SGU Episode 906

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SGU Episode 906
November 19th 2022
906 volcano.jpg

"Which emits more carbon dioxide: volcanoes or human activities?"[1]

SGU 905                      SGU 907

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

We may fondly imagine that we are impartial seekers after truth, but with a few exceptions, to which I know that I do not belong, we are influenced—and sometimes strongly—by our personal bias; and we give our best thoughts to those ideas which we have to defend.

August Krogh, Danish zoophysiologist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Artemis' third try, "new" Tuscany bronze statues[edit]

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

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 Tuesday, November 15th, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening folks!

S: So once again, they're going to attempt to launch Artemis to the Moon. Actually, the window opens four hours from right now as we're recording this show.

E: Oh boy.

S: Yeah, so as you're listening to this, you know more about it than we do. But we're recording the next episode two days from now, so we'll be able to say what happened. That'll be the episode that airs this Saturday after Thanksgiving.

J: I read something interesting.

S: Yeah.

J: That they had to take into account the possibility of bad weather when they were building this whole thing. They're aware of that. So it's OK for the rocket to be out in incremental weather.

B: Wait wait. Incremental?

J: I would imagine that high winds are bad for anything. So I don't think the high winds are good, though.

S: Inclement, inclement weather.

C: Yes.

S: What about incremental weather?

C: We like inclement, yeah.

J: Incremental, like it gets worse over time, you know?

C: There you go.

S: Cara, are you still keeping your list?

C: Oh, yes. I'm going to add that right now.

E: Inclemental.

C: Inclemental. I love it.

E: I like it.

C: I like it, too.

S: It's when it gets progressively bad. Inclemental.

C: It's a portmanteau.

S: It's a portmanteau.

E: Awesome.

J: God, I really hope this thing takes off and everything goes without a hitch because we need something good.

S: Yeah, I totally agree.

E: And it's the third attempt, right? This is the third try?

S: Yeah, I mean, yeah, the third try. It might be even more than that because there was, I know, two technical ones and then a weather-based one, right, where they had to scrub it.

E: Yeah, I don't even think, did they even get it out to the pad during that weather one? You're right, they may have had to scrub it.

S: Yeah, they just delayed it. Hurricane coming through.

C: Yeah, it was the hurricane. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because it can't take the lateral winds. It can take so much force on its nose, clearly. But yeah, the side to side is no bueno.

S: Yeah, as we learned from the movie The Martian, it's not good. Even with less than 1% of the Earth's atmosphere.

J: Yeah, right, it would have been nothing.

B: That was the most egregious scientific error, but it was for the plot.

C: He needed it to move the plot.

E: I know, you got to have something.

B: That's fine.

J: It was either that or-

E: Also, those skin-tight spacesuits were kind of, you know.

J: He could have had a big monster come out of the ground. It wouldn't have been good.

S: [inaudible] fine. Martian monster. Martian-

E: Martian sand worm.

S: There you go. So, did you guys hear about this? This is awesome. And also, coming off of… I know we all have had… A lot of us have had recent trips to Italy, so this sort of resonated. They found over 50 bronze statues, over 2000 years old in Tuscany. This was at the ruins of a temple. So they knew that those ruins were there. But, in part of the temple included a, like a hot spring. So it was like a spa. People would go there they get into warm water. But, apparently, it was a practice to throw bronze statues into the water as an offering so that you would get better.

B: Oh, that's what it does.

S: So, either they were-

E: A coin in a fountain kind of thing.

S: Well, there was also, they also found 5000 coins. Gold, silver and bronze coins.

B: Arr!

S: Now, that's treasure, right, Bob?

B:' Yes.

S: The bronze statues were, from what I'm reading, one of two types. Either they were, like, one meter tall presentations of one of the gods. So, like a meter tall statue of Apollo, and you threw it in there and prayed to Apollo to do whatever. Or, they were just body parts. Which represented whatever ailment you were having. So, I guess if you were having, your right arm was hurting, you'd throw in a bronze right arm, you know?

B:' Where would you get it?

S: Well, I was thinking about that. Was there a concession store at the temple where they would sell the bronze statues so that you could then throw into the pond?

J: I read that there were 24 statues. You said 50?

S: That's what I, yeah.

J: 50 might mean including all the body parts.

S: Including the small ones.

J: The body parts, I guess. I don't know.

S: Yeah, including all the body parts.

E: When I went to look up the news item on this, Steve, a bunch of bronze statues came up, and one of them shows a picture of Yoda. A bronze statue of Yoda.

S: Now, if they found that under there, that would be impressive.

E: Well, it would lead to a lot of questions.

S: Probably some kind of intrusion into this. So, these statues are remarkably well preserved because they sank into the mud. So, they were encased in mud. It was, like, perfect.

C: Yeah, the pictures of them are sticking out of the mud.

S: Yeah, yeah. I see that as well. I don't know if that's once they drained it, I guess, to get that out of there.

C: Oh, could be. Yeah.

B: Screw the bronze. Tell me about the gold and silver.

S: Yeah, coins.

B:' What's the deal?

E: First and second place.

S: Archeologically, it's a really significant find because a lot of them have inscriptions on there. So, that tells us about the language and use in that place and time. So, it's already changing our thoughts about how long the Etruscan language survived as a living language in that area. And obviously, they still have to examine.

B: Don't we have Latin on some of our money?

S: We do.

E: Sure.

S: Well, yeah, again, they'll have to, actual experts will need to put it into context and interpret it properly, what it means. But that was just-

E: This coin says 13 BC.

J: So, Steve, what do you think happens here? You think that the state comes in and just says, okay, these are ours now?

S: Yeah.

E: Yes, that's exactly what happens.

S: Yeah, antiquities, you know.

E: Antiquity laws go into effect.

S: They're planning on building a museum on the site to display all the statues. That's how many of them there are.

J: Do the people that find it at least get a vig, is there any?

S: A finding fee?

E: Well, they get maybe and certainly credit for the find.

C: Well, they also might be, they can probably now build a museum there and maybe they'll have it'll bring tourism to that area.

E: Absolutely.

B: I do know that if you find, if you found. Say you found, like, $10 million in gold doubloons, right? For some countries or a lot of countries, I'm not sure, but some of them, they will give you a really, really nice reward because they, it makes sense, think about it. They want people to be motivated to turn this, especially culturally significant, historically significant relics and things in. They want them to do that. Otherwise, if they would be like, say thank you and take everything you found the motivation to turn it in will be very low. So some places, some countries, some whatevers will actually be very generous in terms of remuneration if you find stuff like that.

S: Yeah, give us this $100 million dollars in gold and we'll give you, I don't know, how much would they give you? Hopefully a decent chunk of change.

B: Well, 5 million would be nice, but I think I might be walking away with $100 million.

S: Well, but would you rather have $1 million above board legal and clear or have to hide the fact that you came into $100 million of, and then what are you going to do? Are you, Bob Novella, going to sell them on the black market somewhere?

C: Yeah, because that's the thing. There's a carrot and a stick here. And you're right, the carrot's great, but like if you get caught, there's probably a pretty big stick.

E: Oh, yeah, you're going, you're in trouble.

B: I need more details to fully answer that question.

J: You can't just have $100 million in gold. That comes with strings.

S: Right. The thing is, Bob would just want to display it in his house. He wouldn't even want to use it.

B: No, I beg to differ, I would display and use it.

E: So instead of handing out $100 bills you give out the gold coins.

C: You'd use it for display.

B: Let's put that in context. At the Halloween party, we, a bunch of us were the Addams family. Liz and I, Steve and Josh, we're the Addams family. So I was Gomez, so I, of course, had to have a drawer in my house, a prominent drawer that I filled with fake $100 bills because that's what Gomez did, especially in the 1960s show. So that's what everyone is talking about.

E: Bob, you didn't tell me it was fake.

B: It actually looked pretty damn fairly legit, unless you see the word copy on it.

E: Yeah, at first glance, it looks good. Then you start reading it and realize, okay, it's a big joke.

S: So I recently visited Rome and Florence, and you learn a lot about bronze and marble statues if you take any kind of touristy kind of tours of any of the places there. What's interesting is we think of all these ancient statues as being marble. If you think of an ancient Roman statue, a marble statue is going to come to mind first. The primary reason for that is that-

E: It's what lasted.

S: -it's because they melted the bronze down to use for other purposes. But marble, what are you going to do with a marble statue? They repurposed marble inlay and marble that they took from one building and used it to build another building. But statues, what are you going to do with a statue? You can't melt it down or whatever.

E: Yeah, you can't turn it into a cannon or something.

S: But bronze is a very valuable metal. From our modern perspective, we think of everything as steel, but bronze is actually better than iron for a lot of applications. It's actually even better than steel for a lot of applications. It's castable and it doesn't rust. So until you get to really modern industrial steel, bronze is extremely valuable for a lot of purposes.

E: That lasted a long time.

S: Once the cultural continuity was sort of disrupted there and people were stealing and repurposing whatever valuables they can get on, a lot of the bronze statues went away, but the marble remained. So I guess that's why a cache of bronze statues is a significant find. Also, the Romans, as you know, when they conquered Greece, they became enamored of Greek culture. They made bronze copies of a lot of these Greek statues. They made some marble statues too, but a lot of the Greek statues we only know about because of the Roman copies that were made.

C: I also read, Steve, and tell me if this is wrong, that at the time when these bronze statues would have been created, most statues were made out of clay.

S: I didn't read that. I don't know if that's true.

C: Yeah, I came across here. It's on a VOA article that says that when it says red clay or terracotta were common during this era, and so the bronze statues were probably expensive or made by special artisans or something like that.

S: Yeah, so what they were saying was that this temple spa was definitely an elite, wealthy hangout.

C: Gotcha. Yeah.

S: Yeah, because you're not going to be throwing in a one-meter-tall solid bronze statue unless, I don't know if they were solid, but I mean bronze statue, unless you had dough, you know?

C: Right.

E: And strength.

S: Yeah, I was thinking, did you have to bring your own muscle or did the temple have some burly guys on hand?

E: Oh, you had your slaves. Oh, I feel terrible. Slaves, throw that in.

S: Yeah, you'd take a couple of big guys to throw a statue like that in there. Cool, find. I wonder, we'll wait and see what any other information comes from this, any other discoveries. But it's amazing that something like that is still around.

E: Still waiting to be discovered. What else is still waiting to be discovered?

S: You would think it picked over everything.

C: But it's just, it's deep. That's what ends up happening, right? Stuff just ends up under stuff and under stuff. So cool.

S: In the mud.

B: I can't wait until we can do like a scan of the ground and go to fairly decent depths and just map everything that's down there. Fossils, relics, artifacts, magic items, whatever's down there.

C: Yeah, you can get a little bit of that.

E: Magic items. (laughs) +1 bow.

S: It's like that Simpsons episode where they're digging the hole and they're bypassing the alien ship and the treasure chest.

E: Yeah, that's right. Through the strata.

S: Yeah. Just missing all of it.

Dumbest Thing of the Week (12:25)[edit]

S: All right, guys. Hey, so I have a dumbest thing of the week this week.

E: Oh, are you going to sing the song? So, I got requests by the way.

C: We got so much feedback.

E: You saw that, right?

S: Unfortunately.

E: So next time, next time.

S: So this appeared in the comments to my blog and it's so dumb. I just had to bring it up because the claim is that it's again, the climate deniers and denialists for a little bit of background. So they're engaged in a pseudoscientific pursuit of trying to deny established science, whether it's evolution or climate change or climate science or whatever, the Holocaust or HIV causing AIDS. Those are the common ones that are out there. They use a common suite of intellectual strategies to try to promote their denialism.

B: Intellectual?

S: One of them is.

C: Quasi intellectual.

S: Well, yeah, but whatever. One of their strategies is the knockout punch, right? They're looking for one thing that makes the thing they're trying to deny impossible or to make it seem ridiculous or whatever. So this is that style of claim. The notion that volcanoes put out many, many more times the CO2 than human activity. And in fact, it was stated as like one volcanic eruption put out more CO2 than humans have ever produced in the entire history of humanity. And therefore it's so negligible. How could we be changing the climate? It's ridiculous, right? What makes this incredibly stupid is how incredibly easy it is to debunk. So you have had to I mean, it literally took me 30 seconds to debunk this. And if you before you would go around spouting something like this, you would think that you would at least know what is out there. And not only is it easy to debunk, it's just numbers. There's no interpretation needed.

E: Yeah, you don't need an advanced degree.

S: There's no nuance. There's no relying upon expert analysis. Well, this is what the experts say or whatever. It's a freaking number. It's so easy. So of course, I looked it up and there's actually a little bit of an interesting backstory to it. But just looking up the numbers, which takes no time at all. In fact, the US Geological Survey, the USGS has a Web page dedicated to this because it is such a common denialist talking point. No, volcanoes don't put out more CO2 than human activity. Volcanoes, including all volcanoes, land and submarine, under the ocean. All volcanoes around the world put out between 0.13 and 0.44 gigatons of CO2 per year. So that's the range. So something like 0.2 gigatons per year. Human activity releases 35 gigatons per year. That's more human activity-

E: Oh my gosh, it's almost a 100 times.

S: -produces more than a 100 times the CO2 that all the volcanos in the world produce.

E: Humans one volcanoes nothing.

S: So it's like the claim is just blatantly false. Again, there's no interpretation necessary. There's no, you don't have to do some kind of complicated analysis. How many scientists agree with global warming? There's nothing to argue with here. It's a freaking number.

E: I'm not sure it gets lazier than that.

S: It's complete intellectual laziness. And when I put out that figure, I responded to the commenter and I linked to the US Geological Survey. They dismissed it as a liberal conspiracy.

C: The USGS is a liberal conspiracy? (laughs)

E: Yeah, there you go.

S: It's a government site, Cara. So you believe government sites? I mean, come on. How gullible is that? Well, it does link to actually published scientific studies, you know. So where does this come from?

C: It's just so funny too, because USGS is like, that's our oil and gas.

S: I know.

C: You know what I mean?

E: Yeah, you're right. The irony is totally lost on everyone there, Cara.

S: I know they are irony impaired. In the same thread, this is another thing, because you mentioned irony. It's like, you know how they're always complaining about how the liberals are talking about, oh, we're getting to peak oil and peak helium and peak this and peak that. And they mock that. They're like, ah, we'll figure it all out. We've heard this peak whatever hysteria for hundreds of years and it's never come to pass. And then they say, oh, but with batteries, we're running out of lithium. We're not going to have enough lithium to make all the batteries that we need. So they trot out the peak lithium thing the moment you start talking about green energy.

C: That's interesting.

E: Because that's convenient.

S: It's like, yeah, except for the fact that there's a million years worth of lithium in the oceans.

E: Yeah, we just got to get it.

C: Why do you think that is?

S: Because they don't care about the truth or intellectual integrity. They just have an end point that they're starting from.

C: Right. Right.

S: Like all pseudo scientists.

E: Say anything.

S: So the claim comes from one guy who wrote a book. This guy's, I believe, is Australian, Plymer. And he makes the claim without any numbers or references that volcanoes put out more CO2 than human activity. That was it. It was a bold faced lie made without any sources.

B: He certainly didn't use a publisher we use, Steve.

S: Yeah, right. I was thinking that. Our publisher would never let us get away with that. They made us back up every factual claim we made. So it's not like the guy doesn't have references in the book. He's got hundreds of references in the book. He just doesn't bother to reference the claims where he's lying, you know, where he's just making shit up. But then it gets just because it fits the narrative, it resonates with the narrative. It gets repeated gullibly over and over and over again, even though it's trivial to debunk it with objective just numbers. So just it's just amazing.

E: Steve, can I read your latest comment on your on this blog? It happened seven minutes ago.

S: Sure.

E: It's short. I've been a geologist for nearly 50 years. How do I view the science of climatology? Right up there with ufology. This biased article confirms my opinion.

S: Yeah, right.

E: There you go. It really does kind of they come out of the weeds for this one.

S: Well, also, it's my my comments are on discus. So what happens is I write an article like this and then my usual commenters have like a day or two to like make reasonable comments and have a reasonable discussion. And then there's the floodgates of the deniers and this cranks and the pseudoscientists come in from discus and you get stuff like this.

E: Well, Steve, I congratulate you on this dumbest thing of the week. Very impressive. All except the song. I think otherwise it was all right.

S: OK, let's get to some news items.

News Items[edit]

Developing New Antibiotics (19:37)[edit]

S: Jay, you're going to tell us about the efforts to produce new types of antibiotics. This is something we've talked about before. It's one of those looming apocalypses that we talk about from time to time.

E: Must have.

S: Right. Remember, everybody, we're all going to die from infections once our antibiotics stop working. But what's what's the latest on this?

J: Well, the latest is, as I'll get into a little detail here, clearly not enough money is being spent on it. So we're talking about here is the problem of antibiotic resistance. The current antibiotics are not as effective as they used to be because bacteria has evolved to be resistant to it and developing new antimicrobials it's super expensive. It's incredibly expensive and time consuming thing to do. It's on par with costs to produce all other kinds of drugs. It's just as expensive, just as much time is required. And these costs can be mind bogglingly astronomical. The cost can easily be in the billions of dollars. The problem with antibiotic development costs being so high is that the return on investment for the pharmaceutical companies is significantly less than the other drugs that they could produce. And remarkably, the last new classification of antibiotics was approved by the FDA back in 1987. Now, that's almost freaking 40 years ago. New antibiotics have been developed since then, but no new classifications. You could think of the classification as the way that the specific drug works. It's a mechanism that the drug has in order to do what it does. So we haven't come up with a new classification in in almost 40 years. In the past 20 years, some of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies have unfortunately stepped away from antibiotic production because of this. These companies, to be fair, after all, they're for profit institutions. Antibiotics are not the kind of drugs that people need to take daily. You might take them for, you know, what, at the most, I think nine days. There's like a nine day course that you could take. So the return on investment doesn't compare to most other drugs that could be produced. Antibiotics have a much slower return on investment, and typically they earn less than is required by the companies that make them. So financially, they're really not that viable for companies. And we've heard similar things about vaccinations. If you if you remember during the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about how it just some companies making vaccines could literally go out of business because they're just not a lot of money to be made. Of course, governments can help fund these efforts. But as is the case, governments are simply not doing a good enough job of trying to work with pharmaceutical companies to help them essentially afford making these required drugs that we need. Smaller pharmaceutical companies have tried to take over the development from the bigger companies. And going back to about 2010 and many of these smaller pharmaceutical companies, unfortunately, went out of business because they weren't making the money that they needed. And as a way to think about it here, so companies that made five of the 15 newly approved antibiotics have gone belly up since 2010 due to the financial hardships of making these drugs. So why would they continue doing it? This is a really serious and scary issue because so many people need antibiotics and antibiotics are the kind of thing, man, when you need them, you really need them. You might get a course of antibiotics that you would have survived if you didn't get it. But then sometimes you might get a course of antibiotics where you would most definitely die if you don't get it. And we and we need them to work every time we take them. So think of the times in your life that you've taken antibiotics. It's not uncommon for most people to at some point in their life be prescribed them. nd like I said, many of us have actually needed them. The CDC has estimated that 48000 people per year die from an antibiotic resistant infection. 2.8 million people don't die, but unfortunately they have some kind of infection that could have used that they could have used an effective course of antibiotics. It's also estimated that globally 1.27 million people die each year from an infection. So we clearly we need them. And recently the pandemic helped worsen antibiotic resistance due to all the hospitalizations. So what can be done about this? What is actually taking place? Well, one thing that's important to note here is that recent research has found that the US spends approximately. Why don't you guys guess how much how much annually does the United States spend on dealing with people getting antibiotic resistant infections?

S: About about a hundred dollars.

E: Government money?

J: Yeah. Government money.

C: And you're talking about treatment, not prevention.

J: Treatment. Yes, treatment.

C: A lot.

B: $250 million?

C: Probably a lot more than we spend on prevention.

E: Couple of billion.

J: 4.6 billion. Then you quickly go if we only spent that money ahead of time.

C: Or a fraction of that money ahead of time.

J: Right. Because you're spending 4.6 billion and then bang next year, 4.6 billion. So it adds up amazingly fast. This is similar to the idea about renewable energy. If we put the money in now, we're going to spend an incredible amount on the on the other side of it. So clearly financially, it's viable for governments to invest heavily in antibiotics. And there is a bill that's that exists today called the Pasteur Act that could possibly help fund antibiotic development. But it got, it went from 11 billion down to, I believe, 4 billion in support of companies being able to essentially afford developing antibiotics. And again, even if we had a ton of money to spend on it right now, it's not like you put the money down on the table and they hand you a vial of antibiotics. It could take a decade. It could take 20 years to develop. So there isn't a lot happening today that that is reassuring when it comes to coming up with a new class of antibiotic that is going to be able to function differently than the types of antibiotics that we have today. And slowly as time goes on, the current list of antibiotics that we have just simply become less and less effective. And we're really going to run into a wall here. Now, I don't think that this is a existential threat to the human race type of thing because there's, as of today, I read there's 8 billion people on the planet. So, 1.27 million people die each year from an infection. That's not going to take out humanity. But you got to think about whether or not we want these medications available to us or not. That's simply what it comes down to. You don't really, I think when people think about antibiotics most people don't really appreciate them. You don't really go, oh, and thank god for those antibiotics because you spend most of your time not having to deal with it. Most of us do. Most people don't don't have to take antibiotics all the time and don't really think about them. But I kind of look at antibiotics like I do dentistry. I am fully aware that I need it and that it is a huge it is a huge factor in your overall health. And it also, I think, is a huge factor in how long you can live because one bad bacterial infection can take you out. I think we have to change our perception. We need to be very much willing to have our government spend billions of dollars into investing into these types of drugs. What do you think, guys?

S: I mean, obviously, yeah, it's a good idea and it's hard, they work by different mechanisms. So if you're if you have resistance to an older class of drug, a completely new mechanism of killing bacteria or stopping them from reproducing will likely, at least for a while evade previous resistance.

B: I mean, imagine getting a scratch and thinking, oh, crap, this could kill me. I mean, that we could potentially enter a pre antibiotic era if we if we continue on this path.

C: Well, we are with certain diseases like gonorrhea is almost antibiotic resistant. There's like one drug left. It's pretty scary. And there's a lot of obviously R&D going into trying to figure this out. But we're getting close with certain with certain bacterial strains.

E: The urgency doesn't seem to be there, at least not from a public standpoint. You don't hear people up in arms about it or demanding more. It just it's in the background.

C: Right. And I think part of it is like the same outcry that we see when the anti when there's like a lot of anti vaxx rhetoric about people going people don't die from the flu. People don't die from it's like, yes, they do.

E: It's just about tens of thousands.

C: But lots of times people are like, well, I never met somebody who died from that. And it's like, OK, but it's it's happening. It's happening more and more and more. I think one of the problems and Jay, I don't know if you've come across this and because I know you study this a lot. You like to read about it is is that the incentivization is lacking for drug companies to develop new antibiotics.

J: Well, you got to just look at it like this. If they going into it, if they know that it takes a long time for them to get their money out of it after they've got an approved drug. And if if it's very likely that that drug is not going to be able to pay them back, you're going to you're going to turn away a lot of the smaller companies. Because they're they're just straight up. They know we can't we can't take a hit here. We don't have 15 other drugs that's bringing in billions of dollars. Some of these drug companies have a handful of employees. You think that they might be huge. No, they could an effective drug company could be a small number of people developing a single drug.

S: One of the incentives that they give for this, for drugs where like there's a societal benefit and it may not be profitable. Like we have an Orphan Drug Act in the U.S. So one of the things they do is they extend the patent so that you have a longer period of time and to make your money back on the on the initial investment. And they also will give grants. I just give money to do the research.

C: Yeah, that's what I would love to see public health dollars put into this. Because this is for the public good. And you're right. They're not going to see the return the same way that they would with a statin or a drug that somebody is going to be taking every day of their life for the rest of their lives. An antibiotic is a one and done.

S: Yeah, exactly. So the NIH National Institutes of Health, they fund a lot of research. They don't fund pharmaceutical research because they say, well, that's the industry should do that. We're here to fund stuff that industry does not fund. But if industry is not funding specific pharmaceutical research because it's not profitable, then you can make an argument. Well, in this the NIH should research that should put money into researching that. But then somebody still some company still needs to develop and market it.

C: So for sure. Yeah.

S: Yeah. They would still need to allow a company to do that and give them a patent on it so that they could make their money off of it. But yeah, it's just it's super expensive to bring a drug to market. It could be hundreds of millions of dollars.

China Completes Space Station (31:04)[edit]

S: OK, let's move on. Bob, I understand that China is about to complete their space station.

B: You are incorrect. They have completed it. The construction and assembly of China's impressive space station, Tiangong, has been completed, Steve. Solidifying its place even further as a major space power. This milestone was reached with the launch of the final module for the space station on October 31st, which showed, I have to say, a complete lack of respect for and appreciation of Halloween. Well, did the Tiangong space station. All right. So what's it all about? It means palace in the sky, which is certainly more poetic than International Space Station.

J: We're not even trying. We're naming things numbers at this point.

B: It's T shaped for what that's worth. It consists of three primary modules. And of course, it's modular because you're not going to lift the whole thing at once. That would just be silly. The core module is called Tianhe, which means harmony of the heavens. That was this was launched April 2021. And two Taikonauts arrived just two months later. They could do that because this Tianhe was the central node, the backbone, if you will, containing life support, navigation, propulsion, living quarters, all the critical things that would allow you to just immediately go there and start living and doing experiments and floating around. The next module was called or is called Wentian. I think it means meatball, Jay, but I could be wrong on that one. Wentian was launched in July 2022. It's a module meant for experiments. And it also, by the way, has the exit door for spacewalks. And the final module is called Mengtian. It's also an experiment module. And that's the one that was just launched recently, Halloween 2022. So what's the purpose of the space station? Lots of ways to answer that question. Scientific experiments in space are certainly important. And they've already been ongoing since since it's been since Taikonauts have gone to the place. So they've been doing them for a while now. Some think that though that China's hope is that that the space station will provide critical insight into crewed missions to the Moon and maybe eventually Mars. And China certainly has a lot of interest in the Moon, as evidenced by the past year or so, and also in plans for the near future. At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking whose lightsaber is bigger? Such such comparisons, though, they're not really fair. China's one country and it is an amazing achievement. In terms of size and mass the International Space Station certainly benefited from the extra time, 10 years putting it together fully the extra time and the unprecedented cooperation of five global space programs and 15 countries that participated. So, yes, of course, ISS is much, much more of a behemoth with 16 modules instead of three and five times the mass at around 500 tons. Big boy. Chang'an is basically about the size of the smallest mirror space station, you may remember, which was de-orbited, I think, in 2001. But of course, there's many advantages. They just completed assembly. So it's brand spanking new. There's many benefits compared to the aging ISS. The first is just the aesthetic of the inside of the modules. I saw a comparison of the inside of an ISS module and it looked like a chaotic data center with cords and wires and consoles everywhere. Plus, maybe with a little explosion inside just to mix things up even even more. It was it looks nuts. There's so many things happening in the interior. It's like, oh, my god.

E: So it's good feng shui.

B: Oh, wow. The interior of the Chinese modules, by comparison, they clearly embrace wireless technology much more fully. And it looks like someone essentially opened the hatch on one of the ISS modules and everything got just blown out. So it's like it seems empty. It's just beautifully non-chaotic.

S: But Bob, that's the effect of 25 years of technological advance.

E: Yeah, a generation.

B: Exactly. And that's exactly my point. That's exactly what they're benefiting from. But it's also an aesthetic. I mean, yeah, and the new technology. But technologically, Steve, there's other advantages. Tiangong was recently described by Zhu Jinping, chief designer of China's manned space engineering project. He said: "Our energy system can convert more than 30% of the solar power, which is much higher than what we previously saw in other space stations." So what he's talking about there is that the solar panels not only keep the lights on inside, but they contribute to the propulsion as well for station keeping. So it's so it still uses fuel propellant like the ISS, but it doesn't use nearly as much as the ISS. And they claim that its propulsion is five times as efficient and powerful as the ISS. So maybe an analogy would compare the ISS to a gas guzzler next to the hybrid Tiangong. So, yes, in that regard, it's definitely more advanced. And that's interesting. I never would have thought that, using solar power for propulsion, but it seems to make a certainly makes a lot of sense. I think the ISS uses something like nine tons of fuel for that. And so I assume that China's space station would use much less, much, much less. So another interesting difference is that this new space station will actually have a sidekick space telescope called the Xuntian, which means heavenly cruiser. It's going to orbit parallel to the space station, and it's designed to easily dock with its mommy space station for refueling and servicing, which is a it's a very slick idea to have it just right there. You don't have to make a special trip to the far distant Hubble Space Telescope. It's like right there, easily docket service it, refuel it, whatever you need to do. Plus the fact that this thing, I think it's going to launch December 2023. It will have a similar resolution to Hubble, but with 300 times the field of view, gargantuan field of view. So it seems like it's going to be an impressive space telescope in terms of what the new space station can accomplish. I've read something saying that, it's mainly for propaganda or whatever. But Mary Alborowitz is an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She said that with the completion of their module, a modular space station, China has a capability that is broadly in line with that offered by the International Space Station. So, yeah, it's clearly set up to do lots of experimentation in there. They're going to be working with with other countries to do experiments, but not the United States, though, because we actually have a law that prevents such space cooperation with China for basically for national security. And based on history between the two countries, that's probably not a bad idea to try to protect national security by not exchanging such technology. But it's unfortunate because I think if we did cooperate we could have achieved a lot together. But and they tried they tried to get in on the International Space Station and they tried for years to to have some cooperative things going on. And we just wouldn't do it. John Osberg, aerospace engineer at the RAND Corporation, had an interesting quote. He said "We can no longer take for granted that we're the big dogs in space. This is a this is a prompt for us, for the US and allies to not drop the ball. There are different ways to run a space station and space exploration. I'd like it to be us who set the tone for humanity's expansion into space rather than an authoritarian regime like China." So my hope in that is that my hope is that both countries embrace the spirit of scientific discovery, not only in these these low Earth orbit space stations, but throughout all of cislunar space, the space between Earth and the Moon, and not just turn it into a new territory to dominate for military advantage, which seems like the direction it will likely go in, I think. And who knows what else would be done with it. So hopefully, like I said, they'll embrace the spirit of scientific discovery over that those kinds of moves. But I'm skeptical.

Now 8 Billion People (39:35)[edit]

S: All right Cara, there are 8 billion people on Earth.

B: Oh, boy, we finally crossed the line.

C: Yeah, officially, there are eight billion people. Probably not actually, but officially there are. Yeah. So that's interesting. There's really no way to know exactly. It's not like there is a global person to person census. So a lot of this is based on modeling and estimations. But the UN has kind of arbitrarily set November 15th, which is today, the day we're recording, as the day we crossed eight billion people.

B: Wow, man.

J: Unreal.

C: So I found a few interesting comparisons and statistics. And again, a lot of these are estimations and sort of projections and things like that. But based on I shouldn't say projection. You don't project backward, do you? Retro-dictions.

E: Retrojections.

C: Retrojections

E: Write that one down.

C: So when do you think, and no cheaters if you've read this, because these news articles are everywhere today, when do you think we hit one billion?

S: 1837.

B: 1838.

E: 1850.

J: It's a couple of hundred years ago, maybe.

C: So that would be 1822? 19? Yeah. 18. Wait, what year is it? 2022? Yeah. It's so interesting that you guys all picked the 1800s. Is it because you kind of-

S: I anchored them. It's because I anchored them.

C: Yeah. Did you generally know, Steve?

S: I've read it sometime recently.

C: Yeah. So there are different estimates, but 1804 is one that I've landed on here. Early 1800s would be where we hit one billion for the first time. Then around 1927, we hit two billion. 1960, three billion. 1974, four billion. 1987, five billion. Only 1999 when we hit six billion. And then kind of late 2011, early 2012, seven billion. And now eight billion. Obama's first term was a billion people ago.

B: Wow.

C: Think about it that way. And there's this cool calculator on Washington Post where you can plug in your date, your gender. Unfortunately, it's only in a binary. They only have male and female because that's what their statistical analysis shows. But you plug in your gender, your age, and your country, and it sort of compares your demographic statistics to the rest of the world. So you can see all sorts of interesting things. But I'm looking at, so I'm a 39-year-old woman here in the U.S. When I was born, there were 4.7 billion people in the world. And by some estimates, but these are wildly, the farther out in the future you get, the harder it is to estimate. By some estimates, when I turn 100, there will be 10.4 billion possibly.

E: How the heck are we going to feed all these people?

C: And so that's the question. As of right now, with eight billion, we do have enough food to feed everybody on the planet, but it is not distributed well at all. By some estimations, according to the World Food Program, around 828 million people, so more than 10% of the population of the entire world, go to bed hungry every single night. Demographics are fascinating, and demographic changes over time are fascinating because they help us understand the required economic policies of different nations, how fast are nations growing, are their rates reducing. Here in the United States, we've seen that our birth rate has steadily declined, but there's also some really interesting comparisons to some other countries. For example, it may be the case that as early as this year, China may actually be surpassed by India in population.

B: Wow, this year?

C: Could be as early as this year, maybe next year.

B: And what's that number?

C: It looks like right now, China is at 1.412 billion, or in 2021, China was at 1.412 billion, and in 2021, India was at 1.393 billion.

E: Oh, much less space in India, that's for certain.

C: Yeah, so here's some like kind of like if we really dig deep into this, China's birth rate has been declining dramatica lly. And yes, we can talk about the one child policy, which obviously went into effect in 1980. But the birth rate dropped by half even in the 70s in China. So there was already a massive change, which most people credit education, especially education of women. That seems to be one of the largest predictors of a declining birth rate.

B: And not just in China.

C: No, across the globe. And we're seeing consistent acceleration in China. For example, this is a fascinating statistic. In 2020, 45% fewer children were born than in 2015. 45% in China. So China's birth rate is lower than our birth rate here in the US. And they also have quite a long life expectancy. So you add a declining birth rate to a long life expectancy. And obviously, what does that leave you with?

B: A lot of old people.

C: A lot of old people. Right now, according to this National Geographic article, there are just over two workers supporting every retiree or child in China. And within the next quarter of a century, they'll likely see 300 million people over the age of 60. So of course, that's going to mean a massive increase in health costs. But on the other end of the spectrum, where are we seeing rapid expansion and birth rates skyrocketing?

S: Developing world.

C: Developing world. And one of the countries that they really focus on is Nigeria. Nigeria's median age is only 17. It's less than half of China's Nigerian age. And even though birth rates in Nigeria are falling because birth rates across the globe are falling, their rate of falling is lower. Does that make sense? The rate of falling, yeah, is significantly lower. Their birth rate is 20 times higher than China's birth rate. And so there are some estimations, I think it was here in this article, about where the top, the kind of global population nets out. More than half of the world's population right now is in seven countries. Can you name them?

E: Half the population in seven countries?

S: Well, China, India.

E: China, India, United States.

S: Brazil.

C: Brazil.

E: Russia.

C: Not Russia.

E: Not Russia? Interesting.

C: No, don't think land mass. Think density. Bangladesh too small. Steve I think you're on the right track. Think another archipelago.

S: Korea?

E: Korea.

C: Indonesia.

S: Indonesia.

C: Yeah, they have massive population. And then Pakistan and Nigeria. But if we were to kind of project out into the future, by 2100, the thought is that half the world's population will be concentrated in 10 countries. Still India, still China, still Nigeria, still Pakistan, still U.S. and still Indonesia, but now we're adding DRC, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Egypt. So these are places where those rates are climbing. Or I should say reducing less quickly, if not climbing. And so there are massive projection differences depending on the calculus and who's looking at it and how they're adjusting those projections based on all sorts of variables. So Nigeria has 216 million people currently, and people estimate that by the end of this century, the population will have quadrupled. So it might have more people than China by then, but of course, China is 10 times larger by landmass. These are scary.

E: At what point does the lack of food overtake the ability to grow at that rate?

C: Do we want to get to that point?

E: Well, no, but what I'm saying is it's not just linear.

C: It's absolutely not linear. And also the food, the ability to produce food is not linear because of technology. So we absolutely, we have been more industrious. When you look at a lot of historical projections about what the future looks like as the population explodes, a lot of those projections have that kind of dystopian fear baked into them. And at the time, it made sense because these projections were based on how things were. And so you would read about like in the year whatever, when we finally reach 8 billion, 9 billion, 10 billion people, this many people are going to starve, this many people are going to not have access. And like that hasn't kept pace because we've actually been innovating as the population has been expanding. And that's not always accounted for. But you're right, there may be a threshold. There may be a tipping point. We do know that even though food security is, like we said, 10% of the world's population is going to get hungry, but it's better than a lot of people projected. That's not the only variable and the only factor. Because what else is changing with a growing population? So much extraction and so much deforestation. And obviously climate change is exploding.

E: Sure, the oceans are having all kinds of problems.

C: Yeah, so it's not just about there being enough food. It's about there being enough water. It's about there being enough clean air. It's about there being physically enough space and there being enough nature. And we're seeing that all of those things are declining with catastrophic downstream effects that are very hard to predict because these are some of the most chaotic and stochastic systems that we can imagine. They're just unpredictable to a certain extent. So we do our best.

S: Another thing that changes is the propinquity of humans to nature because we're basically living side by side with wild animals more, and that is a huge source of zoonotic infections.

C: Well, yeah, and also our tendency to capture those wild animals and utilize them.

S: Plus we're invading their space. We're invading into their space and so that's causing more exposure. But the thing is the projections from everything I've read, they will probably cap out and then start to decline at some point.

C: Yeah, they're backing off. It's interesting to see like as projections kind of were set by the UN, they have been iterating those projections based on new knowledge and they're all going down. So it's not that we're losing people, but the, sorry, how do I word that? They're going down from their original estimates.

S: But not only that, it's like if you keep playing it out, the thinking is that world population is going to peak at some point and then start declining. And where it peaks out is hard to say. I've heard estimates of, I've read estimates of like 10 billion maybe where we peak out.

C: Yeah, we're seeing that a lot of the kind of 11 billion estimates are being clawed back and a lot of people are talking about, yeah, 9.7-10, and then dropping down maybe even to like the lower nines or the upper eights by the centuries. And of course, there's these opposing forces. There's like our innovation as a species and our tendency to live longer and longer and reduce infant mortality and increase lifespan. But there are also these sort of global, I don't know, what do you think is a good word for this? Because natural, I feel like natural is so loaded on this show. But these ways that like viruses are trying to kill us and these ways that these climate disasters kill us. And there's obviously these projections also have to take into account these terrible, catastrophic problems that because of our population growth continue. So zoonotic infections are going to become more frequent, not less frequent. Global climate disasters are going to become more frequent and more intense, not less.

S: So it's interesting to think about like, where's the natural equilibrium point?

C: And have we already, is there such a thing as a natural equilibrium when we've superimposed the sort of human innovation on top of it? So it's maybe we've already blown well past natural equilibrium if like we all lived in a camping society.

S: Yeah, but I'm just thinking will, if you just keep going into the future, how are we going to extrapolate our population not only to the end of the century, but for the next century and the next century? And is it going to oscillate around some carrying capacity of the Earth, which might be based upon quality of life? When the Earth becomes too populated, people have fewer kids, and then population declines to a certain point, things ease up, people feel more comfortable about having kids.

C: It's an interesting feedback loop.

S: Yeah, it's interesting. But for right now, the biggest way, the most effective method of population control is improving poverty conditions and improving women's rights.

C: But the interesting thing is, are, and I think this is interesting from a psychological sociological perspective, are people who are more educated having fewer children because of this downstream existential concern about having children, I don't want to bring children into this world, or I don't want to contribute to population growth? Yes, there are some people like that. I think that's like I fall in that camp. But I think that most people who are having fewer children at older ages are simply doing it because they have an empowered choice now. Their lives aren't being ruined by this. And so it's not even so much that it's like a quality of life carrying capacity, the world doesn't hold us, so I want fewer children. I think it's just a natural outcome of not wanting to be a birthing slave, or something where this happens without choice.

S: Women's rights reduces overpopulation because they don't want to be birthing slaves.

C: Exactly. And we want to have choice. And also just birth control. There's so many reasons. So it's fascinating to see that that feedback loop happens, and it might even happen without the insight of why it's happening by the individual actors.

S: Yeah, it's eight billion people making individual decisions. And then in the aggregate, there's an effect that's really hard to know how that's going to play out. But all we can do is look at previous trends and then make good guesses going forward. All right, thanks, Cara.

New SARS-CoV-2 Variants (54:36)[edit]

S: All right, guys, I'm going to give you a quick update on SARS-CoV-2 variants. I know you've just been dying to hear the latest on COVID. You miss it. You miss all the COVID news. Admit it. You want to hear about it every day, get the update.

[collective moans]

So, all right, obviously, we're all eager to move on from this pandemic. But we also know that the pandemic isn't over. People are still getting COVID. I'm still wearing a mask at work, which I think will probably never go away is my guess at this point in time for health care. You know what I mean? At least not for the foreseeable future. COVID cases are still happening. The variants are still out there. So the big worry, of course, is that some new variants are going to crop up. That's going to give us a new wave of COVID. It'll be right back in it. The experts have been warning about the winter that's coming. And it could be a triple whammy because the last two years with mask wearing and social distancing, which work. There haven't been that many cases of the flu and other respiratory viruses that are prevented by things like wearing a mask and social distancing. So that means in just two years of not having a lot of flu or other respiratory illnesses, that we're more susceptible just as a population. And so we're going to get a bad flu year and we're already getting a bad respiratory virus year. You probably heard about the spike in infant RSV cases, respiratory and syncytial virus.

C: Do you know yet how the flu shot is doing? How is it performing this year?

S: Well, I don't know how it's performing, but I know flu vaccinations are down.

C: Right. So like people just aren't getting them.

S: They're not getting them. It's crazy. Get your flu shot this year. It's really important this year because it could be a really bad flu year.

C: And go get your bivalent COVID. What are you doing?

S: Get your bivalent COVID vaccine. Absolutely. So are we going to get another wave? What's happening with the variants? You might have heard conflicting things. There are stories floating around that the variants are getting less severe, more severe, spreading easier, whatever. So here's what's happening. So most of the variants now are sub variants of Omicron. So Omicron is still sort of the dominant variant, but we're seeing multiple sub variants of Omicron. But there are still other, there's still Delta out there. There's still other ones out there. But what's happening with the dominant variants is a couple of things. So there's a recent study, which this is actually really cool, where they looked at they basically created a website that brings together all of the, all the data on the COVID variants into one database so that researchers can go in there and look at basically like the family tree of all the COVID variants and start to see what the relationships are. One thing that they're finding is that the same mutations are emerging over and over again in different branches of these COVID variants, which kind of makes sense because what's happening is, there's just so many viruses and so many infections are so many, basically all the variants are happening. You know what I mean? There's so many opportunities for specific variants to occur. They're basically all happening. So what we're seeing in infections are the ones that are more likely to spread. And so those those mutations are predominating over and over again in different branches. And so what those mutations, those sub variants do is they make it, they make the virus spread more easily, which includes evading prior immunity, including evading the immunity that results from prior infection and the vaccines. Because that's that's exactly the selective pressure. There is selective pressure to evade prior immunity and to spread easily. So those are the mutations that are predominating over and over again. Right? Does that makes sense to everybody?

E: Yes.

S: By the way, the database is called the Taxonium. That's a good name. That's not a number. The taxonium.

E: That works.

S: For taxonomy. You guys know what taxonomy is?

E: It's about taxes.

S: But are these variants and sub variants getting more or less deadly? And the answer is no. Oh, I'm not getting either. That's kind of it's not selected for. You know what I mean? Like how deadly it is is sort of tangential to the selective pressures, which are just to be just to spread more easily. What we are seeing is that the severity of the infections are decreasing, but that has nothing to do necessarily with the variants themselves. That's because immunity is increasing. And our treatments are improving.

C: I got to find out if I've had how do you know if you've had COVID?

S: Because you've never had a clinical infection.

C: No.

S: I mean, you can get tested.

C: But at this point, would my antibodies if I had been infected previously, would you be able to tell?

S: That's a good question. I don't know. I don't think so.

C: Yeah, I don't think so either. But I've never I've never had COVID symptoms that necessitated testing. I've had exposures that necessitated testing and those tests-

B: Me too Cara.

C: -were always negative. Yeah. Right, Bob, what's going on? And maybe we had it and we didn't have symptoms.

S: Which is possible.

C: But maybe we're just less likely to get COVID? That's also possible right?

S: Yeah, there are some people that that research is happening to Cara. There are some people who've never had a clinical infection with COVID and there is research ongoing to say, well, why is there something genetically different about these people? What's happening? Maybe they have antibody for some other things that are giving them some protection. So they're hoping that they'll discover something that will help improve treatment or prevention.

B: I'll be a guinea pig, man.

C: Yeah. We'll be like like Matt Damon in Contagion. He was just the only one walking around with that mask. You guys remember?

S: But there is there is research looking at the variant specific symptoms. So there's enough data now where we could say, well, if you had like the Delta variant, the original variant versus the Delta variant versus the Omicron variant, are there any different assortment of covid symptoms that are more likely to occur with one or the other? And the answer is, yeah. So one of the big ones is that Omicron has less loss of taste and smell, which is nice. Than the older variants.

C: That's good.

E: That's good.

S: When I had COVID and I was almost certainly the Omicron variant. I had no effect on my taste or smell. I also had a very mild infection. So that was I thought it was due to that because of the I had, vaccinated and boosted.

E: Steve, is there any update on long covid?

S: Well, there is. I mean, long COVID is, the more we study it, the more of it there is that we're finding. It's just it affects like one in six Americans I read are affected with long COVID at this point of some some degree.

C: And it's like it's like more complicated than we get credit for.

S: Yes, it's more complicated. But they said that Omicron BA.2, one of the sub variants was associated with reporting more symptoms with greater disruption of two daily activities than BA.1. So there is just a shade. They were just saying there isn't this general trend of becoming more mild. BA.2 is the later variant than BA.1 and it's more severe. So it's just not a significant trend either way. It's kind of just it can go in any direction because again, that's sort of tangential to the selective pressures. So that's where we are. These variants are still out there. They're they're getting good at evading existing immunity. We're not done yet. The good news is that we're no longer a naive population immunologically speaking. And that's helpful. The vaccines are obviously helpful. You know, get up to date on your vaccines, treatments like the Paxilvid works. You should definitely get that early on in the course of your symptoms if you if you do come down with COVID. We're still at pandemic level and the pandemic is just going to slide into endemic. You know what I mean? It's not going to go away. This is not going to go away.

C: Has it already started that slide?

S: Yeah, I mean, but it's still technically a pandemic. But I think people are now I think they're learning to live with COVID. You know what I mean? I was just going on with their life. We know we're going to get it probably at some point. Most of us. It's like the flu, we don't disrupt our life because of it. But do get vaccinated. Do still stay home if you're sick. Mask if you're going to be in large crowds is still not a bad idea. Or if you're at a particularly vulnerable location or population or whatever, this is like the new normal now. You know what I mean?

J: Yeah, unfortunately.

Psychogeneology (1:02:02)[edit]

S: All right. Evan, tell us about psychogenology.

E: Yeah.

S: Right out of the gate. That sounds bogus.

E: Have you guys heard of psychogenology?

C: Only from what you taught me when we had a phone call about it.

E: Right. Right. And neither is anyone else heard of it. Well, at least here in the US, apparently it's much more known in France for reasons I'll explain in a bit. I did find this one at a French website. The website's called Marianne. And here's what they're referencing. I'll get to the article in just a second. I'll give you a little background. France Culture. That is a radio show in France. Of course, it's a French public radio. Radio France is what they call it. Their programming encompasses a wide variety of features on historical, philosophical, socio-political and scientific themes, as well as literary readings, radio plays and experimental productions. What does that sound like here in the United States? That's national public radio. That's the equivalent. So for those in the US, think about that. And psychogenology. OK, here's their headline from this particular article. Psychogenology on France Culture. That's the show. A fashionable pseudoscience. Boom. Right out of the gate. They tagged this thing. What is psychogenology? I had to look it up, like many people apparently do. The first reference I got is And here's what they have to say about it. "Psychogenology engages the living presence of our ancestors and investigates the way their life experiences shape who we are and how we see the world. It's a powerful therapeutic modality for exploring the ways in which a person's life may be influenced by their ancestors and healing the dysfunctional scripts that they may unconsciously be repeating." The founder, or discoverer, if you like, of psychogenology, her name was Anne Schützenberger. And she wrote, this is her quote: "As mere links in a chain of generations, we may have no choice in having the events and traumas experienced by our ancestors visited upon us in our own lifetime." So I poked around a little bit for a few other references to psychogenology. And some of the more colorful descriptions came up. Their resident graphologist, that's a real thing, defined it this way: "We use the genealogical knowledge we have about our family to better understand and heal, if necessary, what is happening in our lives, thus making sense of what happened in the past, which is being repeated in our present life. Collecting as much information as is available about your family going back at least four generations, this work of gathering information is necessary to pinpoint the repetitions of patterns of behavior that are not efficient anymore, but may still be at work in one's life. Once uncovered, they will be easier to let go. Recognizing the repetitive patterns and influences of past generations on your present life will help you heal and discover your own path." And then there's one more, which I took note of. This was over at Mind Motion, the website. They say "it's a technique that allows us to discover our inner loyalties that are interfering with our goals and dreams. Our inner loyalties are part of the unconscious process, and as such, we do not know where or what exactly is blocking us from achieving our goal." According to one of the premises, the mental block is transmitted from generation to generation unconsciously and affects the person to achieve their goals. So that's what they're saying this is. You've got things that are in your past at least four generations ago, or more specific, I think they tie specifically to four generations in a lot of these charts that they use. And they're saying what happened to your ancestors is having an influence on what you might be experiencing and some of the things that you're having problems with in your life today, and you need to identify them and understand your history better in order to unlock it. Let me go back to the article now for a second. Radio France, remember, they're rebroadcasting a series on psychogenology, a pseudoscience that claims to link the illnesses, injuries and neuroses of each to each of the traumas experienced by ancestors, sometimes very far in the past. It's a set of theories that have no scientific basis, and it fuels the diagnosis of new health gurus. Yeah, so I think of all the definitions, I'm tending towards that one, probably being the most accurate of them. Now, so it's a radio series and they're having presentations on a regular basis on this series. Here are a couple of examples of the things that the series is, well, presenters in the series are saying. Here's one. The idea that our destiny can be guided by the history of previous generations 50 or 100 years ago can determine the choice of a life, determine vocations, trigger illnesses and even accidents. Here's another presenter, a person named Dieter Dumas, or dumbass. He's a psychoanalyst and an acupuncturist. Everything is also announced in the, this is him. "Everything is also announced in the Bible. You have a universal cycle, which is the cycle of three generations, so you plus three, which is found in the header of the Ten Commandments. And I quote, I am the authority responsible, says God, for the fact that the faults of the fathers are transmitted over three or four generations." This is what he's saying. It's the very way God presents himself in the Ten Commandments, so it's no small thing. And then probably one of the most famous, infamous practitioners of psychogeniology, her name is Natasha Kallestim. I'm probably pronouncing, mispronouncing that, but whatever. She's a former journalist converted into personal development and pseudo therapist combining shamanism, psychoanalytical and transgenerational concepts. And she was asked to be part of this interview to define what it is she's doing, and she says it's the energy reset, a reminder of the soul. All these ancestral therapies are based on the principle that when we experience a trial, our harmony is fractured. The shaman must reharmonize the body through these practices. And she says what corroborates this view of things is the scientific notion of epigenetics. We know that certain events create markers in our body that can be passed on to the next generation. Well, what they did in the article, thank goodness, is they went and they talked to some actual scientists and doctors about epigenetics. And yeah, so here's what they have to say. Christophe de La Roche Saint-André, doctor of biology, he says there is an epigenetic heredity. That is to say, an event experienced by the parents can be transmitted to the descendants on a transgenerational mode, which concerns several generations. This has been demonstrated in plants in particular. We also find models in certain worms or in flies. These are mechanisms described and understood molecularly. However, these epigenetic models cannot be transposed to all organisms in mammals in general and humans in particular. The data in favor of epigenetic heredity are extremely limited. Even if we consider two successive generations, we must remain cautious. We've talked about epigenetics on the show.

S: Yeah, it's one of those things that it's like ripe for pseudoscientific exploitation because it's like quantum mechanics. It's easy just to throw the term out and sound sciencey without really knowing what it is and to like dramatically over call what it actually does. You know what I mean?

C: Right, to take it out of its actual context and put it into this like wildly unbelievable context. Which, yeah, it's but that's all so much good. And I say that in quotes pseudoscience does that. It masquerades. It uses all the right terms.

E: They have the trappings of actual science, but none of the practices.

C: And people with PhDs and MDs who are promoting this junk. That's the really scary part. You were just citing a bunch of these people on the website.

E: Yep, that's right. So people who are were part of the let's see,, which is the founding organization's main website. And Ann Schützenberger was the main person who came up with this idea in the 1980s. She died in 2018. But the people associated now with this website and her colleagues on this, they're acupuncturists. They have all these credentials in a lot of this woo stuff that we already know is absolute garbage and nonsense. So this is the community who give credence and lend their expertise for what that's worth to this concept of psychogeneology. But it seems to be just utter rubbish, not steeped in any true science. Oh, and one last thing before I go, because this was kind of cool. While I was while I was researching this, there is a in France, they have something called the Fake Science collective, which is cool. It's like a skeptics group, essentially looking at looking at fake science claims. Cyril Vidal. And he's looked into this practice in France. Again, apparently this is more prominent in France than anywhere else. And he specifically is talking about this Natasha woman who's famous for this. He said "the first time I heard her speak, she explained that endometriosis was linked to miscarriages in ancestors. It's a pretty unhealthy way of approaching the disease. Miscarriages are extremely widespread in the population and may go unnoticed. Let's admit that trans let's admit that transgenerational theories are founded. We should be able to analyze all ancestries and not just choose to take into account the only ones that suit us. From a scientific point of view, it quickly becomes unravelable." Which means too difficult to understand.

S: You know that miscarriages could have a genetic cause for running in a family.

E: Genetic. Sure.

S: Yeah. Because you could have genetic predisposition to having hyper coagulable states where your blood is more likely to clot. And that increases your risk of miscarriages. And that's one of the things we ask patients. Do you have any history or any family history of multiple miscarriages? Because that could be a risk factor for hyper coagulability. So like in neurology, I would want to know about that in terms of like strokes or venous clots or things that would affect neurological function. But that's one of the things we ask. Also DVT's and pulmonary embolisms and spontaneous miscarriages. Those are all part of the hyper coagulability history. So you don't have to leap to some magical or epigenetic explanation just because there's a connection.

E: That's exactly correct. And that seems to be the thrust of the arguments against this is that there's so many other ways to explain what's going on here. You don't need this mystical mumbo jumbo.

S: Yeah. Just start with the actual science.

E: Right. You can do it with what we actually know.

Who's That Noisy? (1:15:04)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.

J: All right, guys. Last week I played this Noisy:

[song/melody of chimes and percussive bangs]

So what do you guys think this is?

S: Well, as I told you last week, I know exactly what it is.

E: It has a Muzak quality to it.

J: Muzak quality.

E: Remember Muzak? That's still a thing? Do people still go in elevators?

J: Somewhere. Sure.

S: I lived right across the street from the Muzak company when I was living in Northern Virginia.

E: What is there's a Muzak company?

S: Yeah. Muzak is a company. It's a brand.

E: Holy moly.

S: Yeah. It's not a generic.

E: Just take songs and Muzak them and release them to the elevator.

S: Yeah, exactly. That was their business model.

E: That's remarkable.

S: I drove by every day on my way to medical school, the big Muzak sign on the side of the building.

J: So we had some guesses. So the listener named Mike Vargas wrote and he said: "Hi, Jay, longtime fan, patron, contributor to the skeptical movement." He said: "This probably isn't the correctest answer, but I immediately recognize this week's Who's That Noisy as the intro music for the now hopelessly audience captured podcast of Brett Weinstein and Heather Haying." Then he says "Two people that Steve did an excellent takedown of regarding their COVID anti-vaxx conspiracies." So this is what I think this is called the Dark Horse podcast that these people are from. And that is their intro music. And at some point, Steve, you must have said something about them.

S: Yeah, there's too many to remember.

J: I can't remember. Visto Tute wrote in and said, "To Who's That Noisy" at this point, you think he and I would be on a first name basis. But he just is the email to Who's That Noisy. I'll have to take this up with him at some point. "It is soundtrack from a video game. The song has a Japanese feel to it. That game was like Tetris, but with jewels coming comes to mind." That is not correct. And I have no idea what you're talking about. But I trust you. The next guest is Michael Clements. And he said: "Hi, Jay. At first I heard what sounded like a vibraphone and normal drum set playing together. But then I noticed that the notes seem to be particularly in sync based on that, I think activating the drums somehow actually activates the vibraphone notes as well. So the drum player is effectively playing both." Something's going on. You're you're you're you're you have an interesting take on this. You're not 100% there. But let me tell you what this actually is. So just so I get this out of the way, this may very well be the Who's That Noisy were the most people sent in the most correct answers. Of all time during my tenure doing Who's That Noisy.

S: Maybe a lot of them know what it is for the same reason that I do. So let me just tell you how I how I know, because the week prior you had as a Who's That Noisy the forest xylophone thing. And so I looked up that video to see it, you know, the ball is dropping down the very long chain of wooden keys that make the notes. And then in the suggested videos on the right was this video for this thing. So I think a lot of SGU listeners probably came by that video the same way I did. Including the girl who sent it in.

J: Well, this is a incredibly popular thing that has been on YouTube for a while.

S: There's that too.

J: There's millions of people that have seen this. And it's just really cool. If you ever kind of come across it on your own in one way or the other, you're going to remember it because it's it's unique. So this is a really cool thing. So first off, I had so many people got the correct answer. But I picked the people who who either gave me the best description or who wrote in first. So one of them is Jeff Lavezzo and the other listener is Chris Mitrakos. Man, I probably I probably pronounced your name wrong, Chris. I'm sorry about that. So they both got it correct. Now this is this is from a band called Wintergatan and this is their marble music machine. And apparently the person who created this, like built it themselves, they've been working on it for a long time. And let me just explain to you what this mechanism is. So there is a whole bunch of steel shot marbles that are involved in this thing. The machine takes these marbles and lifts them up and then it's sending them down into a system of different tubes that eventually will end up hitting something that makes noise. And it's all run by like this wheel type of thing in the center of it, kind of like a music box where it's essentially telling the machine what notes to play and what to do. It's a very complex contraption, but it's really cool. I highly suggest that you go take a quick look at it. My favorite part of this thing was that there was a bass guitar built into this thing where the person who is operating the machine will play the notes on the bass guitar, but the machine will drop marbles onto the bass guitar strings to play the notes. Now, keep in mind, every one of these steel marbles that falls has to go somewhere and it also can't make a lot of noise. You don't want the marbles like making all the noise in this machine, which it fantastically doesn't. So all of these marbles are like doing, they're hitting whatever they're hitting and then they're bouncing off and being collected again and being fed right back into this fantastic machine. So I'm really, it's a really, really cool thing to just take a quick look at. I also find the song that he's playing in this version of it, it's quite compelling. I'm a fan of the bass guitar. I used to play the bass guitar, so I really enjoyed that part of it. So anyway, guys, my god, thank you all so much for writing in. I did go through every single email that we got this week because I was desperately hunting for wrong answers, which was usually not the problem. But it was actually pretty funny because every single time I clicked in, somebody linked to the YouTube video and that would made it easy for me to detect whether or not they got the correct answer or not. So thank you, Lila, for sending that in. You're a sixth grade student and you're graduating from primary school in a few weeks. So congratulations on that. I really appreciate you sending that in. Very cool, noisy. If you ever come across something else, definitely send that to me.

New Noisy (1:21:57)[edit]

J: I have a new Noisy this week. This comes from a listener named Marina. And here it is.

[oscillating, ringing whir/whiz, mechanical or animal in nature?]

C: Jay, if that's a f***ing marine mammal, I'm going to die.

E: I don't know what it is, but I want it.

J: Well, you're going to all have to just wait a week to find out what the heck that is. If you guys have any ideas out there or if you heard something cool because you know you did. You got to email me at

Announcements (1:22:32)[edit]

J: Steve, are you fully comprehending what's coming up soon?

C: So soon.

J: As we record this, we are literally exactly one month away. We are four weeks away from getting into airplanes, flying, converging on Arizona. And then we go to Phoenix and we do we do two shows in Phoenix and two shows in Tucson. Many of you have heard me say this before, but it's worth repeating because we have these awesome shows coming up, these live shows. If you're in Arizona, please do come join us for one of these shows that we're doing. We're going to be in a city that's probably very likely near you. And if not, take a drive. Arizona is a state that is meant for driving. So please drive. Come see us. You can go to to learn all the details about these shows and how you can come see us in person. We'll sign your book. We'll sign your face. Whatever you want. Just come to the shows.

C: Jay, don't we technically do one show in Phoenix, then two shows in Tucson, then one more show in Phoenix?

J: Technically, you're correct.

C: I thought so.

J: Spiritually I'm crushed by this. No. So the first version of this show, remember, we were going to do this last summer and then we were the pandemic kind of was flaring up a little bit and we were worried. We had a different arrangement then, but we ended up rescheduling and doing it this way because it worked better for the two theaters that we're going to be at, the schedule change so that we had to get creative with how we interface with them.

C: So I mentioned that so people don't get confused because I feel like we've already gotten at least one email of like, wait, you're here, then you're there, then you're back again.

J: Yes. Everything on the website is correct. We are going back and forth.

C: Well, it makes sense, too, because we're round tripping it, yo. We had to fly out at the same place we fly into.

J: Yeah, we would have to drive down and come back anyway.

C: Exactly. So but yeah, in case if you're going to buy your tickets, don't be confused. And if you can't see us the first time we're in Phoenix, we're back in a couple of days.

E: Yes.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay.

J: You got it.


S: We're going to do a couple emails this week.

Email #1: "Clinically Proven" (1:24:39)[edit]

Came across something interesting in my research for mediocre studies to give to my students to critique for exams. What I found was so well done in terms of being designed to look legitimate, but obviously also designed to get a particular result that I was impressed by the fraud and looked up the author affiliation and found this gem. The language throughout the discussion of how they will design a study tailored to give people the results they want is really quite impressive with a negative connotation. I spent like an hour reading it out to my partner so we could be amazed, horrified with me. Thought it might be of interest to you all for a slow newsweek sometime or just any newsweek.

S: First one, the person did not sign their name. So just read their email. They said: "Came across something interesting in my research for mediocre studies to give to my students to critique for exams. What I found was so well done in terms of being designed to look legitimate, but obviously also designed to get a particular result that I was impressed by the fraud and looked up the author affiliation and found this gem." And then he links to "The language throughout the discussion of how they will design a study tailored to give people the results they want is really quite impressive with a negative connotation. I spent like an hour reading it out to my partner so we could be amazed, horrified with me. Thought it might be of interest to you all for a slow newsweek sometime or just any newsweek." All right. So I looked it up. It's actually it's interesting. So, this is a self-described boutique research company. So you hire them to do a study and then they will carry out the study and they specialize in natural products, supplements.

C: That's scary.

S: Yeah. Now, what he's talking about is they're actually very clever in how they couch their terms. And you could you could look at it from the perspective of like this legitimate research company could be saying this kind of thing. But maybe you have to read between the lines a little bit to to see what they're saying. So, they sell themselves as just a boutique clinical research organization specializing in the natural products industry. So here's one of the things they say where that raises a little bit of a red flag under biostatistics. They say "when our team creates your statistical analysis plan or conducts your power analysis to determine the right sample size, these risks are minimized protecting your research investment." So they're talking about the risk of false negatives. So they designed their study to minimize the chance of false negatives, which superficially might seem like that's reasonable. You do. That's good research design. But there's always a balance between false negative and false positive. So they're basically saying we're going to make sure we minimize the false negatives, which means you're maximizing the false positive. Without saying it, that's kind of what that means.

B: Nice.

S: They say "Our innovative approach to clinical research for the unique needs of the natural products industry." Yeah, really? They have unique needs? "Helps you unlock new claims by delivering higher quality clinical trial services that don't break the budget." So they're basically saying we're going to show that your stuff works right. We're going to help you market your stuff and show that it works. We're going to make sure we minimize false negatives. But it's all couched in plausible deniability, by saying, oh, we're just saying we're going to do we're going to do research that's statistically appropriate.

C: But it just goes to show how dangerous the tool statistics are, especially if you know what you're doing with them.

S: Yes, exactly.

C: So somebody who's actually more capable with statistics can be more unethical if they choose to. But usually they don't choose to because in order to be that sophisticated in your knowledge, it also came with the training that hopefully imbued you with a sense of moral responsibility.

S: I mean, they straight up say we're going to help you show that your product works, not we're going to test if it works. There's no if anywhere in here, it's always we're going to get you new indications. We're going to show that it works.

C: But who are these people doing this? Because that's like an extra level of gross.

S: Yeah. But all right. So here's the thing. It's not like the pharmaceutical industry doesn't do this, too. They hire statisticians to make sure that they give their drug the best chance of having a positive study. The difference is the pharmaceutical industry has the FDA looking over their shoulder and they have to follow specific guidelines and their their research methodology has to be approved. Otherwise, the FDA won't count it. But for natural products, they don't have the FDA looking over their shoulder. Because these things are marketed like food, basically. They're not they don't have the same kind of approval process. This is just for marketing. You know what I mean? This is not for FDA approval. They can basically be as statistically dubious as they want to be without that check in place. Statistics, it's really easy to lie with statistics because this is the the p-hacking thing again, where it's if you you could do something which superficially looks legitimate. But if your goal is to show a positive result, you could make that happen if you want.

C: And it feels to the uninitiated, it feels like you can't mess with it because it's just numbers. You know what I mean? There's this like there's this assumption that, well, they're just numbers. You can't like fudge the numbers. That's the data. It's like, no, that's not raw data, my friend. That's manipulated data to help you conceptualize it.

S: They say our vision is to see every high quality product supported by high quality scientific evidence. Not our goal is to test whether or not your product works.

E: You're right.

S: And let the chips fall where they may. They're saying straight up, our goal is to show that your product works, without saying it in so many words. There's just that thin layer of plausible deniability there in my opinion.

E: Super sneaky.

S: Yeah. But that's why, when you you see clinically proven, you see that kind of either if it's in-house or it was done by a boutique for hire research center, not an academic center not multiple academic centers collaborating on it and not evaluated by some kind of regulatory agency that will put in some layer of quality control. The results could be anything. Doesn't mean it doesn't mean a thing.

Followup #1: Billion Dollar Disasters (1:30:47)[edit]

S: All right. One more email. I'm not going to read the actual email, but just the we got feedback from a couple of people. But one person in particular I've been going back and forth with. This has to do with your piece last week, Cara, about the billion dollar disasters.

C: So two weeks ago.

S: It was a couple of weeks ago. So the initial feedback was that that you made a mistake in that the number you said explicitly that the numbers were adjusted for inflation and they were claiming that they weren't adjusted for inflation.

C: Right. I was I was talking about the increase, the significant increase in billion dollar disasters now versus I don't remember what, 15 years ago, something like that.

S: 20 years ago, I think. So they said their initial claim was that it was not adjusted for inflation. And I looked it up just to double check. And it explicitly is adjusted for inflation. All of the numbers are are adjusted to the CPI.

C: Consumer Price Index?

S: Consumer Price Index. Thank you. Or you're adjusted to like these are all in two thousand twenty one dollars or they adjusted to the Consumer Price Index. So it was adjusted for that. Then there then their criticism was, well, that doesn't prove that the number of weather events is increasing. I'm like, well, we weren't offering it as evidence that the number of extreme weather events is increasing because it is an indirect measure. But we have direct measures. The number of extreme weather events is globally increasing. It's just about doubled over the last 20 years. So what's the what's the point of criticizing us for something that's true? And we weren't saying it in the first place. You know what I mean? So then they morphed over to another claim, which actually they should have opened with, because it's the only thing that I feel has any legitimacy. Say, well, a better measure is to compare the cost of disasters to the gross domestic product. It's like, OK, that's not an unfair point. It's just has nothing to do with what we were talking about or your initial criticism. But they're trying to pretend like that was their point the whole time.

C: And what happens when we do that?

S: Well, when you do that and the UN does recommend that this is the way to do it, although I suspect they want to be able to compare different countries because it doesn't mean the same thing from one country to another. But in any case, so for the US, for the US specifically, the cost of disasters has been decreasing a little bit compared to our GDP because our GDP is steadily increasing. Obviously.

C: What does that tell you though?

S: I know that's the question.

C: I'm confused.

S: What does it really tell you?

C: That doesn't tell me if it's worse than it used to be.

S: I mean, so the absolute cost in adjusted dollars is increasing. The number of disasters are increasing. Now, part of the reason again, I don't know how explicitly made this. I don't know. It's the part of the reason why the absolute cost of disasters of weather disasters is increasing is because the number and severity of disasters is increasing. But it's also true that it's partly because there is we're developing more in vulnerable locations. We're building on the coast. There's also a larger population and there's also a larger GDP. There's more stuff to break. You know what I mean? OK, fine. That's all true.

C: But that's not the point.

S: Yeah, that wasn't really the point that we were talking about. Yeah, but all of that is true. But it's also still true that the price tag of global warming is increasing over time. Now, the thing is, we are more resilient to it in some ways. If you are developing, if you are an industrialized nation that has a rapidly growing GDP, then and also you're able to build more infrastructure, you're able to build more resilience, you have more warning systems. So you're better able to prepare for these things. So the deaths from natural disasters is decreasing even as they increase because we're better prepared for them. And yeah, the damage compared to GDP is decreasing a little bit, but still the absolute amount of damage is increasing. So, OK, that's there's a lot of nuance there. It's always more complicated. That does give us a bigger picture. But the initial feedback was we didn't adjust for it wasn't adjusted for GDP for inflation. And it was.

C: And to be clear, these were the top lines of the National Climate Report. So it's not, I didn't make those calculations. Clearly this is the way that multiple agencies are looking at change over time in order to develop mitigation strategies.

S: Yeah. What's the best metric? I guess depends on your question.

C: Exactly. And so like it is your goal to minimize the risk. Is it to maximize the risk? Is your goal to say how much money are we going to be spending? What are some mitigation technologies that we can utilize? And that's great that over time as things become more and more horrific, we are getting better and better at saying how do we adjust for the horrificness?

S: Yeah, we're building in resilience.

C: That's awesome. But that doesn't minimize the fact that it's getting more and more horrific. And it also actually doesn't account for the externalized cost of those mitigation effects.

S: It doesn't. There's a lot of costs that are not included. So you focus on that, too. They don't include the cost of a theoretical life, which some measures do that. It's only actual costs. It's not lost potential or whatever or indirect cost or downstream cost. It's loss of productivity. It's direct costs.

C: And that's on both sides. On this argument, it also doesn't look at the cost. When it's saying, oh, but look at how much our GDP has increased compared to the number of billion dollar disasters. But how much of that GDP is now going into mitigating these billion dollar disasters? That's not accounted for either.

S: But it was a good conversation at the end of the day because it did make me force me to do a deep dive and flesh out all the nuance to this question.

C: Yeah it's always fascinating.

S: Always good to do that. But you got to admit that it doesn't mean that the analysis, the original analysis is not meaningful and it's costing more in adjusted dollars over time. It is.

C: Right. They're absolutely adjusted. There's no universe in which they could get away with using unadjusted. It would be laughable.

S: I was like really? I was like, holy shit, if we miss that, that's big. So I said, oh, no, that was that's not true. OK. All right, guys, let's go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:36:21)[edit]

Item #1: Researchers find that adults 18-35 years old have more rapid and efficient visual perceptual learning than children 8-11 years old.[8]
Item #2: A recent study finds that the Airpod Pro wireless earbuds performed as well as basic professional hearing aids, and even as well as high end professional hearing aids in most situations, at 1/40th the cost.[9]
Item #3: Scientists find that worldwide sperm counts have declined about 62% since 1950, and this decline is accelerating.[10]

Answer Item
Fiction Adult's perceptual learning
Science AirPods = heaing aids
Sperm counts have declined
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Adult's perceptual learning
Adult's perceptual learning
Adult's perceptual learning
Adult's perceptual learning

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We just have three regular news items for this week's show. Are you ready?

E: Ready.

C: Yes.

S: All right. Researchers find that adults 18 to 35 years old have more rapid and efficient visual perceptual learning than children 8 to 11 years old. Item #2: A recent study finds that the AirPod Pro wireless earbuds performed as well as basic professional hearing aids and even as well as high end professional hearing aids in most situations at one fortieth the cost.

C: No way.

S: And item #3: Scientists find that worldwide sperm counts have declined about 62% since 1950, and this decline is accelerating. Cara, you seem anxious to go first, so I'll let you go.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: This one's tough because I feel like I've heard all of these before and I don't know which ones I've heard as like BS talking points and which ones I've heard. So adults 18 to 35 have more rapid and efficient visual perceptual learning than children 8 to 11. Oh, clearly this feels counterintuitive that kids would be like more spongy, more capable. They can learn things more quickly. But they also are a visual perceptual. I'm trying to think of the norms tables in the IQ test and which direction they norm them out. What's average for a young person versus an adult? Because I feel like this one could be flipped. The AirPod Pro wireless performed as well as basic professional hearing aids. Gosh, I hope that's true. I love my AirPods. I think they're awesome. And they do amplify and then they also minimize, they're very noise canceling, which I could see being somewhat helpful. I don't know. But that you can also do that thing with them. What's it called? Ambient air? There's like a setting where you can turn it on and then you can like hear stuff around you still through your music. And then worldwide sperm counts are declining. I mean, I do think they're declining. I don't know if it's as bad as people are saying it is. What is this? A 62% since 1950. That seems like a lot. And this is worldwide. Like this is actually sampled all over the globe. The one that sticks out to me is maybe the visual spatial or sorry, the visual perceptual learning one. I think maybe it's the other way around. So I'm going to say that's the fiction.

S: OK, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: So I'll start with three. The I kind of I believe that worldwide sperm counts have declined about 62%. I mean, I'm personally I'm down about 99%. So I think I'm bringing down the average. So I'm going to go with that one. The second one. The other year, AirPod Pro wireless earbuds. It's a little hard to accept that. I mean, I've dealt with my mom's hearing aids and they are expensive as hell. And they're pretty amazing. But I but I think I might be able to buy the fact that for most scenarios, the earbuds are just as good. So the caveat at the end there, I kind of. Yeah, I'm going to hang my head on that one. Like, yeah, it works. But there are certain situations where it can't. But for most situations, it's fine. So that could buy that, which means that the first one there, the yeah, I think the young I think the kids would just would be better. It just doesn't doesn't make sense. I'll say that's fiction.

S: OK, Jay.


Jay's Response[edit]

J: Yeah the sperm count one. It's interesting to think. I mean, if it is going down, why? What would be the cause for it to go down? I don't know. That's one of those things I could definitely believe it. But when I try to think about a reason behind it, it's hard, pollution? I don't know. That's interesting. The one about the hearing aids. I really I really think that one is science because I am not a stranger to these devices. I actually bought something that was made by Bell Labs going back maybe, god, maybe about 10 years ago. They were there were the kind of things where you could adjust the volume up and down on reality. You could be like, I want to be quieter in this room and you could just turn the volume down. Or if you're at a concert and you want to turn the volume down. They were really cool. They were gen one. And I was very excited about them, as like a savior hearing type of device. And the other cool thing was they were able to increase the volume and you could hear people talking that were like 30 feet away. Very cool. But they went out of business.

E: Wait, Bell Labs didn't go out of business.

J: Well, this part this part of their business.

C: Their noise canceling headphone division?

J: Yeah, I was pretty upset about that.

E: So noise cancel got canceled.

C: Reminds me of like, did you guys ever watch? Oh, shoot. 30 Rock?

J: Yes.

E: No.

C: Remember how you how wasn't he like the general manager of television and microwave ovens for GE or something like that? It's like a stupid conglomerate. It's, his title was something crazy. It was executive in charge of television and microwave ovens.

S: So what's your answer? (laughter)

J: I'm going to go with Bob. I'm going to go with Bob. I'm going to I think that children are better in all ways at learning than adults. So I think that one is a fiction.

S: OK. And Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: I'm going to start with number four. All right. I'll start with number two, though, the AirPod Pro wireless earbuds. OK, so I wear earbuds and I kind of wear them on a regular basis and I wear them. Not the, it's not the AirPods. I use Bose. It's actually a hardwired earbud set, but it's powered. So it does have noise cancellation. But guess what? It also has a function in which it can amplify what you're hearing. And I use them when I go to the concerts with Rachel. Not they need to amplify what I'm hearing. I use it for the noise cancellation. It's as good as earplugs. I've tested it both ways for me and it's and they really do take out the damaging noise. So my experience and I guess that's what I'm going to go with is that, yeah, these things do work. And the amplification feature on those is great. I can definitely turn that on and hear a conversation well across the room and then some. And then the other one about the sperm counts declining. Yeah, I think they've been in decline. The only thing is a 62%. That's that's drastic. That would be the reason that would be fiction. But I don't think so. So I'm with everyone else. It's the other research that's right.

S: So I guess I'll take the reverse order as well.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Scientists find that worldwide sperm counts have declined about 62% since 1950. And this decline is accelerating. You all think this one is science and this one is science. This is happening, guys.

E: Yay?

S: So the previous data showed that it was dropping by about 50%. And this was only in North and South America. And so they they expanded the the the number of subjects. And they expanded to include Europe, Asia, Africa, South America. And it's everywhere. It's freaking everywhere. And it's actually more. And it's accelerating.

J: Why?

S: Don't know.

C: Why do they think?

B: This reminds me of a Stargate episode, a really good episode where the humanity makes a deal with these aliens for really cool technology, where you basically can live for many, many centuries. But what they didn't the humanity didn't realize was that they made a change such that reproduction went down to nil. So basically it was a way to make another civilization extinct. It just took it took a century or two to happen. But that was their goal. And that's what they that's what they did. So did we meet any aliens recently?

C: It's funny because this reminds me of Children of Men.

S: Yeah.

C: I think it, isn't there some concern that this has to do with like just a lot of environmental toxins?

S: It's well, it definitely goes it correlates with low testosterone levels. So that may be the approximate cause. But then what's causing that just pushes it back a step.

B: So wouldn't that have had a detectable effect on birth rate?

S: They just say like lifestyle and environmental factors.

C: Yeah.

E: Lifestyle?

B: But wouldn't we be seeing this in the birth rate data?

C: But the birth rate data is also declining.

S: It is. But the thing is, unless it's unless the sperm count drops below a critical level, it may not matter.

C: Yeah that's true, there's excess sperm.

S: In other words, with 40%.

E: It's like you can drive your tire on 28 pounds of pressure.

S: You have to lose 70% of your kidney function before you start to have problems. There's some reserves there.

B: Yeah, I could see that.

S: Yeah. So we'll keep an eye on that.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Number two, a recent study finds that the AirPod Pro wireless earbuds performed as well as basic professional hearing aids and even as well as high end professional hearing aids in most situations at one fortieth the cost. You guys all think that one is science and that one is science. That is cool.

C: Yes!

E: Thanks, Cara.

C: I feel like this strong sense of responsibility when you go first and then everyone agrees with you.

E: Especially when everyone follows. It's awful.

C: It's so scary.

B: I would have think the same thing.

S: They also tested. So they tested like no no hearing aid as a baseline. They tested the regular AirPods. The AirPod Pro, I think that's the AirPod 2 is the current version. The AirPod Pro, a basic hearing aid and a high end hearing aid. The basic hearing aid costs 2 500. The high end one cost $10 000.

E: 10 000 bucks for hearing aids.

C: I want to say my AirPod Pros were what, 250?

S: 250. That's the fortieth, right? So the AirPod Pros did as well as the $10 000 hearing aids. Now the AirPod Pro because of the basic AirPods, the AirPod 2 did as well as the low end hearing aids, not as well as the as the high end ones because they don't have noise cancellation. The AirPod Pro has noise cancellation.

E: That's the key.

S: And so that made it as good as the ten thousand dollar ones. So the end the the the Apple phone with the AirPod Pro has a live listen mode. Which is what you're talking about. You need the phone to obviously. So that's like the microphone.

E: My Bose needs nothing.

S: So, well, maybe not for the noise cancellation part, but if you want the live listen, you need a microphone.

B: How does that work? How's live listening?

E: No, it just has to be powered.You just have to make sure the charge is up and whatever you're plugging in. Again, mine's hardwired. It's not wire less. So that's that's the trade off on my set.

C: Yeah. I wouldn't want to wear wired hearing aids.

E: You get used to it.

C: Yeah. But you don't wear them 24/7.

S: The AirPod Pros worked as well as the high end one in terms of noise cancellation. So they tested in a quiet room and a noisy room. So the everything worked well in the quiet room. Only the AirPod Pro and the ten thousand dollar hearing aids worked well in a noisy room. The AirPod Pro worked as well, except in one specific situation. And that's when the speaker was directly in front of the person that they were testing. From that one from the side, it was just as good as the ten thousand dollar.

C: So basically they just need to turn their head.

S: Just turn your head. For some reason, from directly in front, the acoustics or whatever didn't work as well. It still worked. It still was really good. Just not as good as the ten thousand dollar.

E: I'll bet you they could tweak that in the next version of the AirPod.

S: Exactly Evan. That's what they were saying is that first of all ten thousand dollars is a high bar for a lot of people. So the point of the study was, yeah, can these $250 things work for most people? And the answer was, yeah, most people will do just fine with a $250 situation rather than ten thousand dollars.

C: And they're more functional.

S: Yeah, you don't have to get multiple visits. This is not even including the multiple visits.

E: It doesn't require insurance or anything.

C: And you add to that like something as simple as you can take a phone call on them. So somebody who's already hard of hearing. Now they're not going to have to hold a phone over top of their headphone. The voice is coming straight through over the top of their hearing aid.

S: And they also said like this is this. They weren't intended to be used as hearing aids. And so if they iterate it specifically to make them usable as hearing aids we may be one version away from making the ten thousand dollar hearing aids obsolete.

E: Good.

C: Yeah. They might be better than the ten thousand. I mean, that's amazing.

B: I don't know, Steve, how do you think that would work for a mom? Because I know it's not just a purely amplify the sound especially for our mom who has nerve damage.

S: This was for sensorineural hearing loss, which is what our mother has. That's what runs in our family, unfortunately.

C: Yeah. This isn't the kind that goes like on the bone or anything like that.

S: It's not a conduction hearing loss and sensorineural. The people they tested for central and sensorineural hearing loss. So the it does help. Part of hearing loss is that you could just things are muffled or it could be that you're losing frequencies, especially like the higher frequencies. Or it could be that the hearing is distorted or you have tinnitus which creates its own background masking noise.

E: Not tinnitus.

S: Well, I think it's tinnitus. This really wouldn't help with tinnitus. It really the thing is, because I experienced this even at my age, is that when the the speech is does it sounds a little distorted, volume does help. It doesn't fix the problem, but it absolutely helps you process that speech for whatever reason volume is a huge factor. So but also positioning I have to turn to people to fully understand what they're saying sometimes.

E: I do as well.

B: I think our mom might though. She might be a special case because I remember-

S: She maybe too far gone, you know?

B: Yeah. When she went to also the doctor said she hasn't had a huge drop in sound detection. But he said the big hit that she took, though, since her previous visit was the brain's ability to recognize. Which is like, not a lot you could do about that.

C: And obviously the point that you were making, Steve, too, is that this two hundred fifty dollar headphone may make a ten thousand dollar hearing aid obsolete. It's not going to make an audiologist obsolete.

S: No, no, no, no.

C: It's like there's still going to be reasons to see your professional. It just they might be able to recommend this.

S: Before we go to and a lot of them do say, all right, there's a twenty five hundred dollar option is a ten thousand dollar option. They might try the cheaper one first, unless they know, yeah, you pretty much are going to need the expensive one. But imagine, but trying to twenty two hundred and fifty dollar option first before you spend ten grand. I mean, why not? And anyway, they're Airpods.

C: Yeah. And you can listen to music and you can take phone calls on them.

S: Or listen to the TV. Absolutely. So it's a good option.

J: Steve, doesn't people's insurance cover most of that, though?

S: Depends what kind of insurance you have.

E: But only a certain amount. Maybe not. Limitations.

S: Even the copays going to be higher than the cost.

C: They might have a deductible.

S: Yeah, exactly. And then it eats up your deductible for the year. So just because they have insurance doesn't mean that it doesn't have a cost associated with it. All right. Let's go back to number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Researchers find that adults 18 to 35 years old have more rapid and efficient visual perceptual learning than children 8 to 11 years old is the fiction, because of course it's flipped. The children had better visual perceptual learning than adults. Kids are sponges. They just it just took fewer, much less time. They incorporated the memories with much less exposure than the adults. And the study also looked tried to look at why that might be. And they did find that the memories were consolidated faster. It may have something to do with they have a higher density of GABA secreting neurons and in parts of the brain. All right. Good job, everyone.

E: Hey, thanks. Thanks for leading the way Cara.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:54:37)[edit]

We may fondly imagine that we are impartial seekers after truth, but with a few exceptions, to which I know that I do not belong, we are influenced—and sometimes strongly—by our personal bias; and we give our best thoughts to those ideas which we have to defend.
August Krogh (1874-1949), Danish zoophysiologist

S: Evan give us a quote.

E: "We may fondly imagine that we are impartial seekers after truth, but with a few exceptions to which I know that I do not belong. We are influenced and sometimes strongly by our personal bias and we give our best thoughts to those ideas which we ha ve to defend. August Krogh. K-R-O-G-H or KROGH.

S: Definitely a very skeptical quote. You'll have biases and it can affect how we process information in such subtle ways. It's really hard to be to to always detect it. But you got to have that filter in there. You got to always be suspicious of your own bias.

E: And he said this. He said that 100 years ago, by the way, Nobel Prize recipient in physiology or medicine, 1924, his discovery of the capillary motor regulating mechanism. There you go.

S: Awesome.

C: Cool.

S: Smart guy. All right. Well, thank you guys for joining me this week.

B: Sure man.

C: Thanks Steve.

E: Thanks Steve. See you in two nights.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[11]
  • Fact/Description
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