorway into the ancient past,' NASA says
- Neurologica: Health Benefits of Clean Energy
- The Verge: SIDS study shows the risks of science hype
- Neurologica: Scientists Grow Plants in Lunar Soil
- Event Horizon Telescope: Astronomers Reveal First Image of the Black Hole at the Heart of Our Galaxy
- Time: Why Acupuncture Is Going Mainstream in Medicine
- Yahoo: Gaming Market Size Worth USD $435 Billion By 2028
- PestSeek.com: Can You See Fleas? How Big Are They?
- Universe Today: What is the Biggest Star in the Universe?
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]