SGU Episode 886

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SGU Episode 886
July 2nd 2022
886 polymetallic nodules.jpg

A polymetallic nodule

SGU 885                      SGU 887

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

Quotes of the Week

-- Healthy skepticism is the basis of all accurate observation.

-- We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.

first: Arthur Conan Doyle, British writer
second: Carl Sagan, American astronomer

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Snake Rescue, Mice, Cats & Dogs[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, June 29th 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: And that's it. It's just the three of us.

B: What is happening now.

C: Weird.

S: Evan is on a scheduled break this week. Is doing something with his daughter I think. And Jay's traveling. So he's also. He was sick last week. Completely unrelated. He may or may not be here next week it depends on what his travel plans are. It's the summer. Summer's very disruptive. There's going to be a lot of swapping in over the next month or so. But first I want to tell you guys about a nature encounter I had recently. We like to tell about our nature encounters. And as Cara likes to say we live in the woods.

C: You do.

B: I guess.

S: There are woods near my house. Yeah. So anyway Sunday was like a beautiful day like. One of the first weekend days where we didn't have anything scheduled. So we're doing a lot of yard work. My wife says Autumn, it's our daughter, found a dead snake near the garden. Will you get rid of it for us. So I'm like hmm. I immediately knew what would happened. Because we have I have fencing around my garden and at one point I put up some like mesh fencing to keep little critters out. And then it didn't work out so I got rid of it but there was some left behind. I'm like I bet you that snake got caught in the mesh.

C: Oh no.

S: So I went. It was a rat snake which is was a black rat snake. Not that big probably a juvenile. It was absolutely completely entwined in the mesh. And it looked dead. And so I was getting ready to just cut it out and get rid of it and it starts to move. Like ooh this thing is not dead yet. Now my daughter is a budding herpetologist. She's the one who owns a Blue-tongued skink. Plus my wife is a softie. She's like oh she my wife is like deathly afraid of snakes but still she's like oh the poor thing. Free it.

C: Yeah. (laughs)

S: Free it? I mean it was so entangled in this mesh. This is like fine a very fine mesh of like plastic. It was also like grown into the ground and everything, you know I mean? It's been there for years. They talked me into like fine. The thing looks like it's still alive. I'll see what I could do. So I─

B: Yeah what's the strategy.

S: It took me like 20 minutes. I painstakingly cut that snake out of the mesh.

B: Do they bite? Do they bite?

S: So well it bit me. But I was wearing gloves.

C: Okay.

S: And they don't have fangs. They just have rows of tiny teeth. So it kind of like bit at my it snapped at my finger at one point which I didn't even feel it because I was wearing a glove. But it was like surgery. I had to get the scissor between the snake and the mesh. It was so tight in places it was constricting him, you know what I mean. I was digging into it and I wasn't sure like how healthy it was but then I had to have my daughter hold his head so he wouldn't keep snapping at me while I finished cutting it away.

B: Oh yeah that's a good strategy.

S: Yeah. So we did. We cut it away and as soon as it was totally free. After taking a picture. We released it and it slithered away really fast.

C: That's good.

S: So I think it was not moving mainly because it was probably painful for it to move. But we freed it quickly enough that it I don't think it was that harmed.

C: That's exciting.

B: Nice. Good job.

C: It's like a good deed for the weekend.

S: I know. It kind of felt good to freeing the creature. Plus it eats vermin. It eats mice and chipmunks which─

B: Oh god I wanna buy some.

S: ─we have a ton of in our property. And they of course are menace to my garden. So I'm like yeah black snake in the garden. Good. Eat all the mice. Get rid of them.

B: That's awesome.

S: Yeah they're just a menace.

B: Should have put them in my basement.

C: Oh no you have mice in your basement?

B: We did. It was bad. It was an infestation.

S: Yeah we did a couple of times. We've always been able to get rid of them but it's a constant thing. Like you have to constantly be on the lookout. And we've now we basically just have a service that just constantly keeps our house vermin free.

C: Interesting. We don't have basements here. And we didn't in Texas where I was growing up either. That's like not a concept I'm familiar with really.

B: That's sad.

C: Yeah. We have attics.

B: Nothing like a good basement.

S: Well they'll get into your house whether it's a basement or not. I mean again like if you if you live surrounded by wilderness mice will get into your stuff. That's just the way it is.

B: Basically nothing you could do.

S: There's nothing they're just constant fact of life. You just have to live with them or you got to be vigilant about keeping them out of your house. But part of it is covering all the entry points but they're very small and they're good at making entry points. So you can just minimize them but there's no way you could really keep them out.

B: Yeah they can know a way at most materials and they can get through so surprisingly small holes. So tiny you wouldn't believe that they could fit.

C: You should get a cat Bob.

B: Liz and I have a cat.

C: And she's not a good?

B: Oh yeah she's left a couple, not a lot, but she's left a couple of dead mice around which is kind of cool.

C: Interesting. I had a cat once. Here in California in my first apartment I lived in I had a cat and she was the sweetest thing ever and of course I didn't let my cat outside I live in an urban center and you shouldn't do that. But she really did like the outdoor. So she would hang out on my patio. Like on my balcony all the time. And one time I came home and she had gotten a bird. From my fourth floor balcony.

B: That's what they do.

C: And I was like wow okay we're gonna not do that anymore. It was amazing. I was like you are a hunter.

S: Oh yeah.

B: Yeah it's like a holocaust for the birds. The cats.

C: For sure. Especially the ones roaming the neighborhood. But I had no idea she was skilled enough to do it from like a six by six patio. Wow.

B: They're amazing. I have such love and respect for cats now. We never had cats growing up so there's always dogs. Always dogs. Always wanted a dog but now that I've gotten used to a cat the past four or five years. I got mad respect for their agility. Just astounds me all the time. It's so much. They're so much more three-dimensional than a dog.

C: Well they definitely more agile. I'll give you that. But they're also a lot easier. I loved having cats when I was in college because I could just leave for the weekend and they were fine. I could never do that to Killer. He would die.

B: That's huge. That's huge. That's huge. But so I will say of course coming home from whatever and having a dog run up to you and lick you all over to me that. I try to get my cat to do it and won't do it. Will not lick me.

S: The level of affection from a dog is like an order of magnitude than most cats.

B: Oh my god.

C: Oh yeah. But they're also an order of magnitude more needy.

S: Totally.

B: Absolutely. Yeah. Leaving for a day--no.

C: Oh leaving for three hours. My dog acts like I've been gone for a [inaudible].

B: Oh wow separation anxiety is a thing for sure.

S: All right so guys one other thing. Earlier this week I pre-recorded a talk that I'm giving for Skeptical 2022. This is virtual this year. It will be live July 16th and 17th but some of the bits are pre-recorded. Also Evan was on their skeptity this year with Bill Nye so Evan will be making an appearance as well. My talk was on when skeptics disagree. It was all the big issues over the last 30 years where there was significant disagreement within─

B: Oh wow.

S: ─the skeptical movement among skeptics.

B: Touchy.

S: And why I think caused them and how they what's the status of them were they resolved or not etc.

B: I wouldn't touch that with a 20-foot pole.

C: That's brave.

S: It was fun. So that'll be airing during the conference. Just like with NECSS which is also coming up. If you buy a ticket you'll be able to watch it whenever. You don't have to be watching it on the 16th and 17th. And then speaking of NECSS that's coming up as well. That is August 5th and 6th. Also a virtual conference. Also you'll have access to the whole conference for a long time once you purchase a ticket. So the full details are on just go there you'll see the updated list of all the speakers we're getting. That's gonna also be a lot of fun.

Special Segment: Cara's Upcoming Surgery (8:30)[edit]

C: And you know sorry to have to do this while we're missing Jay and Evan but I wanted to. I don't know. An announcement sounds odd. It's not really an announcement but I wanted to talk to you and to of course the listeners about some upcoming plans in my life. I had been grappling for a while with whether or not I wanted to be public about this because a nobody's f--ing business but I do think there are some real benefits to speaking out. So long story short I was recording an upcoming episode of Talk Nerdy a few weeks, maybe two weeks ago now with an incredible woman named Rachel Gross who wrote a book called Vagina Obscura and we were talking about women and women's health and reproduction. And I was like you know what I got to talk about my own thing that I've been dealing with and I just went there. So if you're a Talk Nerdy listener you're going to hear an in-depth very spontaneous conversation about this on my newest episode that comes out on July 4th. And July 44th of course is Independence Say here and it's also the day before I'm having a pretty major surgery. So anybody who has followed me on social media probably saw about six weeks to a month ago now when I had a more minor surgery. You saw a couple pictures that I posted and I got a lot of really wonderful love online. And that was--I didn't say what it was at the time but that was a very common surgery but I did do it under general anesthesia. It was my first time ever under general anesthesia so I was super scared. But I got through it. That was a common surgery called a LEEP which is a surgery that removes some cervical tissue to to study it for pathology. I also had something called an ECC which is an Endocervical Curettage so that's like a scraping of the endocervix. And then something called a D&C which is Dilation and Curetage of the uterus. That part's not usually included in the initialism. But D&C is actually a really interesting procedure that we're going to talk about a little later when we talk about abortion science. I was not having an abortion though. I was having a D&C for also pathology purposes. It's a scraping of the endometrial lining of your uterus to look and see if there's any abnormality. All of this came after an abnormal Pap. Women get paps regularly. Oftentimes when they come back abnormal the problem is squamous tissue which is a certain type of cell layer of the cervix. Mine came back abnormal in my glandular tissue which is more disconcerting because it happens farther up inside the cervix and it can and it enters into the uterus there's kind of no dividing line there. And it came back something called adenocarcinoma in situ which sounds really scary for good reason. That word carcinoma is scary. It's cancer. The operative words here are in situ or for some reason a lot of the doctors say in situ which I find interesting because researchers almost always say in situ. We use that term a lot in research too. Anyway that means in place. So what that really means is that the abnormal tissue the cancerous tissue is still in an outermost layer of cells. It has not yet invaded the basement membrane. So they often refer to AIS as cancer stage zero meaning it will progress. It's not a question of if but when. And yet it has not progressed yet which is a very good sing.

B: Sounds like a good number though to have.

S: Yeah you want stage zero if you're going to be staged for sure. And the so the good news is it's fully treatable. The bad news is the treatment is a total hysterectomy and so that is at the age of 38 something that I'm going to undergo here next week. Which means I'll be off the show for several weeks while I'm in recovery. And I thought it was important to talk about this because I think people listening right now either have gone through it or are gonna have to go through it. When I come back on the show I can report back what my experience was like. If anybody has questions of course you can reach out to me via social media as I'm preparing. I've been talking to a lot of younger women who have gone through this procedure for usually other reasons things like endometriosis or uterine fibroids. But also one person I talked to went through it because they were brachypositive and they did it preventively. So for cancer purposes. So that's my spiel.

S: Yeah.

C: I'd also love to answer any questions that you guys might have. I know we've talked about this offline so you might not have any but for the purposes of the listeners.

S: I think we should be clear: you're going to be fine. This is you're going to be totally fine when all this is done. But even still this is major surgery.

C: Yeah. Oh yeah. A hysterectomy is─

S: The removal of an organ.

C: ─and not just one I mean I think the reason that a lot of--I grapple with this because hysterectomy is the single most common surgery performed on women. Or I should say it's the single most common gynecologic surgery performed in the US. And so because it's so common and because there's a huge stigma around women talking about reproduction and because there's also a lot of misinformation disinformation and just lack of information that people generally have about our fundamental anatomy and physiology. I know women. Women who have given birth who when I tell them what the surgery entails they're like wait what now? I'm like yeah. So total hysterectomy for me it refers to the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and cervix. Radical hysterectomy also includes the ovaries. I get to keep my ovaries. I'm very lucky in that regard so I don't have to undergo any hormone replacement. But that said I will be having all of that structure removed which means you're also losing a lot of the structure in your pelvic floor. And so there's a lot of healing. It's laparoscopic which really helps with the heal time.

B: Oh sure.

C: But now pretty much the only thing between a woman or I should say or a trans man. Anybody who had a uterus. Who undergoes this surgery or somebody's non-binary. The only thing between where those organs used to be and the outside world now is the upper layer of your vagina that's sewn closed to form what's called a vaginal cuff. So basically it's tissue and then guts. Like your intestines. There's no cervix in between them anymore. So that's all of that structure has to be kind of sewn in artificially.

B: Wow.

C: So you've got a lot of healing to do.

S: Yeah.

B: That makes sense now. It's even more dramatic than I thought.

C: Yeah. But the good news is it is very common. I am in very capable hands and this for all intents and purposes and when you look at the literature by and large to like a very high degree. 99 point something will completely remove the cancer and there's really kind of no risk after that. I will still have to do some paps and things like that. And so they're a little bit different paps when you don't have a cervix. They're different but you still have to do them. But yeah. This should be a--this is a curative procedure. Or really a preventative procedure.

S: Yeah that's the good part.

B: Yeah. Right. So did they discuss? Are there any non-surgical alternatives or is that really your only option?

C: Yes. So the standard of care according to all of the different medical gynecologic groups who have done all of this research over the years is total hysterectomy. And the reason for that is that skip lesions are really common. So even though my LEEP came back positive for AIS but my ECC and my D&C were both negative there's a good chance we we actually removed all of the all of the AIS but the risk for skip lesions is so high. And a skip lesion is just a lesion that's non-continuous. So it could be somewhere else and we missed it.

S: So it looks like you got it all but you didn't.

C: Yeah it looks like you got it all but you didn't and the risk for that is so high that the standard of care is total hysterectomy. So if I had wanted children which I don't there are fertility sparing options but really all that entails is waiting. And you can wait a few years to plan your family and to give birth but during that time you have to have biopsies every six months. And to me what do I wait for? The longer you wait the riskier surgery is. The younger you are when you have a surgery and the more healthy you are the better outcomes. I don't have plans for fertility and I don't want to go through any more painful biopsies. I had already done multiple biopsies prior to this and one little thing that you might not know if you're not somebody who's had a colposcopy-they don't give you any anesthesia for those.

S: Yeah it's considered too brief a procedure.

C: Yeah they say it's so short that the shot itself would hurt too bad and then they have to follow it. But it's still multiple sites so I've probably had five colposcopies now in my life. Maybe more. And each time it's two biopsies and an ECC which is the curettage of the endocervix. So it's three brutally painful like almost pass out painful punches inside of you but yes it's fast. Doesn't mean it's not horrible. And that's partially why we did the LEEP and the and the ECC under general anesthesia this time. And we needed to do a D&C too. Which sometimes you don't do under general. But general definitely takes that kind of pain away. And so yeah this will be my second time under anesthesia. Boy oh boy propofol is weird.

B: Yeah because this is going to be more extensive. You're gnnna to be under longer, right? So you're a little worried about the reaction for such a lenghty time.

C: Yeah an hour and a half last time. This will be more like four to four and a half she said. But everyone reacts differently.

S: Yeah everyone reacts a little bit differently.

C: Some people don't have a reaction at all. And here's an interesting thing. Steve I'd be curious to hear your take on this. So the first surgery I did I didn't ha--I was under general but I didn't need pain meds because it's really not that pain. I mean it hurts but you take ibuprofen and use a heating pad and you're pretty much okay. This surgery they put you on dilaudid in the hospital which is a very strong opiate. So and then you go home with some like norco or something like that. Just for a few days and then you move on to NSAIDs. But I've spoken to a few people who told me that paradoxically my post-anesthesia yuckiness that I felt after the first surgery might actually be mitigated because I will be on pain meds this time. So I might not notice that horrible propofol hangover because I'm on heart like pain meds.

S: Yeah because you'll yeah because you'll be on narcotics at the same time.

C: Yeah because I'll be like effed up. So that's kind of my hope.

B: Good luck with that. Cara I've got a question. Considering how radical the surgery is. What I'm curious what's the impact on menopause?

C: None for--well I can't say completely but for the most part if the ovaries are in place none. If you remove your ovaries what that does is it forces menopause.

S: Yeah it's a surgically induced menopause.

C: Yeah. Which is why women, I keep saying women but anybody who goes through that procedure, which is why they often require hormone replacement therapy. Depending on their needs. But for me the hope is so the uterus and the fallopian tubes really don't have any endocrine bearing. Sometimes there are some things that can happen to the ovaries because the tissue near the ovaries has changed. But very often the ovaries continue to have a typical ovulation cycle. And before you ask I did ask my doctor I was like wait where does the egg go? And she was like it's just a cell Cara your body just absorbs it like it literally always does. And I was like right right. She was like very rarely does it actually make it down the fallopian tube and into the uterus and implant that's like, it's just a cell. Your body just gets rid of it. So I will still have a cycle. I just won't bleed because I won't have a uterus. I can no longer get pregnant but I will still go through menopause at whatever age my endocrine system indeuces menopause.

S: Well Cara we are absolutely gonna miss you over the next few weeks on the show.

C: I'll miss you guys too.

S: And I know you're going to keep us updated. You'll let us know what you want us to tell your audience while we're waiting for you to recover. But I'm sure everyone want to know that you're doing well.

C: Yeah yeah I'll definitely let you guys know as soon as I'm aware enough to send text messages.

B: That said if you feel like it and you're kind of really loopy on narcotics. (Cara laughs) You know come on the show for just a few minutes. It'd be kind of awesome.

C: It'd be hilarious. And also for the Talk Nerdy listeners a thank you and b I did pre-record a bunch of interviews so there won't be any interruptions in Talk Nerdy. I'm gonna record all of the ads and intros here over the next couple days and get them ready so that my assistant can manage posting during the weeks that I'm recovering. So no interruptions there but I will miss everybody on SGU but I'll be back soon enough.

B: Sure.

S: Yeah. It'll go fast.

Quickie with Bob: Gamma Ray Burst (21:34)[edit]

S: All right Bob you're gonna start us off with a Quickie.

B: Aah. Thank you Steve you sexy chief grey top. This is your Quickie with Bob. (laughter) So Cara gird your loins this time for gamma ray bursts in the news or GRPs as I like to call them. And Cara thank you for using that the word initialism earlier in your talk. I loved it. So we know Gamma Ray Burst, right? We've talked about them. Some collapsing stars form a black hole that can spit out gamma rays from their poles so intense that they are the most energetic and luminous events in the universe since the Big Bang. So these are something else. Imagine turning the entire Earth's mass into energy then multiply that times 100 and that's what we're talking about. That's the scale of energy output that we're talking about with Gamma Ray Bursts. So Gamma Ray Bursts are mysterious though. They're still mysterious. I wasn't aware of this. It's because sometimes they can be irregular. They blink in the middle of one of their amazing displays. And then they resume. So it's for years scientists have wondered what's going on there. Why is this thing kind of like taking a little break and then coming back? What's happening? So they ran a new simulation of gamma-ray bursts on a powerful supercomputer. I think it's called the Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler but I could be wrong. Don't quote me on that one. So it created the highest resolution gamma-ray burst ever in the simulation. And it shows the entire GRB evolution for the first time. Soup to nuts. And in it researchers saw that the star that's collapsing that the gas hits the disk of gas that's already around the newly forming black hole. So the star is collapsing but the black hole is already forming and there's already a disk of magnetized gas around it. And this so this in falling gas basically hits this disc and sets it wobbling. So that when it bounces off it as a jet. This jet bounces off because the disc is wobbling the jet is also kind of wobbling as it bounces off of it. And if the jet is strong enough to emerge through this still collapsing star. The gamma-ray burst is then born there. Once it escapes it is born. And that interior jet wobble makes the gamma-ray burst wobble as well. Which explains why we lose the signal briefly when we detect them. So I will say though, gotta say that I'm a little sad that the beam the gamma-ray beam that I've thought about for years. That's like potentially a light year wide that could swallow the Earth if it was close and do crazy damage. That laser-like beam isn't really laser-like. It's more like a flopping piece of pasta. It's kind of like going all over the place. Which is not as you know it just kind of seems kind of silly to me. I like the idea this gamma ray laser beam but whatever. There's still lots of other fascinating amazing things about this online. Check it out. And on that note ungird your loins. This has been your Quickie with Bob, I hope it was good for you too.

S: Thank you Bob.

C: So good.

News Items[edit]

Mining the Sea (24:33)[edit]

S: All right guys I wanna start the official news items with talking about mining metals from the sea.

B: Oh my god. I love this man. There's so much great stuff in there.

S: I know. I wanna start though with a question for you Cara because I already asked this Bob and I know he knows the answer. So the idea is that there are metallic elements just dissolved in seawater.

C: Okay.

S: We talked about the fact that there was I know like a couple years ago that there's a lot of uranium in the world's oceans. There's enough uranium to there's like 500 times the uranium in the oceans than on the land.

C: Wow.

S: That's a lot.

B: Yeah.

S: So here's the question we're gonna turn to lithium. Lithium is an important element because it's lithium-ion batteries. And even for quite some time it's quite possible that lithium might be the center of our battery technology. Especially for vehicles. There's more options for grid storage because then you don't have to worry so much about size or weight. But with vehicles weight is everything. And so right now lithium is it and it may be for the next 20-30-40 years, who knows. If we're going to try to turn over our entire automobile fleet into battery electric vehicles that's gonna require a lot of lithium. If we're also gonna you have home backup storage for solar panels and also grid storage. That's a lot of lithium there as well.

C: Is lithium a [Rare-earth element rare-earth metal]? I know it's a metal but is it a rare-earth metal or no?

S: Lithium is not a rare-earth.

C: It's not. Okay. All right.

S: The rare-earths are just like one of the it's a series of metals and they're not necessarily rare. That's like a misnomer. It's just like it's like saying the a platinum group metal. There's the rare-earth metals. Whatever.

B: Right.

C: Gotcha, gotcha.

S: It's like a periodic table designation really. In any case but lithium is lithium it's not, lithium is the third element.

C: Right yes the third element but it's also I guess it's often found as lithium, I'm looking it up now, lithium chloride and potassium chloride. And you can pull lithium as a metal out of it.

S: Yes.

C: Which is cool.

S: It's also the only element that's also a drug.

C: Right. Yeah. That's the same thing. It's not two different words. It's lithium salts.

S: Which is very interesting.

B: Wow.

S: Anyway so the world right now we're using a hundred and sixty thousand tons a year of lithium. Mainly in battery production. 360 000 tons per year. So here's my question for you Cara. How much lithium is in the world's oceans? And you can express that in number of years of lithium at current usage. (Cara laughs)

C: And this is like fully dissolved. Like we're not talking about how hard it would be to get it out. We're just talking about how much is probably there.

S: Just how much is there. Just how much is there.

C: Maybe five years worth? Is that a really low number?

S: Close.

C: Oh it's close?

S: 1.1 million years worth of lithium. (laughter)

C: That's amazing. The oceans are so much bigger than we ever give them credit for.

B: Right? Basically inexhaustible. Essentially inexhaustible.

S: It's basically inexhaustible. So yeah I mean think about we could use ten times our current annual usage for─

B: For 110 000 years.

S: ─we could do that for a thousand years and only use one percent of the lithium in the oceans. Which would be nothing. Basically around rounding off.

B: Wow man.

S: So and yeah I think probably in a thousand years we'll be on to something more advanced than lithium-ion technology. But so essentially we'll never use it all. But you of course you immediately hit upon the point of how do we get it out of there? How energy-intensive is it and how─

C: Right and how energy-intensive is that?

S: ─money-intensive is it. How much does it cost. Because yeah I mean no one's gonna do it if the lithium you get isn't worth it in terms of the market value. So it all it'll happen when the market value of lithium will support that enterprise. And of course that means it needs to be cheap enough and expense is actually not a bad marker for how energy intensive a process is. The more energy intensive process is the more expensive it is. So those two things do tend to go hand in hand. But we do have the technology we need to essentially filter elements, metallic elements out of sea water. There are about 40 commercially usable elements dissolved in seawater at significant concentrations. Lithium just being one of the higher ones. But there's also tons of copper. There's some gold. There's cobalt, nickel. There's lots of useful things in there. Manganese.

B: But some gold Steve some if you classify 20 million tons of gold some then you're correct. But like you said the problem is though it's so diffused it's like it's parts per trillion. (Cara laughs) So it's gonna take some serious tech.

S: Gold has one of the lowest. It's a lot in absolute amount but the concentration is very low. Whereas lithium is at the higher end in terms of the amount, the concentration. So because the height the concentration is fairly high it could actually be feasible to mine significant amounts of lithium from the ocean in a way that's economically feasible. So it probably won't be happening on a massive scale anytime soon just because of the economics of it. But the it's good to know that if our land-based lithium supplies start to run low that we have essentially an inexhaustible supply in the world's ocean. So we won't run out of it. We straight up will not run out of lithium. It's there. It's just a matter of how much does it cost to get at it. And of course it's a good bet that if we do need to to mine lithium from this from seawater itself that the technology will progress. It'll become cheaper over time. There'll be economy of scale and who knows. It might even be cheaper than mining it from the ground is today.

C: Do we already have like mechanisms, proof of concept, all that good stuff?

S: Basically these filters that just you could they just absorb different minerals from the water and collect it like in these. It's almost like fly paper kind of thing like hanging down into the water. Like a whole platform of them and then you just collect it and then haul away the minerals.

B: That's amazing. Imagine some future technology where it makes it easy to collect. Any of the metals that you want. That would be something.

S: Yeah so it's currently under investigation. It's essentially technology to absorb specific elements. So as I said there's an estimated 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater. 500 times the known land-based reserves. 180 billion tons of lithium. 40 usable elements. So this is an area of active research. The technology to economically on to scale. Absorb a lot of these from the ocean. And as long as we're not like dramatically affecting the concentration in the ocean we probably don't have to worry about it affecting the ecosystem.

B: Yeah good question. Good angle.

S: Yeah there is I mean that's like I said that it'll be a thousand years at 10 times current usage before we knock it the lithium down by one percent. Probably not going to cause any problems. But iron is actually a very important mineral in the ocean. And there has been a reduction in the concentration of iron in seawater and that's comparing mussels abilities to to adhere to things. Like they're sticky stuff.

C: Does that have anything to do with climate change?

S: Totally.

C: Why the iron is--yeah.

S: So we can't assume that altering the chemistry of the oceans will have no effect on life. On the ecosystem. It's something that we need to investigate. but again these there's so much of it there that it would be a long time before we would like significantly alter the concentration.

B: Yeah I mean there's like there's 20 million tons of gold. I'll take a million tons. That's a tiny bit and I'll be good. Totally good.

S: Yeah.

C: Right. And so the question is right like okay it may only reduce the concentration by one percent like we're talking about but does a one percent reduction in concentration affect the probably not the osmolarity of the ocean but it might affect the pH? I mean I don't know.

S: Just have to investigate it.

C: But that the cool stuff is we can model all of that.

S: It's not hard.

C: Like that's the cool thing. We can totally do that science.

S: And the stuff that we really need probably is not like necessary for the ocean life. Like I don't think anyone's gonna be miss the uranium that's in the ocean.

B: Yeah right.

C: It's probably it's more about the knock-on effects.

S: All right but there's another way to mine the ocean for minerals. And this is something I just learned about recently. Polymetallic nodules. Have you guys ever heard of them?

B: Oh yeah. Yeah.

S: Polymetallic nodules.

C: No.

B: These are weird.

S: So these are basically like concretions of metal that are strewn across the ocean floor especially in the deep ocean. They're called polymetallic because they have multiple metals in them. Their greatest concentrations are found between 4 000 and 6 000 meters depth.

B: Oh boy. That's deep.

S: That's deep. So the deep ocean. They vary in size from pebbles to large rocks but the average size is somewhere about a potato. So just imagine these these potato sized nuggets of valuable metals. Like solid metal but multiple metals too. They contain a lot of iron. They contain a lot of nickel which nickel by the way is also very important for battery technology and also running in short supply. And they contain cobalt which is huge. Because cobalt is probably the most rare or resource limited element that we need for our current lithium-ion battery technology.

B: Really?

S: There's a lot of research going on trying to replace cobalt but something I'm a little bit more available. The problem is there's there's not a lot of cobalt mines around the world. One of the biggest one I think is in the DRC. And China completely bought all the rights to it so we are basically dependent on China for our batteries at this point in time. This was just stupid.

B: That's just not good.

S: I know it was dumb. Totally short sighted.

B: Dropped the ball on that. That just like.

S: Totally dropped the ball.

B: Like 101.

S: So but we shouldn't drop the ball on polymetallic nodules─

B: Probably will.

S: ─because they contain a lot of cobalt. Nickel and cobalt. They're basically batteries in a rock, you know what it mean? It's like everything we need for lithium-ion battery. Other than the lithium which we can get from the water.

B: International waters too.

S: There's one caution about them but so yeah so the deep ocean─

B: They explode when you touch them?

S: ─nope they're mainly sitting on the surface of sedimentary layers at the bottom of the deep ocean. That's actually an interesting research question that scientists are looking at. Why aren't so how long do they take to form first let's talk about that. They take millions of years to form. Two to three million years. Several million years. They basically slowly there's some there's some kind of something in the middle that starts it. Could be a bit of fossilized shark tooth or shell or even like a bit of an older nodule or something. And then you get layers and layers─

B: Nucleation point?

S: ─of yeah it's like a nucleation point of different metals absorbing around the outside.

B: Like a pearl.

S: Yeah. Kinda. Like a pearl of metals. And it could take millions of years to form so the question is why haven't they been buried deep in sediments over those same millions of years. They should be really deep under the ground under the sea floor and they think it's because that critters are knocking the sand off of the top of them and keeping them from being buried by the normal churning of the sediment. Laying down of the sedimentary layers.

B: Why do they do that?

S: I think they said: "It is assumed that deposit-feeding benthic organisms clean the recently settled particles atop the nodules and eject them on the sides or even below the nodules thus preventing their burial."

B: Thanks guys.

S: Yeah thank you. So mine is there's a few different ways to mine them and they're they these are things that have been done as like tests to see if it would work. So one is just like essentially just vacuuming them up from the floor. Another one you have imagine two boats with a line of buckets that are dragging along the sea floor just scooping up all the nodules. And so there's other technologies on it.

B: There's a lot of buckets man.

S: Yeah has a crawler that sort of crawls along the floor sucks up the nodules crushes them and then they get sucked into a tube to a platform and then put onto a ship which then hauls them away. Other than the fact that it's in the deep ocean it's like they're just sitting there.

B: Any estimates Steve on like these how much are we talking here?

S: Massive quantities.

B: Damn man.

S: One estimate of this is just the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. The CCZ which is just one location between Hawaii and Mexico where there is a dense deposit of these nodules. And they do need again in order for this to be economic for the mining to be economically feasible they need to focus on parts of the of the ocean floor where there's a high concentration of these. So there's a few zones of high concentration. The CCZ is one of them. That's between Hawaii and Mexico. So the estimates are that just that one zone contains enough nickel and cobalt and polymetallic nodules to create enough batteries for 4.8 billion battery electric vehicles.

B: What the hell.

C: Wow.

S: That's twice as many cars as currently exist. So that would be enough to make our entire fleet battery electric vehicles twice over. Just from just from the nodules.

B: That's nuts man.

S: Yeah. There's a lot.

B: So you gotta be the first country to do that though because this is international waters, right? I mean anybody can grab that.

C: Oh right what are the legal and like political implications of this.

S: That's a complicated area but there are treaties and laws that govern the international seas and the ocean floor. And so I didn't have a chance yet to go into the into a deep dive on just that specific thing. Like what is the laws governing it but it does seem like anyone can go do it. There are private companies that now that are dedicated to mining polymetallic nodules.

B: Oh nice.

S: Company out of Australia for example. So that's what they're doing. They are mining polymetallic nodules. Absolutely. So it's possible. Now there's one caveat to the polymetallic nodules. Environmentalists, right? Always sticking their nose in things.

C: (laughs) Oh-oh.

S: They're like excuse me but these nodules are not lifeless. There is a little ecosystem that forms on them of microscopic creatures and some very tiny creatures that eat the microscopic creatures and so if we do a massive mining operation of the deep ocean floor it, they warn, this may be disruptive to not only that ecosystem but whatever that ecosystem interacts with. So it might be part of a the bigger ocean ecosystem.

C: Well not just that. If we're doing a major mining operation on the ocean floor we're probably disrupting a lot of larger ecosystems on the floor too. With our tools.

S: Yes. Yeah. And the other concern is that we're stirring up a lot of the sediment and we're gonna disrupt the water by just filling it with all this sediment.

C: And that's probably incredibly fragile. I mean that would be such a massive blow to the ocean that just that doesn't happen.

S: Right now that's being studied.

B: It needs to.

S: What is the effect. What's the effect of these ecosystems. What's the effect of mining them. What's the, how can we do it and be the least disruptive possible. We certainly don't want to cause one environmental problem while we're trying to solve another. But it does seem like we should be able to mine them in a responsible way. Like everything. It's like fracking. It's like anything. It's like yeah you could do it the right way or you could do it the cheap way. And the question is are the regulations in place to make sure that we do it the right way.

C: In place and being enforced.

S: Exactly. And since we're about to embark on this massive mining operation of the ocean it seems this is the time to make sure that we know what the right way is and that we enforce it. So that we don't cause major disruption of the world's oceans ecosystems. So it's always complicated. It's never easy. But this is a this seems like an interesting opportunity if we leverage it correctly. Both of these things. The polymetallic nodules and just mining metals directly out of sea water. Maybe it'll take us a while before again this becomes technologically and economically feasible but we have a while. This is like we're kind of preparing this technology for when we really need it in 20 years or 30 years. We have it's not like we're going to run out of lithium tomorrow. And it's also not as if there aren't other land-based resources to be developed. There's plenty that to discover and to develop. So it's not like we're already at a desperate point where we this is our only option left. But it also should be pointed out that mining metals on land is also disruptive to the ecosystem. It's not like that's benign.

B: True.

C: No it's terrible.

S: Depending on where it is. And rare-earths in particular. Where they are being mined, like mostly China, are being done in an environmentally terrible way it's just─

B: Shocker.

S: ─not being done well. So even though this might be not be pristine in terms of its environmental impacts. It would probably better than what's happening now.

C: Or we'll just do the exact same damage in a different place. And that's a real consideration.

S: That's the thing if we don't do it right we don't make sure it gets done properly.

C: And it sounds like we have to figure out because like we can't ignore the psychology. We can't ignore the human. If it's cheaper to do it one way but that way is terrible for the environment we have to make it more expensive. As in the fees that you will face the ramifications that you will face are significantly more expensive than doing it the right way.

S: Right. Yeah. That's one way to do it. Absolutely. The principle here too which we bring up quite a bit is externalized costs. If a company can externalize a cost to the world, to society, to other people, to taxpayers or to the government or to whoever they will. They'll and one of the ways that you externalize a cost is by not paying for your own cleanup. Or not undoing the damage that you're doing to the environment in the process of doing your business. You just let somebody else handle it. One of the legitimate roles of government is to make sure that companies don't do that. They don't dump their costs on other people unfairly. Just cover your costs. Clean up your own mess. That's like just a basic principle. And it's totally fair. And of course we don't want to do it in such a way that it inhibits business. I want to mine these things out of the ocean because we want the batteries so that we can use renewable energy sources. Like this is something that is there's a an environmental good here if we do it correctly.

C: Yeah. Right. And that's really the question is like at what cost and how do we minimize that cost to its lowest impact possible.

S: That's like always there's a way to do it smartly. And you don't always spontaneously do it that way but we can.

[commercial brake]

Science of Pregnancy and Abortion (46:04)[edit]

S: All right Cara in the wake of the end of Roe v. Wade you're gonna talk about. We're not gonna get into a political discussion here but what we're gonna do is just talk about the science. Scientific and factual questions at the heart of abortion, pregnancy, women's health, all those things. So take it away.

C: Absolutely Steve. And I just want to say right up at the top obviously this is an incredibly emotionally charged topic and I really appreciate the editorial policy that we have here on the SGU to really talk about science-based, evidence-based issues and that's the approach that I'm taking with this topic. But of course I'd be remiss if we didn't cover this. So as we're going along you guys have any questions for me let me know. I did a lot of research for this and so I'm gonna be citing a lot of different sources here. All right so first and foremost: what is abortion? I think it's important that we just answer that question out right. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by removing the embryo or fetus. This can occur spontaneously. This is usually called a miscarriage. Oftentimes in scientific jargon it's called a spontaneous abortion. This is common. It happens in like 30 to 40 percent of pregnancies.

B: That much?

C: Or an abortion the way that--yeah, yeah. Very common. So or as we often use the term abortion we're referring to a an induced abortion and that can be medically or surgically induced. So next question which I think is important to talk about right off the bat: who gets one and when do they get them? Well according to the CDC in 2019 which is where we have our last complete data set. Women in their 20s accounted for the majority of abortions. That was around 57%. Also the majority of abortions in 2019 took place early in gestation. And when I say early I mean early. I mean at or less than 13 weeks gestation. That was 92.7% of abortions. So the vast majority of abortions are happening within the first trimester. A smaller number occurred between 14 and 20 weeks. That's about 6.2%. And even fewer less than 1% were performed at greater than 21 weeks gestation. And even that is a little bit complicated. Even those numbers because it's a little hard to know what would have been... Okay how do I put this. When we look at that very very small percentage of very very late in gestation pregnancy terminations it's hard to know if these fetal deaths were natural deaths that had to be removed or if the removal was actually what caused the death. So sometimes there's erroneous classification that late because it's really difficult to know if this is a fetal death that then has to be removed to save the woman's life or if the fetus is viable, I shouldn't say viable that's a complicated term, or if the fetus is technically dead prior to the removal. So even that number is a little bit complicated. When we talk about the stage of pregnancy and the method about 26% of legal induced abortions so these are reported ones that were done by the book by medical professionals here in the US. About 26% were known to have been obtained at less than 6 weeks gestation. 18% at 7 weeks, 15% at 8 weeks, 18% at 9 through 10. 10% at 11 through 12. Only 6% at 13 through 15 and then it just drops and drops. 4% at 16 through 20. 1% of more than 21. 90% of all of these were done by curettage. So that's either suction aspiration. Dilation and Curettage the D&C that I mentioned earlier in the show or Dilation and Evacuation. 8% were done by medical means. So that's by drugs. And around 1% by intrauterine insulation. So that's by utilizing saline or prostaglandin. And about 1% would have occurred during hysterectomy or hysterectomy. But again it's very very difficult when we talk about abortions that are happening sort of after the 20-week mark or the 22nd week mark to know at that point exactly if we should have classified it as an abortion or a natural death. 72% of people who have them are under the age of 30. 85% are not married. And 75% are low income or below the federal poverty level. So abortion is something that is disproportionately happening among young, non-supported and economically disadvantaged individuals. And also the majority, 61%, were people of color. Globally these numbers are way harder to track. We think it's somewhere around 28 per 1000 women of childbearing age who have an abortion each year. Or another way to calculate it is to look at the percentage of the known pregnancies. That's about 28 of known pregnancies for a total of about 43 or 44 million. But again that's very hard to track because of stigma, lack of reporting and kind of abortions that are not done within medical settings. So that's a little bit of background about who's having them and when they're having them. Overwhelmingly early in pregnancy. Overwhelmingly younger women who lack social support and who lack financial support and women of color. Now let's talk a little bit about what abortion isn't so here's a lot of misinformation in pseudoscience and there have been multiple studies that have shown an uptick in the spreading of pseudoscience and misinformation through social media during the time of first the SCOTUS leak and now the SCOTUS decision. Okay so I think that this claim is pretty well supported and so I'm gonna say this and you guys can kind of reply to it the way that you feel fit but objections to abortion. They are generally ideological, religious or political. You could say moral. You could say ethical. You could say value judgments. They're not based in science or medicine. And oftentimes they are founded on pseudoscience and misinformation and that's where I want to sort of go. First and foremost let's get this out of the way a common QAnon conspiracy states that abortion is a form of human sacrifice that's being delivered by a global cabal. I think we can put the global kibosh on that one.

B: Yeah.

C: Another common type of misinformation that you often see in these clinics that spring up to try to educate women and convince them from not having abortions is that you can reverse an abortion. So often times you will see women who will come into these clinics who have started to in induce utilizing medical means and there will be a big push to "reverse the abortion". That's not a thing.

B: Oh boy. Never heard of that.

C: Often you'll see claim. Yeah. Often you'll see claims that abortion cannot save a woman's life. That is fundamentally not true. Abortion is absolutely a medical procedure that is a very often used to save a woman's life. You will also see, and this is a very very common argument that you will see, that abortion increases the risk of death. No it does not. Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. No it does not. Abortion increases the risk of infertility. No it does not. Abortion increases the risk of depression, anxiety, suicidality or PTSD. No it does not. In fact mental health effects are significantly worsened by unwanted pregnancy and birth. Compared to mental health effects from abortion. And there's a lot of evidence to support this. Here's something interesting. A 2021 article in the American Journal of Public Health notes that of the 29 states here in the US where detailed health information is mandated prior to administering an abortion, and to be clear this is in addition to standard informed consent which all medical procedures require. So if you're gonna get any medical intervention at all across this country you have to sign an informed consent which shows that you have been told about the risks and benefits of the procedure and you know, you're signing to say that you know what you're about to do. And you're giving consent to it and you're of you have competency to do so. So that is already the standard. Yet in 29 states there is more legislation on top of it that says that detailed health information must be given to a woman prior to an abortion. Sadly in 29 of those 20 oh sorry. In 22 of those 29 states the information that is mandated to give to a woman is unsupported by scientific evidence. Yeah. And let's talk about what that information is. Very often it has to do with risks to cancer risk, infertility and mental health effects which study after study shows there's no link. Also common arguments are that abortion is risky to a woman's health to her and usually we're talking about bleeding risks, infection risks and death. And while there is a slight risk of infection or heavy bleeding after abortion to be clear the risk is significantly greater during and after pregnancy. And remember, if not abortion then pregnancy, right? There's only, that's the effect. So for example infection rates are around 0.25% for surgical abortion. But vaginal delivery infection rates are around 2% so we're talking about an order of magnitude more. 10% for scheduled c-section and nearly 20% for emergency c-section. A systematic review showed that three to six women out of every 1 000 abortions required a transfusion for bleeding while the transfusion rate for hospital deliveries was was 39.7%. Or sorry was 39.7 out of every 1000. So that's 3.97%. Where it was only 3 to 6 out of every 1000 for an abortion. And let's look at death. A large study showed that between 1988 and 2010 there were 108 deaths from over 16.1 million legal abortions that were performed in the United States. Yet 13 times as many women died during childbirth during that same period. And interestingly states that have more restrictions around abortion, as measured by a standardized tool, have a higher maternal mortality rate. So places where abortion access is restricted you see more women dying from pregnancy and childbirth.

S: Cara can I ask for one clarification? So they that 13 times greater is that absolute or proportion?

C: That's an important question Steve and maybe I can present the data in a slightly different way which will help. Because I was giving you an absolute number. There 108 deaths among 16.1 million legal abortions. Let me look at it this way. That translates to a mortality rate of 0.7 deaths per 100 procedures. The mortality rate of hospital births is 8.8 deaths per 100 000 births. So scaled together it's 0.7 compared to 8.8. 13 fold difference.

S: Yeah. Okay.

C: Yeah actually before we get there the next thing I wanna talk about are some of the outcomes that we know based on evidence of banning abortion. And that's a hard question to answer because it's been a long time since abortion was banned and we have a lot of medical advancements since then. So some of these things have to be modeled. Okay there's a really comprehensive study that's often cited. Probably the most comprehensive study that examines the effects of abortion access. It's called the Turnaway Study. It followed about a thousand women for five years after they sought abortion. So they either got one or they were denied them. It followed them for five years. This was led by a reproductive health researcher at the University of California San Francisco. And here are some of the big takeaways from that study. Women denied an abortion were significantly more likely to live in poverty afterwards than those who received one. Those who denied an abortion were more likely to report not having enough money to cover expenses over those five years. Women who were unable to receive an abortion had lower--they had worse outcomes in areas like education, physical health and mental health. Once somebody who has denied the abortion actually does carry a child to term and give birth they rarely choose to place the child even though that's a common argument and talking point.

S: Just give up for adoption. Yeah.

C: That the alternative--yeah the alternative to abortion is adoption. That's actually very rarely what happens. And so the study author said quote: "It means that poor families will have kids before they're ready and all the health and economic costs that we've documented in the Turnaway Study will happen for these people." So we see across the board what happens if we ban abortion. Abortion will still continue. We know this when we look at countries where abortion is banned. We know this when looking at the history of the United States when abortion was not protected under court precedent. Abortions will continue but they will be done illegally and they will be done unsafely. Therefore women will die. It's very hard to put an exact number on this but nearly every major professional organization has included this fact in their statement. So the American Medical Association put out a statement recently: "State laws that severely restrict or ban abortion will not conclusively end this issue but they will endanger the physical and psychological health of those who will then be forced to travel to another state to receive one. Attempt self-managed abortions or who are forced to carry their pregnancy to term. Each of those scenarios places them at higher risk of injury harm or death." And the professional organization that I belong to, the American Psychological Association, put out a statement also and here are some interesting points that the APA president Frank C. Worrell said: "This ruling ignores not only precedent but science, and will exacerbate the mental health crisis America is already experiencing. We are alarmed that the justices would nullify Roe despite decades of scientific research demonstrating that people who are denied abortions are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem compared with those who are able to obtain them. A person’s ability to control when and if they have a child is frequently linked to their socioeconomic standing and earning power. Therefore, restricting access to safe, legal abortions is most likely to affect those living in poverty, people of color, and sexual and gender identity minorities, as well as those who live in rural or medically undeserved areas." And then he goes on to say: "Research also demonstrates a strong relationship between unwanted pregnancy and interpersonal violence. Specifically, psychological science suggests that the inability to obtain an abortion increases the risk for domestic abuse among those who are forced to stay in contact with violent partners, putting them and their children at risk." And that's that's the tip of the iceberg. I studied, I looked at a lot of other things like what happens when a woman with schizophrenia has an unwanted pregnancy and she's forced to carry to term. What happens when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. What happens when a child becomes pregnant and is forced to carry to term. And we didn't even document the negative consequences of all of those examples because there's just too much to cite here. But what I kind of wanted to end with was a little piece about where we are now and what can be done that's grounded in kind of the science and the legal evidence. So if you're an individual with a uterus who becomes pregnant but you're living in a place where this is now illegal and inaccessible you can travel and seek care where this is legal and accessible. Some states like California where I live are actively codifying abortion access in their constitutions. And collectively you may have seen that California, Oregon and Washington just committed publicly to offering a safe haven for individuals who are traveling out of state. So your rights would be protected not just for abortion services but also contraceptives and other reproductive health treatment. Also the US attorney general Merrick Garland did issue a statement recently reinforcing the fact that there are medical options available. The FDA has approved the use of moneprostone as a safe and effective treatment if it's used within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and states legally cannot restrict access to this medication.

B: Really?

C: Many states try. There is legislation on the books in many states that say this drug is banned from being mailed there or telehealth visits for abortion services are banned. But that said legal scholars will cite the preemption argument which states that where federal and state laws are in conflict the federal law prevails. And this is an FDA approved medication. And that's what Merrick Garland's statement points to. So you can learn a lot more about this if you are interested. A great website to go to is This is a government website. It is the website of the US Department of Health and Human Services and it lists the legal rights that are available to individuals with regard to reproduction right now in the wake of this finding. So I think that's a great place to look because you're not gonna see misinformation, you're not gonna see pseudoscience and this is actually a US Government website.

B: Wow.

C: It's a lot. And there's a lot more we could have talked about.

S: Absolutely and we're not even. Yeah we're just scratching the surface─

C: Scratching the surface.

S: ─of the relevant information but it is good I think to go into this debate at least informed with some of the basic facts. And that will dispense with 90% of the horrible arguments.

B: But it really won't dispense with them but yeah. (Cara laughs)

S: I mean I wrote about this in my blog earlier this week just to make a very simple point, not so not so simple point actually, that it the whole abortion debate is not a scientific question. Science can't answer this question for us. It's a question of ethics and philosophy and legal issues etc. And it's messy and we have to it's balancing various rights that are complicated and interacting in a complicated way etc. And then the the discussion that ensued in the comments completely ignored pretty much everything I said. People just went to their corners.

B: Yeah yeah.

S: And started regurgitating the standard dogma of whatever side they were on.

C: And the sad news is those talking points very often are based in medic. So even though the fundamentals.

S: Yeah sometimes they are based in science.

C: Yeah it's like they're like no no but it causes breast cancer. And it's like no no we can debunk that. Like we can point to the evidence that shows that there's no link between abortion and breast cancer. There you go.

S: Or they're just trying to frame it as a scientific question. It's like well that embryo is a human life. It's like okay but that─

C: But that's not a scientific question.

S: ─but you're assuming that's that's determinative of the relative rights of the embryo versus the mother. And that's you're not even addressing the ethical or legal issues here. Let alone all the complex social ones. You're just assuming.

C: When does the fetus feel pain? When is the heartbeat? When is it viable? All of those questions are actually very hard to answer scientifically.

S: That's true but it's worse when people are asking the wrong question and not even stating it. It's an unstated major premise of their assertion. And so you can't what I say like they're trying to win the debate at the beginning by assuming you're correct.

C: And what is that question or argument that you you find you're running into? Is it like is it just a blatant sanctity of life argument?

S: Well they're just trying to say that it's a human being. It's a human life. It's a person. Whatever.

C: And therefore it should be [inaudible] rights.

S: Yeah. I'm saying but they're assuming the criteria that is the very point of the debate. That's what the discussion is. What criteria are important and how do we balance those. They're also just assuming--the other big thing is you're assuming that the sanctity of life is an absolute right that trumps everything else. But there's so many possible counter arguments to that. Because it's like okay if you really believe that then you and if you just want to even just restrict it to human life. You're saying that human life that the protection of human life is more important than any other right. Than liberty, than autonomy, than personal choice and all these other things then that what flows from that is pretty extreme. Like that would mean you should be against all capital punishment. You should be against all war.

C: And it should be a more complicated question for you when we're talking about the health and safety of a woman who is carrying a child with a complicated pregnancy. And that's where things get really confusing to me because we'll hear about this conversation about unless the woman's life is at risk and even something as simple as my life is at risk. How do we define that? What percentage risk? At what point? Is it will I die or I'll just be disfigured?

S: There's no easy answers.

C: It's so complicated.

S: Think about this. If they're saying and they explicitly say this, a lot, many of them. That life trump's liberty, right? Life is more important than liberty here. Oh okay then you should be against free access to guns. The liberty of owning a gun is not as important as the life of the children who are murdered in in mass shootings.

B: What do they say to that Steve?

S: They never have a good answer to that. They'll wiggle out of it.

C: In that case my liberty is more important. Come on.

B: Right?

S: Well that's in the constitution. Well so whatever. It's like that's but that's beside. I'm challenging your logic now you're shifting criteria over to what's in the constitution.

C: And also I think one argument that we didn't make here that would be I think I would have to write a treaties on this. I would need like weeks to do this kind of research. Is the argument that comes from saying if not abortion than oh there are alternatives. And this is an argument that you often hear that's made in these "safe" these like "safe haven clinics". Where it's like everything all of the pseudoscience and disinformation is fed to try and prevent abortion and offer alternatives. Well the alternative to abortion is childbirth. Then the question is what if if the child makes it to term if the mother makes it to term. And then after that what happens to the child. And what we very often see it's almost like we're talking about that those externalized costs again. Is the fact that there is no safety net in place for the individuals who cannot afford financially, economically, emotionally, physically, educationally, the cost of having children. And we never talk about the outcomes of that and the fact that our system does not support it.

S: Not only that the states that restrict abortion have the least amount of support for mothers and children.

C: Yes. And we're talking we don't have health care to support these individuals. We don't have education standards to support these individuals. We don't have entitlement programs to support these individuals. We are asking women to sign up for financial ruin when they're not ready to do so.

S: It's an unfunded mandate in a way.

C: Absolutely absolutely. It is absolutely an unfunded mandate. That's a great way to put it. And we we almost never talk about that.

S: Like when I wrote about it I didn't even come down on one side or the other. I'm just saying this is where the discussion is. It's not something that could be answered objectively by one scientific fact. It's a balance of complicated ethical and legal principles that we have to find to compromise a balance somewhere. And again our point here today is not to take one side necessarily of what is a very complicated question is just to make sure that if you're going to have a discussion about it at least have the facts. At least have your logic. At least follow some some consistent logic.

C: Yeah and also yeah it's like have your facts. Look at the evidence of what came before. The evidence of other countries. The evidence of the history of our country. Look at the milieu of that evidence. And also let's think more than one chess step ahead. Let's really look at what the implications are based on the available evidence. It doesn't stop at the choice to not have an abortion or the choice being taken away to not have an abortion. What are the ramifications of that.

S: All right well thanks for trying to tackle that.

B: Great job Cara.

More Galaxies (1:11:35)[edit]

S: All right Bob you're gonna you're gonna finish up the news section with a much simpler question. How many galaxies are there in the universe? (Cara laughs)

B: So how am I supposed to follow that? Okay. This will be fun. Okay the estimate for the number of galaxies in the observable universe has leaped up yet again and the science behind this new number is fascinating. Sagan was parodied on the Tonight Show years ago years ago describing the number of galaxies as billions and billions. But he never said that in Cosmos, right Steve?

S: Never.

B: He said there are a hundred billion galaxies and that was the best number at that time. But those pesky scientists. Always changing their mind. L-O-L of course. So watching his video on YouTube I had to strain to the comments. I know, I know. Never go near the comments. Someone called rod cornholio, hello, (Cara laughs)said that he said this in 2009 "Sagan would love to know that there are perhaps 500 billion galaxies in our particular universe". So even that is way off and so now let me describe this fascinating number journey. The first thing though I want to briefly say that we're never going to count all the galaxies. We're pretty much humanity I will predict will never do it. I mean just imagining some of the things that would need to be done for it. For that to happen. Some people say that you would need an infinitely large telescope that would be needed for to get the appropriate resolution. Some of the dimmest galaxies would require like literally centuries of observing. It's just like it's not gonna happen. But that's fine because science doesn't need to do a census. I mean it could make inferences based on a little data and that's how it works very often. And for that we've relied on the Hubble Space Telescope specifically for this and of course it's been instrumental with its deep field images of the night sky. And now the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field images. Now Hubble has done this over the years looking at deep space doing multiple long exposures. Exposure campaigns they're called. To build up the images as much as possible. Sometimes it takes as long as a month which was very--people were not sure. I mean when Hubble was brand new they were like should we use it for a month to do this. I mean after if nothing happens that's a month of wasted time. But they did it. They did it. And when it looks that deep using the eXtreme Deep Field looking at a patch of sky. A tiny patch of the sky that's 1/32 millionth of the total. Just a tiny little piece. That's 132 millionth of the total sky. And when we looked at the final, when we looked at that final image we found 5 500 galaxies in that tiny tiny patch. Now of course if you assume that that's a representative sample and then you do the simple math that's 176 billion galaxies in the observable universe. And that's already impressively over Sagan's quote of 100 billion. But 176 billion simply can't be close to the actual number. Just is not─

C: Why?

B: ─it not it. Why? Because as impressive as Hubble and other observatories are there has to be really dim galaxies that are just that are beyond their range. We know that they have limitations. Serious limitations. And there's galaxies that they're not gonna see. That are not taken into account for the 176 billion number. So. This is where simulations come in. Now simulations have been run that encapsulate all the impressive knowledge we have now about the initial conditions of the universe. And so what do you think the key test here to do you think to determine if the simulations are good. You run a simulation it's done. How do you know it's a good simulation?

C: Does it map back to observation.

S: Yeah does it match.

B: Exactly. Does it match our observations. Because if they don't match our observations something's clearly wrong. Start over again. Figure out what's wrong. But if they do match our observations then at the very least we may potentially discover something new about the real universe that we that we don't know. Because it's having some real insight into the real universe. So once the scientist added the simulation layer, if you will, on top of Hubble's 176 billion galaxy estimate it reveals what is a better estimate that our observable universe contains a whopping 2 trillion galaxies.

C: That's a big difference.

B: Big difference. Big difference. Two trillion because I mean that's what, that's basically what I would guess an impossible telescope would reveal. If we had one. But look at it this way that means that our best instrumentation taking the best deepest look into space can directly detect only 10 of the galaxies. And so not feeling so cocky now, are you are you Hubble? I mean that's like 10% it just seems kind of like oh boy it's like it reminds me of the whole dark energy and dark matter. Like is like the vast majority of the entirety of the universe and we just know 4%. But wait for this. Because it looks like there's another onion layer. So two is two trillion the final word? Let's see. So that layer that next onion layer starts with our local group of galaxies. We've talked about that before. These are the galaxies including the Milky Way, Andromeda and the Magellanic Clouds that are gravitationally bound and will eventually merge into one big happy family as the rest of the universe accelerates beyond our observable universe never to be seen again. And I don't want to talk about it because that's going to be a very sad time in the universe. Okay so now I used to say I remember I would tell people yeah there's 50 or 60 galaxies in our local group. Well that number is now wrong and I kind of apologize for that. But I kind of don't because that's was that was the best number we had at the time. But now that number has changed and it's 110. There's 110 galaxies within our local group. Within that 5 million light year diameter local group. And that's mainly all of these extra ones that have been added are mainly ultra faint ones recently found orbiting our Milky Way. So there's lots of these really tiny really dim galaxies that are really hard to see that are orbiting the Milky Way. So now so then they took that information and they expanded on it. So that okay let's look at the closest spirals. What's the next spiral out that is like the Milky Way. They looked at they looked at them and they would see something like 30 faint galaxies orbiting around it. Not 70-80-90 or 100 of them but only 30 of them. And then if you looked away even a little bit farther at a Milky Way analog if you will they saw only 10 of those dim galaxies that are in orbit And then the final step was to look hundreds of millions of light years away. They looked at spirals like the Milky Way and the number of faint galaxies orbiting them drops to a paltry average of 0.6. So what does that mean? The bottom line here then is that the scientists believe that the faintest galaxies we can see by definition have to be the biggest and brightest galaxies. And if many of them if this assumption is correct that many of them that are like the Milky Way will have up to a hundred small satellite galaxies each like the Milky Way does then perhaps the best estimate is not two trillion. But this means that the best estimate would be at least six trillion and maybe as many as 20 trillion effin galaxies in the observable universe. 20 trillion. That's just an amazing number. Even if it's just six trillion that's wow. That's fantastic. What a tour de force. I can't wait to see what this number does in the future. Now what is what is going to happen in the future? The next step as I see it is gonna use the mighty James Webb telescope which might be able to confirm some of these super faint galaxies that scientists believe are likely to be out there. So the number now 6 trillion to 20 trillion maybe James Webb can narrow that down because that's quite a range. It's quite a broad range there but maybe it's 10 or 12 or maybe hey maybe it's as much as 20. So that would be amazing. All right here's a quick question. What do you think this increase from 176 billion galaxies to 2 trillion and then 6 trillion. What do you think that increase did to our estimate of the number of stars in the universe.

C: Oh wow.

B: Right? You got a lot more galaxies.

C: Got lot more stars.

B: What happened to the star number?

S: Was it not proportionate?

B: Absolutely not proportional because remember that─

C: Oh really?

B: ─oh yeah remember the number barely changed because if you look at all those missing galaxies. All those little galaxies that we can't see that are too dim. Why are they dim? Because they've not only are they really far away─

S: They don't have enough stars in them.

B: ─they've got so few stars. Maybe 10 000. Maybe a 1 000. Maybe some of them have only three or four hundred stars. But they are discrete galaxies in their own right. Probably orbiting other Milky Way type galaxies. So when you consider that there's about two sextillion stars in the universe all of these extra small galaxies that they just added only adds about 0.01% which is hilarious. Which is a little a little counter-intuitive but it does make sense when you look at the logic behind it. So this is so so much fun to research. One thing that I want to end with though is my frustration that nobody all the research I did nobody mentioned a kind of like estimating or extrapolating what about the unobservable universe? I mean the observable universe is changing all the time over. Over the history of the universe it's changing over time. Things are slipping away and going from the observable universe to the unobservable universe. So I mean I know you can't really know much about it because it's by definition unobservable. But can't they come up with an estimate? Because this all of these numbers I've told you are all for the observable. And so I would like to see an estimate that kind of tries to include the unobservable universe as well. Which I sure it's tough but hey give me do something. Mention it. They don't even mention the word in any of the research I looked at so it's just a kind of a frustrating. Like how come nobody's talking about this. But still fun and such a huge awesome number. Wow.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:21:44)[edit]

Email #1: Can Dogs Talk? ()[edit]

Before I started listening to the show, I heard about this woman who has taught her dog to speak in sentences. It played into my environmentalist and vegetarian biases, and I was totally taken in. Reviewing it again though, I think it is possible that this is a combination of facilitated communication (she takes big liberties in her interpretation of the sentences), the Clever Hans effect, and cherry picking (she probably only shares the really compelling examples, when there may be many more failures). Would love it if you could comment on the current status of communication with animals, and whether you think the Clever Hans effect is at play here. Thanks for all you do, and this is just one example of how my thinking has started to improve thanks to your work.

Bart T. Cubrich

S: All right so again we have no Who's That Noisy this week. We'll have to get caught up when when Jay comes back.

C: All right.

S: We're gonna do one email. This one comes from Bart Cubrich and Bart says: "Before I started listening to the show, I heard about this woman who has taught her dog to speak in sentences.

B: La la la la. (laughter)

S: It played into my environmentalist and vegetarian biases, and I was totally taken in. Reviewing it again though, I think it is possible that this is a combination of facilitated communication (she takes big liberties in her interpretation of the sentences), the Clever Hans effect, and cherry picking (she probably only shares the really compelling examples, when there may be many more failures). Would love it if you could comment on the current status of communication with animals, and whether you think the Clever Hans effect is at play here. Thanks for all you do, and this is just one example of how my thinking has started to improve thanks to your work. All right well thanks Bart. It's an interesting question. I looked at the all the evidence. This is an article about Christina hunger the article that he linked to is from 2019. Christina was a speech language a pathologist in San Diego. She was 26 at the time this article was written. And she essentially used the same technique that she uses on children who have language difficulty to teach her dog how to communicate. He has a pad with buttons and words next to those buttons. And so if he wants to go outside he hits the button that says outside.

C: Yeah and this has become a massive trend on tik-tok and Instagram now. There's so many videos of people and their dogs on their little pads. They go outside for treat? No. We're not gonna go outside for a treat right now. And you're like hmm-hmm.

S: Yep. Yeah so I think Bart is essentially correct that this is facilitated communication, Clever Hans effect and cherry picking. I think that's pretty much explains the phenomenon.

B: Nice job man.

C: And I think there is probably a certain amount of training.

S: Absolutely.

C: That allows a dog to know top left corner button every time I hit that she gives me a treat. I'm going to keep doing that to get a treat. But that doesn't mean he can speak English.

S: Right. Exactly. So animals can─

B: It's more a pattern recognition.

S: ─be training to associate. This is just an association training.

C: Yeah.

S: We know that that's established. And dogs have a pretty good vocabulary of words they can understand.

B: Oh boy.

C: Yeah dogs can understand some language.

B: I saw a dog that that literally had like vocabulary that was crazy it was like I don't was it like a couple of hundred. It was nuts.

C: But to be fair we only know that to be a receptive vocabulary not an expressive vocabulary.

B: Right.

S: Right. And there's no grammar. There's no sentences it's words or commands or whatever.

C: I think most of those studies were done with toys. Like they were able to say get the green element.

B: Exactly.

S: Yes right exactly. So yeah and dogs are very smart. We said they have a high neuronal density. Absolutely. But is this evidence of language. Is this dog putting sentences together. If he says me-ball-outside-go is like he communicating that as a coherent idea. We can go back to Koko the gorilla, right? So Koko the gorilla was the most famous and probably the most achieved animal who was taught to communicate. Koko was taught sign language. And it became quite controversial scientifically the extent to which Koko was actually using language versus was Koko just used again had associated certain specific signs with certain effects. If I make this sign I get a treat. If I make that sign then they let me out of my cage or whatever. There was a lot of criticism of the claims of language in Koko. And the big effect which is sort of a combination of Clever Hans and facilitated communication. When we say facilitated communication it's interesting that she's a speech pathologist and I wonder I haven't been able to look into her career outside of this. But this is exactly what facilitated communicators do. Is they way over interpret what the client is doing.

B: Yep.

C: Right.

S: So for example─

C: And you're talking with people with severe language deficits.

S: Yeah. Maybe some they might just have a difficulty speaking they may in fact be non-verbal. And so if we assume that a gorilla is non-verbal it's it could be similar. But in any case Koko was never able to enhance what they were communicating by stringing words together. It was always just putting this simple ideas. Just expressing multiple simple ideas over and over again. Like orange-me. Me-eat-orange. Me-eat. But not like the order was irrelevant and they it was not there was like still just one simple idea being expressed.

C: It's like how do we define language? Language is not just vocabulary but also grammar. And what we're talking about here is symbolic interactionism. It is communication for sure. It's I know that this symbol this is the label for that symbol and I can make those connections between those two. This idea has a label and I know how to communicate that idea with that label. But I can't put a bunch of them together and talk about what's above, what's beneath, what's behind.

S: Can't create a new idea. Can't create new words. Koko was able to to sign. So theoretically he could have created new ideas or new words with the signing but never did. It would be hard to argue that dogs are smarter than chimpanzees or gorillas.

B: Right.

C: Right. That they have more language capacity.

S: That dog is doing something that apes couldn't do. But even if you think that that's true. That that's plausible. The bottom line is that most of the communicating is happening on the person side. It's very subjective, creative interpretation of what the animal is doing this is where you get the Clever Hans effect phenomenon as well in that at one point she accidentally hit the button for ball and then the dog hits the hits the buzzer for good and her interpretation of that was that's his way of saying that's a good idea. I'd like to play with the ball. Really? You probably could have come up with an interpretation for any button that he hit, that's the thing. Is that you can find, people are creative. We are good at fitting data to ideas. And that's why astrology exists. This is basically just astrology of communication. You're retro fitting whatever the dog does to make to create a narrative in your own head about what that dog is trying to communicate. And again there's probably some actual communication going on in as much as as associating specific buttons with specific outcomes.

C: Right. Especially the ones that are meaningful to the dog. Dogs know how to ring a bell to go outside. It's not that weird to think they could hit the right button to go outside.

S: Totally.

C: That said there are no distractor buttons. Every button has something to do with what the dog does.

S: That's right.

C: Have you know noticed that?

S: Exactly.

B: Yeah. Right.

C: There's no control.

S: Every button has a meaning. There's a very finite number of buttons and they're all doggy buttons. They're all very important to that dog's life. Ball, outside, food.

C: There's no button that says existentialism. Like what happens when the dog hits the existentialism button?

S: Or whatever or just null buttons.

C: Right.

B: Gamma-ray burst button. (Cara laughs)

S: So again like they're not trying to prove their hypothesis is wrong. They're only trying to prove it's right. It's rigged so that it can only no matter what the dog does he's communicating. No matter what he does.

C: Yeah. You're not breaking the system. Can't brake it.

S: You could find a way to make it seem like he's trying to communicate something. There's no fail. There's no fail possible in that system because it's the human─

C: That's not science.

B: Not at all.

S: ─doing all the interpretations. But what's great about this is how important that realization is to the whole facilitated communication industry and for speech pathologists and why it's critical that this person doesn't make this mistake. The fact that she thinks she taught her dog to read, to communicate with language is really concerning. This is the exact kind of thing that a person in that profession needs to make absolutely sure they're not doing. Over interpreting the random noise of somebody who is not communicating and then interpreting that as if they are communicating. It's really bad.

C: Right because it's not a thought experiment. That has a real implications.

S: Yeah it's cute when you're dealing with a dog and we could sort of imagine the dogs communicating but when you're dealing with a person, especially when that person then accuses other people of like rape and stuff like that. Yeah there's real world consequences to that whole field. And so this is this should be a cautionary tale for every speech pathologist. No you did not teach your dog how to make sentences. You did not do that. And the evidence you're presenting is just evidence that you're filling in the gaps. And that's what you absolutely shouldn't be doing when you're doing speech pathology. When you're trying to infer what another human being is trying to communicate. So yeah very it's a problem. And the fact that now it's like having another life on social media uncritically─

C: Oh yeah it's huge.

S: ─is bad.

C: People don't don't believe everything you see on tik-tik. Come on. Like really. Come on.

S: All right guys let's finish up with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:31:39)[edit]

Theme: Snakes

Item #1: Brazil has the most number of identified snake species of any nation, currently totaling 412.[5]
Item #2: There were an estimated 1.2 million snake bite deaths in India between 2000 and 2020.[6]
Item #3: Cobras have extreme accuracy when spitting venom, able to hit there targets consistently at up to 30 feet.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Cobras' 30-foot range
Science Brazil is most snaked
1.2m snake bite deaths
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
1.2m snake bite deaths
Cobras' 30-foot range

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

S: Eech week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real one fake. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There's a theme this week. The theme is snakes. In honor of my snake encounter earlier in the week.

C: Oh cool.

S: Okay so just three facts about snakes. You ready? Item #1: Brazil has the most number of identified snake species of any nation, currently totaling 412. Item #2: There were an estimated 1.2 million snake bite deaths in India between 2000 and 2020. And item #3: Cobras have extreme accuracy when spitting venom, able to hit there targets consistently at up to 30 feet. Bob go first.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Okay so let's start with the--Brazil 412 identified snake speed. That doesn't sound like a lot. Is it a lot? 412. Oh boy. It seemed like Australia has about 20 005. All right let's look at #2: 1.2 million snake bite deaths in India but over 20 years. 1.2 million. Damn. That seems too high. It seems you think you'd be a little savvy. 1.2 million is crazy. All right let's get the third one. Cobra accuracy. 30 feet seems... I was thinking 10-12 feet but 30? Oh my god. I mean all they're all false. All three. (laughter) Cara what do you think?

C: No no. That's not how this game works.

B: Which one is more egregious? 1.2 million. Oh O say India 1.2 million snake bite deaths is fiction.

S: Okay Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Okay so Brazil most identified snake species. So not the pure number but the number of species. So the biodiversity there if snakes is higher. Currently 412. That makes sense. Brazil. Amazon. Very biodiverse. Sure, there's lots of snakes in the rainforest. But we also identify snakes with India so I feel like I have to do a little math here. So 1.2 million and you said over 20 years. So that's what 60 000 a year. That doesn't sound as egregious now. Right? 1.2 million sounds high but 20 years is a long time. So I think I like what you said Bob about the spitting. 30 feet seems─

B: Yeah.

C: I mean think about how big 30 feet is. Like lay down a bunch of people in a row that 30 feet's massive. I don't think why would they need that in why would they have ever evolved that ability?

B: Yeah I can't see I can't hack a loogie 30 feet.

C: Right their prey is never gonna be that far away from them. So to me it seems like it would have to be less than that. So I'm gonna say that one's the fiction.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right well you all agree on the first one so we'll start there. Brazil has the most number of identified snake species of any nation currently totaling 412. You both think this one is science and this one is science. That is science. It is Brazil. And Cara you're right it is because it's a rainforest.

C: Yeah.

B: This doesn't seem like a big number.

C: I know it kind of doesn't.

S: Well how many snake species are there in total?

B: 413?

C: (laughs) I don't know like say 700?

S: 3900 and counting.

C: Okay that's a lot.

S: Over 3900 yeah that's a lot.

C: Why would we say 700 that doesn't make any sense. World is big.

S: World's bit yeah. Brazil has, there's an island off of Brazil that has the greatest density of venomous snakes. It's actually illegal to go there. There's like there's a venomous snake every square meter or something. Like you can't walk around without stepping on a venomous snake.

C: This isn't that crazy do you guys remember that scene and that one, I know people listening right now are like I know exactly what you're talking about, one of those Nature documentary shows that's really beautiful like planet earth or something like that but a more recent one. That has this crazy scene where with these like lizards that are trying to make it from the rocks to the sea and the snakes all come out.

S: It's not that island but yeah.

B: That was amazing. Amazing.

S: This is Ilha da Queimada Grande.

C: Oh I love it.

S: It's a snake island off the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean. It's got the highest concentration of venomous snakes in the world. You can't even go there. What's the second highest number of species. What country has the second highest?

B: India?

C: No okay so if it's starting--Peru? Like another amazonian country?

S: Mexico.

C: Mexico.

B: Oh yeah really?

S: A lot of people think it's Australia. It's like in the top ten. I forget exactly what number they are. It's like five or six or something but they're up there. But it's not Australia for just number of snake species. I think they have one of the highest number of venomous snakes.

B: Yes I would believe that.

S: And the numbers I had to like look I had to do a deep dive on this because the sources kept saying different answers and it was just over time. Like Mexico and Brazil have swapped back and forth a number of times.

B: Oh really?

S: But currently it's Brazil.

B: They're that close?

S: Yeah it's like Mexico is also pretty like close to 400.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right let's go #2: There were an estimated 1.2 million snake bite deaths in India between 2000 and 2020. Cara you think this one is science. Bob you think this one is the fiction. And this one is science. Science.

B: Of course it is.

S: Sorry Bob. It is science. It's a lot. That's a lot of snakebites.

C: It is. That's a lot.

S: It's a lot of cobras. They have cobras there. And it's a real problem. Obviously first there's a lot of people in India. That's part of it but there's venomous snakes there and they called not just dying of snake bites but snake bite in venomization. The technical term. And they really need like public health outreach to educate people about how not to get bit by snakes.

C: Well I assume...

B: That's like car crash death oh my god.

S: It's a lot.

C: Yeah but that's the thing isn't it safe to assume that it's not all like when we think about a snake bite it's like oh I'm on a hike and a rattlesnake's there and I accidentally step near its den. But people in some people in India are actually handling snakes.

S: I don't know if that's why.

C: And so they're getting bit also.

S: I don't know I don't think that's the number is so high.

C: Okay. I'd be interested to see how many.

B: Yeah they they milk the venom too I mean if you're a snake handler.

C: Yeah like for other yeah it's like it'd be interesting to see how the proportion of people who got them in nature versus those who are handling the snakes.

S: And also that's half of all snake by deaths in the world. Half are in India.

B: Oh my god.

C: Wow. Okay I just looked it up. I don't know if this is great but lack of first aid facilities, dependence on spiritual healers, quacks but also populations living near agricultural fields.

S: That's what I read. Densely populated low altitude agricultural areas. Especially during the rainy season. As they come out. So it's just living close to nature basically.

C: Yeah.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Okay all that means that cobras have extreme accuracy when spitting venom, able to hit there targets consistently at up to 30 feet is the fiction. Not the accuracy part. They are extremely accurate but their range is only 4 to 8 feet not 30 feet.

C: Oh Okay. That's like what you said Bob.

B: Yeah I just like I mean.

'S: I was thinking I was hoping you would think what if it has to hit like an elephant in the eye. (Cara laughs) Because it does go for the eyes. It spits the venom to blind would-be predators or whatever. And so it probably would be useful if it could hit you at 30 feet but it just just doesn't have that kind of range. 4 to 8 feet but it's like at that range it's like 99% accurate.

B: Damn.

S: When it spits the venom it moves its head in such a way to like give a spray pattern. It's not just one line it's like giving you a little spray pattern which dramatically increases the probability of hitting you in the eyes.

S: So wait I have to tell you guys something. I'm telling you something crazy. So a good friend of mine Phil Torres who you may if you if you're like a into scicom you might know him. He's on social media and everything. Does a bunch of TV shows and stuff. We worked together on TV years ago and we've been friends since then. One of his first gigs he ever got was when he was super naive and had no idea how to protect himself and he tells this story on a podcast that I did with him so I'm okay saying it publicly. But he was super naive. He did the show for some outlet. And it was one of these like extreme what if kind of shows and they said okay what are the folk treatments for getting cobra venom in your eye. So they made these dilutions of cobra venom and dropped them in their eyes and then they were going to compare like I'm going to put milk in my eye I'm going to put water in my eye put urine in my eye. Which is all terrible everything about this is a terrible idea. Turns out they didn't do the dilution correctly and he put like 10 times the concentration he was supposed to have. Ended up in the er and he is published in a paper. Medical paper.

B: Cause nobody had done that such a stupid thing before.

C: About the snake venom in his eye.

S: Yeah nobody was dumb enough to do that.

C: Love you Phil. It's a great story. He tells it better but I just had to share.

B: That's good.

Skeptical Quotes of the Week (1:41:01)[edit]

Healthy skepticism is the basis of all accurate observation.
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), British writer

We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.
Carl Sagan (1934-1996), American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, and science communicator

S: Well I'm gonna do the Skeptical Quotes of the Week.

B: Oh boy.

C: Oh yeah.

S: This one is an ironic quote. You ready? The ironic quote: "Healthy skepticism is the basis of all accurate observation." I like that idea that's good. Who said that?

C: Oh probably somebody who is--is this where the irony comes in?

S: This is where the irony comes in. Sir Arthur─

C: I don't know like Deepak Chopra or something?

S: Arthur Conan Doyle. Not that bad. Famously believed in fairies and spirits. (Cara laughs) I mean. Not the most skeptical kind of guy.

B: I'm gonnna to throw out a second quote I came across. That I think I remembered but love it: "We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers."

S: I love that.

C: I do too. That's like even it's a little long. I have a Sagan's quote tattooed on my ribs.

B: Oh boy.

C: And I feel like that that one's really beautiful but it's a little long for a tatoo. But I have "We are the way for the cosmos to know itself" tattooed on by ribs.

S: Yeah. I like that.

B: Yeah I love that. And I was taken by one of the uh sayings of the radio astronomy observatory that I saw. The Green Bank Observatory. You walk way as you drive up you see a big sign and it says "The universe is whispering to us". I just love it so much.

C: So good.

B:So good. Especially when it applies to radio waves because they've got they're so low energy so it's like a whisper. It really is. If any radiation is whispering it's radio waves. And I just I had to buy a t-shirt with it on it. I had to get it.

S: That reminds me of the of the native American who wrote a book about--she was a paleontologist and there's like a big stigma of digging up bones in her culture. And I feel like the exact title of the book but it was basically like the bones are talking to us. They are it's like their oral history they are giving us their story. They are talking to us. Trying to tie it together with their tradition of an oral history.

C: I love that.

S: It's a very good idea. A very powerful idea. All right well guys thanks for joining me this week. It was an intimate.

B: Yes. Great episode guys.

C: Yeah.

B: I enjoyed it.

S: And Cara good luck with everything.

C: Thank you.

S: I'm sure you'll be fine but keep us updated on how everything is going.

C: Of course. I'll miss everyone.

B: Be safe.

S: Yep we'll miss you.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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