SGU Episode 89

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SGU Episode 89
4th Apr 2007
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 88                      SGU 90

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

P: Perry DeAngelis

Quote of the Week

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it's still a foolish thing.

Anatole France

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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. This is your host, Stephen Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society, and today is Wednesday, April 4th, 2007. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey everybody!

S: Rebecca Watson...

R: Ahoy hoy.

S: Perry DeAngelis...

P: Hey, we're here to give you the right view.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey Rogues.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: And we'll wish all our listeners today happy International Day for Landmine Awareness and Assistance Day.

P: Is that a Princess Di holiday?

S: You have to be aware of landmines.

P: She was big into landmines before she went down.

J: Yeah, she was.

R: Was she?

P: She was.

J: Evan, throw that calendar away, we're getting tired of this, okay?

S: Yeah, you have some kind of special calendar of stupid holidays and commemorations.

P: Obviously an English calendar.

E: Yes, and for the low, low price of $20, you too can own it.

R: Excuse me, there's going to be no pimping of any other calendars on this show, okay?

E: Yeah, your calendar was so 2000.

S: Rebecca has spoken. We have a lot of news items to get through this week, so let's get right to it.

News Items[edit]

9/11 Conspiracy Celebrities (1:23)[edit]

Charlie Sheen might narrate Loose Change

S: The first one has to do with more 9/11 conspiracy nonsense. There's a couple of celebrities getting into the game that I noticed in the past week. The first is Rosie O'Donnell on The View. Have any of you, by the way...

P: Excuse me.

E: Now wait a minute, let's reserve our commentaries for the end of our discussion.

S: Have any of you, by the way, actually saw her, saw the show? I didn't see the actual episode.

J: You can watch it on YouTube.

S: It's on YouTube. Did you see it, Jay?

J: Yeah. I watched part of it, then I threw up on myself and had to go clean up.

P: Terrible.

R: I read her comments on her blog. They've been going on for the past few weeks. And I figured eventually it would come out on The View, but she's ridiculous. She's such an idiot. She's basically just parodying the things that she saw on the loose change video that has been going around the internet that has been thoroughly debunked by multiple sources.

B: Well, the great quote she had really shocked me.

P: Which one?

B: Regarding 9/11, of course. The first time in history that fire has ever melted steel.

R: You know, that is something that they bring up again and again and again. People sit them down and explain it to them step by step how the buildings fell down, and they just refuse to listen. It's so frustrating.

S: Of course, for our listeners, as we brought that specific point up, let's not let it go by, the steel was not melted by the fire. It was weakened by the fire. The heat that was produced by that kind of fire was more than enough to reduce the strength of the steel so that it could not support the weight of the building above it. So it collapsed. Case closed.

R: Exactly.

S: It's that simple. And they refuse to listen to that. They do the typical dodge where they just go on to some other point and never actually acknowledge the point that you just made. You can sort of talk around in circles.

E: Is the underlying point that these people just don't like the United States on some level?

P: She loathes the United States.

B: Don't you think it's more hating the administration rather than the country itself?

R: Yeah, I think it's definite Bush hatred. And then there's a lot of them who are just I think that there are just some people out there who are just natural conspiracy theorists. They're paranoid.

J: Rebecca, she doesn't hate bush.

R: Yeah, that's clever.

B: Well, on that note, I really like this piece written by Jonah Goldberg at the LA Times op-ed. This is one quote that just tickled me. He said that, "Regardless, it appears that not even the heat of ridicule can weaken O'Donnell's steely resolve to make an idiot of herself." I just love that line. That was great.

S: Puntastic. Well, in any case, this is a low for her. It does sound like she just, there's obviously nothing new to say. She is parroting, as Rebecca said, loose change and other sort of 9/11 conspiracy standard nonsense. It's already been debunked. If you're a public figure, you're going to be on national television giving your view I would think that you would do a little bit more due diligence and intellectual honesty. But hey, she's embarrassing herself and ruining whatever reputation she had.

R: How many more embarrassing B-list celebrities are they going to sign on to their little cause? It's not helping them. It's not helping Rosie.

E: What's ABC doing about this?

B: Barbara Walter. Wasn't Barbara Walter quite there? She's somewhat of a journalist.

J: No she wasn't on that show Bob.

B: She wasn't?

P: But I think it is an interesting question. Not so much ABC, but it's the Disney company. They own ABC. And Disney's a family company and depends on family business. And when Rosie's talking about like what does it say in the article, expensive weddings, it's fine. But when she starts to slander, it'll be very interesting to see how long Disney will put up with it. I hope not long.

J: Yeah. But what would they do, Perry? They would tell her off camera, hey, cut that out, you. And then you'd never hear about it again. She won't issue a retraction or clarify her.

P: If the sponsors leave, she'll be fired.

R: She'll be fired before she shuts up.

S: Although honestly, I don't know that this is something that the corporation should censor. I think rather for the editors or the journalists on the show should hold her to more factual position.

P: Not censor.

R: They are not journalists, first of all.

S: Well, Barbara Walters at least pretends to be a journalist.

P: Yeah, by asking people what kind of tree they want to be. It's not a matter of censorship, right? It's a matter of dollars and cents.

R: On the point, though, despite the fact that Barbara Walters is seen as a journalist, the rest of them, nobody is watching that show and thinking that they're watching an independent news program.

J: They're TV personalities. I mean, they're there to entertain people who watch TV during the day.

R: Yeah.

E: There's a reason why they are on when they're on.

R: Right. I mean, and it's not, I don't think it's a thing of, I don't think it's censorship in the least if Rosie O'Donnell would be fired over this.

P: Dollars and cents.

R: Right.

P: That's all they care about.

R: It's an entertainment show. It's a chat show. She's there to do her job and to bring in the viewers, and if it's not working, it's not working.

P: She's a ranting chimp.

R: Fired. Yeah, I think she's lost all credibility at this point.

B: Chimp credibility?

R: If she had any.

J: Rebecca, also don't forget, she's there on that show to make all the other women look thin.

S: The other celebrity who got briefly in the news over 9/11 is Charlie Sheen. Now, there's nothing official on this. From what I can find so far, he is in discussion, so it hasn't been decided yet, about possibly narrating a new release of the internet movie Loose Change, which is the famous or infamous web video promoting 9/11 conspiracy nonsense.

R: Yeah, he's been publicly on their side for quite some time, so I wouldn't be surprised.

S: It's terrible. It's terrible.

P: Charlie Sheen is a disgrace. Absolute disgrace.

R: He's another person that just, I mean, there's just no credibility there, so I mean, I find it really laughable when the Loose Change people sign on these idiots and trumpet it all over the place as though they're gaining ground.

S: Right.

R: It's absurd.

J: The last person that I'm going to listen to for a hot topic news item is a famous person.

S: Right. A celebrity.

J: Yeah, their opinion is meaningless to me.

S: Right. I mean, celebrities don't become celebrities because they're intelligent, because they're skeptical, because they understand science, because they're academic. You get to fame because you're good at pretending, and you also have other qualities that make you good eye candy on camera. That's it. So...

J: Yeah, Steve, how about back in the 70s with those commercials? I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV. Therefore, buy this drug.

S: Right. That became a cliché. It was so patently stupid. So, but it is still true that face recognition, name recognition, and celebrity does influence people, but it really shouldn't. They're probably going to still, all these dubious fringe organizations will happily sign on, again, like the B-list celebrities, to promote their cause when they can.

P: I would like it noted that we got through that entire discussion on Rosie, and I did not use one vulgarity. Thank you.

S: Noted. Are you trying to keep track of your quota there, Perry?

Holy Water for AIDS (8:40)[edit]

  • Sky News:,,30200-1258762,00.html?f=rss

S: The next news story, perhaps worse, in Ethiopia, there's a controversial treatment for AIDS. Now, AIDS is a huge problem, of course, in Africa. And the governments of Africa have had less than a stellar history on dealing with the problem. They've ranged from denial to promoting pseudoscientific herbal remedies. And now a church in Ethiopia is promoting holy water, basically showering, bathing in holy water as a way of treating AIDS instead of taking proven medications. Interestingly, the people who are to be treated, you have to climb to the church, which is 10,000 feet above sea level. They make you take your socks and shoes off because you can't step onto holy ground except in your bare feet. And then they basically shower you with cold water. So not exactly the most helpful endeavour. And these people are all packed in. So, yeah, let's give all these immunocompromised individuals a good exposure to everybody. Make sure we spread those pathogens around. But they're touting this as a way of this holy water as a way of curing AIDS. It says that it's actually an Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is some Christian domination, but I'm not sure if that's specifically what that is. So every day, thousands of people come to be baptized through this act.

J: Why are a couple of the guys in one of the pictures in chains?

E: Some of them in chains to prevent them escaping. That's what the story says.

P: Escaping the cure?

E: Apparently. Boy, talk about, was it Jim Jones? That's what it smacks of to me in a way.

J: One of the priests said that medicine and faith have a role to play in treating AIDS. He insists that the holy water is a proven cure.

S: But he doesn't have any proof. I don't have any evidence or anything, but this is a proven cure.

J: He said that some of the patients are okay. They still have the sign of the virus, but the virus has no power on their body and blood because it is controlled by the grace of Our Lady.

R: Right, and even though eventually they'll die of the virus, the virus really has no control, really.

E: Well, apparently their faith wasn't strong enough to save them, and that's why they died.

S: That's always a good out from faith healing. If it doesn't work, well, the faith wasn't strong. Yeah, blame the victim.

J: Okay, I found out why they were chained together. Some of them are forced to submit to the ritual by their friends and relatives.

P: And they're beaten with wooden crosses. They cry out for the demons to leave them.

J: They have to strip down and have someone come with a big jug of water and splash it all over them.

P: Yeah, and they're beaten with wooden crosses. Some cried out for the demons to leave their body while priests hit them with wooden crosses.

S: Having AIDS in Africa is a rough situation. It's no wonder it's such an epidemic there.

E: Thank goodness these religious organizations such as this one are out there trying to do something about it.

P: Some people have been coming here for years in search of a miracle. Very elusive, apparently.

J: I wonder how they cover up the fact that all of those people end up dying.

S: Well, it takes years, though, for them to die.

P: Father Gammer Medhin says that it's much more helpful if you're newly diagnosed. He says, "People who come here just after they discover they are HIV positive, before their bodies are damaged, are easier to cure."

S: Because they'll go longer before they develop signs of symptoms.

P: That's easier to cure. Says they cured about 1,000 people. It's not bad, 1,000 people.

J: But statistically, that's not a lot of people, Perry.

P: Well, by just throwing water on them, I'm impressed.

S: The other thing that's going on in Africa is that there's occasional rumours that not only was HIV sort of inflicted upon them by the West, but there have been rumours in some African countries that it's being injected into people through vaccines. That led to a resurgence of polio, in fact, although I think the governments have that under control now. So a lot of this is being driven by paranoia about the West. And that paranoia leads them to choose holy water over medications that are being pushed upon them by Western companies.

P: But they don't allow just anyone to go waltzing in there for the cure. OK, if you're a woman with a wig, you can't get in because demons often possess such women. If you're menstruating, out, out. And if you've had sex recently, out. Now, they will allow you to go stand on a nearby hillside and they will eventually come out and douse you with water out there.

E: You're saying they are not equal opportunity charlatans.

P: Well, I mean filthy menstruating women. Come on, out.

J: OK.

P: No cure for you.

J: Steve, do we have other news items? Yeah, we have a few other news items.

Astrology Fails Largest Test (13:56)[edit]

S: A recent study published is the largest study to date of astrology. Now, I know astrology is old news. It's been so thoroughly debunked in every possible way. But this is an interesting study, partly because it's so large, involve 10 million marriages or 20 million individuals. This was published by David Vos from the Cathy Marsh Center for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester in the UK. And basically, the question was, is there any correlation between different sun signs and married couples? Is there more of a tendency for certain signs to marry each other? And do they stay married longer? What's their divorce rate? We they census data from the UK to do this. When I first saw this, I'm like, that's an interesting study. But I would be concerned. Remember, we talked about data mining and about looking at car crash actuarial data. And if you look at these data sets and you're looking for any possible correlation, which is what this study was, it wasn't testing a hypothesis like, oh, Leos should be marrying Cancers. Let's go see if that actually happens. It was just basically mining the data for any correlation. But I was interested that there really weren't any. There were no correlations. The author says that that's because of the enormous size of the database. And that makes sense, because the larger the database, as your data gets more and more and more numbers, like you're flipping coins, it approaches statistical probability over time, as the data set gets larger. So if you have 10 million marriages, that's a big enough number that you're going to be at statistical probability and that any fluctuations would be so small that they wouldn't reach statistical significance. So that's why it was negative. But then as I read deeper into the study, actually, that there were fluctuations in the data that had to be further explored. And again, I thought this was interesting because it really highlights the difference between doing a very diligent, rigorous study and not doing that, just sort of accepting the superficial correlations and not really looking deeper. It turns out that there was a little fluctuation in star signs marrying the same star sign. So Leos marrying Leos. It was greater than chance. And there was also a slight increased chance of marrying from a neighbouring sign. So marrying the sign just before or just after yours. But it turns out that it's actually not a correlation within sun signs. It's a correlation within the month that if you were born in July, you have a higher probability of marrying somebody else who was born in July. And the way you can control for that because the star signs are not calendar months, right? They often end on the 20th or 21st or whatever. So if you look at, if you control for that and if you look at month to month correlations, actually that accounts for all of the increase. And the signs do not correlate that are not within the same month. So it's a very interesting way. So they basically saw correlation. They generated a hypothesis about what could account for that. They looked further at the data and showed that it actually was a month to month correlation. Of course, then you might ask, well, why is there a month to month correlation? Why would people in December be more likely to marry people in December? And they were able to explain that on the basis of basically errors in the database. Much of it was, for example, spouses putting their own birth date down for their spouse, which probably was just an error. So that accounts for, I think, about half of the extra cases of same month marriages.

B: Steve, that would bring it to be greater than chance, though, just a simple error like that of so many.

S: In the database, there were like 10,000 people who did that. It's still out of millions, but still that was enough. Remember, it doesn't take that very slight fluctuation. It could still be statistically significant because of the power of such a large study. There was also a tendency to put down January 1st as the birth date. So that occurred much more than it should have. So that probably a lot of people put down January 1st when they didn't know the birth date at all. And then these things occurred much more in immigrants than in natives, which makes sense that they wouldn't have a lot of maybe they don't have the data. So if you basically filter out all of these sources of error in the database, the month-to-month correlation goes away. But in any case, it actually was not a star sign correlation. So the final analysis was no correlation of any kind within the database.

B: So Steve, if a more superficial examination of the data was done, say by some paranormal researcher or something, they might look at that anomaly and say, ah, look at that. We've got a correlation that's above chance. So that's evidence for star signs in astrology. And they would end it right there without discounting these more prosaic reasons for the correlations.

S: More likely than not. And then it would have been left to skeptics to look at the data deeper and say, no, actually, if you look at it more deeply, it's actually not a star sign association. It's a month association and explainable by these sources of error.

P: What are you insinuating about parapsychologists, Bob?

B: Oh, nothing.

S: They're bad scientists. That's why they come to different conclusions than skeptical, responsible scientists, because they're bad. They're not rigorous. They make logical errors. They make statistical errors. That's why. And this is good. This I thought was a good example of that, which is why I want to discuss it, even though it was about dry, old, boring astrology.

P: There is no scienticians.

S: Surprise, surprise. Astrology is bunk. I haven't heard the rationalizations yet from the astrologers, but you know what? What some of them are going to say, and this is what you get to whenever you have a fairly well-designed definitive trial that's negative for any astrological correlation. Whatever subgroup of astrologers use a different method, say, well, that wasn't real astrology. So the star sign astrologers will say, well, the sun sign astrologers work. You have to do the astrology the way I do. And of course, when you disprove star sign or sidereal astrology, then the sun sign astrologers say, well, that's not classic astrology. That's the newfangled stuff. So you can't win because no matter who you disprove, and you can't simultaneously disprove every possible permutation of astrology. That would require multiple different studies. So that's what they're going to say. And again, they just do the dance. But yet again, no evidence for astrology.

B: The paranormal dance. Jay, you've got to come up with an actual set of movements.

J: Me? You want me to come up with the dance?

R: You want Jay to dance?

J: I'll start it tomorrow.

B: He could do a lot of good funky little dance moves.

J: Yeah, basically what that means, Rebecca, is I can make an idiot of myself very easily.

R: Oh, you don't say. I'm shocked.

P: And then we'll sell those big mats with the numbered footprints on them.

R: Yeah, yeah. Or at least you have to tape it so we can put it on YouTube. That'll go viral fast.

S: Look for that on YouTube, Jay doing the paranormal shuffle.

April Fool Fake Fairy (21:28)[edit]

S: There was one April Fool's news item that I thought was really funny. A former Derbyshire resident. This is from the BBC News. Dan Baines, 31, who designs illusions for magicians, made a fairy...

P: Kind of a fairy mummy.

S: A fairy mummy as a prank.

E: That's cool.

S: Now apparently, and then he put it on his website, and apparently he got 20,000 hits mostly from fairy believers. There are actually fairy believers out there.

E: Mostly godmothers.

S: And they believed it, and it was a real sensation. Actually, I have a picture on the news article, which I'll put on our notes page. It looks pretty cool. It's like a little tiny mummified fairy.

R: It's a goodlooking mummy.

S: Yeah, it's a pretty good fake. And then he exposed it as a hoax. And of course, the fairy believers then said, well, the hoax claim is a cover-up. It's really a fairy, and the notion that it's a hoax is just the cover-up.

P: It's just a new variation of you don't know your own powers when you reveal the hoax.

E: It happens so often. I mean, people do. They pull these hoaxes. They tell you at the end of it, yeah, this is a hoax. This is not real. Yet there's a gaggle of true believers anyways out there who still want to believe it.

B: That's the risk when you're coming up with a fake paranormal event and you're thinking you're going to show. Like, see, everyone will know that it's fake and how easy it is to make a fake and for people to believe. But you've got to be careful because people, there'll be a residue.

P: Because their belief is not based on reason and logic. It's based on emotion and desire.

B: So you've got to be careful when you do that.

E: Remember when Randi did the psychic surgery on the Johnny Carson show? And then Randi commented, he said after the show and they got calls to NBC, every call that they got was people wanting to get in touch with the psychic surgeon.

S: Even though we just thoroughly debunked it, the phone lines lit up with people wanting them in contact with the psychic surgeon he had just debunked. And Penn and Teller said too on their show that they used to do personal seances because they were really into that, the whole Houdini-style escape artist seances. But they stopped doing it because too many people believed it was real and they couldn't convince them afterwards that it wasn't real. Even when they said, this is a trick. It's a trick. We're magicians. This is how we do it. They wouldn't believe it. Baines is quoted as saying in this article that he's basically spending hours a day answering the flood of emails from the fairy believers. And he said, "I've had all sorts of comments, including people who say they've seen exactly the same thing." So that's how they know it's real, right? And one person told him to return the remains to the gravesite as soon as possible or face the consequences.

E: The consequences?

S: Whether those are going to be magical or he's going to make those consequences happen was not clear.

P: Tragic comment on society.

R: That's that reminds me of the April Fool's joke. Do you guys know that the it's the it was the prank where the guy went on TV and it was like it was the astronomer, the British astronomer. So a guy went on TV and he told people that at a certain time the alignment of the planets would be such that gravity would be affected to the point where if you jump in the air, you'll get a really weird kind of floating sensation. And people all over England did it and called into the TV station and said, yeah, oh my God, I jumped and it was like I was floating. It was amazing. And one person even claimed that she jumped into the air and floated around the room with her sisters or something like like an adult said this. So, I mean, it's really amazing the way people will fool themselves so easily if you just give them a chance. It was astronomer Patrick Moore.

S: Patrick Moore?

R: Yeah. On the BBC.

S: Right. As if we needed more evidence that people are pathetically gullible.

J: So it's not true?

R: Yes, it's true Jay. It's actually happening right now.

J: I'm floating.

R: Jump.

P: It's impossible.

E: It depends if you're Neil Adams.

S: We're getting to him. We're getting to him. All right. One more. We have a few more news items still. Busy week.

Avoiding the Holocaust (25:53)[edit]

S: There's been a couple of news reports again from the BBC from the UK about schools avoiding talking about the Holocaust, meaning the Jewish Holocaust of World War Two, because they're afraid of the response they might get from students who are either anti-Semitic or who are being taught at home or in the mosque, a very different version of the story or that the Holocaust didn't happen. So they basically just avoid the whole topic in order to avoid any controversy within the classroom. So of course, it's reprehensible. You shouldn't rewrite the history books or avoid telling important parts of history that are in the curriculum just to avoid controversy.

P: Well, they call them emotive issues, Steve. And it's not just the Holocaust. They also are questioning the teaching of slavery.

S: The Crusades.

P: All kinds of things.

R: I should mention in the interest of political correctness, because I bet we're going to get an email on it. I've heard people bulk when you call it the Jewish Holocaust, just because not everybody who was killed were Jews, particularly there were a lot of atheists and gypsies and homosexuals.

J: So what's the PC way of referring to the Holocaust then?

R: I think everybody knows what you mean when you just say the Holocaust.

S: Yeah. Well, OK, but here's the other end of the PC spectrum. If you call it the Holocaust, then then all of the descendants of the victims of the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks will write an email saying, what's this all about the Holocaust? It wasn't the only Holocaust. It was also the Armenian Holocaust. Are you denying that that existed? So you can't win. You can't win.

P: African Americans call slavery their Holocaust.

E: The Ukrainians were killed systematically by Stalin. 20 million of them.

J: So let's call it Hitler's Holocaust.

S: Hitler's Holocaust. I mean, I did say that solely for the purpose of identifying it unambiguously.

R: I just thought I'd mention it because I know somebody will write in.

P: Of course.

E: Well, thank you for saving them the trouble.

R: No problem. Hey, I'm sure they'll write in anyway.

B: I mean, what's going to happen next? Are they going to stop teaching about gravity so as not to offend those students that are gravitationally challenged? I mean, is that where we're going?

R: Don't joke about that, actually. There are Christian fundamentalists who believe that gravity is only there because God is holding you to the ground.

E: That's right.

R: I wish I were making that up.

J: God is holding you to the ground. Why does that sound like a paedophile to me?

R: Oh my God.

S: Because you have a dirty mind. There are fundamentalist tracks that basically say that the nucleus of an atom should fly apart because of all those positive particles repelling each other. So it's only the power of God that holds them together.

B: He's a busy guy.

S: We shouldn't teach about the nuclear forces.

E: Just the intellectual dishonesty here about avoiding these lessons is distasteful.

S: A school, an academic institution, should be a place where your thoughts, your views are challenged. You are challenged to think about things and to hear other points of view. And if you don't like it, that's just too bad. That's one of the things you just have to accept if you're in a public school room.

J: When I read stuff like this, I always say to myself, what was going on in the room when the decision was made? You know what? We shouldn't talk about the Holocaust because we might anger people.

S: It's just an individual teacher deciding in and of themselves not to do it, probably. I didn't hear any way that there was any policies at any specific school.

P: Well, it says teaching of the Holocaust is already compulsory in schools at KS3. That means Key Stage 3, like when you're around 14.

J: It says some schools avoid teaching the Holocaust, schools, like the whole school.

E: Yeah, it's system-wide.

J: So it seems to be like an administrative decision. We're not talking about the Holocaust.

S: But now they're launching sort of new initiatives to basically make sure that these topics are taught.

R: So there's definite evidence, though, of schools that aren't teaching the Holocaust?

S: Yes, that don't teach it.

R: Okay.

P: That's ridiculous.

S: According to the BBC, yeah.

P: That's bad. Bad, bad, bad.

S: Well, we definitely have to protect academic integrity. All forms of historical revisionism or political correctness or ideology are threats on academic freedom.

J: What do you guys think of political correctness? Do you think it's a bad movement? Do you think it's a good movement?

R: Well, that's such a broad statement.

P: It's too broad. Who's going to defend political correctness just in its whole? You can't.

S: I believe in Aristotle's philosophy of the mean, which for lots of things like that, there is a virtue which is the mean between two extreme vices. So, in other words, a little bit of political sensitivity is appropriate. And at either end, you could be insensitive or you could be politically correct. And politically correct implies an unreasonable extreme, basically, avoiding saying things for any appearance of insensitivity, even to an absurd degree. But there is a happy medium where you're sensitive without being politically correct.

P: I think also if you strip the horrors of history from history, the flip side of that is you strip the nobility of rising above such horrors.

S: Sure. And the lessons of history.

B: Well said.

S: There's a very important lesson to learn from Hitler's Holocaust. How could that happen? And that's arguably the most important thing to learn from history is how not to repeat horrible mistakes like that. If you just avoid teaching it, then what's to keep it from happening again?

J: Of course, my German friends, both of them were brought up in Germany. They've told me many times that we've talked about the Holocaust. The Germans take it very seriously and they educate their people in detail about it. And they're horrified by it. And, of course, if you didn't teach it, if it didn't have an effect on the society, it didn't permeate the consciousness and change the way people think about it, that's how we grow. That's how that's how civilization evolves. We have to look at these things.

E: Could you imagine not teaching about slavery in the context of U.S. history? It would be so incomplete. Just ridiculous.

S: It didn't somebody was one of us, I think our email prep, say that not teaching the Holocaust because you're afraid of offending Holocaust deniers or anti-Semites is like not teaching about slavery in the United States because you're afraid of offending the KKK, right?

E: Yeah.

P: Right.

Neal Adams on Fox (32:44)[edit]

S: The other news item, again, a lot of news items this week that caught my eye was this was actually, I believe I first heard about this on our forums, on our boards. Neil Adams, who we interviewed before, Neil Adams is the famous comic book artist, perhaps most famous for his Batman comics, who we interviewed on our show. He was promoting his growing Earth hypothesis. And he was recently featured on Fox News. He was interviewed for a segment. They characterized him as an amateur geologist, which I found amusing. And the interview was totally credulous. I mean, they did not bring up really any points against what he was saying or point out that there is an enormous scientific consensus against him or any of the gaping logical flaws in what he was saying. He was basically just allowed to espouse his views. And the interviewer was like, well, isn't that interesting? That was basically the response, which is typically how-

P: Very typical.

S: Very typically how a lot of journalists or news organizations handle the topics.

B: The fluff pieces.

S: Yeah, which they perceive of as the paranormal or pseudoscience. They handle them as "fluff pieces", which is code word for you don't need to employ any journalistic integrity whatsoever in dealing with this piece. You just are putting it up there. It's a freak show. It's just there to entertain.

E: Yeah, kick back and relax.

B: Wasn't that diverting? On to the next topic.

E: Made me forget my worries.

J: Steve, did you listen to the... Was it even an interview or did they just give him a mic and run out of the studio and come back in a half an hour?

S: No, it was short and it was an interview. They just set him up with softball questions.

P: It was filler.

J: Did Neil actually say, I'm agreeing with you?

S: No, he did, however, say that he's talking about real science. When he's talking about, it's real science. This is not fake stuff. This is real science. It's nonsense.

J: No, it's not real science. It's Neil science.

R: Oh, that's clever.

P: It is. The very last place to get your science information is the mass media.

J: Or no, it's Neil.

P: Last place.

J: It's Neil.

Congress and the Singularity (35:07)[edit]

S: One more news item. Bob, you sent me this one. You wanted to talk about Congress talking about the singularity.

B: Yeah.

S: Tell us about that.

B: This was interesting. Representative Jim Saxton of New Jersey, ranking member of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress, published a report recently called Nanotechnology, The Future is Coming Sooner Than You Think. The paper was authored by Dr. Joseph Kennedy, adjunct professor at Georgetown University. In it, he talks about the accelerating rate of technological change and focusing primarily on nanotechnology, what it is, when we can expect certain advances and safety issues. He spent a decent amount of time on addressing the safety issues of things like nanoparticles and what it could do to the body and how we should handle that. That's probably been in the news more than most stuff about nanotechnology, all the safety concerns. But there were some interesting quotes from the paper. They actually addressed the concept of the singularity, which was very surprising, saying that some futurists now talk about an unspecified date sometime around the middle of the century when because of the accelerating pace of technology, life will be radically different from at any prior time. And there were some other quotes that were interesting. One was, whether or not one believes in the singularity, it's difficult to overestimate nanotechnology's likely implications for society. For one thing, advances in just the last five years have proceeded much faster than even the best experts had predicted.

S: So Bob, was there any bottom line recommendations for what we should be doing as a nation based upon this report?

B: Yeah, one thing that we have to do is...

S: Did they actually say we should be putting billions and billions of dollars in? (laughter)

B: Well, they talked about the NNI, the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and how they do their research and how the funds are spread out and stuff. But a lot of it had to do with, I think, just realize that the changes are coming and they could be sweeping changes, and we just have to be ready for them and talk about them and deal with them. We've got to talk about it now because when it's upon us, it might be too late to deal with some of the safety concerns and some of the concerns that have risen, like the whole grey goo thing, which is actually pretty much almost a non-issue.

S: So it's on the radar?

B: Yeah, I mean, I was shocked.

E: What about the private sector? I mean, how are they helping?

B: They're doing good too, and in the future, there'll be more and more private companies dealing with it, and the government will really have much less control in the future because the private sector can take it in any direction they want. So that's one of the things this guy was talking about.

S: That always brings up the issue of should we just let the private sector deal with it and not try to kibbitz what the market forces are doing? If it works, the market forces will take care of it. I'm sure that's what all of our libertarian listeners will say.

J: Nanotechnology is in so many ways incredible and probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest things that humanity is going to create, in my opinion. But nanotechnology is a huge, huge security risk. If another country develops it and uses it for bad, it's really bad.

S: So you're saying we cannot afford a nanotechnology gap now?

J: No, seriously.

B: Oh my God, I think we will reach a point in the not-too-distant future when the government will take it, in a very short period of time, they will take it in order of magnitude, more seriously. They're going to be like, whoa, wait a second, this is getting a little scary. We've got to dump billions of dollars, billions, billions more into this because the pluses can be incredible, but the negatives can also be. It's a double-edged sword. Security, you want to talk about security concerns. How about quintillions of bits of smart dust that can be lofted in the air? Each one can be a transmitter or a camera. I mean, that's just one possibility.

P: I just want to point out here that we sound a little excitable here, and I want to make sure we're not going down the whole robot matrix thing again.

J: Perry, put it away. Technology is snowballing it.

P: Yes, Perry, come on, what?

J: Read the news.

P: I was right about the robot thing.

J: Perry, in our lifetime, we're going to see things that we can't even conceive of.

P: Yeah, okay.

S: Perry, the evidence from science fiction is overwhelming. You can't deny it anymore. All right, let's go on to some emails.

B: Come on.

R: Let's go on to emails.

B: The evidence from science fiction. There's no science in this.

S: Let's move on to your questions and emails.

Questions and Emails[edit]

Peanut Butter Disproves Evolution (39:59)[edit]

Hello Skeptic League of America!

Love the show! I found that and thought you'd like it.

(Christian Right evangelist Chuck Missler.)

It's hilarious. I was speechless. It REALLY made me rethink my position on evolution... This new theory is reminiscent of the Johnny Cochrane's Chewbacca defense:

Keep up the good work,

Benoit Methot (Ben-wa May-taught)

Montreal, Canada

S: The first one comes from Benoit Maytaut from Montreal, Canada.

P: You think that's a real name?

R: No, he made it up.

S: He thoughtfully included the pronunciation. So Benoit writes, "Hello, Skeptic League of America."

R: Oh, I like that.

S: That kind of makes us sound like superheroes.

R: Yeah, can I be Wonder Woman?

S: Rebecca, you are Wonder Woman. Here it goes on to say, "Love the show I found that and thought you'd like it." It gives us a link. "It's hilarious. I was speechless. It really made me rethink my position on evolution. This new theory is reminiscent of the Johnny Cochran's Chewbacca defense. Keep up the good work, Benoit." So we'll have the link to the video, of course, on our pod notes, the info page for this podcast. And this is a video of Christian right evangelist Chuck Missler.

R: And just to prepare the audience, those of you who liked the banana video that we talked about a while back with Kirk Cameron, just prepare yourselves because this is almost as good if not better.

S: This is as good.

J: Before you start, can I make an announcement?

S: Yes.

J: Plays Peanut butter jelly time

R: That would be kind of funny.

E: Jay appealing to the 15-year-old group of our segment listeners.

S: Apparently creationists like to use food analyses in debunking evolution. So Kirk Cameron had his banana nonsense. And Missler is using peanut butter as his big example. He opens a jar of peanut butter and peels off the seal as if, behold, evolution is bunk. And his point is so old, it's crusty. First of all, he's basically talking about spontaneous generation, life spontaneously forming from non-life, which the creationists have been on about forever. It's been so thoroughly debunked. Again, this is a good prime example of their intellectual dishonesty when they don't alter your arguments in the face of disconfirmation and debunking. Basically, the first mistake they make is confusing, completely confusing evolution for the origin of life. Those are two entirely different topics. You could theoretically believe that God miracle the first organisms into being and then they went on to...

R: He miracled? Did you just make miracle a verb?

S: Yes, I made miracle into a verb.

R: You don't miracle something.

S: Absolutely.

R: Sorry, go on.

S: He miracled life into existence and then from that point forward it evolved. You could theoretically believe that. So you can separate these two things. Whatever processes led to the first tiny foothold of bags of chemicals across that fuzzy line into being called life, whatever happened to make that happen, is different than subsequent evolution. They are separate, but they always try to confuse them together because they're always looking for the single master stroke that disproves evolution. In fact, in the video, the person who announces Missler says that if life can't come from non-life, that's like the premise and then everything that follows must be false. So all of evolution must be a fairy tale because that first initial piece is not true. That's a logical fallacy. So the whole premise of this video is completely false. And Missler just uses the word evolution when he in fact is talking about spontaneous generation. So he then confuses them in fact on his points. What he's saying is that if it's possible for life to form from non-life, then why isn't it still happening?

R: To our peanut butter.

S: That's right. In fact, the entire food industry is dependent upon the fact that contaminating organisms do not spontaneously generate within food. That's why we seal it closed, because we know that life won't spontaneously form in it. Then he uses a jar of peanut butter as an example. He says that in the last hundred years we've conducted millions or billions of individual experiments every time we open up a food jar and life has not spontaneously formed within it. That's sort of disconfirmation.

R: Obviously he's never opened up a jar of food in my apartment. Seriously, I have a jar of peanut butter in my cabinet right now that has a lot of life that seems to spontaneously pop up inside of it.

J: Actually, I doubt that because of the high sugar content, bacteria has a harder time growing in there.

S: You're right, but I think the problem with peanut butter, this is a total aside, is more fungus than bacteria. In fact, there's lots of deaths occur every year to fungal contaminated peanut butter. That's after you open it.

J: It was totally absurd watching the video. You see that guy sitting there in the suit. He's very serious and he has an unopened jar of peanut butter. It's like which one of these things does not belong with the other? This is not science, folks. This is an idiot.

R: This is not science. This is an idiot. That's good.

B: I really have a problem with peanut butter used in this way. Let's just move on.

S: This is disturbing you. Your peanut butter sensitivities. Now, just to be thorough, the reason why this is pure nonsense is because the conditions that existed on the early Earth that allowed for the emergence of single cells out of the so-called primordial soup don't exist in a peanut butter jar. And probably took millions of years.

R: It's so sad that you even have to say that.

S: I know, you have to say it.

R: It's kind of depressing.

E: You have to go one aisle over to get the primordial soup in a jar.

S: Does Campbell's make primordial soup, I wonder?

R: Instant primordial soup.

E: I sense Iron Man is going to come up with a witty little picture for the forums.

P: Isn't the point, though, that God's grace existed back then and in the peanut butter jar? Isn't that the point? I think so.

R: Yeah, if God magically...

S: What?

E: We've lost Perry.

R: I have no idea what Perry's on about. He makes a good point, though, possibly.

S: He does?

R: Just bear with me, bear with me. If God created life 6,000 years ago, then why isn't he doing it right now in my peanut butter jar? Isn't the lack of life inside my peanut butter jar just as much proof against God?

P: Well, that's not a fair question, Rebecca, because you're a Satanist. God would not choose your peanut butter with which to work his miracles.

R: What is wrong with my peanut butter? Come on.

S: You cannot question the mind of God. That's the answer to everything. But seriously, you're talking about a process that took place on the scale of a planet over millions of years.

R: Maybe God just prefers creamy.

S: That's true.

R: I prefer chunky.

S: This was a jar of creamy peanut butter. He did not test the creamy versus chunky hypothesis.

R: That's important. See, that's why these people aren't scientists. They don't understand how to be rigorous. Sad.

S: Well, if you want to see another creationist make a total ass of themselves, watch the video. It's hilarious.

Peloop (47:56)[edit]

This is so stupid that it boggles the mind:

And it's being promulgated by Dr Omar Long. Far infra-red rays? Air vitamins? But perhaps it's worthwhile mentioning again why magnets have no effect on the blood or vessels. Or you could just have the rogues test the device for some empirical evidence.

Jerad Zimmermann.

S: The next email comes from Jared Zimmerman, who writes, "This is so stupid that it boggles the mind." And he gives us another link.

J: I hear that so often.

S: "And it's being promulgated by Dr. Omar Long. Far infrared rays, air vitamins. But perhaps it's worthwhile mentioning again why magnets have no effect on the blood or vessels. Or you could just have the rogues test the device for some empirical evidence." I think that's a good idea. I think that you guys, not me, but you guys should test this device.

J: Is that the Peloop?

S: This is the Peloop. P-E-L-O-O-P. Penis enhancement made simple. Now, this is a ring. I think where you put it is obvious. That contains three pseudosciences in one.

P: Through your nipple?

J: Steve, it has magnets.

S: Magnets.

J: Tourmaline and germanium.

S: That's right.

E: Those poor germans.

J: And if you go to the website,

R: Isn't germanium a flower?

J: And you look at the flash animation they have of it, it actually looks like the cock ring is having an orgasm.

P: Really?

R: Well, those are words that have not yet been spoken on this podcast.

B: That never will be spoken again.

R: Congratulations, Jay.

S: But let's address the core claim here that a magnetic field improves blood flow. And that's a common claim you'll hear from whatever magnet healing device you might see advertised. That it promotes or improves blood flow.

E: Because there's iron in the blood.

R: You know, I have a very easy way that people can test this at home. Just take a knife, all right, stab yourself in the arm, hold a magnet over the blood that's pouring out, and watch as it leaps onto the magnet.

S: You could do the same test they did in the thing where you put your blood in a little Petri dish. And then you hold a magnet in there and see if it jumps out and grabs onto your face.

P: The thing. Or South Park.

S: Or South Park.

E: I remember that.

B: Yeah, that was great.

E: That was good.

P: Now, just for clarity, we don't actually recommend people begin stabbing themselves at home.

R: Fine.

P: Actually.

R: Well, there's an alternate test you can do. All you have to do is go to the hospital and ask to have an MRI done. And when your blood is ripped out of your body and sticks to the machine, let us know how that works out for you.

J: That's a really good observation, Rebecca.

P: It is.

J: The most magnetic devices on the planet.

S: Right. We routinely expose people to 1.5, 2, 2.5 Teslas in a magnet. You're talking like millions of times the magnetic field you're going to get from this little ring.

R: At the very least, they should be cured of whatever you're giving them the MRI for anyway. I mean, if magnetic healing is it, then that's all you need to do. Stick them in the MRI.

S: So the specific scientific point here is that the iron in your blood is not ferromagnetic. It does not respond to a magnet, period. So any notions that the iron in hemoglobin in your blood cells is going to somehow respond to the magnet is BS. And that's exactly the claim that they make. They do add a wrinkle I hadn't heard before that rather than just saying it improves blood flow, they say that it improves the oxygenation of the blood cells. That it increases that normally the blood cells are all stacked up together and that that reduces their surface area. And then when they go pass through the magnetic field, that that separates all of the blood cells, the red blood cells. So that they have their full surface area to attract oxygen. So they get more oxygen and improves oxygenation to the tissue. That's like three kinds of nonsense. First of all, blood cells don't stack up like that, at least if you're normal. They don't do that.

J: So you're saying that the magnets have absolutely no effect whatsoever on a man's erection?

S: That's what I'm saying.

J: Yes or no?

S: That's what I'm saying. There's no effect.

R: Unless you're really turned on by magnets.

B: The ring can, and I'm sure that's the effect people will see, the effect of the ring, because those types of rings have existed for quite a number of years.

S: It does say if it doesn't work you may want to add a little lubrication and then take it off and put it back on multiple times.

J: This site is so funny. This site is so totally screwed up that everybody has to go look at it.

S: I just have to finish, just to purge myself of the other reasons why this is nonsense, that also...

J: Wait, Steve, wait, wait! The founder's name is Mr. Omar Long.

P: He said that in the email.

S: So the blood cells don't stack up, it doesn't change when it goes through a magnetic field, and the whole idea about the surface area affecting the amount of oxygen that binds to the haemoglobin in the red cells is nonsense, because the oxygen tension, basically the red cells will bind as much oxygen as they can just by the oxygen being exposed in the blood. So it doesn't matter what configuration they're in. Then he says that basically the magnetic field lines up the little magnets inside each cell, because he's talking about the iron and the haemoglobin. Now, if that happened, wouldn't that make them stack up together if they were all pointing in the same direction? So it even doesn't make sense on that little bit of pseudoscience that he throws out there. It's just a concoction of stuff this guy made up off the top of his head. It's all BS.

E: And he's going to be a millionaire because of it.

S: And he'll make money from it. Yeah, absolutely. So he also then goes into the negative ions, which is the other pseudoscience he uses, and how the healing neutralizes acid levels in the bloodstream. Nonsense.

R: So just so I'm clear on what the device is, though, itself, it's just a cock ring, right?

S: Yeah.

R: So the cock ring will actually make you last longer and whatever.

E: If you're not happy, you can return it and get a refund. Is he recirculating these things to other people?

B: Gross!

E: He's probably spreading disease for all we know with these things.

When Birds Attack (54:09)[edit]

Dear skeptics,

I'm a dedicated listener and love every episode of the skeptic's guide that you produce. I thought you might be interested in a field report in the ongoing monkeys vs birds struggle. I recently traveled to Tanzania and went out on safari. It was an amazing experience and everything proceeded flawlessly... until we stopped to eat lunch. We got out of our vehicle, and almost immediately we were attacked by a species of African Jerkbird (actually Black Kites). They mercilessly swooped in on our lunches! In one case, they stole a piece of chicken out of my friend's hand as she was about to bite into it! We had no way to retaliate other than to jump up and down, make high-pitched noises and shake our fists at the sky. We promptly retreated to the vehicle, where we finished what was left of our decimated lunches.

I'm sure Perry will be disappointed, but in this round of monkeys vs birds, the birds definitely had the upper hand.

Thanks again for all you do!

Matt N.


P: So I'd like to point out, before we go on to this next email, which is a pro bird email, I'd like to point out that Steve chooses which emails get on this podcast. And that he picked out this one pro bird email out of the millions of pro monkey emails that we get. Just want to make that point. Go ahead, Stephen.

S: Actually, I've been quite fair in the number of pro monkey versus pro bird emails that I have read and news items on the show. We've had lots of pro primate emails. We're way overdue for a pro bird piece, so here we go. This one comes from Matt N.

P: Next podcast, it's all pro monkey.


P: Go ahead.

S: "Dear Skeptics, I'm a dedicated listener and love every episode of the Skeptics Guide that you produce. I thought you might be interested in a field report in the ongoing monkey versus birds struggle. I recently traveled to Tanzania", that's in Africa, Jay, "and went out on safari. It was an amazing experience and everything proceeded flawlessly until we stopped to eat lunch. We got out of our vehicle and almost immediately we were attacked by a species of African jerk bird", actually black kites. Those are rafters.

P: Jerk birds.

S: "They mercilessly swooped in on our lunches."

J: They swung down at me.

S: "In one case they stole a piece of chicken out of my friend's hand as she was about to bite into it. We had no way to retaliate other than to jump up and down, make high-pitched noises, and shake our fists at the sky."

E: And no choice.

S: "We promptly retreated to the vehicle where we finished what was left of our decimated lunches. I'm sure Perry will be disappointed, but in this round of monkeys versus birds, the birds definitely had the upper hand. Thanks again for all that you do."

P: I mean, how asinine.

J: Why, Perry, it happened.

P: I mean, come on.

J: Perry, it happened. It took place, unlike this stupid stuff you say.

S: It's anecdotal experience.

P: And look at the guy's response. I jumped up and down and I shook my fist at the sky. Good job, Matt.

S: Yeah, they didn't do a very good job of holding up the primate end, I must say. But listen, this does remind me that the latest issue of Scientific American has a very interesting article.

P: You damn bird.

S: The name of the article is Just How Smart Are Ravens? And it reviews recent research looking at the intellectual abilities of ravens, and it's very impressive. They have proof of problem-solving.

P: Let me tell you something. If it was monkeys that came after their lunches, they'd be dead. They would have never made it back to their vehicle. Or maybe bloody husks out of the ground.

S: You do have a point, Perry. If a troop of baboons came up to them, I mean, they would have been much more trouble.

P: They would have torn up to pieces.

B: Why do I have an image of this guy shaking his fist at the sky and throwing a bone in the air that goes up in slow motion and kind of spins around?

S: And then turns into a satellite?

B: Yeah, yeah.

S: I don't know where that image comes from. So the author of the article writes, "What is more, we found to our astonishment that they can even distinguish one individual from another, and that way, too, they are much like humans."

P: So humans are much more like birds than they are like monkeys.

S: It's surprising. That's not my point. I'm just saying that how smart certain species of birds are is fairly surprising. You wouldn't think these little bird brains.

P: Listen, tomorrow we'll fly out to lunch together and we'll talk about it.

S: You know, one more email.

Groupthink (57:34)[edit]

I am a subscriber of Skeptic magazine and I tend to seek out other media friendly to skeptics but I think your show violates the spirit of skepticism. All of the panellists think alike and don't seem to disagree much on anything.

That, to me, is scary.. and unnatural.

Also, don't get so stuck on "reason" alone... you should consider ethics as well. Reason without ethics is meaningless.


S: This one comes from who just signed the email, Charles, location unknown. And Charles writes, "I am a subscriber of Skeptic Magazine and I tend to seek out other media friendly to skeptics, but I think your show violates the spirit of skepticism. All of the panellists think alike and don't seem to disagree much on anything. That, to me, is scary and unnatural. Also, don't get stuck on reason alone. You should consider ethics as well. Reason without ethics is meaningless, Charles." Well, I mean, I think that the kernel of legitimacy in this is that we're all skeptics. So, yeah when we talk about pseudoscience and the paranormal and utter nonsense, we're going to more or less agree on those, the major core points. If one of us disagreed with on that, then they wouldn't be a skeptic.

R: Well, no, I mean, we do disagree every now and again, Steve.

J: Oh, come on. Anybody who listens to the show knows that we don't agree on everything.

S: I would say we agree more than we disagree, though, don't you?

B: I totally agree with you guys.

P: Our thinking with regards to birds and monkeys are identical. In fact, I can't even tell them apart.

J: I don't know where I end and Perry begin.

P: When I read this email, the first thing I thought to myself was, I wonder if Charles ever listened to the podcast.

R: Can I just say that I hate you all and disagree with you all on pretty much a regular basis?

J: You know, maybe he has a minor point. We do the show together. We probably unconsciously want to be in agreeance on a lot of these things. But we're talking about the topics that we talk about are things that are very easy to agree about.

P: I'm certainly in agreeance with you, Jay.

J: Thank you.

P: In fact, I like being in agreeance as often as possible. I'm an agreeance-able person.

R: In agreeance? What is agreeance?

P: I'm going with Jay here. I'm going with Jay. Just trying to cover for him.

B: Just roll with it, Rebecca.

R: I refuse to just roll with this, all right? I'm sick of you guys making up words. Not by some jackass on a podcast, all right?

E: Perfectly cromulant word.

P: I think Charles doesn't have a point.

S: We can make up words if we want to.

J: I think we all should right now.

S: William Shakespeare made a career out of making up new words.

R: No, he didn't. He made a career out of writing plays. Ridiculous?

S: He would make up new words as needed.

J: He came up with the prefix un, unhappy.

R: What? No, he didn't.

J: Yes, he did.

P: That's unpossible.

R: Shut up. He did not.

S: Jay, do you have a reference for that?

R: You are full of it.

J: I'll find one.

R: Yeah. Where's your evidence? Evidence. Evidence, Jay. Find it. Go on.

S: You can't just throw things out off the top of your head on a show without some kind of dude doing it.

R: Seriously, what is wrong with you?

P: The way Charles had is on top of his head.

E: Yeah. You're being such a flester. Please.

R: What? Stop it. I see what you did there. I don't think I didn't notice that.

S: Rebecca, you point fingers at Jay because you've been throwing out the dubious references recently also.

R: I have never done such a thing in my life.

J: I disagree with that statement.

R: Thank you. Wait, do you disagree with Steve or with me?

E: Don't get all constriculated here.

R: Stop it.

Name that Logical Fallacy (1:00:49)[edit]

I'm wondering if there is a particular logical fallacy which would cover the claim, "they would never do that", as in, "the U.S. military would never have dropped flares over a populated area," or "the Jewish priesthood would never have made up a story which portrayed one of their patriarchs in such a negative light, so the incident of the Golden Calf must really have happened."

Peter Gaffney

Los Angeles, United States

S: We do have a name that logical fallacy. This one comes from Peter Gaffney in Los Angeles, United States. And Peter writes, "I'm wondering if there is a particular logical fallacy which would cover the claim they would never do that, as in the U.S. military would never have dropped flares over a populated area, or the Jewish priesthood would never have made up a story which portrayed one of their patriarchs in such a negative light. So the incident of the golden calf must really have happened." Do you guys have any thoughts on this before I go forward?

B: The illogical fallacy of personal incredulity?

S: I think that is a part of it. There is some personal incredulity here, although I don't think that is the core fallacy. Actually, I think that primarily this is a false premise. It's not really a logical fallacy. If your point is those were not flares because the U.S. military would never drop flares over a populated area, that's actually valid logic. If the premise were in fact true that the U.S. didn't drop flares, or would never drop flares, then it's valid logic to conclude that therefore the lights over Phoenix, the Phoenix lights were in fact not flares.

P: But since in this case they did drop flares.

S: The problem is it's assuming a premise. So it's making a huge assumption that's not validated and then taking that as a premise. It turns out in this case to be wrong. I guess you could also call that the ad hoc logical fallacy in that it's just making up a premise willy-nilly as needed in order to dismiss an alternate explanation. Those were flares. They couldn't be flares because the U.S. would never drop flares over a populated area. There's no basis for that because they do do that. Obviously they did do it. So that's it. I think it's the ad hoc fallacy. Just making up stuff as needed to dismiss inconvenient explanations or things you don't want to believe.

Science or Fiction (1:02:44)[edit]

Item #1: A new study shows that in the workplace female sexual harassment of male co-workers is just as prevalent as male sexual harassment of female co-workers.

Item #2: Recent psychological studies have shown that cartoonish video game violence was as much correlated with increased violent and aggressive behavior as is more graphic and realistic video game violence.

Item #3: Recent research indicates that Japanese and American computer users use different emoticons for the same emotions, and this reflects differences in how the two cultures perceive emotions from facial expressions.

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two are genuine, one fictitious. And then my panel of esteemed skeptics try to figure out which one is the fake. We have a theme this week. We haven't had a theme in a long time. But I have a theme this week. The theme is psychology. Psychology.

B: Yep.

S: Everyone ready?

R: Ready.

P: Parapsychology or real psychology?

S: Real psychology.

R: What's the difference?

S: Actually it's meta-psychology.

B: Meta.

S: Or epi-psychology? Anyway.

R: Now you're just making stuff up.

S: Just psychology. I'm just making words up now. A new study shows that in the workplace, female sexual harassment of male coworkers is just as prevalent as male sexual harassment of female coworkers. Item number two, recent psychological studies have shown that cartoonish video game violence was as much correlated with increased violent and aggressive behavior as is more graphic and realistic video game violence. Item number three, recent research indicates that Japanese and American computer users use different emoticons for the same emotions. And this reflects differences in how the two cultures perceive emotions from facial expressions. Bob, go for it.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I think I'm going to go with three because facial expressions are, as far as I know, culture independent. The way you look when you're angry or shocked or surprised, that's pretty much universal for all humans. So I haven't even really thought about one and two yet, but that one just goes against everything that I've read about. I'm going to say that's false. Three. Yep.

S: Perry, you go next.

Perry's Response[edit]

P: Japs and Americans' different emotes? That sounds reasonable. By the way, for anyone who doesn't know, emoticons are like the little smiley faces and things like that you can stick in your emails nowadays. Okay, the second one, video cartoons. The cartoonish sniff. I don't believe any of it, and I don't think any of that stuff makes you violent. I watch plenty of Bugs Bunny beating the shit out of everybody. I'm fine. And then females harassing males nowadays? Of course. Females are totally out of control.

J: Yeah, but the question is whether or not they're equal to the number of harassments.

P: They're clearly worse. So I'd have to go with...

S: The video game violence?

P: Yeah, the videos, that's fake.

S: Okay. Rebecca?

Rebecca's Response[edit]

R: I'm going to go with... This is a tough one. I'm actually... You've kind of got me here. Okay, yeah. I think that the females harassing males, I don't think that's true.

S: Okay. Jay?

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Yeah, I'm going to go with that one as well.

S: Okay, Evan?

Evan's Response[edit]

P: Evan? Evan, are you okay? Evan?

E: Yeah, I'm here.

P: Oh, I'm sorry.

B: You get me with that.

P: I heard a profound silence.

E: Japanese versus American emoticons. I agree with Bob. I just think that there's something too universal in the pattern and patterns in the brain of human beings. A smile is a smile. A frown is a frown. So I would say that one is fiction.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay. Well, we're really all over the board this week. So two, one, and two. Pretty evenly divided. So Perry, you're alone in thinking that the video game violence one is fiction.

P: And I'm damn proud of it.

S: And that one is science. So this is a series of studies, actually.

P: It's all nonsense.

E: Are you still proud of it?

P: Is this bird science?

S: Comparing the reaction from video games which have cartoons, like cartoon characters, with big buffer weapons kind of violence. Nothing even realistic. And the response to that was pretty similar to watching teen rated violence where fleshy parts get blown apart and it's more realistic. And there was no difference. There was an increase in the aggressiveness of violent behavior in the subjects after viewing or playing either of these types of video games. And this is consistent with this very large body of research which does, in fact, show this also from TV watching, although the effects in most of the studies are short-term. It's harder to look at long-term effects. So that one was science. Perry, you're out.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Number one, a new study shows that in the workplace, female sexual harassment of male co-workers is just as prevalent as male sexual harassment of female co-workers. And that one is fiction. Jay and Rebecca got that one correct.

J: Bob, I can't believe you got the Japanese emoticons wrong.

R: Yeah, really.

B: Believe it. I don't buy it.

E: Steve, he can believe I got it wrong.

B: Formal request.

R: Haven't you ever seen?

S: We'll get there. We'll get there. Let's just talk about this one first. I made that up. Although I did base it on the study that prompted this one was looking at the differences in the way women and men perceive sexual harassment. And that comes from how they perceive power. Men perceive power as a position of formal authority. So a boss has power over their underling. So they see power leading to sexual harassment. And men tend not to think that you can have sexual harassment between people of equal formal status of co-workers. Whereas females tend to think that power comes from sexual harassment. And that therefore a co-worker who formally has equal status can use sexual harassment in order to exert power over them. So they may perceive sexual harassment occurring in situations where men do not perceive it as occurring. That's what the study showed that I was inspired by to make up the whole equal thing. The numbers are totally out of whack. Women are harassed in order of magnitude more than male. Male is almost non-existent.

P: Thank God.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: So, which means that number three, this was my tricky one this week. The recent research indicates that Japanese American computer users use different emoticons for the same emotions and this reflects differences in how the two cultures perceive emotions from facial expressions. Now, in the paper, in the research, they mention that this does fly in the face, if you will, of the conventional wisdom, which is that the expression of emotions, of facial emotions and the perception of them are universal. But what this is saying, and I was very careful in how I worded it, the perception of emotions from facial expressions. It turns out that the Japanese tend to look much more at the eyes.

R: Yeah, haven't you guys ever seen anime, first of all?

S: Trying to figure out emotions and Americans look much more at the mouth. And it's what's interesting, if you look at the emoticons, they're cool looking. Now, we all know in America, we use the smiley face and the frowny face emoticons, right? Whereas, so the eyes are the same and then the mouth is either curled up or the mouth is curled down for happy or the mouth is curled down for sad.

R: Right, but they use the O's and the zeros to make big and little eyes.

S: In Japan, they're cool, and you can look at the article, have them on the notes page. They use the same mouth, the mouth is a line, it's like an underscore. And for the happy face, they use the two carats for the eyes. And for the sad face, they use semicolons, so it's like little tears below the eyes. So the eyes are different, but the mouths are the same.

R: I can't believe that scientists are just getting, like, everybody knows this. If you chat online, like, there are the anime kids who use those specific smiley faces. I can't believe that people are just noticing this.

S: Yeah, well I think it's just, they're relating it to the fact, I don't think that that's the new bit. Oh gee, we use different emoticons. It's the fact that they did research which shows that Japanese will pay more attention to the eyes and Americans will pay more attention to the mouth.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:11:06)[edit]

This Week's Puzzle

Please be still my beating heart For the best kiss of my life That tingling on my skin does start In vain my stress can cause much strife

What am I describing?

Last Week's Puzzle Take a rose Place it in lime The outcome is usually death

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

What am I describing?

Answer: Sirenomelia Winner: none

S: Evan, do you have a puzzle for us this week?

E: I do.

S: But first, let's hear the answer to last week's puzzle.

S: Okay, last week's puzzle. Take a rose, place it in lime, the outcome is usually death. I am mired by what Dr. Griffin would say, a dimmer version of a baby's last breath. What am I describing?

S: And the answer is?

E: And the answer is, there could have been one of two answers that I would have accepted as correct. Because I divided this particular puzzle up into two sections. So, let's take the first part first. Take a rose, place it in lime, the outcome is usually death. So, take a rose, A-R-O-S-E, place it in lime, I-N-L-I-M-E. And what do we have? A classic anagram. For the disorder called Sirenomelia, S-I-R-E-N-O-M-E-L-I-A, is a rare disorder in which the legs are fused together of a newborn baby. It's also known as mermaid syndrome. Which takes us to the second part of the puzzle that says, I am mired by what Dr. Griffin would say, a dimmer version of a baby's last breath. So, in that part, I have two anagrams, am mired, and a dimmer are each anagrams for mermaid. How Dr. Griffin fits into all of this is that Dr. Griffin is an alias of one of P.T. Barnum's accomplices, who was, of course, in the 1800s, supposedly the man who caught a mermaid. It was actually a mermaid made out of paper mache. But it was displayed and touted around the country as being legitimate and so forth. And, of course, scientists talked it down. But to the fascination of many people, yeah they get in the way of so many things.

S: Evan, I think you made this whole thing up.

E: Yeah.

J: Evan, did anyone get this?

E: No. There were no winners in this week's puzzle.

P: You stumped them all, Evan.

E: This was a hard one.

S: Excellent.

E: Very hard.

R: Wait, did you say that he made a fake mermaid of paper mache?

E: That's correct, yeah. And it was a combination of paper mache, the torso of a baby orangutan.

R: Oh, okay. Yeah, that's what I was going to say. It's a baby orangutan stitched onto a fish, right?

E: Right.

R: That's the Fiji mermaid.

E: Yeah, and there were a few fish and a few fish parts. Yeah, exactly. They called the Fiji mermaid.

R: Yeah.

J: Hey, Evan.

E: Yes.

J: Could you make an easy one for me next week?

E: I made you an easy one for this week.

J: Oh, you did? Okay, let's hear it.

E: I did. So here you go. It's another poem. Please be still, my beating heart, for the best kiss of my life. That tingling on my skin does start. In vain, my stress can cause much strife. What am I describing? Good luck, everyone.

S: Thank you, Evan.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:14:11)[edit]

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it's still a foolish thing.

S: Well, Bob, do you have a quote for us this week?

B: Yes, I have a quote from French writer Anatoly France. He said, "If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it's still a foolish thing."

S: Yes. A witty way of pointing out the argument at populism.

R: Look, just shut up, okay? All of you.

S: Well, thanks everyone for joining me again.

P: I've been sexually harassed on the podcast.

R: You wish.

J: Thank you, Steve.

R: Thank you, Steve.

P: By my co-equal.

E: Thank you very much, Steve.

P: Oh, it's the least you can do, Steve.

Announcements (1:14:44)[edit]

J: Hey, Steve, so...

S: Yes?

J: I'd like to thank everybody for our DIGG rating has gone up. I think we're almost at 300 now.

S: Yeah, speaking of which, though, we're still only getting a tiny, tiny fraction of our listeners to actually bother to vote for us on DIGG. It's still lower, like 290 out of 15,000. I think we can shoot for a little bit higher. And we don't have to get that much higher before we'll be the number one science podcast on DIGG. And before we start to really crack into, like, the top 20 of all podcasts. So, please take a moment. If you like the Skeptics Guide and you want to help spread skepticism, please vote for us on DIGG. It does just take a moment.

R: Totally.

S: That is our show for this week.

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

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


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