SGU Episode 905
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|SGU Episode 905|
|November 12th 2022|
From Ratcheting of climate pledges needed to limit peak global warming,
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"The emissions pathways vary across assumptions about ambition level in 2030, post-2030 minimum decarbonization rate and timing of net-zero for countries with net-zero pledges. See text for detailed description of assumptions. The black colour corresponds to the 'NDC' cases, orange to the 'NDC+' cases and blue to the 'NDC++' cases. Each colour group comprises nine pathways. The thick bold lines in each colour group correspond to the central assumptions about post-2030 minimum decarbonization (2%) and year of net-zero (target year as specified). The thick dashed lines correspond to the most ambitious pathway within each colour group. The lighter lines within each colour group correspond to different assumptions about the post-2030 minimum decarbonization rate and timing of net-zero pledges. The shaded green area represents 15–85 percentile range of 1.5 °C pathways with no or limited overshoot from the IPCC SR1.5 report."
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
It's much easier to con people than to convince them that they've been conned.
John Allen Paulos, American professor
Introduction, remembering CSICOP editor Kendrick Frazier
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 Thursday, November 10st, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone!
S: So Evan, you were recently at CSICon, the CSI's annual conference. Isn't that right?
E: Yes, I was. I wasn't there long. I happened to be in Las Vegas on the same weekend that my sister got married in Las Vegas.
S: So you skipped the wedding and went to the conference?
E: Almost. It was just across the street at the Hotel Flamingo where the CSI conference was happening, so I went over there for a few hours and saw some people, saw some faces I hadn't seen and oh my gosh, at least since the last time we were at CSI back in 2018 that with some other people.
S: Yeah, and the before time. Before the pandemic.
J: In the before times.
E: The pre.
S: So in case anyone listening doesn't know, the CSI, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, used to be CSICOP. They're the biggest national skeptical organization. They've been around since, I think, the mid-70s. '75?
E: Yeah '75-'76.
S: They publish the Skeptical Inquirer, which is an excellent skeptical magazine. I get it every month, so one of the few things I enjoy reading cover to cover. Unfortunately, the editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, Kendrick Frazier, who we all know, somebody we would see at the conferences. He died two days ago. He was 80. So good run. Apparently, he was sick. People knew. It wasn't like a surprise. It was known that he was, you know, that he was sick and was going to die soon. I got out, I think, two days before he passed away. I got an email from CSI letting us know what was going on. So yeah, it's always sad for a fellow skeptic to pass and he was, basically dedicated majority of his adult life to promoting science and skepticism, through his work through CSI.
E: When we first went to, well, at least my experience, my first time going up to their facility in Buffalo was back in 1997 with you guys, and that was when I first met Kendrick then. And he then, as you said, Steve, sort of was a fixture of all the conferences that had taken place. He was one of the familiar faces there. You always saw him at these skeptic conferences.
S: Yeah, there's a lot of characters in the skeptical movement, you know what I mean? There's a lot of people you meet that have strong personalities. And Kendrick was just like, as you say, just a fixture, just a real professional, just always there, just doing his job, getting it done. You know what I mean? He's also always a super nice guy.
S: A very no drama kind of executive kind of person.
E: Yeah, even keel. And a big Los Angeles Dodgers fan, if I recall. He was, I remember at the last conference I saw him, this was back in 2018 we were in Las Vegas, at the conference he was there and he was wearing a Dodgers jersey. And he was very happy and proud talking about his Dodgers who were, I believe, in the World Series, had just gotten to the World Series that year. And he was making plans, OK, I have to be here for this talk and I have to give a talk here, but then I'm going to sneak away and go see the baseball game for a while and then I'll be back. So he was apparently a very big baseball fan and loved his Dodgers. He was the author or editor on 10 different books. And I didn't know this, he was a fellow of the AAAS.
C: Is he a scientist or just a science writer?
S: More of a science writer than a practicing scientist, but he has a science education.
Dumbest Thing of the Week (4:03)
- [link_URL TITLE]
S: All right, so we're going to move on with our news items, but Evan, you're going to start us off with a Dumbest Thing of the Week.
E: Yeah, Dumbest Thing of the Week. Do you want me to sing the song?
S: No, not really.
E: Cara, do you want me to sing the song?
C: I'm going to say no also, I'm going to get in trouble.
E: Then you know what, I'll not sing it this week, but if a listener writes us and says next time they want to hear it, it's going to happen, but I'll spare you, I'll spare you the enjoyment of me singing that song this week. Dumbest Thing of the Week. All right, Norway's Prince Louise, she is quitting her royal duties, it was announced a few days ago.
S: Oh, she must have a really good reason.
E: Oh, absolutely. She's going to devote all of her time to her true passion in life, alternative medicine.
S: Oh, boy.
C: What? What does that mean?
E: Well, I will explain, and you know the definition of alternative medicine is anything that is not medicine, just so we're clear about that. But this is essentially almost a follow-up news item to one that I had talked about back in June of this year concerning Princess Louise. If you remember that her fiancé announced, and his name is Shaman Durek, that he had become engaged to the princess, Princess Louise of Norway. Shaman Durek, a sixth-generation shaman, author of the best-seller book, Spirit Hacking, Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World. Yes, the book in which he claims many things, including that childhood cancer is caused by unhappiness. Perhaps that will ring a bell as to the last news item I spoke about in regards to him.
S: Let's blame the kids for their own cancer. That's a good idea.
E: Yeah, that's a wonderful, wonderful scientifically-based philosophy that he espouses. And there are other gems in that book. Yeah, and the book got pulled from publishers. Many publishers in Europe realized, oh, this is bad, it's coming out. And Norway also pulled the book. They said, nope, sorry, not here. I think in America it stayed on the shelf. We have apparently a higher tolerance for dangerous health claims here in America than they do in Europe when it comes to these things. But Shaman Durek, he helps his victims, I mean clients, tap into their personal power and this is his words, while "unblocking negative patterns that prevent them from reaching their optimal human performance." Does it get more gobbledygook than that? No, it does not. Now clearly he's beloved in Norway, apparently. Oh wait, the Wikipedia page about him, let's see. He advocates several conspiracy theories and has been characterized by Norwegian media and other critics as a con man. His only book was described by critics as nonsense, garbage, and dirty talk, and the ravings of a lunatic. But you know, he's actually a misunderstood soul. He addresses his critics and naysayers by comparing himself to the likes of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, claiming that they too were geniuses and simply misunderstood. Where have we heard that before? Now if all that background wasn't enough, he has the full endorsement and friendship of Gwyneth Paltrow and the Goop parade. So that, I think, sums him up pretty well. So yeah, they're engaged, Princess Louise and the Shaman. But in this latest update, which came courtesy of the BBC, among other news outlets that picked it up, she has relinquished her royal duties, yes, she's going to focus on her alternative medicine business with the showman, I mean the Shaman. And Princess Louise, here's what she says, she's aware of the importance of research based knowledge, but she believes alternative medicine can be an important supplement to help the conventional medical establishment.
S: Yeah, just like putting a little bit of manure on your ice cream supplements it and makes it better.
E: And yeah, so we hear that before all the time. Oh, here's what else she says, a warm hand, an acupuncture needle, a crystal, natural remedies, yoga, meditation, or therapeutic conversation can, I believe, help to make life better for many individuals. You see what the pseudoscientists do? They blend the crazy ideas, the acupuncture, the crystals, those natural remedies, with the non-crazy ideas, meditation, yoga, conversation with therapists. They couch themselves as being sort of these moderates, almost rationals, instead of just emphasizing the outright quackery agenda that they have. And they blend the two, they mix the two, it's a deception, is what it is. She also says: "I also believe that there are components of a good life in sound physical and mental health that may not be so easy to sum up in a research report." Translation, scientific research and analysis is lacking and therefore any of the blanks that science can't answer means the answer lies in unfounded beliefs and ideas that are untethered to reality.
S: Or I could ignore science whenever I want.
E: Instead, go with what your gut is telling you in a way. The princess, yes, she's controversial and has been so for many decades. She started a school, this was back in 2007 to help people get in touch with their angels. And not in a metaphoric way, to get in touch with their angels. Angels exist and you can communicate with them. And she's been doing this ever since she was a child. And she's brought it with her, now she's I think in her 50 so well into adulthood. She and a friend opened that school together back in 2007. The school is since closed in 2018. It didn't quite go I think as planned and had financial problems, she had to sell one of her houses in order to pay off the debts and so forth. So that went down. But there were some exposés and some things written about the school and they actually went into the school to do some, well to observe what exactly was going on. And they took some video about what was going on inside the classrooms there. And here's what they said, it mostly showed the princess and her friend, the other teacher, they would meditate with clients, trying to summon the spiritual energy needed to recognize and communicate with angels. That's it. That's all they did. They sat, I don't know, a seance, for lack of a better term, I don't know how else to really compare that. But hey, for $1,500 a class. Or a course, a semester, I have no idea. Probably 6 classes $1,500 that's what you would get. And yeah, you would use these angels to empower yourself and create miracles in your own life. These are all quotes right from their website, right from their literature. What is her business going to be, nobody really knows, time will tell. But based on her history and the history of her fiancé and the company that she keeps and the fact that her own family effectively cast her out because she's unpopular and detached from reality, I think we can safely assume that her foray into full-time pseudoscience will be, what, to be continued. We will find out.
S: So this is, I have two minds on this story. One is that it always makes me sad to think of people dedicating their life to nonsense. You know what I mean? It's like, they're going to put so much time and energy into a fantasy that they think is real because they have bought into it, and it's just such a waste. But also, she seems to have been into this since she was a child, right, so this just may be her predisposition rather than being seduced by it. She sounds like she's like all in from the beginning.
E: And she's made a choice here, Steve, a choice that so few people in life have, especially with someone of her exposure, her power, the wealth and the exposure that comes along with being part of a royal family and the good work that you could potentially be doing. And you're shunting that, you're throwing that away and that possibility in order to go down this specific route in life. That makes it worse.
S: All right, thanks, Evan.
E: There you go.
Climate Change in the Classroom (12:29)
S: We have a couple of climate-related news items this week, partly because it's COP27, it's the big climate get-together, UN meeting in Egypt this year. And of course, there are the usual people whining about all of the attendees taking private jets there, which is a distraction. But there's a few things we could talk about, but Jay, you're going to start us off by talking about how climate change is taught in the classroom.
J: In the past few years, the science and education standards in Texas were reviewed and updated. So these education standards, they outline what the students in each grade and each subject should learn. This is literally what are the children going to learn and in what grade are they? This was the first review of the education standards that proposed students learn about human-caused climate change. Imagine that. This is the first review period that they're actually going to put the question out there. Should we teach our kids about climate change? This seems like they're already behind the ball here. Texas happens to be a key player in this situation. So let me give you the background here. Since Texas is one of the biggest single textbook purchasers, when they decide what should and should not be taught to their students, the companies that make textbooks, they commonly change their products to fit what Texas wants. That's how much buying power Texas has. Then those books get sold all across the United States. In a 2020 review of science standards of all 50 states in the US when looking at how well climate change was represented in their curriculum, most states got an A or B. Texas got an F. In 2019 NPR did a pull where 4 out of 5 people in the United States think that school children should be educated about climate change. So clearly these two things don't line up. The last time the Texas board reviewed and updated the Texas essential knowledge and skills, this is called TEKS, this was in regards to science. This happened back in 2009. Now, during that cycle of review, the board argued about evolution. They were really trying to figure out like how they want to present evolution to the children in Texas. And they also decided that high school students should hear both sides of the argument about whether or not global warming is happening. This was in 2009. Back in 2019 when it was again time to review and update the Texas essential knowledge and skills, the heavily debated topic at this point was finally climate science. This was the number one thing that was being debated. The board had three different curricula to consider. So they had high school core sciences, high school elective sciences, and then K-8, which is all the other grades. The board brought in 85 volunteers and some of them, you know, they were professionals. They were content advisors who could give the board suggestions on what should be changed. And those who worked on the high school core science standards initially did not include any reference to the science of modern climate change, remarkably. During the process of deciding on what will end up in the curriculum, the board had a public meeting. They opened it up and they let everybody and anybody who wants to comment about it chime in. And 30 people raised the topic of how climate change should be included in these core classes. This came from parents and teachers and other people involved in education. So also in that same meeting, a man named Robert Unger gave his opinion. He, however, was a representative for the Texas Energy Council. Guess where this is going? He's an engineer from Dallas and he just happened to be someone who worked for the oil and gas industry for over 45 years. So that you have a clear understanding of who this man was representing. He was representing the Texas Energy Council and that is a league of 35 oil and gas industry organizations. They have over 5,000 members. The Texas Energy Council had recruited 17 experts with varying backgrounds. And all of these people agreed that oil and gas should be portrayed in a balanced way. I don't know what the hell that means. They just want it to be vague. This is a nice way of saying the way I read it, that they don't want oil and gas industries to be represented in a negative light due to their direct involvement in climate change. So their goal, this is taken from their, essentially taken from their website when you read between the lines. Their goal is to downplay the seriousness of climate change, to pass on the blame to other industries and countries, and most reprehensibly, and to delay actions that would mitigate climate change. How about that? That's what these people are about. So Unger suggested to the board that they remove any mention of social justice and ethics in these science classes. He proposed that they include a cost-benefit analysis. This is what, this is the way that he wanted this.
B: Oh yeah?
J: Yeah. Wait, wait until I read this.
B: Yeah, let's go down that road.
C: I know this is not going to end well for him if we do a cost-benefit analysis.
J: So he goes on to explain how solar and wind also have negative aspects and that all energy sources should be looked at from a cost-benefit perspective. This of course is goddamn absurd, right? It's a false equivalence. Wind and solar produce a fraction of the greenhouse gases that gas and oil do. I mean, a fraction. Comparing negative aspects of oil, gas, wind, and solar is a complete waste of time. And it most certainly is not the conversation and not what we want students focusing on. Oh, let's do a cost analysis of these different sources of energy. Yeah, sure.
S: Well, Jay, I'll push back on that, let me push back on that. I think that's fine as long as you do it accurately. If you did a full cost-benefit analysis, including the externalized costs of climate change.
B: That's the key.
S: Wind and solar come out way on top as well as geothermal, hydroelectric and nuclear, anything that's low carbon. And the massive carbon-emitting energies are just because of health care costs on the one side and the other.
J: Steve, you're talking, but you're going into detail that they don't want and that they've clearly represented that they don't want those kinds of details. They don't want them to, they don't want the students to be talking about explicitly understanding what the root cause is. They want, this is their whitewash.
S: Oh, I know. But you can call them out, rather than saying, we don't want to talk cost versus cost-benefit analysis, you say, all right, we'll do, here's the cost-benefit analysis. I mean, these things have been published.
C: Yeah, but I'm sure that they have a handy-dandy curriculum for that.
S: Yeah. Well, that's the problem. You can't let the industry write the science curriculum. How about we just talk about the actual facts as scientists understand that?
J: Well, but Steve, not only did this guy who was representing these oil and gas companies, not only did he not specifically want what you say, but there are people that were sitting on the board. The next day, the board met and they were considering all the talkback that they heard, and one of the people on the board proposed that they do what this guy said. You know what I mean? Let's do the cost-benefit analysis, aka let's whitewash this thing and make it sound benign. Fossil fuel industry professionals, these people took an active part in each stage of the Texas science standards review process. Every single time that there was any way that they could say what they wanted to say and skew things, they did. Any time it was open to the public, they successfully influenced the curriculum of all age ranges in Texas. And they did all this during the public hearings that I told you about. Now other things they argued for was like, there's just a couple more examples and just so you know, this story keeps going. I'm just telling you the basic backbone of it, but there is so many details in here of all the things that they did and all the language that they want to change and all this stuff. But here's a good example. They didn't want the words renewable or nonrenewable used. Instead, they wanted the curriculum to use the term natural resources. So everything, solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and oil and gas, these are all natural resources. It's astounding when you read it and you see it in black and white. It's so crystal goddamn clear what they're trying to do. I mean, anybody that works for oil and gas.
S: It's Orwellian.
J: Yeah, I mean, it is absolutely, Steve, you hit the nail on the head.
S: It's double plus good.
J: So you add the first thing that I said, where Texas has a massive influence on all of the textbooks that happen in the United States, massive influence, then their curricula is profoundly altered by these people who are essentially lobbyists. If you think about it, they're acting just like lobbyists, special interest groups who want certain things handled in certain ways in classroom textbooks. So their industry won't get hurt. It's disgusting. How do we let this happen? You look at it-
C: It's also brilliant, right? Get them while they're young.
J: Of course, man. Of course. But it doesn't just affect Texas, it affects the whole country. And this is why we need skeptical activists everywhere. Because at some town meeting, and just so you understand, this wasn't tens of thousands of people in this huge consortium. This conversation and these decisions were being made in a relatively small venue in a town in Texas.
S: Yeah, that's why I really think that we need to protect that process of determining the curriculum and the textbooks and whatever. It really should be done by, scientists should be determining what is science in terms of what gets taught. I mean, it sounds obvious. And educators should be deciding like what is an age appropriate educational level. And it's okay. I mean, obviously, I'm not against parents having input, because parents should absolutely have supervision and input into what their kids are taught. But there's got to be standards, it can't just be like anybody with an objection gets to interfere with the entire educational system.
B: It's a minority rule again.
S: Yeah, right. It's the tyranny of the vocal minority, basically. All right. Well, we're not going to fix this problem. But this is something we definitely have to keep our eye on.
Effects of Climate in USA (24:30)
S: Cara, so you're going to give us an update on how global warming is doing in the U.S. Basically, Jay, as I'm listening to you talking about these great lengths that these lobbyists are going to, as Steve mentioned, double plus good our climate education for kiddos, it's super scary because a report was just released, a draft report that really shows just how dire things are. Probably one of the most dire reports I've come across thus far. So there's something called the National Climate Assessment. We're in the fifth version of it right now, and you can read about it at GlobalChange.gov. The National Climate Assessment is federally mandated. It's basically what the U.S. government is contributing to climate knowledge. And the final report is slated to be published late next year in 2023. It was actually pushed back because while Trump was in office, he tried to squash the entire project. But we did not let that happen. It just ended up getting pushed back. So it's coming out in 2023. But they release the draft report early so that it an be peer reviewed and so that individuals can comment publicly. So the draft report was released. It's 1,695 pages. I did not read it all.
C: I know. I'm very sorry. It just came out on Monday. I don't know if I could possibly read that many pages in four days, even if I didn't have a full time job and a dissertation and work on two podcasts. And oh, yeah, by the way, I'm in the middle of a hurricane right now. Did you know? Did you know? I'm connected to the guys on my phone because I don't have Wi-Fi. It's ridiculous.
E: All this special pleading, oh my goodness. (Cara laughs)
C: So looking at the National Climate Assessment, it's not good. Basically there are some big takeaways, but I wanted to point to one thing that a lot of people are reporting on, which is first the price tag. I mean, you mentioned the cost benefit analysis. What about just the cost of climate change?
S: Yeah, it's going to be trillions.
C: Oh my gosh. Okay. So historically we were averaging eight $1 billion, and I don't mean historically like a long time ago. I just mean a decade ago. We were averaging eight $1 billion weather events every year. That's already really bad, right?
B: Wait, wait, let me add this up. That's $8 billion.
C: That's $8 billion. Yeah. In the last two years, we've had 80. So we're averaging a $1 billion weather disaster every three weeks in the United States.
B: Is that because of inflation or?
C: No. I'm pretty sure that's adjusted for inflation. Another big thing that's kind of just like drives us home, and then we'll get into some of the brass tacks and the nitty gritty, is that the US is actually experiencing warming 68% faster than the rest of the world average. We're not-
B: We had the warmest October that I remember, and November 5th was 70 degrees in Connecticut. That's nuts.
C: Like I said, I'm in a hurricane right now. Hurricanes don't usually happen on November 10th. The hurricane season is usually over by now.
S: By October, yeah.
C: So we're looking at the average temperature in the continental 48 being 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.4 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial averages, when the global average temperature is 1 degree Celsius over pre-industrial averages. Now this is to be expected because land warms faster than water. So land area is faster than the ocean, and also higher latitudes warm faster than lower latitudes. So you see this in other parts of the world as well. But when we're talking about these global averages, we tend to talk about them in terms of a global average. Well, that's not the case here. We're not looking at 1 degree Celsius right now. We're looking at 1.4 degrees Celsius right now. We're seeing so much bad stuff happening as a result of this runaway warming. So let's look at some of the highlights of this report. The first one is that obviously the way that climate change is affecting us here in the US is different depending on where you live. And we kind of already know this, but we're seeing terrible wildfires in the West. We are seeing terrible storm systems in both the Northeast and the Southeast. We're seeing terrible heat waves across most of the Midwest. And one thing that this report does, which is the exact opposite, Jay, of what they're trying to do in these Texas textbooks, is that they continuously bring it back to who is the most at risk, who is getting harmed by this. And we know that communities that are already overburdened, so we're talking people of color, low income communities, indigenous people, these are the places where they're feeling it the worst. It's that really terrible irony that the people causing the most destruction are the most protected from it. The people that are doing the least to contribute to global climate change are the most vulnerable to it. They're really getting hurt. And if you are sitting there saying, I don't really notice a difference, I don't really feel this, I've been lucky, it's because of your privilege. You have been lucky. A lot of people aren't so lucky. One thing that we never think about here in the US is water. Water is free. You just open the tap. People don't think about the fact that water is actually a precious resource and it's being threatened. So when we have extreme rainfall, extreme flooding, that equates to less clean drinking water. Just straight up. We're seeing that salt water, because the seas are rising, we're having these horrible storm surges and aquifers are getting polluted with salt water, which means then we have to desalinate. We can't drink salt water. So if salt water is getting into our aquifers, if it's getting into our wells, if it's getting into areas where we usually hold fresh water, all that fresh water is now "poisoned". We have to desalinate it to make it drinkable again. We're seeing that floods are taking basically toxins and flooding them into our wells and into our water table. So we're not able to drink the water that we should be able to drink. And we're also seeing that there are a lot of algal blooms that are existing at a higher rate than they ever did in the past. Just because there's more water in certain places, more water doesn't necessarily mean better. And then of course we know the opposite side of that problem, which is, I mean I know this very well being an LA person, drought is real. It's real. We are running out of water in a lot of the places. These huge reservoirs that used to be full just aren't and they're devastating images. I mean just literally go online and look at before and after images. You can see where the water level used to be for like decades and decades and decades and then it's just receded, receded, receded. We know that there, I mean this is the, this point about kind of extreme events causing a lot of damage to homes and property. We kind of already touched on that with the increase in billion dollar events. In 2021 there were 20 $1 billion events that collectively ended up costing a $145 billion and killed almost 700 people just in the US. So another way to conceptualize that statistic that I gave you before, the US experienced $7.7 billion disasters, so 7.7 $1 billion disasters annually over the past four decades, but in the past five years now it's 18 events each year. So that translates to once every three weeks, like I mentioned. And again, this doesn't hit everybody equally. Obviously poorer neighborhoods, neighborhoods with less are getting hit harder, neighborhoods who are less likely to rebuild as it is and less likely to mitigate these effects, right? This is an important one that I think we don't talk about enough, which is climate migration and climate displacement because I think we think of this as something that happens elsewhere in the world, but it's happening here, it's happening now and it's only going to get worse. So we've seen it like with Hurricane Maria really recently. I mean every major hurricane we see that there's a terrible displacement and migration because people lose their homes. They don't have a place to live anymore. And the sad thing is there's nowhere for them to go. The housing market is bananas right now. Interest rates are bananas because of inflation. Post COVID there's some real difficulty and instability in the job market. It's scary. It's really scary that people who have long felt like they built a life for themselves, a stable life for themselves are being forced out of where they live. And obviously who's going to carry that burden? We have to have government intervention. We have to be able as a community to take care of individuals and we're not doing a great job of that, but ultimately massive explosions in homelessness is devastating for the people who are displaced, but it's also devastating for the economy. Obviously this is also a growing public health threat and this is like another one of those externalized costs that you mentioned before, Steve, higher rates of rabies, higher rates of Lyme disease, higher rates of dengue, higher rates of Zika, higher rates of chikungunya. And that's just because of mosquitoes and different kind of ecological, different organisms that used to live in certain ecological niches moving to areas where they never lived before or exploding in population because of the changes in their evolutionary pressure. You add to that wildfire smoke, you add to that certain agricultural toxins and things like that being run off into the water. It's scary how much of a public health risk climate change is. People get sick because of climate change. There are a lot of downstream effects. And one thing that we don't often think about is it's not just us, right? We are not the only organisms who are negatively affected and really the canary has been in the coal mine for a long time and we've refused to look at it. A lot of amphibian species, bird species, fish species, plant species are either being completely driven out of their native range to sort of higher latitudes or they're just going extinct at record numbers. Just these ecosystems can't adapt as fast as they need to because the change is outpacing evolution, the natural pace of evolution. We know that. This is anthropogenic climate change. This isn't naturally occurring climate change. So these organisms can't adapt fast enough and you end up seeing, there's so many examples we can point to, but too many lionfish in the ocean, too much algae in the ocean, too many sea urchins in the ocean and they just take over. We see coral bleaching. We see all of these negative downstream effects. And then the last point that's made, which is always the last point that's made, is there is still a chance that we can do something about this. There is a chance. We probably can't do things incrementally the way we have been. It's just not fast enough. If we keep doing the incremental, even Biden, I think his new commitment is something like reducing global emissions. I'm doing this from memory, but I think it's reducing global emissions by half, greenhouse emissions by half by 2030 and net 0 by 2050 which is like, we're not on track to meet that at all. When you look at our pace, we're nowhere near it, but that's the new standard. If we do that, it's maybe going to be, I mean, here's what we know. If we stop putting out greenhouse gases, we stop global climate change. That's how it works. There's a little bit of a blowback effect right after where like the effects are going to continue on, but they won't necessarily run away. If we stop putting out greenhouse gases, there are no more greenhouse gases being put out above these levels, and then we can start to kind of fix and heal. But none of that is going to happen until we stop, and the truth is we're not stopping. We're slowing down, but we're beyond the point where slowing down is going to do anything. We have to stop.
S: Yeah. So, Cara, I've been doing a lot of research on that very question, basically where are we in our efforts to slow down climate change, and there's actually some good news here. I think the bad news is that the negative effects at any given temperature rise is worse than we thought. So 2.0 is worse than we thought 2.0 was going to be 10 years ago. But the projection of where we are heading is getting better. So 10 years ago the business as usual projection, if we don't make substantional to what's happening, was that we would end up somewhere between three to four or even higher degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, right? Now today, the business as usual projection is more like 2.3, 2.4 degrees, and what business as usual is, is if all of the countries do not reverse policies that they've already funded to mitigate climate change, so all they have to do is just keep doing what they've already actually funded, we'll settle in somewhere around 2.3, 2.4. If they keep all of their commitments that they've made at COP26 last year, even ones that haven't been funded yet by their government, we'll keep warming below 2.0. Probably somewhere around 1.8. We're not on track to get to 1.5, to keep it below 1.5, which was the Paris Accord goal, but they didn't commit to doing things that would achieve that goal. The commitments only keep it to maybe 1.8, and they've only funded enough to keep it to 2.3, 2.4. That's still a lot better than where we were 10 years ago. Yeah, but remember, the reason it's better than where it was 10 years ago is because we've been doing so much.
S: I know, it's because we've been doing things. I know that. That's the point.
C: And that is good. That's very good.
S: Yeah. If we continue to up our game, I think at this point I would say that we have a good chance of keeping it below 2.0. 1.5 probably not. That would take a massive effort that no one really thinks we have the political will around the world to do it. Half of the solution is going to be technological progress. Things are progressing nicely. And the other half is things like Biden's climate change mitigation funding, which is making a difference. The industry responded. They're investing in transitioning to lower carbon technologies in response to that funding.
C: And ultimately, here's the point of all that. It's going to hurt a little bit. We have to make sacrifices right now. We have to.
S: I'm not sure I agree with that. I'm not sure I agree with that.
C: Are you serious, Steve?
S: Yeah, I am. I am serious.
C: You really think we can just business as usual.
S: No, there's a lot of territory between sacrificing and business as usual. We don't have to really sacrifice. All we have to do is invest wisely. That's it.
C: I'm talking about personal experiential sacrifice.
S: I don't think that the individuals-
C: Give up your gas car. Don't use as much water. Yes, we do have to. We cannot keep living the way we've been living. We can't.
S: So water is a separate issue. There are already places that are experiencing water insufficiency, I mean obviously around the world, but even in the US now, since that's what you're talking about. So yes, there are populations even in developed nations that are already paying the price for existing global warming. But I'm saying in terms of the solution, the solutions don't have to be sacrifice. The solutions really are just being smart. It's just investing money where we will get the most bang for the buck. If we do that, if we invested intelligently and we, for example, invest and this is why I think it was called the Inflation Reduction Act, but it included a lot of climate change mitigation funding. I read through that whole thing, there's a lot of smart funding in there that is going to move us in the right direction. We need a lot more of that and we need a lot of other countries to do that. But if we invest and upgrade in the grid, we continue our investments in grid storage, we continue to invest in building, build out the wind and solar as fast as we can to get to that 30-40% rate. And then push it further by investing in the grid and grid storage. If we start investing in nuclear and geothermal and hydroelectric, we can get there. We incentivize the steel making industry and the cement making industry to continue to develop lower carbon alternatives, which there's already a lot of science there to work with. We absolutely can get there and we can do it without each individual having to make a big sacrifice. In fact, we'll be making less sacrifice because it'll be a lot easier on the individual than the resulting climate change is going to be.
C: Of course it's going to be easier on certain individuals than the resulting climate change is going to be on certain individuals, but I fundamentally disagree with this mentality. I really, really don't believe that we can do everything on the other side of it. It's not all going to be industry-like free market options for preventing these kinds of outcomes. We cannot continue to live the extractive and consumptive lifestyles that we live. We can't. That's the reason this happened. We have to be mindful of how we live our lives because otherwise we're constantly going to see industries who claim that they're doing this in the best interest of their consumer to make sure that they get a pass. And I disagree. I just don't think those things are mutually exclusive. When I talk about making sacrifices, I don't mean that you have to die for this cause. I mean that you can't keep living as if climate change doesn't exist.
S: I don't feel like buying an electric car was a sacrifice. I actually enjoy my electric car better than I do any gas car I've ever owned.
C: Well, a lot of people don't feel that way, and that's what I'm talking about. A lot of people don't want to put a flow reducer on their showerhead. A lot of people don't want to turn their water off when they're brushing their teeth. I know they sound stupid and small, but the reason that we have to make these massive regulatory jumps in order to wildly mitigate, because the main outcome of this report is we cannot keep doing incremental shit. It's not working. We have to revolutionize the way that we want to put a stop to this.
S: We do fundamentally disagree on this issue, because I think that you're wrong. I also think that your strategy will fail, because people are not going to do it. And I think my strategy will succeed, because people will do it.
C: But you're also looking at it like it's a binary, like it's a dialectic, and it's not. Both of these things have to happen. We have to fundamentally change our approach to climate change, which young people, by the way, are. Young people get it.
S: Yeah, I agree. But I think, and I agree, I think we need to science the shit out of it and moneyball the shit out of it, meaning that we need to say, what is the shortest path between where we are now and a massive decarbonization of our electrical sector and transportation sector and industrial sector, right? And that path is through picking the low-hanging fruit and making the most cost-effective decisions possible.
C: Oh, hugely.
S: And that's also the most politically expedient way to get there. And if our message is, all right, guys, we all have to sacrifice, we're going to get nowhere. It's just not going to happen.
C: I hear what you're saying, it's a messaging problem, but ultimately we do have to sacrifice. The truth of the matter is that may be the low-hanging fruit. It may be the most obvious and the most effective algorithm. But if people don't willfully do it, it's moot. And ultimately-
S: Yeah, but that's why I think the solution can't be, all right, we need 8 billion people to change their behavior. That can't be the approach. That will never work.
C: I never said that was the solution.
S: I mean, that's not going to work. We can't-
C: You're really minimizing what I said.
S: No, I'm just saying, well, maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're saying. You're saying we all have to work together to make this work, and we all have to sacrifice individually. Just from a practical point of view, getting a lot of people to do something is a failed approach. It never works. I would rather pass one law than get-
C: Yeah, but that's how you get people to do stuff, is you regulate the shit out of them.
S: Yeah, I agree with that as well, but I mean-
C: But I'm saying we need to regulate things that actually might hurt a little bit. We need to stop going, oh, it's never going to be popular, so we can't do it. I'm scared of the people we keep putting in power.
S: Yeah, but you're just sort of pushing, kicking that can one leg down, if you say, all right, we're going to vote for people who are going to tell us things we don't want to hear. It's also not going to work. You're going to end up with-
E: Because they won't vote for those people.
S: -with the global warming denials. If you say, all right, listen, all we have to do is invest wisely, and also I think we should be putting the burden on the industry, not the individuals.
C: Of course we should.
S: We should regulate the industries. I personally think we should just price carbon, and all the experts agree that that's the best way to fix this.
C: Carbon tax, of course that's the way to do it.
S: But nobody wants to do it, unfortunately.
C: I'm not saying that this is a marketing strategy, is to tell people it's going to hurt. Of course that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that we all need to be realistic, and stop living in a Pollyanna world where we're not willing to have it hurt. The things we have to do as a society are going to hurt a little bit, and if we sit here and cross our arms and say, I'm not willing to make any changes. I want to live the same extractive, consumptive life I've always lived. I'm sorry, we're not going to get out of this. That's how we got into it.
S: My perspective is, I'll just say this, it's not necessarily mutually exclusive to what you're saying, but I would say just strategically, I would say let's do all the win-wins first. Let's do all-
C: Yeah, and I would say we should have already done all of those.
S: I agree. All of this we should have done 20 years ago. There's no question about that. We should go back in time 20 years and completely change our course of what we've done in the last two decades.
E: I like that plan.
S: Failing that, again, the quickest path is first going through all the things that do not require sacrifice. They just require being smart. Let's do those things, and if we also then have to make some sacrifice after all of that, that's fine, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
C: I guess what I'm scared of is that 50% of the country thinks that those smart low-hanging fruit things are sacrifices for them. They're not willing to do them.
S: Well, that's where messaging can help. If you ask people, why don't you want to drive an electric car, they give bullshit reasons that aren't true because they have misconceptions about it. They go, oh, the range isn't enough. That's not true.
C: I think my thing is unless we're on the bleeding edge of this, we're already behind.
S: But as I said, it's actually not as bad as it was 10 years ago. The thing is doing the things that we're doing and the technological progress has significantly improved our position, and it has.
C: It's true.
S: It just has.
C: And we have to update the models constantly. And Catherine Hayhoe, who's quoted a lot in this one WAFO article, she basically makes the point, and I think it's an important point because we don't do this enough, that like this is all just modeling. We don't know if there's a difference between 1.6 and 1.7. These are just rants. Yes, there's data that goes into this, but these are just arbitrary cutoffs. It's all modeling.
S: The bad news is the effect of the temperature is worse than we thought, but where we're going to land is better than it was. I do think that the only ultimate solution is technological, but what we really should be focusing on is just making that happen as quickly as possible by investing optimally and regulating industry optimally. And we're not there yet. We're moving in the right direction at least.
J: Cara, my concern is, well, first let me say I really do agree with what you're saying. I would love it if we made palpable, very, very strong changes to our society in order to help the environment, absolutely. And I would be willing to sacrifice and spend more money on a lot of things and make changes at this point because I feel how desperate the situation is just like you do, and I want that. I honestly don't think that most people in the United States are capable of doing what I just said.
S: But even in the U.S., what are we going to do, you say, oh yeah, we should let gas be $5 a gallon. It's like, yeah, I could survive that. My point is, but there's a lot of people who can't survive that, like they literally cannot afford that.
B: I totally turn off the water when I'm brushing my teeth.
C: Thank you.
E: I don't even brush my teeth with water anymore.
B: Because of you, Cara.
C: Thank you.
B: I'm not kidding.
C: Yeah, that makes me so happy Bob.
E: I just gargle with baking soda.
B: I thought about that for so many times, like, yep, got to shut it down. I remember what Cara said and that was like a habit.
C: I love it.
E: We installed new toilets in our house. All-
C: Low flow, baby.
E: Yeah. Go with the low.
S: All right, guys. Let's move on.
C: Healthy discourse.
Closest Black Hole (51:52)
S: All right, Bob. I understand that astronomers have detected the closest black hole to the Earth.
E: Like that Disney movie from 1979?
B: You understand nothing. (laughter) I will say, I will say boffins baffled by black hole in backyard.
E: Oh, Bob. I like that.
B: So non alliteratively and less pithily, scientists have found the closest black hole to the Earth, three times closer, in fact, than the previous record holder. And it comes wrapped in a mystery, however. It's orbited by a sun like star and it shouldn't be there. So how did these two crazy kids get together? This was published in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, led by Kareem El Badri, is an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. So this black hole is called Gaia BH1. It's 1600 light years away. And that's a lot. That's nine thousand and a half trillion miles. But it isn't a lot at the same time. The National Science Foundation's Newar Lab said it's in our cosmic backyard, which it really is. Sixteen hundred light years is not a lot. It also has a binary partner that is very much like the sun and is about as far from the black hole as we are from our Sun. So take our solar system, take away all the planets and throw the Sun where we are and put a big black hole where the Sun is. And that's this system. So that's basically it. So the black hole has 10 times the mass of our Sun making it a stellarmass black hole which typically ranges from five to hundred solar masses. And we've only detected a handful of stellar mass black holes in the Milky Way. And most are active, meaning that they pull matter from a companion and that process releases intense radiation like X-rays. But now not all stellar mass black holes that inhabit binary systems are actively feeding though. It's kind of like Jay. There are times during family dinners when he's not actively feeding, but you need specialized instrumentation to detect that. (laughter) It's those hidden small black holes, stellar mass black holes that these researchers have been looking for and they found one after examining data from the European Space Agency's Gaia Space Observatory, hence the name Gaia BH1, black hole one. And Gaia studies basically the stars of the Milky Way in detail. These detailed measurements revealed a tiny wobble in a star that could be caused by a great unseen mass. So for follow-up observations and calculations, they used what's called the Gemini, or is it Gemini, the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph, and that allowed for even more precise velocity measurements and orbital periods, which then allowed for the calculation of the masses involved. And that was obviously critical. This revealed that the inner binary partner had to have something close to 10 times the mass of the Sun. And I love how they described their conclusion in their paper. They said: "We find no plausible astrophysical scenario that can explain the orbit and does not involve a black hole." So in other words, it's a fricking black hole, duh. This is not only then the closest black hole to the Earth we know of, but also the first verified Sun-like star in such a wide orbit around a stellar mass black hole. And that's the key to the coming mystery of this system is like, this is a Sun-like star and it's in a very, very wide orbit, which is unusual. Like I was saying, this is a mysterious system in a lot of ways because it doesn't make sense. The black hole, think about this black hole, it used to be a star, right? I mean, duh. That star probably had about 20 solar masses. Because that would probably produce a 10 solar mass black hole. So it had 20 solar masses which means it only lives for few million years because it goes through that fuel so fast. And it would have puffed up into a super giant and consumed the star that's there now, the Sun-like star that's there. Even before that star became a mature star, it would have just totally consumed it and wouldn't be there now. Models that the scientists have run show that the star could have survived, but it means that it would have ended up in a much, much tighter orbit, nothing like the 100 million mile or 95 million mile orbit that it's in now. So it's just like they're very puzzled, which of course is good in science in a lot of ways. So that means that our models of black hole binary evolution may need tweaking and there may be far more such systems than we think out there. Kareem El-Badry said: "It's interesting that this system is not easily accommodated by standard binary evolution models. It poses many questions about how this binary system was formed, as well as how many of these dormant black holes there are out there. The observations also leave a mystery to be solved. Despite a shared history with its exotic neighbor, why is the companion star in this binary system so normal?" I'm sure in the future when Gaia releases more data, these researchers and other researchers of course will be poring over it, looking for more stealthy, dormant, stellar mass black holes and maybe find one even closer to Earth and hopefully the boffins will be less baffled.
S: Excellent. But this black hole is not going to gobble us up though, right Bob?
B: No, it's just like, yeah, I love that. The gravity is going to reach 1600 light years. Sure that gravity is theoretically detectable but it's so far away, it's not magically going to reach out and suck anything up, just like, it's gravity folks, it's intense, but it's far.
S: If our own Sun were a black hole, gravitationally wouldn't, but of the same mass as our Sun, right? But just in a black hole, gravitationally wouldn't make any difference to us.
B: Yeah. I would get dark and we would stay in orbit.
S: We would still be orbiting it in the same way, the gravity wouldn't affect us anymore.
C: We just wouldn't be alive because-
S: It would just be dark. Yeah.
B: And cold. And cold. Very cold.
AWARE II Study of NDEs (58:13)
S: All right, guys. I have a quick update on near-death experiences.
S: Yeah. So I think-
E: They're not as near as we thought?
S: We spoke previously about the AWARE study and now the AWARE II study preliminary results are out. It hasn't been published yet, but they are being presented. So essentially what the study is doing is looking to see if they could document what is happening at the moment of near-death experiences. So they look at people who are undergoing CPR. They identify them in the participating emergency rooms and then they follow them. And for those that survive, which is a minority, if you're getting CPR, chances are you're not going to survive. But for those who do, they see if they report any near-death experiences and they characterize them. But they also are doing detailed EEGs, electroencephalograms, during the CPR to see what the brain activity is. And remember, this is the same study where they put the cards on the tops of shelves to see if people were floating above their body. They could read the cards. It's really the only way you could see them. So the goal of this study, as far as I could tell, is, if you're going to say that near-death experiences are truly anomalous. That they are not just explained as brain activity, you have to do two things. You have to prove that the experience that is being reported occurred during the near-death time period. It had to occur near-death. And you also have to show that there was no brain activity that could account for that experience, right? So that's sort of the goal of this study, is to show those two things.
C: What do you mean there's no brain activity that could account for the experience, though?
S: In other words, there's either no or insignificant brain activity, right? If you could show the brain is flatlined at a time when they are absolutely having an experience.
C: Then that would prove what?
S: Well, that's a good question, right?
C: (laughs) Right.
S: It would just prove that it's that near-death experiences are not brain experiences.
C: Okay. Yeah. Because I feel like ultimately that's an unanswerable question, because there could always be a brain reason for it.
S: Well, but not if there's zero brain activity, right?
C: Right. But then wouldn't that nullify the experience altogether? You couldn't have an experience if you had no brain activity.
S: If you're a naturalist like you and I are, Cara. If you don't believe in all that physical nonsense about the brain causing consciousness, then. And near-death experiences are almost universally cited as evidence for dualism, right, for the fact that consciousness is more than just brain activity. Well, then how do you explain NDE's, right? It's like, well, but again, in order for an NDE to be evidence for an experience separate from brain activity, you need those two components. The reason why those are hard to prove is, one, if somebody wakes up a day or two days or a week later and they go, hey, I had this weird experience, how do you know what happened when they were getting their CPR, when they were dead. It could have happened any time during the recovery period. So you need to show that that experience formed when they were near death, and if they could do that, then we could say, well, you're getting CPR, that's producing decent blood flow. It's usually 20-25% what normal bloodflow would be. And maybe that's enough to generate enough brain activity that they're experiencing something. Dreaming or whatever, some altered state of consciousness, but enough to form some memories that they then interpret later as whatever culturally appropriate near-death experience they want to believe. So that's why the study was organized the way it was. They have an EEG going during CPR, and they want to see if people can report that they were floating above their body and seeing the card, or just that they accurately described what was happening in the room. That's a way more problematic criterion, because, what do you consider accurate? Oh, there were people working on me. Yeah, of course there were. It's a kind of emergency room, and so just like telling just a typical kind of story. Now, with the AWARE I, the first study, nobody that got enrolled into the study and survived that was in an ER that had one of the cards in place. So they didn't, they were not able to gather any data on that, and out of the 140 that they documented, one case they said the person reported details about what was happening in the room when they were getting CPR. So I mean, to me, that's background noise. One out of 140 that's coincidence. That's just superficial similarity of what was reported and what was happening. It's ambiguous, right? It doesn't prove that the person's memories were happening when they were in the emergency room getting their CPR. So AWARE II, so from their preliminary reporting, and this is like from Parnia, the guy who's running it and who would absolutely make the best case for his own data possible, no mention of anybody seeing the cards. So I think we can assume that that did not happen. And guess what the EEG showed? It showed brain activity during CPR.
J: Well, there you go.
S: So they failed both of the things that they were trying to find. They did not prove the experiences formed while they were in the emergency room getting CPR, and they did not prove no brain activity. So now they're doing the shuffle, they're dancing feverishly trying to parlay this into we identified something unique happening. No, you didn't. You showed nothing. You failed on the two primary outcomes you were looking for, and those are the only ones that mean anything. So again, we are left with no compelling evidence that NDEs or anything other than shit people remember when they wake up from having CPR. They still didn't prove that those memories weren't forming way later, and they didn't prove that there was no brain activity. There were spikes of brain activity during CPR. I'm not saying that that activity is what is causing the experience, because again, they haven't established that the experience is forming then. So we don't need to hypothesize that. All we could say is that for their hypothesis, they failed on both counts, and that's it. And this is the most rigorous study of NDEs to date, even more rigorous than AWARE I. So fine. It's always, this happens a lot with pseudoscience or things on the fringe where the actual data, the actual outcomes that they were looking for are negative, but they find some way to try to pretend like the study was positive because they're so invested in interpreting it that way. And instead of just saying, it was negative, the study was negative, the outcome measures we were looking for weren't there.
C: Aren't there any rigorous, legitimate studies that are basically looking at what could account for individual experiences?
S: So what did you have, what do you have in mind? There's lots of studies of like-
C: Like hypoxia.
S: Yeah. What happens during hypoxia? What happens during drug exposure?
C: Yeah. Qualitative experiences that people, people who were interviewed after a hypoxic event, what did they experience?
S: And in fact, we have a lot of those episodes, you know where they mostly come from? Pilots. Pilots. Fighter pilots. Fighter pilots will frequently accelerate, you know, pull Gs until they pass out. And guess what they report? They report pretty compelling NDE experiences, all the elements are there.
C: That's what I thought. There is a positive evidence that there is a biological explanation.
S: All the body sensation, all the elements are there. The tunnel vision.
C: The feelings of kind of like dissociation, depersonalization.
S: And those, they're there in other contexts as well, certain drugs that do that. And so the reason why you can have similar experiences in different condition is because the, what's provoking the condition, what's provoking the altered awareness is not what's producing the details of the experience. What's producing the details of the experience are-
B: The brain, the mind, the memories.
S: -the brain circuits that are shutting down. This is what you're, this is what it's like when you have some awareness, but these circuits aren't working. The circuit that makes you feel as if you're inside your body is not functioning. So you feel like you're floating outside your body. And your brain always makes experiences seem real and seamless because that's how our brain works. If you have a memory of it, that memory will create the illusion of a real seamless experience.
C: It just blows my mind that people don't see this. You can look at reports of what people experience when they're intubated in ICU and you have really similar things. What people report when they first wake up from anesthesia and you have themes over and over. These are all variations on the same theme.
S: Yeah, totally. To you and me, Cara, it's blatantly obvious that these are just typical brain experiences from a brain that went through trauma, was hypoxic or whatever was waking up slowly from an extreme event like that. Sure. You're going to have these weird experiences. One of the things they try to make hay out of is that some people report really vivid experiences like, well, how could their experience be more vivid when the brain's functioning less? It's because the majority of your brain is inhibitory, right?
C: Yeah. So you're basically like almost seizing. [inaudible] all sorts of fireworks.
E: It limits the information.
S: Not that it's not like you're seizing, it's like when you're on LSD or something as people report really psychedelic vivid experiences.
E: It opens everything up.
S: Because all of that bloatware, all of that heavy processing that your brain does to see, is this real, to have executive function, to make, to compare things with your memories and reality, none of that's working. This is like all lizard brain experiences.
C: It's like you're dreaming when you're awake.
B: The straight jackets off.
S: So of course it's going to be vivid because it, and it may seem really intense because all of the dampeners are off. They're all down because that's what a lot of the processing that our brain does. It slows down the brain. It slows down our thought processes, but it adds all of the really important functions like executive function. But if you take that, strip that all away, you get these vivid psychedelic experiences that seem more real than real or whatever.
C: But then you're like, well, and that's like what, I mean, it's not what, but delusions, hallucinations, all of these positive symptoms. That's what that is, and it's hard to differentiate them from reality by definition.
S: And then your waking brain tries to make sense of it all, right? And then it weaves it into a memory of something.
C: That's to me, the point that's so fundamentally important is that all these people who have these "near death experiences", there's a particular pattern of what's happening in the brain. There is a particular experiential kind of pattern. And then what do we do because we're human beings? We make meaning of it.
E: Oh yes, we don't like the chaos.
B: [inaudible] story.
S: And so there's the, if you look at the details of NDEs, there are core details that are clearly related to brain phenomenon, like the tunnel vision and the out of body of experience. And then there's all the other details that are culturally specific. They overlay on the core experience, their religious beliefs. It is so blatantly obvious when you look at the actual data.
B: Steve, it's like waking dreams. You wake up and you hallucinate. What are you hallucinating? Well, that depends on, on, on your culture and your culture and what time you're in.
E: Yeah. Is there an alien sitting on your chest or a demon?
S: Or a demon or a sea hag? But, but the pressure is a neurological phenomenon. Your interpretation of it is a cultural phenomenon. It's the same thing with the NDEs. The out of body experience is a brain phenomenon. Your interpretation of that is a cultural phenomenon. And so it's, we're right smack dab in the middle of this is a traumatized brain, but Parnia is trying to say, if this isn't a trick of the brain. Your data shows it's a trick of the brain. It's just ridiculous.
Who's That Noisy? (1:12:14)
S: All right, Jay, it is Who's That Noisy time.
J: All right, guys. Let's see if I played this Noisy:
[spinning, vibrating machine of some sort]
That is definitely a UFO landing somewhere.
E: Oh, well, who got it right?
J: So I had a lot of people guess on this one, but nobody won this week. But let me tell you some of the guesses that we got. So Shane Hillier wrote in, he said: "Hi Jay, My guess this week is a backyard solar boiler and generator." And I can understand why you said that, because it does have kind of like a boiling noise in a sense, if you think about it. That is not correct, though. Frederick Niant said: "Strange noise, strange answer. A series of wide hollow bamboo trunks arranged in such a manner as to allow water to be poured down the middle, pushing air through precisely drilled holes, creating a bird whistle, which can be heard throughout the middle of the clip." That was a great guess. Incorrect, however. Visto Tutti said: "This is a tough one, Jay. It could be so many machines. I'm guessing that it's a blender grinding peanuts into peanut butter." I wonder why you are so specific here with peanut butter. Why couldn't it be any nuts? But anyway, that is incorrect, but sounds delicious.
S: Yeah, what, are you on a bias against cashews?
J: Me? Yeah, right? What, you got a nut problem over here? So a listener named Philip Dejean wrote in, said: "Howdy, My guess for this week's noise is the sound of a fishing reel being spooled by a machine." And I can understand why that guess was submitted as well. I've heard fishing reels unspool very quickly, and they do have a weird sound to them. But anyway, nobody got it right this week. It was a tough one. I will tell you what this is, and then I'll play it for you again. This is a piece of chalk that has been dropped into a cup of water, and there is an underwater microphone, a hydrophone, that is recording the sound as the water, well, more importantly, as the air seeps out of the chalk. It is, it's essentially air leaving the piece of chalk in very, very tiny holes. So you have water going into the chalk and air leaving the piece of chalk. But anyway, listen to it again, now that you know what it is. [plays Noisy] Pretty cool.
J: I know that one was very hard to guess, and I feel a little guilty because nobody guessed it. But it's such a cool Noisy. I had to play it for you.
S: You've got to throw some hard ones in there sometimes.
J: You're right. Thank you, Steve. I feel very good now.
New Noisy (1:15:11)
J: All right. So I have a new one, a new Noisy sent in by a listener named Lila B. And I think this one is really cool. I hope you like it. Also, Lila is a grade six student who's graduating primary school in a few weeks. So thank you for sending that in, Lila. Check this one out, guys.
[song/melody of chimes and percussive bangs]
OK. This is not just a song. There is a very important detail that you need to tell me in order for you to get this one correct.
S: Jay, I know exactly what that is. And I know exactly why Lila knows what that is and how she came by that sound.
J: You do?
S: I do.
J: Oh, my god. I love it. OK, this is great. So next week.
S: I'll reveal it next week.
J: Next week, we will talk about the details. And Steve's like, and I know exactly where she lives and what she studied.
S: I'm assuming she came to it the same way I did, which is highly likely, or it's a massive coincidence because I just saw that a few days ago.
J: I love coincidences. OK, great. All right. Well, next week, we will reveal this. If you think you know what this week's noisy is or if you have something cool that you've heard recently, you got to email me. Just go to WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
J: Stephen Novella.
S: Yes, Arizona.
J: Come on man.
S: They're still counting votes in Arizona. Hopefully they'll be done by the time we get there in December.
J: That's right. Right before the show, Evan and I happened to log on first and Evan's like, hey, man, this show. I mean, we are like right around the corner of this show. Yes, it's we are as we record this. We are just under one month away from this show happening. And I like what George said last week. George said this would make a great gift if you know anyone that listens to the show or enjoys the show or you want to take someone that you think would enjoy the shows that we're putting on. Use it as a Christmas present, an early, awesome Christmas present. Go to the theskepticsguide.org/events and you can find out about the two different kinds of shows that we're going to be putting on in Arizona. We're going to be doing each one of these shows in Phoenix and each one of them in Tucson. We have a private SGU recording. It's called The Private Show Plus because we also give about two hours.
S: It's four hours total of SGU goodness, four hours total.
J: But two hours basically of us recording the show and two hours of us hanging out with you guys having fun. We have all sorts of activities and cool stuff planned. So please do join us for one of those live recordings. And then we have an extravaganza. This is a holiday themed extravaganza. And if you don't know what it is, the extravaganza is essentially it's a stage show where we're we do a lot of improv comedy bits where essentially George is trying to make us, trying to have a lot of fun. But George really is trying to embarrass us as best he can. And he does it, by the way. You got to see Bob when Bob gets a little pissed off when we're when we're doing this show. Right? I love that.
B: Sometimes there's a lot to be pissed off about.
J: I know. But when Bob gets angry and he gets a little passive aggressive, I am like, we are hitting our stride.
B: I wouldn't say flustered, just pissed.
S: I'd say flustered.
J: So you could you could please, if you're interested, please join us. Go to theskepticsguide.org/events for all the details. And I'm looking forward to seeing Cara.
S: Thank you, Jay.
Email #1: The Harm of Astrology (1:18:59)
S: All right. We're going to do one quick email. This one comes from Dan from Seattle, Washington, and he writes: "I have an ongoing friendly dispute with someone. It boils down to what is the harm in following astrology? They loosely follow astrology for fun with a few friends, possibly as a running joke just to tease me and take the stance that it is pretty harmless. While I agree it's probably pretty harmless for most, my worry is that it could act as a sort of gateway drug to other pseudoscientific beliefs. Believing in astrology seems to demonstrate a disinterest at best or inability at worst in evaluating its scientific plausibility and the empirical evidence as to if it's actually a real phenomenon or put more broadly in the willingness to or ability to exercise certain critical thinking skills." He has a couple more paragraphs of basically making that same point. So he wants to know what we think about that is, do we really do we think that there are harmless pseudoscientific beliefs or is his formulation that it's brain poison more accurate? So I'm definitely far on the brain poison end of the spectrum, I think. So I could say what the evidence shows, first of all, for in case anyone listening needs to hear this, astrology is 100% pure superstitious pseudoscience. There is nothing to it.
C: Yeah, it's like one of the worst.
S: Yeah, it is like a classic, iconic example of a pseudoscience that's based on magic, on nothing. The idea is that the relative position of the stars as seen from the Earth and the planets in relation to those stars has some influence on our personality and our fate. When of course there's no possible mechanism for that to be true and the relative positions are all subjective anyway. And I think I love how Carl Sagan put it, the obstetrician has more of a gravitational influence on you at the moment of your birth than Jupiter does. So there's literally zero plausibility. And the evidence for it is, again, it's a classic example, we use it as a classic example of retrofitting data because that's all they really have is they can retrodict why something happened if you look at the stars and interpret it the right way. It's all subjective and confirmation and bias, whatsoever. But anytime it's ever looked at under any kind of controlled, with good scientific controls, there's no effect there. So does believing in astrology rot your brain. That's basically the question, just to paraphrase. So I think there's a couple ways to look at this. So first of all, are people predisposed to believing in things like astrology? And does believing in astrology make you vulnerable to believing other kinds of nonsense? That's hard to control for, like you can't, like we're going to force you to believe in astrology and see what happens to you. You can't do that kind of study. So all the data is correlative, right, so we can do correlational studies. And what we do know is that if you believe in one pseudoscience, you are way more likely to believe in others. And we also know that believing in these pseudosciences does correlate with certain thinking styles. You're more intuitive and less analytical. And it also correlates with believing in conspiracy theories and lacking critical thinking skills. So it does correlate with all of these things. Does it cause it or does it result from it? That's the thing that we can't really say. But I think either way, you're certainly better not believing in nonsense, right, and believing in reality. And I think it's absolutely plausible, as he says, and he gets into this more later on, that if you regularly believe in pseudosciences, you develop certain habits of thought. Now I have personal experience to draw on. I think we all do, guys. Cara, I don't know, probably not so much for you, but when we were younger, we believed all this shit. When we were kids. Maybe not astrology. I don't know that I ever believed in astrology, but definitely UFOs, ESP, those kind of more science-y pseudosciences.
B: I remember reading my horoscope and trying to see how it lined up with the girl that I liked in terms of her astrological sign, but that was it.
S: So I remember being in that mindset, and it does affect how you think about things. And then eventually, when we learned about science and whenever we became critical thinkers towards really high school and college, we now think about things very, very differently. Same people, but we have very different habits and styles of thought as skeptics than we did as our younger true believers in pseudoscience.
S: Were things differently, could I be a pseudoscientist today? I don't know. Maybe. It's interesting to think about that. If my life had turned out differently, the influences on my life or whatever, if I didn't have the ability to get a degree in science, I could have been a different person today in terms of my critical thinking or skepticism I suppose.
J: I don't think there's a version of you that's a pseudoscientist, Steve.
S: I'd like to think that to some degree, but we don't know that, and the fact that we believed in all this crap when we were younger means it's possible. I do think it's important not to instill, force people to defend nonsense. You don't want them to be like, find reasons to believe the things that they want to believe and to fend off scientific reputation and to fend off logic and analytical thinking, etc. As opposed to embracing those things and being willing to give up their beliefs. The same person, I think, could go either way, and most people go both ways. Of course, they compartmentalize, and they're skeptical sometimes, and they're gullible other times, so I think most people have the capacity to do either, so reinforcing the belief in pseudoscience can definitely have tremendous negative downstream effects and reinforcing critical thinking and scientific literacy, and those kinds of beliefs can have massively positive effects. We all know a lot of people who are not dumb. They're basically intelligent people, and they have the ability to think critically, but they have life experiences which they think is evidence for the paranormal, and so they're like, well, I know it's real because of this experience. How do you explain that? Something's got to be going on. And minus that experience, they probably would be more critical thinking. Of course, our goal is to get them to understand that experience through a skeptical lens. It's like, no, you didn't see a ghost. You were probably just hallucinating, or there's probably a hypnagogia, or we know somebody who was convinced that the world is paranormal because somebody tricked them with a Ouija board.
B: Yeah, that was a go-to evidence for much of their life.
S: It affected their life, how they think about the world and everything. So yeah, so bottom line is I think it matters, but the evidence is basically correlational, but it's pretty solid. There's a strong correlation. All right. Thanks, Dan. That's an interesting question. All right, guys. Let's go on with science or fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:26:32)
Theme: Common animal myths
Item #1: Daddy-Longlegs are not spiders, but arachnids in the Opiliones order. They do not have venom or fangs.
Item #2: Sharks have a sense of smell about as good as other fish, equivalent to a drop of blood in an average-sized swimming pool. They can detect blood from hundreds of yards, but not miles, away.
Item #3: The Alaskan wood frog does not actually freeze in the winter, but hibernates beneath the mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds.
|Fiction||Wood frog does not freeze|
|Science||Daddy-Longlegs not spiders|
Sharks' sense of smell
|Wood frog does not freeze|
|Wood frog does not freeze|
|Wood frog does not freeze|
|Wood frog does not freeze|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each 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. You have a theme this week. It's animal myths, animal myths. And again, just the statements are either true or fake as stated. Don't confuse yourself. Guys ready?
S: All right. Here we go. Item #1: Daddy-Longlegs are not spiders, but arachnids in the Opiliones order, they do not have venom or fangs. Item #2: Sharks have a sense of smell about as good as other fish, equivalent to a drop of blood in an average sized swimming pool. They can detect blood from hundreds of yards, but not miles away. And item #3, the Alaskan wood frog does not actually freeze in the winter, but hibernates beneath the mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds. Who hasn't gone first in a while?
E: Bob hasn't gone.
S: All right, Bob, go first. Evan threw you under the bus.
B: What the hell, man?
E: You're welcome.
B: Daddy-Longlegs are not spiders, but arachnids in the Opiliones order, they're not spiders. I know that for sure. Maybe I shouldn't say that. Ignore that people. All right. So daddy long legs, yeah, I don't like them. Don't like them. They're just like wannabe spiders, but they do not have venom or fangs. All right. Let's go, let's go to two sharks have a sense of smell as good as other fish. Yeah, that sounds about right there and that they can't, it's not for miles, but hundreds of yards kind of jives with my understanding. Let's go to the third one, which I didn't even, wasn't even listening to when you said it. The Alaskan wood frog does not actually freeze, but hibernates beneath the mud at the bottom of lakes. Does not actually freeze. Is that the classic one where they actually show it being, you know what? I remember seeing it like they were, it was pretty damn frozen, does not actually freeze. Yeah. I'm gonna say that's fiction.
S: Okay. Cara.
C: I think I agree with Bob. Daddy long legs.
B: Of course you do.
C: Spiders. I feel like, I don't know. I feel like a lot of these are things where I'm like, I kind of heard that once before.
B: Yeah, right? So annoying.
S: That's the idea.
C: Let's trust that. I don't, I have no idea if they, I don't think they're venomous, but they might have fangs. I don't think so. They're little, they have long legs though, but they're little. I like the shark one cause I feel like that's a gotcha one. But maybe it's the opposite of a gotcha. Cause I feel like the myth is that they're like crazy good at detecting blood, but maybe all fish are crazy good at detecting blood. And I don't know anything about the Alaskan wood frog, but some animals can freeze. They have kind of an anti freeze situation going on in their blood or something. So I don't know if wood frogs are animals like that, but sure. I'm going to go with Bob, I guess, and say that that one's a fiction and they can freeze.
S: Okay, Evan.
E: I think I'm going to ride that train as well. I did not know this about the wood frogs and their freezing, but hibernating beneath the mud at the bottom of the lakes and ponds, I don't, there's a disconnect here somewhere. I'm not quite putting my finger on it, but something's not, or not right there. And yeah, I think the shark, but the shark thing, I will make note of this, that has never sat right with me as far as, oh yeah, the shark can, sense you miles away. What? How? The ocean's a soup with so much going on and how could it possibly that just stretched credulity to me. So always has. So I'll go with the frog as well.
S: And Jay.
J: Wait. You're saying that you were having trouble believing that sharks could smell blood like that little.
E: Miles away. That's something I've heard a very, for a long time. I think that's been parroted by people and I, I don't know that I've ever really agreed with that. Not that I've looked into it, but it just never really sat with me as being, no.
B: I'll go with the boys. I really think that there are frogs, I don't know, the Alaskan wood frog, you could have named any frog here.
E: Kermit, anyone.
J: I just don't know. But I am fairly confident that there are frogs that fully freeze and they just have the biological mechanism to deal with it. So I'm going to say that one is the fiction.
S: Okay. So you all agree. So I guess we'll take these in order. We'll start with number one.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: Daddy-Longlegs are not spiders, but arachnids in the Opiliones order, they do not have venom or fangs. You all think that one is science and that one is science. That is the notion that they have, that they're the most venomous spider, but they can't penetrate human skin is nonsense. They're not venomous and they're not spiders as Bob said. There is, however, there's some people, they, they mistake a particularly long legged spider for a Daddy-Longlegs and then their common name is the Daddy-Longlegs spider. So there is a Daddy-Longlegs spider, but it's not what we think of as a Daddy-Longlegs. And the, and that one, that spider is not on the East coast. You may have seen it in California, Cara, but we don't get it on the East coast. So we've probably never even seen it.
S: But in any case, yeah, but the Daddy-Longlegs itself it's an arachnid so it has eight legs, but it's not a spider and it has like-
B: Just look at the body. It doesn't have a-
S: It has one body. Not two. Yeah, exactly. They're really freaky looking when you see him like a very, very close up, like zoomed in picture of it. It looks very alien. All right. Let's go to number two.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: Sharks have a sense of smell about as good as other fish equivalent to a drop of blood in an average sized swimming pool. They can detect blood from hundreds of yards, but not miles away. You guys all think this one is science and this one is science.
B: This is a recent news item, wasn't it?
S: I don't know. Maybe.
B: I read it just a few months ago where they basically said exactly that.
S: So Bob basically blew it by giving two items away, but that's all right.
J:' Only been doing it for 17 years.
B: But it was gold, gold.
S: So I picked the wrong person to go first and-
B: Yes you did. Learn that lesson.
E: My strategy totally paid off.
S: I don't know who's going to know what.
B: Spiders and Bob? You remember I got an A++ in my fifth grade spider report, right?
J: How many times do you have to hear that?
E: It was only one plus, Bob. The other one was a little spider that crawled on your paper.
J: You drag that old fact out your whole life. I got an A++ in spiders and science.
B: Jay, if you got an A++ in piss in a kindergarten, you'd be talking about it too.
C: I love it.
E: Is that Edvard Munch's, The Scream?
S: So that sharks can sense blood about one part per million. So it's about like a drop of blood in the swimming pool and yeah, they could detect that much diluted in the water. They could still pick it up, you know, hundreds of yards away, maybe 200, maybe 300 yards away. Not much. And the other thing is it takes time for the blood to diffuse through the water so that they could detect it. It's like you start bleeding and sharks from miles away are instantly heading your way.
E: Speed of light.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: All right. So all this means that the Alaskan wood frog does not actually freeze in the winter but hibernates beneath the mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds is the fiction because they do freeze in the winter. They literally freeze. They are frogsicles. Now the way that they survive that, they thought in this spring, just wake up and go about their business. So they have antifreeze inside their cells. So the cells themselves do not freeze but the water between the cells does freeze. So the cells are not destroyed, they survive, but the frog does freeze. The water in the frog but around the cells freezes and they're just, they survive all winter frozen and then they literally thaw out and wake back up. It's fascinating.
B: They're hungover when they thaw out.
S: You have hibernation sickness. Yeah. Cool. Pretty cool.
B: Yo-do. Yo-do.
S: Good job, everyone. Bob cheated. All right.
B: Cheated? Come on. I killed it.
S: Give us a quote, Evan.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:35:32)
It is much easier to con people than to convince them that they have been conned.
– John Allen Paulos, American professor of mathematics
E: This quote was suggested by a listener, Matthew from New Zealand. Thank you, Matthew. "It is much easier to con people than to convince them that they have been conned." John Allen Paulos, mathematician.
J: Ain't it the truth, man?
B: Innumeracy. He wrote Innumeracy.
E: Did you read that, Bob?
B: Yeah, I read it really good.
E: I have to read that. I guess I got to put that on my list. I don't know that I've read one of Paulos' books.
J: I bet you if that guy played science fiction, he wouldn't screw it up like you.
B: Oh, yeah?
E: Well, we'll have to have him on the show to find out, won't we?
S: That is a good quote. It's sadly true, especially once they're convinced and people don't want to know that they've been conned.
E: Oh, gosh. Right.
S: But sometimes it flips. If you can somehow convince them, then they have to flip in their head. Then they feel like, I've been victimized, I've been lied to. But until you cross that line, they just don't want to think that they've been fooled.
J: It sucks. Being fooled sucks.
E: It's humiliating.
S: It does.
E: It's humility. Yeah. It comes down to humility.
S: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to make them think that they figured it out on their own. That works.
E: That's better. They're more accepting that way, definitely.
S: All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.
J: You got it, Steve.
C: Thanks Steve.
E: Oh, it was nice to be enjoined with 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 theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to email@example.com. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- Center for Inquiry: Kendrick Frazier, Longtime Editor of Skeptical Inquirer, Has Died at Age 80
- [url_from_dumbest_thing_show_notes PUBLICATION: TITLE]
- Scientific American: Subverting Climate Science in the Classroom
- WaPo: Climate change threatening 'things Americans value most,' U.S. report says
- National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory: Astronomers discover closest black hole to Earth
- Neurologica: AWARE-II Near Death Experience Study
- UC Riverside Spider Research: Have you heard this one?
- SharksInfo.com: How far can sharks smell blood in the water?
- National Wildlife Federation: Wood Frog
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]